5 Basics for Measuring Baking Ingredients

Baking Ingredients

When it comes to creating the perfect meal, it is imperative that you measure your ingredients correctly. Even when you’re just experimenting in the kitchen, finding the right amount of any ingredient is critical for creating a delicious end-product. There are many different options for tools to help you measure foods and spices. Here are five basic ways to measure common baking ingredients, including how to properly use tools such as cups, spoons and scales.

1. Measuring Cups

If you have a kitchen and you do any sort of cooking in it, then you probably already have a set of measuring cups on hand. There are a couple of different types of measuring cups available. Some are designed for measuring dry ingredients while others are designed specifically for measuring liquids. Dry measuring cups often come in nested sets that range in size from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. Liquid measuring cups typically come in a wider range of sizes with more precise readings. They may have notches located somewhere on the cup that indicate an amount in cups or by ounces.

An accurate measure of dry ingredients meets the rim of the dry measuring cup. You can usually take your finger and run it across the top of the cup to push off any excess ingredients. Make sure you do this away from your bowl or pot where you are combining the ingredients in order to avoid accidentally adding too much of the ingredient. Whether or not you need to pack the ingredient into the cup depends on the ingredient. Brown sugar, for example, should be packed down into the cup. Ingredients that are bulky, such as oats, coconut or shredded cheese, do not need to be packed down. Packing down these softer ingredients can damage them and ultimately create undesired results in your cooking.

Accurately measuring liquid ingredients usually just involves filling the liquid measuring cup to the indicated line. Use a clean, dry measuring cup before pouring the liquid in. If you are measuring a sticky ingredient, such as molasses, syrup or honey, you can lightly coat the measuring cup with vegetable or olive oil to help it slide out more easily.

2. Measuring Spoons

Teaspoons

Measuring spoons are another necessary tool to have stocked in your kitchen. Similar to dry measuring cups, most measuring spoons come in a nested set that ranges from 1/8 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon. Measuring spoons can be used for small amounts of dry or liquid ingredients.

If you can, it is useful to have two sets on hand, one for measuring dry ingredients and one for liquids.

3. Measuring Scales

Kitchen scales can be used for a wide variety of dry ingredients. If your recipe calls for an ingredient by weight, then a kitchen scale will come in handy. Kitchen scales are usually able to measure very light ingredients, which is particularly useful when measuring out portions of meat or chocolate. If you are more comfortable measuring out dry ingredients by weight rather than volume, then a scale is likely to be an asset in your kitchen.

When using the kitchen scale, be sure to zero the scale with any additional container you will be using already set on it. For example, if you are using a measuring cup to hold the ingredients that you plan on measuring on the scale, be sure that you calibrate the scale so that it does not measure the weight of the cup and the ingredients, but only the ingredients.

4. Unusual Ingredients

Some ingredients will simply not sit well in a measuring cup or spoon. At the same time, they are probably not suitable for measurement by weight. These are items that might not necessarily fall into either a liquid or dry ingredient category, or perhaps they are a chopped ingredient that sits awkwardly in a cup.

For ingredients with difficult or abnormal consistencies, such as butter, scoop it in the cup, pack it down and level it off, then add it to your ingredients. For chopped ingredients, chop them as best as you can and measure it out as directed. You do not necessarily need to level off these types of ingredients; rounding is usually just fine. For eggs, remember to crack them into a separate bowl to check for shell pieces before adding them to the rest of the ingredients.

5. Unusual Measurements

Sometimes a recipe has an unusual phrase that is not an exact measurement. If you have ever run across a pinch of this or a dash of that, you may have wondered how much it is in exact measurements. Believe it or not, a pinch and a dash are two different measurements. Here are some unusual measurements that you may come across with some of your recipes:

Dash of salt
  • Dash

    A little over 1/16 of a teaspoon for dry ingredients. If you are using a dash for liquid ingredients, use about three drops.

  • Jigger

    For dry ingredients, approximately three tablespoons. When measuring liquids, it equates to approximately 1.5 fluid ounces, or your standard shot glass.

  • Heaping

    A scoop that heaps up and over the edges of the cup or spoon. There is no need to level off ingredients that require a heaping.

  • Pinch

    An amount that you can pinch between your thumb and finger. It is about 1/16 of a teaspoon, but slightly less than a dash.

  • Scant

    This is a term that means to use slightly less than the specified measurement.

