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Learning the Basics

Learning the Basics

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Nicole Richie gets schooled in first class etiquette

Nicole Richie and Derek Blasberg prep for their dinner party.

Nicole Richie has certainly come a long way since her days of being on The Simple Life. However the creative director of House of Harlow 1960 and Winter Kate, star of the new web series #CandidlyNicole and mom isn’t quite there just yet. That’s why she calls on etiquette expert Derek Blasberg to help her keep it classy for her neighbor’s 32nd Wedding Anniversary dinner.

In her most recent episode, Richie takes Blasberg give some excellent tips on hosting an event in your home. Here are just a few pointers we really enjoyed:

Derek Blasberg Tips:

On the Key to a Successful Party
“First and foremost is the guest list. I’ve had more fun at a pizza party with good friends than I’ve had at an elegant 14-course meal with complete strangers.”
On When to Leave the Party:
One person told me this amazing tip when to leave the party is to leave when you’re having the most fun.

On Name Cards at the Party
“If you want to introduce someone to someone else, you’ve got to do name cards.”

On Eating Etiquettes

“It’s polite to wait until the people on either side of you have food on their plates. But you, you probably wouldn’t wait…what’s polite is often what’s not personal.”

Nicole Richie’s Tips:

“I always have fresh flowers. I have candles. The scent is very important. And at my house, I like to keep things very casual. So everybody takes off their shoes. We’re normally outside.”

“So flowers, food, fresh scents, bare feet. ‘The Nicole Richie party tricks,’” Blaseberg quips. “And also the pole dancing.”

“Yes, well that’s the surprise show…” Richie retorts.

The new series is based on Nicole's clever twitter feed and will follow the outspoken host as she muses on her own daily insights and shares her uncensored perspectives.

Learn the basics of at-home baking with this perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe

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Baking is a science — when just one ingredient or proportion is off, it can seriously change the texture, flavor and success of your dish.

In this episode of In The Know’s Cooking Class, host Caitlin Sakdalan of Be Fat Be Happy shared the basics of at-home baking while making the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

First, she preheated the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and then placed two softened sticks of butter into a mixing bowl.

“The temperature of your butter will affect the final dessert and your product,” Sakdalan said. “The softer your butter, the more delicate and light and chewy. The colder your butter, it will give you a final product that’s a little bit more crispy and flakey on the outside.”

Next, she added brown sugar and white sugar to the bowl. Sakdalan whisked the ingredients together and then threw in two eggs and one teaspoon of vanilla extract and continued to stir.

Sakdalan weighed her flour on a food scale to get the most precise measurement.

“Sometimes measuring cups can be wonky,” she said. “We want to be as accurate as possible because baking is a science, after all. If you have access, it’s super important to use something like this Levin food scale, which is made of stainless steel and tempered glass.”

After, she added one teaspoon of baking soda and one teaspoon of salt to the flour.

“Salt is super important because it brings out the natural flavor of things, it doesn’t automatically mean that it’s going to be savory,” Sakdalan explained. “But it will intensify the flavor that you’re trying to get. So when you add a little pinch of salt to your dessert, it will actually make it sweeter in the best way possible.”

Next, she poured the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients one cup at a time, mixing in between each cup.

“We do this so that it slowly takes in the dry ingredients so that it doesn’t ruin the texture of our cookies,” the chef said. “The consistency, we want it to be firm enough when we’re looking at our dough so that you can actually create and form these balls.”

She took note of when the dough became less stringy and more “ball-like.” When it was the right texture, Sakdalan mixed in the chocolate chips and chopped walnuts.

“To prevent your cookies from getting flat and one big shape,” she said. “Put the dough in the fridge and let it rest for at least two hours. When you let it rest and have it be cold when you roll up the dough balls, that’s how you’ll get the shape that you actually want.”

Finally, after rolling the dough into two-inch balls with her fist and placing them on a baking sheet, it was time to put the cookies in the oven for eight to 10 minutes.

“We’re going to put our cookies directly on our Ultra Cuisine 100 percent stainless steel cooling rack,” Sakdalan said. “As your cookies are cooling, you can add a touch of salt. Remember salt does not mean savory, it just means intensified flavor.”

