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I will begin this article by saying that I love my family dearly. They are family, and to a point, you can't really expect anyone to be perfect. That being said, a pretty large portion of my family are terrible, potentially lethal cooks.
Over the years, I have proudly trained myself to be a good cook—primarily because not learning would have meant relying on my family's cooking for a longer period of time.
I won't say that my family really taught me how to cook. I will say, though, that I have learned to avoid the worst cooking mistakes people make after seeing the effects of their errors on my dinner plate.
Not sure what to avoid? Here are some of the worst things I've seen happen in the kitchen.
Falling Asleep While Making Food
Falling asleep while making ramen is a family tradition of sorts. Everyone but my dad and my aunt did this at least once. Of course, we all know when it happens because smoke fills the kitchen and we end up looking at a pile of activated charcoal on a plate as "dinner."
I remember the first time I got drunk enough to almost burn the house down. It smelled like death, I almost burned the kitchen down, and the experience cemented my belief that this is one of the worst cooking mistakes you can do.
Adding Too Much Yeast to Your Bread Dough
When my mom came to America, she was used to yeast that didn't really work very well. So, when she saw that American recipes asked for very little yeast, she didn't believe the recipe. She added about 1/8 a cup of yeast to her bread dough instead, then baked it.
The bread grew. And grew. And grew. Until finally, the bread stuck to the ceiling of the oven. It was a lot like that I Love Lucy sketch, except with more fire department calls.
Not Reading the Ingredients When You're Cooking
This is another major issue that we have at home, especially when it comes to my mom. She'll buy cans of soup for recipes, only to ignore the fact that they aren't the correct cans. She'll season stuff with paprika instead of chili, simply because they're both red.
After having eaten stuffed grape leaves topped with clam juice and sugar, I can tell you that reading the boxes of ingredients is really, truly crucial to your cooking skills.
Forgetting to Cook Your Food on the Right Pan or Pot
True story: pots and pans are there because they make cooking easier and help food heat evenly throughout. When you see someone place a pizza on a rack without a pan, you can bet that they are making a pretty bad mistake as far as heating goes.
The same can be said of bread, cookies, or anything else that has stuck to the bottom of my family's oven as a result of this mistake. If you're low on pans, you might want to check out these kitchen hacks to help you make the most of your budget.
Taking Food Out Too Early or Too Late
Timing is everything in cooking, and I know this firsthand. Aside from dealing with burned or overcooked food, the bigger issue of this is the chance that you could accidentally cause food poisoning in your guests.
I've been known to take food out too early, primarily because I forget when I put the food in the oven. Learning a couple of good baking hacks can help you figure out when foods like bread or cookies are done.
Mistaking Garlic Cloves for Garlic Bulbs
Learning food terminology is absolutely crucial to good cooking. It's important to understand the difference between mincing and chopping, a pint and a quart, or in my mom's case, a clove of garlic versus a bulb.
One time, back when I was a little baby, my dad let my mom cook a meatloaf dinner. She read the recipe and saw that it called for four cloves of garlic. Mom, being new to English, misunderstood and put in four bulbs of the garlic-y stuff.
Yes, hospital visits were involved. The pain was apparently horrific. No, she was not allowed to cook meatloaf for a while.
Adding Too Much Oil to Your Food
My grandfather really, truly, loved oil. Canola oil, to be precise.
He loved oil so much, he used it as a base for his soup when he visited. He opened up a packet of ramen noodles, added the spice to some canola oil, added the noodles, added ketchup, and added a jalepeno to create the most vile thing we've ever seen.
I remember my dad and I peering over the oven at this Lovecraftian monstrosity. We shook our heads; we couldn't eat this thing. Mom took a look next. We all exchanged glances, and decided to bribe mom's visiting cousin to eat it for us.
He threw up and wouldn't move for a day or so after that much oil entered in his system. Interestingly enough, he also had no interest in the beer we bribed him with, either.
Using Rotten Ingredients
OK, I'll admit, when I cook for myself (and myself only), I have a tendency of using old ingredients. The reason why is simple: I absolutely, positively, loathe wasting food. I see it as a sin, and so, I'd rather eat the food that's slightly rotten than throw it out.
I learned that this is one of the worst cooking mistakes to make after I ate a moldy salad that I microwaved at the office. We had to throw out the trash and spray the area down from the smell alone.
Oh, and it didn't taste too good, either.
Not Resting Your Cooked Meats, Breads, and Casseroles
When you pull something out of the oven, it's still cooking. You will need time for it to rest before you're able to dig in, otherwise it will end up tasting a bit funky or feeling a bit dry.
On a similar note, meats and casseroles need to rest after being cooked. They will usually release juice that will then be re-absorbed into the meat once they've rested for a minute or two. Home cooks should know this, since it really is part of the natural cooking process for tons of dishes.
One of the best kitchen lifehacks I learned was to let meats, casseroles, and breads rest for a couple of minutes before serving them. Not doing so will give you a very dry steak, or pretty weird-tasting casserole. (Go ahead, ask me how I know.)
Not Reading the Recipe
The above clip is for an ethnic cake called kadaif, or kataifi—depending on the region. It's a hard recipe to make, but my mom tried to make it regardless. The only problem is that she didn't read the recipe and decided to "improvise" with blueberry sauce.
Dad and I checked up on the cakes to see how they looked. We lifted the foil to take a peek, and were amazed at what we saw. The end result was a singularly large cake that looked like a giant, mutant, hairy hamster that died while oozing purple stuff out of its ass. Somehow, we lost our appetite for dessert that night.
We then realized that one of the worst cooking mistakes is not reading the recipe, and ignoring what the recipe calls for. Before you start, actually read what you're going to be doing. With luck, you won't end up with a brown and purple hairball once you're done.