5 Common Cooking Mistakes
I was just reading an article the other day about common mistakes that cooks make all the time. Some of those mistakes really hit home! How many times have I mixed up a tablespoon for a teaspoon? Lemon juice for lemon rind? I am pretty absent-minded sometimes, as I’m sure some of you are, and I get more excited about the food than the process. I always have to remind myself to pay attention!
Here are some common cooking mistakes that I own up to, or I think sometimes even slip by the most experienced cooks. Some things are pretty basic, and I’m glad I learned them.
As for what this has to do with “micro living…” it’s kind of a stretch. But I think the fewer mistakes you make in the kitchen the less mess and wasted food you make. If saving time, energy and food are part of micro living, then I think this fits the bill.
5 Common Cooking Mistakes
1. Recipes – on the first go around it’s really important to follow the recipe exactly. Especially if you’re baking! That’s really essential. But if it’s the first time you’re making something, you should really research your recipes and then follow the instructions of the best-looking recipe you find. And best-looking doesn’t mean best picture! ; ) Best-looking in terms of easy to understand, easy to follow, the right yield for your needs, and the right skill level for you. I normally just wing recipes all the time, but then I grump and complain about how they didn’t taste right. I don’t think you can really understand how to change a recipe until you make it right the first time. I also think it’s very important to make sure you have all the ingredients, cooking utensils and pots and pans. Sometimes recipes can overflow and you don’t want to be using all the pans in your kitchen. I like to have all my ingredients chopped and measured and ready to go before I start cooking.
2. Chopping – everything should be the same size if you want it to cook evenly. I used to just chop things haphazardly and then never understand why things weren’t cooked properly. I’m starting to learn to make a uniform dice for almost everything. I like this rule for soups, stews and stir fry especially. Everything just seems to work better when you start with even measurements. If you’re really good at this step, you can play with sizes of things if you like things more done than others or like different textures. But if you’re a new cook, it’s best to play it safe…
3. Knives – I find it almost impossible to work with dull knives. My husband and I have even gone so far as to bring knives with us on vacation because the knives at most condos and hotels with kitchens are so dull. I used to be afraid of really sharp knives, but from what I understand, they leave a cleaner cut if you miss and hit your hand, thus healing quicker and better. Dull knives are also more likely to slip. We like to take our knives to a knife sharpener stand at the farmer’s market. There are a few home knife sharpeners (not to be confused with a sharpening steel, which is the big sharpening stick that comes in knife blocks… that is for touch-ups) that are pretty good. Do your research before you buy one. I just like the convenience of dropping my knives off, wandering around the farmer’s market and then picking them back up. Plus, that’s one less gadget I have floating around my kitchen.
4. Hands – I think it’s too bad that most people have forgotten the most important cooking tool – your hands! I love cooking with my hands and find it really essential for making meatballs, cookies, pies, pasta, you name it. I think it really connects you to your food. It also saves on a lot of appliances and gadgets! It’s so important to get a feel for what you’re making. I can’t imagine making pie with a food processor or a stand mixer. Sure, if you’re in a hurry, I totally get it, but sometimes getting down and dirty with your pie is the recipe for a great pie! I just look at my grandmas, who were both great cooks, and they used their hands for everything. I do recommend keeping your hands very clean and cold. I think it’s especially important that they be cold (run them under cold water) for things like cookies and pies. Ingredients can easily melt in your hands and turn gooey or hard when you bake them. I also like using my hands for recipes like meatloaf and meatballs. I think you get a better sense of whether you’re working them too hard and can avoid making your recipes tough.
5. Salt and oil – I get the impression lately that people are really afraid of salt and oil. I really understand if you have a particular issue with blood pressure or some other health complaint. That is up to you and your doctor to decide. But if you don’t, then I think it’s very important to season your food properly. How do restaurant chefs make your food so delicious? Salt and oil. And guess what? The normal amount of salt and oil a person puts into their own recipes, as opposed to chain food, fast food and packaged food, is significantly lower than you might expect. You can cook healthily and still make your food taste great. Of course, don’t go overboard… I also think it’s important to use healthy oils like olive oil and avoid using saturated fats all the time. Kosher salt and other larger-grain salts are a good way to get that tang and saltiness on your tongue without using a ton of salt. I used to go a little crazy with table salt because I didn’t have a very good idea about how much I was putting in. Salt shakers are tricky like that! Using my hands (again, the hands) lets me gauge better how much salt I’m adding to a recipe. I do recommend table salt for baking, however. You will get a more exact measurement that way. I just hear all the time, “the recipe didn’t taste as good as when you made it” or “my food isn’t as good as at that restaurant.” Well, most chefs use salt and oil. Leave those out, and your food can taste pretty bland. Plus, if you allow your body to have the satisfaction of really good salt and real oil and fat, you will probably eat less.
I could probably list a lot more cooking mistakes that I’ve made or I’ve seen other beginner cooks make, but I’m going to open the floor up to you. What’s a cooking mistake that you’ve made lately that really taught you a good lesson? What do you wish more people knew about cooking? What good tricks have you learned along the way?