What's your most useful general advice on cooking?
September 28, 2004 11:51 AM   Subscribe

What's your most useful general advice on cooking?

For instance, for years I thought that cooking with fresh herbs was overrated because recipes called for things like "1/3 cup loosely packed basil leaves" without specifying that most herbs need to be crushed or chopped to release all their flavor. So, if I were offering one piece of cooking advice to anyone, it would be "if you want their strongest possible flavor, finely mince fresh herbs before adding them to your food." A bit silly, but I think there are many things self-evident to good cooks that require experience to learn. So, what's your hard-earned wisdom on the subject?
posted by melissa may to Food & Drink (67 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Use only the best ingredients. Examples: Parm cheese should come from Parma, not a green can. Kosher salt does make a difference in most cases. Minute rice is *not* the same thing as real rice. Real Butter. Fresh garlic. Etc.

Obviously, sometimes you just want to whip up a quick meal to feed yourself. In those cases, anything is fair game. But if you want to cook well, it starts with the ingredients.
posted by bondcliff at 12:06 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Let the onions and garlic saute a good 8-10 minutes before adding the other ingredients.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:12 PM on September 28, 2004

Sounds dumb, but I had to learn it: follow the recipe.
Before I learned that, I sorta assumed that if you got approximate amounts of all the ingredients in the same place at the same time, food would happen.

On preview, mad props to the kosher salt. It tastes better and is easier to handle.
posted by Capn at 12:12 PM on September 28, 2004

Stop being so damn skittish in the kitchen. So many people I know are simply *afraid* of cooking. Anyone can cook, and anyone can cook reasonably well. Quit being such a wuss about it and *just do it*. Loosen up a bit, and you'll probably even enjoy it.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2004

Cooking is a science. You only get the desired result by following the procedure exactly.
posted by blueshammer at 12:13 PM on September 28, 2004

1) Whole spices. Buy yourself a large mortar & pestle (or a spice mill, if you prefer) and buy whole cumin, coriander, cardamom, at least. Cinnamon, cloves, and allspice are harder to grind by hand, and I usually cheat on those and buy pre-ground. And a large number of spices taste a lot better when they're sautéd before the liquid is added, not after.

2) Don't be afraid to be adventurous.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2004

Best answer: - Don't be afraid of salt. Yes, too much salt is nasty, but most cooks overcompensate by undersalting everything. Salt is a flavor enhancer and needs to be used appropriately.

- Make sure your pot/pan is big enough for what you're cooking. If you're boiling pasta or vegetables, make sure that the pieces have enough room to move around. Also make sure your water is BOILING. Not barely boiling, but BOILING.

- Brown your meats, even if cooking them in a stew or in some kind of sauce. Quickly saute them on high heat until the surface carmelizes a bit (but not cooked all the way through), then take them off, and do your sauce. Otherwise, you wind up poaching your meat, which is generally not the quality you're going for.

- Make your own chicken stock. It's very easy and only takes a couple hours for a lot of stock. It makes a world of difference, and freezes really well (ladle out 2-cup portions and put them in a baggie). Any recipe that calls for stock tastes better with homemade stock, and it's nice to have on-hand to do a quick deglaze.

- Use high heat. I see this surprisingly often. People are afraid to cook over a hot stove (I guess), and tend to cook on a lower setting than they should, which dries out your food and cooks the nutrition out. Unless the recipe specifically calls for it (like a soup or stew, or a delicate fish), your stove should generally be used on medium-high.

- For fuck's sake, use your hands! Yes, raw food, esp. meat, can be slimy and icky, but you need to use your bare hands to prepare it. Companies like Oxo make a mint producing worthless junk designed to prevent fussy cooks from having to touch food. If you can get past this basic reaction, you'll have less clutter in your kitchen.
posted by mkultra at 12:15 PM on September 28, 2004 [2 favorites]

... and never, ever use margarine unless you're vegetarian on a strict diet. Butter in moderation is not bad for you.
posted by mkultra at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

don't fear the food/unknown
slice with motion, not pressure
they're not mistakes, they're experiments
read the directions
one man's trash is another person's breakfast

and if u rn't immune compromised (ill, child, etc.) common sense is enough to combat "germ fear" in commercial US foods (bsides federally surpressed info of course--)
posted by ethylene at 12:22 PM on September 28, 2004

mad props to the kosher salt. It tastes better

I agree that the stuff is easier to handle, and I prefer it, but saying it "tastes better" is a bit like saying that full-sized Frosted Mini Wheats taste better than the bite-size variety. It's a matter of texture. In certain applications, kosher salt is more appropriate, but when you get down to it, salt is salt.

