Sharp knives are crucial for any cook. Dull or blunt knives can be extremely dangerous. The amount of physical strength you need to cut with a dull knife is not just tiring, it's also what makes cutting with dull knives dangerous. There are many reasons to consider keeping a set of sharper knives in your kitchen.
Why you should own sharp knives
- Fine cuts: Using sharp knives means being able to get fine, accurate cuts. Mincing is much easier and more accurate with a sharp knife.
- Cooking and cutting: When your knives are sharp, you will get more accurate cut vegetables and proteins, which means more evenly cooked food. The more evenly cooked your food, the better the textures and flavors of your dish.
- Longevity- Sharper knives that are maintained and sharpened can last years and years. That means no wasting money on a new pair of knives every few years.
Sharp knives don't have to be expensive. They can be affordable staples in your home. However, if you want to invest in an expensive set of chef's knives that you can keep and sharpen for most of your lifetime, go for it!
Knife skills are a real asset in the kitchen. Knowing how to cut things properly and being able to do it quickly and efficiently makes cooking big meals less intimidating, but it's also an enjoyable part of the process. I love prep work. There's something soothing and methodical about peeling and cutting potatoes for a stew. Cutting and chopping properly is a bigger part of the finished dish than most people realize. Hone your knife skills to work faster, more efficiently, and end up with dishes that are cooked evenly.
Essential knife skills
- Fingertips- Curl your fingertips under while holding the item you're cutting to avoid cutting yourself.
- Knives- Make sure you are using the right knife for the right task. For example, a chef's knife is best for vegetables and proteins. A serrated knife should be used to cut bread. A paring knife also works for most vegetables, though it isn't ideal for tomatoes or bigger vegetables.
- Rock- Rock your knife in a back and forth motion like a boat might rock instead of an up and down motion.
- Paper towel- Put a damp paper towel under your cutting board if it is moving around. The paper towel will keep it stable.
- Onion- Cutting an onion properly for stews, soups, and other dishes, will cut down on the tears and help you avoid unevenly cut onions. Gordon Ramsay's onion cutting tutorial is my favorite!
Watch the video:
I'm a huge multitasker, so there have been many times that I've been cooking pasta, took a break to do some laundry, and came back into the kitchen to overflowing pasta water. While this trick isn't the most impressive, it has been one of the most used cooking tricks in my kitchen. To avoid a volcano of overflowing pasta water on your stovetop try the wooden spoon hack.
How to use the wooden spoon hack
- Fill your pot with water and bring it to a boil.
- Add your pasta.
- Lay a wooden spoon across the top of your pot.
Watch the video:
There are some arguments about whether this hack works, but keep in mind it isn't intended to prevent boiling over if your pot is on the highest heat possible. Remember, if you bring your water to boil on the highest heat, that you need to turn down the heat to medium or medium-high after adding the pasta.
I used to hate cooking bacon, though I loved eating it. It was such a messy process, no matter what I did, my cooktop was splattered in grease every time. Even using a splatter screen was never full-proof. Baking bacon is an easier, hands-off option for cooking bacon and the result is always the same: crisp, evenly cooked bacon and clean cooktops.
How to bake bacon
- Preheat your oven to 400°F (204°C).
- Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
- Bake for 15 minutes.
- Flip the bacon and bake for another 5 minutes.
Deglazing sounds fancy, but it's just a fancy word for adding broth (or stock), water, or wine to a hot pan to dissolve or release the stuck bits of food at the bottom of a pan. When sauteing vegetables and proteins, the carmelized food particles that are left behind in the pan are extremely flavorful. If you have ever watched The Worst Cooks in America then you've heard Anne Burrell say, "Brown food is good!" Brown food is definitely good. Deglazing embraces brown food to add a depth of flavor in sauces and soups.
How to Deglaze
- After cooking your vegetables or proteins, put them aside.
- Add your broth (or stock), water, or wine to the pan.
- Stir and lightly scrape away the browned bits at the bottom of the pan as the liquid softens them.
