Define cooking the books – How to become a master in cooking

A man standing in a kitchen preparing food

Everyone has a budding master chef within, but that flavor maestro can be tough to channel. If you’re looking to finally hone your cooking skills and become adept enough to compete in a fiery reality show (even if it’s only in your mind/kitchen), here are a few basic tips to get you started. Remember: Cooking is like life, so most of the time, the best bet is to go with your gut.

1. Brace Yourself

A person cooking pizza

Once you have a recipe, make sure to read it in its entirety before diving in. Recipes will often have waiting times or require material (say, parchment paper or a food processor) that might not be obvious from a quick glance at the ingredients and a little salivating over the teaser photo. Even if there aren’t any surprises, it’s always good to get the lay of the land before setting out. Consider prepping what you can ahead of time if the prospect of tackling the entire thing at once is overwhelming. Making pancakes in the morning? Mix the dry ingredients together and load it into a plastic bag. Got a killer kale salad on your mind? Wash and chop the leaves so your base is in the fridge and ready anytime. Speaking of your fridge, keep it stocked and organized. You’ll be much more inclined to create when your tools are well maintained.

2. Eat!

Food on a wooden table

A common mistake among new chefs is forgetting to taste their food as it’s being prepared. Even chefs who have skill, experience, and intuition in the kitchen need to make sure they’re hitting all the right flavor notes. Sampling along the way serves a triple purpose: It both whets and satisfies the appetite, and allows for any adjustments that you might need to make along the way (not that you do—you are a budding master chef).

3. Take Your Time

Patience is a virtue, and it’s one that is tested in the heat of the kitchen. Specific situations make patience imperative. To invoke another adage, a watched pot never boils, and while you’re waiting for those bubbles to surface, you might be inclined to jump the gun or start seeing phantom steam. Resist! Same goes for a hot pan: A piece of meat, for example, needs a piping hot pan to get the proper sear. Other items like chocolate suffer from too much heat too soon, which can cause irrevocable burning. Stay patient, and your taste buds will thank you.

4. Stay Measured … Sometimes

There’s often a deep distinction drawn between bakers and chefs, which mostly has to do with the strict, non-improvisational style of baking. If pies and cupcakes and pastries are swirling in your eyes, then it’s important to stay true to recipe specifics (though there’s wiggle room if, say, you want your zucchini bread to have nuts instead of raisins). In other culinary ventures, be bold and modify (with caution) according to personal taste. This will get easier as you refine your skills, but if, for example, your homemade marinara could stand a little more fresh basil, don’t be afraid to take fate into your own hands and toss in another handful.

5. Take a Deep Breath (And Let Your Food Breathe, Too)

An overcrowded pan is another common kitchen blunder. No one likes a crowd, right? Food doesn’t either. The impulse is sensible: piling as many chicken breasts into a pan as possible seems like a good way to cut down on dishes and get a meal prepared faster. The problem is that overcrowding can trap heat and cause food to steam and sweat instead of sear or char. The result is soggy, when you want crisp. Give your food some space and cook in batches. You and your meal will feel much better.

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