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25 (Very Doable) Tips That Will Make Anything You Cook Taste Better, According To A Pro Recipe Developer And Culinary School Grad

"It's the secret to better mashed potatoes, extra-tender pancakes, and easy 3-ingredient frosting."

Hi! I'm Grace. As a freelance food writer, recipe developer, and culinary school grad, I'm often tasked with testing and reviewing the latest viral recipes on the internet. Along the way, I've picked up several tips and tricks that I turn to often in my day-to-day life. Here, I'm sharing some of my favorites that I think will improve your home cooking as we head into the holiday season — and beyond.

The author shaping dough on a countertop

1. Whenever a chocolate cake recipe calls for water, use brewed coffee instead. It deepens the chocolatey flavor and makes the cake taste more complex. This is true for boxed cake mix, too!

a whisk in a bowl of chocolate batter

2. Always keep sour cream on hand, even if you don't like how it tastes. It's the secret to creamier frittatas, slightly tangy mashed potatoes, extra-tender pancakes, moister quick breads, easy 3-ingredient frosting (sour cream + melted chocolate + maple syrup) — and so much more.

a pot of mashed potatoes

3. To test a pumpkin pie for doneness, insert a paring knife into the filling one inch from the edge. If it's clean, the pie is ready to come out — even though the center will still be jiggly. Remember: The pie will continue to set as it cools.

pumpkin pie in the oven

4. If you're making stovetop popcorn, don't throw away the un-popped kernels. Instead, add a splash of oil to the pot, cover with the lid, and re-heat the kernels over medium-high until they pop. You can also try this in the microwave by placing the kernels in a paper bag.

a bowl of popcorn

5. If you don't like the white stuff (coagulated protein) that comes out of salmon, brine the uncooked salmon in salt water first. The brine will season the fish and prevent it from drying out, too.

cooked salmon on a sheet tray

6. The next time you make baked brie, skip the puff pastry and wrap it in several layers of butter-coated phyllo dough instead. The phyllo dough bakes up lighter and flakier, providing a better contrast to the rich and gooey cheese.

rolled up phyllo dough

7. Replace the oil or butter in your favorite granola recipe with extra-virgin olive oil. The bold, fruity flavor perfectly complements the toasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit.

toasted granola on a sheet tray

8. Anytime you make a grain salad, cook the grains first and toss them with the dressing to give them extra time to soak up all the flavor. Then, add the rest of the ingredients just before serving.

grain salad on a plate

9. When you're blind-baking a pie crust, fill the pie plate to the top with pie weights — don't just line the bottom. This ensures the sides of the crust don't slump down as it bakes.

pie weights weighing down a crust

10. For picture-perfect cookies, use a spatula to gently smash them when they're puffed and warm from the oven. This creates those sought-after crinkled tops and thick, gooey centers.

chocolate chip cookies on a baking sheet

11. When a recipe calls for honey, consider using hot honey instead. It's an easy way to jazz up salad dressings, caramelized Brussels sprouts, honey butter for cornbread, or even cocktails.

a container of honey

12. For next-level avocado toast, add a slick of coconut oil to the bread before adding the avocado. If it's solidified, no need to warm it first: The oil will melt upon contact with the hot toast.

avocado toast topped with an egg

13. Refrigerate brownies after baking, not before. Refrigerating the batter doesn't make a difference (some recipes claim it enriches the flavor), but chilling them for an hour after they're baked will make them extra rich and chewy.

brownies in a baking pan

14. For softer, more fully-coated cinnamon rolls, frost them twice: once when they're warm from the oven to moisten them, and again once they've cooled to create the thick and crackly coating.

cinnamon rolls in a baking pan

15. If you're softening a stick of butter for baking and it gets too soft, stick it in ice water until it firms back up. You'll know it's ready when your finger makes an indent, but doesn't slide right through.

a softened stick of butter

16. Use crispy mushrooms as a savory alternative to croutons. Tear the caps into bite-size pieces, toss them in oil and salt, roast at 450°F until crispy, then sprinkle onto soups and salads. Shiitakes are particularly good for this.

a tray of mushrooms

17. If you're out of breadcrumbs, search through your snack cabinet: Goldfish, Cheez-Its, or buttery Ritz crackers are equally delicious sprinkled on top of mac and cheese, or used as a coating for chicken tenders.

a casserole dish of mac and cheese

18. Every chocolate chip cookie should be made with at least 3 tablespoons of dough. Any smaller, and you'll miss out on the contrast between the crisp perimeter and soft and chewy center.

a ball of raw cookie dough

19. The first step when making French toast should always be to dry out the bread slices (15 minutes at 300°F will do the trick). This will keep the bread from getting too soggy as it soaks in the custard.

French toast cooking

20. When you're pan-searing halloumi (for salads, grain bowls, or appetizers), only cook it on one side. This will prevent it from overcooking and becoming tough and rubbery.

pressed halloumi on a grill pan

21. Store muffins uncovered at room temperature to keep their tops crisp. This is especially important if they have a crunchy sugary top, which I also recommend. One teaspoon of coarse sugar per muffin is a good place to start.

corn muffins in a bowl

22. Similar to pasta water, salty, starchy potato water should be saved, too. Just a splash adds creaminess to potato salads and thickens soups and gravies. It's also a great way to loosen up leftover mashed potatoes.

a pot of boiled potatoes in water

23. For better, more flavorful banana pancakes, mash one banana directly into the batter (just like you’re making banana bread), and slice the other one for topping.

a stack of banana pancakes

24. Before you juice your lemons for lemon bars, zest the lemons, and stir the zest into the filling, too. It lends an extra dimension of flavor and means there's less waste!

lemon bars on a cooling rack

25. Upgrade savory pies and quiches by mixing grated cheese, chopped fresh herbs, or nutritional yeast directly into the dough. If you're starting with store-bought dough, press the flavorings into the dough before adding the filling.

a quiche topped with bacon and tomatoes

Do you have a favorite cooking tip? Tell me in the comments below!