If you’re cooking meals for your family and need a little help in the kitchen and some cooking tips, this article is for you. Take these essential cooking tips from a chef (me!) and run with them. I want nothing more than for you to use and share this tasty knowledge!
I had a very vague goal in mind when I decided to go to culinary school. I did not want to work in a professional kitchen for the rest of my life. My goal was to learn as much as I could about food and share what I learned in one way or another. I admit that Google is great for answering simple cooking questions in a pinch, but tips from a chef are what you really need to make magic in the kitchen.
I love to answer questions about food and providing live demonstrations is fantastic too. Sometimes, that means I write food articles, and sometimes that means I teach cooking classes. The best is when my friends and family ask me questions about food and I can (usually) come up with quick answers.
Helping people feel more comfortable in the kitchen cooking good food is extremely important to me.
With that being said, there are some core cooking tips that I left culinary school with that everyone should know. Some tidbits from culinary school I’ve chosen to forget (I’m looking at you, aspic) but other things I refer to daily in my own kitchen.
I want to share my cooking tips because, if there’s anything I know about being a chef and a mom, we need to be efficient in the kitchen.
Mise en place
Mise en… what? In case you don’t speak French, this means “everything in its place”. It was the very first thing we learned in culinary school. It’s funny that after years of watching cooking shows, culinary school was the first time I heard this term. Cooking shows are notorious for having everything “in its place” and ready to go, but they rarely use this particular cooking term.
For your purposes, mise en place means reading the recipe and prepping everything ahead of time.
It seems simple, but I know some of you (and me) have started a recipe only to find out halfway through that you’re out of an ingredient. It’s annoying and ends up being a waste of your precious time. Treat yourself to some cute prep bowls to make your mise en place more fun.
Using salt is OK
I might get some flack here. Yes, in excess, salt can be harmful to your health. Always trust your doctor in regard to how much salt you should be consuming.
With that being said, almost every time someone asks me, “How does it taste?” my first thought is that it needs more salt. Properly seasoning food was another basic skill we learned right off the bat in culinary school. My palette is likely trained to detect low seasoning and yours may be completely different. But, a teeny tiny pinch of salt can go a long way with a lot of foods.
My brain immediately goes to chocolate chip cookies. If you sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt on top of a chocolate chip cookie, you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you aren’t into cookies, try it with a slice of cantaloupe. Trust me.
Other simple ways to elevate flavor
I have a few other tricks up my sleeve if you’re still not into the salt thing. I simply cannot stand bland food. Some things are perfect on their own without any seasoning (a juicy peach comes to mind). But most foods benefit from some sort of seasoning.
The seasoning does not need to be complicated. It doesn’t need to be an intense spice blend, complicated marinade, or ingredient-heavy dressing. It can be really simple.
For example, I recently bought some claytonia from Trillium Hill Farm in Hinesburg. If you haven’t had this green before, go get some now. It’s worth the trip!
Claytonia is also known as “miners’ lettuce”. You can eat the stems and the leaves. It’s a very delicate green and has a little lemon-lime flavor. It has a subtle, sweet, earthy flavor and is not bitter at all when enjoyed during its short harvest season.
I never do more than a few things to it and it’s one of my favorite things to eat in the spring. But this tip can work for any salad green. Here’s my recipe:
1 bag of claytonia
1 drizzle of olive oil
1 lemon squeezed on top
3-4 twists of freshly cracked black pepper
And no salt! You don’t even need it. The trick here is the acid from the lemon juice.
If you aren’t into salt, you can always add acid to enhance flavors. It also doesn’t need to be a lemon. You can use vinegar, too.
Simple ways to use acid to elevate the flavor of something you’re about to eat are to add a few drops of vinegar to your cooked rice. Or perhaps squirt some lime juice over avocado toast. You’ll taste the difference immediately.
Don’t let the mess accumulate, clean as you go
There is no room for any sort of clutter or mess in culinary school. Not only did our station have to be kept tidy and immaculate, but so did we. Our shoes and socks had to be a certain color. My jacket had to be pressed every morning. I could not have any hair hanging out of my hat. They took this stuff seriously.
The best way to keep your kitchen counter tidy while you’re working is to set yourself up for success with a few basic things.
I love the ones with the slide-off top but I’m willing to bet you already have one around. Composting is required here in Vermont. Keep it handy for all of those scraps.
A large bowl or ziplock bag
You don’t need to compost everything. You can keep vegetable scraps to make homemade stock if you’re into that kind of thing. Making your own stock is an easy way to save a few bucks. It’s especially easy if you have a pressure cooker/Instant Pot.
Let’s get in the habit of using cloth towels instead of wasting paper towels. But, I do prefer using paper towels to wipe up the mess from raw meat and seafood to prevent cross-contamination.
Keep them handy to clean up any messes immediately and before the dog or kids get into it.
Keep your knives sharp (and away from your kids)
This was another big thing in culinary school. The instructors would often mosey around our stations casually checking the edges of our knives.
I honestly think that you’ll enjoy your time in the kitchen much more if you have sharp knives. You’ll feel better about what you’re cooking if you aren’t battling your way through a tomato. The food looks better and you work much quicker, too, when you have a sharp knife. Did you know that’s why an onion makes you cry? It’s likely because your knife isn’t sharp enough.
If you’re unhappy with your knives, now would be a great time to ask for a set for Mother’s Day. If you do love your knives and you don’t want to try and sharpen them yourself (if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can ruin the knife), ask for a sharpening for Mother’s Day. There are a few options locally, including Kiss the Cook on Church St. in Burlington.
The best cooking tips often don’t involve food
Aside from the seasoning tips I mentioned, a lot of cooking success comes from setting yourself up so that you enjoy your time in the kitchen and not even about food. No one wants to cook in a cluttered, confusing kitchen space or headspace. As with anything, if you take the time to prepare for a task, the task is likely to be more enjoyable.
I love to talk about food and I also love seeing people enjoying their kitchen space and creating an environment that makes them excited about cooking. I hope to come back with more cooking tips and recipes for all of you soon.
If you have any specific cooking questions or recipes you’d like for me to share, please let me know in the comments.
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