Simple Kitchen Habits

It doesn’t have to be fancy to be a little more efficient.

Whether you learned to cook from your parents, taught yourself on YouTube, or graduated from a culinary program, we all have certain ways about moving about the space of a kitchen. Some of those are deeply ingrained, and you might not even realize that you’re doing them. Some of them might be thanks to the space that you’re working in, or the particular mechanics of the food you prepare at home.  A culinary techniques program might help you to step back and reassess the way that you use your kitchen and make cooking easier.

Having proper equipment is important. A good sturdy bowl and cutting board will make your life easier. How you organize your space and move through it might be one of the first things to change in your kitchen. Here are a few good kitchen habits that will help.

Read the Recipe All the Way Through First

This might seem like really obvious advice to you, sort of like “measure twice, cut once.” But it’s easy to glance through the list of ingredients and the basic preparation without looking through the whole recipe, only to realize that it requires more time or different equipment than you have on hand. It’s equally easy to miss what turns out to be a crucial step when you’re working quickly and haven’t seen it before. Take time and read it, and get into the habit of always doing that before you even set off to the grocery store, and it will save you a lot of hassle.

Invest in Kitchen Towels

At the beginning of every class for my culinary program, I would set up my station, which meant cleaning and sanitizing my workspace, setting up my knives and tools, grabbing a giant cutting board from a rack, and folding a stack of side towels into quarters so I could easily grab them. I went through probably five towels a class, and we used them for everything. They act as potholders and as an easy way to stabilize a bowl you’re whipping cream or to put under your cutting board to keep it in place.  At the end of class, we put them in a giant laundry bag.

At home, it’s easy to be precious about your kitchen towels, which are often printed with something decorative. If you don’t have kitchen towels that you don’t mind staining, grab some cheap ones at Home Goods or TJX Maxx. Keep a stack of them easily available to you while you work. Use a towel or two each time you’re doing serious cooking, and then throw it in the wash. It’ll cut down a lot on your paper towels, and you’ll always have something handy to insulate your hand from a hot pan or wipe up a small spatter.

Hone Your Knife Often

A dull knife is an enemy of even knife cuts, and of your fingers. But people tend to concentrate far more on sharpening their knives than honing them, and honing can maintain your knife’s sharpness a lot more easily. When you sharpen a knife, you’re actually taking a small amount of the material off the blade of the knife to return it to its edge. Unless you’re using your knife very heavily every day you probably don’t need to sharpen your knife more than once or twice a year. Instead, you can realign the blade using a honing rod, and help extend the sharpness of your knives. It helps to hone it fairly often when you’re cooking, whenever you feel the blade begin to drag a bit. And it’s much cheaper than buying a new knife.

Now I personally found this advice off, as I re-sharpen mine every time I use it.

Have a Trash Bowl

When you’re prepping vegetables or meat, designate a bowl nearby that you can put scraps from your cutting board into. That way you don’t have to interrupt your workflow by running to dump things into the trash every few minutes, and you can more clearly see what kind of scraps you’re working with and whether they’d be useful for something like a chicken stock later on.

In my kitchen the trash is right below where I cut and chop, so I finish I just scrap it into the trash, but I was lucky enough to design my own kitchen.

Keep Two Olive Oils on Hand

Olive oil is one of the things you tend to go through a lot of in the kitchen if you cook a lot, and though it would be nice use extremely nice olive oil for everything, it doesn’t make sense, or even for the flavors of lots of things. For that reason have one more affordable but still good olive oil on hand for everyday tasks like cooking eggs or vegetables, and one higher-end one in a smaller bottle for drizzling over salad or good bread, when the flavor is really pronounced. For every day, California Olive Ranch’s Every Day Extra Virgin Olive Oil makes a great oil that’s available and affordable, and for when I want something peppery and a little nicer,  reaching Gaea’s DOP Kalamata Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Use what tastes good to you and what you can afford. Just make sure that you’re storing it well and use it within a few months. Otherwise, no matter how nice your oil is, it’ll go rancid.

Keep Your Salt Easily Accessible and Use It Liberally

 

The single easiest thing you can do to make yourself a better cook is to put the salt you use for seasoning in a bowl, rather than keeping it in a shaker or a container with a pour spout. It’s a really good habit to get into because you can more easily add pinches or palmfuls of salt into what you’re making and get a feel for how much you need for it to taste right. It’s also easy to be afraid of adding salt for fear of making a dish too salty. When you’re seasoning a dish, using salt is what makes the ingredients taste more like themselves.

Weigh, Don’t Measure

This is another adage that you’ve probably heard, but it is shocking how much a kitchen scale can make a difference in your whole cooking and baking game. But the measuring spoons and cups are probably right there, and well, it’s easier to reach for them. Make it easy to reach for the scale and a bowl, and you’ll get in the habit of doing that for ingredients that really need to be precise, like flour or sugar when baking.

Prep Before You Start Cooking

No one has unlimited times in their lives. It’s a normal thing to want to start the dish and the cut up the carrots or celery or whatever to go into it. And it’s a strategy that can work, or it can leave you frantically hacking at the tomatoes while the onions go from brown to burned in the pan. If you have your ingredients measured and prepped before you start, it’s going to make the cooking process that much smoother. There’s often room in recipes for you to cut and prep things while something else is simmering, a thing you’ll discover when you read the recipe all the way through. But at least prepare the things you know you’re going to need immediately, or during a time-sensitive step in the process. Leave the garnish for later.

Pay Attention to Ingredient Temperature

Can you use the egg straight from the refrigerator or does it need to come to room temperature? In baking, you’ve probably run into butter that needs to be softened or melted and cooled before incorporating it into a batter. Other cooking is the same way, particularly when it comes to proteins. Letting your meat come to room temperature will help it cook more evenly, and having your water hot or cold before you add it can alter the outcome of what you’re making. Making a mental note to keep tabs on how warm things are while your working is a good habit to get into.

