I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. By making a contribution, your comments will be printed, crediting you and/or your blog, and you’ll get free copies of the book. In addition, for each section, I’m consulting an expert blogger – for this excerpt, it’s Shaina Olmanson, home cook and author of Food For My Family.

Adding cream to cake

If you involve your child in the cooking process, it’s great to have an extra set of eyes, or in my case a second brain, to help measure and keep count. Whether you are tracking progress in the kitchen on your own or relying on the assistance of a little sous chef, precision and accuracy matter in some instances more than others.

My experience has taught me an important cooking rule of thumb:

If you are cooking a main dish, measurement is more forgiving.

Most main and side dishes can weather a few storms of creativity without detrimental outcomes. Sometimes, less or more of something might actually improve the flavor of whatever it is you happen to be preparing. That said, if you are learning, it does not hurt to measure ingredients with care, even leveling off spices and crumbs with a knife if necessary. After all, when you get more comfortable with increments and measurements and ingredients, like Rob and baby formula, you’ll lighten up with confidence.

However, if you are preparing breads or desserts from scratch:

You have to be a bit more precise when it comes to baking.

Baking desserts and breads tends to be less forgiving than herb encrusted fish or spaghetti sauce. If a recipe for cookies calls for 1 ½ cups of flour, omitting a ¼ cup here and or ½ cup there could have disastrous implications. Not to mention, when you are baking something like bread, you have the added challenge of a laborious kneading process. If you’ve measured improperly, you’ll probably have a sticky mess on your hands, literally!

If at first you don’t succeed…

When Luke turned one, I decided to bake my grandmother’s time-tested chocolate cake. It was my very favorite food in the world when I was a child, so I wanted to pass along the tradition to my little one. How hard could it be?

The cake turned out alright, despite a few bits stuck to the pan upon removal. The icing, on the other hand, was a complete disaster. I’m not sure if I measured the ingredients incorrectly, didn’t cook it long enough or left something out altogether, but the darn stuff would not thicken. It was chocolate icing soup, even after I added a half a box of confectioner’s sugar not included in the recipe.

After icing the cake, the top layer consequently slid off the bottom layer. Let’s suffice to say we have some humorous Year One birthday pictures. At least it tasted good!

…try again!

Shaina shares the moral to the story with a grandmother story of her own. “With baking, you have to try and try again.  I can’t tell you how many times I tried my grandma’s famous kugelhopf recipe, a cake baked in an extravagant Bundt pan, only to have it stick to the top time and time again.  However, I didn’t give up.  When my grandma was no longer around to teach me the tricks, I only had her notes to go by.  After several attempts, I finally figured out the right process, the consistency of whipped egg whites, the tricks to getting the raisins to float in the cake rather than sink and everything else.  I had a winner.

Baking takes patience and precision, and be prepared to give it some time to get comfortable whipping up a cake or throwing together a tart.”

About Shaina Olmanson

Shaina Olmanson is a freelance writer and photographer and also the home cook behind Food for My Family and the food channel editor at Lifetime Moms.  She fell in love with the art of cooking while spending countless hours hanging on her grandmother’s apron strings, and as a native Minnesotan, growing up surrounded by farms served as a daily reminder of the importance of local and seasonal food.  Raising her four young children with her husband, she strives to teach them the importance of growing, preparing and eating and enjoying real food.

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