Crash Course Culinary School: Tips to Make You a Better Cook

Source: Crash Course Culinary School: Tips to Make You a Better Cook

We'd like to dedicate this roundup of killer culinary tips to those whose M.O. in 2013 is to work smarter, not harder. Often it's the smallest changes that have the greatest end result, particularly in the kitchen. We suspect that if you even adopt just one new tip, you'll notice a significant difference in the quality of your cookery, and really, who wouldn't like that? Keep reading for 12 tips that will kick your kitchen experiments into high gear.

  • Rethink How You Season Food : If you find yourself reaching for the pepper grinder on reflex, it's time to rethink your strategy. Pepper, while delicious in many applications, should be treated as a spice rather than as a go-to seasoning, as it simply adds a layer of flavor rather than enhancing the dish as a whole. To perk up a flat-tasting dish, taste it first, then adjust in small increments with salt and a splash of an acidic ingredient like citrus juice until the flavors pop. If used properly, these ingredients won't let their presence be known; rather, they will take a dish from flat to fabulous.
  • Make Your Motto "No More Tears": Does the mere thought of putting a knife to an onion trigger watery eyes? Pop on a pair of oversize sunglasses. While they won't provide the tight seal of a pair of onion goggles, chances are you already own a pair, and the concept is the same. The physical barrier prevents the onion's noxious sulfurous gases from irritating your eyes and triggering a mascara meltdown.
  • Set Yourself Up For Success (Literally): Mise en place literally means "setting in place" and translates to measuring out and prepping your ingredients as dictated by the ingredient list before you begin to cook. Not only will this eliminate panicked midrecipe realizations that you are short an egg or two, but it will also streamline the cooking process and reduce the need to multitask and potentially burn food.

More from YumSugar: 5 Ways to Streamline Your Cooking

  • Take Guesswork Out of Candy-Making With a Probe Thermometer: Find yourself overcooking (or worse, burning) confectionery experiments? Ditch the traditional candy thermometer and try a probe thermometer - a tool more commonly used for meat cookery - instead. Not only are they easier to read (many candy thermometers fog up from being exposed to steam), but they also can be programmed to make an alert noise when the sugar hits the desired temperature, eliminating any guesswork.
  • Make Nuts and Seeds Taste Nuttier : Make the most of pricey nuts and seeds by toasting them either on the stove (over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until golden brown), or in the oven (roasted at 350ºF for anywhere from six to 15 minutes depending on the size of the item). Exposure to heat boosts the nuts' inherent nuttiness and makes for a snappier texture. Just make certain to keep an eye on them as they cook, particularly with smaller seeds and chopped nuts, as their small size and high oil content make them prone to burning.
  • Roll Out Dough With Ease: When working with delicate pastry, take care to dust all surfaces (the rolling pin, the dough itself, and the surface on which it's rolled) with a thin, even layer of flour. For the best results, use a dredger; its small holes distribute flour and other dry ingredients evenly, which not only reduces mess, but also allows for less flour, eliminating powdery residue on the dough.
  • Invest in an Oven Thermometer: When you set your oven to 350ºF, chances are - even with a brand-spanking-new oven - that the internal temperature won't match up precisely with your selection. Some ovens are as much as 100ºF off, but even as small a disparity as 10ºF can be detrimental to your end product when baking. Instead, keep an oven thermometer (about $10) in the oven at all times, and check it and adjust accordingly by either cranking the heat up or down until it's at the temperature that your recipe intended.
  • Cook Bacon in the Oven: Let's be real: it's pretty hard to make bacon taste bad. At the same time, there are better ways to tackle the often-messy task of bacon cookery. Line a half-sheet pan with tinfoil (for easy cleanup) and a wire cooling rack (to allow for air circulation) and cook it off in the oven at 375ºF for about 15-20 minutes, or until the bacon is as crisp or chewy as you prefer. Since you won't need to flip the bacon halfway through, it can be cooked largely unattended, and it works great for large quantities. Most importantly, it cooks up more evenly.

More from YumSugar: 10 Affordable, Essential Cooking Tools

  • Create a Stable, Flat Surface When Chopping Vegetables: Pair firm, round produce like a butternut squash with a razor-sharp knife, and your odds of an ER visit are infinitely greater. That is if you skip one simple step: slice off the bottom before you fiddle around with knife work any further. This creates a flat, stable surface for the item at hand to rest on so you can focus on your knife, rather than holding the fruit or vegetable steady.
  • Ditch the Measuring Cup Set: Intimidated by baking and the precision it requires? Simplify matters by measuring dry ingredients with a kitchen scale (by weight), rather than with measuring cups (by volume). You'll dirty fewer dishes (use the tare function on the scale to measure multiple ingredients into the same bowl) while ensuring that your measurements are consistent. If your recipe doesn't provide weight measurements, try this guide to volume with weight equivalents for common baking ingredients.
  • Use Rice to Clean the Crud Out of Your Spice Grinder: After using a spice grinder to prep whole spices, remove any residue (and funky odors) by pulsing a tablespoon of dry rice in the grinder until gritty. The abrasive particles will help loosen any stuck-on spices and can easily be wiped out, speeding up the cleaning process.
  • Bring Eggs to Room Temperature Lightning-Fast: If a recipe dictates the use of room-temperature eggs, take heed. Room-temperature eggs incorporate into batter more thoroughly, and room-temperature egg whites whip up faster and better. So what to do when an urge to bake strikes? Cover the eggs with warm - not hot - water, and in about five to 10 minutes, they'll come up to room temperature. Crisis averted!

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