In October, as part of the Notes on Cooking giveaway I asked readers to submit their rules for cooking. As Home-Ec101.com readers are known for the brilliance -pander pander- those rules shouldn’t remain hidden in the comments. I could have organized them, but I liked their random order. Here is an edited compilation, enjoy.
When I’m freezing food, I always make sure that something (usually plastic wrap) is touching the surface of the food. Even in freezer containers, I place plastic wrap on the food before sealing with a lid. This greatly reduces the formation of ice crystals and results in a much nicer product when thawed and heated.
Season all throughout the cooking process, and to taste! Never think you “know the recipe” so you don’t have to taste throughout, and also layer the seasoning for a more professional effect in the end – your “eaters” will not know how all of that nuanced flavor got there.
Never add milk to chocolate while it’s melting, unless you want a huge gob of mess.
Wash the dishes as you cook; it makes clean up easy.
Learn to trust your instincts, not every recipe must be followed to the letter.
Always add cold water to corn starch, never warm.
To speed up the process when baking, always remember to turn the oven on.
Don’t cut open the steak/burger/chicken when grilling as it releases the juices. Test by firmness instead!
Every recipe can be made better with either lemon juice or lemon zest.
Don’t be snobbish about food and cooking. No one can do gourmet scratch cooking from all organic, locally sourced foods, all the time. With time, budgets and obligations, each of us chooses where we’re willing to compromise and what we will insist upon.
Try to make everything at home, from ingredients as close to scratch as you can find and involve everyone in the family in the preparation. Even if the dish doesn’t turn out right it will still make your family happy and give everyone something to laugh about as you eat it. 9 times out of 10 a near-miss at home is better than store-bought perfection.
Almost every vegetable tastes best roasted, with just a little olive oil & sea salt.
Keep nuts in the freezer and toast them to develop their flavor.
When making shrimp and grits always add some light cream to the shrimp for a decadent version of the Lowcountry treat.
I’m all about getting things ready in advance. I’m not so much for measuring things out in advance like on the cooking shows but there are definite advantages to having everything on the counter before you begin.
*Heather says: the term for this is mise en place.
When baking cookies, make sure your softened butter is soft. Not too hard and absolutely not melted!
Don’t use a stick blender to mix things into your mashed potatoes!
In a pinch, toasted rolled oats add a nutty flavor to quick breads like pumpkin or banana bread.
In most cases over seasoning a dish is preferable to under, unless preparing fish.
When preparing a large meal use a schedule to ensure items are finished at the same time. Don’t forget to include time to set the table and pour drinks.
If you plan to store cooked pasta, rinse it under cold running water to rinse off the excess starch and prevent clumping.
Learn the ratios of baking. Once you have a feel for these it is easy to troubleshoot recipes.
Read the entire recipe before starting.
If you’re going to change an ingredient while baking, make sure you know what the new ingredient will add or take away from the final product.
Never put knives into a sink full of soapy water. It’s not good for the knife or anyone who reaches into the sink.
Invest in good stoneware baking sheets/pans. Once they’re seasoned you never have to grease the pan again and they never flake teflon into your food, burn, or warp.
Just walk away! That can said for making pancakes- let them sit for 5 minutes; when meat comes out of the oven or off the grill- let the juices the join back in with the flesh.
When baking allow all ingredients to reach room temperature before starting.
Salt is a flavor enhancer, not just a seasoning.
Lessons from my new found passion for baking – step 1 – read recipe; step 2 – verify I actually have the ingredients; step 3 – re-read the recipe; step 4 – measure/plan ahead for ingredients.
Meat should be dry before it is browned.
It is just as bad to overcook as undercook, especially shellfish and chicken.
When storing cookies keep them soft by adding a piece of bread to the container.
Don’t be afraid to try new recipes and techniques.
Never use soap on your cast iron.
Make sure your pot, pan, or mixing bowl is large enough for the recipe. If in doubt, go larger.
Don’t be afraid to substitute ingredients, it’s how you make a recipe your own.
Store bread heels or stale bread in the freezer to make croutons.
When making muffins, as soon as they are pulled from the oven cut a slit in the top and add a small pat of butter.
A sliced potato dropped into a stew or soup that’s too salty will soak up a lot of the salt.
When grilling meat, don’t move it for 10-15 seconds (to arrange or whatever) after dropping it on the grill.
Wash your hands after handling meat to prevent cross contamination.
Let meat rest after cooking and before cutting.
Learning to season a recipe reduces your dependency on salt.
Taste while cooking.
After hard boiling eggs bathe them in a cold water bath to make peeling easy.
If you’re out of cake flour you can subtract 1 – 2 TBSPs per cup of all purpose flour.
If you don’t like the skin that forms on pudding cover it with plastic wrap as it cools.
When baking, use a scale to measure ingredients
I saved my favorite for last.
Food is a tangible expression of your love for others, family or friend. Food doesn’t equal love, but the care you put into preparing a meal for others can be felt by the maker and recipient alike.