Heya duders and dudettes!
After watching this latest Steal My Sunshine I figured the GB crew really needs some coaching on this whole cooking thing, especially Dan. I'm not a trained cook (only a couple of months of apprenticeship), I don't consider myself a "professional", but I do really like cooking and over the years I've picked up little tips and tricks which have served me well.
The fun thing about cooking is that a lot of it boils down to simple physics and chemistry, so getting good at cooking does not only score you tasty food, but also a better understanding of chemistry and physics! What's not to like?
First things first, let's start with something easy everybody can relate to: Cooking pasta.
A common beginners mistake when cooking pasta is putting the salt into the water before the water is boiling, don't do that.
Adding the salt to the cold water increases its boiling point, thus you end up having to wait longer till your water is boiling, wasting time and energy, add the salt only after you've got bubbly boiling hot water. Putting a lid on your pot helps the water to get boiling faster as it increases the pressure inside the pot and helps to keep more heat in there, just make sure you don't close the lid once you add the pasta and the water is back to cooking because that will lead to the water overcooking, either remove the lid or put it on "half".
Another common beginners mistake: Too much pasta, not enough water/pot. It's always better to use a pot that's too big rather than too small, you want your pasta to have lots of room to swim around, free range pasta is happy pasta and happy pasta is tasty pasta!
Once you've got your water boiling hot, with plenty of salt in it, it's time to throw in your pasta.
Take note of the recommended cooking time on the packaging of the pasta, different types of pasta need different cooking times and even 2 minutes can make the difference between nice al-dente pasta and pasta-mush (yuk!).
I usually use a timer on my phone, I start it once the water gets back to boiling after I added the pasta, as throwing in a lot of pasta will usually cool down the water to non-boiling. Once your timer runs out, or gets close to running out, you can fish out a piece of the pasta and try it, cool it down under running water if you can't handle eating steaming hot stuff. If it's still too chewy leave it for another minute and try again until it's exactly at the point you want it.
Got problems with pasta, like spaghetti sticking together? The solution to that is to stir up that cooking pasta every couple of minutes. Don't add oil to your cooking water to make your pasta "unstick", the oil will lay a film over the pasta and prevent the sauce from sticking to it.
Protip: The cooking water of your pasta can be used as a seasoning for whatever sauce you want to have with them (unless it's something consisting mostly of oil like aglio e olio) , it also helps the sauce to stick to your pasta, just be careful of not overdoing it because it's very salty, only add a cooking spoon full and try the taste.
For whatever reason some people like rinsing their pasta with cold water after draining the cooking water, it's a good method when making pasta salad and it "unsticks" them, but it also makes your pasta rather cold, so I'm not much of a fan. If your drained pasta tends to stick together just don't drain all the water, leave a little (only a little!) in the pot with the pasta and stir gently to unstick it when you serve.
That's pretty much most I can think about in regards to cooking pasta, I hope this essay is at least a little bit helpful to some people. If there's interest I might expand on this by adding recipes for easy pasta sauces.
Do you have any good tips on cooking? Any easy recipes? Just add them here and let us make this a resource for people who want to get into cooking but are overwhelmed by all the "fancy" cooking stuff out there ;)