How to CookEssential Tools

Julia Turshen Gives the Humble 1/4-Cup Measure Its Due

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There are two "me"s in my kitchen. There’s "regular me" who measures nothing, cooks intuitively, adds a splash of this or a pinch of that, and doesn’t set a timer. This me cooks barefoot, puts whatever is leftover from last night into today’s pot. She listens to music with lyrics she knows and sings (badly). She writes down nothing.

Then there is "work me." This me writes, develops, and tests recipes. She wears sturdy sneakers to support long days of careful work. She keeps a stack of red pens in the utensil drawer to mark changes on typed-out notes. She sets timers and listens only to instrumental music, so as not to be distracted. She notices everything and measures it all.

Photo by James Ransom

"Work me" relies on lots of tools. One in particular is my OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cup—or rather, my cups. Plural. I love them so much that I own a few, so that I can always have a clean one available during "recipe days," when my home kitchen turns into my office. I love them so much that when I travel for work, for example to work with a chef on her recipes, I always have at least one Mini Angled Measuring Cup in my bag.

I love these measuring cups because they make my work accurate and my job easier. They’re designed very simply and very smartly: They have no willy-nilly handles or any other extra bells or whistles. At first glance, each one appears to be just a small plastic cup with a pouring spout (that actually works).

Measurements inside eliminate the need for bending over or crouching to check the amount.
Measurements inside eliminate the need for bending over or crouching to check the amount. Photo by Mark Weinberg

But the cup is more than that. It also has an angled surface marked with measurements on the inside that let you see how much of an ingredient you’re adding while you’re adding it. This might not seem like much, but it counts (no pun intended) for a lot. Most liquid measuring jugs are straight-sided things with measurements marked around the exterior, and these are fine. But to get an accurate measurement, your eye must be level with the thing you’re measuring to see if it is actually on the line where you want it to be. I have poured out so many little bits of water or soy sauce or this or that to get the liquid just where I want it, only to have to add a tiny bit back into the bottle. (And have you tried pouring something back into its bottle? It rarely goes where it’s supposed to.)

The angle of the Mini Angled Measuring Cups means I just put one on my kitchen counter and pour slowly and stop when the liquid reaches where I want it to reach. There is no bending down to get my eye in line with the cup, no lifting it to have the liquid slosh this way and that. This is a small detail, a very small detail, but I think it has saved me so much time over the years, not to mention saving so many liquids from ending up down the drain. (I love these measuring cups for this reason alone.)

The angled spout means that this oil will *actually* make it back into the cruet.
The angled spout means that this oil will *actually* make it back into the cruet. Photo by Mark Weinberg

But there are more reasons: I love all of the measurement units they offer, especially since these days I write all my recipes with both imperial and also metric measurements. I love that they’re just the right size for measuring small amounts of things like oils, vinegars, and fish sauce. They’re not expensive. Love that. I love that they’re small enough that washing them doesn’t feel like a chore; at the end of a recipe-testing day, each one takes up almost no room in the dishwasher. It’s like it was never there.

I also love that each Mini Angled Measuring Cup is the exact amount of food Turk, my wife’s cat that is now also my cat, eats, so we keep one right in his food container. We know that he gets just as much food as he is supposed to eat each time he eats. If that isn’t reassuring, I don’t know what is.

Most of all, I love that I can fill one to capacity with an ingredient and add the ingredient little by little as I cook—and once I have added enough, I can see how much is left in the cup. This shows me exactly how much I used and also how much I didn’t use, which lets me be so accurate in my recipe writing. This small gesture lets me cook both intuitively (“Oh, this could use a little more hot chile oil!”) while also remaining totally and supremely precise. The OXO Mini Angled Measuring Cups, in other words, let me be both "me"s at the same time.

Photo by Chronicle Books

Julia Turshen is the author of the forthcoming Small Victories, out in September 2016. You can preorder her book here.

We originally ran this piece May 11, 2016—but we're bringing it back today because we couldn't be more excited for Julia's book, which hits shelves next week, on September 6th!

Tags: Books