Most people start preparing meals on their own in their late teens to early twenties. It’s a great way to save money, eat more healthfully, and gain an important life skill. However, there’s a lot that can go wrong when you’re just starting out. Chef Will Made It presents these simple fixes that will save you from making catastrophic and costly mistakes in the kitchen.
1. Planning a Dinner Party and Getting In Way Over Your Head
So you’ve finally moved into your own place and want to prove to everyone that you’re truly adulting. What could be a finer example than throwing your very own dinner party? Dinner parties can be fun and laid back occasions, but they’re often anything but for the people hosting them. Chances are, when the buzzer rings to mark your guests’ arrival, you’ll still be scrambling around the kitchen with half-dried hair and half-melted makeup, trying to somehow bend the laws of chemistry to get your main dish on the table before your sides turn into cold, congealed lumps.
Here’s how to avoid last-minute panic while creating a scrumptious layout for your guests:
- Test your recipes in advance. I know you want to go for something fancy that knocks your guests’ socks off, but difficult dishes tend to be, well, difficult. This is especially true for dishes with delicate proteins like fish or lamb, or complex sauces that split if you take your eye off of them for a minute. Tried and trusted recipes cooked low and slow are your best bet, but if you want to go for something a little out of the ordinary, give it at least one test run at home before the big day.
- Stick to the rule of three: something on the stove, something in the oven, and something cold. The cold dish can be made ahead of time and chilled. The oven dish you can set and forget (just don’t forget to set a timer on your phone). As for the stove dish, you can devote all of your attention to getting it perfect in the lead up to your guests’ arrival. Unless you’re a professional chef, having several pots and pans on the range at once is a recipe for disaster.
- Accept help. If your guests offer to bring something, let them! It’s not an imposition. In fact, it’ll make things much easier for guests who don’t want to show up empty-handed. The easiest things to request are deserts, cold appetizers/salads, and drinks.
2. Mutilating Your Fingers
Ever had someone watch you cook and notice that they keep grimacing and sharply sucking in their breath? That’s probably because you’re doing something terrifying with a knife. Here’s how to quell their fears and avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency room: First, make sure your knife is nice and sharp. It sounds counterintuitive, but makes sense if you’ve ever cut a tomato, or other slippery food. Sharp blades cut straight through, while dull ones slide around, taking out any appendages in their path. Sharpeners are relatively inexpensive and you can find simple tutorials of how to use them on Youtube. Second, check your grip. You should hold the food you’re cutting firmly in one hand with fingers curled back like a cat’s paw. Your other hand should hold the knife firmly at the base of the blade or handle, all fingers tucked out of the way. Be careful with peelers too. Hold the food from the underside and keep your fingers far away from the trajectory of the peeling motion.
3. Destroying Cookware
Hey, you there leaning over the Teflon pan with a metal fork in your hand: drop it right now! Yeah, I know you were just going to agitate things for a second or two at most. You were also about to put irreparable scratches in the bottom of your pan (not to mention add a nice dash of fluoropolymer to your meal). Here’s the rule: never use metal on non-stick surfaces. Get yourself a wooden or silicone spatula and find a nifty holder for it right next to the hob. While you’re taking notes, don’t put your screaming hot cookware into the sink (it’ll warp), get your pots and pans nice and lubed up with oil before using them (or your food will stick and burn), and don’t turn your flame up too high (that’ll ruin the underside of your pan).
4. Cooking Bland Food
In recent years, whenever a cooking video goes viral, there will always be a slew of comments from the seasoning police. Most are comments telling the cook off for only using a single pinch of salt or some other affront to culinary decency. While sometimes those repetitive comments can get annoying, they’re actually 100% right. Seasoning should be done throughout the meal, from raw to mid-point to finished product, and involve more than just your basic salt and pepper. At a minimum, keep big jars of onion and garlic powder in your pantry. They are powerful flavor players that allow you to easily ramp up the quality of your dish. For the beginner chef, a good list of additional spices to have on hand include: basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, paprika, chili powder, cumin, nutmeg and cinnamon. Don’t forget your fats. It’s not the 90’s anymore. Fats are back in, and meals are all a lot tastier for it. Finally, acid (in the form of a spritz of lemon juice or splash of vinegar) is a great way to bring life to a dish and balance heavier flavors.
Another reason a dish may come out bland is if it’s too watery. With a simmered dish, simply keep simmering without a lid until the sauce reduces enough to leave nothing but rich, concentrated flavor. Remember that vegetables will always add water to whatever you’re cooking, so it’s sometimes necessary to saute them separately (for example, when using them for pizza toppings) to allow the water to evaporate out.
5. Ignoring the Instructions/Not Being Precise When Baking
Here’s a little tip before you start cooking: read the whole recipe through in its entirety. You don’t have to read the bit about the author’s life story or how the dish personally affected them, but at the very least read the list of ingredients and the actual steps of cooking the dish. If you’re reading off of a box, refrain from throwing the box away immediately. This will allow you to plan adequately, save time to tidy up between steps, and not get stuck mid-recipe without a key ingredient. If you want to make substitutions to an online recipe, read the comments! There are almost always comments from people who have made vegan or allergen-free versions of whatever the dish is, so take their advice! And remember that substitutions may work well enough, but they won’t result in the same exact dish, so don’t set your expectations too high.
Cooking savory food is usually an adjust-as-you-go type of activity and quite forgiving. Baking, on the other hand, is an exact science. Cakes, souffles and custards are like finicky little toddlers. Put them in bed without their stuffed monkey and the door open at exactly the right angle? Meltdown city. It’s the same for baked goods. The tiniest inaccuracy in ingredient weight or oven temperature can alter the outcome completely. The worst part is that you often won’t even know you’ve messed things up until the serving knife is gliding through the final product. That’s why it’s a good idea to buy a kitchen scale. Rather than measuring your ingredients in cups, which can vary wildly from one scoop to the next, a scale allows you to be much more precise. If you doubt that your oven is displaying the correct temperature (this is quite common), an oven thermometer can help you recalibrate it. Some other important aspects of baking: don’t substitute things for one another that sound close but aren’t (like baking powder and baking soda), when the recipe says mix gently, MIX GENTLY, and always line/grease your bakeware.
Many people avoid the kitchen for fear of making mistakes. Hopefully, this article will help you avoid making some major ones. But remember: making mistakes is a key part of the learning process. Repetition and experience will allow you to improve over time and before you know it, you’ll be turning out consistently flavorful and satisfying dishes. After all, Chef Will Made It would totally agree that few dishes taste as good as ones you’ve put the time and effort into getting just right.
About Chef Will Made It
Chef Will Made It is a friendly, enthusiastic Chef with 15 years of specialization in high volume fine dining and a lifetime of experience making delicious home cooked meals. He loves how cooking enables him to express himself and has become a well recognized figure in the culinary world with over 20,000,000 views on Youtube and 3 highly-anticipated cookbooks in production.
Chef Will Made It provides his private chef services to a-list celebrity families, famous athletes, and movie stars in Southern California and around the world. He loves taking pleasure in the smiles and happiness of people enjoying the meals he has created. As a natural leader, Chef Will Made It is a reliable team player and has a proven track record of making great food that entices his diners and leaves them wanting more.
For more information, follow Chef Will Made It on social media via the links below or join his growing fan club family for sneak peaks of his favorite seasonal and holiday recipes and for more updates.