- Cook on medium or medium-high heat until everything is incorporated.
- If you are making a sauce, and not a soup, add your thickening agents or slurry.
- Add the vegetables and/or proteins back to the pan.
- Finish your dish.
"En papillote" is a French cooking technique that dates back to the 17th century meaning cooked in paper or foil. By cooking meat, vegetables, and adding oil and acid, you're able to steam your dish and keep all the flavor and aroma within the packet. It's also extremely easy and mess-free with minimal dishes or cleanup. Fish en papillote is the most commonly known use of this French method, but there are many other ways to use the en papillote method. You can bake chicken en papillote, tofu en papillote, or even pork en papillote.
Salmon en papillote recipe
- Preheat your oven to 425°F (218°C).
- Lay down a piece of parchment big enough to hold your salmon and asparagus.
- Snap the tough ends of your asparagus off.
- At the bottom of your parchment, lay down a few spears of fresh asparagus.
- Add a salmon fillet on top.
- Season with salt and fresh cracked pepper.
- Finely slice a lemon and lay two to three slices over the salmon.
- Drizzle with oil or tabs of butter (about a tablespoon).
- Fold over the parchment paper and bake for 10-15 minutes.
If you've never wrapped en papillote, try using the method below!
Watch the video:
One of the most common mistakes at-home cooks make is overcrowding the pan. When you overcrowd a pan, the food inside it isn't able to cook evenly, the food won't brown (brown food is good, remember?), the pan cannot regulate the heat as well, and your vegetables and meat will tend to be soggier than they are crunchy. If your pan is overcrowded, you won't get a good, golden sear on your proteins.
How to avoid overcrowding
- Make sure there is enough room in the pan. For example, if you are cooking chicken breast, make sure there is space between each breast.
- If you have to, cook your proteins in batches. It's better to cook it in batches, and end up with delicious food, then try to rush through and end up with soggy, bland food.
- Use a pan or skillet big enough to accommodate your food. If you have a bigger skillet, use it.
Are you cooking your rice correctly? Rinsing and properly cooking rice is crucial to getting restaurant-quality rice at home. While there are many ways to cook rice, not all of them will give you that restaurant-quality rice that makes the rice taste so much better than yours does at home.
How to make restaurant-quality rice
- Rinse your rice! Gently rinse rice before cooking.
- Add the rice to your rice cooker. Using a rice cooker will get you perfectly cooked rice and consistent results every time.
- Add two parts water to your one parts rice. If you have one cup of rice, add about 2 cups of water.
- Turn on your rice cooker depending on its settings and cook times.
- Do not interrupt the cooking process. Let your rice cooker do the work.
Have you ever had a serious craving for buttermilk pancakes or waffles, but you didn't have any buttermilk on hand? You can make a creamy buttermilk substitute by added a bit of vinegar to your milk. This trick sounds a bit odd, but the vinegar and milk together create a bit of simple chemistry with amazing results. You can even do this trick with vegan milk substitutes like almond milk.
How to make a buttermilk substitute
Make sure to use white distilled vinegar. If you don't have white vinegar you can try lemon juice!
- Measure out the amount of buttermilk needed for your recipe and put it into a cup or saucer.
- Add 1 tsp. per cup of milk. If you have 3 cups of milk, add 1 1/2 tsp. of vinegar.
Knowing the correct flavor pairings and how to make them work for you could be the difference between edible food and a food experience. Have you ever ate a meal that felt balanced? All the flavors were just right. The perfect amount of salty and sweet or sweet and spicy? That balance is what makes the perfect entree or dessert.
The universal flavor profiles are: sweet, salty, spicy, bitter, and umami. Certain flavor combinations enhance or balance each other. Here's how you can use them to your advantage:
Common flavor combinations
- Sweet and salty- Think french fries and chocolate milkshakes or chocolate-covered pretzels. Sweet and salty can work great in big dishes too. Try apple slices with brie or in a grilled cheese, pair apples with pork chops or bacon, or eat the classic Italian appetizer, melon and prosciutto.
