There is a story of a woman who was teaching her daughter how to make a pot roast, and in the process told her that you always cut off one end of the roast. The daughter, an inquisitive girl, asked her mom why that was necessary. The mom confessed that she didn’t know why, but that was how her mother taught her so that was how she always did it. Deciding that answer wasn’t good enough, the girl decided to ask her grandmother and was shocked by her answer. Her grandmother told her, “Oh honey, I always had to cut off the end of the roast because the pan I had wasn’t big enough to hold the whole roast!”
That story could be more of an urban legend than a true story, but it does bring to mind all of the things that most people naively do or don’t do in the kitchen that make their lives harder and their food less appetizing.
Cooking Light created a list of "61 Most Common Cooking Mistakes" (61! Can you believe that you have been screwing up that much in the kitchen?). Here are 9 of the 61 that we think will make the quickest and biggest impact on your cooking expertise.
Would you start a DIY home project without making sure you had all the materials and tools? No! You can’t make a crème brûlée without a blow torch. Even recipes that seem quite simple could have steps that feel a little out of order. By prepping your ingredients, you sidestep any recipe surprises and ensure you won’t get caught mixing over high heat with your toes as you pop your almonds into the oven.
Have you ever removed a cake only to be discouraged and dismayed that half of it is baked to perfection while the other half is a gooey mess? Sabrina Bone, test cook for Cooking Light, recommends giving your oven the “bread test.” “Arrange bread slices to cover the middle oven rack,” Bone says. “Bake at 350 degrees for a few minutes, and see which slices get singed — their location marks your oven’s hot spot(s). If you know you have a hot spot in, say, the back left corner, avoid putting pans in that location, or rotate accordingly.”
Leave the experimenting to when you’re cooking (not baking), and let websites like Skinny Mom and Cooking Light test lower-fat ingredients in recipes for you. The reason why some people love to bake and some people don’t is because it all depends on what kind of person you are. If you hate following directions, leave the baking to someone else who does. Cooking Light admits that it is hard “to change the cooking chemistry a bit while capturing the soul of a dish. When it comes to baking, this is as much science as art.”
Cooking Light says, “If you’re new to lighter cooking, you may not know that even though you can boil cream just fine, the same is not true for other milk products, which will curdle. The solution is to cook lower-fat dairy products to a temperature of only 180 degrees or less. Use a clip-on thermometer, hover over the pan, and heat over medium-low or low heat to prevent curdling. And if it curdles, toss and start again. One alternative: Stabilize milk with starch, like cornstarch or flour, if you want to bring it to a boil; the starch will prevent curdling (and it’ll thicken the milk, too).”
It may make you feel more professional to mess with your food, but the truth is by touching it too often, you won’t allow it to sear and your food will end up sticking to the pan and/or lose its breading. “One sign that it’s too early to turn: You can’t slide a spatula cleanly under the crust. “It’ll release from the pan when it’s ready,” says Cooking Light assistant test kitchen director Tiffany Vickers Davis. “Don’t try to pry it up — the crust will stick to the pan, not the chicken.”
Just like the saying goes, if you don’t like the heat, you better get out of the kitchen! Cooking Light offers this advice: “The inexperienced or hurried cook will barely heat the pan before adding oil and tossing in onions for a sauté. Next comes … nothing. No sizzle. A hot pan is essential for sautéing veggies or creating a great crust on meat, fish and poultry. It also helps prevent food from sticking. Associate food editor Tim Cebula was once advised: ‘If you think your pan is hot enough, step back and heat it a couple more minutes. When you’re about ready to call the fire department, then add oil and proceed to cook the food.'”
Leave the mind tricks to Chris Angel and buy yourself a meat thermometer. Undercooking meat is dangerous, so save your tummy, your life and maybe, most importantly, your mind. Stop playing the guessing game, learn how to properly cook your meat and don’t ruin your dinner by cutting into the meat to test it, which dries it out.
If you pop your meat directly from the fridge to the fire, you will end up with meat that gets well done on the outside and underdone on the inside.
Cooking Light recommends that you “plan your meals so that meat you roast, grill, sear or sauté has time to rest at room temperature after it’s pulled from the heat. That cooling-off time helps the juices, which migrate to the center of the meat, to be distributed more evenly throughout. The resting rule applies equally to an inexpensive skirt steak or a premium dry-aged, grass-fed steak as well as poultry. With small cuts like a steak or boneless, skinless chicken breast, five minutes is adequate. A whole bird or standing rib roast requires 20 to 30 minutes. Tent the meat loosely with foil to keep it warm.”
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