Here are 15 more kitchen tips and tricks for anyone who loves to cook on our way to #101. Last week we started with some basic food philosophy and cooking guidelines that are helpful for the home cook as well as the seasoned professional. We’ll continue on that theme this week and get more specific later on with sections on meats, produce and the always exciting world of food safety.
Kitchen Basics (Part 2):
16. Look before you leap– If working from a recipe, read through it once or twice before starting. It’s always best to know where you’re going before you get there.
17. Prep ahead- No restaurant cooks your meal from scratch; if you can prepare certain items like making stocks, sauces or cutting veg ahead of time, it will make the final cooking process that much easier.
18. Stock your cupboard– Every time I shop, I try to add something new to my pantry, whether it’s a new spice, a vinegar or a different grain. It’s a good way to try new things and expand your options for future meals.
19. Leave the jar behind– Learn to make things like tomato sauce and jams from scratch. It’s usually cheaper, tastes better and doesn’t have as many unpronounceable preservatives on the ingredients list.
20. Buy it whole– Sure, it’s easy to buy a 10 pack of chicken breasts at the store, but it’s pretty expensive and you miss out on some of the best parts of the chicken. Learn to break down a whole chicken and you can get several meals plus a nice pot of delicious chicken stock.
21. Waste not, want not– This goes hand in hand with #20. Our ancestors were pros at using every bit of food, including the bits that many of us throw out. Mushroom stems can be dried for flavoring stocks, stale bread can become breadcrumbs and food scraps can be turned to compost for growing even more food.
22. Speaking of growing food– Nothing has ever tasted so good as the tiny carrot I pulled from my small garden as a kid. Even if you don’t have a ton of space, a small pot or window box with some fresh herbs can contribute to your meals on a daily basis.
23. Vegetarians are killers too– I might catch a little flak for this, but I know many vegetarians who don’t ever check the source of their veggies. Not all, but some vegetarians eat factory farmed soy and genetically modified vegetables that are responsible for the loss of thousands of species from their local eco-systems. Make sure you know your facts before choosing a label for yourself and remember that you can’t separate food from death.
24. Diversify– If you are on holiday visiting a foreign country, or a different region of your own, do as the locals do and try their food. There was nothing more disappointing than being in Mexico and having to go off the beaten track for a decent taco, because all the tourists wanted was Italian, Sushi and ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.’
25. Don’t forget the booze– Alcohol is a great ingredient, and if you’re anything like me, you always have some lying around. Wine, beer, rum, brandy, cognac, vodka and bourbon (among others) all have a place in cooking. You usually will cook off the booze, but the flavors they deliver can still pack a punch and add to a lot of dishes.
26. Don’t forget the booze, part 2– Alcohol is a great ingredient, when served at dinner with a good meal and good company. Whether it’s Chianti with pasta Bolognese, a margarita with tacos al pastor or a beer with your bratwurst, pairing alcohol with food is a time-honored tradition and a perfect recipe for an entertaining night.
27. A clean fridge is a happy fridge- We’ve all been guilty of buying food, using half and letting the rest rot in the fridge. Let one meal flow into the other and use what’s leftover for the next meal. I’ve been known to use what I like to call a FCM (Fridge Clearing Maneuver), creating a soup or stir fry using anything and everything left in the fridge for a fantastic mess of a meal. It may not be your most composed dish, but at least it’s not going to waste.
28. Your cutting board is for cutting, not for storage– Sometimes, in an effort to reduce our dirty dishes we make a mess of our work space, but the 30 seconds it will take you to wash a couple small bowls will make the process of prepping that much easier. Combine ingredients that you’ll be using together in separate bowls and when it’s time to cook you’ll have everything on hand and easy to use.
29. The spice is right– Learn to use different spices. Some dishes don’t need anything more that salt and pepper, but when a dish calls for a little more, you’ll need a good spice rack. Buy your spices whole and toast them in a dry pan to really bring out their flavors. Keep an extra electric coffee grinder on hand to grind your spices for different applications.
30. A method to the madness– More on these techniques in the next segment, but learn to master different cooking methods including grilling, sautéing, broiling, braising, smoking, roasting and baking. The more you get comfortable with each method, the more versatile your repertoire will be.