Before you start any baking or cooking, read the recipe from start to finish. This makes you familiar with the basic idea of what the recipe requires, from utensils to ingredients, and minimizes any surprises as you go along.
One of the main reasons why all the baking and cooking shows look so easy is that all their ingredients are neatly prepped and waiting for them to be used. For most home cooks with little time, prepping things beforehand in little bowls is just not realistic. What you can do though is before actually starting to cook or bake is to gather all the necessary ingredients and equipment and have them out at the ready. This eliminates the need for you to run around the kitchen searching, and lets you focus on the task at hand.
Once you have read the recipe, do all the manual labor first. By doing all the required cutting, chopping and dicing at one time you are not only saving time but it also makes the recipe easier to follow without breaking the flow to cut or dice something.
If your ingredient list contains words such as "diced", "sift", "thoroughly stir", or “till golden brown” the author of the recipe is giving you little tips and sensors on how to prepare each ingredient and the dish overall. Consider any times given in a recipe merely as a guide for when to start checking doneness. These tips are invaluable for the perfect finished product.
Look for how the ingredients list is written. A well-written recipe has all the ingredients listed in the order that you will need them throughout the recipe.
Be careful for those recipe pitfalls. What you may not realize is that the placement of the ingredient description is as important as the description itself. For example:
The first line is telling you take 1 cup of rice and cook it; the second line is calling for 1 cup of rice that has already been cooked. The difference between the two is about 2 cups of cooked rice, and that can make a significant difference in the outcome of your recipe.
Sarah Lasry is a contributing writer to Manischewitz.com and Manischewitzbroth.com and owner/chef of Tastebuds Gourmet Café in Howell, NJ. Her acclaimed cookbook “The Dairy Gourmet” is available here.