- Sweet and sour- Sweet and sour chicken is a good example of sweet and sour, but that example barely skims the surface. My favorite sweet and sour combo is strawberry and balsamic chicken.
- Sweet and bitter- Adding sugar to your coffee is a small, everyday example of how sweetness balances bitterness. The same practice is used when sugar is sprinkled over grapefruit. Endives, a leafy vegetable known for their bitterness, are commonly cooked in butter and a dash of sugar to balance their bitterness.
- Sour and salty- While it doesn't sound like a common match, sour and salty flavors are in salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. Even sour cream with salty tortilla chips is an example of sour and salty. Italian dressings that use parmesan cheese or anchovies in Ceaser dressing are typical, everyday examples of how well sour and salty work together to enhance and achieve balance.
- Sweet and umami- An orange and soy glaze for chicken or tofu is the perfect example of sweet and umami. The sweetness of the orange and the umami of the soy create a perfectly balanced sauce for chicken and rice. Another example of sweet and umami is when cooks put sugar in their tomato-based sauces. Tomatoes are typically considered umami, and the sugar balances and enhances their flavor.
- Sweet and spicy- Sweet chili sauces in stir fry, honey and jalapeno cornbread, and spicy pepper jelly are delicious ways to combine sweet and spicy. The sweetness balances the spicy.
The easiest hack of the bunch, deciding against draining your beans when putting them into stews, soups, and chillis, is worth real consideration. While the liquid that comes with beans tends to include a lot of sodium, it also contains a lot of flavors from the beans. When adding the liquid along with your beans, consider the salt content and adjust your seasoning to prevent an oversalted dish, or buy sodium-free beans.
Why you should consider adding the entire can
- Have you ever made a soup or dish that is better the next day, after the flavors had a real chance to marry? The liquid the beans are preserved in also contains tons of flavor.
- Adding the liquid can help marry the flavors of the beans into the sauce or soup you are cooking them in.
- The liquid can also help with the consistency of stews and chillis by thickening them.
Adding salt to your garlic while mincing is one of my favorite, simple hacks for a few reasons. First, by adding a sprinkle of salt to the garlic, you break down the garlic making it much easier to mince finely. If you are trying to achieve minced garlic that borders on a paste (the finer the mince the more flavorful the dish), adding garlic helps in the breakdown process so that you have less work to do. However, adding salt also stops the garlic from sticking so much to your knife.
Mincing garlic with salt
- Carefully crush the cloves with the flat of your knife.
- Peel the cloves.
- Cut off the root ends of the garlic.
- Cut the garlic into slices.
- Add a dash of salt.
- Mince the garlic in a rocking motion.
If you want to take it one step further and make garlic paste, try the tutorial below!
Watch the video:
One of the biggest mistakes at-home cooks make is not seasoning as they go. Many cooks season in the beginning, taste their food at the end, and add whatever seasoning they feel is lacking before garnishing. This method isn't necessarily bad, but if you get to the end of your cook time and find your dish is lacking in a particular seasoning, it may be too late for the seasoning to get truly incorporated. If you forgot a seasoning, and you wait to taste until the end of your cook time, it will be too late.
While salt and pepper can be added at the end of cook time, even salt and pepper should be added as you go so they have a chance to incorporate into your dish.
How to season as you go
- Follow your recipe by adding the necessary seasonings needed at the beginning of cooking
- About halfway through the needed cook-time, check your dish to make sure it has enough salt, pepper, or other seasonings. If you need more dried basil or oregano, you know in plenty of time to fix the issue. Adding dried herbs or other seasonings too late in the cooking process will not give them enough time to flavor the dish.
- When you have about 5-minutes of cook time left, check your dish again. If a little salt, pepper, acid (squeeze of lemon or lime) is needed, you can add it during the last five minutes. Doing this while the heat is still being applied means the seasonings can dissolve and get incorporated properly.
