How NOT to Screw Up Dinner

Couple in home kitchen using electronic tablet


  1. Read the recipe from BEGINNING TO END before you start cooking.
    We’ve all done this, haven’t we? It’s happened to me more often than I care to confess actually. I skimmed the recipe and got cooking. Whoops! You mean those onions weren’t supposed to go in the meat mixture but actually the sauce? Yikes! My sweet mother-in-law is a recent example of this. She set out to bake a Tres Leches Cake using a recipe I sent her.  She told me she was very proud of herself as she began laying out her ingredients so she would be well organized and have everything she needed at her fingertips. She started the process by cracking the 5 eggs that were called for and putting them into the same bowl. Fast forward a few steps…the yolks and whites were supposed to be kept separate! She then spent the better part of  a half hour trying to scoop the yolks out the whites, but ultimately gave up and started over. Luckily, she had just bought a dozen eggs so she still had a few to spare, but what a bummer if she had not!A lot of recipes have little twists and turns that you might not have expected. Save yourself the time and trouble and ALWAYS read through the whole thing before you start cracking your eggs. 🙂
  1. Don’t over-substitute.
    Sure, the occasional ingredient substitution is to be expected, and even welcomed at times when you’re trying to lighten up a dish or keep from having to make a last minute grocery store run. But be smart about it. If you’re looking to impress your eaters it may not be the time to replace full fat mozzarella with its pathetic-excuse-for-a-cheese sibling, reduced-fat mozz. That stuff is practically plastic anyway so I’m not sure why that would ever be a good idea, but you get my drift.Also, I can’t help but chuckle when I hear someone complain that a recipe didn’t turn out right, but then confess that they didn’t have milk so they just used water instead. Yuck! Or this is my favorite… “I didn’t have onions or garlic or salt, so I just left those things out. Why is my dish bland?” These are flavor-builders people! You are better off cooking an entirely different meal than leaving essentials out of a recipe.
  1. Salt is your friend.
    Yes, this is absolutely coming from the perspective of a chef not a cardiologist, but please salt your food! Salt in the beginning, salt in the middle and salt again before it hits the table. Ok, I realize I probably just scared a lot of you, but a little bit of salt is all that separates a bland dish from a spectacular one! Salt and taste, salt and taste. Your family will thank you!
  1. Don’t serve food you haven’t tasted.
    Have you ever watched one of those cooking competition TV shows? They’re a everywhere now…Top Chef,  Master Chef, Iron Chef, The Next Food Network Star, just to name a few. The worst thing EVER is when a contestant puts s dish in front of the judges and it’s so bad they can’t hide their disdain and then quickly ask, “Have you tasted this?” Sheepishly the contestant shakes their head. This blows my mind!! You’re trying to win Top Chef and you didn’t TASTE your food before handing it over to be judged?  This is madness! Call me crazy, but my husband and child are the dinner judges every night in my kitchen. I aim to please and would never serve up something I wasn’t sure they were going to love, especially because when something isn’t quite right, it’s almost always an easy fix.
  1. Think of others when adding heat.
    Now this isn’t necessarily something that would screw up dinner for everyone but it could definitely ruin it for one. Think of everyone who will be dining with you when you are making a spicy dish. If someone in your family or party doesn’t like too much heat, it’s better to keep that in mind and tone it down a bit than throw caution to the wind a completely blow out their palate. You can always serve up some extra diced peppers or hot sauce on the side for those who appreciate feeling like a fire-breathing dragon at dinner.
  1. Invest in an internal thermometer.
    There’s nothing worse than cutting into a piece of chicken to see that it is still pink inside. Ewww. If you’re not sure how to tell if chicken or other proteins are cooked to their proper temperature then the best thing to do is buy a food thermometer and check it prior to serving. See this link for proper food temperatures.

So those are my six easy ways to NOT screw up dinner. What do you think? Do you have any funny kitchen-nightmare stories or other suggestions to add to the list? I’d love to hear from you!

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