Snig's top kitchen tips

Keeping cool in the kitchen: Top kitchen tips

When I first started writing this blog back in May 2011, I thought about what my top tips for cooks would be. I posted my first set of thoughts here: http://snigskitchen.blogspot.com/2011/05/welcome-to-snigs-kitchen.html

Since then, I’ve had other thoughts and ideas. So what I’d like to do is share them all in an easy-to-find place. So, these are my top tips to kitchen success:

Read the recipe thoroughly when you shop and again before you start cooking

This one is pretty obvious, but not following it can really make you come a cropper. You might spend time making a lovely stir-fry which needs to be enjoyed hot, and because you've not read ahead, you get to the last line which says 'serve with steamed rice' and damn! You've not thought about what you'll serve it with! The rice will take 15 mins and by then the dish will be cold. Or you could commit the schoolboy error I did when hosting a tapas night for some friends when I intended to make pickled cauliflower. I finely sliced a whole cauliflower only to discover that the dish should have been prepared 3 days in advance! Oh dear! Now what was I going to do with all that sliced cauliflower?

Beware steps which need to be taken the night before you cook

Soaking pulse and other dried foods, marinading, defrosting frozen items; these are the steps which catch out the disorganised cook. Make sure when you plan your meals you take these hidden steps into account. If you put a note on the door of your fridge as a reminder, that is usually a good way to make sure you don't forget. It will save frustration and a last minute call out for a take away you never intended to have!

Prepare all your ingredients before you start cooking

Some of us can multi-task, and some can't. It's an unfortunate fact that if you are doing something you feel a little anxious about, you are not going to be effective in multi-tasking. So if you are still a little unfamiliar or stressed out about cooking, don't increase that stress by leaving yourself the task of ingredient preparation whilst trying to cook at the same time. Do all of your peeling, chopping and measuring at the start, and whilst it may all take a little longer, you won't make any mistakes.

Lay out all your ingredients in the order they are to be added in little dishes or on plates

Preparing your ingredients in advance is the best way of avoiding cooking induced panic. But to make sure you are totally on top of things, get your ingredients into groups. If you are making a curry and you start by frying all the whole spices together, put them in a little bowl together. A later stage of the same dish may involve adding ground spices, so measure them all out and put in another little bowl. Then all you need to do is wait until the stage they are used and put them in. No fuss. I save the little ramekins that you sometimes get shop-bought puddings from. They are great for spices, garlic, oil, etc.

Put some good music on whilst you are cooking

Cooking is time consuming, and sometimes a little stressful. Until you are familiar with all the processes involved, you probably won't find it very enjoyable. Don't worry – with persistence that enjoyment will come! Until then, help the time pass by and lower your stress levels by listening to music while you cook. I'd advise against TV as it could distract you and lead to burnt food!

AWA

In Hollywood, many actors during a read-through exasperate their directors by trying to be creative and changing the lines. The director will advise them “AWA!” or “as written, a$$hole!”. The first time you make a dish, make it as the recipe calls for. Don't make any amendments until you've tried it from the original recipe. The original recipe (if it is of any repute) ought to have been tested a few times, so the balance of flavours should be pretty good. If you make it the first time, and perhaps its a bit bland or too strong flavoured, make the amendments next time, knowing what the final dish actually tasted like. And of course, don't make amendments lightly when baking bread/cakes/biscuits: those items are based on fixed ratios of fat to flour to rising agents etc – unless you really know what you are doing, you may spoil the final result by meddling.

Always use a timer; don’t leave it to chance!

I can't take credit for this tip – it comes from my husband. You may think that you can just time your cooking by feel. If you remain alert and keep an eye on the clock, perhaps you will be fine. But some things are just ruined by overcooking; pasta is soggy and nasty if overcooked, garlic when burnt is bitter and will spoil whatever it goes into. You will often find you are trying to do something else, like cooking the sauce, when the pasta is boiling. Can you really keep an eye on the clock for 9-10 minutes at the same time? My experience says NO! Make life easy for yourself by using an electronic timer. You'll never make a mistake for the smallest of outlays. There are also free kitchen timer apps for the majority of smartphones, these days, so there is no excuse for not using a timer!

Don’t trust your oven until you know it is reliable

When you’ve taken time and trouble to prepare something, you don’t want to put it in the oven, trust the temperature and cooking time, go and do something else and discover your dish is burnt to a crisp. It’s too heartbreaking! My own oven is very variable. The fan setting is much hotter than the thermostat states, meaning I have to reduce cooking times considerably to avoid burnt items. The regular setting is temperamental depending on the temperature selected; when it is hot, it is very, very hot, and when it’s cool, it is slow. Very slow. You may want to check the thermostat is accurate with an oven thermometer. Or you just make sure you never leave anything unattended for the full cooking time, and that you check your items whilst cooking. Do remember that when making cakes and breads, you must not open the oven door when cooking, so you will be limited to checking the window of the oven door. With other dishes, you can have a sneaky peek, feel or poke.

Disposable shower caps: a lifesaver to keep food smells off your hair

If having guests around, you’d like not only for your food to taste great, but for your appearance and grooming to be up to scratch, right? The one thing you don’t want is for your hair smelling of fried onions or bacon. Eau de oignon is not this season’s scent, nor will it ever be. In an ideal world, we’d all have time to cook, then shower, then receive our guests. But we don’t live in an ideal world. So I save the little disposable shower caps from hotels when I go on holidays, and keep them in the kitchen. Any time I know I can’t have a shower after cooking potentially smelly food, I just use one and chuck it away when I’m done. I just hope that no-one rings my doorbell whilst I’m cooking and wearing it!



Keep some disposable gloves for preparing chilis, beetroot, fresh turmeric and the like

There are some foods which are naturally mischievous. Chilis are one. So rewarding are they  with their fiery flavour, high antioxidants and sheer alchemy magic when used in dishes, they are certainly  invaluable. Sadly, however, the heat in chilis is oil based. Which is why drinking water doesn’t help get rid of your burning mouth sensation. And it is also the reason why you can wash your hands with soap and still have the oils remain on your hands. The last thing you then want to do is touch your eye, or scratch an itch, or my friend Michael Chapman might put this general point far more prosaically, since he says: "Under No Circumstances go for a pee after chopping chillies." .
Well, you can avoid all the hassle by wearing disposable gloves when preparing chilis. The same goes for anything which might stain your hands. You can see a lovely picture of my attempt not to dye my hands bright orange with fresh turmeric here: http://snigskitchen.blogspot.com/2012/02/lesson-in-laksa-laksa-lemak-indonesian.html