When I write recipes, I am sometimes specific. After all, for some ingredients, especially when it comes to baking, specific is the only way to go. If I list “8 ounces of cream” or “2 tablespoons of butter,” these ingredients definitely need to be measured for proper baked goods.

I’m much less specific with a “medium carrot” or a “small onion” in a recipe. Your carrot might be a little bigger than mine, or my onion smaller, but these differences are minor, and don’t in any way affect the outcome of a recipe. If these measurements were critical, I would go by weight, such as “8 ounces of grated carrot” or “12 ounces of chopped onion”. That would be specific. But silly, really.

Sometimes, I am purposely vague. I might list, for example, “5-10″ cloves of garlic, minced.” This is not meant to be confusing. It means that the recipe will definitely work whether you choose 5 or 10 cloves. Furthermore, who knows what size your garlic cloves are? I try to use medium-sized cloves when I’m formulating a recipe, because they come in different sizes! So it’s an estimation.

But vagueness is not my goal when writing recipes. Cooking should be about using what you like and enjoy tasting. If you don’t love garlic that much, then go with fewer cloves or omit it entirely, although that would be sad. If you love garlic, go for the gusto! You decide how much garlic flavor you want. And that goes for the above-mentioned carrot and onion. Want more carrot in your stew? Add it. Don’t worry what a recipe lists. A stew will still be a stew whether it contains 1 or 5 carrots.

The same thing goes when I list seasonings, like herbs and spices. Everything I list will work together. But, that is to my taste, and taste is subjective.

If you haven’t experienced a specific seasoning, I urge you to try it, but perhaps minimally first, to see what you think. For example, I might list 1 – 3 teaspoons ground cumin. Never used it before? Smells funny to you? Maybe don’t ignore it completely, just try one teaspoon for starters. Then see what you think.

Some of the ingredients I list are totally optional. For example, I happen to love spicy food. You will see a lot of ground cayenne and cayenne flakes in my recipes. These will always be optional. I completely understand if you don’t care for spicy, or the person for whom you cook has a sensitive tummy. So be it. Just ignore the cayenne. My recipes are just that – my recipes. You need to make them your own.

You should definitely own a kitchen scale. They are inexpensive and oh – so useful. Mostly because some ingredients are listed by weight – “6 ounces of chocolate” or “5 ounces of prosciutto.” But sometimes, for example, a recipe in a cookbook says: 1 cup chopped walnuts, or 6 ounces. Forget the measuring cup. I would definitely weigh out 6 ounces of walnuts on the scale, and then chop them. That is just a more specific measurement. I mean, 1 cup of chopped walnuts is a bit vague. I might chop them more than the recipe author intended. See what I mean?

There are also differences in measured ingredients depending how they’re written in a recipe. Do you know the difference between:

1. 1 cup of chopped black olives
2. 1 cup of black olives, chopped

For #1, you must chop olives until a measuring cup is full.
For #2, you must fill the measuring cup with olives, then chop only those olives.

The resulting volumes of chopped olives will be very different for #1 and #2. Personally I think #2 is ridiculous, especially when the type and size of olive is not listed, and pitted or not, but I have seen this in professional cookbooks. So read recipes carefully; some differences in measurements are very subtle.

Hopefully all the ingredients and measurements in my recipes are very clear, but I’m also encouraging you to be creative and not follow the recipe to the letter. That is why some of my recipes are more like guides than detailed recipes.

This is home cooking, not rocket science, as I’ve said before. Chances are, it will work.

One thing I can’t really do is provide the number of servings for a dish. For example, when I made the stuffed spaghetti squash a while back, my husband ate one whole half. (He exercises a lot!) But it would have been four servings for more normal people. So just use your judgment.

If you have a question, don’t hesitate to contact me. Chances are someone else is stumped as well. There is always human error with typing, copying and pasting, and so forth, and I am human. But more than anything I want you to have fun with these recipes. Get creative and get cooking!