The best bang for reading-time guide for cooking
Let's divide cooking in a four steps and analyze each one of them:
In the first step we also consider the process of acquiring the ingredients. Discount stores are nice because of wider offerings, you can work around the shorter shelf life by freezing anything that you don't intend to use right away.
Let's consider some groups with some tips:
Fruits and veggies: Soaking in water/vinegar for at least half an hour can help the cleaning process, if they are full of dirt. It can also help re-hydration, although it this case we are talking about at least half a day of soaking (and never more than 48 hours, because bacteria). For veggies you can use almost the whole thing, but usually we throw away the harder parts that take too long to cook, but if you separate the harder parts, you can blend them and cook them separately (to make, soup or spices, or creams). Fruits peels are so and so, as a rule-of-thumb, peels with scales should be thrown, the smoother the skin the more likely it is (thoroughly) cleanable and edible, except for bananas. Don't use citrus fruits peel unless stated to be biological. Not all fruit peels are nice, some are toxic by nature, like pineapples, although you can argument that quantities matter. (i.e. there exist a liquor made from apple seeds, despite seeds of any fruit from the rosacea family of plants containing a small dose of cyanide).
Legumes: Dried legumes need a couple of washing, since they can collect dust and other particles during storage. Take care of storage places, many kinds of bugs can feed on them, use rigid storage boxes, not bags. The washing amount depends on how thick the legume's shell is. Legumes classified as beans and chickpeas need a good 24 hours, smaller legumes like lentils are fine with a couple of hours.
Powders: Like flour and sugars. If the storage place is not dry enough, you might need to sift the powder to break down the cluster that have formed because of humidity. Bugs like moths are also bad for flour, use good storage.
You can cut with knives, but there are many cheap tools that you can buy that help reducing vegetables and fruits into slices, or mashing into rough or fine powders. They either use some spring mechanism, or have a shape fit for some particular fruits/veggies.
Eggs have a wide adoption in cooking, they are used as:
emulsifiers (keep things together in an smooth liquid form)
binders (keep things together in a solid form)
leaveners (can trap air and give rise to doughs) Eggs are made from yolk (fats) and white (proteins and water). The white is mostly useful for binding/leavening solids, the yolk for emulsifying creams, or for garnishing. Remembering these facts, choose how to use eggs, and use an egg separator to optional use yolk and whites as different ingredients. When beating eggs, warming them (no more than 30C) and adding a couple drops of lemon juice (or citric acid) can help the mounting process.
During mixing we try to give the right shape and consistency to our subject.
Usually you want to mix by groups, solids with solids, and liquids with liquids. By solids we mean powder like ingredients, and by liquid anything that doesn't hold its shape. Unless you want air, in which case you mix sugar with butter.
If you are making a cake you want butter to be melted first before mixing, if you are making ice cream, you want pieces in ice cubes that will be blended together. If you are blending almonds and sugar to make nougat, you want them to be cold to avoid caramelization of sugars, which would prevent paste formation.
Sometimes it is important to pay attention to the duration of the mixing process. Making a dough for tarts you want it to be short, to prevent development of gluten bonds, which would give rigidity to the baked cake. Mixing too much liquids that already holds air (like beaten eggs or butter/sugar mix) breaks the air bubbles and lets all the air escape the batter. On the contrary when mixing a dough for bread, you want to give the mixing process enough time to allow gluten bonds to form to give elasticity to the dough which is important afterwards to shape the bread and give it mechanical strength to rise during the backing process.
Adding all the fats at once, like oil, can make a dough loose its consistency, breaking it down in smaller pieces. You want to gradually add fats to balance gluten creation with fat absorption. In the same way add ingredients like water or milk all at once is not a good idea. It is easier to work with a dough where solids and liquids are gradually mixed, and it helps spot errors in dosages sooner rather than later. Different ingredients have different water contents. You can find out how much water an ingredient has by checking the nutritional facts and then subtracting from the total (usually
100g), the sum of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The weight of minerals and vitamins is negligible. Total water contents are important to avoid a dough from becoming a batter and viceversa. Some ingredients (like potatoes, and blended fruits/veggies in general) can hold more water, because fibers prevent other ingredients like flour from absorbing too much water, however the resulting dough still ends up stickier and is harder to handle.
