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most common cooking mistakes #4

Posted by on Jun. 25, 2012 at 1:19 PM
  • 5 Replies
Avoid Brown Veggies

Photo: John Autry

31. Your Green Veggies Turn Brown


Result: Drab veggies. Next time, baby them and they will stay vibrant.

When vegetables take a sad turn from bright green to khaki drab, it conjures memories of grade-school cafeteria food and the ruined texture of canned asparagus. The most common culprits: overcooking and acidic dressings. A cook has to know how to care for the delicate source of the green: chlorophyll.

Vegetables such as green beans, broccoli, and asparagus lose their bright color—and crisp texture, for that matter—after six or seven minutes of cooking. If you know you'll be eating them immediately, just remove, drain, and serve. But if you'll be busy assembling other dishes, consider blanching and shocking. Cook for two minutes in salted boiling water, then remove vegetables immediately and plunge into ice water. The ice back halts the cooking process and helps set the color. Later, the chilled vegetables can be quickly reheated—by sautéing in a bit of olive oil, for instance—without losing their green.

But blanching won't keep veggies vibrant if you dress them too soon with an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice. Wait until just before serving (as we do with our SuperFast asparagus sides).

Avoid Soggy Salad

Photo: John Autry

32. Your Salad Goes Limp


Result: Soggy salad. Next time, consider three important factors.

A soggy pile of wilted greens makes for a sorry salad indeed. Tender greens like Boston lettuce, mâche, and arugula are delicate little things that perish at the mere rumor of mistreatment (tearing or roughly handling lettuce bruises it), but even crisp, hearty lettuces like romaine need to be treated with care. To keep them at their best, you need to consider three factors: time, volume, and temperature.

Only dress your greens just before serving, particularly when using vinaigrette: Oil quickly permeates the waxy surface of leafy greens, turning them dark green and droopy. If you've washed your greens, use a salad spinner or blot them delicately with paper towels to dry them. Water clinging to leaves will repel oil-based vinaigrettes and thin out creamy dressings, leading to bland salad.

Put dry greens in a salad bowl. Add less dressing than you think you'll need (to avoid overdressing), and pour it down the sides of the bowl, not onto the greens—you'll dress them more evenly this way. Gently toss, adding dressing as needed, until the greens are lightly coated. If you do overdress them, a quick whirl in the salad spinner will shake off any excess.

Finally, follow the lead of professional chefs and serve your salad on chilled plates to help keep the greens crisp as you enjoy them.

Avoid Burnt Chicken

Photo: John Autry

33. You Incinerate Chicken on the Grill


Result: Charred skin and rare meat in the thickest part of the breast.

Grilling bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts feels like it should be simple enough. Even experienced grillers often try to cook them entirely over direct heat, figuring it's just a matter of timing. At which point dripping fat causes flare-ups that engulf the breasts, charring the skin while the meat remains rare deep within. Yet perfectly grilled chicken—with crisp, browned skin and juicy, succulent meat—is relatively simple if you learn to manipulate the heat.

First, establish two temperature zones: Set one side of a gas grill to medium-high and the other to low, or build a fire on one side of a charcoal grill. (Make sure your grate is clean and oiled to prevent sticking.) Start the chicken skin-side up on the low- or no-heat side, and cover the grill. After a few minutes, when the chicken fat starts to render, flip the meat, skin-side down. Point the breasts' thicker ends toward the hot side to help them cook evenly. Cover and grill for about 25 minutes. When the meat is done (165° at the thickest part of the breast), crisp the skin on the hot side for a minute or two, moving it as needed to avoid flare-ups. Wait until the last few minutes to brush on barbecue sauce: The sugars in the sauce will char quickly.

How to Avoid Ruining Hard-Cooked Eggs

Photo: John Autry

34. Your Hard-Cooked Eggs Are Icky


Result: A rubbery, chalky, green-gray hot mess! Next time, heat slowly and cool quickly.

