Written by Alyssa Schad
InsidetheAcorn.com staff writer
January 15, 2017

I really like cooking, but sometimes it involves disasters like setting a towel on fire—even though we have a no-flame stove.

This occurred about three years ago while I was trying to boil a pot of water to make noodles. I set the pan of water on a burner turned to high. Then, I went to my room to watch a video, and I just kind of forgot I was cooking. About ten minutes later I heard my brother yell, “What genius lit a towel on fire?!” I rushed into the kitchen to see who was stupid enough to light a towel on fire, and I learned it was me. I had turned on the wrong burner, which happened to be under a towel. I threw the towel into the snow and it burst into flames as it caught air. I had just been trying to make noodles.

The point is, my cooking skills are lacking, and in the age of microwaves, fast food, and parents who cook, I’m sure a lot of other students are not that great of cooks either. And  we need to learn fast, because college and adulthood are right around the corner.

So, after researching and speaking to people who know how to be adults, I’ve learned some tips that will hopefully keep us from setting towels on fire and cooking gross food.

Be Safe and Don’t Contaminate
Chipotle may be insanely good, but I guarantee the ingredient that makes it so delicious isn’t the E. coli in their food. Seriously, practice kitchen safety. I’m a mild germophobe so I already wash my hands before and after touching food, especially raw meat, and you should, too. Make sure to wash utensils like dishes, knives, and cutting boards when they’ve come in contact with raw meat. It’s also important that we rinse our fruits and vegetables before using them.

One of my favorite restaurants (I won’t name-drop) got in trouble for using the same knife, to handle raw meat and then to cut other things like vegetables. This can cause cross-contamination, whether you’re using a knife, cutting board, etc. We can also prevent cross-contamination by separating raw meats from other things when we store them in grocery bags, our freezer, or our fridge.

To avoid other safety hazards: make sure pan handles don’t face the front of the stove (they’re easy to knock down), cover a grease fire to put it out instead of using water, and remember that a falling knife has no handle. Also, stay in the kitchen. Not only have I learned my lesson since setting the towel on fire, my mom has banned me from leaving the kitchen while I cook.

Know How to Use a Knife (Spoiler: You Don’t Actually Know the Right Way)
Make sure to use sharp knives. Dull knives are hard to use and even more dangerous.

Professional cooks swear that one of the first things we should learn is how to properly cut vegetables. It will keep our fingers out of harm’s way, and it will drastically speed up how long it takes to prepare food. Since it’s a little hard to explain knife techniques through writing, I’ll just leave this quick video here that will revolutionize the way we slice and dice.

One knife-related rule that the video doesn’t mention is that we should always cut meat against the grain to make it tender instead of chewy.

Things to Keep in Mind While Cooking
Recipes are useful tools, and it’s important to stick to their instructions the first time we try out a certain recipe (this is why I always follow the recipes no matter what you suggest, Mom!). Also, read it all the way through before beginning to cook so you can make sure you have all of the required ingredients and tools and you understand all of the techniques it requires.

Recipes usually use abbreviations, so we should know what they mean. Here is a guide to abbreviations. Read it, memorize it, bookmark it—whatever you need to do. Just don’t be like me and always mess up foods by confusing tsp. with tbsp. No one except me could handle the spiciness of my spaghetti when I put a couple of tbsp. of red pepper flakes instead of a couple of tsp.

Recipes often use fancy words that mean different kinds of cooking, like broiling, boiling, and simmering. Yes, boiling and broiling are two different things. I don’t know what half of these things mean, so here’s a handy website to bookmark.

A common beginner’s mistake is to assume that cooking food on high heat will make it cook faster. I, too, learned the hard way that this doesn’t work. Basically the only thing you should cook on high heat is when you boil water (unless the recipe recommends it—listen to them, not me). Medium heat works for most other things, and food that needs to simmer should be set to low.

Many chefs recommend doing something called mise en place, which basically means get all our stuff together beforehand. Chop up everything that needs chopped and measure everything that needs measured. I’m so ready to start using this technique so I won’t end up realizing we’re out of eggs mid-recipe and having to run to the store.

It’s nice to feel accomplished after completing a recipe, but the feeling isn’t so great when we have a messy kitchen and still need to clean. We should clean as we cook, so we don’t have to face this depressing task at the end.

Now Let’s Go Cook Something Better Than Ramen
Find a recipe for a food you love and try it! Personally, I like to find recipes on allrecipes.com. Making breakfast foods is supposed to be a great way for beginners to learn lots of different skills, especially how to cook different types of eggs.

If you need more help, find a friendly mom or a grandma. And if you need something to make you feel better about your own cooking, email me for more stories about my terrible cooking or read this list of cooking fails

Contact Alyssa Schad at alyssaschad@gmail.com