Your Best Cooking Tips

Share your best cooking and baking tips here!
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  • Here are some of my best tips:

    1. Baking is more precise than cooking.  Carefully watch the measurements for baking ingredients.
    2. Don't buy half & half.  Buy heavy whipping cream. It lasts much longer than half & half, and when a recipe calls for half & half, you can mix it in with milk in the proportions you desire for a heavier or lighter dish.
    3. Adding a little bit of wine or wine vinegar to sauces, soups and gravies instantly makes the flavor more sophisticated.  Always have a cooking wine on hand.  Julia Child liked Noilly Prat dry vermouth, so that's what I use.
    4. Use butter & eggs at room temperature.
    5. Use sharp, good-quality knives.
    6. Get the best olive oil.
    7. Cook scrambled eggs very slowly.
    8. Don't underseason!  Try the  simplest seasonings first like pepper and salt, and always use a pepper grinder.
    9. Buy fresh spices whenever possible.
    10. Prep ingredients ahead of time when you can: cut the veggies, make the sauce, etc.


  • Excellent list GinnyThePainter!

    Yes, yes and yes to dry vermouth. I also like Dolin dry. Don't be afraid to use other wines/liquors for cooking. Sherry / Madeira / Armagnac all will make a lovely sauce for your protein. 

    Don't use non-stick pans unless you are making an omelette. The crust that forms on the bottom of the pan while searing your meat is called "fond" and that is what will make your sauce kick some serious ass. Deglazing (pouring wine into the pan once you've removed the meat will unstick all that lovely flavor and bring it into your sauce. After reducing the liquid add a tbsp or so of butter to finish your sauce. 

    Use fresh herbs when you can. They really bring a lot to a dish. Add them toward the end of cooking, not at the beginning.

    Big Ditto on the 'mis en place' ~ doing all your slicing and dicing and measuring before you start cooking. Very important!

    Buying good oil: Always look for a harvest date. If it has an expiration date, that could be as long as 3 years after it was harvested. The fresher the oil, the better. One of my favorite stores is Con Olio. If you have one in your town, go there to get good oil. Use a lower grade oil for cooking/heating. And buy a super good oil for 'finishing' or drizzling. Which leads me to...

    Make your own salad dressing. It's dead simple. Dijon mustard, shallots, herbs or spices if you like (I love to add aleppo pepper) salt & black pepper, whisk while slowly drizzling olive oil and it will emulsify. Waaaay better than anything out of a jar. Change up your dressing depending on what kind of greens you are using. Bitter greens like romaine or iceberg tend to be better with a creamy dressing, spring greens/baby lettuce does great with vinaigrettes (oil-vinegar or oil-mustard). 

  • I use a bit of the water I've cooked my pasta in to finish the pasta sauce. Sounds weird, but the starch from the pasta water really makes the sauce come together. And I don't throw out parmigiano reggiano rinds, I throw them in to flavour everything from risottos, sauces and soups.

    I guess the theme of my tips is: no wasting in the kitchen.

  • My biggest one (because I have to remind myself to do it about three times a year) - read the recipe first. The whole way through. There's nothing quite like getting half way through to discover that the ingredients you have bubbling away were for divided use and you were supposed to have more for a later process.
  • edited February 2015
    Here are some of my best tips:

    1. Baking is more precise than cooking.  Carefully watch the measurements for baking ingredients.
    Yes! Baking is chemistry. In cooking, you can wing it, but with baking, you have to be precise (of course you can experiment with flavours and decorations, but a great dough or icing, or meringue for that matter demands more care). So a) use precise measurements, and b) be aware that simple one-to-one swaps of basic ingredients are rare. A swap usually requires other adjustments to ensure that the dough works out well.

    Most of the tips I'd give have been given already, so I'll focus on the fats:
    1. If frying a protein in a pan, don't use just butter (it doesn't handle high temperatures well) or just oil (it doesn't impart the same flavour as butter). Use a bit of both: butter for taste and gloss, oil to prevent the butter from burning.
    2. Don't use olive oil for everything. A lot of beginner cooks hear and read all the talk about good olive oils etc. and think that's all you need. Olive oil is great for finishing off a bake, and for many sauces, vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, salad dressings, drizzling on foods to finish them off etc. but for basic frying, a good rapeseed or sunflower seed oil is better (can handle higher temperatures than olive oil, and in situations where you don't want the oil to give off a flavour of its own, are preferable to a flavourful olive oil), while some foods (especially Asian foods) work better with groundnut oil.
  • I totally agree with @Anna_P's pasta water suggestion. Particularly for something like carbonara, to temper the eggs, or pesto.
  • edited February 2015
    My biggest one (because I have to remind myself to do it about three times a year) - read the recipe first. The whole way through. There's nothing quite like getting half way through to discover that the ingredients you have bubbling away were for divided use and you were supposed to have more for a later process.
    Not just missing ingredients; sometimes you discover you have to have special tools or pans!

