Milk can help wash down failed baking experiments at home. But it can't save you from turning up at a holiday party with tough, flat or, worse, fugly cookies. The F&W Test Kitchen's Kay Chun, however, can help. Here, she explains how to avoid the most common mistakes. Read more >
There are, of course, an infinite number of ways to screw up Thanksgiving. You can bring your biological parents unannounced; you can make inappropriate jokes about the recently deceased; you can look bad, smell funny, or take all the scalloped potato crust, leaving just white mush for everybody else. But this being Food & Wine, I will stick to cooking mishaps. Any of these can easily happen, even to an experienced cook, and most of them have at one time or another. So be vigilant! Read more >
Chefs are not, for the most part, happy people. Let's get that out of the way. They work long hours, they have hardly any home lives to speak of, and they spend their whole day being mad at people who hate them right back. It's a rough job. But it doesn't make it any easier when diners (in their minds, anyway) go out of their way to make them miserable. And while there are many ways diners can make chefs hate them, these five are surely near the top of the list. Read more >
Just as bartenders have evolved to become more knowledgeable and engaged with their craft, so too have bar patrons. But not every bar—nor every barkeep—can keep up. Pay attention and you might spot a few surefire signs: If your bartender mixes a classic daiquiri with bottled sour mix, or shakes a Manhattan (a drink that should invariably be stirred) it’s an indication you ought to stick to the basics. We talked to a few cocktail industry vets to suss out other harbingers of doom behind the bar. Read more >
Pommes Anna at Minetta Tavern
With Easter and Passover around the corner, there will be much attention paid to headlining meats: brisket, lamb, ham. That said, there is one food that's almost more important to master—since it's as essential to the success of holiday meals as weeknight dinners—the potato. Here, the talented chefs at New York's Minetta Tavern, Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr, help suss out the most common mistakes made by home cooks when roasting, mashing and frying that humble and delicious vegetable. Click here to see what you're doing wrong.
© Courtesy of Magnolia Bakery
Magnolia Bakery Cupcakes
“I think my mother’s sick of me sending her cupcakes,” says Magnolia Bakery president Bobbie Lloyd. That’s not to say Lloyd will ever tire of America’s enduring dessert obsession. She served cupcakes at her wedding long before they became trendy. While Magnolia’s cupcakes can arrive literally overnight, Lloyd is happy to encourage baking at home. Here, she shares six mistakes that home bakers make when trying to create the perfect cupcake.
1. Skimming the recipe. Thoroughly reading the full recipe before getting started will help you avoid unwanted surprises midway through. Even as a professional baker, Lloyd admits to skipping this step: “There have been times where I’ve run out of vanilla extract, or sometimes my brown sugar will be as hard as a rock because I haven’t baked in a while.”
2. Using warm butter. Cupcake recipes often call for room-temperature butter, but what is room temperature? “For all intents and purposes, it should be 70 degrees,” says Lloyd, “but most people's home kitchens are too warm.” This is a problem if you want to make cupcakes from scratch, since butter is the leavening in those recipes. “When the butter is warmer than it needs to be,” she says, “you can’t whip it into the ingredients long enough, meaning the end result doesn’t come out as it should.” Her quick tip: If you take butter straight out of the fridge, then put it in the microwave on defrost for 10 seconds, it should reach the correct texture.
3. Forgetting to check the oven temperature. “Most home cooks never think to check this,” says Lloyd. It’s especially important when you’re working in a new or unfamiliar kitchen. “The first time I tried baking something in my new apartment, I burned a cupcake recipe I’ve been making for years. I went out and bought a thermometer, and guess what? The oven temperature was actually 75 degrees hotter than what I’d set it to!”
4. Substituting ingredients. Be careful how you alter a recipe. “A friend of mine once added cake mix instead of cake flour to a mixture of flour and baking soda, and her cupcakes ended up exploding in the oven!” says Lloyd.
5. Watching TV instead of your cupcakes. It’s extremely easy to overbake cupcakes, so don’t lose track of the time. “If the recipe says 25 minutes,” says Lloyd, “go and test them in 20.” If the tester comes out clean at that point, go ahead and take them out to cool, since they’ll continue to bake for a few minutes outside of the oven.
6. Letting your cupcakes cool completely in the pan. After taking your cupcakes out of the oven, Lloyd suggests removing them from the pan after about 10 or 15 minutes. “The cupcakes will absorb too much moisture if you leave them in any longer,” she says. And soggy cupcake paper is never pretty.
© © Con Poulos
1. Test to see how much oil you really need. Do not fill the pot with oil yet. Using cold water, measure how much liquid should be put in the pot to cover the turkey without overflowing onto the burner.
2. Go outside. Turkey frying should only be done outdoors, on a flat and level surface—not in an enclosed area (like a kitchen or garage) or on a wooden structure (like a deck)! Also, remember that oil is also hard to clean off of concrete. Make sure to clear the area of children, pets and intoxicated relatives.
3. Use a fresh bird, or fully thaw a frozen one. The minute any moisture from the turkey hits hot oil, the oil will start to splatter and can cause a spillover effect, starting a fire.
4. Skip the stuffing. You’ll have to keep the stuffing on the side when frying a turkey. Michael Symon’s stuffing muffins with lemony mushrooms and pine nuts, or butternut squash with corn bread, are fantastic. Also, remember to remove the giblets from the bird’s cavity before frying.