24 Essential Cooking & Baking Skills Your Teen Should Know

Whether a kid’s college bound, planning a gap year or diving straight into the workforce after they graduate, they all have one very important thing in common: Everybody’s gotta eat. Another thing they have in common? They’re not going to spontaneously know how to feed themselves sans Mom and Dad, drive-thru and DoorDash the moment they cross the threshold to their new place. That’s why it’s important to teach them to cook before they leave the nest.

Though I’m quite the cook now, when I went off to college, I could cook exactly one dish “from scratch.” It consisted of canned tuna, cream of mushroom soup, canned peas, milk and onions. Then, I became a vegetarian in the middle of Nowheresville, Texas, where people thought “vegetarian food” was fish, salad and side dishes (never mind that most of our side dishes have bacon). It was then that I had to learn to fend for myself. I quickly learned that not only was cooking a means to a (vegetarian) end, it was a really damn good option to avoid the freshmen 15 and, most important, one a poor college student could actually afford.

Guys, your kids have to learn to cook for themselves. They might complain now, but they’ll thank you later.

Whether you started your kids young or just began teaching your teen to get their gourmand on, make sure your bambino knows these fundamental cooking and baking skills before they graduate.

1. Grocery shopping

Goodness knows teens are more than capable of shopping (and spending), but when it comes to grocery shopping, they need to know how to budget and save, plan a (healthy!) menu and get home without too much (or too little) food.

2. Basic knife skills

It can be scary to let your kids handle knives, even (or maybe especially) if they’re teens, but learning to do so under supervision sure beats learning the hard way when your roomie isn’t home. They should learn basic cutting techniques and what each knife’s purpose is.

3. Safety & first aid

The USDA actually has training materials for all age groups. And don’t forget about knife and general kitchen safety and first aid for cuts and burns.

4. Using kitchen appliances

They don’t need to know how to use all of them, but think about what they will use. Instant Pots and slow cookers are a lifesaver for anyone who’s busy, including college students and kiddos in the workforce. And if your child is dorm-bound, don’t forget to teach them all the things you can cook if all you have is a microwave.

5. Measuring & weighing

Teach them how to properly measure out ingredients &mdash the sprinkle and scrape method for baking, the difference between liquid and dry measuring cups and how to weigh ingredients when it’s called for.

6. Reading & following directions

Your teen’s teachers will thank you for this one. It essentially involves reading the recipe carefully (twice!) and getting any questions you have answered before beginning.

7. Cutting & doubling recipes

Knowing how to cut a recipe when you’re cooking for only one or two is a handy skill to have once they strike out on their own, and doubling recipes will help them make big-batch meals that can be frozen for later.

8. Cooking mise en place

Mise en place is French for “set up.” Cooking mise en place essentially means you have everything set up and prepped before you start cooking. It’s best practice for every cook, but especially for teens who are still learning.

9. Popcorn & healthier snacks

If they know how to pop popcorn that’s not in a bag and season it with healthier flavors, they’ll be able to make healthier choices on that front. But they should also know how to make trail mix, granola &mdash even Chex mix &mdash for healthier-than-chips snacking options.

10. Making a salad

I know salads sound like a no-brainer, but knowing how to make a really great salad means they might actually do it. Some teens might also enjoy making homemade croutons.

11. Making soup

Soups are generally pretty simple and can make a healthy and filling meal. Try starting with a broth-based soup, a cream-based soup and a cheesy soup. If they can’t get enough ramen or pho, they can even learn this healthy hybrid.

12. Cooking casseroles & one-pot meals

Casseroles and one-pot meals are essentially dump or layer recipes, which couldn’t be easier. They really only need to learn three or four basic recipes to master any other recipe they could find. Try a classic casserole revamped to avoid high-sodium canned soups, a lasagna and a dump casserole or chili.

13. Cooking meats

Unless they’re vegan or vegetarian, they’ll likely want to cook up a carnivorous delight here and there. They should know how to cook up a pound of ground beef and how to make hamburgers, meatloaf and other budget eats. They should also know how to roast, grill (indoor or outdoor), braise and pan-fry so they aren’t limited to ground meat dishes and casseroles. And don’t forget about breakfast meats like sausage and bacon.

14. Cooking vegetables (& fruits!)

All vegetables are pretty much roasted the same basic way, making for a quick, easy and flavorful side with very little labor. But they should also know how to blanch, sauté and boil. They should know the difference between onions being translucent and browned and when a potato or other veggie is “fork tender.”