    Never defrost meat at room temperature; that's just begging for germs.  Defrost in the fridge - which means you have to start even earlier, since it takes longer.

    Wash things whose peel you aren't even going to use, like onions.  If you don't wash them, but you cut them, your knife will transfer the stuff from the skin to the insides.
  • Keep your knives sharpened.  If you have the ability, sharpen them frequently; if you do not have the knack, have a professional hone them for you.
  • I've never had any luck browning chopped meat, it always goes gray and more or less steams rather than browning (and ends up overcooked).  The solution?  Make patties out of the chopped meat and brown the patties, then crumble them into whatever you're making with the chopped meat.  It works like a charm.  I'd love to take credit for it but the tip came from either Cook's Magazine or the TV show, America's Test Kitchen and it really works. 
  • I can't make a lot of things well, but my mom taught me homemade mashed potatoes, and now I make them better than her.  My tricks for that are: (1) Use both a potato masher and hand mixer for fluffiest results.  (2) Add just a tiny bit more milk than seems right. (3) Don't use too much salt or pepper.
  • -If a savory recipe calls for water, substitute veggie/chicken stock.
    -When making chicken pot pie or a seafood soup, add a dash of dry sherry. Then quote Frasier for hours on end.
    -If you're cooking something that calls for lemon juice, add the zest as well.
    -Have any greens/veggies that are in danger of going bad? Make pesto. I've done arugula pesto (It's a veg-e-table, for all you My Blue Heaven fans), spinach pesto, and broccoli pesto. Use whatever nut you desire as well, pignoles are friggin expensive so I substitute walnuts.
    -Save the tops of your carrots, onion peels, garlic bits, wilting herbs, and chicken carcasses for homemade stock.

    Cooking is my therapy. If I didn't chop onions I would chop people. Proooooobably.

  • I'm more of a baker than a cook, although I'd like to learn.  One of my favorite baking tips that I learned from my mom is that if you can smell it, it's time to take it out of the oven, even if the timer hasn't gone off.  If you wait too long after you smell it, it will be burned.  Now maybe I don't have sensitive smelling, but I have always found this to be true.

    Have any other bakers noticed their recipes not tasting quite right lately?  It's been happening a lot this year to me, even for old family recipes I've made a million times.  Eventually I figured out it was something about the flour (I'm not sure if this is a universal thing or just a California thing, but other bakers I know have mentioned it to me as well).  Anyway, my tip if that happens to you is to take a teaspoon of flour out of the recipe.  I did that last time I baked my great-aunt's brownies and they finally tasted right for the first time in months.
  • Anna_P said:

    I guess the theme of my tips is: no wasting in the kitchen.


    Along the no-waste line, I keep a large ziplock bag in the freezer to collect veggie excess (peels, cut-off ends, limp celery, etc); when it's full I'll use it to make veggie stock, or will add similarly-saved meat bones for meat stock.
  • My best cooking tips come from my grandmother, who was not a good cook. Her three rules for dinner parties: 1. Always be sautéing onions when the guests arrive. They smell much better than most people realize, especially because you go smell-blind when you are cooking them. The aroma is overwhelmingly delicious to your arriving guests. 2. Don't serve a lot of nibbles. Serve one hors d'oeuvre and make it something that sounds good, but no one particularly likes. Expensive, oily smoked fish, or a painfully blue cheese. Serve with small crackers, but make sure the presentation is beautiful. This will convince people that you are a sophisticated artist, but they won't fill themselves up. 3. Serve a lot of cocktails.  

    When you finally bring out dinner, everyone will be primed. They will the onions and hors d'oeuvre presentation will convince them that you are a master, and they will be buzzed and starving. You could serve them Kraft dinner and they will think it's delicious.
  • @greenwich_matron your grandmother was a genius!
  • I do that too, @nolakent!

  • Cooking is my therapy. If I didn't chop onions I would chop people. Proooooobably.

    this is my QOTD (quote of the day). 

    I 100% agree- which makes it difficult when work has me so busy that I'm too tired even to cook because it becomes a vicious cycle.
  • I totally agree with @Anna_P's pasta water suggestion. Particularly for something like carbonara, to temper the eggs, or pesto.