Additional Tips

Accurate measurements are important for the outcome of your recipe. The best way to learn how to accurately measure ingredients is to practice. Over time, you are more likely to become familiar with small measurements, saving you a lot of time during preparation.

You might also consider having two sets of each type of measuring device so that you have something to use with dry ingredients and something to use for liquids without having to clean and dry in between.

Keep in mind that fluid ounces measured in a liquid measuring cup and ounces measured on a kitchen scale are not the same thing. Fluid ounces measure volume while ounces are a measurement of weight. Once you have ingredient measuring down, you’ll quickly gain the confidence to create delicious meals.

Top Slow Cooker Recipes

Who doesn’t love their slow cooker?  If you don’t have one, I would highly suggest you get one ASAP.  You can just throw all of your ingredients in, turn it on, and when you get home from work or just a day out having fun with friends or family, dinner is ready!  And as an added bonus, your home smells amazing.

The Nesco 6 qt Porcelain Roaster with Non-Stick Cookwell and Glass Lid is perfect for any size meal.  You can slow cook, cook, roast, bake and steam in this guy.

Non-Stick Cookwell Roaster

Nesco Porcelain Roaster

 

The Hamilton Beach Portable Slow Cooker is perfect for the holidays or anytime you are making something to take to a party or potluck.

 

Portable Slow Cooker

Portable Slow Cooker 

 

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite slow cooker recipes.

 

Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce

1 medium onion, chopped

1 can (4 oz) diced green chiles

1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth

1 can (15 oz) whole kernel corn

1 clove garlic, minced

1 Tb dried cilantro

2 cups water

1 Tsp cumin

½ Tsp chili powder

1 Tsp salt

¼ Tsp pepper

1 bay leaf

Dump all ingredients into the crock pot and cook on high 4-5 hours.  Remove bay leaf and discard.  Lift out the chicken pieces and shred.  Put shredded chicken back into soup.  Serve with tortilla chips and grated cheese, or your own favorite toppings!

 

One Pot Bean Dinner

1 lb ground beef

12 oz package of bacon, fried and chopped

1 chopped onion

2 cans pork & beans

1 can kidney beans

1 cup ketchup

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 Tb white vinegar

1 Tsp salt

Dash of pepper

 

Brown beef in skillet and drain fat.  Put in crockpot.  Stir in remaining ingredients.  Stir together well.  Cover and cook on low in crockpot for 4 hours, or high for a shorter time.

 

Hawaiian Crock Pot Chicken

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 (16.5 oz) can crushed pineapple

1 (16.5 oz) bottle archer farms Hawaiian style barbeque sauce (found at Target)

 

Place breasts in crock pot, pour pineapple on top of chicken and then pour sauce over all.  Cook on low for 6 hours.

 

Mexican Crock Pot Tacos

2 frozen chicken breasts

2 cans black beans, rinsed

2 bottles salsa

 

Throw above ingredients in a crock pot and cook on low for 8 hours.  Shred chicken and stir together.  Serve in hard or soft shells with taco toppings (lettuce, sour cream, etc).

 

Chicken with Black Beans and Cream Cheese

4-5 boneless chicken breasts

1 (15.5 oz) can black beans

1 (15 oz) can corn

1 (15 oz) jar salsa, any kind

1 (8 oz) package cream cheese

 

Well, writing this made me hungry.  Good thing it’s almost lunchtime.

I hope you’ll give these recipes a try.  And if you do, please let me know what you think!  I’d also love it if you’d share your favorite crock pot recipes.  Just leave a comment below!

 

 

Slow Cooker Recipe: Whole Chicken & Vegetables

slow cooker chicken

If there is one thing that I love when I want to prepare a no hassle meal, it is having a slow cooker.  Many people I know just use their slow cooker for making queso or other dips for parties and never realize the full potential of what you can prepare with them.  Slow cookers can cook just about anything from soups, stews and chilis to whole chickens, braised lamb and roast duck.  More often than not, you are able to just throw in your ingredients and let your slow cooker do all the work.  It’s definitely a way to impress your family and/or guests and let them think that you spent hours in the kitchen cooking, when really the only thing that was cooking for hours was your slow cooker.

My go-to meal in my slow cooker is chicken and vegetables.  I use a whole chicken and whatever vegetables I have on hand at the time.  It’s so simple and the chicken is so tender when it’s done it falls right off the bone.

