Cooking is like an art form. A tasty one, where after you finish the masterpiece you get to eat it. However, as with all art innovation cannot come without experimentation. With experimentation comes some mistakes, even cooking basic things with a recipe things can go wrong. Newer cooks tend to learn this the hard way. However, before you heat up the burners and preheat the oven, why not take a read through this list and make sure you are not falling into these common cooking mistakes.
Tasting As You Cook
This is the biggest mistake a cook can make. Without tasting your own food as you go, the flavors and textures of otherwise excellent dishes can turn out unbalanced. Even if you are working directly by the recipe you still need to taste your food. Recipes are not always reliable when it comes to seasonings, it also depends on your own personal palette. Perhaps the person that created the recipe loved things salty, but that is not your cup of tea. It is also important to taste the food to make sure you are suing the proper ingredient. It is oh-so-easy to mix up sugar and salt. Only the palate knows the difference.
Neglecting to Read the Entire Recipe
This is a rookie mistake for new cooks. Whether they get too excited and do not read the recipe all the way through or lack and ingredient and figure life will go on without it, the result will still be the same. Forgetting to read the whole recipes or skipping out on ingredients leaves the flavors dull and does not let the dish rise up to its full potential.
Maybe as a new cook you leave out a few ingredients or neglect the recipe and your dish turns out horrid. You blame the recipe or your palate and never make it again. You never know, those extra ingredients you forgot to put in could be a game changer. It could have been your new favorite food, but you botched it up.
Making Substitutions in Baking
Sure, with many dishes you can substitute some ingredients for different flavors. However, with baking, think of it as a science. Well, really it is a science! Certain ingredients control the chemical reactions that result in moisture and how it rises.
For example, a common way to make a cake more moist is to add applesauce. however, replacing the oil with applesauce completely results in an absolutely moist, but super gummy cake. The proper way is to use a mixture of both applesauce and oil. it creates a nice moist cake that still has a palatable amount of texture without being too gummy. This also involves replacing white sugar with something like Splenda or another sugar substitute. The best thing to do before you make a substitution is google a recipe that uses the substitution, just to make sure there is nothing else you need to add in.
Flipping Food Too Often
Resisting the urge to not touch your food while you are cooking is that hardest thing for a chef to overcome. This is particularly deadly for breaded food or when you are trying to get a clean sear on steak. When you interfere with the sear on food, especially breaded food, it will cause the breading to stick to the pan instead of the food. Ideally when grilling and pan frying you should only have to flip food one time, even if you want those nice diamond grill marks on steak.
A key sign that it is too early to flip a breaded dish is if you have to pry the food from the pan. This causes the breading to flake off. Rest assured, the pan will release the breading when it is nicely browned. If you are concerned that you did not grease the pan enough and your food will stick, try scooting it around the pan instead.
Making gravy that is rich and creamy can be excessively tricky. The key is in the roux, which is the flour/cornstarch and pan dripping mixture. Add 2 tablespoons of drippings from your roast or chicken, heating it up to a hot temperature on the stove, then gradually add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch or flour. Then after the mixture is combined slowly add little bits of milk or water, continuously mixing. Make sure you add just little bits of the thicker at a time, whisking all the while. The most common mistake that results in lumpy gravy is adding the thickener all at once. This creates lumps.
Don't worry if you end up with lumps, making a good roux and thus a good gravy takes practice. If you do end up with lumps, finish the recipe and break out your wire mesh sieve and strain your gravy. If you have an immersion blender, this also works.
Gluey Mashed Potatoes
Gluey mashed potatoes are a tragedy if there ever was one. When a potato is boiled, the starch cells swell. When they are ruptured, this makes the potatoes gluey. The more they are mashed, the more starch cells are ruptured. If you are using a blender or electric mixer to mash your potatoes, this obliviates them. Try instead using a potato masher which is a more gentle way to mash the potato. A better option is a ricer, which does the mashing in a much gentler way so you can add butter and milk for creamy mashed potatoes.
You may also want to consider the potato you are using. Red potatoes do not break down as well when boiled so they take more effort to mash, this makes it more likely that you will be over-mashing them. Try instead a russet potato, which is traditionally used as a baked potato. When boiled, this potato yields much better, making the mashing so much easier.
Overcrowding the Pan
You want a nice savory crust on your meats, so you try to sear them. However, when you sear them instead of creating a nice crust, the meat ends up soggy. This is a common mistake. It's only natural for cooks to want to get all their food done in one go, however if you lack a pan big enough, it simply cannot be done. When meat is cooked, it releases liquid, so thus if you want to avoid soggy meat, leave room in the pan for the liquid to evaporate. Slow your roll and make a few batches if you have to. The quality will be better for it.