    I agree with this pasta water suggestion too. I also take it a different direction and finish cooking the pasta in the sauce. Similarly I have had great success with those "one pot wonders" where you cook the pasta and the quick sauce all together.


    another twist is quick spinach greek yogurt mac n cheese: reserve some of the pasta water for the sauce. also put the fresh spinach in the strainer to use the pasta water to wilt the spinach. then you add greek yogurt/pasta water/white cheddar/ground mustard to the pasta/spinach and you have a quick mac without any thickener required. 

    ok...now I'm drooling.

  • ;greenwich_matron -Your grandmother was very wise.
  • It's not an actual cooking tip, but whenever I have a bit of time (and energy!) I'll do a good deal of prep work for upcoming meals. I'll chop veggies for salads that can be done in advance (romaine, bell pepper, red onion, celery, carrots, etc), make vinegrette (which I generally add Dijon to to help emulsify it), and separate larger package of chicken into portions for fridge and freezer. For tonight I already had chicken cubed/marinating (in ginger, garlic, soy, etc) and veggies prepped for a quick healthy stir-fry. Since I had a few extra minutes over lunch today, i made quick refrigerator-pickled cauliflower and onions to add to salads later this week.
  • PS: sorry I basically echoed what's already been said! I don't know why I'm slow at getting the feel for this slightly-different (than TLo) format!
    Oh, another thing that has probably already been said (lol): Having no more than 8 people for dinner is, I think, ideal for optimum conversation. And as much as I like to get experimental and "fancy gourmet" at times, guests and the host usually have more fun when the food is easier, like a beautiful platter of paella with crusty bread and a salad. And lots of wine, of course!
  • edited February 2015
    A few more tips:

    1. I was always told the quickest way to kill a dinner party is to seat spouses next to each other.
    2. When you have houseguests, take a loaf of frozen bread, let it thaw overnight and bake it in the morning. So nice to have freshly baked bread in the morning, even for the aroma alone.
    3. Any time a recipe calls for  plain bread crumbs, you can usually substitute at least half of the crumbs with Italian seasoned bread crumbs.  Adds nice flavor and never makes anything taste that Italian-y.
    4. For home fries, bake potatoes the night before.  Put them in the fridge and and cut them up in the morning.  Cook in a combination of peanut oil and butter.  Season with fresh pepper, seasoned salt and paprika.
    5. Never pack flour into a measuring cup.  Spoon it in, and level it off with a knife.  Then you won't use too much.
  • edited February 2015
    Did this last night so I'll add it to mine:

    Cook bacon from a cold pan, over medium heat. Cooks more evenly, doesn't curl up and you get nice strips of crispy bacon. And if you need to cook a large amount (more than 3 or 4 strips), lay the strips out on a baking sheet and cook at 350F in the oven, making sure to turn each side so it cooks evenly. 
  • Do you ever need shredded chicken? Do you hate shredding it with a fork? I do. Plop your cooked chicken breasts into a stand mixer, and turn it on. Perfectly shredded chicken in less than a minute. (It also works with a hand mixer if you don't have a stand mixer.)

    greenwich_matron, your grandma was super smart!
  • Another bacon tip : when I get a package I keep it in the freezer; when I need some I cut it across all the strips, which helps it cut easily into lardons. I keep my peeled ginger (peeled w spoon) in the freezer, too, to make it last longer and grate easier.
  • To get easy to peel hard boiled eggs use older eggs if you can and add some baking soda to the water. I've never measured the baking soda, I just tip the box over and let it spill out. Probably around a tablespoon. Put the pot on to boil and once it starts time it for one minute. Then cover and remove from the heat and let stand for 10 minutes. Once the 10 minutes is up run the eggs under cold water to stop the cooking process or add them to a bowl of ice water. Your eggs should be easy to peel and perfectly hard boiled with no weird green ring.

    Also, a couple of ways to keep from tearing up when cutting onions is to refrigerate the onion before chopping, or if that isn't possible, cut the onions next to a burning candle. The candle trick doesn't work quite as well as getting the onions cold, but it is better than nothing. 
  • my favorite cooking tip is from the peerless Anne Burrell--season as you go! instead of adding salt in one go, season at each step, a little bit. That simple thing has made my cooking so much better!
  • nolakent said:
    I keep my peeled ginger (peeled w spoon) in the freezer, too, to make it last longer and grate easier.
    Wait . . . how do you peel ginger with a spoon?  I've never heard of this.
  • edited February 2015
    @kimmeister peeling with a spoon is the best for ginger! You just use a little teaspoon and use it to scrape off the skin. It takes hardly any so there is very little waste and it is much quicker than using a knife.


  • Another one I just remembered: you probably can't substitute reduced fat condensed milk in your recipe. Candy recipes etc using condensed milk won't set properly with the low fat one.
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