The six most common cooking mistakes

Chef Wendy

The Six Most Common Cooking Mistakes

We often see comments on our W4D Facebook Page from fans who say, ‘I can’t cook!’ or ‘I’m hopeless in the kitchen!’.


Well, here at whatsfordinner, we firmly believe that anyone can cook - even someone who has never before picked up a saucepan!

That’s the reason why Chef Wendy and the W4D team put so much effort into bringing you delicious, easy recipes that are quick and simple to prepare.

If you’re not an experienced cook, or you’re just starting out on your cooking adventures, the best way in which to improve your skills in the kitchen is to practise as often as you can. By following our easy recipes, reading the articles and tips on our site and Facebook page, and cooking whenever you get a chance, you’ll find that you quickly gain both experience and confidence.

It’s always frustrating to try out a recipe for the first time and feel less than satisfied with the result, and it even happens to the best of cooks. But good cooking isn’t difficult to master, and is mostly a matter of learning some essential kitchen techniques.

Here is a list of six common mistakes that many beginner cooks tend to make, and our suggestions for avoiding them:

  1. Not watching the pot: If you find that you frequently burn the onions, or overcook the meat, or end up with a lumpy sauce, it’s probably because you’re not paying enough attention to the task at hand. You can master a variety of easy supper recipes if you dedicate your time appropriately. It’s easy to get distracted when you’re tired or stressed, or coping with the demands of a family: no one can cook calmly if there is chaos in the kitchen! Clear the kitchen of kids and pets. If you can, put on some tranquil music and focus all of your attention on what’s bubbling on the stove. Use your oven timer or cell phone to set alarms as reminders, and clear up any mess as you go to ensure that you are working in a clean, ordered space. You’ll be amazed at the difference that this makes!
  2. Not following the recipe: Before you start cooking, thoroughly read through the recipe so that you understand every step, and make sure that you have lined up all of the necessary ingredients. There’s nothing worse than getting half-way through a recipe only to find that you’ve forgotten to buy an essential ingredient. Use metric measuring spoons and cups to accurately measure out what you will need. Later on, as you become more experienced, you can adapt recipes to your own tastes by increasing certain quantities, or adding new ingredients, or putting your own creative ‘twist’ into the dish.
  3. Not tasting as you go: The very best way in which to improve your knowledge of flavours and how they go together is to taste your food as you cook it. When you’re making a stew, for example, taste it at every stage of cooking, from the time that you fry the onions to the time that you add the final handful of fresh herbs. Not only will this help you to correct any imbalances in the taste of the dish (too little seasoning or sweetness, for example), it will also give you valuable insights into how each ingredient subtly changes the flavours of a dish.
  4. Not building depth of flavour: The difference between an ‘okay’ dish and one that is mouth-wateringly delicious usually boils down to the depth of flavour – that wonderful, multi-layered complexity that you’ll find in a good curry or stew, for example. There are many ways of adding depth of flavour to a dish: ‘aromatics’ such as onions, carrots, celery and garlic; liquids such as wine, lemon juice and soy sauce; fresh herbs and good-quality spices of all sorts; careful seasoning; and proper browning of meat, chicken and vegetables. Stocks are also important for adding depth to a dish, but they take time to make, which is why you’ll find KNORR Stock Pots so useful when looking to add really deep flavour to all sorts of quick and easy dinner recipes and family meals.
  5. Not correctly browning meat or aromatic vegetables: The golden, sticky ‘residue’ that collects on the bottom of a pan when you fry the surface of food such as meat cubes, chicken pieces, onions and carrots is packed with flavour compounds, so it’s important to brown (also known as ‘caramelise’) ingredients properly. Take your time with this, and you will be impressed at what a difference it makes to the final taste of a dish. Wait until the pan is good and hot before you start frying and don’t over-crowd your pan, as this will cause the ingredients to steam or stew in their own juices. When you’re frying floured chicken pieces for a stew, for example, make sure that the skin of each piece has a lovely golden crust on it before you continue with the recipe. Here’s an example of a recipe using this technique: Creamy Chicken Cacciatore
  6. Not regulating the heat: Learning to regulate the heat under a pot, or the temperature of an oven, is vital to culinary success. For example, pasta that is cooked at a slow simmer instead of a rolling boil will produce a disappointing result, and a delicate sauce that is boiled too fast may curdle. Every hob and oven is different, so it’s important to get to know your own appliance and constantly adjust the heat as you go. Ovens can be particularly temperamental, and you may need to turn food around, or switch it between shelves, during the baking or roasting process. Here’s a great tip for finding out where the ‘hot spots’ are in your oven: completely cover a large baking sheet with slices of white bread. Place the tray in a hot oven until the pieces of bread are golden brown. The toasted slices that are the darkest in colour will indicate where the hottest spots are, and the more pale slices will reveal the cooler parts of your oven.

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