Cooking is a science. You only get the desired result by following the procedure exactly.

If you really believe that, you're missing out on a lot in the kitchen. Sure, it helps to follow recipes when you're learning to cook, but once you've got a basic handle on what your ingredients do and how they interact, deviation from the procedure is fun, educational, and, often, delicious. (Shirley O. Corriher's Cookwise is a great book if you're interested in that sort of thing.)
posted by uncleozzy at 12:23 PM on September 28, 2004

Ignore blueshammer. Mix it up, use your nose and taste buds. Never cook the same dish twice.
Don't salt meat in advance (unless you like your meat dry). Put the salt on right before cooking.
posted by signal at 12:25 PM on September 28, 2004

Watch Good Eats and learn from it but try to be slightly less anal rententive than AB.
posted by bondcliff at 12:31 PM on September 28, 2004

Get a good knife. Learn how to use it (chop lots of vegetables, then chop some more). It's tragic how many people are intimidated by an 8" blade, and so frustrate themselves with itsy "safe" paring knives.

Follow the recipe the first time, so you know what the original dish tastes like, then, if it's worth making it again, play with it. You can learn a lot of neat tricks by following a good recipe.
posted by bonehead at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2004 [2 favorites]

Cooking is a science. You only get the desired result by following the procedure exactly.

Cooking is an art. You only achieve nirvana by being unafraid to deviate from the procedure.
posted by kjh at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

now pastry, baking is a science tho
and i don't have a gram scale, surprisingly

(anyone got the metric conversions? like i ever use measures, but--)
posted by ethylene at 12:33 PM on September 28, 2004

Use stock instead of water whenever possible.
posted by turbodog at 12:37 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Cooking is a science. You only get the desired result by following the procedure exactly.

Bullshit. Recipes are maps, and like any set of directions, there is more than one way to get to where you want to go.

By all means, if you're a beginner, you should follow the recipes. But as you become more comfortable with preparing food, you may think to yourself "I don't understand why this recipe calls for an entire onion, when half would suffice" or "Strange that this meatloaf calls for beef only, I bet 1/2 beef and 1/2 pork would be fantastic." These are the times when you should follow your instincts.

Also, you should salt everything. Make sure you add a little and then taste, and add a little more if it needs it, but always salt food.
posted by rocketman at 12:40 PM on September 28, 2004

Best answer: - brine chicken
- heat brings out flavor
- steamed veggies are better than you think
- most ingredients can be substituted, sub lists are your friends
- don't use margarine unless you need to, butter and olive oil are good for savoriness.
- good olive oil, good balsamic vinegar, good parmesan cheese, good spices, fresh herbs, organic veggies and local meats are worth the extra cost for what they return in flavor
- use giant recipe archives like RecipeSource [which have little or no quality control] and learn to improvise so you actually learn to cook, not just follow recipes
- on the other hand there is nothing wrong with being a good recipe follower
- start from the ingredients you have and find a recipe to match, this will encourage you to get more creative with your palate and your skills
- keep a lot of spices, herbs, grains, veggies, and miscellaneous food around to facilitate trying different things
posted by jessamyn at 12:41 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Get a good knife. Learn how to use it (chop lots of vegetables, then chop some more).

AMEN! And keep it sharp! More accidents are due to people cutting themselves on dull knives (which slip) than sharp ones (which move exactly how you expect them to).

The other side of this argument is- unless you're very serious about your cooking, you only need three knives: a paring knife, a 5" trimmer/vegetable knife, and an 8" chef's knife.
posted by mkultra at 12:42 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

> In certain applications, kosher salt is more appropriate, but when you get down to it, salt is salt.

I can taste the difference between table salt (iodized) and kosher salt (uniodized). (And no, I'm not worried about getting a goiter, I get enough iodized salt in stuff I eat).
posted by Capn at 12:48 PM on September 28, 2004

I've always followed that a stove at high heat should only be used for boiling. Cooking meats stovetop and sauteing are done at med-high. Don't poke your meat while it's cooking unless you want to evaporate/burn flavor and like dry meat ( get some tongs! ). Rarely should you flip meat more than once. Sausages should be cooked at a low heat for a long time.
posted by mnology at 12:55 PM on September 28, 2004

Learn which spices and ingredients complement each other: garlic and onion, cumin and coriander/black mustard seed/cayenne, cinnamon and clove, ginger and chiles/rice vinegar, curries and apple, etc. This is one of the keys to successful experimentation, and also a great way to develop a sense of what a dish "needs" to improve its flavor.

