I haven’t always liked cooking. When my mom used to ask me for help in the kitchen, I would groan and roll my eyes, thinking it was such a big chore. But I’m happy to say that over the years, thanks to my mom’s love of cooking and her persistence to teach me to cook, I’ve also come to love cooking. Now, I can’t say the same for baking, but I’m slowly getting there.
I’ve made many mistakes (and disasters) along the way, and let’s just say those disasters have definitely helped me learn what to avoid next time.
Here are some common cooking/baking mistakes that I’ve learned to correct over time:
1. MAKING UNINFORMED SUBSTITUTIONS
When I first started making meals for my husband and I, I would follow recipes to the letter. If I started making something and then realized I didn’t have all the ingredients, then I would stop, run to the store, grab what needed, and continue on. I wouldn’t dare substitute any ingredient for fear the recipe wouldn’t turn out.
Fast forward 10 years, and I make substitutions all the time. However, it’s important to know which substitutions are right, and which will end up in disaster! For example, never substitute baking baking powder for baking soda or you might end up with a flat hockey puck for dessert.
Some of my favorite substitutions: 1/2 cup raw honey for 1 cup white sugar, skim milk for whole milk, whole wheat flour for white four, coconut oil for vegetable oil.
If I am unsure if something will work, then I like to use my best friend, Google! Just type in the ingredient and add “substitution” on the end.
Here some healthy baking substitutions that you’ve probably never considered:
2. STORING OILS AND SPICES ABOVE YOUR STOVE
I am totally guilty of this. For years I stored my oils above the stove and didn’t think anything of it. But the surrounding heat of the stove/oven is conducive to rancidity and flavor loss. Now, don’t go throwing your oils in the refrigerator either (unless of course it says to refrigerate). The humidity in your fridge will ruin the oil! Instead, store them in a cool dark place, like your pantry or a cupboard away from the oven.
3. SCOOPING FLOUR
When I first got my bread machine, I would stick my measuring cup into the bag of flour and scoop out what I needed. Later, when the bread was ready, I would wonder why it was so dense and hard. At first, I blamed the bread machine. But then my mom told me that I need to spoon the flour into the measuring cup, not scoop it! I must have missed that lesson.
To measure flour correctly, spoon it into your measuring cup until it overflows, then scrape off the excess with the back of a knife. Now I make prefect bread every single time!
4. OVER-MIXING BATTER
Have you ever read a recipe that says, “stir until just combined”? Me too. I used to ignore that part and just mix it until I thought it was good. Turns out there is a good reason we shouldn’t over-mix batter. If you do, you’ll develop the wheat’s gluten, which can make your baked goods tough and chewy. And nobody likes a tough and chewy muffin!
A few lumps in the batter is okay! Go ahead and be lazy, stir until just combined! Your muffins and pancakes will be so much fluffier and moister.
5. NOT USING SALT
I know you hear it all the time, “cut back on your sodium intake!” And yes, while this is true, you don’t want to cut it out completely.
Obviously, there is a good reason that recipes for baked goods call for salt. It evens out the way the yeast rises. It also strengthens the gluten strands in breads, giving them structure. In cooking, salt acts a flavoring agent, keeping foods from tasting flat.
I like to use sea salt. Sea salt is loaded with trace minerals and it boasts more flavor, so a little goes a long way. I like to sprinkle some on during the cooking process to help bring out the flavors. Aim to get about 1,500 mg of sodium in your daily diet.