Garbage bowls are used by the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Rachel Ray. Rachel Ray even sells a replication of her own garbage bowl that you can add to your kitchen. However, any spare bowl big enough for your use is perfect to use as a garbage bowl. It doesn't have to be pretty or new, as long as it can hold your garbage, it can be made a garbage bowl.
Using a garbage bowl is easy. Put out your garbage bowl while you do your prep work, and as you go add any items you need to throw away to the bowl.
Why use a garbage bowl
- Save yourself many trips to the garbage can. Once you are done, dump your garbage bowl in the trash and wash it.
- Be better about composting. If you compost, garbage bowls are a helpful way to make sure you don't throw away anything you intend to compost.
Many at-home cooks that are still learning tend to either burn things or are afraid of turning the heat up on their stovetop. Don't be afraid of heat. While there are times you absolutely don't want to cook on high heat (when caramelizing onions for one), there are many times that food should be cooked on medium-high to high heat. Cooking on low heat in instances when high heat is necessary can result in soggy or bland food.
When you should crank up the heat
- For crispy, salty fish skin, cook skin side down first on medium-high to high heat. Three-fourths of the cooking time should be on the skin side down. Just before flipping, turn the heat down to medium. Feel free to check the edges of the fish skin to avoid burning, and trust your knowledge of the temperature of your stove.
- For perfectly seared steak, sear on medium-high to high heat depending on your range and preferred doneness. For a medium-rare steak, try four minutes per side.
- Using medium-high to high heat is ideal for stirfrying. It allows you to avoid soft, soggy vegetables in your stirfry.
Remember, not every stove's temperature range is the same. I tend to sear my fish on medium-high, because my stovetop runs hot, while my oven has average heat. Figure out your stovetop's heat first.
Asparagus is by far my favorite vegetable, but the fibrous ends are completely inedible. Knowing where the fibrous part of the stalk ends, and where to cut, can be tricky since each stalk is different. The best way to test your asparagus stalk is to let the asparagus tell you where the soft, tasty part ends and the woody, inedible part begins. By bending the asparagus, the asparagus will naturally break and you can toss the ends or use them for other purposes.
How to break asparagus
- Hold the stalk of asparagus at both ends.
- Slide the hand that is holding the top, buttery part of the asparagus closer to the woody part.
- Gently bend until the asparagus breaks.
Keep in mind that asparagus can break anywhere, so making sure you guide your hands closer to where the fibrous part and soft part of the asparagus meet. This helps you to avoid waste.
Trusted your taste and judgment as a cook is important. Have you ever read a recipe and an ingredient or suggestion within the recipe had you itching your head in confusion? Something about it felt off? Too much sugar or water or an odd ingredient that you have an inkling is off? Trust your instincts. While you don't want to avoid every unique combination you see, often many unique or odd combinations are balancing or enhancing combinations, you should still go with your gut!
How to better trust your judgment in the kitchen
- Taste your food. A recipe might not call for a splash of lemon, but if it's too greasy or needs a dash of acid, give it a go. Trust your tastebuds when they are happy or tell you there is something missing.
- Use your nose. Does something smell off? Does it smell so good you can hardly wait another minute? Trust that instinct.
- If an element of a recipe feels off but you aren't sure, do some research. Cinnamon doesn't sound like a good pairing with chili, but it's often used in chili recipes as the ingredient that takes the chili to another level. If you doubt it, google it. If you google cinnamon in chili, you will find many recipes that boast of adding it. However, if a recipe calls for an ingredient and you do some research and find the addition won't add to your dish like you thought, strike it out.
Most restaurants warm their plates. Warm plates help to keep your food warm and prevent it from getting cold too quickly. With warm plates, you can take your time enjoying each bite without worrying that it will get cold before you can finish. Warm food is also more aromatic. So, why don't most people warm their plates at home? Maybe the problem is they don't know which method is best?
How to warm your plates
- Run your plates under hot water on both sides until they are warm.
- Gently dry them with a towel.
