Sometimes we need more than just a good idea to make something awesome in the kitchen. Simple skills like grilling, sautéing, braising, and roasting can go a long way if you know what you’re doing. But if you don’t, or you rely on techniques you perceive to be “healthier” or “easier” (read STEAMING!), you run the risk of eating a bland dinner, ruining a bunch of food, or worst of all, turning yourself (or your children) off of healthy ingredients like vegetables, herbs, and spices.
Execution is everything.
This simple list provides you not only with mistakes to avoid but also with alternatives to try that will help you create a delicious meal that you and your family can enjoy with minimal effort. It’s a list designed to pull you out of a cooking rut and encourage new innovations in your home kitchen.
3 Mistakes to Avoid in the Kitchen
Today, we’re getting down to a few basic mistakes novice cooks make in the kitchen. Avoid these things and follow my guidelines of what to do instead, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying the food you cook, saving a few extra bucks, and eating more nutritious meals.
MISTAKE #1. Boiling or steaming the life out of your veggies
image sourced through Creative Commons by Björn Appel
When I work with people around eating well and incorporating more vegetables into their diets, I’m always surprised to hear how many people boil and steam their vegetables to death. Nutrients in these vital foods can be both water-soluble and heat-sensitive, and when you do this, you sometimes throw the best part of the vegetable out with the water. Boiling and steaming is also not that tasty, which disincentivizes a person new to veggies from eating them.
What to do instead:
A new habit has to be enjoyable for people to stick with it. Roasting vegetables
is the way to go for maximum nutrient retention and
MISTAKE #2. Under-salting/salting too late when braising meat
image sourced through Creative Commons by FiveRings
Braising might seem like a complicated task for a novice cook, but I can assure you that it’s actually pretty hard to mess up. You can throw just about anything into the braising liquid (wine, water, broth, orange juice, milk, beer, brandy … ), add some veggies, and you’re off to a great start. Braising makes a cheap* cut of meat tender, flavorful, and delicious.
*cheap is referring to the cut, of the meat, not the way the animal was raised — I’m not advocating for industrial, factory-farmed “cheap” meat. Cheap cuts are the ones that don’t turn into tender, juicy steaks — think shanks, shoulders, necks, and thighs. The cheap cuts are the parts of the body the animal actually uses to roam around and live life — muscles that become thick, strong, and sinewy. A good braise can transform them into something tender and awesome. Get the idea?
The one catch is salt. Under-salting creates a disappointing finished product that you spent a lot of time making. Salting too late in the process can draw out the liquid and create a dry piece of meat, even though it’s cooked in liquid.
What to do instead:
When you plan to braise a large cut of meat, it’s important to salt it adequately at least 24 hours in advance (if not 48 to 72) and keep it in the refrigerator as the salt sinks in. Coat a thin layer across all surfaces of the meat, and don’t be shy about it. If you don’t have 24 hours, just skip the salt while cooking, and salt to taste on your plate as needed. Feel free to add dry or fresh chopped herbs and spices to this as well, but don’t skimp on the salt. You want more than you might think.
MISTAKE #3. Adding in fresh herbs too soon
Flickr image sourced through Creative Commons by Follow
Because my focus is on health and wellness, I tend to emphasize the importance of maximizing phytonutrients in the diet. Micronutrients can make or break a healthy lifestyle, sometimes even more than macronutrients, due to their healing and protective properties in the body. Some hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and sage can be added from start to finish throughout the cooking process for various layers of flavor in a dish. More delicate but nutrient-dense herbs like cilantro, parsley, oregano, or tarragon (just to name a few) don’t really do much for a dish if we put them in too early. Adding herbs like these to the fire more than about 30 minutes from the dish’s completion sacrifices both flavor and many of the healthy properties found in them.
What to do instead:
I always recommend adding in delicate fresh herbs about 20 minutes before you turn off the heat and then adding even more to the finished dish to maximize nutrient-density and flavor.Doing it this way might also encourage you to use more fresh herbs per dish. I know some people buy a pack of cilantro, use three sprigs, and the rest rots in the fridge. Avoiding waste is an added bonus to this tip.
Go Forth and Conquer!
I started with this short, simple list to share with you today, but there’s a good chance you’ll see another post just like this of simple kitchen tips to help improve your home cooking experience. I chose these three things to share with you today, because they involve cooking techniques like roasting and braising that I really want you to try at home with confidence.
For me personally, as I began learning more complex tasks in the kitchen, I realized the things that scared me were really just scary because they were new and unknown. I was afraid of the oven for a good long time, because I couldn’t see what was going on in there, and I was sure I’d burn everything. Now my oven is my best culinary friend. I prefer most vegetables prepared in the oven to those prepared in a pan, and the same goes for most meats. It’s all about trying new things and getting out of your comfort zone. You might be surprised at the results! As far as the mistakes I mentioned here go, it’s not just a matter of flavor, but a matter of nutrition as well. These tips will bring more nutrients to your body as well as more flavor to your pleasure centers! Go forth and conquer armed with new knowledge of your powers in the kitchen!