I guess what spurred me to write this, or pushed me over the brink, was an adult person asking how to make chocolate dipped strawberries. It was a question posed on my friends cooking facebook page. They were simple chocolate dipped strawberries, no joke, and she asked my friend for the recipe! Astounded, I turned to my 4 year old son and asked him how he would make chocolate dipped strawberries. "You get the chocolate, melt it, and dip the strawberries in it." He said. Four year old logic. I had to have a quick look at this woman who didn't know how to dip strawberries in chocolate, and she was middle aged an regular looking. How she has survived until now, I do not know. Who could live without choc dipped berries, after all?
Anyway, we all have to start somewhere. Here are a few things I have learned about beginning to cook, which I have collected over the 20 years I have been baking:
1. Read the recipe before you begin, then read it again. There's nothing like getting half way though a recipe only to realise you needed plain flour and you only have Self Raising flour, or you have no idea what the soft ball stage is.
2. Utilize online forums and search engines like google if you have any doubts, and use conversion calculators or charts. So many questions I get after recipes are out of sheer laziness. "How many tablespoons is 50g butter?" Please google this and stop being lazy. You could have your answer within seconds. Having a printed conversion table is also a good plan.
3. Measure. So many people I have spoken to say that they simply throw the ingredients into the bowl, a bit of this, a bit of that, no specific measurements. This is recipe for disaster. You may be able to get away with this carefree style of cooking with a stew, but don't expect to succeed if you only put 3/4 cup flour in to that cake instead of 1 level cup. Precision isn't always key, but it is in most cooking for most ingredients.
4. Stick to your level unless you've been there for a while and are ready to take things up a notch. For example, if you have never cooked before, making macarons probably isn't the best way to start off. Get the basics down-pat first.
5. Don't mess with the recipe if you're a beginner! Maybe Jamie Oliver can substitute a carrot for a chicken and have it taste awesome, but it's best to stick to the recipe and not leave anything out or add anything if you're a beginner. Successful experimenting comes later.
6. Do the prep work, such as lining trays, preheating the oven and sifting flour. Every step is there for a good reason.
7. Don't stress if you fail! There is always next time.
And here's an easy beginner level dessert for two that is impressive as well as delicious! it's non bake too, so it's pretty hard to be unsuccessful with these deconstructed nutella cheesecakes. They're perfect for hot summer nights when you don't want to turn on the oven, and are very quick and simple to put together. They also look elegant in tall glasses, topped with berries or shavings of chocolate.
DECONSTRUCTED NO BAKE NUTELLA CHEESECAKES (Adapted from Sweet & Savory by Shinee)
4 chocolate biscuits, crushed
1/4 cup hazelnuts, crushed (optional)
1 heaped tsp. butter, melted
100g cream cheese, room temperature
4 tbsp. sweetened condensed milk
3 tbsp. nutella
Place the crushed biscuits and hazelnuts together in a small bowl. Add the melted butter and stir to combine. Divide this mixture between two dessert glasses, reserving a teaspoon for garnishing if desired. Place in the refrigerator.
In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk and nutella together until smooth and thick. Fit a piping bag with a large star nozzle and fill with the cream cheese mixture. Pipe the mixture into the glasses, garnish with the reserved crumb mixture, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.