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Cooking like a pro with a few key tips

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A lot of us want to be better cooks, but don't have time or money to binge-watch Food Network shows, study at Le Cordon Bleu of London or experiment with five-course meals.

So what are frustrated (and often hungry) would-be chefs to do?

Plenty of websites have tricks and tips to make the cooking experience smoother and tastier. A quick perusal of some popular sites fostered a list of common mistakes home cooks make in the kitchen.

Among the top culinary boo-boos:

• Working with a dull knife. Nothing makes preparing food more difficult or drives chefs crazier than trying to cook with a knife edge that cuts like a sponge. Advice from top chefs is to always sharpen the knife a bit before starting to cut vegetables, meat or herbs.

• Not tasting while cooking. Every dish cooks a little differently, even with a recipe, based on altitude, ingredients, type of heat and more. Tasting while you cook lets you know if you need a few more spices, a little more salt or a dash more wine (for the food or yourself, either is good).

• Serving meat and casseroles too soon. It's important to let meat and casseroles rest a few minutes after they come out of the oven, off the stovetop or from the grill. The rest period allows all the juices to bubble through and the spices to infuse the food with flavor.

• Crowding food too much. Just like people, food needs a little space. Give some room in the pan around meats and veggies when cooking to let the heat surround the food more evenly.

• Overmixing. Some things are better left a little lumpy, like pancake batter. Go easy on the mixing unless a recipe calls for a heavy, thorough stir.

• Underheating. Get a pan nice and hot before adding oil. Then get the oil nice and hot before sautéing or cooking food.

Ultimately, the path to better cooking is to just practice. As Julia Childs said, "Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all, have fun!"

Or, as Childs put it another way, "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude."

Failing all that, get out the blowtorch.

For more tips, take a look at "57 Best Cooking Tips" from Epicurious, epicurious.com/expert-advice/best-cooking-advice-ever-article.

If more tips are needed, try the ever-effusive Food Network, "100 Best Cooking Tips of All Time," foodnetwork.com/profiles/talent/articles/100-greatest-cooking-tips-of-all-time.

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