Simple Kitchen Habits

What Is a Convection Oven—and What Should You Cook In It?

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An oven is an oven, right? Wrong. Many professional chefs swear by a convection oven for evenly cooked, perfectly browned foods. So should you invest in one for your own kitchen?

My oven has a convection mode, so I found this information interesting and hope to incorporate it in my cooking in the future.

Understanding why, when, and how to use a convection oven (or a convection setting) can make a world of difference in how your food turns out. Here’s what you need to know about convection oven cooking:

Convection Oven Vs. Conventional Oven

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A conventional (or traditional) oven cooks food by heating the air inside of it. The air inside the oven remains stagnant. A convection oven, meanwhile, has built-in fans that circulate the air during the cooking process. Many ovens have both convection and conventional settings, allowing you to choose between the two.

Convection Oven Pros

The convection setting on your oven can benefit your food in a number of ways, like:

It cooks food evenly.

Conventional ovens can have hot spots or areas in the oven that heat faster and higher than in other areas. This can result in unevenly cooked food, where one side cooks faster than the other. The circulating air of a convection oven keeps the temperature even throughout cooking, which is especially helpful when roasting a whole turkey or toasting nuts.

mr- classic roast turkey

It cooks food faster. Food cooks about 25 percent faster in a convection oven because the hot air blowing directly onto the food speeds up chemical reactions within the oven.

It’s better at browning. If you’re after a crispy or crunchy texture, reach for the convection setting. Conventional ovens are prone to humidity because of a lack of ventilation. Convection ovens, however, produce dry air that caramelizes sugars during roasting.

It’s more energy efficient. Faster cooking times mean you’re using less energy. Theoretically, using the convection setting can save you money and help the environment.

Convection Oven Cons

Though it can often improve your food, a convection oven isn’t always appropriate. In fact, you should probably steer clear of it when you’re making delicate foods like cakes, souffles, bread, and custard. The air circulation can inhibit the setting process, causing batter not to rise properly.

Some people claim that you should never use the convection setting for cooking American baked goods like biscuits, cakes, and cookies.

Many American recipes were developed using a conventional oven and actually benefit from the moisture that comes from humidity. Dry air will speed up crust formation, which may affect how (and if) your recipe rises during the cooking process.

Using the convection setting during baking could result in flat, fluff-less cookies, cakes, and biscuits, and no one wants that.

What Can You Use If You Don’t Have a Convection Oven?

If your oven doesn’t have a convection setting, you don’t have to buy a new oven to reap the rewards of convection cooking. Believe it or not, you can often substitute an air fryer for the convection setting. Both appliances work by circulating hot air around the food being cooked, providing quick, crispy, and evenly cooked results. While they’re not exactly the same thing, the hot air in an air fryer circulates much faster and is not blown directly onto the food. You should definitely consider trying it out before splurging on a new oven. One caveat: Air fryers are much smaller than convection ovens so plan your meal accordingly.

How to Use a Convection Oven

Sheet Pan Chicken with Roasted Baby Potatoes

Though using the convection setting on your oven is as simple as pushing a button, there are a few things you should know:

You might need to adjust recipes. Most recipes you find in cookbooks and online were developed using a traditional oven, so you’ll have to tweak them a bit. Lowering the recommended temperature by 25 degrees should do the trick. Since food cooks faster in a convection oven, you’ll need to check it’s progress frequently to make sure it’s not burning.

Give your food room to breathe. You may have heard warnings against overcrowding the pan during roasting (we’re looking at you, Julia Child fans), but it’s especially important to make sure your food is spaced properly when you’re using a convection oven. Convection relies on air being able to circulate, and packing too much onto one pan can hinder that process. You should avoid crowding the oven with too many pans at one time, as you could block a fan.

Use low-sided or rimless baking sheets and pans. If you want to take full advantage of the convection setting, you should make sure that nothing is keeping the moving air from blowing onto the food, and that includes the sides of your pans. It’s all about circulation!

What Is a Convection Oven—and What Should You Cook In It?

Tips from Culinary School

Found this article online by “my recipes” and thought the information was quite valuable.  I am always looking for ways to make things taste better in simple ways.

Good Stock Changes the Game:

This is probably something you’ve heard before, homemade stock is always going to be superior to the stuff you can buy in boxes, cans, or cubes at the grocery store. We use stock in almost everything. In classic French cuisine, so of course, There are all kinds of distinct schools that go about culinary training differently, but in French cooking, the sauces are everything. And the sauces are all built with great stock. Restaurants, of course, have the advantage of having many, many carcasses and scraps of mirepoix to put into huge vats of stock. It’s hard to get stock like that at home, without the industrial quantities that restaurants work with. But even just making quick stock in your Instant Pot will make your sauces and soups taste much, much better.

Watch the Bits at the Bottom of the Pan

When you’re searing meat or chicken on a pan, you’re, of course, watching the piece of meat so that it browns nicely and doesn’t burn. But it’s equally important to watch the browned bits at the bottom of the pan as they’re a good indicator of whether your pan is running too hot. Plus, those browned bits,  are incredibly dense in flavor. When you have them, you should always try to use them by degreasing and then deglazing the pan after you’re done cooking your meat. That just means pouring out any excess fat and then pouring wine, stock, or another liquid to help scrape up all the delicious bits. That’s an easy way to make a pan sauce, a great addition to your meal.

The Pan Cooks the Food, the Flame Doesn’t

You want to pay attention to how hot the surface of the pan is and how high your burner is turned up. Pans hold heat to varying degrees, and it’s important to keep that in mind when figuring out which one to use for what application. For very delicate things like fish, you often want to turn off the flame when the dish gets to a certain point of cooking, and the heat from the pan will continue to cook it. Pay more attention not just to how big the flame was under the pan, but how hot the pan was getting.

