Back to Basics 7: Ten handy hints to make you a better cook

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Everyone wants to get better at what they do. For me, and probably for you as you’re reading this post, you want to get better at cooking. The simplest way to get better at cooking, is to practice more. And with practice you begin to learn how to take shortcuts that save you time or energy.

But the biggest thing you can learn is to be able to quickly adjust or fix a meal as you go. It’s this quick thinking smarts, and the ready knowledge that helps you transform your cooking from beginner to basic to expert.

So for you today I’ve got 15 tips you help you build that ready knowledge so you can make your meals better. But don’t forget to practice!


10 Handy Hints to Make You a Better Cook

1. The bigger the food the longer it takes to cook.

Seems like a simple enough rule to remember. Use it to your advantage if you want to speed up your dinner, or if you want to take your time. For instance, when I get home from the gym I like to throw dinner in the oven and go have my shower. I cut the food into whatever size it needs to be to give me the time I need to take that shower. You could do the same too, or if you’re in a hurry or extra hungry, just cut everything smaller!

2. Boil the kettle to heat water faster and use less energy.

Jamie Oliver does this one a lot. Boil the water in the kettle first and then add it to the saucepan. Make sure it comes back to the boil in the saucepan before you add your pasta, rice or potatoes to it. This one saves heaps of time because it’s much, much slower to heat cold water on the stove in a saucepan.

3. Add a potato to a soup that’s too salty to soak up some of the salt.

I only heard this one recently and so I haven’t used it myself as yet. But it does make sense as potatoes are great at soaking up liquids. The other one I’ve heard is to even out the saltiness by adding a few drops of lemon juice. Of course there is no saving a dish that you’ve spilled half a bottle of salt into (trust me, I’ve done this!), but if it’s just a bit too salty try one of these tips.

4. Use the chopping board as a utensil stand.

What I mean here is that after you chop all the ingredients and have everything busily cooking away on the stove or in the oven, pressure cooker or sandwich press, don’t wash up the chopping board just yet. Leave the chopping board out so you can rest the spoon you’re using to stir the meal with or so you can rest teaspoons covered with mustard, sour cream or minced garlic. If you’ve used the board for chopping vegetables you can also use the board (rinse it first) to place pieces of meat on to check it’s cooked (but NEVER do this for a board you’ve had raw meat on. Contamination of germs happens when you put cooked and raw meat on the same surface. Read more on kitchen hygiene here).


5. Rub lemon onto the stains on a chopping boards to clean it.

I’ve heard this one before and I know this one works. Cut a lemon in half and rub it over the stains and into the cuts on the board. Give it a rinse then wash the board as you usually would. Your chopping board should come up looking brand new again.

6. Metal conducts heat better than glass.

Therefore, if you’re trying to get a firm base on a cake or a pastry case you need to cook the dish using a metal container. Metal cooks food faster because the heat is transferred better, so keep this in mind if you want a nice golden brown colour on the base or sides of your cake or tart. However, if you don’t want something to get burnt too quickly then it might be a better idea to cook it in a glass or ceramic dish. For instance, my pizza bases are always cooked on metal to get the heat I need in a short space of time, but my casseroles and baked meats are usually cooked in a glass or ceramic dish for longer.

7. Work like a factory. It’s faster.

What I mean by this is do all of the same task at once. If you need to prepare 6 different vegetables, wash them all at once, then peel them all, then chop them all, then get rid of the rubbish. If you’re rolling enchilladas lay out all the tacos, fill each one with a bit of each ingredient and roll them one by one, then put everything away.

8. Thicker pans take longer to heat up, but hold their heat longer.

You might have noticed that a lot of recipes say to pre-heat a thick based pan. If you didn’t know there was a difference between thick and thin pans, you will now.  Thicker pans are actually better to use in the kitchen but they can be slightly more expensive. Thicker pans take longer to heat up but once they’re hot they regulate the temperature better so you get more even cooking. If you use a thin pan they can heat up really hot, they’ll burn the food, but then when you turn the heat down the food doesn’t cook properly either. If you can’t tell the difference between a thick and a thin pan when you’re choosing one to buy, pick it up. An empty thick pan will feel heavy even though it’s empty.


9. Keep your knives sharp.

A blunt knife slips over the food and can lead to injuries. Or it might get stuck in the food and when you pull it might lead to cuts and drama. The safest thing you can do, and I know if sounds counter intuitive, is to keep your knives sharp. Buy a knife sharpener (I bought mine for $20 at a homeware store) or find a local knife sharpener store. And once sharp, keep those knives away from small children. Find out more about using knives here and here.

10. Always read the entire recipe through before you cook!

There is nothing worse then thinking you have everything only to find out halfway through that you don’t have some 0f the ingredients, or that you need to cook part of the recipe in a way you don’t know anything about. Always, always, always read the entire recipe ahead of time, make sure you have all the ingredients you need (or work out what your substitutions will be) and work out how you’re going to cook each part of the recipe (like it says or are you going to adjust it?).


If you’re after still more handy hints, try these:


There are plenty of really handy hints out there. Have you heard of some others? Leave us a tip in the comment section below.

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