I was in boarding schools for just about all my school years. Why would I tell you that? Well, unlike most other girls, I never helped mom with preparations of meals. Whenever I went home for weekends or breaks, I was treated more like a guest than a daughter. Oh, don’t get me wrong, the kitchen was not forbidden territory. I got enough experience in washing up the dishes afterward. My intention here is not to criticize my mother, bless her soul. I learned a wealth of non-cooking lessons from her.
I never gave my lack of knowledge a second thought. Not until I got married. Here I was, with nothing to boast about, among other young wives who couldn’t wait to show off their kitchen skills. I made a promise to myself then that my daughter will never be in that position. Guess what? I never had a daughter. Only boys for me, thank you very much.
So, what cooking tips could a not-so-skillful cook as I give you?
Things have become so much easier with how-to YouTube videos available for anything you want to do. However, I have learned that experienced cooks never pass on the most critical, seemingly insignificant trade tricks. Why? Because they expect you to already know about them. So, what I’m attempting here is to arm young, uninformed cooks with fundamental steps that could make the difference between okay and amazing.
Cooking vegetables: Avoid overcrowding
Whether you roast, pan-fry, sauté or pan-sear veggies, leave them space to breathe. Crowding the pan will prevent the moisture’s evaporation, leaving you with a batch of soggy vegetables. Instead, without crowding, you will have perfectly prepared vegetables.
Cooking pasta is not as easy as it seems
There are several secrets about pasta that I learned after many years of preparing “edible but nothing worth a compliment” pasta. It seems the tips I received earlier were all wrong. Let’s start from the beginning. I seasoned the cooked pasta until I learned to add enough salt to the water to ensure the well-seasoned pasta to mix with the sauce. Furthermore, I was told to add oil to the pasta water to prevent them from sticking together. That is not so, instead add the pasta to rapidly boiling water. Then, make sure to keep it at a hard boil because that keeps the pasta from sticking together.
Next came the rule to rinse the pasta in water after cooking. I learned later that the rinsing removes the starch, which is crucial if you want the pasta and sauce to blend into creamy niceness.
I also found out that I should not throw out the water in which I boiled pasta. The starch and seasoning in the pasta water serve as a thickener for sauces.
Balanced seasoning is crucial in any cooking process
As mentioned for pasta, seasoning any dish during the cooking process is best. It allows the tastes to blend and develop throughout the process. However, don’t get stuck on salt and pepper. It appears that a splash of acid makes a huge difference. For a great dish, instead of a good dish, add a splash of vinegar or lemon juice near the end. It gives chili, stew and other savory dishes an extra depth and flavor.
Non-stick pans are not always the best option
Cooking omelets, fried or scrambled eggs and also crepes, and pancakes work best in non-stick pans. However, they do not get hot enough for searing meat and force evaporation of moisture. As with overcrowding, your vegetables and meat will cook in its juices instead of frying if your pan does not get piping hot.
Stop stirring already!
I know how tempting it is to stir or flip food during preparation. My insecurities had me moving the food around so much that it never got to a nice golden brown. Now I know better!
Olive oil is not always the best choice
As a young bride, I experienced the shock of a young “friend” who offered to teach me how to prepare perfect dishes. However, she gave up when she realized that I had a large bottle of ordinary vegetable oil in the pantry and only a small bottle of olive oil. Years later, I learned that olive oil is not suitable when you need high heat. For deep-frying and searing meat, you need an oil that will not start smoking before it is even near the necessary temperature.
If you’re one of those perfect cooks, don’t hold back. Share even the most basic tips. You never know; the one you’re sharing with might be like me, who first got married and then realized I knew nothing about cooking. Well, that’s not altogether true; I could make a killer grilled cheese back then.