Weighing versus Measuring Cups

In applications where absolute precision isn’t necessary, eyeball amounts, and when precision was necessary, use kitchen scales. Bakers swear by using scales, and digital kitchen scales are a pretty cheap addition to the kitchen, and much better measuring by weight is than relying on measuring spoons and cups. Different flours and sugars weigh different amounts.

Reduce for Flavor, Thicken Later

When you’re making soup or stew, one of the steps is always to reduce a component. You reduce wine to syrup or cream to double cream, and on and on. Part of the point of reducing the liquid is to thicken it. But thickening really shouldn’t be a top priority when you’re reducing down a liquid. You can always use a roux or a quick beurre manie to thicken a liquid later. The point of reducing is to build flavor. You reduce it to the point where you like the flavor, season it, and then thicken it.

Rest Your Meat, Then Reheat

Resting meat is important. When you don’t let it rest after you cook it, whether its steak or roast chicken, the juices spill out over your cutting board and the meat gets dry. But It’s better to let the piece of meat rest even to the point of getting colder than you’d like, and then just put it in a very hot oven for a minute or two to reheat. That lets the juices reincorporate into the meat, then reheats it without cooking it further.

Reheating and Cooling Things Properly Is Crucial

Lots of things in restaurants are made beforehand and reheated because making things a la minute for hundreds of people is a good way to become very overwhelmed. You can bring up most things to the temperature they were when you were cooking them without cooking them further. That means that you cooked, say, a piece of chicken until its internal temperature is 165 degrees. As long as you cool that chicken properly, you can reheat it up to that internal temperature again without it getting overcooked. You don’t want to do that too many times, because the meat will dry out, but you won’t ever overcook your meat by reheating it if you keep that in mind. Similarly, with cooling things down, the danger zone for bacteria is when meat is in between piping hot and refrigerator cold. To get things cold quickly, it’s way more effective to put them in a bowl over a bowl of ice water than throwing them right into the fridge.

Depend on your Senses, Not the Directions

The throughline between very famous chefs of haute cuisine and my grandmother is that they don’t rely on recipes by the letter, they rely on their senses. Pay more attention to how the meat looks and smells and feels to tell when its done (and yeah, a thermometer too!) than what a recipe estimates. After all, recipes are great guidelines, but everyone’s kitchen equipment and conditions are totally different. You cook things until they’re done, and determine that doneness by visual and other cues.

Size Matters

This sort of cheeky mantra but it’s true so choose the right pot, pan, or bowl for the job and it makes all the difference. Too big of a pan means your meat won’t cook properly. Too small of a bowl, and whisking will be a huge chore. It matters not just because of convenience, but because your results will be different if you don’t pay attention.

Hot Plates for Hot Food

The quickest way you can give your at-home meals a restaurant touch is remembering to heat your plates before putting food on them that are meant to be eaten hot. All it takes is sticking them in the oven for a couple minutes before plating your meal. It means the food won’t cool down as fast, and you can enjoy it longer. Try it!

You Can Use Almost Every Scrap

Whether it’s egg whites or garlic skins, restaurant kitchens are geniuses at repurposing what would be food waste in most home kitchens. For them, it’s an economic concern as much as an environmental one, but it’s a practice that’s useful to adapt at home. You can use many of the things that you might otherwise scrap to make your food even better.

Tips from Culinary School

History of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer

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 I found this article online and just found it interesting, as most of cooks own a stand mixer of some kind.  I have had several in my lifetime. One caught on fire, although it was not a KitchenAid, it was a very high-quality Kenwood with too much cookie dough. I replaced it with a 4.5 quart KitchenAid which I used for years.  I added a 7-quart pro KitchenAid this last year and love both the old and the new.  I do not keep either of mine on the counter, as I love a clear counter.  One (the old one) is in the pantry, and the other lifts hydraulically from a space beneath the counter. I often did wonder about their history. 

KitchenAid’s story

When you envision a well-equipped kitchen, there’s probably a gleaming KitchenAid stand mixer sitting on the counter. The complex machine, camouflaged in Deco architecture and cheerful color, is a sign that one’s made it in the sphere of adulting.

The KitchenAid mixer has maintained its place as a status symbol for a century, doing far more than modernizing countless kitchens. The very appliance that has shaped so many lives directly reflects modern American history.

The KitchenAid mixer didn’t just save time in the kitchen; it helped time move forward.

The story goes that Herbert Johnston, an engineer working for the Hobart Corporation, conceptualized the standing mixer after watching a baker mix dough and thinking there had to be a better way. Development started in 1914, and the first standing mixers went somewhere that desperately needed to industrialize its kitchens: the military.

A lot of the military and government for soldiers is a large part of how our food system developed. Military chefs needed to feed a lot of people and cooked in bulk all day long, and updating kitchens were the best solution. By 1917, all U.S. Navy ships were equipped with model H mixers.

Hobart then shifted gears to produce home models, and soon after the KitchenAid C-10 mixer was born. At the time, although a sizeable chunk of employed women were maids (More than half of employed women worked in “domestic service” according to the 1870 census, and that percentage continued to increase), the early 20th century saw a shift away from live-in servants, meaning many women were now cooking for their families for the first time.

It’s difficult to look back at how cooking used to be compared to what we can do now. At this time women were expected to have a several-course meal, always with a dessert. That was a lot of labor that went into cooking for your family. Preparing elaborate meals was also tied to status. How much you loved your family was dependent on how elaborate your meal was. Having the standalone mixer wasn’t just a minor convenience. It could really change a woman’s day as she was doing all these various things that we take for granted today.

However, practicality didn’t come cheap. You had to have the money in those very early years to have a standalone mixer, adding that in today’s prices, the C-10 exceeded $1,000.

