Cooking 101 … 10 things you must know to make navigating the kitchen easier

cooking

Non cooks always come to me with questions asking what they could do to navigate the kitchen easier. Before I even say my peace, I ask what their regiment is like. 9 times out of 10, I realize they don’t know easy tips that makes the kitchen less daunting. No wonder cooking is a struggle! You’re banging pots, over flowing the sink, and endlessly chopping veggies before you even turn on the stove! I’m tired for you. Below are my 10 quick fixes that will put you well on you’re way to becoming a kitchen master.

10. Sharp Knives—onions and peppers won’t cut themselves! A dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one. It can slip and cut you while you dice up onions for a stir fry or garlic for a marinara sauce. Invest in a good, sharp knife set and you’ll see just how quick you can chop up ingredients. Best part? You can cut your prep down to just a few minutes! Furthermore, a good knife set won’t hurt the bank either. I bought one for a friend for $24 at Home Goods. That’s one less excuse for you to avoid the kitchen!

9. Acid deglazes pots & even creates great sauces!—what? Come again?… Consider an acid: vinegar (red, white, apple cider, rice), white wine, sherry, red wine, or lime/lemon juice. You ever try to make pan seared pork chops or chicken breasts and get gook stuck on the pot? Instead of building up a sweat scraping that gook off, add some vinegar or wine to it while it’s still on the stove and watch your sauce come alive! The pan will deglaze and you now have the foundation for an amazing gravy/sauce! Don’t let this go to waste. All the flavoring is right there. Use it and watch your pan clean itself. It’s the best.

8. Burnt/Sticky Rice—don’t waste your time. Take the easy way out. Soak the pot in water and soap over night or boil water in it. The burnt rice stuck to the bottom will come off like magic… voila! Bonus Rice Tip: Once your water has boiled, and you’ve added the rice let the water dry out a bit. Once it dries, cover your pot and reduce your flame to the lowest possible. Cook for 30 minutes and you will have perfect fluffy rice every time without fail. (Note: Brown rice takes longer to cook)

7.  Potato peeler—this bad boy is your answer to fresh baked rosemary potatoes, potatoes au gratin, mashed potatoes and more…death to canned potatoes and mashed potatoes out of a box. RIP. *Moment of silence*

6. Bless the Trinity—Onions, garlic, and peppers that is. Anytime you’re freestyle cooking or need a foundation to a sauce or stew, dice up onions, garlic, and peppers and sauté them in olive oil. This will unleash great flavors. This recipe to success never fails.

5. Too Salty? – been there… been there a lot actually. Add tomato paste. Tomato paste eats up the salts and balances the dish. Sometimes a bit of tomato paste and some water will do the trick and even give you tasty sauce you had no idea was in the making. Who knew?

4. Two garlics cancel each other out—if you love garlic as much as I do then you’re always looking to add more and more! Try to get away from the easy fix of garlic powder and try grinding your garlic cloves in a mortar and pestle with salt. The salt releases the juices from your garlic unleashing bold flavors. Trust me, you won’t regret this! Another garlic tip—add your fresh garlic towards the end of your dish. Garlic cooks out and loses it flavor when cooked too long. Add it at the end and your taste buds will thank you.

3. Too Spicy?—add some lime juice, sugar, cream or milk. Sometimes depending on the dish, cream or milk won’t work but a dash of lime juice and sugar will mellow the spiciness.

2. Everything is in the kitchen sink—hate doing that big pile of dishes after you’ve cooked and stuffed yourself? … Yea, me too. Solution? Clean as you cook. It’s really simple and you’ll thank yourself in the end when all you have to wash is your plate and fork. Wash your cutting board and knife right after you toss your garlic and onions to sauté. Clean your pot when set your meat aside to rest. Make one pot wonder dishes to cut down on dirty dishes. Washing dishes as you cook keeps you busy and the sink empty.

1. Meat vs. Produce… Top vs. Bottom: Ladies and gentlemen this is a real issue. First off, ALL of your raw meat should be sealed in a container, or zip lock bag. NEVER place your raw meat on the top shelf of your refrigerator.  You’re asking for trouble, food poisoning, and cross contamination. Place any raw meat on the bottom shelf and remember to clean your refrigerator weekly! Produce should always be bagged or sealed and placed in the drawers if you have them or on the top/middle shelf. Ideally you will place them in the middle shelf since the top shelf is reserved for juice, milk, eggs, & bread. Try to have two different cutting boards—one for meat and one for produce. Clean any surface thoroughly where raw meat may have been. If you don’t have disinfectant, a dab of vinegar will do the trick.

Bonus: Need it done quick?: Pan frying anything will always be the quicker route. Just make sure everything is cut into small pieces and your oil and pan are hot. (Double Bonus: Making sure it’s hot also locks in flavor!) … Add a little bit of water to prevent what you’re cooking from drying and to make sure it cooks throughout. Browning, deglazing, or adding tomato paste creates quick sauce and gives your dish color. Garlic, fresh basil, lime/lemon, even a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil at the very end when you’re plating will elevate your quick dish. Enjoy!

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