Useful Tips

The availability of international ingredients and modern cooking tools have made the world’s greatest dishes accessible to home cooks everywhere. Home cooks in Hungary can experience what somebody might cook and eat in Indonesia, or a home cook in Japan can cook dishes just like a person from the American South. These useful tips are intended to make successfully recreating the world’s greatest dishes at home even easier.

The Basics

Practice Mise en Place (“To Put in Place”) – This French term describes the organizing and arranging of the workspace along with your ingredients and equipment before beginning to cook. Having everything in place and uncluttered is the key to cooking like a professional chef. When things begin to get heated, so to speak, having everything readily available becomes the difference between a ruined dish and loud applause.   

Declutter – Clean and declutter the areas that you’ll be using in advance. Set out a bowl for food scraps.

Read The Entire RecipeDo you have everything you’ll need to make this dish? Have you envisioned how it will all come together in terms of sequence, prep, ingredients, equipment, etc.? Envisioning making the dish step-by-step increases the odds of success dramatically. When prepping ingredients for a recipe, check to see when things are added collectively and combine them ahead of time. It’s the same when thinking about the order of things that you’re cooking. Can processes be combined?

Keep Knives Sharp Having sharp knives is not only safer (your knife is less likely to slip off a vegetable and into your finger), but it just makes cooking so much more pleasurable when you can fly through your slicing, dicing, and chopping tasks.

For most home cooks, sharpening should be done once or twice a year, ideally by a professional. Even with a sharp knife, you’ll want to hone the blade by stroking it across a steel before each use to align any microscopic dings and bends .

Prepare Your Equipment Have everything out and ready (sharp knives, pots and pans, cutting boards, appliances, spoons, spatulas, strainers, etc.). 

Make in Advance Many parts of a recipe may be done days or even weeks in advance and stored in the refrigerator or freezer until ready to use. Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator overnight, if possible.

Gather and Prepare Ingredients – Almost all ingredients can be found at local markets. Unique ethnic ingredients can be found and ordered online in advance. Pre-measure all ingredients into prep cups and bowls. Slice and chop everything before beginning to cook.

Ingredient measurements can be converted automatically from US to metric when printing recipes from MHT. Serving sizes may also be changed at the same time. Note that other than baking breads and pastries, measurements may be rounded up-or-down without messing things up.

Time To Cook!

Having everything “in place” before beginning a recipe will make cooking even the most challenging recipes manageable and ultimately, wildly delicious. These little tips can quickly help make you a better cook.

Efficiency – When prepping for one-or-more dishes, do all your chopping, dicing, and slicing at the same time. Apply this kind of thinking to all your tasks and you’ll find that the time you spend in the kitchen will not only be more efficient, but also neater, cleaner, and more organized.