The KitchenAid mixer didn’t take off immediately as the high price deterred retailers, but word of mouth started a sales momentum among the upper class.

It was very much ‘I have to have this because so-and-so has it.

kitchenaid standing early

In the early days, KitchenAid sales were conducted by an entirely female, door-to-door force, the first of its kind, and a precursor for entrepreneurship such as Tupperware and Avon representatives. Since KitchenAid targeted wealthy housewives, the best way to market them was by coming into a woman’s home, preferably when her husband was around.

There was this idea that only a man could understand the engineering aspect of this appliance and how it worked, even though she’s gonna be the person using it. In that way, KitchenAid was just as much about the housewife’s relationship with her husband. KitchenAid would sell it every Christmas. It was obviously the gift that was given to the housewife. In some ways, it seems demeaning, given today’s lens, but at that point in time, it was a status symbol.

After World War II ended and the era of mass consumerism dawned, broad industrialization of the kitchen emerged. Appliances indicated that a family had made it, and other companies developed their own standing mixers. Despite the more affordable competition, KitchenAid held its own for two reasons. First, the quality couldn’t compare. And KitchenAid’s secret weapon took that longevity even further.

What was smart about what KitchenAid did that the others didn’t do was cross-generation accessories. What that means is that if you bought a KitchenAid mixer in 1950 and kept it through the years, even though the appliance itself would evolve, you could still use the accessories with the mixer you had. It meant that women could pass down their KitchenAid mixers and extensions to their daughters.

Whatever their design was at the beginning, they either smartly or were lucky to discover a concept that they could have evolved without having to start over with everything again. As our food systems changed over time, they were smart enough not to change the model of the concept that they had. They didn’t try to talk down to their consumer or try to be trendy. And sticking with that traditional model is what’s made them so successful. That combination of quality and commitment helped KitchenAid hold its own against competitors, and it’s a huge part of what keeps them successful today.

KitchenAid’s fate may have turned out differently without behind-the-scenes feedback from housewives. These women weren’t just the target audience, but also developers who emphasized that standing mixers should be in the home. They often had a significant voice in food products and appliances because they were the ones that were using these things all the time, although they rarely received the credit. Even the appliance’s name came from a wife’s feedback: “I don’t care what you call it, but I know it’s the best kitchen aid I’ve ever had!”

KitchenAid also helped women break outside domestic restrictions by giving them careers in home economics. We sometimes act as if women’s labor in certain generations made pin money, but a lot of women were supporting their families, Voss says. The KitchenAid mixer was its own Trojan horse: an industrial-grade machine disguised in a pretty color. Women found all sorts of ways to make money and have careers using the concept that only a woman could understand such things.

And the opportunities that evolved out of door-to-door KitchenAid sales, such as Tupperware parties, allowed women to safely gather and discuss topics that expanded far beyond cooking. These meetings inspired women to run for positions of power, such as school board, and eventually political office.

They had to work within what they had at the time. They couldn’t go out and do certain things, but if you look back over women’s history, they found a way.

It was amazingly progressive but done in such a way that seemed safe. It wasn’t just about the mixer itself. It was about what it represented.

History of the KitchenAid Stand Mixer

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

I found this article online and made a few corrections and additions, but it has great information.

These baking mistakes threaten your beautiful bundts, bread, and bar cookies. Here’s what you should do instead…

In cooking, you’re encouraged to riff: Edamame in your stir-fry? Sure! A splash of rice wine vinegar in your pan sauce? Why not! Curious about herbes de Provence in your chicken rub? Give it a whirl!

In baking, however, creativity should be directed toward what you decide to make and how you decorate it—not how you cook it. That’s because baking is a science; cooking is an art. Science has rules. Art? Not so much.

You don’t read the recipe.

As you do with any IKEA furniture, you should read through the steps and gather your tools before you start mixing and whipping. Otherwise, you might get started and realize you’re one short a cup of cocoa powder of what your recipe needs. Or worse, you’ll start mixing up the dough for the birthday party you’re going to tonight and then realize it’s supposed to chill overnight. Oops!

The fix: Pull your recipe up on your phone, or get it from your cookbook. Read the ingredient list, and assemble everything that’s listed. Then, read the directions. You can even go so far as to “pretend” each step. This way, you can double check you have every ingredient and every appliance or tool you need.

You decide to wing it instead of measuring the ingredients.

The “a little of this, a little of that” mentality may suit you well in cooking, but in baking, it could backfire. After all, consider this: cookies, cakes, and bread contain many of the same ingredients: eggs, flour, sugar, butter, for example. In the right ratios, they make a specific type of baked good. In the wrong ratios, they could be a disaster. That’s why it’s vital to measure every ingredient, from the flour to the tiniest bit of cinnamon.

The fix: Use your measuring spoons and cups. You need the right ratios to get the best results. Save the winging it for your salad dressing.

You don’t respect the comma.

Has the comma in “1 cup flour, sifted” ever confused you? What about the comma in “1/2 cup pecans, chopped”? The comma is telling you something very important. Do you know what?

The fix: The comma is telling you to first measure the ingredient and then perform the task. Measure the cup of flour, then sift it. Or measure the half cup of pecans, then chop them. There’s a big difference between half a cup of chopped pecans and half a cup of pecans that were measured, then chopped. It can dramatically affect your final result.

You use liquid measuring cups for dry ingredients (or vice versa).

Liquid measuring cups and dry measuring cups measure things differently. Though it’s not a significant amount, it’s enough that it could affect the texture of your final product.

The fix: Use wet measuring cups (typically, the glass type you pour from) for everything liquid: water, oil, honey, milk, molasses, corn syrup, etc. Use dry cups for everything else, from flour and sugar to chocolate chips and yogurt. With the dry cups, be sure to use a flat surface, like the back of a knife, to swipe across the top of the cup to remove excess before adding to the batter.

