Wednesday, July 1, 2015

100 Essential Kitchen Hacks, Recipes, Techniques, Insights, and Opinions

Mise en place. It is the key to classic French cooking. Learn what it is and use it every time you cook.
To peel garlic cloves, lightly crush the clove with your hand, just until the skin cracks, then rapidly rub the clove between the palms of your hands. The skin will come right off.
To perfectly hard-boil an egg, steam it for 20 minutes, plunge it into an ice bath until cold, then crack the hollow end of the egg and peel under cold running water.
Parchment paper. Use it for everything from lining baking sheets for roasting vegeta­bles and potatoes to lining the bottom of a tart pan to allow the tart to slide off the removable bottom.
Buy a cherry pitter and use it for pitting olives.
Add a tablespoon of vinegar to a cup of milk as a substitute for buttermilk.
Knives are the most important tools in the kitchen. Get good knives and keep them sharp. Never, ever put your knives through the dishwasher or lay them in the sink. Always have them professionally sharpened. If you can only afford one knife, buy a chef’s knife. Skip the trendy Japanese knives. Wüsthof is a good brand.
Pots are the second most important tool in the kitchen. Invest in the highest quality that you can afford. In fact, buy pans you cannot afford. Pans are expensive; good pans are very expensive. All-Clad Copper Core is a very good place to start. Start with a decent sized sauté pan and a fry pan. They will last forever.
Buy butter in bulk from Costco and freeze it.
Buy a vacuum sealer. You can keep all sorts of foods sealed and frozen a long time, everything from fish to berries to leftover chicken. Things like cheese will keep a long time refrigerated, so buy Parmesan cheese when it is on sale and vacuum seal part of it.
Label and date stuff you put in the freezer, lest it become an archeological expedition trying to establish the identity and age of something.
When you are sautéing meat or fish in a pan, heat the oil (canola or peanut) so hot you see white smoke rising from the pan. Carefully add the meat or fish, and leave it alone. It will come away from the pan when it browns sufficiently. You can help it along by gently shaking the pan. Cook the presentation side first. You do not need a non-stick pan.
The same goes for meat on a grill.
Always salt the water in which you are going to boil vegetables. Use a lot of salt, particularly with potatoes (about 1 tbsp/quart)
When boiling potatoes, put the potatoes in cold, salted water and then turn on the heat.
Make your own butter. It is easy. Get some really good cream like Snowville (whatever you use, make sure it is NOT ultra pasteurized), fill a food processor 2-3 inches full, and whiz it until it turns to butter. This will take five minutes or so. Collect the butter, wash it well with cold water, and dry it between paper towels. Add salt if you want. You can do a half-gallon of cream in 3-4 batches in 30-45 minutes.
Buy a ricer and make the creamiest, lump-free mashed potatoes every time.
Mise en place. No exceptions.
Buy your spices from Penzey’s.
Never use sea salt when cooking. Use kosher salt when cooking. You cannot taste the difference in a prepared dish.
Buy some really nice sea salt and use it to garnish dishes. Try Maldon.
Garbage in, garbage out. Spend the extra time and money to obtain high quality ingredi­ents.
Learn how to properly dice an onion: (1) cut off stem end;  (2) halve the onion length­wise through the root end and peel the halves; (3) lay the cut face of one half on a cut­ting board and make a series of horizontal lengthwise cuts, starting from the stem end and from the bottom closest to the cutting board, almost to the root, being careful not to cut too far; (4) make a series of lengthwise vertical cuts the same direction as the horizontal cuts; (5) now cut the onion cross-ways, perpendicular to the previous cuts and parallel to the original cut to remove the stem end. You can control the size of the dice by how closely you space your cuts.
When mincing garlic, smash the cloves and add a pinch of salt before you start chop­ping. Mash the garlic with the side of your knife to keep it organized. It will turn into a paste. Garlic presses are fine, but no substitute for mincing by hand.
Simpler is sometimes the best way to cook. Boiled fresh green beans with butter, salt, and pepper are fabulous. A nice piece of salmon sautéed in oil and garnished with salt and pepper is too. A bit of lemon juice is helpful.
Always undercook salmon and tuna. They should be at most medium and preferably medium rare. Only do with this good quality fresh fish. Do not bother cooking fish unless it is fresh and good quality.
Learn how to make simple pan sauces. Start with a beurre blanc, it is the easiest. Fry something like sea bass or salmon, remove the fish and pour out the oil, add some white wine and/or white wine vinegar, some minced shallots if you happen to have one lying around, and deglaze the pan (remove the little brown bits that have stuck to the pan. Reduce the liquids by at least half while stirring, and then add butter in small portions while whisking steadily. Season with salt and pepper and serve the sauce over whatever you have sautéed.