We’ve all puzzled, after following someone’s can’t-fail advice, over less-than-perfect hard-cooked eggs—the eggs with rubbery whites, chalky yolks, and that tell-tale green-gray film between yolk and white. The cause? Temperature differential: The white of an egg dropped into boiling water cooks much faster than the yolk at the center, and that’s trouble. By the time the yolk sets, the white is tough. And if the egg stays over high heat too long, or isn’t cooled quickly after cooking, sulfur in the white will react with iron in the yolk, creating that nasty off-colored ring.

Here’s the fix: To keep the temperature of the egg white and yolk close, heat the eggs gradually. Place them in a saucepan, cover them by an inch or two with cold water, and set the pan over high heat. When the water reaches a full boil, remove from heat, cover the pan, and let the eggs stand for 10 minutes. This cooks them gently and keeps the whites from toughening. Peel the eggs immediately under cold running water; or, if you’re not using them right away, set them in an ice water bath. This lowers the eggs’ temperature and minimizes the pressure that causes sulfur rings to form.

 

How to Avoid Dry Turkey Burgers

Photo: John Autry

35. Your Turkey Burgers Are Parched Pucks


Result: A dried out burger that sticks to the grill. Next time, add a little heart-healthy fat to help the meat stay moist and juicy.

A well-made turkey burger is a delicious, lower-fat backyard grill treat, but if you don't compensate for the leanness of the meat, you could be eating turkey-flavored particleboard. Mostly it's a matter of getting the patty off the grill before it dries out (or sticks and falls apart)—a job made trickier by the need to cook poultry to 165°. So, to avoid sawdust syndrome, add a little fat to the meat. Yes, add fat. This might seem counterproductive, but it's not if you use a fat that's heart-healthy.

The fat in question? Olive oil. Stirring in two tablespoons olive oil per pound of ground turkey keeps the burgers moist and juicy and also helps them form a nicely browned crust on the outside that won't stick to the grill.

Even better: Sauté 1 cup diced onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil until nice and tender, let cool slightly, and then mix the onion and oil from the pan into a pound of ground turkey to form four patties. The oil-coated onions do a marvelous job of adding both moisture and flavor to lean poultry burgers, and you get a hit of that nice, oniony sweetness, too.

How to Avoid Gummy Rice

Photo: Mary Britton Senseney

36. Your Rice Gets Gummy


Result: Sticky, gummy goo. Next time, use more water.

Rice is the great staple grain of much of the world, but it can strike fear in the hearts of some American cooks who have learned that the famous 2:1 water-to-rice ratio is not reliable in many cases or for many varieties. And stovetop prep can be tricky (rice cookers are reliable, so if you love rice, consider buying one). Slightly undercooked rice can sometimes be fixed with more water and time, but the dreaded gummy rice is a dead loss.

When rice is cooked in the traditional way—simmering in a lidded pot—the close-packed grains rub together and release starch, often leading to stickiness. The solution is blessedly ratio-free, though it may seem counterintuitive: Use more water. Lots more, so you cook the rice like pasta until it reaches the proper consistency, then drain. The pasta method keeps rice from rubbing together too much as it cooks; draining ensures it won't suck up more water than it needs.

Check brown rice for doneness at around 25 minutes. You can also sauté brown rice in olive oil after it's drained, to evaporate excess moisture. For white rice, which absorbs water more readily, try sautéing the grains before boiling, for about two minutes in a tablespoon of oil. Then add roughly four times as much cold water as rice to the pan, and boil. Check for doneness at around 15 minutes (timing starts when water boils). The oil forms a protective layer around the white grains during boiling—and sautéing lends the rice deliciously toasty flavor.

How to Avoid Burnt Caramel

Photo: Mary Britton Senseney

37. Your Caramel Meets a Burnt, Bitter End


Result: Burnt, bitter caramel. Next time, a little water—and patience—goes a long way.

Caramel is a one-ingredient recipe for experts, two for more cautious cooks who add water to the sugar—but either way it can quickly turn into a chemistry experiment gone wrong. The problem is a rapid acceleration of browning, which can quickly move your sugar sauce into bitter, burnt territory.