You dip your measuring cup into the flour.

Dipping a measuring cup into a bag or jar of flour packs the flour into the well of the measuring cup. It may seem like the easiest way to scoop flour, but you’re actually getting more flour than you really need. Too much flour will turn into dense bread, hard cookies, and stiff cakes.

The fix: You need the same amount of flour each time to get consistent results, and you can do this in two ways: The less accurate option is to use a spoon to lightly scoop flour into a dry measuring cup, then use a flat edge (like a knife) to level off the flour. The most accurate way to measure flour is with a digital scale. A cup of all-purpose flour should be 130 grams.

You don’t preheat your oven.

We’ve all been there: You’ve just finished rolling out a tray full of cookie dough only to realize your oven is cool as a cucumber. So to save time, you turn the oven on and just stick the pan in any way. Bad idea. The quick and sudden heat is an important part of the baking process. If the dough heats slowly, you may have a mess on your hands.

The fix: If you realize the oven isn’t pre-heated when you’re ready to bake, just let the dough or batter sit while the oven heats up. Most ovens can be heated in about 10 minutes time. If you’re working with a temperature-sensitive dough, pop it in the fridge until the oven is ready.

You’ve never measured your oven’s temperature.

I have some bad news: Your oven could be lying to you. Just because it says 350°F doesn’t mean it really is. That means your brownies or pastries may not bake properly because your oven could be too hot, or even too cool. And 25°F in one direction can make a big difference in the final product.

The fix: Invest in an oven thermometer. Hang it from the grates in your oven the next time you turn it on. Let the oven pre-heat fully, and then see what the thermometer says. That will give you an idea of how correct your oven is—and how you need to adjust the oven when you bake in it.

You substitute baking powder for baking soda.

They might share a similar name, and they even look similar out of the box. But baking soda and baking powder are quite different. Baking soda must have an accompanying acid (lemon juice, vinegar, buttermilk, for example) to activate it; baking powder, on the other hand, has that acid already. If you use the wrong one, your baked goods will take a hit.

18 Bad Baking Habits You Need to Stop

50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

Your ideal pantry should feel like a wonderland of endless recipe options. Are those shelves currently looking a little bare? These are the 50 essential staples you should always keep on hand

Dried or Canned Beans

DRIED OR CANNED BEANS

Pound-for-pound, dried beans are one of the best values on the shelf. No time to soak? Canned beans ain’t bad either. If you’re craving a cool dip for chips, a bowl of spicy chili or stick-to-your-ribs comfort, beans are your new best buddy:

Dried Pasta

DRIED PASTA

Whether long, twisted or tied in a bow, pasta is the ultimate vessel for homemade sauces. Tired of spaghetti with sweetened, canned ragu? The opportunities for combination and customization are endless. Try south-of-the-border flavors, a cool pasta salad or an umami-rich red sauce:

 

Canned Tuna

CANNED TUNA

Fancy sushi-grade ahi ain’t got nothing on this last-minute lunch staple. Whether we’re craving salad or melty cheese sandwiches, we’re not ashamed to open a can, mix it with mayo and enjoy for any meal of the day:

 

Olive Oil

OLIVE OIL

Olive oil is available in all prices. Use the cheap bottles for cooking and the more expensive oils for fresh sauces, dressings, and infusions. Real extra-virgin olive oil will burn slightly at the back of your throat, and will be smooth, not viscous or sticky on the tongue:

Tortillas

TORTILLAS

Taco Tuesday is over and you have leftover tortillas. Yes, you could use them to wrap up a burrito or some sliced turkey. But did you consider a macaroni and cheese quesadilla? Or that you could fry them up and make your own chips? Go forth and tortilla:

Chicken Stock

CHICKEN STOCK

Every kitchen should include some good stock, especially since it can replace water in almost any savory recipe and add a ton of flavor (ever tried boiling pasta in it?). It’s ideal for soups and stews and can turn any pan drippings into a sauce in no time.  I make my own and store it in the extra freezer in my garage.

Peanut Butter

PEANUT BUTTER

Yes, you can slather some peanut butter and jelly on bread and call it a day. But why not try your hand at Chinese-takeout-style peanut butter noodles or sweet-and-savory desserts? But for some reason, I always keep mine in the refrigerator.

Rice

RICE

You’ll find rice on the plates of the majority of human beings around the world. Whether you boil it, steam it, simmer it or fry it, rice is a staple food worth experimenting.  The question is: “How many types of rice do you keep in your pantry?”

 

Milk

MILK

If the gallon is on its last few days, don’t toss it! You can use the last of it in sauces and gravies, as well as to make fresh mozzarella and milkshakes. Ok, so this in the frig, not the pantry, unless you have a refrigerated pantry.

Lemons

LEMONS

You should have lemons on hand for both a beautiful kitchen centerpiece and to brighten up dishes like fish and chicken. Try them in this Greek lemon soup, rice or any yellow baked good.

Eggs

EGGS

Having eggs in the fridge is a no-brainer. They’re essential if you’re baking or making breakfast at home, but can also be utilized for easy sandwiches, quiche and more.

Tomato Sauce & Paste

TOMATO SAUCE & PASTE

You might look at a can of tomato sauce and only see pasta, but don’t sell its potential short! Sure, it’s necessary for staples like chicken parm and pizza, but what about as a topping for stuffed vegetables or as a base for your sloppy Joes?

Soy Sauce

SOY SAUCE

Sure, soy sauce is an obvious choice on top of your Chinese takeout, but what about as part of a sweet and salty glaze for chicken? Keep it in the pantry to use in any number of sauces, or just to flavor steamed rice whenever you forget to order fried:

Brown Sugar

BROWN SUGAR

Plain granulated ain’t got nothing on brown. An essential for baked goods, you can also sprinkle it on bacon for a sweet-savory-bacony twist on breakfast or dessert. Your box is hard as a rock? Microwave to soften.