- Use them as soon as you can to make use of their heat.
Monter au beurre, also known as mounting, is French for "mount with butter." While this french technique sounds fancy, and has equally fancy, decedent results, mounting is one of the easiest tricks in the book. To mount a sauce, you finish a sauce with butter to impart it with buttery flavor, make the sauce creamy in texture, and add some shine to the sauce as well.
How to mount with butter
- Once your sauce is done, turn off the heat.
- Keep the sauce in the hot pan you've cooked it in and on the same, still-hot burner.
- Add a couple of tabs of cold butter.
- Stir the cold butter into the cause until it is incorporated and the sauce is glossy.
The goal is to emulsify the butter in quickly. The sauce will be hot enough to heat it, so don't be tempted to cook the sauce after adding the butter.
If you worry about having dry proteins, specifically pork chops or chicken, give them a nice brine. If you've never heard of brining before, brining meat is the process of putting meat into a brine usually made of water, salt, herbs, and often lemon. Brining meat is an easy process that does most of the work on its own while sitting in the fridge. Many cooks chose to let their meat brine overnight so that it's ready for lunch or dinner the next day.
Don't be intimidating by brining. I like to think of brining like marinating, but instead of imparting a lot of flavor into the meat, I'm adding mostly moisture.
How to make a basic brine
- Add about 6 cups of water to a pot, glass bowl, baking dish, or metal bowl.
- Add about a tablespoon of peppercorns.
- Add 1/2 cup of salt.
- Add desired herbs (fresh herbs are preferable).
- Place your meat of choice in the brine, pop it in the fridge, and let it sit for at least one hour (I would recommend several hours or overnight depending on the weight of the meat).
For bigger meats like whole chickens, double or triple the recipe to your needs.
Broth and stock is a great addition to most recipes. Broth is a staple I always keep on hand. For making stews, adding flavor to grains, deglazing pans, or making soups, broth is my go-to. It's affordable and effective. Broth has so much flavor. If you are vegan or vegetarian, you can use vegetable broths. If you eat meat there is bone broth, beef broth, chicken broth, or even fish broth.
How to use broth in your recipes
- If a recipe calls for water, but you can use broth or stock, do it. The flavor payoff will be worth it.
- Make your own broth or stock.
- Use broth or stock to cook beans in.
- Add a splash of broth or stock to your greens as you cook them down. I add broth to spinach and kale when cooking.
Vanilla extract is so commonly used that other extracts and essences are often overlooked. Vanilla extract is a great addition to cakes, icecreams, and cream-filled pastries, but almond extract is a much better pairing with chocolate-based recipes, and it takes no more effort than adding vanilla extract. You might even choose to split the recipe with half almond extract and half vanilla extract.
Recipes to use almond essence
- Chocolate mug cake- I always use almond extract in chocolate cake, and mug cakes are no different. Almond essence will add a pleasant aroma and enhance the chocolaty flavor of your cake.
- Recipes that include raspberries. Almond essence also pairs well with raspberries.
- Recipes that include cherries.
- Almond meltaway cookies. If you have never had almond meltaway cookies, you are missing out.
Wine is another ingredient that is often overlooked or avoided in the kitchen. I avoided cooking with wine for too long, before I decided to conquer it and found it to be much easier than I anticipated. Adding wine to dishes is just another step in the cooking process. It takes a very small amount of wine and only a few more minutes of cooking for a big flavor pay off.
The biggest rule when adding wine, is to add it before other liquids (preferably during the deglazing process) and let it cook long enough to cook out the alcohol. You'll know the alcohol has cooked out of the wine when it begins to thicken (reduce) and the smell becomes more aromatic. Once the alcohol has cooked out of the wine, you can add your other liquids and ingredients.
Common dishes to use wine in
If you are still feeling a bit unsure, watch this tutorial and see it in action.
