Cooking for one? Frustrated with recipe adjustment? You want to improvise but not quite ready to just “wing it”?  You want a fritter batter (for one or two) but the recipe serves six?

Using something other than measuring cups and measuring spoons can give you a lot more freedom in the kitchen. How to Cook without a Book will help you get away from the frustration of looking at the recipe that serves six and wondering how to modify it for you (and the cat). If you know cooking techniques (e.g. sauté or braise) you are well on your way to using that recipe for inspiration and adapt it to your needs and taste. If you want a good start on learning techniques, I would recommend you check out Michael Ruhlman’s Twenty that includes not only the techniques but important ingredients as well: water, onions, acids, eggs, butter, and flour for a start.  Now to take improvisation to the next level of freedom from recipes: using ratios of ingredients.

Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking Cover ImageThe Ratio (link below) is devoted to explaining and working with ratios in the kitchen.  Topics in this book include batters (cake and bread), stocks, roux, sauces, and even sausages. Measuring by weight  (though not required) does simplify this process–and eliminate washing all those measuring cups and measuring spoons. Adjusting the amounts of main ingredients is straight forward, but this approach does mean that you will need to adjust seasoning by tasting–rather than simply mathematically.

There is an app that will put all this at your fingertips (links below). Let’s say your gardening neighbor has just gifted you a BIG bag of zucchini. You might think you can use some of them to make fritters as the main course for your supper. You can go the Google route–find a butt-load of recipes, most of which serve six, or you can use this app to check batters–and you’ll see a button for fritter batter. The “details” tab will give you more specific information: e.g. that each 4 ounces of flour and liquid will hold together two cups of garnish (your shredded zucchini) and that would make about eight nice, big fritters and some seasoning suggestions for both sweet and savory. This app is NOT free ($4.99 from Google Play via Ruhlman Enterprises); there are some issues with it–but I think it’s worth that small price.

The issues: The egg part of the ratio, since eggs come nicely packaged right from the hen. I learned the “ratio” approach from my grandmother she taught me to make a “pound” cake or “four parts” cake–since the egg was premeasured, we worked in egg weights and use an equal weight of each other ingredients–flour, sugar, and butter. This is easy if you use scales, but if not, then here are some ways to deal with the egg part of the ratio.

Weights of various grades of eggs for the USA and for other countries can be found in Wikipedia; additional volume information can be found on Get Cracking . Using this site you can find that a large egg (called for in most recipes) weighs 2.0 to 2.25 ounces (56.7 to 63.7 grams) and volume of 46 mL (3.25 tablespoons). Cup equivalents of eggs are found at The Incredible Edible Egg. Some recipes (custards and some sauces) will call for egg yolks only. To help on these calculations you need to know the weight of the yolk of a large egg is 17 grams or 0.60 ounces. Weights for other egg sizes can be found at  the {convert to} site. From this same  website you can convert that 1 yolk into cup measure: 0.07 cups, which is equal to 0.56 fluid ounces, or 1.12 tablespoons, or 3.37 teaspoons of egg yolk. (I doubt that you’ll be doing this kind of conversions–but it can be done.) Just to be complete,  the weight of egg white from large eggs is = 33 grams = 1.2 oz. The information for other sizes/grades of chicken eggs, as well as duck, quail, and turkey eggs, is also given.

Now suppose you want to make a small amount of custard (e.g. for quiche) you can use the calculator of this app to determine how much liquid you need. To do this by weight, enter 56.7 in the “eggs” and set units to grams. Now set the liquid units to grams as well–and the calculator will tell you to use 113 grams of liquid. (You’re saying you could have done that in your head–true, but now you click the “details” tab, and you’ll get a kind of “master” recipe with more instructions.)  Want Crème Anglaise using only egg yolks? Use the weight of the number of egg yolks, and the calculator will spit out the amount of cream and sugar you need, as well as the total weight. For two egg yolks, you would need 136 grams cream and 34 grams of sugar.

More on using ratios:

Happy improvisation with ratios! A son gôut!

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