By, Heidi Vail
I did not originally write this article but I could have. Trial and error over the years is certainly a good way to learn but not necessary if your open to take advice now. Each and every one of these tips is crucial to being a good cook. Whether professionally or for the home cook. You might think you know it all (as I did, once upon a time…) but these few good pointers will make you better!
The solution: Like a good elementary school teacher, we’re here to tell you to read the instructions. From start to finish and finish to start if you have to. Familiarize yourself with it, and mentally run through it once before you begin. This way, you know you have all the equipment and ingredients you need.
The solution: A good rule of thumb: As soon as you enter the kitchen to prepare a meal, go ahead and put a skillet or pan on an eye, and turn the heat up to at least medium. That way, it’s getting hot while you’re warming up.
The solution: You cannot rush this process. You also cannot do it early. You may be tempted to, for example, pour the cream right into the blended tomato soup so it has longer to cook, but if you add dairy ingredients to hot dishes too early, they’ll curdle or scorch. In short, you’ll ruin the dish. If you dump all of the cream into a piping-hot soup, the dairy may curdle. Follow the directions. Take your time. Reap the rewards.
The solution: Watch for the shimmer. When oil begins to glisten ever so slightly—it can also be described as “waves” washing through the oil’s surface—it’s good to go. If it gets too hot, remove the pan from the heat, and let it cool. Empty the ruined oil, and start again with fresh oil.
The solution: Small cuts of meat, such as steak, pork chops, and chicken breasts need to sit, off the heat, five to 10 minutes. Larger cuts, such as turkey, roasts, and tenderloins need longer, between 10 and 20 minutes.
The solution: While the pan or grill preheats, give the meat a quick pat with an absorbent disposable towel or napkin. Be sure to dry both sides.
The solution: Measure everything. You can’t know where you went wrong if something tastes too sour, too salty, or too sweet if you don’t really know what you added or how much you used.
The solution: Grab a spoon, and scoop up a small bit of the dish as soon as you’ve finished adding all the ingredients. Then, do it again 15 minutes later. You’ll want to make sure the flavors are melding well, that nothing is becoming too aggressive in the process.
The solution: Knife sharpeners are inexpensive and easy to use. If you’re unsure how to use one or fear your knives now need the touch of a someone with more skill than you, seek out a professional. Many kitchen stores keep a roster of local sharpeners on hand.
The solution: If you’re tempted to stir, set yourself a timer. Use it as a no-touch reminder to leave the food alone. Once you start seeing the results of your patience (or tasting them, rather), you’ll likely be more than willing to let the pan perform its magic.
The solution: Do yourself and your pan a favor, and invest in silicone utensils for your nonstick pans. And be gentle—nonstick cookware pans are tough, but they require care.
The solution: We know fresh herbs can be costly. That’s a great incentive to grow your own when you can. It’s also a call to get creative about using any bundles up before they go bad. Did your lasagna have fresh basil? You can blend that into pesto and freeze it into cubes for a future pan sauce or soup. Freeze leftover rosemary in olive oil or blend with butter, and use it in mashed potatoes.
The solution: Upgrade that eight-inch skillet you’ve been using for a 10- or 12-inch version, and your dishes will turn out tastier and cook faster.
The solution: Follow the directions, of course. Watch the batter, and just at the moment the last speck of dry ingredient disappears, stop mixing.