Also, buy nice equipment. By this, I don't necessarily mean expensive equipment, but you should have sturdy pans, a quality knife, etc. Try not to buy anything that isn't going to last at least ten years, and never settle for planned-obsolescence junk like cheap non-stick pans or serrated knives.
posted by vorfeed at 12:58 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

The "salt all your food" advice might be questionable. I think we are used to the taste of salt, but that doesn't mean that food can't taste wonderful without it. Cutting out salt for just a little while will change your taste buds, and you'll start to find salt much less necessary.
posted by livii at 12:58 PM on September 28, 2004

The other side of this argument is- unless you're very serious about your cooking, you only need three knives: a paring knife, a 5" trimmer/vegetable knife, and an 8" chef's knife.

I'd add a single serrated bread knife to that list. But you're right; a limited number of the *correct* tools is the secret to kitchen nirvana.

I think the most important cooking skill I'm starting to pick up is proper knife technique. It makes you feel completely in control of what's in front of you, and that feeling of control in some way frees your mind to let you experiment in other areas. And it looks cool when people come over and are watching you cook.
posted by bcwinters at 12:59 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

- what uncleozzy, kjh and rocketman said. By all means follow recipes until you've got some idea what you're doing, but then go wild. Baking is a bit of an exception to this, but you can still experiment once you understand the principles.
- always cook your spices in oil for a few minutes if at all possible (don't burn them!).
- make a point of going shopping for a specific recipe at least once a week, when you have time to really settle in and enjoy cooking - buy fresh, high-quality ingredients and have fun with them (pour a glass of wine or a beer, put some good music on and enjoy yourself).
- build up a decent pantry stock of items which are handy for whipping up emergency meals, and of things which keep well and inspire you (good olive oil, good balsamico, good curry paste, etc.)
- watch as many cooking shows as you can stand. Especially strive to learn about different styles of cooking and different approaches.
- start making your own bread. There's such a sense of achievement in turning out a beautiful loaf of delicious fresh bread, and making it is great therapy.
- as a general rule, if you use good ingredients and cook things properly from a safety standpoint, you can't go all that far wrong, and some of my favourite meals have been mistakes.
posted by biscotti at 1:04 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

I said Cooking is a science. You only get the desired result by following the procedure exactly, and I meant it. It's not the only way to get good food, but it's the only way to get the desired result -- i.e., the product of the recipe. I have a fairly limited kitchen repertoire, and I almost never use recipes because I'm operating within the constraints of that repertoire and so don't need further consultation. But when I'm making something new and want to actually make what I'm intending to make, I'm scrupulous about the recipe for the same reason I was scrupulous in college chemistry labs -- it is chemistry.
posted by blueshammer at 1:14 PM on September 28, 2004

the only hard science is math
in the sense that before the theoretical it just records in a base language
(when u see someone smack a camera lens on a nice clean liver to clean off the schmutz u may know what i mean)

posted by ethylene at 1:23 PM on September 28, 2004

here's my tip: date a chef.

you'll have to do the dishes but its worth it.
posted by Stynxno at 1:26 PM on September 28, 2004 [2 favorites]

or a food critic (pro or not)
wouldn't mind accidentally getting to know tony bourdain

i'm all for better living thru chemistry
and i have a few fabulous accidents of the culinary kind for another post--
posted by ethylene at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2004

My least favorite parts of cooking are cleaning the kitchen (before and after cooking) and getting all the ingredients together. You know why it looks so easy on cooking shows? Because you never see them doing the dishes or trying to find the allspice.

I find that cooking is infinitely more enjoyable when I do these things well in advance, and get started before I'm actually hungry.
posted by Eamon at 1:35 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

If you're making gluten-free bread, pie, or pastries, Xanthan Gum can be your best friend. Track down a bottle, buy it and sprinkle liberally in your brown-rice batter. Since your food lacks gluten to hold it together, don't skimp on the recommended butter and oil amounts. And feel free to put lots of Crisco in your pie crusts. Yeah, it's fattening, but there's not really a good substitute and the crusts come out smooth as butta, so to speak.

And when making gluten-free pancake mix, feel free to use soy milk instead of water or regular milk. It's yummy and works great.
posted by Asparagirl at 1:37 PM on September 28, 2004

Remember that soups, stews and sauces are usually MUCH better the next day.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:39 PM on September 28, 2004

Best answer: Here is my hard-earned wisdom, in small, easy bites. They might sound like blurby truisms, but there's an essay of meaning behind each one:

Fresher is always better.

