How to avoid big mistakes in the kitchen

If you're a neophyte in the kitchen, you may not even know what you don't know. But with patience and practice come competence and confidence.

To help boost the newbie's know-how, we asked local cooking instructors about some of the most common mistakes made by their beginning students.

These teachers have seen and tasted it all — bland soups and dry, overcooked meat, lumpy doughs and tough-as-nails crusts. And they've lived to tell the tale.

Here are a few of the pitfalls you want to avoid, whether you're shopping, searing or sifting.

<em><strong>Jim Cason, department chair for the Santa Rosa Junior College's culinary arts program:</strong></em>

<strong> 1) Lack of seasoning savvy</strong>

In his classes, Cason teaches students how to master the basics of seasoning by encouraging them how to taste, analyze, adjust and taste again.

"It's a learned skill, like tasting wine," he said. "When you taste something, you're looking for that balance. What's the first thing that you taste? What is the last thing, and the lingering flavors?"

Even if you've already added salt, you often need to add more salt to heighten the flavors, he said.

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