Chemical leavening: sodium/potassium bicarbonate or baking powder, to be added at the end of the mixing process, prefer quick mixing.
Organic leavening: yeasts from beer, or yogurt, or in dried (powder) form. To be added gradually during the mixing process.
Leavening agents work better with temperatures higher than 20C and less than 30C.
Fermentation continues as long as temperatures are above 0, slows down with too low temperatures and too high temperatures. Use the fridge and the oven (light) to regulate how much time to dedicated to fermentation.
High humidity is important for development of yeasts. A glass of water close to the dough can help (and keep them in an enclosed environment to trap humidity, or cover with a cloth)
a little bit of additional sugar can help the fermentation process, but usually grains from the dough already have enough sugar
Salt can slow down fermentation, and too much salt can kill yeasts altogether.
The fermentation process converts sugars into proteins, carbon dioxide and acids. Too much fermentation and the dough will spoil. As a rule of thumb, 2 days for doughs kept at room temperature, 2 weeks for doughs kept in the fridge.
Mechanical leavening: beaten eggs, creamed butter, blended fruit. These ingredients are able to trap air and therefore give rise when mixed within the dough during baking as the air tries to escape from the bubbles.
Mother yeast is a moderately fermented dough, kept constantly fresh (by periodically adding water and flour, and removing the old surface), used to kickstart fermentation on new doughs, it's ratio is around 1/4..1/3 of the new dough. Large black spots are bad (means spoiling), very small dark dots are fine, usually the outcome of oxidation.
Wine: fermentation of fruits (although legally only fermentation of fruits from vitis vinifera can be called wine, I think it is fair to generalize fermentation of fruits as wine.) 
Beer: fermentation of cereals
Yogurt: fermentation of milk
Cheese (Not all): Fermentation of coagulated milk after straining
Kombucha: Fermented tea
Mead: fermented honey
Vinegar: fermented wine (wine yeasts converts sugar into alcohol, vinegar yeasts convert alcohol into acetic acid) There are chemical compounds that can be added in fermented drinks to control acidity, color, flavor..:
ascorbic acid (vitamin C) (prevents oxidation)
potassium bicarbonate (reduces acidity)
sulfurous anhydride (slows fermentation)
tartaric acid (prevents crystallization in wine)
Bentonite (prevents cloudiness)
Arabic Gum (stabilizes flavors)
Diatomaceous earth (it's bad, don't use)
potassium metabisolphite (can be avoided) The list is of course not exhaustive, always research any added chemical you want to use in your fermented products.
Different preps require different ratios of these ingredients:
Flour (cereals, nuts, seeds, legumes, etc.)
Eggs (fruits or yogurt, etc.)
Water (Milk, sauces, diluted wine, etc.)
Sugar (clear, raw, coconut, etc.)
Fats (Oils, butter, lard, etc.) You can find cheat sheets on the web that sum up in a nice table the ratios for the most common types of bakery. Not everything is interchangeable; non cereal flour doesn't contain enough gluten and the resulting dough will always be more crumbly, requiring more binding agents. There are sugar alternatives such as xylitol, erythritol, etc. but sugar is also important for its crystalline structure, which adds texture, and helps the formation of air bubbles. The crystalline structure is not always replicated in sugar alternatives, so you might have to at least balance out with more leavening agents.
Maillard reaction: Proteins, fats and sugars combining among themselves into more complex molecules. This is what gives flavors when cooking. It increases with higher temperatures and lower water contents (up until to burn out), so it is much more prominent on the surface of the cooked thing. It follows that if you cut things in smaller pieces, therefore increasing the surface area you will end up with more flavor (there might exist a thing as too much flavor though). Its relevant when baking, toasting, roasting and frying, all cooking methods with low or no water contents.
Caramelization: when sugar mixes with water at high temperature, as the reaction continues, water evaporates and sugars burns away becoming more bitter. Caramelization helps giving food a more rigid, crunchy crust.
Rising: To achieve rising it is common to pre-heat the oven in order create an high enough temperature difference to harden the exterior of the dough, such that vapor trapped inside boosts the dough upward. But you must be careful balancing temperatures with overall prep  humidity levels. If the prep is too dry, pre-heating will result in a burnt out crust and uncooked interior.
