Cooking is all about experimentation using some basic cooking rules. Cookbooks are guide maps and extremely useful tools. The internet is also extremely useful. Back in my mom’s day, a new cookbook was a joy to read, not just look up recipes. The chefs were authors and teahcers, as well as cooks. Many of my recipes are based on a cookbook recipe, then I add my special touch and make it mine. It’s what I feel like eating.
Here’s the spot you can get some great tips on cooking technique and easy short cupts. Please comment and ask your cooking questions. If I can’t answer it, I’ll find the answer. Remember, these are my opinions on cooking and not hard and fast rules.
TIP #17: Did you know that when you fry chicken, you can reuse the oil? Strain out any solids and place in a clean, dry container. Place in the refrigerator and keep up to about 2 months. I only use it once or twice more, but it does have good flavor. You can add fresh oil when you cook with it. I don’t re-use oil that fish has been cooked in.
TIP # 16: Spices and herbs are vital in your cooking. Fresh is best, but we can’t always find fresh so have dried on hand as well. Here are the must haves – Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, and Parsley (didn’t want to play on the song), Oregano, Basil, Red Pepper flakes, fresh ground pepper, Kosher salt and/or sea salt. Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Allspice and good Vanilla extract. Secondary spices to have on hand are, Cumin, Coriander, Paprika, smoked Paprika, Cardamom and Curry powder. Remember to replace your spices and dried herbs at least once a year.
TIP # 15: KITCHEN KNIFE KNOW HOW: What types of knives does a home cook really need? Good question, not as many as you get in a knife block. What brand? That is a personal preference thing. I got my Japanese set on ebay – vintage “Molybdenum” and they are great. I also have some of my mother’s and husbands. I don’t use them all.
The knives that you will use the most are as follows.
- 8″ chef’s knife
- 3 or 4 ” paring knife
- 6 ” utility knife – serrated or not
- 9″ carving knife
- 6″ boning knife if you do a lot of that, if not a sharp paring knife will do just fine.
- a serrated bread knife
Do you really need steak knives? Not if you make steak according to my recipe, but most people have them sitting in the drawer or knife block. A knife sharpener is a fine tool, but as stated in Tip #6, you can use the edge of a ceramic dish to sharpen your knives. I do have a cleaver, which is a great tool. I’m afraid I’ll cut my fingers off, so I don’t use it as often as I could.
TIP # 14: All cooks need good kitchen equipment. Thermometers are very handy. There are several types – candy/oil thermometer, instant read thermometer and a meat thermometer. My used most thermometer, is a meat thermometer. But how to use it? When you check the temperature of any kind of roast, you want to place the thermometer in the thickest part of the meat, away from any bone. The internal temperature of the roast will continue to rise after you remove it from the oven. Let’s say you have a chicken or turkey and you want the temp to be at about 185° when it is done. Take the turkey out of the oven when the thermometer reaches about 164°, cover with foil and let rest 20 minutes. Roast beef – for medium rare, take it out at 135°, cover and let rest. The temperature will rise about 15°-20° while it is taking a nap.
TIP # 13: Why let meat rest after you cook it? Resting allows the juices to re-incorporate into the meat. If you cut it right out of the oven, you will have tough, dry meat. This applies to beef, chicken, lamb, turkey, and ham. Fish is not as much an issue unless it is a steak-like cut.
TIP # 12: If you grow your own herbs or even if you buy fresh ones from the store, how do you keep them fresh? Cut the ends off and keep in a jar of water, like you would cut flowers. Or, you can chop them and put them in ice cube trays, add a little water to each and freeze. When you need some fresh herbs, pop a couple herb cubes into your pot.
TIP # 11: Parchment paper is an important item to have on hand. It prevents foods from sticking to baking sheets. You can also wrap fish or chicken in it and bake it (papillote).
TIP # 10: Two things to keep in your freezer at all times – a box of puff pastry sheets and a box of rolled pie crust. You can make dessert, sweet rolls, hors d’ oeuvres, pot pies. Want an easy recipe for an hors d’ oeuvre? Thaw a sheet of puff pastry overnight in the fridge. Roll it out onto parchment paper. Sprinkle with grated cheese (whatever type you like or a combination), ground pepper, a little thyme. Roll it back up and refrigerate for about 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 425°. Slice the roll into 1 inch pieces and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Voila, appetizer.
TIP # 9: A head or bulb of garlic is comprised of about 20 cloves. The smaller you chop the garlic, the more flavor will be released. Garlic burns very quickly, so add it last. Baked or roasted garlic is much milder in flavor and can even be spread on toasted bread as a quick appetizer.
TIP # 8: Leftover beef or chicken broth? Don’ throw it out, pour it into plastic ice cube trays, freeze and when you need just a spot of broth, throw in a cube or two. I keep them in the zip bags once they are frozen.
TIP # 7: If you have a party and have opened wine that you will not finish that night, don’t throw it away, pour it into an empty water bottle and freeze it. When you want to drink it, thaw it out and enjoy or use it in your cooking. It won’t be as good as when it was opened, but it will do just fine. Oxygen is vino’s enemy. The longer it is exposed to air, the more flavor it loses. I guess that’s why I never have leftover wine.
TIP # 6: You can use the rough edge of a ceremic dish or plate to sharpen a knife. Ceramic is harder than steel. You’ll find the edge on the bottom of the plate or bowl. It really works and that’s how I sharpen my knives.
TIP # 5: NEVER use cooking wine, it has tons of salt and is nasty tasting. Use wine you would drink. I always have dry Vermouth on hand, it works as a white wine very well. Sometimes Sherry can be a good addition, Marsala, Brandy and even Port.
TIP # 4: Don’t be afraid to use store bought items. Sometimes they can really be a life saver. Example: If you run out of gravy, use canned and add wine and garlic. Check out my recipe for the gravy emergency plan.
TIP #3: Fresh garlic is better than the stuff in a jar, which is better than garlic powder, which is better than garlic salt. Always have at least 2 heads of garlic at the ready.
TIP #2: Use real butter, not margarine; never. I use unsalted for most everything. Use grape seed, canola or coconut oil for hot browning. Olive oil (extra virgin cold pressed, not light) for light sauteing and for dressings.
TIP # 1 : Use the freshest ingredients that you can find – meats, vegetables , good oils and spices . Throw out your spices at least once a year and start fresh. I like to change mine at Lent.