Monday, January 9, 2012

Breaking the Rules

Apparently I am a bit of a cooking disaster waiting to happen. At least I am according to the experts interviewed by Real Simple.

The January issue has a story called How to Fix Dinner: 17 all-too-common cooking mistakes (plus easy tips to avoid them). I do (or have done) about half of these tips regularly — mostly without any ill effect.

Take number two: using the wrong knife. Been there, done that, do that all the time. I don't even know which knife in my fairly nice Cutco knife set (Rachel spent a brief foray one summer in this selling cult so we of course now have many Cutco knives purchased before she quit) is supposed to do what. It's a complete mystery so I just grab the one closest at hand and hack away. Mostly that method works just fine. The Real Simple story, however, suggests that this approach will "damage your food." If I used the correct knife, I would be more efficient and my dicing would be neater.

The problem is that I don't really care about how neat my diced pieces are. In fact, I mostly don't care if my food is precisely diced at all, favoring larger pieces overall and losing interest fairly early in the process. I'm more interested in the flavors themselves and getting to the finished product.

Which is why I always — until the past year, when I finally realized maybe all these cookbooks and cookbook authors I interviewed were on to something since they were all saying the same thing — just grabbed my eggs and dairy products such as milk out of the fridge minutes before I would mix them into some kind of batter and dough. This is a baking no-no (number 15) because it results in dense cakes and breads. Apparently at room temperature, the article says, eggs, butter and liquids such as milk "bond and form an emulsion that traps air." Cold ingredients don't always bond.

As part of my quest to get my cookie baking Mojo back, I decided to pay more attention to some of these baking details. Letting the eggs and butter get to room temperature has been one of my changes and I'm happy to report, I will go up against Rachel's cooking baking any day. Bring it!

But a "mistake" I don't see myself changing, despite admonitions to the contrary from a variety of well-known and/or cooks I admire, is measuring dry ingredients in a liquid measuring cup. (And this is before going into the whole weighing debate which certain people absolutely swear by.) I don't even own dry measuring cups (or teaspoon/tablespoon measuring utensils for that matter; I use my eye and pour it directly into the bowl or into the palm of my hand. Oh, and I don't sift — ever.) Apparently baking this way means that my flour is in danger of being compacted if I bang on the cup to try to make it create a level line.

The article did get me thinking, though. I am a good cook. But could I be a better cook if I was more precise, more of a stickler for detail? Is that worth exploring?

My gut reaction is no. Leave it be. I'll try new things when I want (as in with the room temperature switcheroo) and because I'm motivated, not because someone, somewhere, is declaring my method a "mistake."

What about you? Do you break certain cooking "rules"? How's that working for you? Do you have certain procedures you absolutely swear by? Let's do some sharing and see what we come up with.

1 comment:


    You know how I feel about rules. About methods. About precision and consistency.

    I guess I know what I'm writing about for Wednesday now (hint: it's not the really crappy tomato soup I made the other night).

    Gauntlet THROWN.