Parmesan Cheese

PARMESAN CHEESE

It’s salty, it’s nutty, it’s cheese a trifecta of deliciousness! Consider keeping extra in the fridge so you can transform almost protein into a parm. Plus, if you don’t have it, what are you putting on top of your pasta? I buy Reggiano Parmesano and freeze it when there is a sale.

Breadcrumbs

BREADCRUMBS

Breadcrumbs provide an unreal softness and lightness when mixed into meatballs, and Japanese-style panko is best for adding a crispy crunch to baked or fried foods.

Onions

ONIONS

Keep your onions in a dry, cool and dark place (away from the potatoes!) and they’ll last for months. Months during which you can caramelize them, fry them or serve them fresh:

Honey

HONEY

Great for sauces or as a sweetener for tea, oatmeal, yogurt, lemonade and more, this buzz-worthy liquid is the bee’s knees.

Vanilla Extract

VANILLA EXTRACT

There’s no knowing why vanilla became synonymous with bland. The extract from this ancient Mesoamerican bean is complex and fragrant, and is perfect when baked into creme brulee or broiled on grapefruits.

Balsamic Vinegar

BALSAMIC VINEGAR

If you’ve ever made your own salad dressing, you’re probably familiar with this Italian condiment. Balsamic vinegar is a perfect complement to fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, works magic in marinades and can be reduced to a syrup and used as a garnish.

Lentils

LENTILS

Is that box of lentils languishing in the back of your cabinet? Time to pull it out. Lentils are the perfect legumes for making protein-rich soups, salads and cookies.

Barbecue Sauce

BARBECUE SAUCE

In addition to being the one condiment you must have for grilling season, barbecue sauce is an easy out when you need lots of flavor without lots of work. Some of our favorite things to slather it on include pizza, chicken wings, and even savory muffins.

Greek Yogurt

GREEK YOGURT

Besides being a healthy staple for breakfast or a snack, Greek yogurt can also be used up in a marinade for chicken, as a creamy addition in soup or even in pancake batter. And don’t forget about tzatziki!

Cocoa Powder

COCOA POWDER

Cocoa powder might be the perfect chocolate boost for brownies and cakes, but try it in Mexican food to bring it back to its roots. Mole sauces and spicy Mexican hot chocolate are some traditional options.

Maple Syrup

MAPLE SYRUP

Don’t have a maple tree tapped in your backyard? Good thing you’ve got Canada (and Vermont) to pick up the slack. Use this sweet nectar to flavor everything from scones to French fries to roasted meats.

Potatoes

POTATOES

This humble Peruvian tuber is a staple in most all of the world’s cuisines. It can be prepared in every way imaginable and will last for months if stored in a dark, cool place (away from the onions!).

 

CURRY PASTE & POWDER

Whether you’re using paste or powder, curry is a great flavoring agent for sauces, soups and marinades. Looking for the ultimate quick fix? Curry + coconut milk = instant awesome:

FROZEN PEAS

Finish off almost any pasta with frozen peas, add them into a pot pie, or toss them into a salad. Any way you slice it, your freezer should definitely have a few bags of these at all times.

CANNED SALSA

Unlock the potential of salsa by piling it on top of your burgers, adding it in with slow-cooked meats and even mixing it into your rice. Bonus: it doesn’t take up fridge space until you’ve opened it.

WORCESTERSHIRE SAUCE

Not many ingredients are as versatile as Worcestershire. It adds a salty, garlicky flavor to meat, so it’s ideal for marinades and sauces.

FROZEN SHRIMP

Shrimp is one of the quickest-cooking proteins out there, so when you’re short on time, tap into its amazingness by sauteeing it and serving over rice. And don’t forget about shrimp when you’re entertaining—they’re often at their best when served cold.

PIZZA DOUGH

Pizza dough is just for pizza, right? Wrong. You can use it to make cinnamon rolls, one-bite appetizers or just some cheesy breadsticks. Plus, it keeps in the freezer for at least a few months.

JAM & PRESERVES

Supplies for emergency PB&Js should always be in your pantry, but the buck doesn’t stop there when it comes to jams, jellies and preserves. You can easily amp-up any dessert with them, or even use them in a sweet and savory sauce for meatballs.

GRAINS

We all love our rices and our pastas, but sometimes we like to move into uncharted territory with starches. Have an adventure with farro, couscous, and quinoa in these grain salads.

MUSTARD

If you haven’t explored the mustard world lately, you’re really missing out. There are tons of different varieties and you can use them to add a tanginess to almost any meat, not to mention roasted veggie and sandwich possibilities.

DRIED FRUIT

Sucking the water out of fruit not only makes for highly concentrated flavors, it also renders fruits shelf-stable. Store them in the cupboard and use to sweeten baked goods, veggie dishes, grain salads, and stews.

CANNED TOMATOES

Odds are you’ve got your own ideas about what to do with a can of tomatoes. When it comes to using this pantry essential the options may be endless, but here are some of our favorites.

CORNBREAD MIX

Did you think cornbread mix was just for making cornbread? Silly goose. You’ve been missing out on some revelatory casseroles and biscuits! Oh, and don’t forget about the hot dogs and sausages you could have been dipping. I just keep cornmeal, as I make my own cornbread – so easy!

BACON

It’s a proven fact that bacon makes everything better (we’ve studied it), so you should definitely keep some in the fridge for testing that thesis. You can even add it to desserts for a salty twist, like this bacon brittle. I don’t use it often enough to keep in the refrigerator, so I freeze it.

