When it comes to cooking, I have a few rules that I not only enforce on myself, but also sometimes “encourage” my friends and family to follow. I know…I’m bad, but I really feel strongly about these things. I even admit to not always following some of them myself (see #9), but I think that I should, so I continue to strive for quazi-perfection.
1. Always use fresh citrus.
No squeezey bottles! I’m hardcore about this one. I really feel that there is no excuse not to use real citrus when you are cooking or making drinks. It’s minimal effort for maximum flavour payoff. My friends know this rule well….
2. Asparagus should not cross more than one border.
This is a weird, random rule of mine, but really….if your asparagus travels too far, it’s not fresh. This is a hard rule to stick by, since I love eating asparagus, but it holds true….more than one border and you are guaranteed to be getting sub-par asparagus. Period. Sometimes it’s even not fresh enough when it comes from one border across…you need to demand fresh asparagus. Do it!
3. Rotate baked goods halfway through.
OK…maybe this seems a bit hardcore, but really, if you have a perfect oven, I’m envious of you. Mine has hot spots and I have a pretty good oven. Rotate and you will get more even cooking. Your baked goods will thank you.
4. Don’t over-bake cookies.
This is a hard one. Who doesn’t want to wait until they are perfectly cooked to take them out?? Honestly, take them out earlier…just barely before they are done…generally when the recipe says to take them out They continue to cook for a while after they are out of the oven. Trust in the process. When in doubt, look for just golden edges or the early stages of doneness.
5. Make your own salad dressing.
OK…this is a weird one, but it’s really easy to make your own salad dressing and it’s SO. MUCH. BETTER. See here for my cheats Caesar dressing. I have many more that I will share soon. It’s a bit like the citrus rule…it tastes so much better for minimal effort.
6. Don’t overcook meat or veg (unless it’s intentional.)
In my family, I’m always doing the BBQ…maybe it’s just to make me do it, but they also say that I cook it better. It’s really just because I don’t overcook it. Your meat will continue cooking while it rests…take it off a bit early and all will be well. The exception? Low and slow meats and stews.
7. Let your meat rest.
This is a bit of a continuation of the above rule…don’t overcook your meat and then let it rest so that the juices redistribute. Like cookies, meat continues to cook after you have removed it from the heat. Don’t overcook, let it rest and you will have perfectly cooked and juicey meat. Period. It’s a bit of a trust exercise, but it works.
8. Grind your own spices.
OK…another weird one. Grinding your own spices = fresher tasting spices. I really embraced this rule when I had no ground mustard around, only mustard seeds. I ground up the mustard seeds and voila…mustard power….and it tasted so much better. Why have both on hand? Keep whole seeds around and you are set for life. Honesty, I have a wooden mortar and pestel on hand at all times (I even bring it to the cottage), but a clean coffee grinder will do just as well. My exception to this rule is dried ginger. I have tried to grind it and it’s hard. I have both pre-ground and unground stuff at home right now. I’m still working on grinding my own dried ginger. I will give you tumeric as an exception here too.
9. Read the recipe all the way through.
I have failed on this one. Ever have a dinner party and you’re making a new dessert? Ever miss that “let it rest for two hours” step at the end of the recipe? Yup…that was me. Fortunately, it was just enough time to let it rest while I served dinner, but it was close. This is a rule that I need to remind myself about, but it’s true.
10. Relax – it’s just food.
In the end, this rule always holds true. It will be OK…this might not be the best meal that you have ever made, but your cooking. You, your friends and loved ones appreciate it.
Maybe one day I will be stuck on a desert island with only a squeezey bottle of citrus to get me through…although why there is no citrus on my imaginary desert island is beyond me!