When I talk about cooking by ingredients I am referring to starting with the basics; flour, sugar, butter, potatoes, meats, etc. This is not to say that I do not use any of the packaged foods because occasionally I do for some recipes. You might say this is “scratch cooking” .For this type of cooking (or any type) you will need to know some basic information about obtaining these products.
I have always tried to buy the best products that I could afford when cooking by ingredients. In my younger years this meant margarine instead of butter and always looking for bargains. Sometimes these “bargain buys” were not always the best; if old, these products could ruin your recipe costing more money. This is when you need to know what to look for.
When cooking by ingredients, flour is one product that most of us cannot do without so we usually have a “backup”. It is also a product which needs special attention. Old flour gets a strong odor and flavor. Through my experience, I have learned to be careful when purchasing flour. I have the late summer or fall of the year to be the worse time to purchase flour. Because baking is generally down in the summer, flour will stand on the grocery shelves and often at warmer or fluctuation temperatures.
When I purchase flour, I put it in the freezer for at least one week; this kills any live organisms in the flour. If I have the room and do not need the flour yet, I will continue to store it in the freezer. (It needs to be room temperature before using). Along this same line, the fats also need special consideration. Even though I do not freeze the fats, I do take caution to always store solid fat (as Crisco) and oils in a cool place. Like the flour, these also take on strong flavors when they deteriorate from heat.
When cooking by ingredients, I would certainly hate to be without my spices and herbs. I have had really good luck purchasing many discounted top quality products from stores like Tuesday Morning. Took a chance when I first started purchasing them but the price was worth it. This is not always the result when buying spices that are marked down; sometimes they are just too old and without flavor. After purchasing spices and dried herbs, they also need to be store in cooler temperatures (most ingredients stay fresher).
When cooking by ingredients, leavening agents will need special attention when purchasing. Most recipes will require one form or another, or maybe a mixture. Three common leavenings to purchase are baking powder, baking soda and yeast. Baking powder and baking soda have a great shelf life and I have never had a problem with either.
Baking powder comes in single acting or double acting; double acting being the most common in recipes. These terms mean just what it says; single rises begins to rise when moistened. The double acting rises twice; once when it is moistened and again when placed in the hot oven. You will need to know, when cooking by ingredients, that baking powder is usually used in recipes that have no acidic ingredients like buttermilk, sour cream .or vinegar. You will find the baking soda in the recipes with the more acidic ingredients or a combination of the two.
I mentioned the leavening of yeast which is quite different from baking powder and baking soda. First, you never want to use old yeast; once opened, it does not stay fresh nearly as long as the baking powder and baking soda. I have also tried storing it in the refrigerator but found that not to work. I once lost a lot of bread dough because the yeast did not work. I buy my yeast in large packages from Sam’s and Costco. If I do not open the vacuum sealed bags, they stay fresh but once opened it is a limited time.
When cooking by ingredients you must know the different types of sugar and how to measure each. Sugar adds tenderness to dough and helps with the browning aside from giving a sweet taste. Most recipes commonly call for “sugar” which means granulated sugar. Granulated sugar and powdered sugar are spooned into a measuring cup and leveled off with a knife. Brown sugar, light or dark, is ALWAYS PACKED in the measuring cup and then leveled off.
NOTE: When using granulate sugar, you cannot go wrong by purchasing the “extra fine” type. I even highly recommend the extra fine sugar for use in cakes and candy making because it dissolves better.
When cooking by ingredients, you might have questions about substituting one ingredient for another. Unless the recipe instructs that you can easily do this, it is best to use what is listed. If it is not possible to use the listed ingredient, the next best thing is to check out a substitution or conversions chart for what you should use.
Earlier I mentioned fats; most recipes, especially baked goods use some form. You need to have a little understanding of the difference in fats. I would say that I use more butter than anything. Today, I never purchase margarine; I use to. I found that the different brands of margarine have various amounts of water in them. Quite often, my recipe did not turn out the way I wanted it to. Since I only use butter, the quality is more consistent.
When cooking by ingredients, another group of food to know is the “milks”. The names of milk from cows, for the most part, pertain to the amount of fat contained in the milk; whole milk, skim or two per cent. For most recipes, I have used these three interchangeably with good results. If you are making a thick creamy soup, dessert or want to whip the cream, you will need to purchase “heavy or whipping” cream. Not for whipping, but for soups and other desserts, you might get by with half and half cream; sometimes I like this better because it not as thick and rich.
Most cooks consider the good egg to be indispensable. There are many healthy and delicious egg recipes. They add flavor, color, delicacy and texture to dishes. Freshness is vital but they can also be too fresh. It is important to be able to tell a good egg or when it is bad. You must learn about each item when you are cooking by ingredients.
There are many grains available to cook with; they can be used as a whole grain or milled into flour. They can stay fresh for years if stored in the original state. Much of our flour comes from wheat but others are available from rye, millet, barley, oatmeal, rice and quinoa. Quinoa recipes have become some of my favorites because this grain is high in fiber and high in protein. It can be used as a whole grain or as flour which makes it very versatile.
Fruits and nuts make a wonderful culinary addition to our cake, bread and cookie recipes. Whether you use fresh, dried, canned, frozen or juices, they add flavor to all recipes. The natural sugar helps to improve the leavening process. Fruit with natural pectin will improve the keeping quality of baked goods. The crunchiness of nuts combines well with the sweet chewiness of the fruit. Nuts also go well with cheeses, herbs and spices or can be used on their own.
Most of us love chocolate! Markets and candy stores have many kinds available. Be sure to use only the kind that the guide calls for when making chocolate recipes. For each chocolate the sweetness varies with each manufacturer. Find your favorite brands by trying different ones. Quality chocolate is glossy, breaks with a snap and has a delicious chocolaty aroma. Put a piece in your mouth and it should melt easily.
Cooking by ingredients will become a “breeze” when you learn about the products which you choose to use. By opening your mind to new ingredients you open your world to new and delicious foods. As you gain experience in cooking, you will automatically know which of these ingredients is best to use for your recipe. You will know instantly what you can substitute one with. You will be surprised how quickly these things will become a habit.
When cooking by ingredients, if you need an egg replacement for a vegetarian diet in a baking recipe, the following works quite well.
To Replace 2 Eggs:
Process in blender or food processor before using.
When cooking by ingredients you will find that adding these to your recipes will naturally make them healthier. Whole grains, nuts and seeds add a lot of fiber; together with all the spices the recipes will get many vitamins and other nutrients.
Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
In small bowl combine whole wheat flour, wheat germ, sunflower seed meal, milk, carob powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice.
In large bowl combine butter, honey, vanilla and almond; beat until well blended and beat in eggs.
Stir the dry ingredients into the butter mixture alternating with coffee; beat for 2 minutes.
Add the sunflower kernels and the raisins; mix well.
Pour mixture into greased 9 X 13 inch baking pan; bake for 40 minutes or until done.
Cool before cutting.
Anise has a wonderful licorice like flavor and is great in cookies and other baked goods.
Combine flour, sugar, egg whites, anise seed and salt; work into a smooth dough.
Roll out on floured surface about 1/3 inch thickness.
Cut with round biscuit cutter; place on greased cookie sheet.
Bake at 325F degrees about 20 minutes or until lightly browned.