5. Lower the bird slowly into the oil. Do not drop the turkey into the deep-fryer.
6. Do not move the pot. Are you Homer Simpson? Adjusting a vat of hot oil is incredibly dangerous.
7. Stick around. Never leave the turkey unattended. It can only take a moment for something to go wrong.
8. Don’t start drinking until after the oil has cooled. Better to be alert until this bird is cooked.
9. Wait to carve. Let the cooked turkey rest for at least 30 minutes, in order to retain the hot juices.
10. Keep heavy blankets nearby for emergencies. Water will not extinguish an oil fire, it will only spread the ignited oil. A wool blanket will help put out flare-ups.
Related: 30-Minute Thanksgiving Recipes
© © Con Poulos
What Not to Do:
1. Overstuff the cavity. By the time the stuffing reaches a safe temperature (165 °F) in an overstuffed bird, the white meat will be totally dried out. Parisi’s rule of thumb: Cook no more than five cups of stuffing in a 15-pound bird and bake the rest in a separate dish. She also stuffs the neck, which won't increase overall cooking time.
2. Crowd the oven. Like a teenager, a roasting turkey likes privacy and space. Baking casseroles and other foods with the bird disrupts oven temperature and alters your turkey’s expected cooking time. Also, if the bird is placed too close to the top of the oven, the breast will dry out and the skin will burn; you should remove some of the higher oven racks to make room.
3. Check the bird obsessively. Opening the oven door cools down the oven so much that you’ll end up increasing the cooking time by a lot.
4. Carve the turkey immediately. Turkey needs to rest for at least 30 minutes to keep the juices from flowing out of the bird and drying out your meat. Resist the urge to carve right away and go freshen up. If guests aren't already waiting for you, they'll certainly be there soon.
5. Brine a kosher turkey. Since a kosher turkey has already been treated with salt, brining it will yield an overly salty turkey.
© Courtesy of John Besh Restaurant Group
Chef John Besh knows fish.
1. Buy bad fish. The easiest way to foul a fish dish is to not have a relationship with your fishmonger. If you don’t know where the fish is coming from and when it was caught, you’re making the first mistake.
2. Over season. You can mask a fish's delicate flavor with too many spices. We're in this day and age when everyone has a can of something they love to shake over food. But not all cans are created equal, and fish requires restraint; a little touch of salt will go a long way. An exception would be a really firm fish that's great for grilling, and can also handle heavier seasoning.
3. Cook it like chicken. People beat up fish by treating it like chicken or beef. Fish should be cooked as little as possible. When you overcook it, it pulls apart and gets very dry, since there's not that much fat. People who don’t like rarer fish can cook it, but no more than medium. You can test for doneness the same way you would with any other meat—to the touch. You want to cook it so the flesh slightly springs back when you push on it with your finger. Beware of carryover cooking, which is when food continues to cook even though it's been taken off the heat. Unlike meats that take 10 to 20 minutes to rest, fish are made to be eaten straight from the pan.
4. Disregard the style of fish. The texture will tell you how to cook it. A white, light, flaky fish like sole is easy as sin to overcook. Sole is meant for a little flour and brown butter in a pan—a squeeze of Meyer lemon and you’re in business. If you grill something delicate, you’ll taste the smoke instead of the fish. Mahi mahi and tuna, on the other hand, are great for the grill.
5. Make a heavy sauce. Fish are delicate, and when they’re fresh, you should be able to taste the sea. Fish have a lot of flavor and you want to sauce them in a way that will elevate the flavor, not steal the show. Vinaigrettes are under-rated; grilled salmon needs just a citrusy, sweet-sour vinaigrette. Lemon and butter are two things that white flakey fishes crave.
© Melissa Hom
Robbins was just beginning to learn about Italian food when she worked with Scarello and his family. "Mama [Scarello's mother] made pasta every morning," she says. "Every day, I would try to beat her down there, and she would already be halfway done at 8 a.m." More than a decade later, Robbins is a pasta master with her own Michelin star. Here, she shares five mistakes for home cooks to avoid.
1. Overcooking it. This might seem basic, but it's the surest way to ruin pasta. For dried pasta, you want some firmness at the center, but you can also tell by color if you're heading for trouble. "If you get to that really white color, it's totally overcooked." Your pasta should exit the water slightly undercooked, so it can finish cooking in sauce.
2. Not salting the water properly. "This is a really big one," says Robbins. To get it right, here's the procedure: Boil the water, add the salt, let the water come back up to a boil and then taste it. "It should be a little less salty than seawater." This is actually much easier at home—where you'll typically only be making one pot of pasta—than in a restaurant kitchen, where the water boils down and needs adjustment throughout the night.
3. Choosing the wrong sauce. Think about where you want the flavor in your dish to come from. "If you want to highlight the filling of a ravioli," says Robbins, "you might not want to use a super-strong sauce." On the other hand, orecchiette, with its tiny, sauce-catching pockets, is perfect for an intense ragù.
4. Not sweating the details. When making fresh pasta, little differences can have a big effect on the finished product. Robbins advocates using extra-fine, double-zero flour ("really, really important"), being careful not to overwork the dough, and letting it rest. As for eggs, Robbins uses only the yolks, which creates incredibly tender pasta.
5. Pouring the cooking water down the drain. "You really want that starchy water," says Robbins. "Even if you drain the pasta in the sink, you should save the water." A bit of pasta water will aid just about any sauce, improving its consistency and lending a little salty flavor.