Thursday, January 3, 2013

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.

Photo credit
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?

xoxo,
shawna

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!

18 comments:

  1. I love to bake but do it so infrequently that I cannot begin to consider myself good at it. These are wonderful tips. Organizing is particularly important. I wish now that I could go back and redo my kitchen, now that I have a better idea of what I really need and want in a workspace.

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  2. I wish I could do a major overhaul in my kitchen - there's nowhere near enough counter space for making even the simplest meals, and the odd shape of it doesn't help. (L-shape, with sink, stove/oven and refrigerator in one small section, the kitchen table and pots and pans cupboard in the other section - through a doorway. Italian apartment living, what can I say?)

    One day...I shall make enough money to completely redo the whole thing.

    And thanks for the reminder about swim goggles - I'll have to borrow some for my cooking this weekend! :)

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    1. I'm with you on the kitchen overhaul. We have an L-shape, too and it drives me nuts to have the tools/counter space on the opposite side as the stove.

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  3. I love this post! I have suggestions for a future Thursday 13... How about a meal planning "how to"? I think most folks enjoy cooking, or at least don't loathe it; however, planning a week or month's worth of meals can be daunting and difficult to manage with work, school, kids, etc. Tips and tricks for planning and grocery store trips would be an interesting read. I know you and I love reinventing left-overs as well, that could be a fun Thursday 13! Your favorite recipes using left-overs.

    <3

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    1. Thank you! Ahhh, your meal-planning suggestion implies that I plan things in advance. You give me way too much credit! Good topic ideas though. I've read some helpful articles about meal planning that I could share (and aspire to!).

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  4. I was going to object to having to read the recipe twice, then realizes that if it's one I haven't done before, I always check for things like how long it will take and if I have the ingredients. Suddenly it doesn't seem like a hassle at all.


    As to the amount of flour, I find larger measuring cups help a lot. Well, up to four cups. The ones I have that are bowl size aren't accurate enough.

    (I love this list. Totally up my alley.)

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    1. I am smacking myself on the head here for never thinking of using the 4-cup measure. Genius! Happy TT!

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  5. I always INTEND to clean as I go, but I usually fall flat. Clearly I'd be a more successful cook if I paid closer attention to these valuable, commonsense tips. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I hear yah. I wish *I* paid closer attention to them, too. All of the tips come from mistakes I've made in the recent past.

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  6. I'm like the worst recipe follower ever. Yet, what I make still turns out pretty good!
    Have a great rest of your day!

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    1. That must mean you are a good cook! :)

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  7. I've always been a clean-as-you-go sort, and living in an apartment with minimal counter space pretty much gives you no choice. My sister on the other hand... Every time she cooks it looks as though the kitchen has exploded. Good post, Shawna!

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    1. I'd like to say I'm 50-50, but I probably make the kitchen look exploded more often than not!

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  8. Every time I chop onions I think of the fairytale of the girl who couldn't cry and the suitor who got her to by making her chop onions.

    I love extra sauce!

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    1. I haven't heard the fairy tale. Will have to look that one up! Have you read Angela Carter's "Book of Fairy Tales"?

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  9. Great tips, Shawna! And I so agree about doubling the sauce. I love, love, love sauce - all kinds! Happy New Year!

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    1. Thank you! Glad there is another sauce-lover in attendance. :) Happy New Year!

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  10. Great tips! I agree with all of them, though like you don't always follow them like I should. I think with the kitchen organization it's kind of a neverending process. I'm constantly moving things around or organizing them differently to better suit my needs. That's one of the many reasons I hate moving... I know I'll have to deal with a disheveled kitchen for a while and will end up having to move everything around even after I finally get it all put away.

    Also I'm the worst at clean as you go. Probably because I don't have to do the dishes! HA!

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