12 Tips That Will Make You a Better Cook

cooking is a skill that can take a lifetime to perfect, and even the best of cooks can produce disappointing results. However, there are some basic rules you can follow that will help you use recipes—successfully—in your kitchen.

  1. Read the Recipe carefully almost everyone has embarked upon preparing a recipe only to realize midway through that the dish needed hours of chilling before it could even be served. By reading the recipe completely through before you start to cook, you will avoid any surprises along the way. including not having that special, essential ingredient.
  2. Follow Directions, at Least the First time Cooking is a science, but it is also an art. Our advice is simple: Make the recipe as directed the first time once you understand the recipe, you can improvise and make it your own the next time you prepare it.
  3. Be Prepared set out and organize all of the equipment you will need for a recipe and prep all of the ingredients for it before you start to cook. In cooking school, this is referred to as mise en place. A recipe is a lot simpler to make when all the components and tools for it are at your fingertips. we can’t tell you the number of pounds of pasta that we’ve over cooked while looking for a colander at the last minute.
  4. start with Good Ingredients Don’t expect to turnold’eggs into a nicely risensoufflé. Likewise, low-quality meats will yield low-quality results. Freshness matters when it comes to pan try items, follow our recommendations (pages 32 through 44) when possible. A can of sweet, lively tomatoes will make a far better sauce than a can of bitter, stringy tomatoes.
  5. Prepare ingredients as Directed Be sure to prepare food as instructed in the ingredient list. Food that is uniformly and properly cut will not only cook at the same rate but will also be more visually appealing.
  6. Keep substitutions to a Minimum there are certain sub stitutions that we have found acceptable in a pinch. But, in general, it is best if you use the ingredients called for in the recipe; this is especially true in baking, where even the slight est change can spell disaster. See page 45 for our test kitch en’s list of emergency substitutions.
  7. Use the Appropriately sized Equipment Make sure to use the cookware and bakeware noted in the recipe. If you pour cake batter into a 9-inchpan when the recipe says 8 inch, you will end up with thinner cake layers that cook more quickly. If you try to cook four chicken cutlets in a 10-inch skillet, rather than in the 12-inch skillet called for in the recipe, the chicken will steam because the pan is too crowded.
  8. Preheat Your oven Most owens need at least 15 minutes to preheat fully. Plan accordingly. If you don’t preheat your oven fully prior to baking or roasting, then your food will spend more time in the owen and, as a result will likely be dry and overcooked (and baked goods may suffer even more dire consequences). Also, position the racks in the owen as directed. Pie crusts that brown properly on the lower rack emerge pale when baked on the middle rack.
  9. Monitor the Dish as it cooks The cooking times in our recipes are meant as guidelines only. Because ingredients and equipment inevitably vary, it is important to follow the visual clues provided in the recipe and don’t wait until the prescribed time has elapsed to check the doneness of a particular recipe: it is good practice to start checking 5 to 10 minutes before the designated time.
  10. Taste the Dish. Before serving Most recipes end by instructing the cook to adjust the seasonings. You must taste the food in order to adjust the seasonings successfully we generally season food lightly throughout the cooking process and then add more salt as needed. Foods that will be served chilled,such as gazpacho, should betasted again beforeserv ing. The cold mutes the effect of the seasoning, and in the case of gazpacho, you might need to add a bit more salt, pepper, or winegar before serving.
  11. Learn from Your Mistakes Even the experienced cooks in our test kitchen often turn out less-than-perfect food. A good cook is able to analyze failure, pinpoint the cause, and then avoid that pitfall the next time. Repetition is key to any learn ing process, and cooking is no different. Don’t make a new recipe every night of the year. Make a dish at least once or twice amonth until you master it.
  12. Enjoy Yourself the successful cook is someone who enjoys cooking. Take pride in accomplishments. If you enjoy cooking, you will get in the kitchen more often—and practice really does make perfect.

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