Amateur Moves to Avoid in the Kitchen

A wooden chopping board with a chef's knife.
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Here are a few things that a lot of amateur cooks do in the kitchen that make a big difference in how well a dish is executed. These are simple, often bone-headed, but if avoided will lead to better preparation.
  1. Cutting wet vegetables. You should always dry off your vegetables after you wash them. Otherwise, you will transfer excess water from the cutting board to your dish and that can lead to soggy food or under flavored sauces.
  2. Not rinsing the cutting board between items. There are times when you might want to do this (reserve juices), but usually just as drying off the vegetables, you want to rinse and dry the cutting board between items.
  3. Overcooking green veggies. It is much better to boil or steam green veggies (asparagus, broccoli, green beans) until just tender-crisp (about 7-8 minutes), then dunk them immediately in ice water to stop the cooking process. While they are in the ice bath, prepare the sauce or dish before incorporating them and gently reheat. Many folks think this is too much work, but the difference is *worth* it. With the right equipment you can boil/steam/ice in the same container.
  4. Overcooking pasta. Unless you’re making a specialty casserole, a general rule is to prepare everything but the pasta first. Cook it separately until “al dente“. If it is going into a cold dish, you can use the ice bath method as well.
  5. Dicing everything no matter the style of dish. Diced veggies are Western. For Asian food, you should cut on the diagonal. It does make a difference in the texture and taste. This will make the difference between a great chow mein versus stew on noodles.
  6. Avoiding unfamiliar ingredients. if the recipe calls for jicama, for example, don’t omit it just because you’ve never used it. Don’t know what that Japanese word is? Look it up. Youtube is your friend. Have fun with it. Sometimes the best new things come from happy accidents.
  7. Always using dried herbs. There are times (or should that be thymes 🙂 when you can’t avoid it, but don’t be afraid of fresh herbs. Just remember, follow the same guidelines for rinsing and drying veggies, and use more when it’s fresh. You can use both together for added impact. For example, when I make stuffing, I put the dried sage into the broth and mix fresh in with the bread crumbs.
  8. Using plastic or metal utensils exclusively. Here is a secret from Asia and The Old World. It is the reason that people prefer chopsticks. Plant fibers transfer touch and texture sensations to your hands and finger much more effectively than metal or plastic. You can learn how something feels when it is “right” by using bamboo or wooden spoons, spatulas, tongs, and other gadgets. Save the metal for high-heat. Toss the plastic (into the recycling bin).
  9. Never making soup from scratch. Soup doesn’t have to come from a can or an aseptic package. In fact, shocker, it doesn’t need all day to cook. It also doesn’t have to be chunky and won’t require a food processor. You have a blender, right? You can make an *amazing* creamy soup in less than an hour. Go look it up. Do it.
  10. Making everything the same color. Food comes in colors other than brown, white, and lettuce. Ever heard the saying, “Try to eat a rainbow everyday?” Try some purple broccoli or orange cauliflower. Eat things that are in season and fresh. Experiment.
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One thought on “Amateur Moves to Avoid in the Kitchen

  1. Thank you. I’m supposed to cook for my new vegan girlfriend next weekend and have no idea what to make! I found tons of recipes at this vegetarian recipe site but with so mnay to choose from I just got confused. Do you have any favorites youself, like .. the tastiest vegetarian recipe, ever, or something?! Thanks in advance! I hope it goes well

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