Sugar behaves differently from other foods when it's cooked. While most ingredients absorb heat from the pan, sugar actually generates its own heat as it breaks down. This causes the temperature to rise fast—about one degree per second. When you remove the pan from the heat as the caramel reaches the perfect light-amber hue, it can still burn because residual heat from the pan keeps the action going.

The key is watchful, hands-off cooking, as slow and even as possible. Adding ¼ cup of water per cup of sugar dissolves the sugar uniformly and slows boiling, providing more control as you look for that honey-gold color. Use a light-colored stainless steel or enamel saucepan and a candy thermometer.

To make the caramel, cook the sugar and water, without stirring (or absolutely minimal stirring, if you must), over medium-low heat until golden and fragrant, about 335°. With experience, you'll learn to trust color more than temperature.

The hands-off approach works best because stirring can cause hot caramel to crystallize when it hits the cool sides of the pan, and that can set off a chain reaction that ruins the sauce.

Set the pan in an ice bath for two to three seconds to stop the cooking (any longer and the caramel will seize), then use immediately.

How to Avoid a Sloppy Turkey Carving

Photo: John Autry

38. The Turkey Hack Job


Result: Your turkey platter resembles a crime scene.

On turkey day, it's your well-earned right to parade that magnificent roasted bird around the dining room. But carving is best done where there's elbow room and a large, stable cutting surface. You'll need a well-honed knife; have it professionally sharpened before the big day.

Now, as the pros say, "break" the bird down in the right order (this is where many cooks go wrong—trying to slice meat directly off a big, hot bird). Leg quarters come off first, then breast meat, with the tucked-under wings serving to stabilize as you cut. Set the big pieces onto a cutting board where you can deal with them properly.

Take the breast meat off the bone in one piece, then slice crosswise, which ensures uniformity and allows for slightly thicker slices that are juicier and less fibrous than thin portions. Cut the thigh meat into large chunks. Reserve room on the platter for legs if you have a Henry VIII in the family.

Oh, and remember—in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, you can always practice your technique on a nice roasted chicken: same configuration of bird parts, no game-day pressure.

How to Avoid a Spreading Cookies

Photo: Johnny Autry

39. Your Cookies Gain Unwanted Holiday Width


Result: Sad gingerbread men.

Baking holiday cookies can go from a labor of love to an exercise in frustration when your gingerbread men come out more bloated than a Macy's parade float. The problem is too much heat—but not at the baking stage, at the mixing stage: Your butter is too warm.

The solution: Keep your butter cool, right until baking. Butter starts to melt at 68°, and once that happens, its water-fat emulsion breaks and there's no getting it back. Cold, emulsified butter helps give baked goods structure by taking in air when mixed with sugar. For cookies, you want butter well below room temperature; between 50° and 65° is optimal. Cut the butter into chunks, and let it stand at room temperature to soften (nix the microwave idea entirely).

If the butter is still cold to the touch but spreadable, you can start creaming. Butter and sugar need only be mixed (or "creamed") for about 30 seconds—much longer and the butter warms up. Chill the dough for 20 to 30 minutes before you bake. Lastly, don't put the cookies on a hot pan. If you're working in batches, cool the used pan for a few minutes, then run it under cool water before reloading (don't do this while it's hot, though, or you'll risk warping the pan).

Burnt Pancakes

Photo: Randy Mayor

by on Jun. 25, 2012 at 1:19 PM
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Replies (1-5):
Noni2319
by Chrissy on Jun. 25, 2012 at 6:36 PM

Great tips. thanks

Stevied13
by Steph on Jun. 25, 2012 at 7:47 PM
Thanks for sharing
Posted on CafeMom Mobile
SammiBaby
by on Jun. 25, 2012 at 11:54 PM

Great tips! I have messed up some rice before but I just threw it out and started fresh again. No way can I eat or even serve gummy rice, it tastes horrible.

Shani527
by Shannon on Jun. 26, 2012 at 10:06 AM

Great tips

kurtkamkaitsmom
by Kerry on Jun. 26, 2012 at 10:08 AM

thank you  for the tips:O)

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