Cooking Tips & Tricks Youll Wish Youd Known
These quick and clever kitchen tips will change how you cook for the better. Save time prepping food and make cooking easier, get organized and be a better chef with these trusted tips. Read on for cooking Tips Every Beginner Should Know.
General Cooking Tips
1. Add a little zest. When a recipe calls for a zest of a citrus fruit, its referring to the colorful outer part of the skin, not the inner white part, which is known as the pith. The zest contains all of the aromatic citrus oils and provides a hint of citrus tang to the recipe. A simple method of obtaining a fine zest is by rubbing the fruit against the smallest holes of a cheese grater.
2. Salted butter vs. unsalted butter. Butter is available both with and without salt. The salt is added for extra flavor and to help preserve it so it has a longer shelf life. The problem is that sometimes the salt in butter can be more than a recipe will need. Choosing unsalted butter gives you more control over how much salt your dish contains. If you only have salted butter, the best thing to do is omit approximately teaspoon of salt per cup (one stick) of butter used in the recipe. See how toBecome a Master of Compound Butter Recipes.
3. Keep your recipes organized. Nothing is more frustrating when youre ready to start cooking then not being able to find your recipe. Keep things organized by finding a system for filing your recipes that you can keep close at hand in the kitchen. A great option is Recipe Keeper.
4. Stop water from boiling over. To keep pans from boiling over when cooking, add a thin layer of butter around the rim of the pan. This works well for rice, pasta and potatoes.
5. Cut breads and cakes perfectly every time. It may sound strange but dental floss can be used to slice bread and cakes for a perfect slice every time. This is also the easiest way to cut a layer cake in half so you can add a filling. For perfect results freeze the cake before cutting it.
6. Get more juice from citrus fruits. When a recipe calls for the juice of lemons, limes or oranges, make sure you get every last drop by first rolling the fruit under your palm on a hard surface. Press down as hard as you can as you roll. Then simply slice it in half and squeeze. Youll find you get significantly more juice to add lots of flavor to your dish.
7. Peel garlic easily. Peeling garlic can be frustrating unless you know this little tip that the pros use. Lay a clove flat on a hard surface and then pressing down hard on it with the flat side of a large knife. Once youve pressed hard enough, youll hear a pop that tells you the peel has separated. Even with this trick your fingers will undoubtedly smell like garlic. Get rid of that odor by washing them well with salt.
8. Repair cracked eggs. If you have an egg that cracks while boiling, just add a capful of vinegar to the water and watch as the eggshell seals itself. Unfortunately, though, if the whites have begun to ooze out this trick wont work.
9. Make sure the oil is hot before frying foods. Although theyre not the healthiest option, fried foods sure do taste good. The key to perfect frying is to get the oil hot before you put the food in. (Not so hot that it is smoking though be careful!) If you dont get the oil hot, your food will absorb too much oil and taste greasy. To test whether the oil is hot enough for frying, throw in the smallest drop of water or even a small piece of what youre cooking. If it bubbles rapidly then you know its ready.
10. Get the right temperature for deep frying. Does your oil always seem to be the wrong temperature? A simple way to find out if your oil is hot enough is to use a bread cube. If the bread browns in a minute, the oil is between 350 and 365 degrees, 40 seconds 365 and 382 degrees, 20 seconds 382 and 390 degrees. Or, if you have one, you can use a thermometer. Just be sure that it is a metal thermometer designed for deep fryers.
11. A substitution for eggs. Need an egg for a recipe but youre all out? You can substitute two tablespoons of real mayonnaise for a large egg in any recipe. Be sure not to use whipped salad dressing though unless you want the extra salt that it contains.
12. Interesting uses for apples. You may have heard before that its best to keep apples stored separately from other fruits and vegetables because they give off gases that speed up ripening. Well those same gases are actually useful for some things. An apple wedge in the bag will soften clumped brown sugar over night. It will also keep your potatoes from sprouting.
13. Remove the fat from soups. Remove the fat from homemade soups by tossing in four ice cubes. The fat will congeal around the ice, which can then be removed. This will cool the soup, so you may need to reheat after completing the process.
