Listen up, people who love to cook. You're about to read a brief cautionary tale about why you should always measure ingredients and never shake the salt or dried herbs over the pot. The other night, I was making a sauce for my spaghetti squash while I waited for it to roast in the oven. "I'll just add a pinch of red pepper flakes to spice it up," I thought as I was thinking about how unexcited I was to eat this "pasta" without the carbs. I grabbed the red pepper flakes from my spice cabinet — my jumbo jar, I should add — opened it, and added a strong "tap" into the pan to go with the olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, spinach, and white beans simmering. To my horror, an enormous amount of flakes, close to half a cup, came spilling out of the container.
I realized I had opened the wrong side of the lid: the open side rather than the perforated side, meaning there was nothing controlling the speedy flow of spiciness. I scraped out most of the pile into the trash can, but since dried herbs and chiles release flavor when heated in a skillet, the damage was already done. Not only would I be eating a sad excuse for spaghetti, but I'd be eating a sad excuse for spaghetti with way too much heat for my liking.
I was reminded of one of many cooking tips from Ina Garten: measure everything to a T. "I measure everything. To the half teaspoon. Because I always think that if I've spent so much time making sure this recipe was exactly the way I want it, why would I want to throw things into a pot? I'm really a scientist," she has said of her philosophy. As usual, Ina speaks the truth. Even if you're not following a recipe and you're making it up as you go, it's smart to measure the seasoning, whether that's in your hand or with measuring spoons. Far too often do people over-salt or under-salt their dishes because they're blindly shaking the container above the stove. The same goes for black pepper, red pepper flakes, or any number of dried spices; the correct amount elevates the dish, and the incorrect amount can ruin the flavor profile entirely. So take it from me — and, more importantly, Ina — and pay attention to measurements, and you won't suffer from the Series of Unfortunate Events: Red Pepper Flake Edition.