When to do what to get it all done at the same time seems to be the main issue for those of you who haven’t yet cracked the cooking code. Yes, it can be tricky to get all of your components out on the table at once, but worry not, with this cooking guide for dummies there’ll be no more rice for starters, steak for main course and sauce for dessert.
I know I’ve told you this before, but planning really is the key to success when it comes to cooking. If you have a recipe, carefully read it through so you know what to do and when. If you’re winging it, try to visualize what it is you want to do and what steps that will involve. Get all of your pans and pots and ingredients out before you start. This of course also includes turning the oven on, because it will take about twenty minutes for it to get the right temperature.
Peeling, grating and chopping take a lot longer than you might think. Don’t trust the recipe’s estimated cooking time, that usually only includes the actual boiling/frying/baking and not the preparations, at least not for normal non-professional people. If you don’t have a sous chef, which I’m guessing you don’t, you will have to do all of the prep work yourself. For instance, when I made this super delicious tarragon chicken the other day, I spent about 20 minutes peeling all of those pearl onions. Since I knew this would take me some time, I didn’t get the heat going in the pan until I was almost done because that would only burn the butter and set the fire alarm on and traumatize the dog and so on and so forth. Get the boring stuff out of the way right away and cooking will be a lot easier.
When you’re making a dish with many different components, the challenge is to get them ready at the same time. Again, think the steps through and start with the most time consuming task. If something needs long time on the stove, get that going right away and fix your sides while it’s cooking. But attention though, sides are often neglected when you make something a little more complicated. Remember rice needs its time too, just as your coq au vin does. Potatoes take about 30 minutes cooking time, but don’t forget the time it takes to get the water boiling. Pasta on the other hand only needs about ten minutes once in the water and should be served fresh and hot, so leave this to the very end. A lot of sauces and stews don’t suffer from a little extra time on the stove while waiting for you to finish up the other stuff, so make these first. Just remember this does not go for fish or seafood, since they’ll get dry and chewy if overcooked.
Mistakes happen, so don’t throw in the towel if you make one on the way. A lot can be salvaged with a little water, cream, sugar or lemon. A sauce that’s too acidulous can be saved with a pinch of sugar, if you’ve overdone it on the salt then dilute it with more liquid. If you messed up a cake, put some whipped cream on top of it and decorate with berries. And if you’ve failed with your time management and those mashed potatoes got ready half an hour before your steak, put it (or almost anything else) in the oven on a low heat, just enough to keep it warm. It won’t ruin it and no one will know.
Need a foolproof tip for impressing people with your cooking skills? Change up your sides! Instead of mashed potatoes, go for parsnip, cauliflower or Jerusalem artichoke purée. Just as simple, but with a lot more flavor. You can make it the same way as you make your mash, or replace the milk or cream with crème fraîche. Put saffron in your rice and pomegranate in your salad. If it looks good, it usually tastes good so work with your presentation as well.
In almost all cooking, there’s a window when you’ve got nothing to do but wait for things to get done. Use this time. Set the table, make a salad or prepare your dessert. Clean up bowls and pans once you’re finished with them and you can devote that precious after dinner-time to a pleasant food coma instead of washing up all night.