Thursday 13: Cooking tips and tricks

Photo found here.
As cooking is (mostly) a stress relieving activity for me, I spend a good bit of time in the kitchen and online poring over recipes. Over time, I've learned lots of tips and tricks to make cooking easier. Here are Thursday 13 favorites:

1. Read your recipe, twice. A no-brainer, right? Well I can't tell you how many times I've started on a recipe and then realized dinner wouldn't be done until 9:00 because I need to soak something or let something simmer for a hour. Save yourself time, trouble and heartache (for those of you, like me, who get a little emotionally invested in cooking), and read the damn recipe all the way through, twice for good measure.

2. Foil is your friend. Save timing scrubbing and wherever possible, cover your pans in foil (or if baking, parchment).

3. Prep first, then cook. The French call it "mise en place." It means getting your ingredients prepared before you start cooking. Not only does it help you for time intensive/busy dishes, but you'll know in advance if you're missing something important. I use lots of small bowls to measure out spices, veggies, minced garlic, and broth, etc. before I start cooking. That way I can pay attention to what I'm doing and um, not scorch stuff.

4. Know when to start over. Brown bits = flavor. Burnt bits = gross. If you blacken the butter or mis-order the bread ingredients, it's better to start from scratch than try to limp along. Although some mistakes can be salvaged, sensitive ingredients and processes are better attempted twice than served icky once. (As a custard curdler and meat over-cooker, I understand!)

5. Bubble first, then scrub. If you burn something or if food sticks to a stainless steel pan, before you turn off the burner, add water. Let bubble and then scrape. The burnt bits will generally come up easily.

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6. Easy on salt, always. You can always add salt but good luck trying to de-sea an overly salty dish.

7. Double the sauce. Trust me. It's always better to have extra sauce, especially for dishes that are served over rice or potatoes.

8. Taste as you go. Avoid bland dishes (or know when you've forgotten a key ingredient) by tasting along the way. I tend to over-taste cookie dough and under-taste sauces, ahem.

9. Clean as you go. If I'm being smart, I will have emptied the dishwasher before cooking dinner so that I can load it with cooking utensils as I go. Clean-up is much nicer (and cooking less hectic) if you can keep a tidy work space. (This is a "do as I say, not as I do," of course.)

10. Understand quantities. There's a difference between "one cup, chopped" or "one cup of chopped..." This is where it pays to read a recipe very carefully because one cup of nuts chopped will yield a lot less than one cup of chopped nuts. Recipes with weight measurements help.

11. Don't skip the searing step. Do you like juicy, flavorful meats in stews and stir-fry? Searing meat locks in juices and adds flavor. Especially for slow cooking, don't skip the searing!

Love, love, LOVE my hanging pots. 
12. Develop a counting system. I can't tell you how many times I've been counting out cups of flour and lost my place. And then I have a discussion with myself about the relative merits of chancing it and maybe having a cup too much or too little flour. Surely it couldn't make that big of a difference, right? Guess again! Now I keep a pad of paper nearby and make check marks for each cup.

13. Organize tools around your work processes. A couple years ago I read a book on home organization (Mr. T, stop laughing) and one of the most helpful tips was to have kitchen tools organized around where the actual work takes place. So when I noticed that we were keeping our pot holders across the kitchen from the stove where most of the hot things need holding, I thought "how silly" and moved several to a drawer next to the range. Likewise, I noticed how irritating our cupboard of pots and pans had become--with pans stacked and precariously balanced. So I asked T to help me install hooks under a cupboard overhang so that I could hang large or odd shaped pans and reduce the clutter. These organizing things make cooking a lot easier.

Bonus: Wear swim goggles to chop onions! (Thanks, G, for reminding me about that one.)

Any hot tips I missed?


P/S Cooking Light has a great article about the most common cooking errors, here.

PP/S Have you taken the Super Short Readership Survey? Enter to win a $15 gift card to Amazon or Starbucks! Click here.

More cooking posts you might like:
- The Case for Cooking
- Essential Cooking Tools
- Kitchen Gadgets and Gizmos
- Epic Baking Fails and How to Avoid Them
- Culinary Forays and Failures: Know Your Ingredients and Do Doubling Right!

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