14. Serve a perfect punch. When serving punch, it is usually left on a buffet table for everyone to help themselves to. So, its important to keep it cold. However, instead of ice, which will dilute the punch, freeze some of the punch itself beforehand and use that.
15. Always marinate foods in a glass or ceramic dish. Most marinades contain acidic ingredient such as lemon juice, vinegar or wine that can react with metal and cause off-flavors in your food. To save on cleanup, try marinating your fish or meat in a large plastic bag with a zip closure. Set the bag on a plate or in a shallow bowl and refrigerate, turning the bowl occasionally to distribute the marinade.
16. Easily grate cheese. Make grating cheese a snap by tossing your cheese into the freezer for an hour before shredding. This will make the cheese hard enough to grate without compromising the taste or texture.
Sauces & Seasonings
17. Keep chicken broth handy. Not only is chicken broth an easy way to add flavor to sauces, it can also be used to add moisture to dry stuffing. And the unsalted variety can be used to tame over-salty gravy without diluting the flavor.
18. Reduce the power of garlic and onions. Sometimes you dont want a strong garlic or onion taste. Get a milder flavor by sauting them in butter or olive oil for a few minutes prior to adding them to other foods. This will release their natural sweetness and give a wonderful flavor.
19. An easy way to peel ginger root. To easily peel ginger root, place it in the freezer for an hour before use and then remove the skin with a sharp knife. Or, try using the edge of a spoon when peeling room temperature ginger root.
20. Use caramelized onions to add flavor. Caramelized onions are a delicious way to add flavor to mashed potatoes, vegetables, soups and sauces. Luckily, they can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator so they are available when you need them. Do this by chopping onions fine and adding them to melted butter or margarine. Cook at a very low heat until the onions are brown. Be sure there is always lots of butter or the onions will become crispy. Once caramelized, transfer them to a plastic container while the butter is still liquid and store them in the refrigerator. Once solidified its easy to take a spoonful whenever you need it!
21. Fix lumpy sauces. Is your sauce too lumpy? Strain the sauce with strainer. Whisk the sauce again until smooth. Repeat the process if some lumps are left.
22. Using pre-made tomato sauce. Store bought tomato sauce is an easy alternative to making your own. But sometimes it is too acidic or too salty for the dish youre using it in. A great tip to cut the acidity of tomato sauce is to add about one-eighth of a cup of sugar. To reduce saltiness, add a little cream.
23. Use wine to add a unique flavor to dishes. Wine is another way of flavoring your dishes, just like herbs and spices. There are really no rules except those dictated by your own taste. Generally, the kind of wine to use in a dish is the kind you would most enjoy drinking with it. White wines are usually served with fish and white meats, and red wines with dark meats. Dont worry about the finished dish containing alcohol; wine loses its alcohol when simmered long enough so no trace of alcohol remains. An easy way to create a sauce is to deglaze your pan using wine. If needed, thicken with a little cornstarch.
24. Make your own salad dressings. Store bought salad dressings are loaded with extra calories and preservatives. And once opened they often go bad long before theyre used up. A great alternative is to make your own dressings. For a tasty vinaigrette, mix cup of oil with cup of vinegar and season with salt, pepper and even some Dijon mustard. For other variations try adding honey, balsamic vinegar, orange juice, garlic or lime juice. With a little experimentation youll be surprised how many great tastes you can create!
25. Stock, Broth, Bouillon and Consomm. In recipes calling for chicken or beef stock, you can use homemade or canned stock prepared from purchased cubes or powdered bases. (Be sure to watch the amount of salt you later add to your recipe though because some cubes and powdered bases are very salty). Stock, broth and bouillon are basically the same the clear liquid produced when meat, bones and vegetables are simmered in water to extract flavor and then strained. Stock can be made from meat, poultry, fish or vegetables. Consomm is stronger than bouillon; it is stock enriched with more meat and vegetables and then concentrated and clarified.
