100 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR COOKING

TOOLS

  1. Get a good chef knife that fits your hand, and keep it sharp.
  2. You don’t need a whole set of knives; along with the chef knife, get a paring knife for peeling vegetables and fruits and a serrated knife for slicing bread.
  3. Liquid and dry measuring cups are different. Liquid ones have a spout. Use the flat-topped ones for measuring baking ingredients.
  4. Using an electronic thermometer helps prevent dry or raw meats caused by overcooking. Cook to temperature, not by time.
  5. Cooks need a wooden spoon with a flat side to stir, a whisk to beat eggs, and a silicone spatula to scrape bowls.
  6. Use a Microplane® to zest citrus and grate garlic and ginger.
  7. Calibrate your oven with a thermometer.
  8. Nothing is better for browning than a cast-iron skillet.
  9. Buy quality cookware, but you don’t need an entire set. Basics: 1-quart and 3-quart covered saucepans, 10-inch skillet, (enameled) cast-iron gumbo pot, and a 6- to 8-quart pasta pot. Add pieces as needed: maybe a 6-inch nonstick skillet for your breakfast egg?
  10. Watch thrift stores to find heavy ceramic (e.g., Pampered Chef) baking pans.
  11. For next-level baking, get a tare scale, which weighs the container, then the ingredients.

    PROTEINS

  12. Trichinosis is rare in the U.S. Cook whole pork cuts to 145 degrees, and ground pork and beef to 160 degrees.
  13. Cook hamburgers until no pink shows.
  14. Prevent the green ring around hard-cooked egg yolks. As soon as they are cooked, transfer eggs to a bowl of ice water. Refrigerate when they become cool to the touch.
  15. Eggs are easier to peel if they’re at least a week old.
  16. Cook a chicken breast or two quickly and evenly by poaching in a skillet.
  17. Save wing tips and bones of rotisserie chickens for broth. Add half an onion, a celery stalk, a carrot, a bay leaf and some black peppercorns. Cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least an hour. Don’t stir. Strain and refrigerate. Remove fat from the top the next day, then freeze.
  18. Save shrimp and crab shells. Cover them with water, then bring to a boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Strain, then freeze to be used in pastas, soups and sauces later.

    FRUIT & VEGGIE TIPS

  19. A sautéed chopped onion enhances any boxed or canned entrée or side dish.
  20. Remove the bitter green sprout from garlic cloves.
  21. If chopped onion is too strong, rinse it with cold water.
  22. If you live alone, buy the biggest potato to bake. Remainders reheat well in the microwave.
  23. Cook spaghetti squash in rings instead of halves to yield more “spaghetti” and to lessen cooking time.
  24. To seed a tomato, cut it across the middle and hold over the sink. Gently squeeze, then shake.
  25. Use a grapefruit spoon to remove seeds from cucumbers and to scrape seeds from hard squashes.
  26. Rinse herbs and lettuce with water, then shake off the water and spread them on a dish towel. Roll up and let sit until ready to use.
  27. Line salad bowl with a paper towel; remove towel before adding dressing.
  28. A minced fresh chile is the secret ingredient in many chefs’ dishes and gumbos. Add with onions.
  29. If chopping vegetables in the food processor, start by dropping garlic (or a fresh chile) down the tube while the processor is running, to mince in seconds.
  30. To remove the skins of peaches or tomatoes: Drop each into boiling water for 10-30 seconds, or until the skin splits. Transfer to an ice-water bath and the skins will slip off.
  31. Grow a fresh herb or two in a pot and place it in a sunny spot. Garlic chives reseed, grow all year and can be used dozens of ways, such as a substitute for scallion tops.
  32. Lemons and limes yield more juice at room temperature. Or you can heat them for 15 seconds in the microwave to soften.
  33. Buy pure frozen Minute Maid lemon juice to use for lemon-less emergencies.
  34. Freeze extra peeled or minced garlic. Or puree 1 part garlic with 2 parts oil and freeze in an airtight container.

    NEVER

  35. Put good knives in dishwashers.
  36. Refrigerate tomatoes (until they’re sliced).
  37. Leave the kitchen with a broiler on.
  38. Leave a knife in the sink.
  39. Cook anything for the first time for company or a date.
  40. Be afraid of failure.

    ALWAYS

  41. Read through the entire recipe first.
  42. Buy the best ingredients you can afford.
  43. Taste a finished dish. Adjust seasoning if needed.
  44. Use real butter, vanilla and extracts.
  45. Remove the bay leaf.

