There are some universal things when it comes to cooking and baking in general (like sprinkle salt like a rain shower from 12 inches or so above your food). I’m not going to repeat all of them here, but here are some things that should be kept in mind going through any of my recipes.

1. Butter

I’ve been shocked at how many people either don’t know or forget that butter is a dairy product. In my recipes you may see me refer to using butter, but I always substitute vegan butter. I use the Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks because that’s what’s available locally to me. Be aware that using real butter or a different butter substitute may provide different results, however, my experience is that I can use the Earth Balance product as a 1-for-1 replacement in recipes that call for butter.

2. Flour

When we eliminated rice from our diet, I had to get far more creative when it came to flours. I arrived at a mix of sorghum flour, tapioca flour, and xanthan gum that forms the basis for many of my recipes. I also frequently use it as a 1-for-1 replacement when cooking. We’ve since re-introduced rice in our diet, however, I’ve been really happy with the sorghum-based mix. Some flours I try to always keep on hand: sorghum flour, tapioca flour, white rice flour, and xanthan gum. I usually have these as well: almond flour, potato starch, and brown rice flour

3. Measuring

Virtually any collection of baking recipes with have something discussing the benefits of measuring ingredients (especially dry ones) by weight rather than volume. I’ve found this to be especially important for gluten-free recipes. As an example, there are many “normal” dough recipes that discuss adding flour until the dough is no longer sticky, however, in GF baking, the dough will often be very wet and sticky. It would be nearly impossible to add flour to get the right consistency; you have to measure well and trust the recipe.

4. Technique

As mentioned in #3, some things like wet, stick dough are very different in GF cooking. Applying traditional methods like kneading, punching down, and getting a second rise in a GF bread are unnecessary and may actually ruin the food. Particularly in baked good, I try to be very specific to the techniques employed to ensure you can reproduce the same results.

5. Temperature

Ranges and ovens can vary greatly. It’s important you are intimately familiar with yours. Your oven’s temperature should be accurate as it plays a huge role in achieving consistent results. It’s also important to note that I have a convection oven, as such, I generally bake at a lower temperature. If you see a recipe with two temperatures like “bake at 375F(400F)”, the first number will be in a convection oven and the second will be in a regular oven. A regular oven may have hot zones and cool zones that may require you to rotate your pans in the oven throughout the baking. These are things you should experiment with and learn about your equipment.

I also have a gas range with very large burners in the front and two smaller burners in the back. I’ve learned that my front burners are too powerful for many recipes that call for long simmers and when most recipes call for medium-high heat, it more like medium on my range. Electric ranges have come a long way since they were introduced, but it’s still hard to beat a gas range’s ability to change cooking temperatures rapidly. Take these things into consideration as you adapt to your equipment.

6. Cookware

I’m a self-proclaimed equipment nerd. I love high-end, purpose-built things that do their jobs well. I also recognize that some things are prohibitively expensive. You don’t need the most expensive cookware to make great food, but it does have to be well made. My wife and I were in total shock the first time we made dinner after purchasing new cookware. The ability of a well-constructed pan to sear a piece of meat isn’t comparable to something like a cheaply made aluminum pan. And we all know that color means flavor! There are a lot of great resources out there to help you select cookware; someday I’ll discuss what I use and why. For now, here’s what I would go back and tell myself 20 years ago: keep the cheap set of cookware you have and just buy one good piece of cookware now – cast iron. Take the time to learn how to use it well, and go from there.

7. Knives

Don’t underestimate the value of a high-quality knife. Its life changing. Seriously. Don’t bother with a set, save your money. 95% of the time you’ll only use one knife. Start with a great 8 inch Chef’s knife or a Santoku. Go to a physical store and hold the knives. Get ones that feel great in your hands. If an 8 inch blade feels too big (it’s not, just takes getting used to), get a 5 or 6 inch knife. We have a 5 inch Santoku and an 8 inch Chef’s knive. There are 3 other knives you’ll want in your collection: a 12 inch slicer, a bread knife, and a paring knife. I also like to keep a flexible fillet knife, but you can do without (especially if you don’t fish). Here are the knives you’ll find in my kitchen: 8 inch Chef’s knife, 3 inch paring knife, 5 inch santoku knife, 9 inch bread knife, 12 inch salmon slicer, 7 inch fillet knife, and a sharpener.

8. Yeast

I buy ACTIVE DRY yeast in the jar rather than in packets. After a lot of experimenting, I’ve found I get slightly better results with non-standard yeast portions, HOWEVER, if you use INSTANT yeast, you should get the same results if you substitute less yeast (multiply my amount by 0.8), generally this will be one packet or 0.25 ounces. Additionally, after a LOT of testing, I can confidently say that you do not need to “proof” your yeast; just add it to the dry ingredients.

9. Salt

Perhaps the most important item in your kitchen. I love salt. The good stuff, though. Toss the iodized table salt in the garbage. Seriously. Unless it says otherwise, all salt in my recipes is referring to kosher salt. And back to item #3, there are two major brands making kosher salt: Morton’s and Diamond Crystal. I recently learned that the they’re significantly different in their density, which means if you use one teaspoon, one will be twice as salty as the other. I use Morton’s because that is what’s available in the stores I shop in. If you measure by weight, nothing will change. However, if a recipe measure salt by volume, it will take roughly twice as much Diamond Crystal, though I rarely measure salt outside of baking. Taste everything!!

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