Make your own chicken stock. It makes all the difference in the world. Take a coarsely chopped carrot, celery stalk, and an onion and put them in a large stockpot. Add a bay leaf, a couple of sprigs of thyme, several peppercorns, and a few parsley stems. Do NOT add salt. Put a whole chicken plus a few leg quarters into the pot and cover everything with six quarts of water. Bring to a simmer (NOT a boil) and cook for three hours. Do not stir it. Remove the chicken with a pair of tongs and shred the meat for another use like soup or enchiladas or chicken salad. Vacuum seal and freeze it. Pour the liquid through a fine sieve into a bowl. Portion the stock out in to quarts or pints and freeze them. You should get about five quarts. Buy cheap deli containers at a kitchen supply store for storage. If you are a vegetarian, learn to make vegetable stock.
Freshly ground pepper. There is no substitute.
When something you are cooking tastes bland or is not particularly vibrant, add a little vinegar or lemon juice. It will sharpen the flavors.
Never salt soups, stews, and the like until the very end. You can always add more salt at the table, but there is no way to redeem an over-salted dish. This is particularly important when you are adding cheese to a dish. Cheese contains a lot of salt.
Pay attention when you are cooking. Leave Facebook until later.
Always set the timer to the shorter time in a recipe. You can always cook an under­cooked dish more, but you cannot uncook an overcooked dish.
People with warm hands make lousy pastry chefs.
Tongs are indispensable. Also, have lots of wooden spoons and spatulas.
Taste as you go. Repeatedly, at each stage of the dish.
Mise en place. It simplifies your cooking.
Dijon mustard acts as an excellent emulsifying agent in vinaigrettes. The easiest vinaigrette is made from high quality balsamic vinegar in the ratio of 3-4:1 oil/vinegar. Measure ¼ cup of balsamic vinegar into a small food processor. Add a tsp of minced garlic, a heaping tbsp of Dijon mustard, black pepper, and little salt (you can add more later). Whiz this until smooth then add ¾ to 1 cup of good quality olive oil in a slow drizzle with the processor running. It will be creamy and perfectly emul­sified.
Do not use fancy extra virgin olive for sautéing. Just use regular olive oil.
There is no excuse for: dull knives, iodized salt, glass cutting boards, Cool Whip, industrial food, or dull knives.
Wooden cutting boards are best, but do not put things like chicken or fish on them. Have plastic cutting boards for such foods, and run them through the dishwasher after they have been used.
Only cook with a wine you would drink. If you only drink Château Mouton Rothschild, don’t cook.
Mason jars make excellent containers for pantry items such as breadcrumbs.
Make your own breadcrumbs. Buy a good loaf of rustic bread, make some sandwiches or eat it with soup or whatever, and leave the leftover bread sitting on the counter for a week. Break it up and whiz it in a food processor. Store the crumbs in a plastic bag or Mason jar. They are much better than commercial stuff.
One of the easiest dishes in the world is roasted chicken thighs. Keep a pack in the freezer. When you need them, thaw them out, put them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, brush with olive oil, place a couple of thyme sprigs on each thigh, and top with salt, pepper, and a thin slice of lemon. Bake until done. Eat the caramelized lemon with the chicken. Caramelized lemons are delicious.
It is a good idea to always keep a lemon on hand. Same for garlic and shallots.
Potatoes are the most versatile vegetable. They can be boiled, fried, roasted, baked, and steamed. They are also a vegetable where it is important to buy organic, as regu­larly farmed potatoes get a lot of pesticide exposure.
Make hash browns the morning after you have baked Russet potatoes. Cook one or two extra potatoes and leave them in the fridge overnight. Peel the cold potato, grate it coarsely, and fry it in a little olive oil or butter. Once the first side is browned and the potatoes are heated through, serve them browned side up with salt and pepper.
Use a non-stick pan to cook eggs.
Learn the 15/15/15 method to make perfect roasted potatoes. Cut some potatoes into 1-1½ inch pieces. Red-skinned and small Yukon gold potatoes work best. Make all pieces about the same size and shape. Take a glass roasting pan, add olive oil, and put the potatoes in the oil. Mix them around with your hands until they are completely covered with oil. Position the potatoes so a cut side is down. Wash your hands. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast at 375 °F for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and roast for another 15 minutes. Take the pan from the oven, let cool for a few minutes, and carefully flip the potatoes so the down side is now up. Try not to tear the browned skin away from the potato pieces. Roast for a final 15 minutes. Season with sea salt and pepper and serve.