    SEASONING SECRETS

  46. Add more garlic.
  47. Taste as you go.
  48. Salt brings out the flavor of food. Unless you have a medical reason not to use it, it’s your BFF in the kitchen.
  49. Measure one teaspoon of salt and place it in the cupped palm of your hand. Remember how this looks and you won’t need a measuring spoon.
  50. Beans should be salted before cooking. It won’t toughen them; they’ll taste better and they won’t need nearly as much salt when finished.
  51. For the best-tasting pasta, salt cooking water well.
  52. Plan ahead: Most one-pot dishes are better the second day.
  53. Use jarred bases instead of bouillon cubes. They’re more flavorful and dissolve easier.
  54. A pinch of cinnamon or cloves deepens the flavor of chili.
  55. Tomato sauces need a little sugar to counter acidity. Or add grated carrots.
  56. Coleslaw needs a pinch of sugar.
  57. Olive oil is for salad. Canola oil is for frying.
  58. Sometimes a shower of fresh herbs is just what a dish needs.
  59. Experiment with seasoning blends.
  60. If you discover a missing ingredient, ask Mr. Google what to substitute.
    LITTLE THINGS ADD LOTS
  61. Brighten long-simmered dishes with grated citrus zest added just before serving.
  62. Lemon juice on fresh-cooked veggies can entice kids to eat them.
  63. Toast nuts until fragrant.
  64. Toast whole spices in a dry skillet until fragrant, then grind.
  65. To brown meats and onions, give them time to cook. Don’t constantly stir.
  66. When browning more than one thing in a skillet, leave space between pieces or they’ll steam instead of browning.
  67. A little chopped Italian parsley improves a lot of things.
  68. Make salad dressing from 1 part vinegar, 3 parts oil and a bit of Dijon mustard to emulsify. (Balsamic vinegar can be used in a 1 to 2 ratio with oil.) Add herbs.
  69. Better mashed potatoes: Drain spuds, return to the pan and put back on the heat for a minute to remove moisture.
  70. Refrigerate cookie dough 24 hours before baking to improve flavors.
  71. Use coffee instead of water in chocolate cake.
  72. Separate yolks from whites while eggs are cold.
  73. Egg whites whip better at room temperature.
  74. Chill beaters and bowl before whipping cream.
  75. A drop of crab boil improves hot dogs.
  76. Don’t overload a pizza with too many toppings.
  77. If you brown onions and browned bits are on the bottom of the skillet, add a little liquid like water or wine. When the liquid and bits are dissolved, you can blend and then scrape that flavor right into the dish.
  78. Moisture is the enemy of browning. Dry surfaces with paper towels before roasting or sautéing.
  79. When baking, use the pan size indicated in the recipe.
  80. Run a dish under the broiler for a crispy top.
  81. Use broth when a recipe calls for water.
  82. Water can also mean “wine.”
  83. Yogurt (whole-fat plain) is a good substitute for milk or mayonnaise. Use a mixture of half mayo and half yogurt to lighten pasta and potato salads.
  84. Add bay leaves to soups, stews and beans.
  85. As long as you pay attention, you can crank up the heat.

    GET ORGANIZED

  86. Maintain an inventory of freezer contents on your phone.
  87. Keep a running shopping list.
  88. Write a weekly menu, or an outline of entrées.
  89. Prep all ingredients before starting to cook.
  90. Fill a sink with hot soapy water and clean as you cook.
  91. A damp kitchen towel spread under a cutting board prevents slipping.
  92. Use a reliable encyclopedic cookbook, such as Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
  93. Don’t be afraid of failure. Cooking requires practice.

    STORAGE & LEFTOVERS

  94. Vegetables deteriorate in the presence of oxygen. Press air from storage bags just before sealing them.
  95. Freeze leftover hot dog buns for bread pudding.
  96. Make extra rice. Freeze portions in sandwich bags; store in a gallon freezer bag.
  97. Use sweet pickle juice in potato salad and dill pickle juice in marinades and salad dressing.
  98. Line a soup bowl with plastic wrap and fill it with leftover soup. Freeze; remove from bowl and close up ends of plastic wrap. Reheat in the original bowl.
  99. Slice and freeze extra French bread to toast for crostini.

    BE HAPPY

  100. If you hate mincing garlic or making pie crust, get the jarred or boxed kind. Real is better, sure, but you’ll be happier and cook more.