Avoiding the 3 Most Common Cooking Mistakes

Cook’n cooks are nothing short of amazing—we know this. But just in case we have a few newbies in our reading audience, let’s talk about a few common cooking mistakes so we can avoid them. And you seasoned pros might even find a good idea here as well! This information was shared by the folks at Cooking Light.

First off, do you taste as you go? We should. The result of not tasting as you go? The flavors or textures of an otherwise excellent dish end up out of balance or unappealing.

For most cooks, tasting is automatic, but when it’s not, the price can be high. Recipes don’t always call for the "right" amount of seasoning, cooking times are estimates, and results vary depending on your ingredients, your stove, altitude … and a million other factors. Your palate is the control factor.

And even experienced cooks forget this most basic rule. For instance, Cooking Light associate food editor, Tim Cebula, was sous chef in a notable restaurant when he served up "caramelized" pineapple that somehow refused to brown. Turns out Tim had coated the fruit in salt, not sugar. "That’s why it wouldn’t caramelize."

Then there’s the practice of making substitutions in baking. Not a bad thing, necessarily, unless your substitution wasn’t all that wise. The result of this faux pas? You wreck the underlying chemistry of the dish.

Substitutions are a particular temptation, and challenge, especially with healthy cooking. At Cooking Light it's their job to substitute lower-fat ingredients to change the cooking chemistry a bit while capturing the soul of a dish. When it comes to baking, this is as much science as art.

“I'll get calls from readers about cakes turning out too dense or too gummy," says Cooking Light’s test kitchen director Vanessa Pruett. "After a little interrogation, I’ll get to the truth: that the reader used ALL applesauce instead of a mix of applesauce and oil or butter or went with sugar substitute in place of sugar." Best practice: Follow the recipe, at least until you’ve got a few years of cooking/baking practice under your belt.

Another common NO-NO is boiling when you should be simmering. I’m guilty of this because I’m often in a hurry when I’m cooking. And the result has most often been a hurried-up dish that was cloudy, tough, or dry.

Cooking Light chefs say this is one of the most common kitchen errors. So first, let’s clarify what is meant by simmering: A bubble breaks the surface of the liquid every second or two. More vigorous bubbling than that means you've got a boil going. And the difference between the two can ruin a dish.

Here’s where experience comes in to play; I didn’t really understand this until I’d been cooking for a while. I remember attempting to make a beef stew and the end product gave my unsuspecting family a real jaw workout. I’d boiled the meat for 45 minutes instead of simmering it for a couple of hours. I was in a hurry and needed it to get done more quickly. Well, it was ‘done’ all right. I learned an important lesson: Meat cooked too quickly in liquid ironically turns out very dry. And tough, really tough. Now I know that when the recipe says SIMMER, I simmer (for as long as it takes)!

So the moral to the story? Know and avoid the 3 most common cooking mistakes. You’ll find that this knowledge is power—power to take your cooking from OK to outstanding!

And to close, just for fun, I’ll share a recipe that I’ve used for a number of years that takes well to substituting ingredients (since we’ve been talking about that).


1 cup almond butter (can easily substitute peanut butter)

3 ounces vanilla plant-based protein powder (can substitute powdered or instant milk, or even a package of Carnation Instant Breakfast)

1/2 cup pure maple syrup

2 eggs (can substitute ¾ cup gelled chia seeds)

2 cups rolled oats (can substitute barley, rye, or wheat flakes)

3/4 cup unsweetened shredded coconut (can substitute sweetened coconut)

1 teaspoon baking soda

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a 9-by-11-inch pan with cooking spray.

  2. In a small bowl, use an electric mixer to mix almond butter, protein powder, and maple syrup. Beat in the eggs.

  3. Stir in rolled oats, coconut, and baking soda, and mix well.

  4. Firmly press stiff dough into the pan using the back of a spoon.

  5. Bake for 12 minutes or until the top browns slightly.

  6. Cool pan on a rack, cut into 18 squares, and store leftovers in an airtight container.

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
    Email the author! alice@dvo.com

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