Cooking or baking can be an extremely procedural past-time, especially for those who are new to it. It isn’t as straightforward as other hobbies, and many people have abandoned their newfound passion because of how frustrating it can be.
But if you are serious about perfecting that roast beef you have been working on, or you just want to bake your own chocolate cookies for a change, here are some tips that you should consider if you want more consistent results and less fuss.
1. Cooking thermometers
Ovens come in many builds and sizes, and they may have different temperature ranges. Fan-forced ovens heat up very quickly and oftentimes, no preheating is required. If your cakes crack or burn easily, it is likely due to an overheated oven. On the other hand, if it sinks in the middle, it could be due to too-low temperatures.
Likewise, optimal temperatures are most ideal for roasting meat. You don’t want to serve an undercooked chicken to your guests. If you are deep-frying breaded meats, you may need a thermometer to check for oil temperatures to avoid burning and overcooking.
Invest in thermometers for your oven, meat and stovetop cooking to take the guesswork out and make your cooking and baking journeys a lot easier.
2. Measuring spoons and cups
When you are deep in the throes of making your favourite dish, you don’t want to be converting measurements from metric to imperial, or vice versa. It breaks your concentration and spoils the pleasures of cooking.
This applies to cup measurements, too, which can vary in quantity depending on what you are measuring. For example, flour in cups yields different measurements when converted into grams. The same applies to liquids, such as milk, oils or syrups.
The best way to go about this mind-numbing process is to buy a set of measuring spoons and cups. Instead of using your kitchen teaspoon, which varies in sizes, to measure dry ingredients, a measuring spoon will give you the exact measurements your recipe needs.
3. Hand mixers
That fancy stand mixer will look impressive on your kitchen counter but if you lack countertop space, it can prove to be more of a bane than a boon. It is not only expensive; it is also heavy, and it isn’t realistic to be moving it from your kitchen cabinet to your countertop every time you want to bake.
But whisking eggs to peaky perfection requires substantial elbow grease. Frankly, unless they are up for a physical workout, no one can be bothered to be whisking or mixing by hand.
If lack of space is an issue, consider using a strong and trusty hand mixer. They are more compact and being handheld devices, can be stored away easily.
4. Baking tins of the right size and shape
Some recipes call for rectangle loaf tins, or springform pans, or circular tins of a certain size. It is so easy to dismiss these requirements and use whatever you have on hand. But they are mandated for good reason.
A smaller cake tin than what is required increases the possibilities of burning and cracking since smaller tins tend to heat up more quickly. Furthermore, it produces a denser result, which is not what you want if your recipe calls for an airy, spongy texture.
It is tempting to skip the process of procuring the right type of cake tin altogether. If your cake recipe isn’t too fussy and can handle a variety of tin sizes, you could skip this step. But following the exact measurements and requirements will produce the best and most encouraging results.
5. Sous-vide machine
This machine is an upfront investment, but it is so versatile and ensures your food is cooked to perfection. I write from experience: I only cook and bake during special occasions, and I was told by my beloved foodie brother to use a sous-vide machine to roast lamb for Christmas.
But how does submerging it in warm water produce the perfect roast lamb? Cooking the meat at a temperature of about 55 to 57°C for 8 to 10 hours ensures that its insides are cooked thoroughly and to just the right level. It is also much easier to prepare meat this way – instead of monitoring the meat in the oven for hours at a time, you could pop the meat into a sous-vide bag and begin the process in the morning, while you go about your day.
When it is done cooking, you roast the half-cooked meat in the oven, by browning the outsides for a juicy and tender result. If you are roasting beef medium-rare, a sous-vide machine will ensure that your beef isn’t overcooked.
A sous-vide machine is a must-have for those who love their roast meats. It costs $200 to $300, but you could get one off the second-hand market for much cheaper. You could also use it to poach eggs or make sous-vide chicken or turkey breast, which oftentimes turn out dry and bland when pan-fried.
6. Digital scale
Another versatile kitchen tool, the digital scale is compact, easy-to-read, accurate and with its tare function, you could measure any ingredient in any container of your choice. It is a major improvement from the analogue scale, which is bulky, hard to read, and a hassle if you want to measure ingredients with a container. That primitive feature makes measuring wet ingredients more troublesome, as you subject yourself to unnecessary mental sums whenever you measure something.
Digital scales come in a range of prices and quality. A cheap one costs about $10, while a higher-end scale made for professional kitchens can cost about $80. It is also portable, ideal for camping trips and getaways.
7. Knife sharpener
It is a myth that sharp knives are more dangerous than dull ones. My mother, who is approaching her 70s, is constantly complaining about how sharp her knives are and is terrified of slicing off the tip of her finger. Upon further investigation, I realised that her knives are dull, and slippage will be the likely cause of any accidents.
A sharp knife not only cuts cleanly, but it also makes food prep a whole lot quicker and easier. Don’t want to cry when slicing onions? Cutting them with a sharp knife gives them less time to produce the sulphuric compounds that irritate your eyes.
A rule of thumb is to sharpen your knives once a month, to maintain it as good-as-new. You could use a whetstone, or a ceramic rod, to do that.
When a recipe calls for egg whites or yolks only, you could separate the whites from the yolks the caveman way – cracking them and breaking the shell in halves above a bowl, and passing the yolk from one shell hull to the next, letting the egg white fall into the bowl.
Unfortunately, this method is not always fool-proof. You could end up with shells in your eggs, or with some yolk in the egg white.
The easier way is to use an egg separating sieve, which is typically made of stainless steel or plastic. Just crack the egg into the sieve, and it will catch the yolk while separating the white. Silicone ones that suck the egg yolk out of a bowl of eggs will work, too.
Now that you’re on your way to levelling up your cooking and baking, what will you make?