Feeling a little clueless in the kitchen? Not sure of your spatula from your saucepan? Don’t worry, there are some basic rules to follow in the kitchen that will make you life easier.
Soak your stuff
It may sound old fashioned, but once you serve your food, pop any pans or dishes with crusted on food in to a sink with a little washing-up liquid whilst you eat. When you come to washing up/putting them in the dish washer, the stuck on food will come off easily. Just don't soak wooden thing as they will swell and split.
Keep your workspace clear
Sounds obvious, but in the heat of cooking, how many of us have put piles upon piles on the worktop and left packets out after using them? Clear as you go along; if you take something out, put it back; if you spill something, wipe it up – you don’t have to be a neat freak, but cooking in a tidy area is much less stressful that trying to cling on in the last tiny bit of space with unstable piles threatening to disgorge all over your food.
Keep your knives sharp
You may think sharp knives are dangerous, but it’s actually blunt knives that will do you more damage. Unable to cut straight in to something, a blunt knife is liable to slip and cause you damage. If you have expensive knives, use a steel or ceramic block (check which is suitable for your knife) and keep your knives in tip top shape. If you have cheap knives, either invest in some good quality blades (if you cook a lot this is a must) or make sure you replace them as they wear out. Check here for how to sharpen a knife properly.
Lemons cool you down
Not just by being refreshing and great in drinks – if you make a sauce/curry/food too spicy squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and let it cook for five minutes. Taste, add the other half of the juice of needed (you may need to add a little more seasoning to balance it out). If it’s still too spicy, add the squeezed out lemon and simmer for up to ten minutes (not too long as it can make the sauce bitter). No lemons? Put in some chunks of potato and they will soak up some of the spice.
Use your freezer
A freezer uses less energy when it is full, so make best friends with yours and save yourself both time and money. If you’re making a sauce, stew, curry etc – make double (or more!) of the portion and put it in your freezer for a later date. The freezer is great for prolonging the life of products or storing some if you have bought more than you need – meat, bread, cheese, fish, milk, herbs and certain veg can all be frozen – just remember to wrap it up well to prevent ‘freezer burn’ and to label what’s in the bag/packet/wrappings (or you’ll be having surprise food for dinner some evenings!). Use your ice tray to freeze excess herbs, chillies, garlic or ginger: chop/grate finely, put some in each ice cube and then top with water or stock – add these to your cooking as needed (some soft herbs don’t look very good when unfrozen, so make sure you use these for adding flavour and not looks!).
Before you start cooking make sure you read the recipe through, found all the ingredients and prepped them ready to use (ie dice your onions, chop your garlic ready). This is how chefs work in a professional kitchen, but it’s very handy for the domestic kitchen – there’s no more scrabbling around for bits and pieces or realising you’ve left something out half way through.
Use cooking times as a guide rather than as gospel
Recipes in books and magazines have been tested, however have they been tested in your kitchen? If you use cooking times as sacrosanct, you’ll find your food over/under done on many occasions, so it’s best to use them as a guide and use your senses to check if you food is ready. As there are so many variables that can effect cooking time – the efficiency of your oven, ambient temperature, the ingredients you are using – you’ll never get it bang on to the minute as they do in the recipe. Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste all need to be used and invest in a good meat thermometer.
Cool and dark, not light and bright
Store foods away from heat and direct sunlight, as this will cause them to spoil quickly – this includes things such as olive oil and spices, which need to be in a cool cupboard or drawer (but not in the fridge). Surprisingly some things don’t need to be kept in the fridge – onions and potatoes do just as well out of the fridge as in it and the flavour of tomatoes can be destroyed in the fridge. Check here for what can be stored where.
Get the temperature right
When cooking, make sure ingredients come up to room temperature before you use them. Recipes are always calculated from room temperature (unless stated), so by cooking meat, fish, eggs etc from cold you won’t get the cooking time right. Also by cooking from cold you’ll often find that the outside of the meat will cook and leave the middle raw and cold. Cold also prohibits taste, so bring cold foods up to room temp before serving, otherwise you’ll have a pretty tasteless meal.
Use your inspiration
Cook more often and as you learn about ingredients, start changing recipes to suit. Don’t have any oregano? What about thyme or basil instead? Use recipes as a guide and add your own flourishes to make dishes your own. Soon you’ll be creating your own recipes!