Ina Garten is, without a doubt, the queen of modern cooking. Fans cannot seem to get enough of her comforting simplicity and charm. When it comes to culinary arts, the Barefoot Contessa has a good handle on what goes down in the kitchen.
Despite this, Garten never boasts. Rather, she offers only the best cooking tips and various tricks to prepare show-stopping dishes in no time. (Take, for instance, her catchphrase, “storebought is fine.”) She also knows all great cooks have to start somewhere. So, she shares common cooking mistakes home chefs should correct right away.
It takes time to become a good cook. But Ina Garten gives readers a head start with her book, Cook Like a Pro. Get the inside scoop on what Garten deems the most common cooking mistakes and what sets the pros apart from the rookies.
The Most Common Cooking Mistakes To Avoid In The Kitchen
1. Forgeting The Seasoning
Salt and pepper might not be the most exciting spices on the spice rack. Still, they play a critical role in building flavor. Although inexperienced home cooks overlook these inexpensive staples, Garten knows how much flavor they can add to a dish.
In case she’s not sure how much salt to add, Garten has a clever trick up her sleeve. “I’ll put a little of what I’m cooking into a small bowl, add some salt and see how it changes the flavor,” she explains.
2. Not Measuring The Ingredients
While grandma may have been a fan of measuring with her heart, Garten is a firm believer in following instructions. Making even the smallest changes to a recipe can drastically alter the outcome.
“There are so many ways to measure ingredients. A few extra tablespoons of flour or too little can make all the difference between a good outcome and one that is disappointing,” Garten explains.
Remember this simple rule to stay on top of your measuring game: dry measuring cups are for dry ingredients, such as flour or sugar. Conversely, wet measuring cups are for wet ingredients, like milk, cream, and other liquids.
Moreover, take note of the wording used in the recipes. For example, one cup of chopped pecans is different than one cup of pecans chopped.
3. Overcooking The Meat
Nobody can argue that knowing how to tell whether your meat is done using the finger test is an impressive skill. Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to keep a meat thermometer on hand as a backup, especially if you’re not a trained chef. (We’re a fan of this easy-read option from Alpha Grillers, available at Amazon.com).
Undercooked meat poses a serious health risk, while overcooked meat will also earn you the title of a bad cook. To avoid this dilemma, Garten suggests never leaving things up to chance. Instead, use a meat thermometer, so you never overcook any meat again.
Also, remember that larger cuts of meat, such as prime rib or beef tenderloin, will continue to cook for a few minutes after removing them from the oven.
4. Not Investing In Good Knives
Having a starter set of cutlery or a knife block is always handy in the kitchen. But Garten emphasizes in her Cook Like a Pro book that you don’t need a complete set. Rather, she recommends investing in three good knives: a chef’s knife, a serrated bread knife, and a paring knife. (We’re a big fan of the well-made but affordable options from Victorinox, available on Amazon.com)
Furthermore, good knives come with responsibility and proper maintenance. Garten suggests avoiding using your knife as a pair of scissors when you have lost your scissors to open a box. According to her, to keep good knives in pristine condition, they should be used properly, washed by hand, and stored in a knife block.
5. Trusting Your Oven
One of the most frequent kitchen mistakes is often the most surprising to home cooks. It has nothing to do with recipes, measurements, or temperature. Rather, this mistake involves having too much faith in an appliance: the oven.
Ovens are finicky. They’re so finicky, in fact, that you can’t always trust the dial. According to Garten, the dial on your oven may read one temperature, but it may not be accurate. This can result in undercooked or overcooked food.
Home cooks should buy an inexpensive oven thermometer (like this option from Taylor Precision) to avoid this common cooking mistake. Once you have the thermometer, place it inside the oven to determine the correct temperature.
6. Not Taste Testing
Managing the seasoning of your food to make your dishes stand out is important, but you should also do a taste test to make sure you’ve hit the mark. Instead of trusting your gut that you added enough salt and pepper, Garten recommends tasting your food before it is served. In doing so, you may find that your dish needs more seasoning or something else to enhance the flavor, such as lemon juice or vinegar.