Read the recipe first
Read the recipe from start to finish, ideally before you start cooking. There is no worse feeling than getting halfway through a mouth-watering recipe and realizing you’ve bitten off more than you can chew.
Have all the proper equipment
That “Grilled Flank Steak Salad with Chimichurri” sounds amazing. But do you have a grill? A food processor or blender? Making a good chimichurri sucks balls without one!
Mise en Place
This is just a fancy way of saying, “Have your shit together.” Making French onion soup? Better have those onions sliced before you melt your butter. Mississippi mud pie? Have that cornstarch measured well in advance of starting your custard.
You watch cooking shows and see Emeril doing it, and Bobby Flay, so, yeah, that looks like a cup of wine! But you aren’t either of those guys and that was really a cup and a half of wine and now what should have been your sauce is only slightly thicker than water and you’re feeling some kind of way about all this cooking nonsense.
Know the power of measuring spoons
Those spoons you stir your coffee and eat your cereal with? They’re called a teaspoon and a tablespoon, but they’re not scientifically calibrated units of measurement, so buy a set of measuring spoons and ignore all references to a “pinch” of anything.
Baking powder and baking soda are NOT interchangeable
Do a Google search on the difference between these two leavening agents and vow to never substitute one for the other again.
Room temperature MEANS room temperature
Don’t believe me? Just try to whip up a buttercream with butter straight from the fridge. Oh, and have your safety goggles handy.
Don’t fry or sauté everything on high
This is hands down the most common mistake made by the home cook. Even if the recipe you’re following (and you are following the recipe, remember) tells you to fry or sauté something on high, don’t. Opt for somewhere between medium and medium-high and don’t walk away. It might take longer, but you’ll be able to eat it when you’re done and you won’t have to buy a new sauté pan.
Leave the tricks to the pros
You are not a chef. I don’t say that to hurt your feelings, I say it so you don’t attempt to sauté that pan of onions the way you see the professionals on TV do it and end up with sautéed onion abstract art on the ceiling of your kitchen, or flip that pancake into the air and end up with it (and a third degree burn) on your arm. Use a spatula.
You’re safe in your own kitchen and no one is going to make fun of you.
Now get to cooking, and good luck!
Patric Bell is a chef in Atlanta where he lives with his husband and their two dogs. He offers in-home cooking classes for the beginner cook through his website, www.chefpatric.com.