Back in January, you gave yourself the very achievable new year’s resolution of cutting down on takeaways and eating out and cooking for yourself more than you did last year.
There’s one problem, though: you made the same resolution last year, and the year before, and the year before that.
And, every time, you’ve gone big in January, before slowing down the following month and allowing yourself one takeaway per week to make up for the cumulative effect of extra cooking, regular exercise (another of those pesky resolutions) and a general decline in your enthusiasm.
By May you’re only cooking properly when you’ve got guests, and when you get home after your summer holiday you’re used to having food prepared for you, so you resort to something quick and easy once the pressure’s back on you to do the work.
Suddenly it’s October, and there’s no point starting a new cooking routine now – soon it’ll be Christmas, and all of that’ll be out of the window, so you might as well wait until January rolls around.
But what if the problem in the past could be pinned down. What if the issue wasn’t just being impatient or a bad cook, but instead stemmed from not preparing for a life in which you cook every night.
The good people of Reddit have been sharing advice on cooking at home. Or, more specifically, they’ve been telling you what not to do.
Whether it’s changes to make your bland meals tastier, or ways to avoid traumatic kitchen incidents that will put you off even venturing into that part of your house, they’ve got you covered.
1. Be patient with your oil
Let us begin by saying some of you will already know some of these things. If you think ‘this one doesn’t apply to me’, fine. But it will apply to someone. It can be tempting to chuck in your ingredients before the oil in the pan is as hot as it will get, but trust us: that extra few minutes waiting for it to heat will be time very well spent.
2. Don’t overcrowd your pan
If you’re just starting out cooking, or restarting, you’ll probably be making a lot of stir-frys. Don’t ask why, just embrace it. After waiting for the oil to heat, brown your meat in batches rather than all at once. After that’s taken care of, and you’ve set the browned meat aside, return it to the pan with the other ingredients to cook properly.
3. Salt your pasta water
The normal piece of advice when cooking regularly is to always taste the ingredients of a pan before adding salt. This is generally correct, but pasta water is different – and if you’re also making a sauce from scratch, that salted pasta water can come in handy.
4. Still, sometimes salt isn’t the answer
Keep the above in mind for pasta, but for general cooking there are other ingredients to give you that je ne sais quoi that salt won’t give you. Lemon juice can be one, cider vinegar another, while sometimes you’re just missing certain spices.
5. Learn about spices
When we say spices, we don’t just mean any old thing you can find lying around. Buy a load of different ready-to-use herbs and spices, sure, but do some research into what each one adds to a dish, rather than bunging them all in there and hoping for the best.
6. Don’t start with garlic, add it later
A lot of your recipes will involve garlic, but it’s not always a case of chucking it in with your chopped onion at the start. Garlic cooks quickly, so you’re rarely risking having that pungent raw garlic flavour unless you add it *right* at the end, but stirring in some minced garlic later on can bring out the right qualities without it going to waste.
7. And use more garlic
Got a recipe that needs one clove of garlic? Use two. Need three cloves? Use six. It’s really hard to include too much garlic in a dish, and it adds a lot to a meal for such an ingredient. Seriously, there’s a reason the French and Italians are lauded for their cuisines.
8. Recipes aren’t the be all and end all
While we’re at it, the garlic isn’t always the only area where you can deviate from a recipe. Whether in a book or online, you can look at a recipe as nothing more than a suggestion. Want to substitute one ingredient for another? Leave something cooking longer if it doesn’t seem done yet? Ignore the number of people it claims to serve? Go for it. No one’s going to know apart from you.
9. Practice first
If you’re coming back to regular cooking after some time away, it’s not uncommon to be a bit rusty. Don’t rush in and cook for eight people with no build-up; if you’ve got company next week, give that same recipe a dry run beforehand – that way the worst that can happen is you have a slightly disappointing meal yourself, rather than losing seven friends forever.
10. Keep a scrap bowl
This one isn’t directly related to the cooking process, but in a sense it couldn’t be more relevant. Keep a bowl in which you can chuck all your food waste; not only will it make the cleaning up process quicker, but you’ll be less at risk of knocking potato peel into your mixing bowl and setting yourself back half an hour.
11. Ovens are hot, be careful
Always check for holes in oven gloves. And we mean always. The worst thing you can do is get everything right until the time comes to take your creation out of the oven, only to press your hands against a boiling dish or tray and instinctively drop it, watching as it falls almost in slow motion before smashing into tiny pieces before your eyes.
12. Boiling milk is hot, be careful
“Of course it is,” you’re yelling, “the clue’s in the name”. Well yes, you’re not wrong, but the other issue with the heat is its tendency to boil over and spill onto your worktop. Either pay very close attention at all times, or budget for a replacement worktop in the not-so-distant future. Honestly, a lot of people on Reddit were warning their peers about this, so make of that what you will.
13. Peppers are also hot, be careful
We’re talking about a different kind of hot here, the please-don’t-come-into-contact-with-my-eyes-or-genitals kind. If you’re chopping chilli peppers, be sure to wash your hands very carefully afterwards. Then wash them two more times. Or, you know, just wear gloves to handle the things. The peppers, that is, not your eyes or genitals.
14. Let your meat rest
You’ve taken your meat out of the oven, or out from under the grill, and you’ve figured your work is done. Plate up, add your accompaniments, and bob’s your uncle. Not quite. Let the meat rest on the side first so it can soak up the juices – the extra flavour it gains will hugely outweigh what it loses in heat.
15. Don’t fry nude
Pretty obvious, but you’d be surprised.