This is a previous blog post that i’m re-purposing from my old blog…but I feel these are tips that every cook should remind themselves of…over…and over…again.
I was on the plane on my way home from a fabulous vacation in San Diego, reading my Cooking Light, when I came across an article about the most common mistakes we make in the kitchen. The article inspired me to take the top 5 out of this list of 25 mistakes and reiterate them to you…with my own tips behind them.
1) You Don’t Taste As You Go. Hello, have we not all seen Chopped? Then you’ve seen Chef Guarnaschelli ask the question “did you even taste your batter?” when a horrible tasting dish is placed before her. Please, PLEASE taste your batters, your soups, your meats, etc. before serving to your guests. It’s only fair…Trust me. You will know immediately if something is wrong. I once had a recipe from a very well known and respected cooking magazine for a chocolate layer cake. The recipe called for 1 tablespoon of baking powder and 1 tablespoon of baking soda…yes, already this sounded wrong, but I was in no position to question the chef…one taste of the batter let me know that this was WAY too much of both ingredient…it was going to spill over in my oven! Within 5 minutes of placing it in my oven…the cake had already risen above the rim of the pan. Yep, recipes can be wrong…lesson? Taste your food. It not only gives you clues if your recipe is off…but also if your guests will be coming back…
2) READ THE WHOLE RECIPE BEFORE YOU START COOKING! Scenario: You’re preparing for a dinner party to take place that evening. You start preparing the marinade around 4 and oops…your meat was actually supposed to marinate for 24 hours and then slow cook for 4 hours. Postpone the dinner party until tomorrow night? Well, you wouldn’t have to if you just took the time to read the whole recipe before you started cooking. You never know what surprises you’ll find awaiting in the directions section of the recipe.
3) You Boiled When You Should Have Simmered… This is wrong on so many levels. Okay, so you were in a hurry to get that Beef Stew on the table…and now you are gnawing on beef jerky. You boiled your rice, and the water absorbed before the rice was done…now you’re adding water to the rice…start over, it’s ruined. If you’re making chicken soup using a whole chicken, boiling the chicken will cause the impurities to mix throughout the stock. Simmering the chicken will allow those impurities to rise to the surface, so you can skim them off. Bottom line, if your recipe says to simmer, do it, or you risk ruining perfectly good ingredients.
4) You Oversoften Butter. This kinda goes along with reading your whole recipe first, so you know what state your ingredients need to be in before you start cooking or baking. Softened butter 99.9% of the time means softened at room temp; not microwaved. Properly softened butter should yield slightly to gentle pressure. You may think this isn’t a big deal, but when it comes to baking especially, it does. It can cause cookie dough to be more like batter and create flat cookies and cause your cakes to be dense instead of fluffy.
5) You don’t let the pan get hot enough before adding the food… If you don’t hear the sizzle…it’s not hot enough. Not allowing your pan to heat to the correct temperature will cause your food to stick to the pan. You need that sear in order to create the perfect crust on meats, fish and poultry, which can only be accomplished if your pan is hot enough. Also, only add the oil to the pan when it’s hot enough, otherwise it will get too hot and smoke up your house. I don’t know about you…but i’m not a huge fan of hearing our fire alarm speak to me saying, “fire, fire.” with an obnoxious loud beep…
Cooking Light, March 2010