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Do you really have to stick to the details in baking recipes?

Sizzling Ginger Scallion Sauce with Fried Tofu
Sizzling ginger scallion sauce with fried tofu.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times; prop styling by Nidia Cueva)

Cooking isn’t just my job, it’s what I love to do. I find real pleasure in the process, whether it’s for a story or just for fun. But in this seemingly never-ending quarantine-ish state, I’m exhausted from endless meal prep and dishwashing. Maybe you are too.

Here, then, are some of my go-to easy recipes. These dishes don’t leave a big mess in the kitchen, but they do leave me with enough leftover sauce to minimize prep for my next meal.

To revive my love of cooking, I bake. (Check out this week’s reader question below about how to follow baking recipes.) Throwing together an easy dessert reminds me what a happy place the kitchen can be. And when we can’t go anywhere else, that really matters.

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Bright with fresh ginger, this sauce tastes great over chicken or fish too. Spoon it over plain steamed rice for a lazy light meal or satisfying snack.

Tacos 1986 Tacos al Hongo

Time 35 minutes
Yields Serves 4

Seared mushrooms are topped with salsa macha in these vegan tacos. Made with lots of toasted dried chiles, the salsa can be used any way you’d use hot sauce.

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When grilled, carrots develop a meaty texture that makes them hearty enough to be a main course. The za’atar topping and tahini sauce work as an accompaniment to grilled lamb and pita as well.

Blueberry Pie Bars

Time 2 hours
Yields Makes 2 dozen

If you want to contactlessly share baked goods with friends, these bars are easy to cut and pack. Fresh berries bake into a jammy topping for a hazelnut crust.

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Easy Chocolate Soufflés

Time 30 minutes
Yields Makes 4 individual soufflés

You can’t order a soufflé for takeout or delivery, but you can make one with only three ingredients.

Ask the cooks

I’m curious: How much difference does it make in recipes where high or low beater speeds are specified? For example, will my banana bread turn out differently if I continue to use high speed versus switching to low speed when the recipe instructs?

— Colby Morrow, Fresno

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When baking, the speed with which you beat your ingredients will make a difference in your end results. If you’re making banana bread, you need to reduce the speed to low when adding the dry ingredients. Most banana breads will call for starting on high or medium-high speed if beating butter and sugar so that tiny air bubbles will form in the mixture to keep the texture of the banana bread light. If you continue to use high speed when adding flour with the other dry ingredients, you’ll end up with a huge mess because the flour will fly everywhere. You also may end up with a tough end product, because the gluten in the flour will be overworked and make your baked goods tough. On the flip side, if you beat eggs at a low speed when you need them to foam, then stiffen, as for the soufflé above, you’ll never get the peaks you’re trying to achieve.

Whether you’re using an electric stand mixer or a handheld one, follow the instructions for which speed you should use at every stage to end up with the best baked goods.

Have a cooking question?

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