Whole Chicken and Vegetables

Ingredients

2 cups broth or stock (chicken or vegetable)
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 8 oz package of mushrooms
3 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon paprika

Directions

1. Add a layer of vegetables to the bottom of the slow cooker.
2. Combine all spices.
3. Rinse the whole chicken and rub with spice mixture.
4. Place chicken in slow cooker on top of the layer of vegetables.
5. Add the remaining vegetables and garlic into the slow cooker.
6. Pour the broth into the slow cooker. As the chicken cooks it will add more liquid as well.
7. Cook on low setting for 5-8 hours.
8. Use a kitchen thermometer to check if chicken is done before serving. (The internal temperature should be 180 degrees in the thickest part.)

What’s your favorite recipe to make in a slow cooker?

Ice Cream Maker Recipe: Peach Frozen Yogurt

peach frozen yogurt

The Cuisinart frozen yogurt, ice cream & sorbet maker was rated by Consumer Search as one of the best ice cream makers available. This unit allows you to make ice cream in a speedy 15 to 20 minutes, and even watch the entire process through the transparent lid. According to reviews, consumers say that they enjoy the model’s ease of use, and consider it to be an excellent value. This isn’t a one trick pony though! In addition to making frozen desserts, this ice cream maker also lets you create your favorite frozen beverages, including  strawberry daiquiris and pina coladas.

Here in Texas, the summers mean two things: hot weather and peach season. Fresh peaches are hard to beat, but peach ice cream is without question the best thing about summer. Here’s a lightened version to share with friends and family:

Summertime Peach Frozen Yogurt*

Ingredients

2 cups fresh diced peaches
2 cups low fat vanilla yogurt
⅓ cup sugar

Directions

  1. Mix the peaches, yogurt and sugar together in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Turn on your ice cream maker and pour in the ice cream mixture.
  3. Let your ice cream maker run for about 20-30 minutes.
  4. Serve with peach slices.

Makes eight ½-cup servings.

*Recipe adapted from the Cuisinart ice cream maker owner’s manual.

Is it Better to Make Baby Food from Scratch?

Baby Brezza Baby Food Maker

With celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian, Tori Spelling and others touting the benefits of making their own baby food, baby food makers are creating a huge buzz in the press lately. Most fads surrounding the Hollywood scene don’t have staying power, but this time they are definitely onto something.

Making your own baby food is great for your baby, because it allows you to know exactly what your little one is eating. You can maximize the nutrition count while avoiding the preservatives, additives and other potentially detrimental ingredients. In fact, the benefits of making your own baby food span beyond just health. In doing so, you are eliminating the use of all of the packaging, which ultimately reduces your family’s environmental footprint. And, possibly the best benefit of making your own baby food, you will end up with extra cash in your pocket! Recent studies show that you can save 50% or more on your baby food costs if you make it yourself at home.

The Baby Brezza baby food maker is an all-in-one solution, perfect for busy moms. Simply add your ingredients in the bowl, set your steam time and let the baby food make take care of the rest! The simple automated process steams and blends the food for you. Worried about creating a mess? Don’t be. Both the bowl and blade are dishwasher safe. Furthermore, the BPA and phthalate-free construction ensures that this product is safe for your kids.

Here is a great recipe from Baby Brezza for children 6 months & up:

Homemade Baby Food Recipe: Sweet Potato & Banana Puree

Ingredients

1 Medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice (2 cups, 10 ounces)
1/2 Small banana, peeled and sliced (1/3 cup, 1-1/2 ounces)
Optional: cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

Directions

1. Steam sweet potato for 20 minutes
2. Add banana and puree to smooth
3. Remove from bowl and add water, breast milk or formula to desired consistency
4. Optional: Stir in cinnamon or nutmeg to taste

Yields: 13 oz.

Save Time & Eat Healthier with a Pressure Cooker

Spring has officially begun and for many of us that means more free time outside of work – whether spent at baseball and soccer games,  or even perusing the farmers markets on the weekends. It is a time when we want to spend less time slaving over a hot stove and instead take advantage of spring’s bounty of fresh produce.