26. Dried herbs versus fresh ones. Fresh herbs are best for flavor, but if unavailable, use about one-third as much dried. If a recipe doesnt specify fresh or dried, you can assume it means dried, since dried herbs are much more commonly used. Whichever herbs you choose, if youre unsure of the amount, start with just a little, taste often and add more during cooking. And to ensure that youre using dried herbs with the maximum amount of flavor, replace them every three months.
27. Add garlic to oils and vinegar. Oils and vinegar that have been flavored with garlic provide a quick and easy way to add some punch to salad dressings, stir fries and meats. Once prepared they can keep indefinitely and can be grabbed whenever you want to add a little flavor. To make your own simply peel garlic cloves and cut them in thirds. Put them in the bottom of the vinegar or oil shaker and leave for a few weeks before using.
28. Use marinades to add flavor. A good marinade will add lots of extra flavor and juices to meats and vegetables. But be careful not to marinade longer than the recipe calls for. Some foods, seafood in particular, break down when marinated in acidic ingredients such as vinegar, wine or citrus fruit juices. The result can be a mushy mess that no one wants to eat!
29. Make thicker gravy. For thicker gravy, mix some butter and flour in a frying pan and cook until the mixture is smooth and thick. Add it to your hot gravy for a thick and rich texture.
Meat & Poultry
30. Choose perfect cuts of red meat. Red meat such as beef, pork and lamb should have a moist, red surface with no signs of drying or surface film. The fat should be a creamy white color and should not be dry. Look for even, well-cut meat that is free from excess fat. To store your meat, it is best to loosely wrap it on a plate and put it in the coldest part of your refrigerator so the air can circulate around it. Red meat should be either cooked or frozen within 2-3 days or purchase.
31. Keep the breading on meats. If a recipe calls for coating meat with breadcrumbs, refrigerate the breaded portions for an hour or even overnight before cooking. This will help the breading cling when you cook the meat instead of sticking to the bottom of the pan! Breaded meats can even be frozen and pan-fried without defrosting. Be sure to increase the cooking time slightly.
32. Freezing meat. When freezing red meat or poultry, wrap it very tightly or seal it in a plastic bag to prevent air spoilage or freezer burn. Be sure not to pile pieces on top of each other but do pack meat as flat as possible so it freezes quickly, which will ensure its texture is not spoiled. Meat should be completely thawed in the refrigerator before cooking. Never thaw poultry at room temperature or you risk salmonella contamination.
33. Stop meatloaf from sticking to the pan. Tired of meatloaf that sticks to the pan? Toss in a slice of raw bacon before adding meat to the pan, and say goodbye to the sticking. It may not be the healthiest alternative but it does work (and tastes great)!
34. Make a juicer roast. To keep all of the natural juices inside your roast, sear it on all sides in a hot skillet with a little vegetable oil before putting it in the roasting pan. A few seconds per side is all it takes since the point is not to cook the meat but rather to toughen up the outside so that the juices dont flow out while its cooking. Then be sure to use a shallow roaster to retain more of the moisture. Uncover the meat halfway through roasting in order to avoid a steamed appearance and to get the top of your roast browned.
35. Choose perfect poultry. When choosing poultry, the skin should be a light creamy color and it should be moist. It should also be unbroken with no dark patches. Fresh poultry should be stored loosely covered on a plate in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
36. Get crispier fried chicken. For crispier fried chicken, add a teaspoon of baking powder to your coating mix then coat and fry as you normally would. Remember to make sure that the oil is very hot before adding the chicken to avoid an overpowering greasy taste.
37. Dont salt meat before cooking. One of the biggest faux pas when it comes to cooking meat is to salt it prior to cooking. What the salt actually does is draws the juices out and impedes the browning of the meat. Instead, add salt once the meat is already half cooked. Then taste it when its done and if more salt is needed you can add it then. The result is juicy, tasty meat that doesnt contain more salt then it needs!
38. Cooking fish. To minimize moisture loss when grilling, baking or sauting fish, its important to use a relatively high heat and cook the fish for a short time. When you cook fish longer than necessary, the juices and flavors are lost, leaving the fish dry and chewy. Plus, overcooked fish is prone to falling apart.
