Photo: La Cucina Italiana Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking

The Spaghetti Mistake: Sticking Noodles Directly into the Pot
When it comes to boiling pasta, we've got the basics down: Use a generous amount of water, salt it well, stir frequently and don't overcook. But we had no idea we were putting the spaghetti into the pot the wrong way until we learned this maneuver, from La Cucina Italiana Encyclopedia of Italian Cooking, that will keep the pieces from sticking together. Hold the spaghetti in your hands and roll your palms in opposite directions, so the noodles fan out (instead of them all pointing in the same direction). Then let them fall into the boiling water. They'll naturally separate, so you won't have to break them apart as they cook. (And if you're cooking penne, ziti or other short pasta, shake it out of the container and into the water gradually, instead of dumping it in all at once, to prevent clumping.)

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The Steak Mistake: We're Afraid to Take a Peek
We hear so much about the right and wrong ways to cook a steak, which isn't surprising considering all the variables involved, from the thickness of the meat to the type of pan used to the cooking method. But there is one thing most of us probably do (or don't do, actually), that can make the difference between a perfectly tender steak and a tough one: We refuse to cut a meat open and peek inside to check for doneness, fearing the juices will come gushing out and the steak will then become dry. There's no truth to this rumor, says food blogger David Lebovitz in his most recent cookbook, My Paris Kitchen. Peek inside if you need to—that rib eye won't lose all its moisture; and besides, a steak with a tiny slit in it is much preferred to a steak that's gone tough from sitting in a skillet or on the grill a few minutes too long.

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The Broccoli Mistake: Boiled Is Our Go-To
Food writer Laura B. Russell gets why, when we're in a rush, we turn to simply boiling and buttering vegetables as a quick and easy side. But in her new book Brassicas: Cooking the World's Healthiest Vegetables, she says plunking broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprouts into boiling water breaks down their cell walls faster and more aggressively than other cooking methods like roasting, sautéing and stir-frying—which can make the veggies retain excess liquid and give them a watery taste (it also creates some pretty offensive odors). Instead, she recommends this technique for time-pressed cooks: Cut the vegetables into small pieces, toss with olive oil and salt directly on a rimmed baking sheet and slide them into a hot oven. Plus, this trick will help them caramelize beautifully.