Eschew recipes! They lie!

Cooking is art; baking is science.

Sharpen the damn knives!

Optimize for Maillard

Know your ingredients.

You only need three knives: small, large, and a Chinese vegetable cleaver. It's okay to have more.

Hey, that's not pasta, why are you boiling it?
Corollary: never do in a pot that which you can do better in a pan.

Versatility is better than gadgetry.

All work-arounds for oversalting are ineffectual.

Exotic is not inherently better than familiar.

They're right about keeping a discard bowl on the counter.

Repeat after me: Sweet and tang and savory.

Don't know each step. Know the why of each step.

A KitchenAid is not a mixer, it is the machine plant of your kitchen.

Don't be afraid to screw up royally. You can always order a pizza.

You can't use a big wok on a weak stove.

Your stove is weak.

What you were taught is wrong. Relearn.

Temperature has inertia. That means pull it off the heat a little early.

It's okay to make the whole thing up as you go along.

If it doesn't say "Lodge" on the bottom, throw it away, it's not a pan.

Cooking is an art of broad gestures skillfully applied.

Open fire is better than gas. Gas is better than electricity.

And most importantly of all: Own less crap!
posted by majick at 1:39 PM on September 28, 2004 [20 favorites]

When following a recipe, collect all the ingredients together in one place, and as you add them to the dish, put them away. This achieves a number of things: if you're missing an ingredient, you find out right away; it makes cleaning up the kitchen that much easier at the end; and most importantly, if the phone rings in the middle of preparation, it's easy to tell where you left off. No more "did I put the baking powder in yet?" questions.
posted by ambrosia at 1:43 PM on September 28, 2004

For many dishes, if you're scared of adding salt, lemon juice will give you that same flavor-enhancing zing.

And to build a bit on one of majick's: Learn to abstract from recipes. If you have to season and sear meat, then add a vinegar/wine/lemon substance to the pan to deglaze, then add butter and more spices to create a sauce, you can probably substitute any meat, deglazing agent, and spices you think will work well. For pasta sauce: start with garlic OR onion in oil OR butter, add deglazer (wine or lemon or vinegar), add ingredients, and simmer for while. If you can get a feel for what type of step comes next, you'll be more comfortable (and successful) substituting the ingredients of that step.
posted by occhiblu at 1:45 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all; I am enjoying these very much.

Here's one you all made me think of: just because you love an ingredient doesn't mean you should automatically double it. I did this with garlic for years before I realized that it's much better to harmonize flavors, instead of making one an obnoxious Celion Dion and relegating the rest to mere back-up singers.

(Mash note to jessamyn: I am starting to think of you as the benevolent doyenne of AskMe because you are so consistently helpful on so many topics. That sub list you linked is gold. I am always happy when you wander in to a question I'm interested in.)
posted by melissa may at 2:02 PM on September 28, 2004

1) Leave more time than you think you'll need

2) You can get away with being a lot less careful if you keep raw meat out of your kitchen.
posted by soyjoy at 2:07 PM on September 28, 2004

oh, and ignore anyone who says baking is a science and cooking is an art. baking is as much an art as cooking is.
posted by Stynxno at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2004

Two words: Italian Seasoning
posted by falconred at 2:09 PM on September 28, 2004

" it's much better to harmonize flavors, instead of making one an obnoxious Celion Dion..."

Hah! That's great!

Along those lines, here's one more: A good song usually has harmonizing as well as soloing, and some chaotic rocking out. Play around with the "form" of your meal.
posted by majick at 2:11 PM on September 28, 2004

Don't play with your meat.

Leave it alone, it'll cook. (Especially true for scrapple.)
posted by sixpack at 2:15 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

6pac: almost too good a straight line to leave, and yet--

i clean while i cook, for lack of stuff and momentum
but then i use to make bread at four in the morning while talking long distance to friends--

me: autodidact via julia, great chefs, experiements, economy, necessity-- ex field, current non pro, and due to sheer amount of metaflak will finally make own sites public again to avoid posting, let the usuals know it's safe to return (like when the circus/conevtion leaves)
posted by ethylene at 2:34 PM on September 28, 2004

Don't be afraid of anchovies. They can add depth to many dishes you make. Sautee them so they pretty much disappear. They're great in tomato sauce and also vegetables.
posted by gyc at 2:36 PM on September 28, 2004

Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking."