CANNED ARTICHOKE HEARTS

Didn’t make as much artichoke dip as you expected? Try baking artichoke hearts into a casserole, spreading them over bread with some cheese or just sauteing them with chicken.

MAYO

Mayo is the base of so many delicious things that it’s almost impossible to not have some in the fridge. What would the world be without chipotle mayo or chicken salad?

PICKLES

Still, have the same jar of pickles from last summer’s barbecue season in the back of your fridge? Pull them out and get to work on some party snacks, dips or even just fried pickle chips.

HOT SAUCE

Firstly, if you can keep a bottle of hot sauce for more than a month without using it, congrats you’re stronger than we are. But if you do find that bottle lingering, fear not, because you can buffalo just about anything (chicken, pizza, fries, your whole life).

COCONUT MILK

You want to whip up a boxed cake but you want it to taste homemade good thing you’ve got coconut milk in the pantry. Use it in place of the liquids to give any baked good extra flavor, or to amp-up stir-fries and seafood.

FROZEN BERRIES

It’s impossible to keep yourself stocked with fresh berries all the time, so head for the frozen variety. Did you know freezing the fruit actually locks in its nutrients? Use berries for frozen drinks, pies and even homemade sorbet.

POPCORN

Goodbye, movie theater butter, you’re old news. Spice up your life with spiced popcorn or try something crazy and bake those fluffy popped kernels into cookies. I love grated parmesan cheese with my popcorn.

NUTS

Protein-packed and ready to eat, nuts are a staple in any pantry. If you’re not into them as a snack on their own, try crusting fish with them, or trying your hand at making peanut butter.  I store these in the freezer, so they do not go rancid.

OATS

Rich with essential nutrients, versatile in their uses and easy to prepare, oats make for an ideal breakfast. Eat them as a porridge, cooked into pancakes or blended into a smoothie:

PUFF PASTRY

Puff pastry is like the blank canvas of foods that you can transform completely with the addition of almost anything. Wrap it around chicken and asparagus for a new take on the chicken roll, or use it as a base for inventive pastries.

Most of all, have fun in the kitchen with what you can store in your pantry or refrigerator or in my case, your extra freezer.

 

50 ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

soup.jpg I love making and eating soup when the weather turns cold.  Every year I just keep trying new ones.  When I am at the grocery store, I just look at all the different ingredients, grab a few and always find a recipe online that works.  It is kind of a fun challenge.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon grated lime zest
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger root
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter ( I only had peanut butter with nuts, but just put it in the blender with the soup and it was great)
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste
  • 1 large Roma (plum) tomato, seeded and diced  (I only had cherry, so chopped fine and deseeded by wiping with a paper towel)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream and lime zest. Set aside in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to blend.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add sweet potatoes, and chicken stock. Season with cumin, chili flakes, and ginger. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.
  3. Puree the soup using an immersion blender or regular blender. If using a countertop blender, puree in small batches, filling the blender just a bit past halfway to avoid spillage. Whisk peanut butter into the soup, (I added in the blender) and heat through. Stir in lime juice, and salt.
  4. Ladle into warm bowls, and top with a dollop of the reserved sour cream, a few pieces of diced tomato, and a sprinkle of cilantro.

Serve with a salad or nice piece of French Bread and it is a lunch or dinner for kings. Oh, and don’t forget to add a nice glass of wine.

Spicy Sweet Potato Soup

Bierocks

Birocks .jpg

Made these the other night.  They are basically German Hamburgers, or as my youngest son used to say:  “Hammaburgers”.

So when I made them, I had lots of left-over hamburger filling.  I added some potatoes and mushroom, covered with grated potatoes a good amount of cheddar cheese, threw in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes and had a second dinner.

Well, that was all fine and good, but there was still left over, so I put it in a pot, added chicken stock, half & half and there is the third dinner.  None of them taste the same.  How about three cheap dinners.

Ingredients

  1. Prepare dough: In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Mix in sugar, margarine, egg, salt and 1/2 of the flour. Beat until smooth; add remaining flour until dough pulls together. Place in oiled bowl. Cover with foil and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight, OR let it rise for 1 hour.
  2. In a large heavy skillet, brown meat. Add onion, cabbage, salt and simmer 30 minutes. Cool until lukewarm. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C.) Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick spray.
  3. Punch down dough and divide into 20 pieces. Spread each piece of dough out on an un-floured surface and fill with approximately 2 tablespoons filling. fold dough over and seal edges. Place on prepared cookie sheet and let rise for 1 hour.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Brush with butter and serve.

 

Bierocks

Why Do So Many Recipes Bake at 350°F?

 Muffins and quick bread, dips, and pies almost always start with the same instruction: “Preheat the oven to 350°F.” Why?

Why is that?

What makes 350°F the magical temperature?

Why is it that so many types of baked foods from cake to bread go in a 350°F oven and come out perfectly after a relatively brief bake?

The answer to that is one part science and one part, well, human laziness.

Putting something in a hot oven sets off a series of chemical reactions that turn the gooey dough into a bouncing bread or sheets of puff pastry into flaky pastries. A temperature of around 350°F is hot enough to complete a lot of these steps quickly.

Step 1. At 90°F, fats begin to melt and combine with the gluten proteins (flour). Gases from the baking soda or baking powder are released, which helps make the baked good tender.

Step 2..At 140°F, the gluten proteins (flour) begin to swell and dry out. That’s when cake or cookies go from wet batter to dry food.

Step 3. At 300°F, sugar starts to caramelize.

Step 4. The Maillard Reaction, a point at which foods begin to brown and develop their distinctive flavor, happens around 320°F.

So why 350°F? It’s good enough to make all those necessary steps happen quickly, even if your oven runs a little cold and it’s not so hot you have to worry about burning.

But how did we decide to bake things at 350°F and not 340°F or 360°F?

That requires a trip back to the turn of the century.

