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Things you've "unlearned"...or wish someone else would!

Hi everyone,

My autistic son (11) has taken an interest in cooking and is currently taking some classes at our local community college.

I'm posting to ask about kitchen methods you've learned, only to have to re-learn them again later...or things that make you cringe when you see others do them (haha)...

For example, the current thing all the children (thankfully, all--not just him) are having to "unlearn" is cracking eggs on the side of the pan, the instructors are telling them to use the countertops for that.

I figure eventually I'll have a personal chef go over knife skills with us, because I'm terrible with that and would not be able to provide any guidance and actually prefer he not watch me cut meat.

Once he learns a certain method, he'll have a terrible time changing it--and I'm waaaay more of an eater than a cooker!--so i'd like to know what to be on the lookout for ahead of time.

Thank you for your time.

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  1. Funny that you mention egg cracking!! I went to a culinary school event over the holidays, (a holiday party type thing), and we worked with a few chefs, and they corrected us all on our egg cracking. I was taught to use a butter knife to crack the egg, holding the egg in one hand, knife in the other. Never used the side of the pan, but I never thought about until just a few weeks ago.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Felixnot

      Funny. All my life I cracked eggs with a butter knife as you describe. Recently I've been watching cooking shows on tv and see all the chefs crack eggs on the side of the bowl, so I've been trying it that way, in an effort to be more professional. LOL

    2. Interesting that you brought up the eggs, as that was the first thing I thought of when I started to read your thread. And, for the record, eggs should be cracked over a separate bowl, not the one you're adding them to, in order to isolate any pieces of shell that might get into them. (CIA graduate here - that's how chefs do it). The countertop is OK for cracking, but the edge of a separate bowl will give you a cleaner "cut" of the shell with less shatter. Please dont let those community college folks teach your son how to toss food in a hot pan! Yikes! For knife skills you might try going together to a cooking class at a place like SurLaTable where you can both watch the hands-on methods. Its great that he's got an interest in this! I agree that teaching him the best way FIRST will alleviate the frustration of correcting him. Good Luck!

      4 Replies
      1. re: Cheflambo

        Actually, at least according to Jacque Pepin, eggs should NOT be cracked on the side of a bowl, but should be cracked on the countertop. Cracking on the side of a bowl or with a knife, pushes some of the shell into the egg and increases the likelyhood of contamination from bacteria.

        1. re: bnemes3343

          That's what Alton Brown says, too. He says the countertop is the way to go.

          1. re: bnemes3343

            The problem with cracking an egg on the side of the bowl isn't bacterial contamination as much as it is the greatly increased possibility of going a bit too deep and breaking the yolk! Cracking on the counter or a flat surface reduces the risk. But dropping the egg into a ramikin before adding it to the bowl with other eggs is a good idea. Doesn't happen often, but you can get a yolk with blood spots or whatever. And should you be making meringue, there's no risk of getting any yolk in with the whites.

            1. re: bnemes3343

              Aren't you going to cook these eggs? If you are so worried about bacteria, buy pastuerized eggs and give the eggs a light rinse -- just like you would an apple.
              Nope, I agree with the statement that the countertop method is less likely to break the yolk, but I also agree that it is not a clean cut and that when learned, the side of the bowl is the way to go. As for cracking on the side of the pan -- If I am cooking one or two eggs, and sunny side up or over easy at that, I will cheat and do it because experienced "crackers" don't usually get too many pieces of shells in things. The separate bowl is better when you want to isolate shells, or even if you are adding eggs to expensive baking ingredients and want to be able to pull out an egg with a little blood in it (so don't break the whole dozen into the same bowl).

          2. I've been relearning all kinds of things since becoming an Alton Brown disciple. The egg cracking thing, weighing instead of measuring, braising in an oven instead of over a low burner, and I'm sure more as I read more of my new AB cookbooks!

            1 Reply
            1. re: mordacity

              LOL, "weighing instead of measuring"...I think the pastry chef is going to have a stroke the next time she sees flour in a measuing cup! I did purchase the textbook On Cooking so will be learning myself as I go along. He's been interested in this for a long time and I'm glad the community college embraced him in thier classes. I know he's still very young, but when he turns 14 I'm supposed to pick a job I'd like the schools to train him for (I assume that's because high schools are so specialized these days), so I hope his interest continues. Thank you for your responses.

              p.s. They do put eggs in a separate bowl as Cheflambo suggested. ErikaZ I've found the bowls in the "professional kitchen" they use to be much more lightweight than bowls in my kitchen...so as the kids are hitting the bowl, it starts drifting down the counter!

            2. here's one i'd like clarification on: adding chopped garlic to hot oil before you cook...i've always learned that i should be adding my chopped garlic to a hot, oiled pan to infuse the garlic flavor into the oil. however, i remember watching a cooking show that said this makes the garlic bitter, so garlic should be added after the meat or vegetables...the asian cook in me says i must begin anything with oil then garlic, so i've been putting garlic in before and after...good thing i like garlic! anyway, can anyone confirm when to add the garlic?

              2 Replies
              1. re: soypower

                I do both, too. I like the nuttiness of cooked garlic but it's so different from the barely cooked taste which has a much stronger garlic flavor. I tend to use slightly smashed garlic for the oil and then more finely cut added in the end. I don't know if it's the "right" way, but I like it.

                1. re: soypower

                  It's okay to heat the oil, add the garlic, then add other food. You just don't want to let the garlic sit in the hot oil alone too long because it can go from "just browning nicely" to "burnt bitter" in a flash.