It's an excellent book for learning a lot of basic techniques that can be applied in myriad ways. She has a whole chapter about all the basic sauce types. Learn those, and what foods they're good for, and you can easily start inventing your own things. Also the book structure of a "master recipe" followed by variations is good for teaching you how to do just that. And for every main dish, she lists good choices for vegetable side dishes, and suggests appropriate wine to serve. There are many reasons this book (and Julia's television shows) revolutionized American cooking.

Speaking of television - watch at lot of FoodTV on cable. Their cooks often spout off lots of helpful tips and wisdom. And actually seeing various techniques done will help you when you do them yourself.
posted by dnash at 2:37 PM on September 28, 2004

Oil + butter = unburnt butter.
posted by swift at 2:58 PM on September 28, 2004

Use extra virgin olive oil -

Use fresh garlic, and DON'T let it cook as long as onions - add it into the frying pan at the last minute before the other stuff goes in. Minced garlic only needs a tiny bit of cooking - less than a minute.
posted by jasper411 at 3:17 PM on September 28, 2004

Clean as you go.

Always cook one more serving than you expect to consume - leftovers are good, but welcoming the unexpected guest is better.

There is never enough garlic.

Use dairy product sparingly. It's too good to waste as a staple.
posted by mwhybark at 3:39 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

To make perfect white rice, add 2 cups water to every cup rice; add a pinch or two of salt. Bring water to boil, then simmer with pan lid on till all water gone. Don't stir. Ever.

Most times, two herbs will taste better than three.
posted by seanyboy at 4:01 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Mark any spices or dried herbs with the month and year you bought them. If they're older than six months, throw them out.

Never, ever buy ground pepper. Have a pepper mill (or two, or three, for different types) and buy whole peppercorns. There's really no comparison.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 4:25 PM on September 28, 2004

When you make a new recipe, read it all the way through at least twice before you start.

Get good knives, sharpen them regularly, and learn how to use them. (I finally learned how to chop correctly after I cut off part of a fingertip.)

Never use "cooking wine." If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it.

Do not use nonstick frying pans if you cook a lot over high heat. No matter how much you paid for them, the lining will come off if you use them heavily; much better and cheaper to pick up an iron one and just take care of it.

If you have an over-stove exhaust fan, turn it off before doing a flambé or deglazing a pan. Otherwise you may end up with terrifying three-foot-high alcohol flames.
posted by Tholian at 4:43 PM on September 28, 2004

Most of what I would say has been said.

Except for:

Non stick is for eggs. Sauteeing in a non stick pan is lame because you lose all the fond - the nice crusty bits that become a sauce.

Make sure your meat is dry before putting it in the oil. Wet meat steams and doesn't form a nice crust.

Resist the temptation to move sauteeing meat or look under the lid of cooking rice. (I find this so hard!) It really makes a difference.

Pretty much anything can be improved with the addition of garlic, bacon or chocolate, depending.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:11 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Enjoy it. Enjoy it. Enjoy it.

And share it.
posted by padraigin at 5:16 PM on September 28, 2004

Taste carefully. The more you pay attention to the foods you eat, the better attention you can pay to the foods you cook. When you like a dish, put some effort into identifying what you like about it. Look up a few recipes and try to replicate it.

Eat different types of cuisines, Chinese, Thai, Italian, etc. and different types of foods, couscous, lamb, broccolli rabe, etc. The best cooks I know love to try new foods, even if they never make that dish. It educates your taste buds. and you sure don't want ignorant taste buds.
posted by theora55 at 5:36 PM on September 28, 2004

If you want to improve as a cook, make it a rule to try one new recipe a week.

Follow the recipe nearly exactly the first time, and make notes in your cookbooks as to how it turned out and ideas for improving it the next time (i.e., cut the sugar by half, only needs 20 minutes in the oven, etc.).

You'll be pleased at how this expands your repertoire.
posted by orange swan at 5:51 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

I got this one from a friend:
"Why are you afraid of the egg?"
Crack with confidence!
posted by nprigoda at 6:01 PM on September 28, 2004

Never use "cooking wine." If you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it.

Just wanted to repeat this in case anyone missed it. No need to use fine French wine, but absolutely use wine you enjoy drinking.

Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, (pre-1990s) Joy of Cooking.

Great thread!
posted by languagehat at 6:34 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Roasted red meats continue to cook after you remove them from the oven/rotisserie. Take beef out at 145, and it'll be a perfect medium rare when it's time to serve.