One surprising way to save time in the kitchen, using fresh ingredients and keeping the kitchen cooler, is by integrating pressure cooking into your weekly meal planning routine.  I know what many of you are thinking, aren’t those contraptions known for being dangerous?  Like many things, technological advancements have significantly improved the standards of current pressure cookers. What has changed? Current models include locking lids, back-up vents, and most importantly, features to prevent you from opening the pot before the pressure has been released. Even with all of the improvements made to pressure cookers, you still reap all of the benefits:

  • Time Saver: Food can cook up to 70% faster.
  • Multi-Tasking Friendly: This is my favorite benefit; once you turn on the pressure cooker you can walk away and focus your time on other important tasks.
  • Vitamin Bonus: More vitamins and essential minerals are retained by the faster cook time.
  • Energy Efficient: With the heat of summer approaching, nobody wants to stand over the stove for hours in a hot kitchen. Pressure cooking allows you to save energy by cooking in less time and from having to turn on the oven.

Here is a great recipe from Peggy Under Pressure to get you started with your pressure cooker.

Spring Risotto

Spring Risottophoto credit: Peggy Under Pressure

Spring Risotto is an awesome recipe to highlight the benefits of using a pressure cooker. When traditionally cooked on the stove, making risotto is tedious and time consuming. Many people think of using pressure cookers for cooking meat but they are just as excellent at cooking vegetables.

INGREDIENTS:

3 large shallots, chopped
3 cups Aborio rice
4-5 cups low sodium chicken stock
1 cup white wine + 2 tbsp white wine for shallots
1 cup frozen peas
2 cups asparagus chopped
2 cups baby spinach leaves

GARNISH:

Chopped chives
Shredded Parmesan cheese

COOKING DIRECTIONS:

Press the START button on the pressure cooker and turn the setting to the browning function. Pour a tablespoon of olive oil into the pot. Place the chopped shallots into the pot and sauté for 1-2 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste, pour in 2 tablespoons of dry white wine, cooking for 2-3 minutes. Press the CANCEL button on the pressure cooker turning it off.

Place 3 cups of Aborio rice into the pressure cooking pot followed by 1 cup of dry white wine and 4 cups of low sodium chicken stock. Stir everything together. Close the lid and lock the pressure cooker into position. Set the pressure valve to Airtight. Depending on your model, you can select the Rice & Risotto button on your machine or manually select the time for 10 minutes.

Once cooking is complete, release the pressure by turning the pressure valve to exhaust. Unlock and open the lid. Allow the KEEP WARM function to stay on for this part just for a few minutes. Check the consistency of the risotto. If it’s too sticky and dry, add more stock or wine and give it a good mix. The rice should be tender but retain its shape. Throw in the asparagus, frozen or fresh peas and spinach leaves. Fold them into the rice. Shut the lid and using the warm function to heat and cook all of the vegetables. It will take around 3-5 minutes to cook through. Open the lid and check on the veggies.  Once veggies are cooked, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and chopped chives and serve immediately.

Product Recommendation: If you are in the market to purchase a pressure cooker, I would recommend the Fagor 6 Qt. Electric Pressure Cooker Plus. The control panel features “brown” and “warm” functions, and there is a delay time feature, allowing you to come home from the office to a perfectly cooked dinner.

 

Bread Machine Cranberry Wheat Recipe

Cranberry Wheat Bread

I got a bread machine a few weeks ago and have been on a bread-making craze ever since.  With everyone trying to eat healthier these days, it is great because I can control the ingredients that I put in the bread. Now I don’t have to worry about preservatives and I can modify recipes to make them lower carb or higher in fiber, etc.  There is just no end to what you can do and let’s face it, homemade bread just tastes better!

I tend to make several loaves over the weekend, one to start eating off of immediately and the rest I freeze so that I have them on hand as needed and don’t have to worry about running out and having to get store bought bread. The latest, and by far my favorite recipe so far, is a Cranberry Wheat Bread.  I use honey or agave nectar instead of sugar and apple sauce instead of butter.

Bread Machine Cranberry Wheat Bread

Ingredients

1 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup honey or agave nectar
2 tablespoons apple sauce
2 cups bread flour
1 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Directions

  1. Place all ingredients (except cranberries) in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select “Sweet Bread” cycly; press Start.
  2. Add the cranberries about 5 minutes before the kneading cycle has finished.

If you don’t have a bread maker, my favorite would have to be the CBK-200 Cuisinart 2-pound Convection Bread Maker. It has a mix-in option that tells you when it’s time to add in the cranberries (or whatever mix in you want), so you don’t have to guess. Makes it super easy!

Photo credit goes to Kathy.