Salt and pepper are really the only seasoning that 95% of foods need.
Buy lots of nice parsley at the farmers market when it is in season. Chop the leaves, partition into 2 tbsp portions, and wrap each portion tightly in aluminum foil. Put the individual packages in a Tupperware container and freeze them. When you need fresh parsley for a sauce, pull one out and toss it directly into the pot or pan.
Both scrambled eggs and omelets should be slightly underdone. Buy your eggs from a small local producer.
It is ethically indefensible to buy factory farmed meat and eggs.
While I am on my soapbox, do not buy bottled water. The bottles largely end up in landfills or the ocean. Instead, get a water filtration system and put the filtered water in old plastic water bottles. Reused is better than recycled.
In case of a kitchen disaster, order a pizza.
Buy King Arthur flour. It is what professional bakers use.
Make your own Pesto alla Genovese when basil is in season and freeze it. Wash and dry basil leaves to give four cups of packed leaves. Put the leaves in a food processor along with a couple of coarsely chopped garlic cloves and a small handful of nuts. Pine nuts and walnuts work best. Carefully puree the mix. You will have to frequently stop the blade and manually push the leaves down and around with a wooden spoon. Once the basil is chopped up pretty good, slowly drizzle in one cup of good quality olive oil. DO NOT add cheese, unless you are going to use the pesto immediately. Place the un-cheesed pesto into small mason jars, top with a bit of olive oil, put the top on tightly, and freeze the jars. The frozen pesto will keep for well over a year. When you want to use it, thaw it partially and cut pieces of the pesto from the rest with a warmed spoon. Now you can add the cheese.
Make your own cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese. This involves making a béchamel sauce, one of the easiest sauces to make and also one of the “mother” sauces. Melt some butter, add flour and cook until the mixture is bubbly and no longer smells like flour. It will smell slightly nutty. This is a white roux. Slowly add milk the roux whisking constantly until the mixture is smooth. Heat until the mixture comes to a boil then take it off the heat. This is a béchamel sauce. If you add some grated cheddar cheese, a bit of mustard, some cayenne pepper, you have got a sauce for maca­roni and cheese. Just mix in cooked pasta and bake it until bubbly.
There is a video of how to do everything on YouTube, from sautéing sole to making an atomic bomb.
Never leave a dirty kitchen until the morning. It is worse than a hangover.
Bacon keeps forever if it is vacuum-sealed and frozen. Partition it into 4 oz portions before sealing and freezing.
Never, ever buy bacon made by Hormel, Smithfield, or any other producer that uses CAFOs (confined/concentrated animal feeding operations). The same goes for chicken and beef. The animals are treated inhumanely.
The simplest pasta dish to make is cacío e pepe. Boil spaghetti noodles, put them in a bowl, coat with a good amount of extra virgin olive oil, add lots and lots of freshly ground pepper, and finish with lots of grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese. You can also use butter instead of olive oil.
Salmon is the perfect fish to vacuum seal and freeze. Buy a whole side of salmon, inexpensive farmed is best, put it in a glass roasting pan in which it just fits, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast in a 325 °F oven until just done, about 20 minutes. Let it cool, divide it in into portions, vacuum seal them, and freeze. When you want to eat it, thaw it out by placing the bag in warm water and serve at or slightly above room temperature. It goes wonderfully with cacío e pepe.
Buy an instant read thermometer. It will help you cook meat and poultry.
If you are an analytical person, buy an inexpensive kitchen scale. It will help you get por­tions of ingredients correct.
Learn to integrate multiple recipes into one. With the exception of baking, cooking is extremely flexible. Take the best parts of several recipes and formulate them into one. Do not be afraid to substitute or omit, however, proportions are important.
When you are baking, measure ingredients accurately. It matters.
As Julia Child once remarked: “if you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”
Salads should be served after the entrée as a digestif (French) or digestivo (Italian).
It is always more fun to have lots of smaller courses rather than a bunch of food piled on a plate. Except if you are serving grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup with potato chips.
The BLT is the world’s best sandwich, but only if made with in-season, ripe tomatoes and good quality bacon. White bread and iceberg lettuce are the essential. It is the tomatoes and bacon that matter.
Miracle Whip is garbage.
There is no excuse for imitation maple syrup. Use real maple syrup. You only live once and you are probably supporting a small farmer.
Do not put anything made of aluminum through the dishwasher. It will corrode.