39. Roast meats perfectly. For tender, juicier roasted meats, substitute wine, tea or beer for water in your favorite recipes. These liquids help to tenderize the meat more than plain water does and they add a rich flavor to whatever you are cooking. Go ahead and try it, youll be surprised what a difference it makes.
40. The different fat contents in ground beef. In most cases, regular ground beef is a better buy than medium or lean. And some foods such as hamburgers are more tender and tastier when made with regular ground beef because of the extra fat content. Any excess fat can easily be drained off. So, unless medium ground beef is on sale or not more than 7 percent more expensive than regular ground beef, its not a good buy.
41. Quickly cook chicken for recipes requiring pre-cooked chicken. An easy method of preparing chicken for recipes that call for pre-cooked chicken is to poach it. This involves simmering it slowly in liquid. This can be water, broth, fruit juice, wine or a combination of these. Poach the chicken until tender, about 15-20 minutes, then chop or slice as specified in the recipe.
42.Barbecue the perfect steak every time. Ever have a hard time knowing whether a steak is cooked properly? Instead of poking it with a fork or cutting it open (both of which let the juices run out), learn how to tell by touching the outside. For an example of how a steak feels at the different stages of cooking, look no further than your own hand. Touch your pointer finger to your thumb and then feel the fleshy part of your hand underneath your thumb. That is how a steak that is medium rare will feel. Your middle finger touched to your thumb shows you medium. Your ring finger to your thumb is medium well. And lastly your pinky finger to your thumb is well done.
43. Prepare the barbecue grill properly. For a better barbecue, brush your hot grill with a thin layer of oil prior to cooking or line your grill with a layer of aluminium foil covered with cooking spray. This will ensure that the meat does not stick and need to be torn away from the grill.
44. Never use a fork when grilling. When you poke meat with a fork you allow the natural juices to flow out. As a result, your meat ends up dry and tough. Instead use tongs or grilling tools to turn and flip the meat while keeping the juices locked in.
45. Place food in the right place on the grill. Barbecues give off heat in a very different way than your stove or oven. To ensure your food is properly cooked and not burnt, be sure to grill meats and vegetables approximately 4 from the heat source. With chicken, which is more likely to burn, 6-8 away is best.
Fruits & Vegetables
46. Blanching vegetables. Blanching vegetables means to boil them for five or six minutes prior to using them in a recipe. This is particularly helpful for harder vegetables such as carrots, broccoli and cauliflower that take longer to cook. Otherwise you end up with vegetables that are too crunchy.
47. Plump up limp vegetables. Give limp vegetables a second chance by soaking them in ice water to make them crisp after prolonged refrigeration. This is a great technique for lettuce and celery, which seem to go limp fastest. This trick also works for limp herbs.
48. Stir-frying vegetables. Stir-fried vegetables are a quick and easy side dish option. Or serve them over noodles or rice for a delicious meal. The secret to stir-frying is to have the pan or wok very hot and the vegetables cut into similar sized pieces so they cook evenly. Great choices are peppers, mushrooms, onions, carrots, snow peas and beans. Avoid starchy vegetables such as potatoes and yams. Stir-fried vegetables should be flavored near the end of the cooking time for the best results.
49. Measure vegetables and fruits properly for recipes. When using a recipe that asks you to include a specified amount of a fruit or vegetable, it can be confusing sometimes to know just how much they mean. The general rule of thumb is that if the recipe states 1 cup of diced carrots then you dice them first and then measure out 1 cup. If it calls for 1 carrot, diced then it wants you to dice up one carrot. Most recipes are pretty forgiving though; so, dont stress too much over getting the prefect amount.
50. Roasting vegetables. There are lots of vegetables that can be roast: carrots, potatoes, onions, peppers and squashes. For the best results, coat the vegetables evenly in oil and add seasonings before putting them in a non-stick roasting pan. A great way to ensure they dont stick (and to make cleanup easy) is to line your pan with parchment paper. Ensure that the vegetables are evenly distributed and not overlapping one another.
