Make Your Food Better and Fix Your Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Published April 6, 2012 by jenmatteson

No one is perfect, and even if you are professionally trained, it’s likely that you still make mistakes.  Cooking is a dance, you learn as you go (or was that life?)!  Anyway, I came across this article in Cooking Light and thought I’d highlight some (there are a total of 42 listed).  I included some of my biggest cooking pet peeves as well as mistakes I’ve made over the years (don’t tell Nate that I just admitted that I make mistakes 😉 ).

1. You don’t read the entire recipe before you start cooking.  I am completely guilty of this one; I’ll get halfway through and realize I need parchment paper (which of course isn’t listed in the ingredients) or that I need to marinate overnight.  Alway read the entire recipe before you start, better yet, before you go shopping!

2. Meat gets no chance to rest after cooking. This is an awful cooking sin, and there is nothing worse than delicious juices evacuating the meat and running all over your cutting board.  Plan time for meat to rest after you’ve cooked it.  This allows for the juices, which migrate to the center while cooking, to redistribute evenly and keep your meat moist.

3. You put meat straight from the fridge into the oven or onto the grill. We’ve all done this; you get home from work and want to get dinner on the table, so you pull out your meat and get it in the oven, pan, or gill ASAP.  Meats will cook much more evenly if you allow them to stand at room temperature for 15 to 30 minutes (depending on the size of your cut).  Even smaller cuts, such as chicken breasts, will benefit from resting at room temperature for 5 to 10 minutes.  Refrigerator-cold roasts going straight into the oven will be overcooked on the outside and undercooked at the center.  Take the extra time to ensure even cooking.

4. You use inferior ingredients.  Of course we can’t all afford the best of the best ingredients (myself included), but good food begins and ends with good ingredients.  Always use the best ingredients when available and affordable.  This especially pertains to meats, cheeses, oils, and produce.

This brings me to a related point and another pet peeve of mine; when you cook with wine or beer, be sure to use something that you’d actually want to drink.  Many people subscribe to the notion that they should use cheap wine or beer to cook with since they’re not actually drinking it.  Well, they’re wrong!  When using wine or beer in cooking, the alcohol is generally cooked off, but your food is left with very concentrated flavors of what you cooked it in.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to taste Milwaukee’s Best in my chili or my beer batter!

5. You don’t taste as you go. Tasting should be almost automatic for most cooks, but there are times that we all forget.  Some recipes don’t always call for the correct amount of seasoning, or your personal preference might differ from the original recipe writer.  Cooking times, ingredients, altitude can all vary, in addition to a million other factors.  If you are not going off a recipe and making it up as you go (as I frequently do), you absolutely must taste your food as you cook.  Oh, and if you are cooking for more than just you and your significant other (because I think its okay to share germs with the one you love 😉 ), PLEASE use a clean spoon each time you taste.

6. You turn the food too often.  Nate will attest to this being a huge pet peeve of mine, and I’ve even trained him well.  This is one of the hardest lessons for cooks to learn; it’s so tempting to poke, flip, and turn your food.  If you turn the food before it’s ready, you are interfering with the sear, your food will stick, or you’ll lose your breading.  You can tell when it’s ready to be turned when it releases itself from the pan.  This applies to chicken, fish, burgers, steaks, and pretty much everything else.

7. Your oven fries fizzle.  If you enjoy eating healthy, but still crave delicious french fries, oven baked is a great option.  However, many result in soggy spuds or dried up and burnt chips.  It may seem counterintuitive, but you need to presoak your fries. Nearly half a potato’s weight is accounted for by water; soaking the fries pulls out starch, which reduces the water content.

Baking potatoes are best for oven fries as they are drier than their waxy relatives.  Once cut into fries, soak for at least 30 minutes in cold water (I add a little white vinegar as I like the flavor it adds), then dry thoroughly with a paper towel.  Lightly toss with olive oil and spread on a parchment paper lined baking sheet.  Be sure not to over crowd your pan otherwise your fries will steam, and you’re back to square one with soggy spuds.  Bake on the bottom rack at 400 degrees for 35 minutes.  Flip halfway through.

8. You make unwise baking substitutions.  Making healthy food choices is important, but we must be careful when making baking substitutions as we are changing the cooking chemistry; baking is a science.  If you try to use all applesauce instead of a mix of applesauce and oil or butter, or a sugar substitute instead of sugar, the results can be dense or gummy cakes or cookies and major texture issues.  Your best bet is to stick to the recipe when baking.

9. You overcrowd the pan.  I’ve been guilty of this in the past, especially when cooking for a crowd.  Food releases moisture as it cooks, so if your pan is too crowded, instead of getting a nice sear, you’re actually steaming your food (remember overcrowding your oven fries?  Same theory here) leaving it soggy without a lot of flavor.  Make sure to leave breathing room for your food, and if you need to speed things up, use two pans at once.  Your results will be much better!

10. Your turkey burgers are parched pucks. I love making turkey burgers, in fact, it’s usually the only kind of burger I make.  I especially like using extra lean turkey for an even healthier version.  The problem with turkey burgers is that the meat is so lean that they can often turn out dry.  To compensate for the low fat content, you need to add fat.  What?  Fat?  Why would I add fat if I’m making turkey burgers to be healthier?  Well, you are using a heart healthy fat, like olive oil.  Add 1-2 tablespoons for each pound of ground turkey.  This will help the burgers stay moist inside but get a nicely browned crust without sticking to the grill.  I’ve used egg substitute (an egg would work just as well) successfully in the past also.

Another tip to keep your turkey burgers juicy – stop mixing the meat!  Don’t overwork your meat, or you’ll end up with dry burgers.  Gently work ingredients together until combined, then make your patties.

That’s it, but feel free to peruse the entire list at Cooking Light.  What mistakes are you guilty of?

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