Monday, March 19, 2012

7 Things That’ll Make You a Better Cook

Choose pots larger rather than smaller as a rule.

1. Read a recipe all the way through before doing anything else, even before buying any ingredients. Look to see if you have the correct pots and pans, and if the writer has offered any substitutions for expensive or hard to find ingredients in the text part. Also be sure you understand the cooking terms like sweat, braise and caramelize before you start.

2. Make sure you have some larger cooking pieces and tools. Have a full-sized chef’s knife of 8” or 9”, and some pots that hold at least 6 quarts, and a 12” frying pan. An 8-quart or larger stock pot. Same deal with baking dishes and casseroles. Big enough. You can always make less in a big pan, but cleaning up the stove or oven from an overflow or starting a kitchen fire from food going over the side of a small pan is not only a PIA, but downright dangerous.

3. Keep a pantry and freezer stock. Have enough of the basics on hand all the time so that needing a fast meal or bad weather won’t always have you calling out for pizza or eating fast food. Keep eggs, cheese and milk on hand, some bread in the freezer, and some frozen vegetables you like. The result may not always be pretty, but it’ll be delicious and keep you from eating and feeding junk to your loved ones. Obviously, there are more things to have on hand, like butter, sugar and flour, but the makings of scrambled eggs with vegetables or a cheese omelet is always a good thing.

4. Set every ingredient out and measure before you start, otherwise known as “mise en place”. Get yourself a small set of prep bowls. Put the item away or remove the bowl from your work area as you use the item.  This way you won’t put a cake in the oven having forgotten to put in the baking powder. Ask me how I know this. Actually, don’t ask. Learn to make lists for parties and gatherings, and don’t try to remember everything. This way when you’re cleaning up after the guests are gone you won’t find the guacamole still in the fridge untouched. Learned this one the hard way, too, myself.

5. Go to farmer’s markets. If you only shop in supermarkets, EVERYTHING appears to be in season. You can get a much better feel for what nature is providing at each time of year if you make at least a monthly visit. And what you buy there will be better, fresher and help support your local economy, and your local farmers. All good.

6. Try new foods. Try them a second time prepared in a different way.  And then once again. Especially if you have kids, this is a great way to turn them into omnivores as adults. Unless everyone really hates something so much –and in my house it’s dried lima beans- it’ll really broaden the repertoire of foods you’ll have to enjoy.

7. Read food news. Blogs, magazines and newspapers have information you can use, regardless if you are about to make your first meal in your own first apartment, or you’ve been cooking for 30 years.  

And on a totally unrelated note, today would be my Mom's 96th birthday, and asparagus was her favorite vegetable. Today we have our first full grown asparagus of the season to pick from the garden, and it's very, very early. All I can say is thanks, Mom. For everything.

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