15. Other sides

They’re not likely to be satisfied with just roasted or steamed veggies every meal. They’ll also want the occasional mac and cheese or mashed potatoes or other home-cooked faves.

16. Cooking eggs

Rubbery, uninspiring eggs aren’t exactly going to motivate anyone to stay out of the McDonald’s drive-thru before class or work. They should know how to boil, poach, fry (sunny-side up, over easy) and scramble &mdash any preparation they’re likely to crave. They should also know how to make an omelet.

17. Cooking pasta & grains

If your teen is interested in making pasta from scratch, go for it! But we mean teaching them how to cook dry pasta, rice and other grains they like, such as quinoa.

18. Dressings & sauces

Dressings and sauces can be purchased, but not only will they be tastier and healthier (less packed with sodium, sugar and preservatives) homemade, they teach fundamental cooking skills like making an emulsion, making a roux and deglazing a pan.

For dressings, they should know how to make a vinaigrette, a creamy dressing and a Caesar dressing.

Sauce-wise, they should know how to make pan gravies for meats (and cream gravies if that’s how your teen rolls, of course) and Hollandaise sauce (to teach double-boiler skills). And don’t forget about pasta sauces. The five best pasta sauces to start with are the classics: a simple tomato sauce, a meat sauce, a pesto sauce, a garlic and olive oil sauce and a cream sauce &mdash with those basics, they can confidently make any other sauce they find a recipe for. For those of us in certain regions, a basic authentic enchilada sauce may also be a must, as it requires different skills than the other sauces (namely, roasting dried chilies).

19. Basic baking

If your teen has a sweet tooth, they should know how to make a handful of simple treats. What specific recipes they learn may be based on their preferences, but good places to start are cookies, brownies and simple frosted cakes. Pies and breads are more advanced, but teens who are likely to crave Mom’s pecan pie or Granny’s famous hot rolls when neither Mom nor Granny is around should learn those skills too.

20. Drinks

No, we’re not encouraging you to teach your kids to play bartender at your next party. We mean the basics, like tea, fresh-squeezed juices, coffee and punch.

21. Time-management

When cooking a meal, it’s vital that you know when to start various components so they all finish around the same time.

22. Storage & freezing

Proper storage of leftovers and knowing how to freeze large-batch meals like soups, chilies and lasagna is essential for anyone striking out on their own, especially if they don’t have roommates to cook for.

23. How to clean the kitchen

If they don’t learn how to clean, their kitchen will eventually get so gross they’re afraid to cook in it (and you’ll definitely be afraid to come within 100 feet of their apartment without a hazmat suit). Essential cleaning skills include cleaning as you go, disinfecting areas and dishes that came into contact with raw meat, what can and can’t go in the dishwasher and how to clean (without destroying) any appliances they’ll have with them when they move out.

24. Failure is a learning experience

By far the most important thing you can teach your teen &mdash about cooking or life in general, really &mdash is that failure is a learning experience. A lot of people get discouraged about cooking because they fail once and think they suck at it. And that’s because they probably do&hellip for now. And that’s OK. They should know that instead of fearing failure to the point of letting it stop them, they should research what they did wrong and try again. It’s all part of the learning process, and in the case of cooking, the fun part is that even your failures are (usually) pretty darn tasty.

How to Learn Cooking by Yourself

This article was co-authored by Alex Hong. Alex Hong is the Executive Chef and Co-Owner of Sorrel, a New American restaurant in San Francisco. He has been working in restaurants for over ten years. Alex is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, and has worked in the kitchens of Jean-Georges and Quince, both Michelin-starred restaurants.

There are 25 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 243,936 times.

Ordering takeout or tossing a premade frozen dinner in the oven may be quick and convenient, but there’s something special about being able to cook your own meal. Plus, foods you make yourself are almost always healthier and more wholesome than processed or prepackaged foods. If learning to cook seems intimidating, don’t worry! You don’t need fancy equipment or lots of experience to make good food. Once you master a few simple techniques, you’ll be able to create all kinds of tasty dishes. [1] X Research source

Types of Flour and Protein Content

  • Cake Flour (7-9.5%)
  • Pastry Flour (7.5-10%)
  • All-Purpose Flour (10-13%)
  • Bread Flour (12-15%)
  • Whole Wheat (13-14%)
  • High gluten (75-80%)

Cake flour has the least amount of protein content and is ideal for tender cakes.

