Notes on Ingredients & Equipment

Fridge

Some notes on the ingredients and equipment I use in my cooking and baking, which I’ll add to over time.

General

Some general points about the ingredients in my recipes.

  • Eggs are always large, unless specified. They’re also always free-range.
  • Olive oil is always ‘normal’ – I’ll state if it’s extra virgin.
  • Milk, in small amounts, is what I’ve got in the house, which is either semi-skimmed, or more likely Sainbury’s 1% in between semi- and skimmed. In larger amounts, such as a custard, I’d probably use full fat milk, and if you only use this in cooking, you can always whack the leftovers in the freezer, and use within a month. I can’t comment on how skimmed milk would work because I don’t use it.
  • Butter is unsalted, unless specified.

My Oven

I have double electric oven. The main oven, which I use most, is a fan oven, and so the timings and temperatures given in my recipes are what work in this. For conventional electric ovens, you may need to slightly increase the temperature or the cooking time. I generally haven’t found my fan oven dries things out too much. It also doesn’t matter where you put things in an electric fan oven, but bear in mind that in other ovens there can be variations in temperature. The second oven is most useful when you need to be cooking things at two different temperatures, for example having an impossibly hot oven for roast potatoes while gently cooking a piece of meat at the same time. My grill is also electric. My hob is gas, which I find easier to control the heat on than an electric hob, and is also much better for cooking in a wok.

Fresh Fruit and Vegetables

I try and get as much of my fruit and vegetables as I can from my local market. The main concern here is price – for example, I used red peppers a lot in cooking, and can either pay 79p for an individual pepper in the supermarket, or £1 for a bowl of 8 on the market. Of course, this also supports local small businesses.

I haven’t noticed much of a difference in either the quality or longevity of market brought fruit and vegetables when compared with supermarket ones, and, it happens that my market is convenient too. Of course, some things I can’t get from the market – fresh herbs for one, and although it isn’t a ‘farmer’s market’, selling only local, seasonal produce, I’m less likely to be able to get a good bunch of seedless grapes in January from my local market than I am from Sainsbury’s.

I try and support Fairtrade where I can – in terms of fruit and vegetables, the main Fairtrade fruit is bananas, which I do not like much and therfore do not often buy. My market doesn’t have a lot of Fairtrade produce, so I guess if I was being ethical, I might have to get this on my supermarket trip. Some supermarkets are now starting to offer more Fairtrade fruits too, like pineapples.

Organic is a different ball-game. There has been lots of press recently about negligible health benefits of buying organic, and for me, the price here is off-putting. Perhaps as more is known about the benefits of organic (and of course, I know that spraying vast swathes of the countryside with chemicals can’t be good) I’ll convert, but I guess, for me at the moment, this is not as important as buying ethically, when I can, and when I can afford.

Baking

Cooking, which for me is making meals, savoury dishes and the like, is about flavours. Baking is more like chemistry, and recipes should be followed more precisely. ‘Spoons’ are exact measurements – a teaspoon is 5ml, and a tablespoon is 15ml. A set of measuring spoons, usually in quarter-, half- and teaspoon plus a tablespoon set, are an inexpensive but worthwhile purchase. Likewise, good kitchen scales and a decent measuring jug are essential. I also only deal in metrics!

You don’t need lots of expensive equipment to bake. I do so without a food processor (although it’s on my wishlist) or a freestanding mixer, although I do use an electric hand whisk a lot, which can be picked up quite cheaply, and while it’s by no means essential, is much easier than a wooden spoon.

Generally in baking, your ingredients should be room temperature before you start, so remember to get everything out of the fridge before-hand. There are lots of science-y reasons for this, which I won’t bore you with, but in the majority of cases, room temperature ingredients will give you better results. There are some notable examples, for example in pastry making you need very cold butter. If you forget, cutting your butter into small pieces, or pouring out the amount of milk you need into a small container, will help them warm up quicker. You can sit eggs in a bowl of warm water for 10 minutes to take of the chill.

Baking Ingredients

Chocolate | I’ll probably expand this at some point – chocolate could take up a page in its own right. Generally, the chocolate I use in baking is dark chocolate. Good dark chocolate will contain few ingredients – cocoa products, usually cocoa beans/mass and cocoa butter, plus sugar, and maybe a flavouring like extract of vanilla. It may also contain lecithin, which is a natural ’emulsifier’, and basically stops the cocoa solids and cocoa butter separating. Basically, I’d look at two things – that the ingredients list is short, as above, and that the total cocoa solids are at least 70%. Where there is less cocoa, it is replaced with sugar and is less ‘chocolatey’, not giving as good flavours in baking.

Even if you don’t like dark chocolate as an eating chocolate, bear in mind that usually in baking you’re are adding it to other ingredients, including sugar, and I promise you that you’ll enjoy the results!

Sometime milk chocolate is called for – maybe for a recipe for children, or perhaps you don’t like dark chocolate on its own and your making something where the chocolate is the key ingredient (cornflake cakes come to mind – mmm!). Ingredients-wise, milk chocolate should still not have a great long list of contents. Milk chocolate is still sugar and cocoa, with milk solids replacing some of the cocoa to give a sweeter taste and creamier texture. You can get some good milk chocolates with 35 – 40% cocoa, which is much higher than standard ‘snack’ chocolate bars, where much of the cocoa has been replaced with sugar, and there might be all sorts of other rubbish in the recipe.

If you’re getting chocolate in the supermarket, for baking, you’ll have abetter choice from the confectionary aisle than the baking aisle, and you’re more likely to be able to choose a fairtrade or organic product, should you wish.

Raising Agents | These are the ingredients you add to a recipe to make batter rise into a beautiful cake. Usually, these are baking powder, bicarbonate of soda (‘baking soda’) or using a self raising flour, that is to say a flour with raising agents added. All of these lose their effectiveness over time, so check they’re not too old, or you’ll have a biscuit instead of a cake!

Vanilla | I use vanilla extract a lot in baking. It adds great flavour to cakes and all sorts of other things. Vanilla extract is made from actual vanilla pods and alcohol. Vanilla essence is a synthetic flavouring, and isn’t as good. Check the bottle to see what you’re buying. Vanilla extract might be more expensive, but it goes a long way, and if you are on a budget is less costly than actual vanilla pods. This is the brand I use and can be picked up in supermarkets.  

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