Before we had ovens that could be warmed up in 5-degree increments like we do today, we had ovens that could bake at three settings: slow, moderate, or high. Recipes for baked goods often called for “moderate ovens.”

After World War II, oven manufacturers capitalized on some technological improvements from the war. Newer models of ovens gave cooks slightly more control by letting them set their gas and electric ovens in 25°F increments. Today, many modern ovens will let you set your oven in 5°F increments.

Attempting to adapt antiquated recipe instructions to match the modern day appliances, recipe writers converted a “moderate” temperature to 350°F, which was typically halfway between an oven’s lowest setting, around 200°F, and its highest, around 500°F.

Is 350°F really the best temperature for baking?

No, probably not. Ovens are notoriously unreliable, so setting your oven to 350°F promises you’ll land somewhere between 330-370°F. You’ll hit 350°F only if your oven is well-calibrated. That being said, most ovens have hot spots and cool spots, so it’s not a good bet that you’re really cooking at precisely 350°F.

Recipe writers and food marketers know that it’s better to err on the side of caution with the “moderate” temperature than to get very specific and have a failed recipe.

Some baked goods, like crusty baguettes,  benefit from baking at a higher temperature, but a too-high temp could sink it. The higher heat will help the bread rise more quickly and set the crust before the gluten in the bread has a chance to dry out and stiffen.

The same can be true for muffins: the muffin tops rise taller in the higher heat, and you can lower the temp to finish baking them and prevent them from drying out.

Likewise, many chocolate chip cookie recipes bake at a higher temp as high as 425°F or start hot and finish at a lower temp. The hot start gets the dough to the caramelization and Maillard Reaction stages faster and then slows the cooking down to keep the cookies from drying out or burning.

Until ovens become almost foolproof and manufacturers can guarantee an oven really is the temp it says, we’ll stick with the magical 350°F. It’s good enough to get the job done.

I like keeping an oven thermometer close at hand to check my oven temperature from time to time.

Why Do So Many Recipes Bake at 350°F?

7 Design Tips For a Chef-Worthy Kitchen

This a great article from Dwell Magazine.

If you have serious culinary chops and take pride in preparing meals that wow your family and friends, keep these tips in mind when designing or renovating your kitchen.

If boiling eggs is not your forte, and you’d much rather eat out than experiment with new recipes, then a basic kitchen may be all you need. But if you’re serious about cooking and love nothing more than spending hours trying out new dishes that’ll impress guests at your next dinner party, then here are some elements to incorporate for a professional-grade kitchen.

1. The Magic Triangle

When planning the layout for your kitchen, refer to the “kitchen work triangle” with the cooking area, sink, and refrigerator at its three points. Though modern kitchens have evolved, and it is sometimes geometrically impossible to abide by this configuration (for example, in a single wall kitchen), the triangle is a good concept to keep in mind when designing to maximize functionality and ease of movement.

What they did not talk about is the new triangle, where the refrigerator is off to the side and a little out of the way.  There needs to be space across from it or beside it to put food when cooking, but it does not absolutely need to be part of the triangle anymore.  I love the cooktop part of my triangle, as I am working there, more than in the refrigerator. (unless I am really hungry)

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2. Two Sinks

Install two sinks so that you can clean fruits and vegetables in one while washing or stacking used pots and pans in the other. Ensure that the sink is deep and the faucets are high, so you don’t have to worry about water splashing onto the countertop as you strain your pasta or wash your dishes.

I have a little different take on this.  My utility room is adjacent to my kitchen, so I added a large stainless sink in there if I need a place for pots and pans.  If I am entertaining, I do not want my guests to see dirty pans in my kitchen, so this works great! 

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3. Plenty of Durable Work Counters

As a home chef, you’ll be engaged in many food preparation tasks, so think about how to maximize counter space. Surface counters made of quartz, laminates, and solid surfaces are good choices for their durability, and antibacterial and anti-staining properties. Such surfaces are ideal for areas where you’ll do the most peeling, chopping, and blending.

Quartz is the new popular countertop and it is great, but if you select a plain one, be prepared to constantly be cleaning it, as it shows every spot.  I love a good granite that hides a little.  

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4. Built-In Appliances

Integrated appliances are your best bet for freeing up space, hiding unsightly electrical cords, and getting a clean, streamlined look. Wherever possible, choose built-in ovens, dishwashers, coffee machines, microwaves, and pullout fridges. This will help free up more counter space and make your kitchen look much more inviting.

I love making my dishwasher and refrigerator look like cabinets.  Now there are drawer refrigerators and freezers.  I hide my microwave and toaster oven in my pantry.  Clean is the new look!  

5. Good Lighting

A bright kitchen is not only healthier for your eyes, it makes preparing food safer and will probably put you in a cheerier mood. Locate your kitchen close to windows or incorporate skylights to increase the amount of natural light it receives. When choosing light fixtures, consider ambient lights, task lights, and accent lights. Use down lights to prevent glare and shadows, strip lighting under cabinets, and wide-rimmed pendant lights above the bar or island counter.

In my last home I had windows under the cabinets that looked out to the garden.  It had a wonderful effect.  We added another window when we remodeled last summer to take full advantage of our water view. 

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6. Ample and Intelligent Storage

Easy and intuitive access to a large pantry, spice racks, pots and pans, utensils, dinnerware, and cutlery can make all the difference when you’re preparing a feast for a large group. Consider storage systems which hold all your kitchen basics neatly and beautifully like a secret armoire.

I personally think that although this is “cool”, there are a lot better use of space, than hanging your utensils and knives.  One knife block on the counter is quite practical. 

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7. Wine Storage Facilities

Good food isn’t complete without great wine, so consider including wine storage facilities.  We love ours and use it every day.  

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7 Design Tips For a Chef-Worthy Kitchen