With the current need for social distancing and people isolating by choice or by force, there seem to be a lot more people cooking at home. I love the idea that something positive is going to come from this terrible situation and that is so many people building new skills and potentially finding a new hobby in baking or cooking.
With so many people returning to or entering the kitchen for the first time, I wanted to take the time to share some of my own kitchen mishaps and missteps so that you can avoid them or have someone with whom to commiserate.
- Make sure all your spices are well labeled and always double-check the label!
When you quickly grab spices off the shelf, it can be easy to mix them up. Some mix-ups aren’t bad, like switching parsley and cilantro isn’t going to utterly destroy a dish (unless you have the gene that makes cilantro taste like soap), but there are some that won’t ever work. Chili powder is not the same as cinnamon on apple sauce and curry powder is not the same as smoked paprika in a marinara. If you can, take a permanent marker and label the top of your spices so that they are easier to find and if the labels get damaged you will still know what is inside it!
- Recipe Times Aren’t Always Right for You
I tried making a blueberry meringue pie once. It said to bake the filling for X amount of time, add the meringue and then finish baking. Well, after X amount of time I thought the filling still looked really soupy and undercooked but figured maybe the recipe was right and the filling would magically cook better under the meringue. It was a beautiful meringue, but unedible due to the blueberry filling that never set.
The truth is every oven is different and lots of things can change bake times. Elevation is a big one and even humidity can mess with baked goods. Always set your first timer for 75% of the recommended bake time for the first check. This way if your oven runs hot or you scooped out smaller cookies, your baked goods won’t burn. You can always add time, but I have yet to find a way to subtract it. If you aren’t sure if something is baked all the way through, you can test it by giving the pan a jingle, softly touching the center with a finger, or using a cooking thermometer. Adding time to an underbaked good should be done in small increments. 30 seconds on an 8 minute bake time can make a big difference, while 2-5 minutes on a longer bake time is more appropriate.
While not fool-proof, here are some of my go-to internal temperatures for testing if a baked good is done.
Butter Cake, Pound Cake, and other Denser Cakes…………. 210 Degrees Fahrenheit
Breads……………………………………………………………………….180 to 200 Degrees Fahrenheit
Puddings and Pies……………………………………………………160 to 175 Degrees Fahrenheit
- Towels are Not Oven mitts
While it may be tempting to use a dish towel to pull hot dishes and sheet pans out of the oven, I highly recommend against it. Dish towels are thinner and the heat will get to your hands a lot faster which can result in minor burns or dropped pans (which if it is glass and filled with hot liquids adds up to a whole bunch of other injuries). Additionally, if the dish towel is damp from drying dishes and comes in contact with a hot surface, you are looking at instant steam burns. Trust me, steam burns are nasty!
A good set of oven mitts or pot holders will last you years and can be a nice accessory to your kitchen. Not having burn marks on your palms, fingers, and wrists is an added benefit!
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment. The kitchen is the one place where it is okay to sniff and lick the materials. You will figure out what combinations go together well and what things don’t. You can learn how little changes to a recipe can drastically change the results or how there are several different ways to cook or bake any one food. Plus, if it turns out terribly I hear that delivery pizza is still an option or you can make sure to stock a frozen meal or two in the fridge for disaster nights.
Do you have a favorite kitchen mishap or mistake you would like to share? Add them to the comments!