51. Ripen tomatoes overnight. Putting green tomatoes in a brown paper bag with an overripe banana can quickly ripen them. By the morning your green tomatoes will be red and ready to eat! You can also keep those flavors all year:Summer Tastes All Year: How to Preserve Summer Fruits and Vegetables
52. Perfectly steam vegetables every time. Steaming is an easy way to cook vegetables and is a great way to retain their water-soluble vitamins. Almost all vegetables can be steamed except for starchy ones like potatoes. When steaming, make sure that vegetables are cut into equal-sized pieces so they cook evenly. To steam them, place them in a bamboo or metal steamer, place the lid on the steamer and put it over a saucepan of boiling water. Always steam your vegetables with the highest possible heat to avoid sogginess and get them cooked faster.
53. Make sauted onions even sweeter. For tastier sauted onions, add a few drops of honey to the pan after heating the oil or butter and before adding the onions. Or if you dont have any honey, add some sugar on top of the onions once they start to soften. This is especially tasty if youll be using the onions on a pizza, steak or hamburger.
54. Make delicious salads. If youve only ever used iceberg lettuce to make salads, now is the time to branch out and try something new. Red and green leaf lettuces or a spring mix make an excellent and healthier alternative. To make the perfect salad be sure to get yourself an inexpensive salad spinner. Nothing is more unappetizing than soggy lettuce leaves. And the extra water will dilute the flavor of your dressing.
55. Roast red peppers. Wash and place whole red peppers on the barbecue grill. Grill them on HIGH to char the skin all around. This takes 15-20 minutes. Youll know theyre done when their skin is black and lifting away from the flesh in places. Then cool them in a paper bag to loosen the blackened skin. Simply peel them and remove the seeds. Roasted red peppers make an excellent topping for pizzas, hamburgers and quesadillas or are delicious all on their own!
Pasta, Rice & Potatoes
56. Cooking fresh pasta. Fresh pasta needs less water than dried pasta. To cook fresh pasta, have a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water ready. Make sure you have enough boiling water for the pasta to cook in. Add a little oil to the water, so the pasta doesnt stick together. Add pasta to the pan, ensure the water stays boiling and stir slowly for 10 seconds to separate the pasta. Boil pasta for 2-4 minutes depending on the type youre using.
57. Untangle spaghetti before serving. If you have allowed your spaghetti to cool for too long and it becomes tangled, toss it back into the hot water and stir with a large spoon. Then, drain and rinse the pasta in cold water immediately. You can add some olive oil if youd like, but its not a necessity.
58. Al dente pasta. Al dente means to the tooth. When its cooked, pasta should be soft but still firm when you bite it. The easiest way to tell whether pasta is al dente is to remove a piece from the saucepan and test it between your teeth. The pasta should have some texture when you bite into it, but it should not be dry and hard in the middle.
59. Cooking dried pasta. The most common mistake when cooking dried pasta is not having enough boiling water. Have a large saucepan of rapidly boiling water ready. Add a little oil and pasta to the pan, and stir for 20 seconds to separate the pasta. Boil for 10-14 minutes depending on the shape of the pasta and the flour used. Drain it and eat immediately without any extra oil or butter if youll be having it hot.
60. Make fluffier rice. For fluffier rice, add one teaspoon of lemon juice to the water before adding rice. It wont change the flavor but it will plump up the grains to give you perfect rice.
61. Add flavor to rice. Instead of using plain water when boiling rice, try chicken stock or beef stock. Serve it as is or add even more flavor by sauting some vegetables in olive oil and garlic and adding them for a delicious and healthy side dish.
62. Make the fluffiest baked potatoes. Start by choosing a potato with a high starch content. Russets and Idahos are both good choices. Before placing your potatoes in the oven, pierce them several times with a fork on the top in order to let the steam escape during baking. Never wrap your potatoes, as it will cause them to steam rather than to bake. When serving your baked potatoes, cut a slit in the top and squeeze the sides of the potato before adding toppings.
