The promise of a 20-minute meal sounds well and good but if you’re not careful, kitchen haste can lead to wasted ingredients, rather than an easy dinner.
Home cook Diane Lockard reports giving her muffin pan a fast spritz with the can of spray oil, only to discover that she’d accidentally grabbed a yellow can of starter fluid that happened to be near the sink. “It could have been a very dangerous situation,” she says.“ I told the family our new motto was, ‘Start your day with Blewberry muffins — do not try at home.’”
Charis Freiman-Mendel, author of “Cook Your Way Through the S.A.T.,” was chatting with her mom while making chicken soup when she accidentally flipped open the wrong side of the jar of red pepper flakes, dumping, rather than sprinkling, some into the organic chicken soup. “Read: Expensive ingredients and delicious meal destroyed,” says Freiman-Mendel, who salvaged the situation by making frozen bouillon.
The lesson in both cases: Focus. Moving quickly in the kitchen doesn’t work if you don’t take the time to make sure you’ve grabbed the right ingredient or measured out the right portion. Here are some other “fast” mistakes that can result in a wasted meal:
Cooking with cold ingredients.
Cold eggs or milk lead to denser baked goods, rather than when you let those ingredients warm to room temperature, according to Real Simple. Let those items sit out for 30 minutes to an hour before using. On the other hand, butter or oil placed in a cold pan will be absorbed into the food, rather than coating the pan, they say. Avoid oily food by heating the empty pan for a minute or two before adding the fat.
Rushing to add garlic.
“Lots of cooks add garlic to recipes too early in the cooking process, which causes the garlic to brown and sometimes burn,” says chef-turned-marketer David Schreiber. That can change the flavor profile of the dish or simply make it taste bad. “Make sure the garlic isn’t the first thing in the pan,” he says.
Using tough cuts and fast techniques.
Try a quick sauté of flank steak or brisket and you’re bound to be disappointed. Tougher cuts typically need marinades or a slow braise to get them at their best. “Cooking them fast just makes them tougher,” says Jackie Keller, executive chef of nutrifitonline.com.
Turning meat too soon.
The meat won’t have time to brown, according to Real Simple. Plus, each flip pushes juice out of the meat, making it tougher and drier. Wait until one side is sufficiently browned to flip it.
Yes, simultaneously trying to prep the salad, pour drinks, set the table and stir the stir-fry gets dinner on the table faster. “But it also increases the risk that something will get over-cooked,” says Schreiber. Dried out or burned items aren’t easy to salvage, so take the meal a task at a time.
Frugal Foodie is a journalist based in New York City who spends her days writing about personal finance and obsessing about what she’ll have for dinner. Chat with her on Twitter through @MintFoodie.