Whilst cooking is lots of fun and has infinite room for creativity and expression, there are practicalities that need to be taken care of at times.
If you are unaware of some of the basics, then it is easy to become bogged down in frustrations and some of the more monotonous aspects of food preparation.
I have gathered together a number of different cooking tips and pointers that you may find helpful in the kitchen. Some, you may have heard or used before but hopefully, there will be one or two new pieces of information to help you out.
Preparation, Storage and Basics
- To help you cook the best meals, it is important to pick recipes that excite you. Cooking can be stimulating when you select recipes and ingredients that expose you to new cultures and flavors. It also keeps the menu interesting if you have a family and positive feedback will only enhance your self-esteem, making you eager to try the next recipe!
- Invest in high quality cooking pans and tools. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go for the most expensive, but quality does make a huge difference when it comes to what we use to cook with. A high quality pan will be able to handle higher heats without warping. Quality tools will be able to do their job longer and more effectively than cheap brands. An apt example in my kitchen is my spatula. I have a fantastic silicon spatula that I paid a decent price for. Unlike my other spatulas it practically cleans the bowl! Check reviews before purchasing new items for your kitchen.
- Check your ingredients before starting a recipe. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe, only to realize that you are missing a vital ingredient. Also, you will save time by assembling everything. Measure everything out, and prepare any ingredients in advance. This way, you won’t suddenly find yourself having to chop an onion or grate cheese when you are right in the middle of your recipe.
- When you are sautéing anything, make sure that you use a big enough pan to accommodate the amount of food that you are putting in it. You do not want to overcrowd the food. Overcrowding the food will cook it by steaming it instead, and it will ruin your sauté.
- When it comes to baking, a great tip to follow is to be sure that you bake smaller items at higher temperatures and for less time than larger items. This is important because you will have your food quicker and it will be less dry than if you were to bake it slower.
- On the subject of cooking sprays, best to stay away from the pressurised cans. They contain butane and propane. Not great for our health. Kitchen shops sell little oil spray bottles that you can pump to create pressure. Fill them with your chosen oil and you have a healthier alternative to the cans most people buy.
- When you are using herbs and spices make sure that you store them correctly to keep them, fresh. Since humidity is a spice’s worst enemy, make sure to keep them in air-tight containers. Also, keep them in a dark place, as light can also negatively affect the taste of your spices.
- To remove the hard core from a head of iceberg lettuce, whack the bottom of the lettuce head on the counter to loosen the core from the rest of the leaves. You should be able to pull it out easily, leaving you with lettuce that’s ready for sandwiches, shredding, or chopping.
- When cooking with thick and sticky ingredients like molasses or honey, make it easier with non-stick cooking spray. Simply spray the inside of a measuring cup before adding the viscous liquid. When pouring it will slip out completely and cleanly with no need to scrap the inside of the cup.
- If you are a big fan of having baked potatoes with your meal but do not like the long cooking time, you should soak them in salt water for twenty minutes before you bake them. They will take only about half of the usual time to bake after being soaked.
- Cooking with fresh, raw cloves of garlic can easily create an overpowering smell that can linger on your kitchen, clothes, and nose, you need not worry about removing the smell from your hands. After your are finished with the garlic, you should rub your hands on your stainless steel sink for half a minute before you attempt to wash them with soap and water. I know this sounds like a strange and unbelievable tip but it really does work. I heard it on a radio program once and was delighted to find it works really well. Although I love garlic, I don’t like to smell of it…
- Speaking of garlic, have you ever found that your chopped pineapple has a background flavour of garlic or onion? Chopping boards that are made from wood or plastic often retain the flavours and odours of foods cut on them. With this in mind, having a board labelled “fruit only” is a great way to keep these opposing flavours separate.
- To test the freshness of an egg, place it in a cup of water. If it sinks, it’s fresh. If it floats, it’s getting old. As an egg ages the fluid inside slowly evaporates as oxygen and gases seep inside. This makes the egg lighter and causes it to float.
- Speaking of eggs, an interesting point to note is that fresh eggs are extremely hard to peel when boiled (we know since we have our eggs fresh from our lovely ladies each day). Fresh eggs also do not make for the best beaten egg whites. Should you find yourself with fresh eggs when you are making a meringue like mix, once you have them beaten to their highest fluff point (technical term there), add a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar and a pinch of salt. This will make a thicker meringue and the egg whites will hold their air a lot better.
- When you are going to be baking and the recipe calls for eggs, take them out of the refrigerator beforehand – the night before if you can. Using cold eggs may cause your batter to curdle. To quickly bring the eggs to room temperature soak them in a bowl of warm water.
Time Savers and Ingredient Saviours
- Save your leftover sauces, and freeze them into ice-cube trays. When you’re looking for a quick meal, the sauce cubes are easily tossed into a frying or sauce pan to reheat. By keeping the frozen sauce in smaller pieces, the sauce thaws and heats quickly, and your family thinks you spent all day making a homemade meal for them!
- While we are on the subject of wine, rather than pouring out leftover wine, pour it into an ice-cube tray, then place the wine cubes in a labeled bag in the freezer. You can add these cubes to sauces, soups and other dishes for extra flavor, and wine that you don’t drink fast enough doesn’t go to waste.
- To make chopping canned tomatoes less messy, try chopping them in the can. Take a pair of scissors and use them to slice through the tomatoes without removing them from their container. This will save you from dirtying a bowl, and will keep hard to clean tomato juice from splashing onto your clothes or work surface.
Best of Flavour
- To make the perfect pasta, cook it one minute less than what you read on the box and cook it the rest of the way with the sauce you are serving with it. This ensures that you do not overcook the pasta if you were to toss it in with the sauce after you cooked the pasta until it was done in the pot of water.
- Always choose to cook with a wine that you would drink yourself. If you don’t even like the taste of the wine that you are cooking with, chances are that you will end up disliking whatever it is that you are making! So pick out a good wine that you know you love, and you will like your dish even more.
- Cinnamon should be added to foods for extra antioxidants. Cinnamon is a tasty spice that can be added to applesauce, diced apples, sweet potatoes, or even oatmeal. It adds great flavor to just about any fruit and is great for using when baking. It is also very affordable and can be purchased at any supermarket.
- Cook your rice in vegetable stock instead of using water. Choosing a stock will add both extra taste and valuable nutrients. The cooking process and time are the same as with water, so you won’t be adding any extra work by trying this method.
Do you have any great tips that you would like to share? Please post them in the comments section so that we can all benefit!