September 15, 2017

10 Tips to Achieving Success in the Kitchen!

We all want to waltz into our kitchens with unshakeable confidence and create something equally beautiful as it is delicious, right? A perfect afternoon spent in the kitchen with no hours wasted, pans burnt, or ingredients spilt is for sure the ideal scenario in our heads; but take it from me, things never go 100% according to plan. Even after five years immersed in the culinary industry and having picked up SO much food knowledge (plus all those episodes of Masterchef on TV 😜), I am still more than capable of screwing up a recipe that I've made dozens of times before. Sigh, I'll never understand it.
And although expecting a perfect outcome every single time is quite the unfeasible goal, we can still do everything in our power to get as close to smooth-sailing as humanly possible. We can!
Those of you who are well seasoned in cooking, baking, and all things culinary, these tips may be considered common sense to you. To be honest, I have assumed that these are as well known to everyone else as they are to me. But this totally isn't the case! If there's one thing I've learned over my 26 years of life it's that just because I may know a certain skill, it doesn't mean that my friend, husband, co-worker, or Mom know it too. The best written work comes from people who write about what they know, so imagine if we all wrote about our knowledge and personal experiences--we'd learn so much from each other!
So here we go, these are my 10 best personal tips for achieving a successful cooking and baking endeavour!

1. Read Over Your Recipe Carefully.

When going off of a recipe--before you even start preheating your oven--read the entire thing from beginning to end. Skip over nothing so you miss nothing! You do NOT want to end up with a bunch of surprises half way through. Also, ask yourself the following two questions to avoid any other surprises:
Do I have the necessary equipment to execute this recipe? Wait, I need a muffin tin to bake these muffins?! 😂 Or: I need a whisk attachment to make this meringue?! Oops.
Do I have enough time to do this recipe? You don't want to promise your friends at that party in two hours that you're gonna bring a pan of homemade cinnamon rolls if you haven't even started prepping it and only now just realized that it takes over an hour to proof the dough. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're gonna be sooo late to that party, unless you're a cheater and opt for the grocery store cinnamon rolls instead.

Remember, some recipes don't have to be executed at one time. For instance, when I bake pies I always make my pie dough the night before, which means I only have to focus on my rolling, filling and assembling the following day. When I bake cakes or cupcakes, I bake my cakes/cupcakes the day before and fill/frost them the next day. It's so much more enjoyable when all you have left to focus on is the piping and finishing touches (also known as, the fun part)!

2. Check Your Ingredient Supply.

This is a huge one for me. Whenever I'm about to bake something, I'll put the recipe on the kitchen counter and read through each ingredient listed one by one, scanning my pantry shelves, cupboards, and fridge to see if I have those ingredients. If I don't, I write down the ingredient AND its quantity on a piece of paper or on the Notes app on my phone. (Writing down the quantity is important too because in the past I've written down that I needed confectioners sugar, only to realize later that I only bought half the amount that I needed.) Even though I only live literally a minute drive from the nearest grocery store (which I'm SO grateful for), there is nothing worse than starting to work through a recipe after already making a grocery-trip only to realize I forgot to buy an ingredient or that I didn't buy enough of it.
This means I have to put my shoes back on, grab my purse, run down the stairs, get into my car, drive to the grocery store, find a place to park, speed walk all the way to the back of the store (why is that one ingredient always furthest from the check-out?),  make a mad dash to the checkout, wait in the longest "express" line ever because you just remembered that it's Saturday and EVERYONE decided to come here too, run back to my car, get stopped at that annoying red light on the way back to my apartment, park my car, run up the steps, and then continue on baking feeling all out of sorts all because I forgot that ONE ingredient. Friends, I beg of you--learn from my mistakes and carefully check your ingredient count.

