Cooking From Scratch

Cooking From Scratch

Let’s talk about cooking from scratch and how to read a recipe.

You may remember from a previous post that I said a meal does not need to be an event. Let me say that again – a meal does not need to be an event. It needs to fill a nutrition gap and taste good, yes. It should be a gathering place for friends and family, yes. But the people around the meal should be the event, not the food itself.  I know on the Food Network they say that you can have that 3-course meal on the table in 30 minutes or less, but I would venture to say that’s a bit of a stretch. So, take the pressure off yourself, and let’s talk about cooking.

I’m going to use the recipe below from Meta Given’s “The Modern Family Cookbook.” I’ve made similar recipes, but not this one, so don’t harass me if it’s not to your liking. 😉

Cooking From Scratch | Home Economics for the Modern Age

Step 1: Preparation

  • Read the recipe. Yes, it sounds simple, but that will keep you from having to run out to buy cocoa in the middle of making a chocolate angel food cake. (Yes. I don’t always practice what I preach – that was me.)
  • Look for oven pre-heat instructions. You’ll always want to do this first so that the oven is hot when you’re ready to use it. Pre-heating usually takes about 15-20 minutes, depending on how hot it needs to be, so do this first. Always.
  • Get out the ingredients. The term “mise en place” (pronounced me-zahn-plahs) is French and it means to “set in place.” For many people, that means pre-measuring into lots of little bowls (which is what you see on the Food Network, and it allows them to make that meal in 30-minutes-or-less), but for me the idea of lots of little bowls = lots of dishwashing. I hate dishwashing, so I try not to do it if I don’t have to. I prefer to just set everything out on the counter to make sure it’s in my possession. If it’s questionable whether I have enough (e.g. do I have a full cup of breadcrumbs, or only about a half…hmmm), I’ll go ahead and measure it out to make sure.
    You’ll also want to make sure you have all of the required pots and pans. From experience, if it calls for a 9×11 pan and you use something smaller, it will affect the cooking time because the food cooking will be thicker. For that reason, I advise making sure you use what’s called for until you have more experience with what ‘done’ looks like so you can make adjustments. On the other hand, if you’re an adventurous beginner, go for it. But don’t experiment when you’re cooking to impress a dinner party. That only ends in tears. 😉
  • Read the recipe again for things you need to do to said ingredients. According to the recipe above, you must beat the egg, so go ahead and crack the egg open, drop it into a bowl, and break it up with a fork until you’ve mixed the yolk thoroughly with the white. Set it aside. Also look for things you need to do to your cooking utensils. In this instance, it says “greased shallow baking pan” so you’ll want to make sure that you have sprayed it with cooking spray, olive oil, or wiped it with butter.
  • Look for other recipes that you may need to also make. This recipe references recipe #916-Tomato Sauce as an optional side. If you want to make the tomato sauce, then you’ll need to repeat the process for that recipe. The cookbook author will do this when having you start with something pre-cooked or start with some kind of sauce that they don’t want to have to keep repeating. (Because I’m nice and know that if you’re like me I would really want to see what that tomato sauce recipe is, here you go.)



Back to the Meatloaf #2 recipe (I’ll give you the can equivalents at the bottom of this post…)

Step 2: Follow the instructions.

  • Read carefully. To save words and space, sometimes they will tell you to mix or combine ingredients between ‘A’ and ‘G’. There could be ingredients ‘H’ through ‘M’ left over, though, so be sure you’re not including ingredients you’re not supposed to yet. Especially with baking, cooking is science. There is a reason for the proportions and order of mixing. I advise you to make the recipe at least once as written. Then you can change it.
  • Measure carefully. Especially when baking. (See cooking is science comment above.)
  • Cooking times are general suggestions. The amount of time it takes to cook something depends on your altitude (how high you are above sea level). A lot of times in baking recipes you will see high-altitude cooking instructions – if you live in the mountains, be sure to see if this applies to you. That being said, you can check to make sure whether something is done. For meat, insert a meat thermometer in the middle to check it and cook to the recommended temperature – most thermometers have this printed on them already for easy reference. For baked goods, inserting a toothpick or cake tester in the middle should come back ‘clean’ – no batter-y bits clinging to it.

Step 3: Is there one? I think so.

  • If you enjoy cooking, after your meal, now is the time to think about what could have made it better. Recipes are really just suggestions. You can substitute, add, subtract (within reason – refer to baking/cooking is science above)…the possibilities are endless. Really there aren’t too many original recipes any more. Cookbook authors are just creating variations on a theme now.
  • This is also the time to note whether you would make the recipe again. There are some that just aren’t worth the bother of messing around with to make better. If you do like it, add it to your meal plan list to make again.

Can / Container Sizes

You don’t see these much anymore, but if you like cooking from vintage cookbooks, you’ll come across these.

Can Size: Approx Net Weight // Approx cups

No. 1/4: 3 to 4 oz. // 1/2 cup
No. 1/2: 6 to 8 oz. // 1 cup
No. 1 Tall: 9 oz. // 1 cup
8oz or 8Z Tall: 8 oz. // 1 cup
Picnic: 10 1/2 oz. // 1 1/4 cups
12 oz (vacuum): 12 oz. // 1 1/2 cups
No. 300: 14 to 16 oz. // 1 3/4 cups
No. 303: 15 1/2 to 17 oz. // 2 cups
No. 2: 20 oz. OR 1 pt 2 fl oz OR 18 fl oz. // 2 1/2 cups
No. 2 1/2: 1 lb, 13 oz OR 29 oz, OR 30 oz // 3 1/2 cups
No. 3 Cyl.: 3 lb, 3 oz OR 1 qt 14 fl oz OR 46 fl oz // 5 3/4 cups
No. 10: 6 1/2 to 6 3/4 lbs // 12 to 13 cups

What would you suggest to someone just starting to cook? Where are you on the cooking spectrum – I just throw something together, I substitute with abandon, or I follow recipes to a ‘t’?


Sewist, knitter, reader, dancer. Wife. Lover of things vintage and retro.


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