Pasta continues to cook after you drain it. For hot dishes (like spaghetti,) rinse quickly in cold water to stop the cooking, then in hot to warm it back up.

Pineapple, pears and apples go really well with almost all cuts of pork. So does cinammon.

You can use a bread machine to do the hard part (kneading, resting and raising,) then take the dough out and bake it in the oven to get the perfect lift and crust.
posted by headspace at 7:20 PM on September 28, 2004

fry the shit out of bacon.
posted by angry modem at 7:22 PM on September 28, 2004

Actually, don't. Bake bacon. I'm serious. It's way crispier.
posted by majick at 7:24 PM on September 28, 2004

Don't overcook the fish. Don't undercook the potatoes.
posted by duckstab at 7:42 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

Baked bacon is also flatter.

I consider rinsing spaghetti a huge no no. That starch clinging to it is often necessary for the sauce. Just take it out of the boiling water when it still has a "ghost" inside.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:45 PM on September 28, 2004

Contrary to popular belief, pans will not keep increasing in heat if left on a burner. That is, medium-low really is medium-low, no matter how long you leave the pan on.

It took me a while to accept this, but it's absolutely true.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:51 PM on September 28, 2004

Best answer: Refrigerate your freshly made pesto as soon as possible, unless you really enjoy staring at your bathroom's wallpaper.

A digital instant-read thermometer is your friend.

if it doesn't taste right, add: kosher salt, pepper, butter, lemon juice, a little bit of sugar, or a dash of tabasco sauce.

The three essential tools are a knife, a whisk, and a good pair of locking spring-loaded tongs.

Cooking your own Chinese food is more trouble than it's worth. The cost of those three different brown sauces and dried mushrooms or what-have you are easily going to exceed the cost of some excellent Chinese food, made by people who know what they are doing, with stoves that are powerful enough for a wok. Because your's isn't.

Ethnic markets have the cheapest produce.

If it catches on fire, put a lid on it. If it's still on fire, pour baking soda on it.

Don't use a damp dishtowel to retrieve that pan from the oven. The water will turn into steam, burning your hand and making you drop your food. This is the only useful thing I learned in my 7th grade foods class.

Your kitchen sponge is the dirtiest thing in the kitchen. Microwave it on high, for 3:30, to kill the microbes within.

All cooking magazines suck, except for Chef's Illustrated.

Low power microwaves are useful for all sorts of things.

Hot food does not belong on a cold plate.

Clean the blender by whirring hot soapy water in it. Place a dishtowel over the top to prevent spillage.

The best non-good-eats cooking show on television is the Discovery Channel's "Great Chefs." The difference between a television chef and an actual chef is the same as that of a newscaster and a journalist (i.e., style vs. substance).
posted by LimePi at 9:09 PM on September 28, 2004 [1 favorite]

All cooking magazines suck

Unless you are lucky enough to live down under. Donna Hay is very good.

And amen to the wet teatowel advice. I still got the scar.
posted by arha at 1:20 AM on September 29, 2004

I consider rinsing spaghetti a huge no no. That starch clinging to it is often necessary for the sauce. Just take it out of the boiling water when it still has a "ghost" inside.

I'm not much of a cook, and that's one thing my mother told me that I always remember, so I'd like to reaffirm this. Drain it, but don't rinse it.
posted by angry modem at 2:05 AM on September 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

When cooking in the wild frontier, easy with the spices there cowboy. Too many and you can't tell them apart. Use them sparingly. You can laways add a little bit more if needed.

Hot spices. Except where the desire is to melt the mouth, I find a small amount of spiciness is a great flavor accelerant. I regularly add a serrano (just one!) to my lasagna and I never actually taste the spiciness but everything else seemed to be very vibrant. tastes will vary

If at all possible, never freeze meat. Cook it fresh. Espcially, hamburgers.

Challenge your comfort zone and try an ingredient you've never heard of.

Freeze your ginger. Doesn't go bad and easier to grate frozen.

Clean as you go. Saves time later and stops you from fussing with the damn food.

Work on perfecting about five dishes.
posted by Dagobert at 3:14 AM on September 29, 2004

There are two secrets to properly breading a cutlet of chicken or veal:

Add a little oil to the egg mixture, it helps the breading stick to the meat. And leave the breaded cutlets in the air (counter or fridge) for about 15 mins to "dry" before pan frying.
Never again will you see the breading fall off your meat as it fries.
posted by CunningLinguist at 4:48 AM on September 29, 2004 [2 favorites]

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