As a chef, I've learned a few tips and tricks that I believe every home cook should also practice.
Stock the freezer with Parmesan rinds, roasted garlic, and phyllo cups for quick, impressive dishes.
Master egg peeling and making homemade vinaigrettes and know the worth of butter and cream.
Life is too short to eat dry meat, so try brining.
You've probably heard of brining, which rose to popularity in the early 2000s and involves soaking a turkey in gallons of salt water. I spent years sloshing around a cooler full of poultry juice and sacrificing fridge space to accommodate a vessel large enough for a whole bird.
Once I switched to dry brining, I never looked back. I use a tablespoon of kosher salt for every 5 pounds of meat, rub it into all the nooks and crannies, and let the bird sit in the fridge for a couple of days to ensure the meat is juicy and succulent.
You can use this same method for a whole chicken, but remember that anything smaller than a turkey shouldn't be dry-brined longer than 24 hours.
You can also use a wet brine to improve the flavor and texture of boneless and skinless chicken breasts using a ratio of 1 tablespoon of salt for every cup of water. Just fill a lidded bowl with your brine mixture and soak the chicken in it for at least 30 minutes.
Buy a digital thermometer to avoid the stress of the guess.
I'm often asked how I know when food is finished cooking. Sure, after years of experience, I'm pretty good at guessing if a pork chop is ready to come off the grill — but why leave it up to guesswork rather than using a meat thermometer?
These brilliant devices are for more than just meat. A meat thermometer is the key to tender, flaky fish, homemade bread that doesn't resemble a brick, and velvety creme brûlée you know is done without judging the jiggle.
If you want to make your life even easier, buy a Bluetooth version so you can walk away from your food while keeping track of the cooking progress.
We tested and reviewed the best meat thermometers. Check out a few of our picks below:
Start making your own simple salad dressings.
I love salads, whether they're crunchy, creamy, seasonally themed, or one of the old standbys. But a good salad needs a delicious dressing, and homemade is definitely the best.
Store a basic vinaigrette in your fridge and the possibilities are endless. My go-to vinaigrette uses red-wine vinegar, olive oil, grated garlic, chopped shallots, whole-grain mustard, and honey, shaken together and stored in a mason jar.
You can sweeten your vinaigrette with extra honey or maple syrup, add fresh herbs, or up the decadence with mayo or crème fraîche. Use a ratio of one-part acid to three-parts fat and experiment with add-ins until you find your personalized perfect blend.
Phyllo shells are our friends.
Few things make me feel more empowered than having an appealing appetizer or crowd-pleasing dessert ready at a moment's notice. For an impressive dish that makes you feel like a boss, turn to versatile phyllo-dough cups for savory and sweet bites.
Put flavored whipped cream cheese into a phyllo shell, delicately snip fresh herbs on top, and you have an appetizer that's elegant yet approachable.
Melt some chocolate chips in hot cream, add a splash of vanilla, stir until smooth, pour your ganache into the cups, and behold, a tiny chocolate tart. You can top this dessert with berries, canned whipped cream, a pecan and drizzle of caramel, or sparkly flaked sea salt and watch your guests light up with appreciation.
Roasted garlic takes the umami factor to 10.
During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, I stocked up on garlic, one of my grocery must-haves, to the point of sheepishness. Though I cook with garlic on a daily basis, I knew some of my stash would have to be preserved so I turned to roasting.
Your oven can transform garlic into a sweet, savory, and versatile condiment perfect for spreading onto bread, adding to salad dressings, or whisking into a basic béchamel. To roast heads individually, cut off the top to expose the cloves, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, and pop in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown.
If you have several heads to roast, prepare them in a baking dish and cover them tightly with foil. Once cooled, squeeze the cloves into an airtight container and keep them in the fridge for up to two weeks. Alternatively, you can spoon the garlic into silicone ice-cube molds, freeze them until firm, and store them in a sealable bag for at-the-ready flavor bombs.
Immersion blenders are brilliant and save time on dreaded dish duty.
I loathe washing dirty dishes, and frankly, I produce a lot of them. Luckily, an immersion blender cuts back on prep time and slims the sink load.
Not only does an immersion blender let you leave your clunky blender in the cupboard, but also you can confidently purée hot liquid without worrying that your ceiling will be painted with a molten eruption from a lidded appliance.
An immersion blender makes things significantly easier — use it to create smooth soups and sauces, control the texture of salsas and homemade baby food, effortlessly add flavored aioli to sandwiches, and achieve softly peaked whipped cream in seconds.
We tested and reviewed the best immersion blenders. Check out a few of our picks below:
The most flavorful sauces are a Parmesan rind away.
Each time you've grated the last of a great wedge of Parmesan cheese, its delicious destiny is not yet fulfilled. One of my freezers always contains a bag of Parmesan rinds, my secret to satisfying sauces and soups.
Adding a Parmesan rind doesn't make something taste cheesy — it incorporates an undeniable savory boost. Toss a Parmesan rind into just about anything simmering away on the stove and you'll notice a huge improvement in its flavor.
There are few things more expletive-inducing than peeling hard-boiled eggs.
Hard-boiled eggs are a convenient anytime snack, but to eat it, the shell must go. Cue the profanity. I cannot fathom how many hard-boiled eggs I've mangled during shell removal.
Though I'd cheerfully douse a disfigured egg with Sriracha and sea salt for myself, if picnic-ready deviled eggs were the goal, it's game over. However, I later learned how to make perfectly cooked, peel-able hard-boiled eggs by carefully lowering the raw ones into water already simmering on the stove.
Once you lower your eggs in the water, maintain a gentle boil for 12 minutes and transfer them to a large bowl of ice water for a half hour. They'll be ready to jump out of their shells, or stored for later use, destined to be peeled with ease.
Fat shall be revered, not feared.
Chances are some of the most memorable, mind-blowing meals you've tasted earned that status from butter. I'm hard-pressed to think of any side dish on my consistently kid-friendly menu, such as rice, noodles, couscous, quinoa, or bread, that butter wouldn't benefit.
If you're looking to elevate a protein, throw together a quick compound butter (butter mixed with stuff), and add a slice on top just before it's served. Think blue cheese or horseradish for steak and citrus zest and herbs for chicken or seafood.
A roasted-garlic and cracked black-pepper butter compound can go on just about anything.
As Julia Child said, if you're afraid of butter, use cream.
If your food tastes like something is missing, it is, and that's probably salt or fat. A final addition of cream can take a sauce from pretty good to glossy perfection or turn a simple soup into something special.
Cream can also help to mellow out sharp flavors or calm down a dish that ended up a tad too spicy.
To me, a little cream is a totally-worth-it no-brainer, especially if you're hesitant to add more butter to a dish.
A splash, or about a tablespoon, of heavy cream can make a huge difference and contains about 51 calories and 5 grams of fat. By comparison, a tablespoon of butter is roughly 100 calories and 11 grams of fat.
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