By Kaitlyn Bauer
Raise your hand if you were never taught cooking basics? Yeah, you’re not alone. If you’re like me, you learned the hard way: on your own with a lot of wasted food, improper technique, and maybe even still a little doubt on exactly what you’re doing. We also know that one of the biggest keys to success and lasting weight loss and maintenance is cooking AT HOME. I’m hoping with the tips below, you can either feel confident that yes, you are doing it correctly or maybe help you amp up your kitchen game!
Without further adieu:
1. YOU DON’T READ THE RECIPE ALL THE WAY THROUGH BEFORE STARTING.
My husband is a “measure THREE TIMES cut once” type of personality. I’ll never forget early in our marriage when he did the majority of the cooking. I would roll my eyes at how he would neatly measure and set out everything before starting. He would say “What?? It’s my “mis en place.” “ Ugh, say what??? Your “meese what?!” Well, he informed me it’s a French culinary term for “everything in its place.” I made fun of him ENDLESSLY for this. I think I still do because it was the nerdiest thing I’ve ever heard.
Come to find out, it’s exactly what you need to do. Nothing is worse than your pan being piping hot, it’s time to add the garlic, but oh wait… shoot, it called for minced and you haven’t even taken the clove off the head of garlic yet. Now your oil is burned and you could have easily avoided this and had good flow if it was minced and ready ahead of time.
Read, measure, prep every ingredient ahead of time so you’re ready to roll.
2. YOU MAKE UNINFORMED INGREDIENT SUBSTITUTIONS.
Swapping ingredients in a recipe either to meet what you have on hand, for personal taste, or health reasons can be fabulous….if you know it’s a proper substitution. For example, when baking you cannot sub baking powder or baking soda, or your baked goods won’t rise properly. Do your homework on proper substitutions, especially when baking to ensure a good final result!
3. IMPROPER AMOUNTS OF DRIED HERBS WHEN RECIPE CALLS FOR FRESH.
Unless you have a garden in your yard, it’s hard to keep fresh herbs around all the time. Dried herbs can be a suitable substitution if understood and done correctly. You must realize that some herbs lose flavor when they’re dried like basil and parsley, but others become more prominent in flavor when dried such as oregano and tarragon.
If an herb is very fragrant a good rule of thumb is using about ⅓ of what the recipe calls for fresh in dried. Another tip is if the recipe calls for the herb earlier in the cooking process, it’s probably a stronger flavor, versus one that’s added toward the end or to garnish.
4. YOU’RE NOT PRE-HEATING YOUR PAN.
Isn’t it exciting when you add food to the pan and hear that instant sizzle as soon as it hits? Failure to properly preheat the pan and the cooking fat (oil/butter, etc), will just cause the food to sit in the cold pan and absorb all the fat instead of cooking on it, which sadly, will also make your food stick to the pan more and not create that amazing golden crust. Instead wait until your pan and oil are hot enough. Not sure? Run your hand under the faucet, and flick some water into the pan, if it sizzles, it’s ready to go!
5. YOU’RE AFRAID OF HEAT.
Don’t be afraid of heat when cooking. If your heat is too low, you’ll never develop that gorgeous golden-brown crust we all love. Not only does the crust taste delicious if food is generously seasoned, it also helps lock in the juices to keep it juicy and tender!
For foods that either don’t have to be cooked all the way through like steak, thin foods like fish, or if you’re going for a sear on a roast before finishing in the oven or before putting in the slow cooker keep the heat higher. Lower the heat for thicker cuts that have to be cooked throughout like pork and chicken.
6. YOU’RE PILING TOO MUCH CRAP IN YOUR PAN.
Also known as “crowding”, putting too much food in the pan at a time, not working in batches, and trying to speed up cooking time is tempting, but don’t do it! Not only do you run the risk of unevenly cooking your food, but when food cooks it releases moisture and too much moisture will prevent you from getting that sear. You’ll end up “steaming” your food and losing flavor. Work in batches, give room to your food and give it all some quality love!
7. YOU DON’T ALLOW YOUR MEAT TO REST AFTER COOKING OR GRILLING.
Ever cook up some meat and cut into it right away and all the juicy blood comes spilling out? Dang. Just lost a lot of juiciness! It’s important to let meat “rest” after pulling it off the heat source. Factor that into your prep time, you should give it about 10 mins to rest by itself or tented under foil. It will allow the meat to reabsorb it’s juices so YOU can enjoy them instead of a puddle on your plate or cutting board!
8. YOU’RE AFRAID OF SALT.
Salt has gotten a bad rap over the years, but if you do most of your cooking at home and you’re using high-quality sea salt and not iodized table salt (and if you don’t have health issues), you need to be salting your food. Aside from the hydration benefits (it is a crucial electrolyte that binds water to it and helps maintain appropriate intracellular levels and electrical activity in the body), it greatly enhances the flavor of foods. Salt can bring out the sweetness, downplay bitterness, enhance saltiness, as well as releasing certain molecules in food making it more aromatic.
Salt can enhance the texture of foods (think of crusts on sears, salt on pretzels, baked goods, etc.), act as a binder (hot dogs and cured meats), act as a preservative, as well as enhance color. Adding salt while cooking will ensure better and more even distribution. Don’t be afraid of salt. Buy good quality and use liberally! (Stay away from processed and pre-packaged foods!)
9. YOU STORE YOUR SPICES AND OILS NEAR YOUR COOKING SOURCES.
While it may seem convenient to store your most frequently used spices and oils near your stove, constant exposure to heat can cause them to become rancid and bad early. Do not store cooking oil in the fridge either. A cool, dark, place away from heat sources is ideal.
So check yo’self, before you wreck yo’ food. These tips come from a place of learning. I made a lot of mistakes on the way to feeling confident in the kitchen! Enjoy and let me know if you have any questions!