Pastry flour also has a low amount of protein content and is ideal for products in which you do not want a high amount of gluten production. These include biscuits and pie crusts

All-Purpose is just as the name suggests, being a well-rounded flour. It can be used in any application but does not produce results as well as flours designed for certain applications.

Bread flour is the hardest flour, having a high amount of protein and is ideal for gluten creation for bread making, such as yeast bread. The high protein content is also excellent and ideal for the creation of roux, as it provides better thickening properties.

Whole wheat flour uses the entire kernel except the wheat germ. Whole wheat products will be denser and have less volume then products made with white flour.

Specialty Flour

Self-rising flour is an all-purpose flour which salt and a chemical leavener is added (Usually baking powder)

Nonwheat flour, also known as composite flours, are made from grains, beans or seeds, corn, soybeans, rice, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, and other items. These composite flours are ideal for those with a sensitivity to gluten or celiacs who are unable to eat flour.

Knowing the appropriate type of flour, and those that are available to you will help you produce baking goods you never thought you could. The secret to proper baking is inconsistency in ingredients and amounts. Anyone can produce excellent tasting bread and all they have to do is follow the directions and apply the proper techniques.

The Basics of cooking from scratch.

The great thing about scratch cooking is many of the ingredients used to cook a wide variety of meals are pretty basic, and most of these items can be bought in large quantities – something that’s extremely important when trying to build a stockpile of long-lasting emergency food.

To learn how to do this right you’re going to have to get your hands dirty and experiment you’re also going to need a good cookbook. While there are a million cookbooks on the market these days, I recommend looking for something that was developed before the 1950’s something that deals in basic ingredients, without relying on a bunch of pre-processed products.

One of the best books available is the Fanny Farmer Cookbook by Fannie Merritt Farmer. The book was first published in 1896 as The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book and is now in its 13th edition (re-released by Marion Cunningham). While the 13th edition does have many of the original recipes, it has been updated in some areas. If you can find an original, snatch it up immediately otherwise the later editions are a good place to start.

If you’re short on funds, I’ve uploaded a great set of recipes from World War I that will give you a good idea of what you can do with some very basic ingredients. The War Time Cooking Recipes can be seen here. It’s a good look into how people cooked during a time when rationing caused them to make due with whatever they had on their shelves. Once you start experimenting you can tweak these recipes with your own ingredients.

The Easiest Way To Make Salad Dressing, Ever

Why buy salad dressing when making it yourself literally takes about the same time as picking one out from the supermarket shelf? Seriously, you may never buy a vinaigrette again.

Why It's So Easy

An easy vinaigrette is all about ratio! A 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar (or other acidic liquid) is pretty standard. The good news? You can change it to suit your taste.

What You Need

Let&aposs say you&aposre making 1 cup of a basic vinaigrette. Here&aposs what you need:

  • 3/4 cup (or 3 parts) of oil (any basic vegetable oil will work)
  • 1/4 cup (or 1 part) vinegar (balsamic, red or white wine vinegar)
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard (helps keep the dressing emulsified)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or pressed
  • Dried Seasonings (I use Italian Seasoning)


Add the vinegar and oil. It&aposs totally ok to eyeball the amounts. That&aposs why this is so easy—you don&apost have to measure! Then add the mustard, the crushed/pressed garlic, and the seasonings.

The Fun Part

This is my favorite part. Load up that jar with and shake away!

There are few basic rules to learn how to cook perfectly al dente your pasta. The basic rule to cook is 10+100+1000, means 10gr of salt for 100gr of pasta boiling in a liter of water. This rule is very simple and easy to remember, 100gr are an average serving.
Read more

Do you really think that making pasta at home is that difficult? I would like to show you that, once you’ve learned the basics, you will be able to make your own favorite pasta in no time. Here too, the recipe is really easy to learn, there are just two.
Read more

Baking 101: The basics of baking (Tips for successful baking)

When I was learning how to bake, I made A LOT of mistakes. Neither of my parents had ever baked anything… and I had no one to show me the right way to do things. So I just did things… a lot… over and over until I got it right. In the process, I have learned a lot about what to do vs. what not to do. Some of the things that I will mention may seem very elementary to an accomplished baker… but for the typical person who bakes occasionally… some of this might be relevant information. (I know it would have been helpful for me when I first started baking!)

