For all the nervous cooks out there!
Most of the people I train are extremely anxious about learning to cook and I totally understand why. If you have not grown up cooking or have a natural aptitude for it, there are so many things which can go wrong. The people who write recipes (and those who read them) take a lot for granted and much can be lost in translation.
For starters, the words teaspoon, tablespoon and cup when used in a recipe do not refer to your tea cup or coffee spoon, they mean 5ml, 15ml and 250ml respectively. The volume of our domestic cups and spoons vary hugely. So many people I teach do not know this! I highly recommend having a set of standard cup and spoon measures in your kitchen.
An accurate kitchen scale is also a blessing to have and easy to test. Oven temperatures also fluctuate dramatically from what the reading on the dial says. If your oven doesn’t yield the result which most recipes call for, getting an oven thermometer to check the actual internal temperature of your oven could explain the reason why. The root of all your flops may simply be your equipment and not you at all!
Be aware of the country of origin of your recipe. Other parts of the world use different words or brand names for ingredients commonly found in South African. If there is an ingredient in a recipe you are not familiar with, do a google search. If it is something not easily found in SA then do a google search asking for substitutes for that product. For instance the words cilantro, dhania, malli and coriander are all words for the same herb. Coriander also comes in three main forms, fresh coriander leaves, seeds and ground seeds and they should not be confused. Galangal is often used in Asian cooking but can easily be replaced with fresh ginger (again not to be confused with dried ground ginger which tastes totally different).
Very few people question a recipe. Recipes can have mistakes in them, no matter if they are in the cook book of a world famous Chef, in a glossy magazine and most certainly in blogs which don’t have the luxury of a team of people to cross check everything. If something seems odd or unusual, question it. It may be right but it is quite possible that it may simply be a mistake. I have seen recipes calling for a tablespoon of salt in a chocolate mouse and one with no sugar (or any other form of sweetening) in a cake recipe. It happens, learn to look out for them.
I have had countless flops and dishes which just didn’t taste good. With each one I have tried to figure out what the cause of the problem is and learned from it. Tested and retested until I get it right. I guess that’s true of most things in life!