This page contains miscellaneous reference information useful for interpreting recipes. Although these are conventions I use, they are based on common cooking conventions, so this information should be of general use as well. As as possible, I try to minimize or define such terms, but in case I don't (or you come across them in others' recipes), I hope you find this useful. Weights, measurements and definitions are American unless noted.
fluid ounce (fl. oz.) (note: I would only use fl. oz. if it isn't already understood as a volume measure. When making cocktails, for example, the measurements are in fluid ounces but are written with "oz.").
Dutch oven. A Large, round, heavy pot with a lid made from cast iron. Models for kitchen use are typically coated with porcelain enamel, making them easier to cook with and clean.
Frying pans. Round pans with sloped sides of about 1-2 inches tall. Pans are sized by their lip diameter: small=8 inches, medium=10 inches, large=12 inches.
Measuring cups. For dry ingredients, I use a set of Pyrex measuring cups ranging in size from 1/4 cup to 1 cup. With dry cups, it is typical to fill the cup all the way full (some cups have a line half-way up for splitting a measurement, but doing this accurately with dry-ingredient cups can be challenging). For wet ingredients, I use Pyrex glass measuring cups, which have volume indicators on the side for measurement accuracy. Pyrex glass measuring cups are very useful for tasks other than measuring since they are microwave-safe and easy to pour from. For a lot of recipes where I combine wet ingredients "in a small bowl," I'm actually using a Pyrex measuring cup, since pouring from them is a lot easier than from an actual bowl.
Saute pans. Round or oval pans with steep sides of 2-3 inches tall. Generally larger and hold more volume than frying plans.
These notes are meant to address potential questions with ingredients. These are rules I use in my recipes, but I think you'll find they are fairly common among others' recipes too. One general rule: whenever you come across an ingredient that doesn't seem as specific as it should be (for example, recipes that include herbs but do not say whether to use fresh or dried), the default should be the ingredient in its purest form (keeping with this example, since dried herbs are more processed than fresh herbs, you should assume that a recipe that calls for an herb means fresh unless it specifies dry).
Brown Sugar. Brown sugar is refined sugar with some of the extracted molasses added back in. "Light" brown sugar has less molasses, and "Dark" brown sugar has more. When measuring brown sugar by volume, it should be packed into the measuring spoon or cup as tightly as possible.
Eggs. Recipes that call for just "eggs" mean chicken eggs, size large. Brown or white eggs do not matter, since they have no flavor or characteristic difference. Size does matter, since medium or extra large (or any other size) egg will have a different volume of yolk and albumen, which could affect a recipe where precision in important, especially in baking recipes.
Flour. My default flour is unbleached, all-purpose flour (I buy King Arthur brand), which I use for any recipe calling for plain-old flour. Whether flour is bleached or unbleached doesn't generally matter for the purposes of a typical kitchen recipe (some people object to the chemicals used in the bleaching process). This is a wheat flour. Other types of wheat flours, such as whole-wheat, bread or cake flour--as well as flours made from other grains or nuts--will react differently than all-purpose flour and shouldn't be substituted unless a recipe indicates a substitution is fine or you've researched how the substitution will affect your recipe and concluded it will work for you. Measuring flour for baking is a bit complicated. Most American recipes call for measuring flour by the cup, an imprecise method that can yield varying amounts of flour depending on how much is packed into a cup. Outside the United States (and increasingly within the U.S. as well), recipes will call for measuring flour by weight, which ensures better consistency. While my recipes will mostly go by cups, I will, as much as possible, also provide flour measurements by weight.
Herbs. Recipes that call for any herb mean the fresh version unless the dried is specified. For my cooking, this is particularly true for basil, parsley and rosemary, which I find are worthless in their dried forms. Oregano and thyme work well dried.
Chiffonade. A French term for long, thin strips of greens or herbs, such as basil. For example, cutting basil chiffonade results in ribbon-like strips about 1/4-inch wide and as long as the width of a basil leaf. A common technique for creating chiffonade is to stack the leaves to cut, roll them into a log and then slice thinly across the log.
Creaming (in pastry-making). Pastry recipes that say to "cream" ingredients mean to beat them together at a higher speed until they are airy and thick, i.e. "creamy." It is most common in reference to combining butter (or shortening) and sugar, sometimes with other non-dry ingredients like eggs. Creaming a mixture will incorporate air, increasing its volume.
Dice. Dice or its verb dicing refers to chopping ingredients into cubes, ranging in size from about 1/4-inch for small dice to 3/4-inch for large dice. Frequently used to describe chopped raw onion.
Julienne. Long thin strips of food about 1/8- to 1/4-inch wide, usually applicable to vegetables. For example, a julienne strip of bell pepper would be no more than about 1/4-inch wide and about 1 to 2 inches long. Julienne strips are sometimes referred to as "matchsticks."
Lardons. Thin strips of pork fat, such as bacon, cut about 1/4- to 1/2-inch wide. Traditionally, French lardons would be salt cured but not smoked.
Marinade. The term for the liquid mixture used for marinating (see "marinate" below).
Marinate. The process of soaking a food in a liquid mixture (a "marinade") so that the food takes on the mixture's flavor. Commonly applied to soaking meats in a mixture of oil and vinegar enhanced with herbs and spices.
Mince. Similar to dice, but usually smaller pieces less than 1/4-inch wide, almost (but not quite) becoming a paste.
Ounce. A measure of mass (or weight); however, when measuring liquids, the term is also a measure of volume, more accurately referred to as a "fluid ounce." Coincidentally, an ounce (by weight) of butter equals a fluid ounce of butter.
Peaks. A rough reference point for judging egg whites that have been whipped, i.e. beaten at high speed to incorporate air and thus increase their volume. To create a peak, use a spoon to lift a small amount of mixture to create a peak. If the peak forms but tips over, it is a "soft" peak. "Stiff" peaks, in contrast, will still be glossy looking and hold their shape when peaked. Some recipes may call for "firm" peaks, which is between those two.
Sauté. Very common method of cooking pieces of food in a hot frying pan with a little oil.
1 teaspoon = 1/3 tablespoon
1 tablespoon = 3 teaspoons (or 1/2 fluid ounce)
1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons (1 cup = 16 tablespoons)
1 cup = 8 fluid ounces
1 pint = 2 cups
1 quart = 4 cups (1 gallon = 16 cups)
1 gallon = 4 quarts