I get questions and comments sometimes regarding recipes and why they have failed for a particular person – many of those problems can be fixed by following the procedures here. I’m always happy to answer comments/questions that I get via email, but I figured it would be helpful to have a baking “how to” for reference.


For most baking recipes, you will want to start with room temperature ingredients (if there is no mention of temperature in the recipe). Remove your ingredients from the refrigerator about an hour or so before baking to get the chill out. (***The exception to this would be if you are making a pastry (pie crust, biscuits, etc.) – in that case you typically want to start with cold butter.***) If you start out with cold ingredients instead of room temperature ingredients, the starting temperature of your cake batter (for example) will be colder than expected, and it will take longer to bake. As a result, you might end up under-baking your cake (the outside might be done, but the inside might be under-cooked or raw causing the center to possibly collapse upon cooling).

Leave your ingredients out on the counter about 1 hour or so before baking.

Read the recipe first, and make sure that you have all the ingredients you need before starting – there is nothing worse than being in the middle of mixing a cake, only to realize you are out of milk, or you are a few eggs short! Pay particular attention to the body of instructions – a recipe may call for 2 c. of milk in the ingredient list, but only want you to add 1 c. to start, and use the other 1 c. for something else – make sure you know beforehand where your ingredients are going. (Read ALL the instructions from start to finish!)

Read the ingredients list and all the instructions from beginning to end, before attempting a recipe.

Also, make sure your ingredients are fresh – particularly the leavening agents. If your yeast is dead, your bread will not rise. If your baking soda or baking powder have gone flat – same thing, you will not get any CO2 bubbles to help your cake rise.

Baking Soda flat? Well then your cake will be flat too! Always use fresh leavening ingredients!


If it is your first time making a particular recipe, do it without any substitutions! I can’t tell you how many recipes fail because of a substitution… so before you start tinkering, make sure you know what the actual recipe is like exactly as written. Once you get the hang of a particular recipe, then you can start experimental substitutions, to see what you can get away with. Some recipes are very forgiving, and you can make a lot of substitutions, and some recipes are very finicky and don’t do well at all with substitutions. So just keep in mind, just because one substitution has worked for you in the past with a different recipe – it may not work this time. Be particularly careful when changing the ratio of fat:sugar:flour:eggs. These are your structural ingredients, so too little (or too much) of one (out of proportion with the other ingredients) can cause major structural failure.

When substituting flour, note that not all flours react the same. Lower protein flours (cake) tend to be softer and produce a more delicate texture while higher protein flours (bread flour) are “harder” and produce more gluten for a chewier texture. So if your recipe calls for cake flour and you use bread flour instead, you will have a problem! If you do need to substitute flours:

1 c. cake flour = 3/4 c. all purpose flour + 2 T. all purpose flour + 2 T. cornstarch

1 c. bread flour = 3/4 c. all purpose flour + 3 T. all purpose flour + 1 T. vital wheat gluten

Whole grain flours also tend to be denser, causing a drier baked good. My rule of thumb for substituting with whole wheat flour is to only substitute for up to half of the all purpose flour, while not altering any of the other ingredients. For example, if you are trying to make a “healthy cake”, and you use half whole wheat flour, reduce the sugar, and substitute the oil with applesauce… you will not have a cake in the end, you will have something that resembles (and tastes like) cardboard. So don’t try to substitute or reduce too many things – in the end, you won’t want to eat it, and will have wasted ingredients. Next time, make a smaller substitution, and just eat a smaller portion of your baked good.


I’ve mentioned before that baking is not so much an art as it is a science – organic chemistry to be exact. That means that you can’t really “eyeball” the ingredients you are relying on to produce a structure… you need to measure the quantities precisely and methodically, so that you get the same results every time you bake. You also need to make your measurements with the right tools.

Use the right tools to measure your ingredients!

Use volumetric cups for measuring dry ingredients like flour, sugar, or other dry goods. Use pyrex measuring cups with a spout for any liquid ingredients. And for small quantities that call for “teaspoons” or “Tablespoons” – use actual spoon measuring sets – do NOT use the small or large spoons from your cutlery set.

Use a spoon (or even the edge of the measuring cup) to stir up or fluff up the flour. Scoop the loosened flour into the cup (gently), allowing the flour to be slightly overfilled. Use a flat edge (chopstick, back of a butter knife, etc.) to sweep the overfilled flour back into the bag.

