Tips & Terminology

I realized I was using a lot of terminology or techniques repeatedly in my recipes without explaining them. So here’s a quick resource to figure out what I mean. If there’s still something you don’t understand, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll be sure to add it to the guide.

    • almond flour/meal – A great alternative for those who have celiac disease, almond flour can substitute for all-purpose flour in many baked goods. It can be created at home by roasting the almonds in your oven first, then grinding them in a food processor. This is a much cheaper alternative to buying Bob’s Red Mill Almond Meal which was over $10 the last time I checked. Trader Joe’s used to offer it for much cheaper (I want to say somewhere around $4/bag and the bag was bigger than the Bob’s Red Mill, too) but it’s easy enough to do at home, if you have a food processor. Store in the refrigerator to keep it from going rancid.

    • bread machine – Not necessary, but it’s a great time saver if you’re interested in making bread and intimidated about what might be required of you. Just throw everything into the pan, choose your settings, and walk away. In less than 3 hours, you’ll have fresh bread that you controlled what was put into it. So much better than store-bought! You don’t need to go crazy and spend a ton of money. I have a Sunbeam that I bought for around $60 and it has served us well. I almost always make 1.5-lb loaves so we’ll eat all of it before it goes stale. For storage of that freshly-baked bread, I prefer using a bread container like this one. Plastic bags tend to make the crust really soft and just leaving it out isn’t an option.

    • coconut oil – A fantastic oil for baking and cooking, coconut oil is solid at temperatures below about 76 degrees and liquid above that. Stay away from the hydrogenated form–stick with organic, as it’s less processed. Extra virgin tends to impart less of a coconut flavor to the final product, but is more processed. It has a high smoke point, allowing you to use it for high temperature frying. The lauric acid found in coconut oil is reputed to replicate that found in breastmilk. Not only is it fantastic in food, but it’s a great moisturizer and awesome for your hair, too. My personal preference is for Nutiva brand. Coconut oil is quite stable and will stay fresh longer than other cooking/baking oils.

    • grapeseed oil – Grapeseed oil is the result of the pressing of the seeds of grapes used for wine. Often cold-pressed (which is preferable as heat makes oil rancid), it is a very healthy alternative to olive oil. Grapeseed oil has a higher flash point, making it more suited to pan frying, leaves no aftertaste in baking, and has about half the saturated fat with about twice the monounsaturated fat, the kind that helps your heart. It also expands when heated so you can use a little less than olive oil. Store in a cool, dark place as all oils will turn rancid faster if exposed to too much heat or sunlight.

    • Himalayan pink saltHimalayan pink salt is purported to be the purest salt in the world, given its location deep in the mountains, which protects it from contamination. There are claims of health benefits–I’ll leave that up to you to decide. I like the flavor it gives, plus the pink color is a nice surprise. I sub this 1:1 for sea salt (though others will say that you should use less Himalayan salt than sea salt, seeing as Himalayan has a stronger flavor). Either way, you can use them interchangeably, you just may need to adjust measurements a little to taste. I usually buy my Himalayan pink salt from TJ Maxx or HomeGoods. I have also seen it in some grocery stores, so it’s becoming more mainstream. If you’re having difficulty locating it, try your local health food store.

    • nut storage – Store your nuts in the freezer. The oils in nuts are susceptible to going rancid if left at room temperature. They’ll keep much longer this way. Allow them to come to room temperature before adding them to baked goods.

    • orange blossom water – Also known as orange flower water, orange blossom water is a clear fluid, the product of distilling bitter orange flowers. It’s often used in French and Mediterranean cooking. Online may be your best resource for locating this, though I found it at a local Dutch epicure.

    • sea salt – There are many varieties of sea salt and I won’t get into all of them here. Basically, I prefer to use sea salt because it’s a more natural, better flavor salt than the iodized variety. There are some studies that suggest it also does not raise blood pressure like iodized salt can. I’ll let you decide.

    • school parties/bake sales – My recent circumstances with a rapid deterioration of my ability to stand and subsequent emergency discectomy have taught me one thing: you can never be too prepared for school functions. My son missed bringing in something special for his birthday at preschool because I was entirely incapacitated at the time. Weeks later, while huddled over the KitchenAid mixing up some cookie dough for his last day of school, it occurred to me that: a) I didn’t really need to make 5 dozen cookies at the time, and b) the extra dough could be frozen so that, should another event crop up that was unforeseen, forgotten, or I’m suddenly even further incapacitated, at least I won’t have to stress out about being ill prepared for it. When making cookies, freeze some extra dough, because you just never know. Drop mounds of dough onto a flat surface and pop that in the freezer, as is. Once the dough mounds are solid, transfer them to a zip-top freezer bag (remembering to label them with the date and what they are so they don’t become a mystery meal stuffed in the back), and return them to the freezer. When you need them, you can bake them straight from the freezer, just add a minute or two on to the baking time. You don’t have to feel like the guilty parent any more! You will always be prepared!