Smoking-point: Different fats evaporate at different temperatures, roughly:
olive oil: ~200C
oils from nuts: ~210C
oils from seeds: ~220C Don't go beyond this temperatures depending on which fats you use. This can't be avoided when using stoves, in which cases water contents of the food can balance out too high temperatures. (Induction cooktops allow you to control temperatures). Frying or browning procedures might require higher temperatures, but keeping below smoking point can still give acceptable results nonetheless.
Ventilation: Using the fan when baking gives a more even temperature inside the oven, but also dries the prep faster, can cause un-even cooking. Don't put the prep too close to the fan itself, air pressure is bad.
Stickiness: Use non-stick pans and skillets, unless the prep is mostly water, like soups or boiled veggies. For baking, non-stick sheets allow you to customize the shape of the dough, and by leaving some sheets border, it allows for easier extraction of the baked prep from the pan (which can then be put on a dish to rest). Both non-stick pans and sheets are made of teflon, and teflon doesn't play nice with temperatures above 280C.
Jams: When making jams, heat is the catalyst that allows sugar to bind to pectins molecules (from water). Acidity balances this transformation, not enough and it will take harder for sugar move out of water, too much and the pectin-sugar chains that trap water will be too loose, never allowing jelly to take shape (leaving you with a syrup like liquid). You can increase jellyness by artificially adding more (store bought) pectin, or be careful about fruits, as different fruits have different pectin contents, and pectin decreases as fruits ripen.
Water Reduction: When you boil preps like soups, jams, chutneys, sauces, creams, etc. the more you keep them on the stove, the more water evaporates from the mixture...(obviously). Thicker mixture will splash out bubbles harder (making a mess in the kitchen), therefore tune the cooking temperature accordingly to the density of the prep, the denser, the slower the boiling process should be. Less water means more concentrated flavors, always check out dosages of spices, and plan in advance how much water you expect to exclude, as a rule of thumb, spices take 1-3% of the total weight of the solid ingredients. When we use vapor, it means that the pot has to have a lid on it (to not let vapor escape), you don't need a pressure cooker, to cook with vapor, pressure cookers only speed up the process. You can avoid boiling veggies by using just a little water to kickstart evaporation; Most vegetables release a good part of their water contents when exposed to high temperatures, the water released also end up evaporating completing the vegetables cooking process (vegetables cook in their own water). Poking holes (for example with potatoes) speeds up the cooking process, as heat is able to reach the inner parts sooner. When using wine or vinegar for sauces/soups be aware that both alcohol (from wine), and acetic acid (from vinegar) are toxic when they turn into gas, (they are bad for your lungs). Most alcohol contents evaporates during the boiling process (almost 3/4 in half an hour). Don't reduce vinegar too much, as concentrated acetic acid can corrode metallic pans (terracotta handles it better). Boiling wine/vinegar will smell bad either way, but the added flavors to the prep will be worth it, (but don't over do it). Water and vapor slow down the Maillard reaction. Altitude affects the boiling temperature because of atmospheric pressure, the higher the altitude the lower is the boiling temperature.
Some preps are supposed to be consumed right away, like souffles others might require a few moments of relaxation:
Cookies should be allowed to rest until they reach room temperature, to expel residual vapors. Never put the cookies from the oven right into a closed box.
Sponge cakes, and stuffing heavy preparations (like tiramisu) need fridge time to absorb garnishments.
Pies need cool off time to allow the crust to solidify; (if you try to cut a piece while steel hot from the oven, it will crumble in your hands)
Ice Creams need freezer after the blending process, to recoup the right viscosity with low temperatures.
Wines kept on a shelf for a long time might develop (harmless) crystals on the bottom. Wine and Vinegar develops dregs overtime as yeasts inside of them dies. (Dregs is indeed made up of dead bacteria, it is edible, even if bitter).
Puff Pastry uses mechanical leavening from the stratification of different layers of dough, and it requires resting after each additional layer is worked on.
Salads require resting in the fridge, to absorb spices, oil and vinegar.
For pizza, focaccia and calzone recipes, resting the dough (at least half an hour) after having laid it out on the pan, allows for additional leavening to occur before placing the toppings.
Emulsion of oils and water don't last long (without helpers like lecithin), resting sauces made up of yogurt too long will give unwanted results.
When drying vegetables or fruits out in the open, beware of birds, alternatively use a drying machine or the oven at low temp.
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