63. Make perfect mashed potatoes. Whether you like them on their own, smothered in butter or drowned in gravy, mashed potatoes are an excellent accompaniment to many different meals. To make them like the pros do start by putting several whole garlic cloves in the water with the boiling potatoes. The garlic will cook and once the potatoes are mashed it will give them a wonderful flavor. While mashing, add buttermilk, cream cheese, sour cream, butter, or a combination of these. Experiment to find the taste that you like best!
64. Bake potatoes in a flash. Need them fast? You can microwave potatoes but theyre always nicer in the oven. To bake them quickly, slice your potatoes in half lengthwise and bake them with the flat part facing down. Be sure to grease the baking sheet, and them simply place into a 375-degree oven for about half an hour.
65. Stop cheesecake from cracking. Cheesecakes often crack on the top because they lose moisture while they cook. If youre adding a topping it doesnt matter, but if youre serving the cake without anything on top its nice to have it looking perfect. Avoid cracking by putting a small dish of water on the rack beside your cake while it is cooking. This will keep it moist and crack-free!
66. Make sure your yeast is fresh. Yeast is a living organism. And in order for it to work it needs to be alive when you use it. To test whether yeast is active, combine it with the amount of warm water asked for in the recipe. Then add a small amount of sugar (1/8 of a teaspoon is all thats needed). The sugar acts as food for the yeast and if its alive it will begin to bubble within approximately 10 minutes. If there is no bubbling then you know the yeast is no good.
67. The key to great pastry is cold ingredients. Making your own pastry can sometimes be a challenge. But once you master it, youll enjoy having it as part of your baking repertoire. To get really fabulous pastry, the key is to make sure ALL of the ingredients are cold before you mix them together including the flour! Then once youve formed the dough, refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes to make it easier to roll.
68. Add a little something extra to your pies. Most pie recipes call for the same plain piecrust. Boring! Instead create your own variation by adding spices to your dough such as cinnamon, nutmeg or even ginger. Another great idea is to add ground nuts or even cookies crumbs on top of the bottom crust before adding your filling. Be sure to press them down a little though so they stay as part of the crust.
69. Toast nuts to intensify their flavor. Toasting nuts before using them in recipes intensifies their flavor. To toast nuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake the pan often, and roast for four or five minutes until fragrant. Cool before using. Because nuts have a high fat content, they go rancid quickly. The best way to store shelled nuts is in an airtight container in the refrigerator where theyll keep for about four months.
70. Test whether your baking powder is fresh. Baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas bubbles when mixed with liquid, and this is what causes breads and cakes to rise. However, baking powder loses its potency over time, so if youve had the same supply for eons, be sure to test whether your baking powder is still good. Pour cup of hot tap water over teaspoon of baking powder and observe the fresher the powder, the more actively it will bubble. If a weak reaction occurs, or none at all, your baked goods will end up flat!
71. Use frozen berries in baked goods. Frozen berries can taste just as good as fresh when used in baked goods. Look for whole berries without syrup. You dont even have to bother thawing them before adding them to your batter. You may need to add a few minutes to your cooking time however because they will make the batter cold.
72. Melt chocolate without burning it. Melt chocolate with no risk of burning! Just break chocolate into small pieces, place in a sealed bag and drop into a bowl of hot water. Give the bag a squeeze every five minutes until the chocolate reaches the right consistency.
73. Get fluffier egg whites. Fluffy egg whites are a great way to add lightness to your baking. The fluffier they are, the more air they contain which makes for a better end result. For the fluffiest egg whites, never tap the whisk on the bowl containing the egg whites. The vibration will cause them to lose their fluffy consistency.
74. Avoid sinking in your baked goods. You can prevent ingredients such as chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruit from settling the bottom of your cake by coating them with a light dusting of flour before mixing them into the batter. The flour absorbs some of the surface oil and water that exudes from these ingredients during baking, reducing their tendency to sink to the bottom.
75. Dont throw away your brown bananas. Remove the peel, and toss overripe bananas into a large freezer safe Ziploc bag. Freeze until you have enough for some banana bread, banana muffins or a fruit smoothie. Since the bananas are already peeled you can easily measure exactly how much you need and simply leave the rest in the freezer for next time.