I am often asked “how can I do better in the kitchen”, and I have to admit there is no easy answer to this question. I am a firm believer that if you develop the right habits and skills you can learn anything. Cooking is an art and science requiring know-how and practice, but it no different than other skills we can learn. Sure, while some people seem to take naturally to certain tasks and abilities, the rest of us need a little help. So, here are my top 20 things you can do to take your cooking to a new level!
20. Ditch the plastic
Nothing says cheap or low quality like plastic, and this certainly not what you want said about your cooking. Quality and safety are what we want, no less. In recent years we have learned that plastic is not exactly safe. Switch to stainless steel, wood, or bamboo to stir, prepare, and serve your food. These are much safer and more reliable options for your delicious food.
19. Use your slow cooker
Invest in a good quality slow cooker and use it frequently! Slow cookers are one of the most versatile pieces of equipment for your kitchen. Beyond fix it and forget it meals, you can use your slow cooker to rise dough, melt chocolate, steam veggies, and more.
18. Use mayo instead of butter
Take foods like grilled cheese to a whole new level when you replace butter with mayo. Try it you will not be disappointed.
17. Learn to make a good Risotto
Don’t be afraid to add a little elegance to your rice. Although Risotto requires a little patience to create, Risotto is extremely versatile. When you learn to make a great Risotto base, you can add a variety of other ingredients like vegetables and meats; turning this side dish into a complete meal and a true culinary experience.
16. Store your herbs and spices in their whole form
Herbs and spices retain their flavor better if they are whole. When you grind herbs and spices you open them up to oxygen which speeds along the oxidation process. This could dilute the flavors of your herbs and spices while aging them more quickly.
Since many herbs and spices are better when stored whole, you will need a way to grind and break them up when the occasion calls for it. Using a mortar and pestle makes this an effective and fun way to grind up your herbs and spices. If you don’t have the patience for this kind of work, buy a coffee grinder and use it exclusively to grind your herbs and spices.
14. Press your garlic
In the culinary world there is much debate on whether or not to press garlic compared to traditional mincing. I say make your life easy and press it. Since garlic is a strong flavor, pressing it will better allow you to fully incorporate it into your food. This way there is less chance of getting one large piece that will over power the entire meal. Also, it keeps the garlic off your hands.
13. Let your garlic rest
You pressed it, now let it rest for 10 minutes before you add it to any kind of heat. WHY? Phytonutrients. Cooking is not only about flavor it is also about nutrition. We love garlic for all the healthy benefits it gives us, but when we add it to heat too quickly, we lose the healthful aspects we value. Allowing smashed, cut, and pressed garlic to sit gives it time to develop all cancer fighting phytonutrients we need.*
12. Learn culinary basics
I know we like to assume that we know everything we need to know in the kitchen, after all Mom, Dad, Auntie… or whoever taught us everything they know. Taking a class to learn culinary basics is a wise choice if you want to really kick some butt in the kitchen. When you learn things from experts and chefs you will take your cooking abilities to a whole new level.
Lean meats like poultry and pork have a tendency to dry out during the cooking process. Not to forget they are relatively flavorless. Brining meats is a great way to prevent drying and add flavor.
10. Toast it baby!!
Try toasting your spices, nuts, and grains. It’s easy, they only need a few seconds in a hot-dry sauté pan and the flavors will change greatly.
9. Have patience
Take time with your food and ingredients. Some of the best recipes and cooking methods take time. Don’t rush yourself.
8. Use quality cookware
Quality cookware like pans, mixing bowls, and machines cost a pretty penny. These purchases may require you to save up, but will be well worth it in the end. Some of the best types of cookware are cast iron, copper, and stainless steel. Get them, use them, and take good care of them. They will not let you down.
7. Try something NEW!
Experiment. Try a new recipe. Try a new food. Try a new technique. Get out of your comfort zone!
6. Use ingredients that are fresh and in season
Using the freshest ingredients when they are in season is essential to making each and every meal marvelous! Join a CSA, grow your own food, and shop your local farmer’s market! There is a bounty of fresh whole foods out there waiting for you to enjoy.
5. Get and STAY ORGANIZED!
Being organized is essential to being an effective cook, and making your life in the kitchen manageable. The ability to find what you need when you need it is priceless. Getting and staying organized will also help you free up your “work triangle” allowing you to work more freely in the kitchen.
4. Try different types of salt
Grey salt, pink salt, finishing salt, flake salt, smoked salt… Yes! There is a world of salt out there and they all have their own individual flavors. Get some and try them!
3. Salt your food
I know. I know. Sodium is a HUGE taboo in many people’s food. But we need salt. When added at the right time and in the right amount, salt makes food taste more like itself. Not to forget, it helps our bodies in so many ways, including brain function. Typically, you only need to worry about your salt intake if you have a diagnosed medical condition and your doctor puts you on a low sodium diet; or if you regularly eat processed foods.
2. Sharpen those knives
When I teach cooking classes the first thing I stress is safety in the kitchen. Knives are critical in this area. Most accidents in the kitchen involve knifes. The reason for this is because knives are is too dull. What? Why? When you have a dull knife it will not cut well, to compensate most of use tend to push the knife through the food harder, this is what causes slips, misjudgments, and in many cases a lot of bleeding.
This is my number one pick for my 20 Tips to Help YOU Become a Better Cook. It was a tossup between salting your food, I have to admit. When you have the proper equipment, knowing how to use it is essential. This is how we become more efficient in the kitchen. This is also how we make the experience more enjoyable.
As I mentioned previously I teach cooking classes. In my classes, I like to ask my students what they dislike most about cooking. The #1 answer is that they feel kitchen work is too tedious, and they feel like they don’t know what they are doing. Having good knife skills will alleviate most of this frustration. Having good knife skills will help you work faster and more precisely, limiting fatigue and frustration. I have found that most of my students who did not like cooking before, truly enjoy cooking after they learn to proper knife skills.
I invite your feedback.
Tell me what you think. Do you have any questions?
I love to know what my readers are up to and how you put my thoughts and experience to use in your world. Also, if you have any suggestions on subjects for future posts let me know your thoughts. I’m listening.
© 2015, The Magick Kitchen