***At no point do you want to tamp the flour down, or hit the measuring cup against something to “settle” or “level” the flour. If you do this, you will actually pack the flour granules tighter together, so that you end up with more flour than your recipe is actually calling for.***

Place your measuring cup on a flat even surface (do not hold the cup in your hand as this will most likely tilt the cup, and you will not get an accurate measurement). Pour the liquid into the measuring cup to the desired measurement mark. Bend down to eye level with the measuring cup, and make sure the meniscus of the liquid touches the line.

Be careful with teaspoons vs. tablespoons! Make sure you know which the recipe calls for, and use the appropriate measure. Many recipes can be completely ruined by using the wrong amount of baking soda, for example. These are the standard abbreviations used:

tsp.” – teaspoon (4.92892 mL)

T.” – Tablespoon (14.7868 mL)

Use actual measuring spoons (on left), do NOT use cutlery spoons (on right).

***Never use the small and large spoons in your cutlery set to measure teaspoons or Tablespoons in baking. Cutlery spoons are not going to give you a standard measurement. So when a recipe calls for “tsp.” or “T.”, use an actual measuring spoon set!***


Generally, your recipe will tell you how to do this – what order to mix the ingredients, how long, and until what point. If you don’t have a good set of instructions to rely on, then I analyze the recipe to see what it is for and what the ingredients are.

If you are making some kind of “cake” like item or cookies, and your ingredients call for BUTTER, then you will want to use the CREAMING METHOD: Basically, you start out by blending the sugar into the butter for a several minute time period in order to create “bubbles” in the butter mixture. This step will make your butter mixture light and fluffy, with the air bubbles causing it to expand in volume slightly (much like whipped cream is expanded in volume). These air bubbles are important because they will expand further with the heat of baking to help provide lift (rise). Once you have creamed the butter and sugar, then usually you will add the eggs in gradually (one at a time), and incorporate them completely, before moving on to adding the rest of the ingredients. (Under creaming your butter will often result in a flat cake, or cake that doesn’t rise properly.)

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy before adding eggs and other ingredients.

If you are making some kind of cake, quick bread (e.g. pumpkin bread), pancake, or muffin using OIL, then you will want to use the MUFFIN METHOD: Mix all the liquid ingredients together (in this case, sugar counts as a “liquid” – so mix the sugar into the liquids). Then, sift all the dry ingredients together (including the salt, leavening like baking soda or baking powder, and any dry spices like ground cinnamon. To “sift”, you can run all the ingredients through a traditional sifter, or you can do what I do… put all the dry ingredients into a bowl and use a wire whisk to mix it all up together so that you have an even mixture. (There is nothing worse than biting into a piece of cake and tasting a lump of baking soda – so make sure you mix everything together well and that no lumps of anything remain. ).

In the final (MUFFIN METHOD) step, you mix the liquid ingredients and the dry ingredients – just until mostly incorporated. You want to avoid over-mixing, and make sure you STOP MIXING right when the ingredients have come together. For certain recipes (like pancakes), you may even want to stop mixing if there are still a few lumps. (Over-mixing develops gluten, which will toughen the texture of your cake.)

Just mix the dry into the wet. only until combined, then STOP! Do not over mix!

If you are making some kind of pastry (like pie crust), scone, or biscuit, then you will usually want to use the BISCUIT METHOD: Cut the COLD solid fat (butter, shortening, lard, etc.) into the flour & dry ingredients using a food processor, pastry blender, or even two knifes. Once the mixture resembles crumbs, you add the liquid and knead it just until the dough comes together.

For pastry, you cut the butter into the flour (and dry ingredients) first, then add the liquid last to form a smooth dough.


COOKIES : For cookies, I find that the best method is to bake on a sturdy Aluminum Cookie Sheet with a Silicone Baking Liner. Otherwise, use Parchment Paper to line your cookie sheets, or non-stick foil. You can also use non-stick cookie sheets, or grease your cookie sheets with butter or shortening – but I find that the cookie bottoms tend to burn sometimes when baking directly on top of the metal (and tend to stick more).

