Five basic cooking mistakes
My friend and editor Tim Swift (I have a lot of editors; he's the one with the IPhone who checks the posts I write at 6 a.m.) has taken up cooking recently. He started telling me about the cooking mistakes he now realizes he's made in the past, and I pounced. I asked him to write me a guest post about them to use while I'm on vacation. He was gracious enough to oblige. EL
So the bad economy has me eating less Chinese takeout and cooking at home more. In the past few months, I have invested in some kitchen supplies, and I have been working on my cooking skills. But I'm far from being a Martha Stewart protégé. More like Rachael Ray hopped on meth.There were successes (fried chicken and paella), and disasters (a watery rice pilaf and a pork roast in desperate need of applesauce). So my personal culinary boot camp got me wondering about the five biggest mistakes that beginning cooks make. Here were mine: ...
1. I used to be a high-heat addict. Medium or low heat? That's for sissies. Cheese, eggs, chicken were all fair game. Apparently, I didn't get the memo that the food was already dead. Now I know. It's bad for the food and bad for the pan. Most food cooks just fine at medium heat, and I save the high heat for boiling water and thickening sauces.
2. I wouldn't heat the oil before putting in the food in the pan. Yes, you'll see the running theme here is impatience. Bad Tim would slather the pan in oil and then dump in the food (over a range set to high heat of course). What I found with the preferred preheat method is that the food cooks better, of course, but also I use less oil. One teaspoon of olive oil can coat the pan just as well as a half a cup if you wait for it to heat up.
3. Mothers always tell you not to play with your food, but I thought that rule only applied post-plating. Poking, smushing, nudging, flipping, flopping -- you name it, I did it all in the pan. It never occurred to me to leave well enough alone. So now, I resist the temptation to get all touchy-feely with my burgers (about five minutes on each side; only flipping once).
4. How can you screw up pasta, you say? Well let me tell you: Don't wait for a rolling boil (just a few baby bubbles) and cook a whole box of pasta in a two-quart sauce pan. With these simple missteps you too can be the master of al-don'te pasta. Good Tim has invested in a five-quart stock pot and waits for the big boy bubbles.
5. Before my culinary enlightenment, I was a fan of the one-measuring-cup kitchen. In my disillusioned state, a single liquid measuring cup could handle any job -- wet or dry. Those little nesting thingies were cute but I didn't need 'em. Oh, how wrong I was. Now I know all cups aren't created equal. And those little nesting thingies are now a kitchen staple.
(Photo illustration of Tim as Rachael Ray on meth by Leeann Adams)