No Measuring Cups or Spoons. No Problem.

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It's much harder to keep the timing of a recipe when you are digging around for measuring tools. One solution is mise en place, measuring all your ingredients first and laying them out in prep bowls as they do on television. Putting aside the practical cost of storing that many prep bowls, mise en place spoils the opportunity for experiencing the preperation of a dish as one fluid motion. When in the mood to cook rather than set up a science experiment, it's helpful to use unmeasured tools and approximate measures by eye.

Now, eyeballing measurements doesn't mean playing fast and loose with amounts. In fact, the most important thing to keep in mind is, if you are at all unsure, use less of an ingredient (especially herbs/spices) than you think and add more if needed. This mode is probably ill-suited to baking or any case where the proportion of ingredients can't be changed while cooking and directly effect the consistency of the dish. Besides, for baking you probably need to measure by weight and that pretty much requires a scale (please share your good approximation tips for weight in the comments).

So, next time you are in front of your stove try these visual cues instead of your measures and tell me what you think.

Flip a Coin - Ingredients like herbs and spices settle into piles with the diameters of coins (U.S. versions given below, please provide international versions in the comments)

  • 1/4 teaspoon = dime
  • 1/2 teaspoon = nickel
  • 1 teaspoon = quarter

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking - Other ingredients can likewise be estimated using your finger tips (the volume of your finger from the end to the bottom of your fingernail). These are especially useful when trying to notate a recipe from a grandmother who calls for "this much of that" while placing her thumb somewhere along their index finger.

  • 1/4 teaspoon = pinky tip
  • 1/2 teaspoon = any other finger tip
  • 1 teaspoon = thumb tip
(bonus)
  • 1 cup = a fist

Follow the Bouncing Ball -
Just visualize the appropriate ball in your hand or bowl. This sequence is so remarkably accessible, there should be a novelty measuring cup set based on it.

  • 1/4 cup = golf ball
  • 1/3 cup = billiard ball
  • 1/2 cup = tennis ball
  • 3/4 cup = baseball
  • 1 cup = softball

Measuring without tools will be a bit disconcerting at first, but after few times your mind's natural capacity for visual approximations will kick in. There's no need to throw your perfectly good measuring tools away, but you'll soon find yourself reaching for them less often.

(update: here's a great discussion about eyeballing for baking starting from the fact that baking bread pre-dates kitchen scales)

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