You don’t need to attend Le Cordon Blue to cook like a trained chef. All you need to cook like a pro is a little bit of knowledge, a few kitchen essentials, and practice. Below are ten tools, tips and tricks of the trade that will go along way in helping you serve up some chef-like food.
#1 The Knife: Every Chef knows the value of the right equipment and a quality knife is the single most important kitchen tool. There are many high-end knives that you can buy if you are willing and able to fork out the cash, but if you do not want to spend $150+ there is an exceptional option that is available for under $50 and it is the Victorinox 8’ Chef knife. Pro’s and foodies agree, this is a knife that should be in your collection.
#2 The Temperature. Buy an oven thermometer (and a meat thermometer while your at it). Spend the $6 and invest in this essential gadget. Why is this a must have for every kitchen (even a professional kitchen). Every oven is different, they heat differently and even though you may turn the dial to 350° your oven may only be 300° or it may be 390° by the time it has finished its preheating. So if you are wondering why some of your baking doesn’t turn out “just right” oven temperature may be the cause.
#3 Stick with it! The final tool I will mention in this article is the Immersion (aka Stick) Blender. This is one of my favorite kitchen tools and a must have if you want to make your soups velvety smooth. A great tool for also making salsa, homemade mayo, smoothies, pesto, and with a few pulses you can make that Bolognese just like the one you had in Italy. It is easy to use, quick to clean, and not as messy as a blender.
#4 Check the Date. Spices typically last three to four years. So, if you are wondering why your Curry Chicken tastes like bland hospital food and not that exotic mouth watering recipe you dared to try for that dinner party, it may very well be because your spices are outdated and out of flavor. When you buy new spices make sure to date them so you will be better able to keep track of their shelf life. If you want to season with confidence check the date of your spices TODAY.
#5 Prep like a Pro. Every restaurant puts in the time to do the prep work before a pan is placed on a burner and before a protein is laid on the grill. Read the entire recipe from start to finish before you begin. Make sure you have everything you need and then do the work and prepare your ingredients before you start cooking. There is nothing worse than scrambling to chop an onion while the garlic burns on the stove, this can ruin a dish, it is an opportunity to be careless and cut yourself, and it can generally make the whole cooking experience rather stressful. Take my advice and prep like the pros and your cooking will be easier and more enjoyable.
#6 Keep it Fresh. The importance of fresh ingredients cannot be overstated. The fresher the better when it comes to cooking. One way to keep it fresh is to cook with seasonal products. If you cook with what is in season you will not only save yourself a little money, but you wont have to do as much to your food in order to bring out the fullness of their flavors.
#7 Keep it hot! Don’t start cooking until your pans are HOT. Instead of putting a cold pan on the stove, adding oil, and dropping in the object of your searing dreams, put your pan on the stovetop with the flame on low while you prep your ingredients, this will ensure that your pan will be ready for the moment of searing truth (not to mention your food will cook faster in hot pans!)
#8 Take a Bath! When vegetables take the sad turn from bright green to dingy dull you can be left emotionally sagging like your veggies. The reason for lifeless looking veggies is usually due to overcooking or soaking them too long in acidic dressings. So, if you want to keep the green in your green beans (and other veggies) then cook, drain, and serve right away (cook green veggies for no more than 7 minutes). If you won’t be eating those delicious greens right away then just give them an ice bath (aka blanching or shocking). Cook for about two minutes in boiling water, remove and dunk them into an ice bath. This will stop the cooking process and help those veggies stay bright and green. Vegetables can be quickly reheated and remain green by sautéing in hot pan. Also, when dressing veggies in a vinaigrette, wait until a few minutes before serving to dress them, that way they will keep their vibrant color.
#9 Clean as you Go! If you’re like me there is nothing worse than finishing the hard work of cooking for friends and family only to see a pile of dirty pots and pans piled high. The answer is to clean as you go. Simply fill the sink with warm, soapy water, and as you finish with that pan, slide it into the water and let it sit for a few minutes. Come back in between cooking items and everything will usually wipe off easily, Finish with a quick hand washing and the worst part of cooking (the cleanup) just became a whole lot easier.
#10 Taste as you go! I saved the best for last. This is one of the most overlooked, yet most important aspects of home cooking. For you chefs out there this is second nature, but for you weekend foodie warriors’ overlooking this step is the fastest way to serve up unsavory and unappealing food. Recipes do not always have the right proportions; so use your palate as your guide and taste as you go. You would be surprised at the difference an extra pinch of salt or an additional dash of pepper can make.
Stay tuned for another article coming soon on Kitchen shortcuts and ingenious tips for cooking at home.