3. Begin With A Clean Kitchen.

There's nothing more satisfying than beginning your baking adventure in a sparkling clean kitchen! Now, how does that saying go again? A clean workspace is a happy workspace? Well, it's totally true. Not only is it way more sanitary for the food you're about to eat, clean countertops provide a sense of organization and motivation. I know that if I'm in any room in general that's super messy I can't think straight and grasping for a sense of focus is ill-fated. Also, when my counters are already spotless, it makes me more inclined to keep them in that condition which brings me to my next point...
4. Clean-As-You-Go.
The first time I had ever learned this concept was during my time in culinary school. We'd actually lose grades for having a messy workstation. Why, you ask? Go work in any commercial kitchen--your executive chef will lose it on you if you're cooking in a mess. A messy kitchen is unsanitary, and it decreases surface area (there is NO kitchen with more-than-enough counter space to begin with). But worst of all, it's a horrible feeling to turn around after putting your cake in the oven only to discover that a tornado has obnoxiously made its way through your kitchen. When did this happen?! The sight of all those dirty dishes and buttercream-smeared counters is overwhelming and if anything it makes you just wanna crawl up on the couch and call it a day. The concept "clean as you go" can be executed like this: I just used this knife to slice a lemon into wedges, so I'm going to immediately go to the sink, wash it, and lay it on the drying towel next to the sink.
I like to keep a big bowl of hot soapy water in my sink so that I can toss dirty utensils in there and let them soak/disinfect as I continue on cooking/baking. Keeping dirty dishes and utensils soaking in water keeps the food from hardening onto it thus, making it a breeze to clean!

5. Mise En Place Your Ingredients.

This fun and fancy french word means to "put in place"; it's a concept that I also learned in culinary school/every cooking show that's ever been on TV. It means to read through the recipe, measure and prep each ingredient, and put them all into individual containers or bowls. (Dollar Tree/Dollarama sell these little packs of bowls for cheap! Personally I love their little glass ones.) When you take the time to carefully measure out each ingredient before mixing anything together, it's rare that you'll make a mistake such as neglecting an ingredient or mistakenly adding an ingredient twice because you forgot you already added it!
I'll be honest with you, I don't always practice "mise en place". Even though it's so helpful, sometimes my laziness takes over. Since I try to hand wash everything I bake with, the more bowls I use for mise en place, means the more bowls I have to clean. And seriously, can't we all just agree that washing dishes is THEE WORST part about baking?!

Although I don't practice mise en place as much as I should, I am however really good at putting ingredients away right after I use them. My personal more frequently used version of "mise en place" starts with me putting every ingredient that I need onto the counter. As soon as I'm done measuring and adding an ingredient to the mixing bowl such as chocolate chips, I immediately wrap up the bag tightly and put it back in the cupboard. As soon as I've scooped and measured my little teaspoon of baking soda, I put the container back in the cupboard. This gives me visual affirmation that I've already used this ingredient, and no longer need it (in case something distracts me and I forgot). Out of sight, out of mind!
6. Take Notes.
A super helpful thing to do is to print out a recipe, and as you're working through it take notes on literally everything. This will seriously help you when you find yourself making this recipe again in a few months and have already forgotten how many extra tsp's of lemon juice you added last time to make the perfect lemon cake.
I'm just going to be blatantly honest here, I am horrible at taking notes while baking and cooking. I just want to get things done as quick as possible and feel like taking notes will slow me down; once again my laziness gets the best of me. BUT, this is something I am seriously striving to get better at. I even bought a bunch of sheet protector sleeves and a binder to keep my recipes in, safe and secure. So unfortunately no, I have not taken notes for every single recipe I've conquered, but I have for some and here's an example of them:
1 tsp vanilla 2 tsp vanilla.
The batter is very thin--this is normal.
Cupcake tins need to be filled up to the top.
A medium cookie scoop made 24 cookies, a small cookie scoop made 36.
This recipe yields 24 cupcakes, when doubled this recipe yields 3 8" round cakes.
2 lemons = 6 TB lemon juice and 3 TB lemon zest.