  • Onions – To peel, slice in half from end-to-end. Cut tips off both halves and remove skin. To dice, either cut horizontal slices and then vertical cuts to form perfect diced onions. You can also slice the peeled onion halves into slices the thickness you’ll need and if you need them diced, chop slices across the grain.
  • Garlic – Peel garlic cloves by tapping them hard with the flat side of blade of a knife and then pull off the loosened peel. Pre-peeled garlic cloves can be found at most markets and are more than acceptable.
  • Ginger – Ginger can be tricky to peel with all its bumps and irregularities. One way to peel it is to slice the sides of the ginger, creating a squared-off piece. Another method is to use a spoon. Scrape it against the skin and it’ll come right off, following every contour, and minimizing waste. Either way, it can then be sliced or to chop or mince, sliced, smashed with the knife’s blade and then easily chopped.
  • Scallions – Trim off white tips and find an outermost layer and pull down to remove. If small, chopped pieces are called for, smash with heel of knife blade and chop across the grain.
  • Don’t Overcrowd The Pan – If there’s too much meat or fried food for your pan, cook the items in smaller batches. Overcrowding causes food to steam and get mushy.
  • Fresh Ingredients – Buy the freshest vegetables and meats you can find. The clarity of their flavor will be noticeable in the taste of the final dish.
  • Watch For Expiration of Spices – After a year-or-two, you should replace old spices as the will start to lose intensity after a while. Older spices can always be revived a bit by toasting them briefly in an ungreased pan to bring out their oils.
  • Dry Your Meat or Fish – To ensure a nice, browned surface, pat down outsides with paper towels or else risk the dreaded soggy dish.
  • Heat Pan First – When you put meat in a cold pan, it will release moisture. It is better to seal in juices by placing your item in a preheated pan to sear the outsides and keep the moisture in.
  • Rest Meat – When meat is cooked, moisture moves outwards towards the surface. By letting the meat rest 5-10 minutes, the juices will move towards the center and not spill out.
  • High Heat is Not Your Friend – Other than with Chinese cooking and searing, which is done quickly over the highest heat possible, be sure food isn’t cooked at such a high heat as to dry out and possibly burn. In cooking, patience really is a virtue.   
  • Don’t Leave The Room– Other than long-cooking stews and pastries, keep busy in the kitchen so you’re there to handle any issues that might arise before it’s gone to far off plan and your dish is non-recoverable.
  • Properly Cook Pasta and Noodles – Always salt the boiling water your using, never add oil, and don’t rinse. Transferring noodles directly from the water in a sauce adds life to the dish. If draining in a colander, add a little olive oil to prevent sticking.
  • Timers – A few timers will help you keep track of several dishes at once and are especially helpful when baking breads and pastries.
  • Thermometers – Instant Read and Candy Thermometers are essential tools. They ensure foods are cooked at the correct temperature and have cooked to their optimal temperature.   

Baking Tips

Whereas cooking is part recipe and part feel, baking is all science and accuracy. In addition to specific measurements and times listed in each recipe, this section adds some tips to help you become an even more confident and consistent baker.

Carefully Measure Everything – There are two reasons to use a precise scale when baking- accuracy and efficiency. If you’re going to bake, get yourself a good digital scale. A cup of flour can weigh anywhere between four and six ounces. That’s a difference of 50 percent! With a scale, on the other hand, you know that your cup of flour is always the same each time. This ensures better, more consistent results.

Flour– Always use the flour called for in the recipe. Every type of flour has its own degree of hardness. The measurements of the flour and supporting ingredients all work with each other based on the type of flour used.

Grease – Be sure to grease baking pans completely with butter or flour or, better yet. Nonstick sprays are perfect and a few even include flour in the spray.

Scrape Your Bowl – After all that precise measuring, it seems like a waste to leave anything behind. Always scrape whatever bowl you’re using at least twice with a silicone spatula.

Using Your Oven – Baking on the convection setting is slightly better as the hot air circulates evenly around the pan. For baking, adjust the rack to the middle position. If baked goods are coming out too crispy or undercooked after following a recipe exactly, get an oven thermometer and see if your oven’s temperature settings are off.

Substitutions – We do not recommend substitutions.

Use Room Temperature Ingredients– Unless otherwise instructed, let ingredients get to room temperature before using, especially butter and eggs.

Proofing – Breads need to proof, aka come alive in warm conditions. When making leavened (yeast) bread, be sure to allow the dough to double in size 1-3 times per the instructions. A great warm home for proofing dough is in the oven with its internal light turned on an hour beforehand.

Folding – When a recipe asks you to “gently fold” something into the batter, always start at the bottom of the bowl and sweep the spatula over the top to incorporate the new ingredient gently into the batter. Keep rotating the bowl to ensure even folding.

Creaming – Many recipes call for creaming butter and sugar. Don’t skimp on this as it will make the butter fluffy and breakdown the sugar. This will lead to a notable difference in the outcome.

Toothpick-ing – If you make a lot of cakes, have some long toothpicks or wooden skewers available. If a skewer come out of the center of a baked cake clean, it’s done. If it comes out sticky and still moist, continue cooking.

Cooling – Cool baked goods on a wire cooling rack. If you don’t have one, slide the parchment it was cooked on onto the counter and cool there.

Parchment Paper – Cover all baking pans and flat surfaces with either parchment paper or a silicon mat.