• iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

  • iStock

Sometimes, you just can't look away.

No, seriously—you can't look away while you've got that cheesy toast in the broiler. Or when those nuts are in the oven. Because if you do, you're just setting yourself up for an epic fail.

So open your eyes, sweetheart—these are the cooking tasks you can't set-and-forget.

  • 1. Cooking garlic.

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    The pop, the sizzle, and then...the burn. It’s way too easy to overcook garlic, which gets aromatic in just a few seconds and turns bitter in just a few more. The real secrets to cooking great garlic are to watch it closely and start with a cold pan.

  • 2. Bringing milk to a boil.

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    It seems like the milk you’re cooking for pudding is never going to boil, so you turn up the heat and walk away for a while. When you come back, the pot has boiled over, your stove is covered in hot milk, and your pudding needs to be started again. The lesson here: use low heat, stir constantly, and never walk away.

  • 3. Toasting nuts.

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    It seemed like a great idea to toast some nuts for a salad topper, an oatmeal mix-in, or just a salty snack. That is, until one side got charred while the other is practically raw. Nuts are temperamental little things, so watch them carefully, shake the pan constantly during cooking, and remove them as soon as they start getting aromatic—carry-over cooking will finish them off.

  • 4. Frying calamari.

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    Unless you're slow-cooking squid for an hour or marinating it ceviche-style, it has to be cooked in the flash of an eye. (In some cases, 40 seconds is all you get.) Walk away, and your squid will be like rubber.

  • 5. Making a roux.

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    All good gumbo starts with a great base. And a great base comes from a great roux. And a great roux? Well, it's a tricky task. Cooking butter in flour takes time and constant attention, otherwise it might burn. So stand by the pot and keep stirring—you're going to be here a while (or for at least 20 minutes).

    Don't look away. More kitchen tasks you need to keep an eye on. 

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