7. Stay hydrated/energized.
I can't even tell you how many times I've started a baking endeavour on an empty stomach. It's not really a huge deal if you're making something quick and simple like chocolate chip cookies (although it may entice you to eat most of the cookie dough 😏 ). But if you're tackling a layered cake project that takes a few hours, you can begin to feel fatigued and a little fuzzy-headed partway through. I don't know about you but fatigue and impatience go hand-in-hand for me and one does not want to lose patience over decorating a cake! The last time Jarryd witnessed me beginning to get frustrated whilst cake decorating he wasn't havin' any of it! He sat me down on the couch, made me some food, handed me a glass of water and made me sit for 30 minutes. I felt a zillion times better after that half hour breather was over; I couldn't believe that a little rest and replenishment was all I needed to bring myself some clarity.
Speaking of hydration, water is always a good choice, in general. I learned the hard way that drinking a Coke while trying to perfect my buttercream recipe was a bad idea because my palette was totally inaccurate from all the Coke sugars. 
8. Put some tunes on!
This one's totally optional, of course. I mean, I don't think there's scientific evidence to back me up on the idea that music will lead to better tasting baked goods (wouldn't that be nice?). But, what I do know is that listening to music while working on a daunting task can make you feel a little more "loosey goosey" as they say. If I happen to be home alone, I'll turn our TV on to one of those music stations and turn up that country music reeeeeal loud. (If my husband is home, I'm usually baking to the sounds of UEFA commentators or Jarryd shouting joyous praises because Ronaldo just scored.) Other times, if I'm working on a brand new recipe that's quite tedious and complex, I don't want ANY sounds going on around me because undivided concentration is key. Because let's be honest, when your favourite song starts playing your whisk somehow transforms into a microphone and your kitchen is your stage. But I will say that playing music during the clean-up part is a fantastic idea. It helps to take your mind off of those annoying buttercream-clogged piping tips you've been trying clean.

9. Gather Up Inspiration & Look For Help.
If you're feeling stuck on what baking/cooking project you should tackle next, I go to the world-wide-web for inspiration. (I'm not a big cookbook person, I only own like 5 of them and truthfully they're gathering dust as we speak.) On Pinterest I type in "baking" or "desserts" and when a specific dessert catches my eye, I might use their recipe, but most of the time I turn to Google Search or AllRecipes to find a perfect recipe for it. (I LOVE AllRecipes--seriously, you can't go wrong with a recipe that's been given 4 or 5 stars with thousands of reviews!)
If you want to learn a new skill like how to lattice a pie, or how to make a sugar tuile, or how to perfectly boil water for instance: Youtube. After I finally purchased a huge set of piping tips and my cake turntable a few years back, I immediately went to Youtube and searched "buttercream roses" and that is where I learned how to pipe my very first buttercream flowers! Because I'm a visual learner, reading step-by-step instructions about what angle the piping tip should be at or the amount of pressure you need to give with your hand does nothing for me. Youtube tutorials however, do everything for me! Watching someone pipe a flower while explaining in detail their every move taught me tremendously and gave me a whole new skill in just one afternoon!

10. Nominate Some Taste-Testers.
When I was doing my first wedding cake back in April, I tested a cake, filling, and frosting recipe two or three times because I HAD to get it perfect. My number one most reliable, and HONEST taste-tester is Jarryd. He will never tell me something is good when it's not. And bonus, he has a killer palette (much more accurate than mine). My next go-to's are my in-laws because they too will give me honest feedback. You need people like that in your life because there are some folks who will just tell you what you want to hear or tell you something is perfect even when it's too sweet or too salty.
Nominating taste-testers is a win-win because your friends and family get to indulge in delicious (free!) desserts and in return you get honest critique!

So there you have it guys, my 10 best tips to achieving success in the kitchen! Do any of you guys practice these tips too? Did you learn anything new? Is there anything you know that would help you tremendously but neglect to do it anyway (like me and my mise en place and note-taking 😬)?!
But most importantly, do you have any tips of your own to add or things that work for you? I would LOVE to hear them because I'm always looking for ways to better myself in this area! Thank you guys so much for reading and I'm so thankful we can help one another out. Happy baking, friends! 💖

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