Recently my best friend and I have been talking a lot about cooking. She is about to get married (woot!) and feels it her domestic duty to learn how to cook so they can save money and eat healthier (woot again!). Since I have been cooking since my teens, she likes to pick my brain for home cooking tips.
And recently, I had the ingenious idea that I should share my favorite home cooking tips with my lovely readers (that’s you)! Now, I’m certainly no professional chef; BUT I can hold my own in the kitchen (if I do say so myself). And over the years, I’ve learned some really helpful cooking skills that make the cooking process smooth, fun, and delicious!
So, dear friend, be prepared to have your mind blown when you implement these tips to take your home cooking to the next level:
1-) Do the prep ahead
Do you ever notice when you watch a cooking show that the process flows naturally for the chef? Does he chop the onion on set and then have to take a commercial break to deal with his burning eyes, or scrape the seeds out of a pepper while the garlic burns in the pan? No! The great majority of the prep work is done before the cooking begins!
If you only take one piece of advice away from this post, take doing the food prep ahead (there’s a reason I put it first, yo!). I promise that you will feel much more organized and relaxed in the kitchen, and it will show in how well your meals turn out!
I believe in this so much that I added a food prep sheet to my meal planning guide. It’s included in my mini planner which is completely FREE when you join The Modern Nest community! If you haven’t already joined us then you can sign up in the form below! Your freebies will be delivered right to your inbox!
2-) Start with a clean sink
Unless you have some secret superpower, you will make dishes when you cook. And you will need kitchen gear to carry out that cooking. Save yourself stress by making sure you deal with any dishes in the sink before you start cooking. This will help ensure that all the utensils you need are clean and help prevent the sink from overflowing as you put dirty dishes in it while you’re in the throws of making that gourmet meal.
When I wash the dishes in preparation for cooking, I go so far as washing AND drying all the dishes that go in the dish rack, and then I put the dish rack away. Most of us never move our dish rack, but they take up a ton of usable counter space! If you have a large one that you can’t find a space for, I recommend downsizing to one you can fit either in or under your sink. Trust me, the counter space you reclaim from doing this is totally worth it!
3-) Rinse meat in advance
OK, so this tip could technically go in with tip number one above, but I thought it was important enough to be it its own tip. What most people normally do when they cook is rinse the meat right before starting. For some strange reason, we often ignore the meat preparation when we think of meal prepping ahead…
If you are one of those among us who put off your meat prep…stop now! Rinsing your meat in advance and letting it dry out in the fridge for a day or so will really up your cooking in pretty much every situation. For example, if you’re cooking the meat in direct heat (pan, grill, broiler) the meat will come out crispier on the outside. If you’re not cooking the meat on direct heat but still marinating it, dryer meat will not dilute the marinade and will instead absorb it better. So, in the future go ahead and add meat prep to your food prepping agenda.
4-) Preheat the pan DRY
OK, if I got a nickel for every person who told me that they needed nonstick cookware because stainless steel sticks too much/is too hard to clean, I would be rich by now. First of all, nonstick pans made of Teflon can leach toxic chemicals that you do NOT want near you. Scratched pans cause the most concern, but it is a good idea to replace Teflon pans as soon as possible even if they aren’t scratched.
With that being said, you do NOT need a nonstick pan for food not to stick. I repeat:
You do NOT need a nonstick pan to prevent food from sticking!
That’s right. Did I blow your mind yet?
I make eggs regularly in my stainless steel pans and have ZERO issues with them sticking. If you’ve had issues with food sticking to your stainless steel pans then you are probably making one critical mistake:
You don’t let the pan preheat DRY!
Most people put the pan on the stove, turn the stove on, and immediately pour some oil or butter in there. My friend, your food will continue to stick to the pan if you don’t change this habit. You must let the pan preheat dry for several minutes before you add any oil. The surface of the pan changes when it is heated, and you need to allow that process to happen before you add the fat for a nonstick surface.
Note: To test whether the preheated pan is ready for oil, wet your hand with tap water and flick a few drops into the pan. The water should dance around instead of immediately sizzling away in place. If the water sizzles without dancing, continue preheating (and increase the heat if necessary).
5-) Use the right oil
If you’re using olive oil to cook in, then you’re probably doing your food a disservice. Olive oil has a low smoking point, and the temperatures you need to cook food well in oil are above the smoking point of olive oil. My favorite oil for cooking on the stove is avocado oil because it has a high smoking point and a very mild flavor. Olive oil gets reserved for recipes that don’t require heating, such as salad dressings and pestos.
6-) Stop using metal on metal
Forks and spoons are designed for eating, not stirring food cooking on the stove! They will your pans, which can cause metals (or Teflon if you’re not using stainless steel) to leach into your food. Instead, keep a container of silicone or wooden utensils for use with your pots and pans next to the stove. If they are easily accessible you are much less likely to use utensils that will damage your (potentially expensive) cookware!
7-) Lower the oven temperature
If you have recipes that require baking and they just don’t turn out right, then try lowering the oven temperature. Cooking food- especially meat- too fast (or long, or both) leads to an unpleasant rubbery texture. In addition, if your recipe uses olive oil (see point five), you normally won’t want to cook at a temperature above its smoking point.
8- ) Taste as you go
Never trust a skinny chef, even if it’s yourself.
9-) Keep notes
I mentioned previously that I like to keep notes when I follow recipes so I can make future adjustments. Did the recipe turn out too salty? Try less. Did the sauce barely stretch enough to go with the amount of meat called for? Double it. Do this for every recipe and eventually you’ll optimize each one so that it turns out perfect every time!
10-) Let meat rest after cooking
Ten minutes. When the meat comes out of the grill, stove, or oven it needs to sit about 10 minutes before you cut into it so that the juices stay in. Go ahead and drink a glass of wine (or a beer, or a cocktail…) in the meantime.
11-) Remember: Baking is a science, cooking is an art
You will have a lot of room for creative license when you cook, but not so much for baking. This means you can opt to make substitutions in cooking before you ever even try the recipe. However, it’s best to follow baking recipes exactly the first time you make them. If a baking recipe turns out to be a complete disaster then it’s often better to completely scrap it and find a new recipe rather than trying to repair it. Trust me on this one…
What tips to take your home cooking to the next level do you have? Let us know in the comments!
And for more cooking and meal planning advice, check out the 15-minute meal plan and 10 ways to explore different cultures at your dinner table: part 1.