CAKE PANS : I prefer to spray the inside of the pan (bottom and sides) with Pam for Baking Spray. Cakes come out perfect for me every single time I use this spray – however – because the spray contains lecithin, you may end up a with a gummy residue on the pan areas that you oversprayed. So try only to spray the areas of the pan that the cake batter will actually touch – try not to spray the tops or sides of the pan that will not come in contact with the batter. I really prefer the spray – especially when it comes to intricate pans that may have small details, cracks, and crevices (like a fancy bundt pan).

The other method that I use is to grease the pan entirely with some sort of fat (butter, shortening, or oil), then add a small amount of flour (unsweetened cocoa powder if making a chocolate cake). Tap the pan (while rotating it) over the sink, making sure you get a fine coating of flour over every inch of the pan that will come in contact with the batter. Tap out the extra flour before filling with batter. I’ll mainly use this method with loaf pans, or something that is fairly “straight”.

LAYER CAKES : If you are making round cake layers (especially if this is a cake that you want to decorate, then I grease and flour the entire pan sides and bottom with either of the above methods, but add a circle of waxed paper into the bottom. (Trace the bottom of the pan onto waxed paper, then cut out the circle slightly smaller so that if fits into the bottom of the pan. Grease the pan, then add the waxed paper on top of the greased bottom.) When you remove your cake from the pan, you can slowly peel the waxed paper off the cake layer – leaving it nice and smooth (It also helps to remove the cake from the pan without it breaking).

You can see when you invert the cake, the bottom comes out undamaged because of the waxed paper circle. Once you remove the cake from the pan, gently peel the waxed paper off the cake surface.

***Pay attention to the instructions in your recipe though – for certain recipes (like chiffon or sponge cakes) it is very important that you leave the cake pan UNGREASED so that the cake has some structure and support to cling to while baking and cooling.***


PREHEAT THE OVEN : Unless your recipe calls for a start in a cold oven, then preheat your oven ahead of time (about 15-20 minutes). You want the oven to be nice and hot so that when you put your cake or cookies inside, the baking process starts immediately. If you start with a cold oven, you might find it takes longer to bake – or your outside is done while the inside is still under done.

My oven has a preheat cycle. Once the cycle is done, I let the oven preheat another 10 minutes or so.

ENSURE EVEN HEATING : Not all ovens are the same, so always look at recommended baking times as guidelines, not as strict rules! If your oven runs hotter or colder, you may need to alter how long you bake for. Also, some ovens cycle on and off – so the heat may not be evenly applied over a period of time. My remedy for this is to leave a ceramic pizza stone in the bottom of the oven at all times. The pizza stone will heat up during the preheat, then will help keep the oven temperature constant throughout the baking period. If you don’t have a pizza stone, you can use a clean unglazed ceramic tile. With certain recipes, you may also need to rotate your pans: front to back, top to bottom shelf and vice versa to ensure even baking.

Here's my pizza stone when it was nice and new. After use, the stone will become discolored. that's ok, it still works!

OPENING THE OVEN TO CHECK PROGRESS : Remember, baking times are GUIDELINES, not proclamations! Not all ovens are the same, and atmospheric conditions will also change how fast your items will take to bake. So check your baked goods for doneness before removing from the oven. If you are making a simple cake or cookie recipe, you can usually open the oven to check a few minutes before the suggested time. For example, if making cookies and baking time is 10-12 minutes, I would start checking around the 8-9 minute mark. For a cake that says to bake 55-60 minutes, I would probably start checking around 45 minutes. But…. make it quick. Don’t leave the oven open for too long, because you will let all the heat escape. Just open the oven, reach in carefully and poke the top of the cake with your finger, and CLOSE THE DOOR IMMEDIATELY.

If you are making any type of cake that is leavened with egg white foam – an angel cake, chiffon cake, or any other egg leavened item (like a souffle)… do not do this at all. If you open the oven door prematurely, the loss of heat will cause your cake to collapse, as the protein structure may not be set yet!

HOW TO CHECK FOR DONENESS : The method I use the most, is to poke the top (center) of the cake with a clean finger. If the cake feels spongy – and it springs back when touched, then it’s done. If the cake feels soft, and your finger sinks in – or if you make a small dent that does not spring back, it needs to bake a little longer. If you mistakenly remove a cake before the inside of the center is set, then it will usually collapse while cooling. So make sure that your cake is actually done before removing.

Another method you can use is to insert a wooden toothpick into the center, and see if it comes out “clean”. Sometimes this method works for me, and sometimes it doesn’t – it just depends, so I prefer the finger method.

FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS FOR COOLING : A recipe will usually tell you how long to let the baked goods cool before removing from the pan. My typical rule of thumb (if there are no instructions) is to leave cakes to cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes before inverting to cool on a wire rack, or to let cookies sit on the sheet about 2-3 minutes before carefully sliding them onto a wire rack with a flat metal spatula.

For egg white leavened cakes (like angel or chiffon), there may be an additional step requiring you to hang the cake upside down while cooling. If your recipe says to do this – and you don’t – you might find that your cake has collapsed in the end. So follow the instructions for cooling if your recipe gives any! A friend of mine tried my Banh Bo Nuong recipe (Vietnamese Honeycomb Cake), and lamented that “it didn’t work” even though she followed ALL the instructions (or so she said.) I asked her, “Did you let it cool upside down? Did you use an UNGREASED pan?” And she looked at me like I had 3 heads. No, she didn’t. She just didn’t know or realize how important those parts of the instructions were. So remember, if the recipe gives you some specific instructions on how to cool the cake properly – follow them! The author probably put those instructions there for a good reason!

GLAZING/FROSTING/DECORATING : Wait until your cake or cookies are completely cool (without even a hint of warmth) before attempting to frost or decorate. If your cake is still warm, it will cause the frosting to melt and slide off – so be patient – let your cake cool before assembling it! (When making large sheet cakes, I often will bake the cake layers a week in advance and then freeze them, tightly wrapped in plastic. Then, the night before the event, I will frost and decorate the frozen cake layers – it’s actually much easier to work with frozen cake!)

Once in awhile a cake recipe will call for a glaze or soak to be applied while still warm – in that case, follow the instructions as written.

This is a Caribbean Rum Cake that calls for soaking with warm rum glaze while still hot (during the cooling process)

I hope these instructions have been useful to anyone still reading at this point! Like I said, I wish that someone had told me all these things before I started learning how to bake – I had to learn it myself the hard way from trial and error. Baking really isn’t that hard once you get the hang of what you are doing, and understand the properties of the ingredients you are working with. But of course, if I left any questions unanswered, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment below. I don’t know everything… but I will try to help where I can!

If you are interested in learning more, I highly recommend the book “BakeWise: The Hows and Whys of Successful Baking” by Shirley Corriher – she’s an amazing author who really explains the WHY of things in baking very well, in part because of her experience as a research biochemist combined with her French culinary training. If you’ve ever watched Alton Brown’s show “Good Eats” (now in re-runs on the Food network), you’ll recognize Shirley Corriher as the “Food Scientist” who had a recurring role… when I read “Bakewise”, I couldn’t help “hearing” the text in her voice!

How to Saute Vegetables

  • Author:
  • Prep Time: 5 mins
  • Cook Time: 10 mins
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings 1 x
  • Category: Side Dishes
  • Method: Sautéing
  • Cuisine: n/a
  • Diet: Vegan


Knowing how to sauté vegetables is a basic skill we can all benefit from mastering – whether you’re making a stir-fry, a simple sautéed veg side dish, or a component of a more complex recipe like lasagna.


  • 1 to 2 tablespoons cooking oil
  • About 4 cups of chopped vegetables
  • Fine sea salt, to taste
  • Optional flavorings: dried herbs/spices, garlic, ginger, fresh herbs, and/or sesame seeds


  1. Method #1 (for s ofter vegetables with a higher water content, like zucchini, bell peppers, mushrooms, fennel, or asparagus): In a large non-stick skillet over a medium-high flame, heat enough oil to coat the bottom of the skillet. Add the vegetables and cook untouched until they’re lightly browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and continue cooking until the vegetables are lightly softened and browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and stir in any optional flavorings of your choice.
  2. Method #2 (for harder vegetables, like broccoli, sweet potatoes, or carrots): Place your vegetables in a large non-stick skillet and add a splash of water, about 2-4 tablespoons. Place over medium heat, cover tightly with a lid, and steam until the vegetables are bright in color and just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Remove the lid, raise the heat to medium-high, and allow any remaining water to evaporate. Then stir in a bit of oil and cook untouched until the vegetables are lightly browned on the bottom, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir and continue cooking until the vegetables are browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes more. Season to taste with salt and stir in any optional flavorings of your choice.

Keywords: vegetables, side dishes, sauteed vegetables, broccoli, zucchini

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