How to succeed in the kitchen!

I read many different sources of culinary information from cookbooks to magazines to emails to blogs. I often find interesting and helpful items. I have seen a number of articles that lay out behaviors that can make or break your success in the kitchen. In this Cooking Tip, I have pulled the best of these for you. If you have taken any of my cooking classes, you will certainly recognize some of these suggestions and, I hope, have begun to incorporate them into your kitchen life. It may be difficult to break old habits and get into good routines, but I guarantee you it will make you a better and more efficient cook!

  1. Read the recipe all the way through before starting. This may seem self-evident but there are many people who do not do this. When reading the recipe, look at the ingredients AND the directions. Only then will you know such things as what you need to pick up at the store, what equipment you will need and the timing. If not, you may miss that Step #3 tells you to chill the mixture for two hours. If you are hoping to get this on the dinner table in under an hour, this is not going to work. Yes, you can skip those steps but do not expect the recipe to turn out as it was intended. There are usually very good reasons why a recipe calls for a particular ingredient, certain equipment and recommended timing. Only by trying to stick to these recommendations the first time you make a recipe will you know how it should turn out.

  2. If you want to double or halve the recipe, do the math up front and write it down. Not all recipes do well with doubling or halving. However, if you are going to do so, write down the adjusted measurements next to each and every ingredient. It is so easy to get partway through and forget to change the amount. I’ve been there! Savory recipes do much better with these alterations than baking ones. If you want to double a baking recipe, just make two separate ones. It usually turns out much better.

  3. Follow the recipe directions as closely as possible. If a recipe tells you to reduce a sauce to a certain consistency, don’t get impatient and stop before you get there. The flavors will not be the same. Note carefully how items are to be cut – chopped, sliced, diced, minced etc. Different cuts produce different results. Also, try to cut them uniformly. If your potato cubes or onion slices vary in size, they will not cook evenly. You do not want to end up with a dish where parts are underdone and others overdone. Not very appetizing!

  4. Be cautious about substituting ingredients. Not all substitutions work. If your recipe calls for white balsamic vinegar, do not assume you can substitute any white vinegar. In baking, not all sweeteners can be swapped for each other in equal amounts. Again, try to make the recipe as written the first time so you know what it should taste like. Then, if you want to try a substitution, you will have a reference point.

  5. Don’t substitute dried herbs for fresh in equal measure. Dried herbs are better for some applications whereas fresh are better for others. Try to use what the recipe recommends. If you do decide to substitute, be aware that it is not a 1:1 ratio. If using dried in place of fresh, use only about a third of what is specified for fresh.

  6. Try to avoid precut, preshredded, etc. Yes, these items are certainly convenient but often, what you gain in convenience, you lose in taste & texture. One of the most glaring examples is cheese. There is a reason that so many recipes call for “Freshly Grated” cheese. Yes, you can find it pre-grated in bags or, even worse, cans. The latter often do not behave as you might expect and a look at the ingredient list often tells the story. There are usually some “anti-caking” agents added such as “powdered cellulose”. Although some may disagree, the taste is often not as vibrant as freshly grated cheese. Another plus for buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself is that it is a better economical choice as you will get more for your money.

    The story is similar with precut veggies and fruit. First, they are much more expensive than the whole versions. Second, it has been shown that it increases your risk of food-borne illness. Thirdly, once a fruit or vegetable has been cut, the nutrients start to degrade.

As I have been writing this, I realize that there is so much more to say such as prepping your ingredients before commencing cooking, weighing ingredients (as opposed to using measuring cups), keeping your knives sharp, watching your ingredient temperature, using a trash bowl and on and on. However, I will stop here so this Tip does not become a Treatise!