Do not use a sponge or small brush to wash knives. You will eventually cut yourself. Going to the emergency room in the middle of cooking a big dinner is an inconven­ience. Use a long-handled brush.
You can buy fancy silicone brushes at Sur la Table, or you can go to Lowes and buy cheap natural bristle paintbrushes. They are equivalent in their utility, but necessary in the kitchen.
It is virtually impossible to leave Sur la Table having spent less than $100. On one occasion I only spent $12, but that was because I forgot a $12 item on the occasion when I had just spent more than $100. (I did actually leave the store and then go back, so this counts.)
If your recipe calls for a special cut of meat, say a bone-in pork shoulder roast or extra thick or thin chops or steaks, call your butcher the day before and order what you need. That is what butchers are for. It is their job.
The easiest and most delicious way to use fresh fruit when it is in season, besides just eating it, is to make a fruit crisp. Learn the ¾, ¾, ¾ technique. Three quarters of a cup of flour, ¾ of a cup of brown sugar, and ¾ of a cup of oats. Add a little cinnamon and salt. Add a melted stick of butter and mix well. Put the topping in the fridge while you prepare the fruit. You can use this topping with strawberries, blueberries, rhubarb, raspberries, blackberries, apples, peaches, cherries, plums, and many other fruits except things like melons. The only tricky part is knowing how much cornstarch or flour to add as a thickener. The juicier the fruit, the more thickener you need. For a 9 inch pan, use 2-3 tbsp of cornstarch for juicier fruit like raspberries or cherries, less for less juicy fruit like apples or rhubarb. Mix the fruit with the thickener and some sugar to taste. Add almond extract with blueberries and cherries, vanilla extract with rasp­berries, blackberries and peaches. Put the fruit in a glass baking dish, crumble the topping over the fruit, and bake at 375 °F for about 45-55 minutes. It is done when the fruit is vigorously bubbling and the topping has browned.
Try and eat fruit and vegetables in season. One does not expect to snow ski in August or want to water ski in January. Same principle.
Driscoll brand strawberries and raspberries suck.
Do not buy acorn squash in April or cherries in December. They have come from a long way away and will not be as good as acorn squash in October or cherries in July. Plus, it is environmentally irresponsible to transport apples from New Zealand. Obviously, if you live in Ohio, you have to import avocados, but that is different.
Bananas are a socially and environmentally irresponsible fruit to eat. So are pineap­ples. It does not matter if they are organic. It is the principle.
Buy Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. It is the best Italian cook­book.
Plate food in the center of the plate and stack garnishes as high as possible. A little sprinkled parsley or a bit of lettuce dressed in olive oil adds a nice touch to the plate.
You can put a sauce under or over a piece of fish or meat. Whatever floats your boat. Escoffier has an opinion on this issue, but he is dead. Actually, Escoffier has an opinion on every aspect of cooking, but he is still dead.
Any cookbook authored by Patricia Wells is worth owning, especially Simply French and Trattoria.
Grilled sandwiches are great. Make the sandwich, butter the top slice of bread, and carefully invert it into a medium hot sauté pan. Butter the other slice of bread then flip the sandwich when the bottom piece of bread is browned. Do not have the pan too hot, as you want the ingredients of the sandwich to heat through. Obviously, the Reuben is the second best sandwich in the world, but grilled ham or turkey and Swiss cheese on rye bread is delicious. Try Spanish ham with Mahón cheese (or just Manchego) and olive tapenade grilled with olive oil on rye bread. You will thank me.
Buy Salsa di Pomodoro by Julia della Croce. You need this book if you love pasta. It is out of print, but Amazon carries it used.
Anchovies are a highly underutilized ingredient. They add great umami flavor to sauces and other dishes. Buy good quality anchovies, as cheap ones can taste terrible.
Always have a jar of capers in your refrigerator. They are useful in a wide variety of dishes. Also have good quality red and white wine vinegar.
Did I mention mise en place and sharp knives?
It is essential to have a glass of white wine while cooking dinner. If you are an extremely nervous cook, try Valium in its place.
If you grow tomatoes or have access to lots of them in season, freeze them whole. When they are thawed, the skins burst and you can slip the tomato right out. It is won­derful to have fresh frozen tomatoes in February to make a pasta sauce.
You need lots of bowls in a variety of sizes. You cannot have too many.
Wash large bowls, pots, and pans as you go. You will be happier after dinner.
Learning to cook takes practice. Luckily, cooking is fun.
Read recipes all the way through BEFORE you start, to avoid surprises. Surprises are usually inconvenient in cooking, and sometimes disastrous.

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