Let's be honest, the scene in the classic 1993 film, Mrs. Doubtfire, where Robin Williams catches the kitchen (and himself) on fire and decides to buy take out to serve as his own dishes, is the majority of us most nights of the week.
There is a special art to cooking that either you grasp entirely, or fail completely to understand.
Much of this depends on how well you know how to use your apartment appliances and cooking tools.
For those of you living in Chico or Redding apartments who scratch pans, burn rice, cut your fingers, and can't seem to figure out how to even boil water...this blog is for you. Want to pull off a simple pasta? Keep reading for beginner cooking tips!
Being a decent cook starts here! Learn how to boil brilliance, bake glory, and chef your way through simple recipes, safely!
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” -Virginia Woolf
1. Baking Goodies: Preheating the Oven
"A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand." -Barbara Johnson
The first step to baking is to preheat the oven before you begin so that it's at the right temperature when you're ready to bake your food (old ovens can take a while). Check the back of the box of whatever you're baking for the required temperature and duration.
The oven in your apartment will have a "Bake" or "Preheat" button. Push this button, then either enter in the degree temp manually if your oven has numbers, or use the up and down arrows to adjust as needed. Keep in mind that you may need to hit "start" or "bake" again to confirm the preheating process.
Most ovens will also ding or beep at you to signify that they are preheated to the right temp. If your oven doesn't start rising in temperature within the first few minutes, you probably did it wrong. Try again!
Hint: Don't forget to set a timer on the oven, microwave, or your phone, to track baking progress. You may need to experiment a bit with the timing, some ovens cook items faster than the baking times listed. Best practice is to check the item early and often to make sure they don't burn.
2. Boiling Water: Using Your Stove Top
"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." -Federico Fellini
The first step to cooking an amazing pasta dinner (safely) is, don't overcook the pasta, and don't start a fire. The stove in your apartment should be treated with care and used properly.
First, you'll need to boil the water. It's important to choose a pot that's big enough, usually one that can hold at least 4 quarts of water, with 6 inches or so to spare from the water to the lid.
A great tip to boiling water faster, is to fill your pot with steaming hot water from the sink and to add a dash of salt. Once you have filled your pot with hot water, place it on the stove (choose the highest powered/largest burner).
Gas Stove: If you have a gas stove, select the nob indicated for the burner you're using, and turn it until the arrow points at the "light" option. Check out this YouTube video for a demonstration.
You should hear slight clicking noises as the burner prepares to ignite and see flames spark up right away. If you don't, be careful not to leave the knob emitting gas. This is dangerous. Be careful the flames don't run up the sides of your pot; they should only be underneath. Turn the knob to "high."
Electric Stove: Fortunately, if you're a beginner, an electric stove is a little less intimidating. Choose the knob indicated for the burner you're using and turn to "high." The water should begin to heat right away.
The first few times you're trying this out, monitor the progress so your water doesn't boil over or froth to make a mess.
Hint: You'll know the water is ready for your pasta once it's steadily bubbling at the surface.
Set the timer for your pasta first, and then add it in slowly to the pot of boiling water as to not lower the temp too much all at once. Once all of your pasta is in the pot, watch the time closely. Some pastas cook for only two minutes.
The best way to tell if your pasta is done, is to very carefully use a pasta claw, long handled fork etc. to pull out a few noodles. Let them cool to the touch, then cut with a fork, or take a small bite. The desired end result is Al dente, which means that it is "cooked to the tooth," or to a firm bite. You don't want to eat or serve mushy or crunchy pasta.
Pro tip...try using truffle oil and Parmesan cheese...
3. Cutting Fruits and Veggies: Choosing the Right Knife
“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread and pumpkin pie.” -Jim Davis
Pro tip...choosing the right knife to cut your fruits and veggies can change your life. Don't try to cut anything with a dull knife, it will make your life harder and is more dangerous for your poor fingers.
If you don't have a wide flat "Chef's Knife" you may want to invest in one. This knife is great for cutting most things in the kitchen.
For example, for cutting garlic, choose the widest flat non serrated knife you have, break off a clove and set it on your cutting board. Instead of pealing the garlic, crush it using the flat broad side of your knife, pushing down carefully with the hard part of your palm. Once the garlic is crushed, peel off the shell and then dice carefully with the knife. Always use a cutting board, not the counter or your hand.
Check out this article on How to Use Kitchen Knives Safely for Dummies. Always slice away from your hand and keep your fingers clear of the blade!
4. Cooking Rice: Following the Directions
"I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something." -Mitch Hedberg
The most important step to cooking non crunchy rice, don't take the lid off! Let it steam, with the lid on.
If you're like one of the many people who consistently burn rice and set off the smoke alarms in their apartment, please be careful and remember to follow the directions.
Each bag/box of rice has clear instructions for how long to simmer, how long to steam, and when to fluff/serve. Follow the directions for boiling water above then add in the rice. Once it boils, turn it to a simmer and put the lid on. After the appropriate time, turn off the burner and let the pot sit, WITH THE LID ON.
If you really can't get the hang of it, try asking for a rice cooker for Christmas...
5. Heating Leftovers: What Doesn't Belong in Microwaves
"The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found." -Calvin Trillin
Okay, so even though your Chinese food take out comes in a safe looking container, they will often include a thin metal carrying handle that can spark or ignite flames, damage your microwave, and potentially start a fire. Be sure to never put metal of any kind in the microwave!
Check containers thoroughly, remove forks and spoons from plates, and never put tinfoil in the microwave (metal, duh!). Be kind to the microwaves in your Chico or Redding apartments, they're allergic to metal so to speak. Be careful to check the plastic containers holding your leftovers for "microwavable safe" indicators and in general, avoid heating anything that could melt or release chemicals into your food.
For 13 things you should never put in the microwave, click here!
Hooray! Bust out that dusty old cookbook today, you know, the one you hid in the back of your pantry under the crackers. Start simple, put your heart into it, and learn! You've got to start somewhere. After all, cooking skills are the #1 secret weapon in the world of dating, family holidays, Friendsgiving, girls' nights and more.
We believe in you! Please cook responsibly and safely in your Chico and Redding apartments, and do your best to not reenact the Mrs. Doubtfire cooking scene!