Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cooking by Feel: Real Measurements

I have been blessed to receive a lot of positive feedback about La Cucina Vivace. My friend Jan made a particularly astute (and welcomed!) observation when she commented to me that she appreciated my "real measurements". What is a real measurement, you might ask? An example would be for a recipe to call for 1 carrot, sliced versus 1/2 cup carrot coins. And another: 1 tsp minced garlic versus 1 clove garlic, pressed. While I hadn't been doing this intentionally, it was an "Aha!" moment when I read Jan's comment. Without knowing it, my recipe-writing reflects how I prefer to cook: with a whole lot of common sense.

Nature has already given us units of measurement, and I prefer to use them. Have you ever stood in your kitchen trying to figure out how much spinach you have to chop to make a cup? Two cups? Who has time for that nonsense? With the exception of baking (and that is a very large exception), I generally don't believe that recipes need the level of precision that accompanies measurements such as 1 tbsp minced onion  or 1/2 tsp lemon zest.  Cooking should be about common sense, and when we rely heavily on those kinds of measurements, I think we lose some of that. We also lose some of the fun in the process--when we stress over exacting measurements, we not only lose sight of the larger picture, but we are consumed in a process that isn't as creative and enjoyable as it could be.

To this end, I hope to periodically publish a few posts about "Cooking by Feel". What does it mean to rely on your intuition when replicating a recipe successfully? How can a beginner cook feel comfortable in the kitchen, trusting him/herself to turn out a dish that is delicious and satisfying? How can the intermediate chef take his/her cooking to the next level, intuitively pairing ingredients to yield a fabulous new creation?

For now, I encourage you to think critically about the measurements you use in your cooking. If you are a novice chef who stresses over "getting it right" and maintaining exacting precision in the kitchen, I would suggest that you try recipes that use "real measurements" to ease that anxiety. It goes without saying that my recipes utilize these whenever possible, but there are many other sources for such recipes. Many food bloggers utilize real measurements, and love her or hate her, Rachael Ray practices this approach in her cookbooks and shows as well. Try applying your common sense to more exacting recipes as well. If a recipe calls for 1/2 cup chopped carrots, and you really like carrots, why not put a healthier amount in? Trust yourself and your own taste!


  1. I love this! I'm currently (well over the past 6 months whenever I get the time) reading Ratio and am really forcing myself not to rely on exacts and recipes anymore.

  2. I love this post, I rarely use measurements (which is why I have a tough time with baking). I feel like an artist when I'm cooking, and you can really only follow so many rules when creating a masterpiece.

  3. I'm really glad you posted this. I feel some people (myself included) can get caught up in following a recipe to a T. I think cooking should be more relaxed and enjoyable and if you want 2 cloves of garlic instead 1 I say go for it!