Sunday, February 2, 2014

Puzzling Mystery Amounts

Have you come across the ingredient terms:dash, pinch, smidgen in your cooking and baking and wondered how much each really is? While in cooking mistaking a dash for a pinch probably won't make a huge difference, in baking the difference could really be big. Baking is more of a science than cooking and knowing the difference between a dash, a pinch and a smidgen could be the difference between a good final product and a really great final baked masterpiece.

Smidgen, dash, pinch, are words that reflect the way people used to cook, before celebrity chef recipes were set in stone and before people became irrationally fearful that the slightest deviation from a recipe would ruin their dish.

First of all, what is a dash? In baking terms, according to most sources, a dash is about 1/8 of a teaspoon. It is the largest of the three measuring terms: dash, pinch, and smidgen.

A pinch is smaller than a dash and is typically considered to be the amount of a dry ingredient that can be pinched between your forefinger and thumb. Of course this inaccurate measurement has to vary from person to person. To be precise in adding a pinch of salt or other ingredient to your baking, you will need 1/16 teaspoon.

The final mystery amount that sometimes appears in baking recipes is called a smidgen. This measurement is the least used and is also the smallest. A smidgen is about 1/32 of a teaspoon.

The measuring spoons in the above photo were a gift that comes in handy when I really need to be accurate in my baking.  But far too often I just do a little of this and a little of that!

Mushroom Saute with Gnocchi-Parmesan and Spinach 

Cook's notes: This recipe was adapted from John Besh's book Cooking from the Heart
Using prepackaged gnocchi (freezer section) aids in the ease of putting this pasta entree together.
Recipe serves 2-3

  • 9 oz. gnocchi
  • 1 TB. olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onions
  • 1-1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream 
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 TB. fresh chives
  • 1 cup torn baby spinach leaves (stems removed)
  • 1/4 cup white wine 
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
  • optional walnut halves
  • Cook gnocchi according to package directions, drain, salt and pepper and set aside
  • Heat fry pan with olive oil, saute onions, garlic, thyme, chives and mushrooms (about 6 minutes) stir frequently
  • Add in chicken broth and simmer until broth is reduced by half (about 5 minutes) 
  • Add in wine and cook for 2-3 minutes more
  • Stir in cream, torn spinach leaves, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and gnocchi
  • Coat gnocchi with mushroom wine sauce and heat 5 minutes more on low heat
  • Serve with fresh parsley, walnuts and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

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