The kitchen will become your playground once you learn a few basics. To ease you into the fun of this hands-on, how-to cooking school, we've assembled wonderful-tasting, simple-to-make dishes chosen for the cooking techniques they teach and the kitchen secrets they reveal. (And for you experienced cooks, we'll reacquaint you with how flavorful basic cooking can be.) For starters, there's easy roast beef ready in under an hour; chicken with pasta sauce prepared in a single skillet; and two kinds of fuss-free fish. For the big finish: a pair of fail-safe cakes that are bound to make dessert the highlight of any meal.
Cooking a beef roast couldn't be simpler or tastier. Use the tenderest of beef cuts; season it with a savory mixture of garlic, marjoram, lemon peel, and pepper; and then let the oven take over to do its magic.
Trimming veins from sweet peppers gives them a more "finished" look.
Your hands are your most important kitchen tool. In this roast recipe, you use them to spread and pat an herb mixture evenly over the meat's surface.
A roasting rack allows the oven's heat to reach all sides of the beef, cooking it evenly. No roasting set? Use the broiler pan from your oven.
Don't guess; use a meat thermometer. Insert the thermometer at a 45-degree angle so the tip rests in the thickest part of the meat.
One pan is all it takes to make both the tender, succulent chicken and its spirited sauce of tomatoes, garlic, and onions.
When fitting chicken into a skillet, don't worry if pieces overlap; after cooking a few minutes, pieces will shrink into place. Then the meat takes on the rich, full flavors that come from browning.
Nice even slices are the result of using the knuckles of the hand holding the onion to guide the knife blade; keep fingertips tucked away from the blade.
For safety's sake when transferring hot foods to a blender, place the hot skillet on a trivet or pot holder and use a spoon to make the switch.
Fish is foolproof when it's simmered gently in a fragrant herb broth and served with garnet-hued beets. On the side is a tasty sour cream that's made with just a push of the blender's "on" button.
No-fuss, fresh-herb flavor is easy to achieve when ingredients are tied in cheesecloth (called a bouquet garni) and dropped into the pan with the fish.
Cook beets first to make short work of tough skins. Peel under a running faucet so the beet juice is rinsed away before it can stain.
Poaching means cooking in simmering liquid. It's one of the best ways to cook fish because it just about eliminates the danger of a dried-out result.
Measure fish to take the guesswork out of figuring the perfect cooking time; you'll want to allow 4 to 6 minutes for each 1/2-inch of thickness.
To determine if fish is done, insert a fork into the thickest part of the fish and give a gentle twist. If the fish flakes easily and is opaque, it is ready.
Steady fish with a fork when turning it in the pan -- a trick that works with many foods.
We've stood these two-bite, vanilla-scented cupcakes and their middle-size siblings on their heads for an adventure in carefree baking that's destined to be delicious.
Unlike flour, which needs only stirring before measuring, powdered sugar must be sifted through either a sieve or a sifter because it can pack down or lump during shipping. If you use the sugar when it's packed down, you will wind up with too much of the sugar in your frosting. Plus, lumpy sugar makes lumpy icing. How to sift: Spoon powdered sugar into a sifter or a sieve. Holding it over a bowl, operate the handle of the sifter or push the sugar through a sieve with a wooden spoon, stirring, if necessary, to break up any lumps. Then gently spoon it into a dry measuring cup or a measuring spoon. Level off the excess with the straight edge of a metal spatula or knife.
Filling cups only two-thirds full leaves room for batter to expand into a well-shaped cake. Push sticky batter from the spoon with another spoon, or a rubber spatula, to get consistent results.
For better control of the pastry bag, use one hand to squeeze the frosting and the other hand to guide the tip.
Squeeze. Stop. Lift. That's the secret to pastry bag success. Hold the bag straight down with the tip just above the cake's surface. Squeeze out the frosting. Stop pressure. Lift bag straight up to finish.
Here's a cake so sumptuous, all you'll crave with it is fresh fruit. For an extra treat, top servings with a quick combo of Italian-style cream cheese, nuts, and honey.
If there's one secret to reliable baking, it's to get all your ingredients set out and measured before you start. Great cakes are the reward for a baker who doesn't leave the mixer until all ingredients are added; you don't want batter to sit while you hunt for the salt.
Measure your way to baking success. First, stir flour in its bag or canister to lighten, then gently spoon into a dry measuring cup. Level with the straight side of a knife or spatula.
Beating batter thoroughly ensures a tender, light cake. Consider using a timer to help you beat for the number of minutes called for -- this also eliminates the chance of overbeating.
Cakes are done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. It doesn't need to be completely clean. Tiny crumbs adhering to the pick are acceptable, but there should be no clinging wet batter.
After loosening the edges of cake with a knife, turn cake out of the pan by holding a wire rack tightly against the top of the cake pan with pot holders. Then flip it over so cake is resting on the rack. Set it on countertop. Lift pan slowly to make sure cake is releasing.