There are two ways to approach cooking, armed with a cookbook or with an elder, experienced cook (read : mother, grandmother) by your side.
In the first case, you keep darting over to the side, to refer to the next step and speed-read and mutter when adding ingredients, sometimes an impatient “tsk” escapes your lips and you dart back to the cook book.
Let’s look at the case where you, first, stand by your mother/grandmother, as the case may be, to learn cooking. Raise your hand if you sampled more, than learn. But when you paid attention, what was the thing that impressed you the most? She just added ingredients, rarely, if ever used a standard measuring tool.
Indian home-cooking is mostly about eyeballing—andaaz—as we call it. A pinchhere, a fistful there, are oft used terms. While this works for day-to-day cooking and for certain recipes, does it help when cooking for a crowd? This is where measuring cups and spoons make their entry. A set of measuring cups and spoons are your best friends in the kitchen. If you think it is time consuming to measure and cook, think back on all those times that you felt hot and bothered about how the end product would taste! Why they are so important? Today, our taste is evolving, we are experimenting with different ingredients and cuisines involving not just foreign sounding ingredients but also techniques.
Before I jump head first into that, let us look at something closer to home. For the sake of comparison (I know that’s unfair, but humor me) let’s look at something we cook regularly in our kitchen, the humble potato, cooks in a small amount of time, uses minimum spices and the cooks favourite for the reason, that it is a very forgiving vegetable, you can eyeball ingredients (within reason) and still end up with a tasty side dish.
Now, compare it to cooking one cup of rice. Normally, you would add twice the amount of water and cook rice. What if, you add four times as much water? Gummy glop? And what if you reduce it to half a cup of water? Bird feed! Either way, you would not like to eat it, right?
The same applies to baking, often seen as intimidating and best left to professionals. I get mails or calls from my friends/blog readers with questions on why a certain recipe works for me but did not work for them. When I probe, I find that they tried to bake something and it flopped. Why? There are several reasons, but the most common reason is, they did not follow the recipe. Using katori instead of cup and any spoon available on hand is a sure-fire way of ending up with disappointment! Bottom line: when baking, follow the rules, no exceptions! There is a reason why a tablespoon is different from a teaspoon. If you used a tablespoon of salt instead of teaspoon, you’d end up with thrice as much salt, yikes! Invest in a good set of measuring cups and spoons. Getting into the habit of measuring things, whether for baking/bulk or regular cooking ensures consistency, every time, like in a restaurant.
These are the basics, but, as we always say, if the basic foundation is strong, everything else follows!