Cooking Tips · Techniques

What Not to Do in the Kitchen

Over the last three years of writing these Cooking Tips, I have strived to provide you with valuable information that will help improve your cooking and baking. I have written about ingredients and techniques that I thought you would find interesting and helpful. In this Cooking Tip, instead of telling you what to do, I want to write about what NOT to do if you want to be successful in the kitchen. The following are sure-fire ways to have problems. It is far from an all-inclusive list but it is a good start.

Not reading your recipes
Not reading your recipe means you don’t realize that you do not have essential ingredients on hand. It also means you do not realize that there is a 2-hour resting period involved when you need to have dinner on the table in 30 minutes. You may even put all of one ingredient in at a particular point when the recipe told you to divide it and use that ingredient at two different points. Not carefully reading your recipe can easily lead to failure.

Not marking up your recipe if you are halving or doubling it.
If you decide to make only half of a recipe, it is so easy to start out by halving the first couple of ingredients and then forgetting to do the same for the rest. Not marking up your recipe with those altered amounts can throw off the balance of the ingredients and lead to an inedible dish.

Not tasting as you cook
If you do not taste the dish until it is on the table, you have no way to improve it. If you don’t taste it as you go along, you won’t realize what is missing and how to improve the flavor and texture. A good cook tastes the food as the cooking process proceeds so they know the final taste will please those who will be eating it.

Not using fresh herbs
Although there are times that dried herbs can be substituted for fresh herbs, there are also those times when fresh herbs are preferable. Even if you can safely substitute, it is never a 1:1 substitution. Use only ⅓ to ½ of dried herbs as you would fresh.

Not making sure your spices are fresh
Spices do not last forever, especially if they are not stored correctly. Spices that are old have no or minimal taste. If they don’t smell of much, they won’t taste of much. And, they won’t do your dish any favors. Not ensuring your spices are fresh will lead to lack-luster dishes.

Not using salt appropriately
Salt has a greater impact on flavor than any other ingredient. It not only has its own taste but it enhances the flavor of other ingredients. It can minimize bitterness and balance sweetness. Although over-salting can ruin a dish, the bigger problem most of us make is under-salting. Absent a doctor’s advice for limiting salt, not using salt appropriately leads to blandness.

Not using the right pan and not using it correctly
If you are making roasted vegetables and you don’t put them in a preheated pan that is large enough, they will steam and never develop that crisp, caramelized goodness. If you try to sear your piece of meat in a nonstick pan, you won’t get the tasty browning nor develop the fond necessary for a wonderful pan sauce. If you do not preheat the pan properly, the meat will never sear properly. If you heat that nonstick pan to try to achieve this, you risk ruining the pan and releasing toxic chemicals. If you don’t pay attention to the size/type of pan called for, the results may be very suboptimal.

You don’t splurge for great ingredients at least part of the time
Your dishes will only be as tasty as the ingredients are, especially if those ingredients are a major part of the dish. The fewer ingredients there are in a dish, the better they should be. If you use just “OK” ingredients, your final dish will be just “OK”.

These are just a few of “What Not to Do” to ensure success in the kitchen. Do you have a favorite lesson that you have learned? Let me know.

I hope these tips help to make your upcoming year of cooking very successful!