                  On the other hand, yesterday I watched Kylie Kwong use her very hot commercial wok to stir fry minced garlic and those tiny hot red peppers for the longest time! Which made me wonder whether the bitter garlic tast is sometimes a desirable thing in some stir fried dishes? Who knows? But if you add food to the pan fairly quickly, the garlic shouldn't turn bitter on you.

                2. jajsmother... First of all, the best of luck with this! If you are introducing your children to the wonders of cooking, then only good things can happen. I see a lot of precise advise here (including my own) about how to crack eggs in just the right way, the correct way to mince/cook garlic, how to measure flour, etc. I think you need to step back a little from worrying about doing things the 'right' way. One of the beauties of cooking (and I'm not necessarily including baking) is how forgiving it is. The great joy in cooking should be in (1) simply enjoying the act itself. There's nothing I'd rather do for an hour or two in the evening than prepare a nice meal for my family and (2) the great satisfaction you get when those you are cooking for tell you something nice about your food. There is nothing in the world better than having your teenage daughter say "Dad, this is the best soup ever!!".

                  Some very basic practical advice: Unless you are personally going to tutor him and teach him recipes, I would urge you to get a good, complete, basic cookbook that really covers the gamut. I'm sure there are many, but the basic Americas Test Kitchen is VERY complete and generally contains simple to follow recipes, with simple to find ingredients. They often include explanations for why certain things are done. The recipes also work (you will find many, many recipes that simply have no hope of actually coming out right based on the instructions). Then work on basic kitchen technique: How to season your food, how hot to get your pans, how to saute, poach, roast, etc. Cooking is like many other disciplines where you really just learn a set of fundamentals and then leverage them to solve complex problems (or cook great dishes). You don't need to memorize 1,000 great recipes; you just need to work on some basic technique, get your hands on some decent recipes and then learn how to read/follow one. The more you do it the better you will get and there will be no turning back.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: bnemes3343

                    "I think you need to step back a little from worrying about doing things the 'right' way. One of the beauties of cooking (and I'm not necessarily including baking) is how forgiving it is."

                    THANK YOU. I say this with love, but I was starting to think you were all kind of nuts!

                    I mean, maybe if he ends up working in a restaurant kitchen someone will care deeply about how he cracks an egg, but it sounds like it will be hard to predict what that specific person's "right way" might be.

                    1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                      Oh, yes, most definately! Just to clarify, these are children's classes...the recipes and instruction are very basic. And, although he is holding his own in the classes, I'm unsure of his ability to read (he is, for the most part, nonverbal and does not write). He assists with basic cooking at home...um, verrry basic--my fault not his...so I've purchased some special-needs cookbooks to help us branch out into other things. These books are generally picture based, and for that reason very simple as well.

                      I am a definate believer in not pushing kids into anything and keeping activities light instead competitve. As someone going through a professional burn-out of my own, I'd never want to dampen something he is so interested and florishing in.

                      And, it also opens up a whole 'nother avenue as far as his therapies go...I know his vocabulary is better, because we walk through the grocery store naming fruits and vegetable...we touch them...we examine them...I show him which are "good" and "not good" choices with ripeness...I know he's better in math, because he has to be able to measure (snicker, and weigh!)...his social skills are better because they work in teams...probably even more things I cannot think of off the top of my head...it's really amazing to see him outside the kitchen and inside the kitchen. I know in summer camp, there is a banquet the kids invite people to, you better believe at least one of his teachers will be on that list!

                      1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                        Not that I don't agree with you 100% CookieMonster and bnemes, but keep in mind that the OP is specifically asking for advice for teaching her autistic son. Autism can take some slightly different turns and varies in severity, but typically, learning a general method and then being flexible when applying it to lots of other stuff (which is how I cook too) isn't an option for autistic people. They are usually memorizers, and generally once they learn something, that way is the 'right' way and learning a new way, or even a slightly different way, is very very difficult.

                        Just something to keep in mind.

                        1. re: wawajb

                          I get that. I'm saying--HOWEVER he (or any of us) first learns to crack an egg, I don't see how it would be so awful if he kept right on doing it that way.

                          Never mind.

                          1. re: BostonCookieMonster

                            Oh...well, yeah. I agree. I never put a lot of thought into cracking an egg before personally, and I'm not sure I've ever thought that somebody else was doing it wrong either. I was more directing the comment to bnemes I guess.

                    2. As one of my Culinary Instructors once told me:

                      it doesn't really matter which road you take to get there, as long as you get there.

                      A good life lesson too I think! Everyone needs to find there own way sometimes...

                      1. While you are thinking about how hard it is to change what he might learn, consider teaching him to live without too many gadgets. He won't always find them in a kitchen. Examples: Garlic presses, assorted "choppers", even whisks when a fork will do. You may want to teach him about when to use a whisk versus when to use a fork, and that the outcome can be the same with a few eggs. I also agree -- don't let them start teaching him to toss hot food in a pan. I have always thought that seemed very hard to do with my heavy stainless pans versus the lightweight aluminum you see in restos. I would go out of my way to make sure that they teach him to use a spatula because some pans are going to be too heavy, too hot, too full or just hazardous to toss, and I would hate to have him insisting that tossing is the way to go. I don't think I have ever completed cooking a meal by only tossing -- but then again, stovetop cleanup is my responsibility since I am not cooking in a restaurant.