How Not To Fail in the Kitchen

A lot of cooks have plenty of experience to draw upon when whipping up their roast chicken and their tarte tatins. Many would-be cooks don’t, and are intimidated by the prospect of doing anything more than boiling spaghetti in the kitchen. Never fear! In the spirit of holiday baking and general kitchen savvy, I’ve compiled a list of handy tips, hard-learned by me through experience, to keep in mind when embarking on culinary adventures.

(DISCLAIMER: These tips may vary in their actual usefulness.)

-Don’t confuse baking powder with baking soda. I did this with a cake once. My mom had to use a metal file to get a piece out, and she ended up using her slice as a doorstop.

-If you’re adding booze to baked goods, add a couple tablespoons of flour to the batter to avoid messing with the texture. Also feel free to add a couple tablespoons of booze to your belly while your food is in the oven.

-If a recipe tells you to caramelize your onions over low heat, there’s a reason for it. If you could achieve the same results in less time over high heat, the author would probably have done that instead.

-If you’re roasting red peppers under the broiler, avoid using parchment paper to line the baking sheet. It might make cleanup easy, but the fire alarm will wake up all of your roommates.

-Don’t line your cookie sheet with wax paper. Why did I even think that would be a good idea?

-Don’t line it with plastic wrap, either.

-In fact, just do away with the lining and lightly grease your cookie sheets. It produces a great, crisp bottom on cookies.

-But don’t use Olive Oil Cooking Spray, no matter how much your roommate SWEARS that it doesn’t really taste like olive oil and won’t actually affect the flavor at all. She’s lying to you because she’s mad that you keep forgetting to clean your hair out of the shower drain.

-Make sure you know how to fry a pancake REALLY well before you try to make them using beer batter. I have no memory more depressing than that time I ended up accidentally drinking first thing in the morning by way of sad, undercooked pancakes.

-Don’t lick the bowl if you’re using eggs. Even if you wash the eggshells before cracking the eggs. Just. Don’t.

-Make like Ina Garten and always bake with GOOD butter and GOOD vanilla while Miguel decorates your dining room with hydrangeas.

-I’m kidding. Keep the GOOD butter and GOOD vanilla for the recipes where the flavors will be prominent – in sugar cookies, for example. In anything else, don’t sweat it, the cheap stuff is fine. And let’s face it, nobody is going to spit out a sugar cookie because they can totally tell you didn’t spring for the Plugra, either.

Bon appetit!

One reply on “How Not To Fail in the Kitchen”

Oh, cooking screw-ups–necessary for growth, but so disheartening when they happen. I’d add that it’s actually a great idea if you’re baking chicken, particularly if it’s fatty or has skin on, to put foil underneath. It’s one of the only times when it’s really worth it to line pans.

Never microwave metal. That’s one of those things everyone ostensibly knows, but then you accidentally put the foil-wrapped butter in the microwave and things start catching fire.

Don’t expect miracles when you make things off the back of Campbell’s soup cans. And just never, ever make the cream-of-asparagus chicken; it’s awful.

There’s a difference in taste between ground and fresh ginger, same (to a lesser extent) with any fresh vs. dried spice, so adjust amounts accordingly.

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