    • simple syrup – Often used to make cocktails, simple syrup has some baking and cooking applications as well–like substituting for corn syrup. It’s made by taking equal portions of water and granulated sugar and heating them in a pan until the sugar is dissolved. You can store it in a jar in the fridge for 1-2 months after preparing–which it’s generally a good idea to have some on hand at all times so you don’t have to wait for it to cool before using in your recipes. Some recipes call for other ratios of sugar/water but 1:1 is the basic version that’s pretty versatile.

    • Spectrum shortening – This non-hydrogenated organic shortening can be found at Whole Foods and many health food stores. It’s a great alternative in recipes that require shortening for texture. While I try to avoid shortening if at all possible (sometimes substituting coconut oil instead), this is what I use if the end result just wouldn’t be the same without it, like whoopie pies.

    • vanilla bean, scraped – Take your vanilla bean on a cutting board and with the tip of a sharp knife, make a slit the entire length of the bean. Spread the bean open and run a regular old spoon across the flattened bean, scraping out the seeds inside. If there will be liquid used in the recipe as well, it’s generally recommended to drop the seeds into the liquid and let it sit for 5-10 minutes before adding to the other ingredients. Afterward, you can let the bean pod dry out a bit and add it to your sugar (or even salt!) for vanilla sugar. See below. I usually source my beans from, as they have the best prices for high quality vanilla beans.

    • vanilla extract – Did you know you can make your own vanilla extract? Get a seal-able bottle of some sort (I use small mason jars). Take 6-8 vanilla beans and cut them in half, then take each half and slice it down the middle, lengthwise. Drop the beans into the jar/bottle, add to them 1 cup of plain vodka, and put the jar/bottle in a cool, dark place (not the fridge). Shake periodically. In about 6 weeks, you will have vanilla extract that is ready to use (trust me, the vodka odor dissipates with time). No additives, no sweeteners, just pure vanilla extract. As your supply dwindles, you can always add vodka and beans as needed. I started 2 batches a couple weeks apart so I’d always have vanilla extract on hand.

    • vanilla sugar – Sugar in which dried vanilla bean pods have been placed to infuse the surrounding sugar with the flavor and aroma of vanilla. This is a great use for the pods after you’ve scraped the seeds for your recipes. Allow them to dry a bit on the counter before adding them to your sugar. You can also take this to the next level by throwing the cut up bean pods (with seeds still inside) into a food processor with the sugar and pulsing until well-blended. After letting it sit for a couple weeks in an air-tight container, strain out the bean pod pieces with a fine-mesh sieve. This will result in an intensely fragrant vanilla sugar that is a great substitute for granulated sugar in all baking.

    • weight measures – The most accurate recipes measure by weight (well, mass), not volume. One cup of flour does not equal one cup of flour when you factor in the method used to fill the cup, how finely the flour was milled, the humidity, etc. But most cooks are ill prepared to work out their recipes this way. I highly recommend investing in an kitchen scale, as it is an inexpensive tool that is highly useful. I picked mine up for about $30 from But, if you’re in a pinch, King Arthur Flour has you covered. They’ve put together a reference chart of volume equivalents for weight measurements, which could come in handy if you were making, say, the Blueberry Ricotta Cake and had no way to weigh the ingredients. Weights will no longer be the bane of your existence!

    • white whole wheat flour – While baked goods are traditionally made with all purpose flour (I prefer unbleached, if I’m using it), I’ve moved most of my baking over to white whole wheat flour. It comes from King Arthur Flour, the gold standard in the baking world, and substitutes nicely into baked goods while giving you the benefits of whole grain. It’s milled from hard white spring wheat instead of the commonly-used red wheat (for whole wheat flour), which is softer and lighter. What it comes down to is more complete nutrition, even if I’m using it in a brownie or a cookie, without too much of a compromise in texture. Often it will make for a drier batter/dough than all purpose flour, so it is advisable to add more liquid to the recipe if you think it’s too dry, 1 Tablespoon at a time, so as not to throw off the chemistry. King Arthur Flour recommends a rest time before baking, as well, though I can’t say I’ve ever done that…yet.