Watch the video:
Some of the foods we love most have been browned: seared vegetables, seared steak, grilled chicken, braised beef, roasted potatoes, and caramelized onions, to name a few. Not only is the golden crust of skin on a salmon fillet beautiful and appetizing, but the crispy skin is the best part of a salmon fillet. The skin is just the right amount of salty and bitter and umami. The flavors and beauty of properly seared, caramelized, or charred foods are appetizing to the eye and the palette.
Ways to brown your food
- Sear steak, scallops, fish, and other proteins.
- Char vegetables and remove their skins. Use them in salsas and soups to enhance the flavor.
- Cook on medium-high to high heat to avoid soggy proteins.
- When making caramelized onions, cook low and slow.
There's nothing like trying to cut and dice and chop while cooking at the same time. Mise en place is French for "putting in place" or "everything in its place." Mise en place is about getting organized, preparing, and having everything in its place, so that when you go to cook the process has been simplified for you and you are properly prepared.
How to practice mise en place
- Grab everything you need for your dish.
- Clean all your vegetables.
- Cut all your vegetables and put them in bowls or on a cutting board.
- Measure out the spices you need and put them into a bowl.
- Have any liquids you need out and measured or ready to be quickly added to your dish.
That's the practice of mise en place!
Watch the video:
Butter burns easily, and there is no worse flavor than burnt butter or burnt garlic. So, searing meat, cooking proteins, or cooking vegetables on high heat in butter is a no-go. However, there are ways to include the flavor of butter in all your dishes without risking burnt butter or the burnt flavor due to butter's high smoking point. My favorite way is to include butter and oil in the same pan. This method allows you to enjoy the flavor of butter while raising your butter's smoking point.
How to add oil to butter
- Bring your pan to heat.
- Add one part oil.
- Add one part butter.
While this trick still shouldn't be used for meat, it's ideal for sauces or stirfry.
Adding a bit of pasta water to sauce has been a trick passed down from generation to generation. While it's a fairly well-known trick, it's also one that gets overlooked because people don't understand its purpose. I didn't use the pasta water trick for a long time for that same reason, but I don't make sauce without pasta water now.
Why use the pasta water in sauce
- Pasta water can help thicken sauce.
- Pasta water adds salt and starch to the sauce giving it more flavor.
- Pasta water helps the pasta and sauce marry better.
When I learned how to roast garlic, I went a little roasted garlic crazy. Roasted garlic is incredibly versatile and it takes the flavor and aroma of garlic to an entirely new level. It can be spread on toast, added to mashed potatoes, added to potato soup, used in sauces or gravies, and added to hummus. If you've never roasted garlic, I highly recommend you do so as soon as possible.
How to roast garlic
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176°C).
- Cut the top of the garlic bulb so that you can see the tops of each clove of garlic.
- Set the bulb on a piece of foil.
- Drizzle the garlic with olive oil.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Wrap the garlic up and bake for 50 minutes to an hour.
Greens like spinach and kale go bad so quickly, I often don't get to use them all up. Taking the time to blanch your greens before freezing them can be intimidating, but it isn't always necessary. You can freeze greens without blanching and it's a huge time saver and food saver.
How to use frozen greens
- Warm them in sauces for pasta.
- Cook them in a pan with lemon juice and olive oil as a side with your choice of protein.
- Add them to soup or stew.
- Toss them into smoothies.
If you want to know the easiest way to freeze kale, watch the tutorial below!
Watch the video:
Lemons aren't just tasty additions to water or tea. Lemons add flavor to almost any dish, can help cut the fattiness of fried or greasy foods, can be used to make salad dressings, can be the basis of a sauce for pasta or chicken, and can even be added to soups.
Ways to use lemons
- If your dish is a bit bland, add a squeeze of lemon and give it a stir. Lemon can be just as effective as finishing with salt.
- Add the juice of half a lemon to lentil, black bean, or orzo soup.
- Use lemon to tenderize meat.
- Squeeze a bit of lemon over fruit like pears, plums, or berries.
- Squeeze lemon over fried foods like fried fish or mushrooms.
Viral food trends and hacks are viral for a reason, right?