For a novice cook, a kitchen, a recipe and assorted foodstuff can become a veritable culinary minefield. As a cooking instructor, I’ve seen firsthand many of the pitfalls beginning cooks fall victim to. And it’s not pretty. For the next few days, I’ll be sharing five of the most common cooking mistakes I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing and five tools to help you avoid them.
Mistake #5 – Blind Recipe Devotion
Recipes are a good thing, but too much of a good thing can work against you in the kitchen. I once taught a class where students prepared salmon. I mentioned more than once during my demonstration that the cooking times in the recipes should be used as a guide, that it was never a good idea to pop something into the oven, walk away and come back only at the beck and call of your kitchen timer.
Tool #5 –Use Your Noodle.
Cooking is not always an exact science and unless you’re baking, which is an exact science, you have to find a balance between your recipe and reality. Oven strengths vary, your electric cook top may not heat your sauté pan as quickly or evenly as the gas range used by the recipe writer. Check your food periodically and if your chicken breast is starting to burn after 4 minutes in the pan, lower the heat and flip it (only once – see Mistake #3), even if the recipe says cook for 5 minutes per side. If you’ve boiled your potatoes for 8 minutes and they’re still rock hard, not fork tender as your recipe indicates they should be, cook them a few minutes longer. A good recipe should offer both a time AND a result to look for (boil until fork-tender, saute until golden brown). When in doubt, let common sense prevail!