Even the most wonderful cooks make mistakes from time to time and it is so frustrating when you have put your time, money, and heart into a dish and then it isn't quite right because of one little oversight or mistake. Last week I made mistake number 4 by not allowing myself enough time and the result was a burned birthday cake for my son. I was so frustrated because I know how to bake. I knew what I was doing in there, but I got in a rush, got distracted, and poof... a burned, less-than-fabulous cake!
Paying a little more attention to these ten things will help even the best of cooks avoid mistakes.
1- Not setting up ingredients beforehand I can't tell you how many times I have started cooking and then found that I was out of one thing I thought I had, or worse yet, thrown in the wrong thing because I wasn't paying enough attention! If you take the time to set everything up and measure it before you start mixing you will avoid lots of confusion and frustration!
2- Not measuring when baking Grandma's favorite recipes all had "a little" of one thing or "a good amount" of another, but those things are relative and even the same person can switch things up slightly on any given day. When baking a little switch up can make for a big difference in your cookies or cake. Take the time to measure and even go one further – weigh your dry ingredients! If you want perfect, consistent baked goods every time then weighing your dry ingredients is the way to go. A cup of flour can vary greatly depending on how packed it is.
3 – Not sifting to avoid lumps A clump of one ingredient or another in your muffin or cake is never a good find. Especially things like brown sugar and cocoa powder should be sifted in so you don't get a mouthful that you didn't want!
4 – Not leaving yourself enough time When you get rushed, mistakes happen! Just like my disappointing birthday cake last week, these mistakes are easily avoided by being realistic with time estimates and leaving yourself plenty of time to focus on your dish.
5 – Overcrowding your pan when you sear or brown meat The reason we brown meat is to add flavor, but if you overcrowd your pan, your meat will never brown. Because food releases moisture when it is cooking, foods that are left in a crowded pan will steam instead of searing – and that is not the flavor you want. Cook your food in batches or use two pans if you need extra space.
6 –Not getting your pan hot enough Another reason you might have trouble searing properly is because you do not get your pan hot enough. Make sure to get your pan hot before adding your oil(carefully). Once your oil starts to shimmer, then you can add your meat to the pan. Also, make sure to pat your meat dry with a paper towel before you sear it.
7 – Cooking cold meat Whether you are talking about meat, pork, fish, etc, your meat will not cook evenly if you start with cold meat. You will end up with a raw center and cooked outside. Let it rise to room temperature before you cook it and you will have well cooked, even meat.
8 – Using old ingredients This is particularly tempting with herbs and spices. They are expensive and if you haven't used it all it is tempting to keep the bottle around even after the expiration date, but more often than not, you will be sorry you did. You just don't get the amazing flavors they are meant to provide when you are using old seasonings. Dried herbs should only be kept for about six months because after that they lose their flavor. Baking power that is kept in a cool, dry place lasts for about three to six months. Also avoid using frost-bitten meat, dried-out cheeses, and anything else that may have gone bad. In order to avoid throwing away food, buy smaller quantities and "when in doubt, throw it out."
9 – Oversalting Such a simple thing, but it has ruined so many dishes! My mom taught me that when I double a recipe I should not double the salt. I don't know if that is a rule written in stone, but when my mom tells me to do something (or not do something) I listen! Mom's instructions aside, the best way to avoid oversalting is by tasting throughout. If you find you have already oversalted there are a couple of things to try. First, try to trick your tongue into thinking the food is less salty by adding acids like vinegar or lemon juice to your food. Another trick is to add a little sugar. If you are making soups or broth, adding water will help. Do not bother trying to add potatoes to salty dishes because it does not work and picking potatoes out of your tomato sauce is not fun.
10 – Overcooking vegetables Limp, soggy vegetables can really ruin a meal. You can avoid limp broccoli and soggy carrots by cooking them separately in a large pot filled with rapidly boiling, salted water. When the vegetables are finished they should have a vibrant color and still be firm(not mushy), shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process. This will prevent your vegetables from overcooking. They will be cooked, but crisp and delicious!
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