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.

The premise of careful measurement reminds me of Rob, my spouse, preparing formula for Luke as a baby. He used to place the dry powder in a measuring cup and carefully scrape off the top with a knife to be sure he measured the precise amount. By the time Luke was a toddler, precision was tossed out the window as he loosely tossed the formula in a bottle until it looked ‘about right.’ With a little experience, bottles of formula turn out just fine when you eyeball and improvise.

Home-made meals aren’t a lot different.

I’m sure many of you have watched television or read recipes that are a bit vague on measurements. Jamie Oliver frequently uses the term glug or wine glass to describe how much of a certain liquid to add. There is a dramatic variation among wine glass sizes, so that might be confusing to someone who doesn’t know how to cook, or doesn’t drink wine for that matter. Likewise, Rachel Ray often measures spices in her palm and “eyeballs” olive oil by making circles around a pan. I’ve no doubt their time tested experience knows full well how much of an ingredient to add, but for some, these may be daunting rules of measurement.

To complicate matters further, many cookbooks list ingredients by ounces versus cups, forcing someone like myself to do conversions. Quarts and pints can be confusing terms, too.

If you are unsure about how much of something to add, err on the safe side – and measure carefully. Especially if the television is blaring, the dogs are barking and the kids are asking for juice and snacks. To help remember how much of what I have added to anything, I often ask my little Luke to “help me count.” He may benefit from the practical application of math all while helping out in the kitchen.

If you don’t have a child handy, Shaina offers another helpful tip: “I keep a magnetic card on my fridge with basic measurement equivalents so I always cheat and look if necessary.  A laminated ‘cheater’ sheet tucked into the spice cabinet would also serve you well if measurement equivalents give you trouble.”

Here are a few equivalents to help get you started:

  • 1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons
  • 1 cup = 16 tablespoon = 8 ounces
  • 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons
  • 1/3 cup = 5 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon
  • 1 pint = 2 cups = 16 ounces
  • 1 quart = 4 cups (2 pints) = 32 ounces
  • 1 gallon = 4 quarts
  • 1 pound = 16 ounces
  • 1/2 pound = 8 ounces
  • 1/4 pound = 4 ounces

If your household is anything like mine, one potential problem might be missing utensils – either the dog ate it, it’s at the bottom of the dishwasher or it is long-gone for some other reason. If you can’t find the exact measurer you need, simply substitute an equivalent.

Speaking of utensils, in addition to measuring cups, manufacturers have now introduced measuring bowls, measuring pitchers, measuring tools and all sorts of scales. But I find the ones described below adequate for 95% of my cooking and baking needs.

If you are cooking or baking, the measuring cups shown below are great for “dry” ingredients (e.g., flour, sugar, bread crumbs):

dry_measuring_cups

Alternatively, if measuring “wet” ingredients (e.g., milk, water, oil), a “cup” like this is easier to use.

measuring-cup

But back to that formula story, precision matters most when baking. Stay tuned next week to find out more.

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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