I’m an amateur chef at best, but these are tips that will save you a lot of kitchen heartbreak.
6. Marinara sauce tastes best when it has been simmering for half a day.
7. Don’t crowd your pan when cooking steak, chicken or pork. Crowding the pan will result in boiling the meat instead of searing. Always make sure there’s about a 1/2 in of distance between your meats.
8. Patting your steak dry before applying your seasonings will result in a more golden/brown consistent crust.
9. Never underestimate resting your meat. I’ve overcooked chicken breasts many times by not taking into account the rest time.
10. If you oversalt your soup or sauce, drop a whole peeled raw potato in it for 20 min, it will absorb the salt. (I have tried this and it seemed to work for me although some have said it doesn’t work. I have also diluted my soups or sauce with more water/ingredients.
11. All oils have different burning points, your pan gets smoky mostly from burning oil, not burning food.
12. Always taste your food along the way, you won’t die from tasting your raw hamburger meat or raw cake batter. Always try to season/salt your stocks and sauces before cooking is done, seasoning and salt is something that tastes better at if cooked with the food rather than added at the end.
12. Don’t be afraid to over season. The worst that can happen is your food will be too spicy, which is easily remedied. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been to friend’s houses for dinner and everything was bland. White people, you know who you are…
13. Sorry vegans, but the best binding agent for breading and batter is egg. There’s no way around it unless you want your breading to fall off.
14. Always opt for whole block cheese instead of pre-shredded. It’s cheaper and the cheese is better since it does not have that powdery additive to keep the flakes from binding. It might take you a little longer to shred the cheese, but it’s worth it.
15. If you’re not doing a marinade for several hours, please only salt the meat/veggies right before cooking. This will keep the food from losing its moisture and getting sweaty before dropping it in the pan (see item 8).
16. Coconut oil is the most fattening of the common cooking oils. If you can use dairy, you’re better off using butter, and it cooks better.
17. Get away from the meat thermometers and don’t be afraid to touch your steak for doneness with your bare hands. I used the below infographic when I was first starting out.
18. A dull knife is a dangerous knife. I get my knives sharpened at my local Williams Sonoma or grocery store once a year and I use the steel every time I cook.
19. Are your green onions, cilantro, basil, parsley and other fresh herbs going bad? Take them out of their plastic bags, give them a rinse, pat them dry and then wrap in a new paper towel and place in a glass container like a pyrex. They will last significantly longer.
20. Make your own salad dressings. This might be personal preference but stock up on some different types of vinegars and oils (I currently have red wine, white wine, rice vinegar, apple cider vinegar, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, olive oil) and mix away. You’ll save money and calories since you’ll get to control how much oil goes into it.
21. A few people have commented on my point about meat thermometers. I was referring to average steaks in that tip, a meat thermometer for a steak won’t really help you if you have specific doneness preferences (I like mine very rare). Certainly use a meat thermometer for large cuts, primerib, racks of lamb, large poultry etc. I feel that thermometers also help a lot with bone-in cuts as they are harder to cook through.
22. Someone noted that raw carrot in tomato sauce also cuts the acidity, I hadn’t tried it but the science makes sense!
23. Remember to keep your dried spices in a cool dark space. Don’t store them above the stove or fridge as the heat will cause them to expire sooner. You can tell your dried spices have expired when they have lost their fragrance.
24. Drawing from point number 23, if you find that your dried spices are less fragrant/pungent as they used to be, you can heat a small sauce pan on the stove and toast the spices. It kinda reactivates the oils in the spices so that you get a little more bang of flavor.
25. Do your hands smell of garlic even after washing them? Rub them against a stainless steel pot vigorously or your sink (if it’s stainless steel) and then wash again. It will remove the odor.
26. Use tongs when deep frying to avoid dropping your items in a splash of hot oil.
27. Recipes for savory dishes and entrees are more of a guideline. With the exception of cooking temperature and basic procedure, you can deviate from the recipe as much as you like. Don’t like goat cheese? Use feta or something with similar texture. Not a fan of lentils? Use a different legume or peas instead. Don’t avoid recipes just because you don’t like one ingredient.
28. Making salsa or guac with raw onions? Rinse your diced onions under cold water and pat them dry before adding them to your mix, this will keep your salsa/guac from tasting too much like onion gas, and it helps store the dip better too.
29. This one will probably be contentious but when you’re boiling your pasta in water, don’t add any oils whatsoever to the water. I’ve seen professional chefs do this and I’ve also seen real Italian chefs NOT do this. The oil will cling to the cooked pasta and make it so that pasta sauce won’t stick to it and you’ll have greasy slippery noodles.
30. Save/freeze your cheese rinds instead of throwing them away. I love to add a thick piece of parmesan cheese rind in pasta sauces or soup stocks to add another rich dimension of flavor.
31. When cooking a cut of meat that has a thick layer of fat, always cook on the fat side first so that you render all the fat and have a nice collection of flavorful grease to cook the rest of the meat in.
32. When making a traditional roux.Don’t bring your butter to a boil or brown it prior to adding flour. Put the pan on medium-low to melt the butter, sprinkle in your flour and then continue to cook on low until you get a nice rich brown color without burning the roux.
33. If you’re conscientious about your sodium intake and you’re stuck using any canned vegetables/legumes, try to rinse the veggies in a colander until the water runs clear. There’s a lot of added salts and preservatives in the can water of most canned goods. You will, however, lose some nutrients during this process as well.
34. Pre-ground black pepper is very bland and you’ll end up needing a lot of it to really get that peppery flavor. I opt for fresh peppercorns and a grinder; you get a much better depth of flavor out of the pepper.
35. Put under-ripe or very hard avocados in a brown paper bag at room temperature to ripen them faster. I’ve also heard adding a banana or apple to the bag quickens the process.
36. Do you like chewier cookies? That’s from a combination of higher moisture content and oven heat. Drop your temperature to 325 degrees and flatten your ball of dough lightly with your thumb instead of leaving in a ball. The dough will have more time to spread without setting in the higher temp and the water content in the dough won’t have as much evaporation.
37. Use your cheap olive oils for cooking and your nicer/more expensive olive oils for dressings and bread dipping. Of course, price point isn’t necessarily the determination for good olive oil but it’s good to read up on different kinds and find a good cheap olive oil that won’t break the bank but has versatility for cooking and dressing.
38. Try to not put red or tomato sauces in plastic Tupperware. Plastic tuppers have lots of scratches and small dimples that are not visible. If you leave a bunch of marinara in a plastic container you might find yourself having a permanently stained plastic container.
39. Have you run out of space in your dishwasher and drying rack but have a bunch of cumbersome pots and pans you want out of the sink? Place your wet pots and pans on the stove and flash them with some high heat for a few seconds and then turn off the stove. The residual heat will evaporate the water droplets. If doing this on a flattop, dry the bottom of the pan first so you don’t hear crackling.
40. Chipped ceramic is a magnet for bacteria. The chipped area is very porous and hard to clean properly, not to mention the layers of paint under the glaze are often not food safe.
41. Don’t want to eat the entire avocado? Eat the half that detached from the pit first and put the other half with the pit in the fridge with a spritz of lemon/lime on the exposed surface. The same works for leftover guacamole, leave the pit in the bowl of guac and wrap Saran wrap tightly on the top.
42. Did you handle a raw jalapeno/hot pepper in your bare hands? Skip the hand soap and wash your hands with dish soap. Another thing the capsaicin oil goes away with is a few drops of rubbing alcohol. Did you accidentally touch your face or eyes? Calm down, soak a paper towel or sponge in milk and dab it on the affected area making sure to squeeze out some milk in the process. Side story: I was cooking dinner for my boyfriend for the first time when we first started dating. I finished up the meal prep and went to the bathroom to get ready and as I was putting on my eyeliner I touched the inside of my lid and it was hell for a good 10 min until I realized the milk trick, instant relief!
43. Drawing from point #42, not all chili peppers are created equal. You may find your recipe needed 3 jalapenos one day but only 1 another time. The concentration of capsaicin varies and the age of the chili pepper matters. Gradually add your peppers if you can.
44. Cooking bacon in the oven? Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the bacon and a second sheet tray stacked on top of the parchment to keep the bacon from curling up.
45. Slice your raw protein when it’s cold straight out of the fridge for cleaner cuts.
46. If you want to see if your oil is hot enough, especially for deep frying, drop a pinch of flour into the oil and if it fizzies up the oil is ready. If it sinks, your oil is still too cold.
47. Check if a pineapple is ripe by pulling out a center leaf from the crown, if it pulls out easily, your pineapple is ready to eat.
48. When making a cake, you need room temp butter, if your butter is too cold but you need it in a pinch, grate the butter stick with a cheese grater. The smaller pieces will reach room temperature very quickly so your cake can rise.