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Chef's Secrets to make life easier in the kitchen

One of the greatest lessons one can learn in the kitchen is how to work organized and efficient. I have spent my career teaching staff and students how to work smarter, not harder. When we owned the restaurant, we wrote that mantra on the walk-in door so we could see it every day as a reminder to be more mindful of our intentions of the day. As I continue to log hours behind the stove, I still learn lessons and I hope I never stop. Cooking is a journey, never a destination. Here are some random thoughts about cooking smarter for you to think about when you are in the kitchen.

My mama never used recipes for savory cooking. She may have thumbed through a magazine or watched a show on the food network for inspiration but her repitore was in her head. "This will make it taste good", she used to say. Over the years I learned not much was written down, so I asked a lot of "why" questions to understand the motives behind the flavors. I eventually wrote a book about her recipes.

I had to find my way with my repitore that included her sensibility but I added my own culinary twist. Some things she approved of some she just smiled and said, "I am sure it will taste good". I knew this was true because if there was one thing I learned from my mama, it was to know what good tastes like. Today, my mission is to share my knowledge of over 3 decades behind a stove and some of the lessons I learned along the way.

If you are trying to level up your cooking, make a commitment to learn a new technique every month and practice it- Here are a few of my techniques I have worked on over the years:

  • Making pasta from scratch with friends.

  • Making sausages from scratch I can't find that remind me of home.

  • Making cheeses and youghrt from scratch

  • Perfecting my pie crust and fillings

  • Sourdough Bread Baking

  • De-boneing poultry from quail to turkeys

  • Sushi

The list goes on, but you get the idea, pick something you have been thinking you would like to master and read all you can, practice and practice again until desired results. When I was studying for my Certification to teach cooking classes, I had to research all of the major culinary subjects including food science and nutrition. My certification as a CCP Certified Culinary Professional taught me how much I didn't know about cooking. So, I am still learning every day new ways and new ingredients that make my cooking just a bit more interesting.

I share some of these tips to novice and experienced cooks alike:

  • Learn how to build flavor in your dishes- always start with the aromatics - onions, celery, carrots,

  • In Louisiana cooking the aromatics are onions celery and green pepper- the holy trinity, with the Pope being the garlic. This is the 1st step for flavor in lots of dishes.

  • Season all the way through, layering your seasonings as you go. Season carefully, as my mama says, you can add, but you can't take it away. This is especially true for salt.

  • Acid like lemon juice or wine adds a bright finish to a dish.

  • Fresh herbs have the best flavor if you add them at the end, it will retain the green color and taste fresh. You can use dry spices to start that match for an additional layer of flavor.

  • Store fresh herbs and asparagus in a glass with water like flowers, cover with a bag and refrigerate. Cut the bottoms off to extend the shelf life.

  • A roux is the base of a multitude of dishes, use equal parts by weight, not volume.

  • A liquid measuring cup and a dry one are two different systems, so don't mix and match.

  • Learn how to bake with a scale. You will up your baking game to the next level.

  • Leave the skins on potatoes and apples for more nutrients.

  • You can freeze just about anything, how it thaws and tastes is a different story. I stay away from freezing potatoes.

  • Learn how to cook by temperature of doneness, not by time. This is especially true for Meats and bread. Some experts say to cook bread to browness. I do both temp checks and browness.

  • Freezing your mirepoix for soup gives you a head start when you are busy. ( Onions, carrot, celery) especially when there is an abundance in season.

  • Use quarter and half sheet pans to set up your prep for cooking. You can organize ahead of time and keep everything measured in one place.

  • Label everything in your fridge and use the FIFO Method, first in first out.

  • Always put a wet towel or cloth under your cutting board or bowl to keep from slipping.

  • Label your jars with a sharpie and painter's tape. Write the expiration date on the box for items in your pantry with a marker.

  • Freeze your ginger root, grate with the skin on while frozen. The skin will fall away.

  • Focus and finish: Do one task at a time, move to the next one.

  • The job is not done until the tools are put away.

  • Cook once, eat 4 times. Espically with grains that will hold and freeze like rice.

Handy tips just for the newbies:

  • While cooking cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables at home, avoid odors by adding a slice of bread. It will pour off with the water.

  • Egg whites warmed to room temperature before beating will yield greater volume. Place in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes if you are short on time.

  • For the fullest flavors in salad dressings, mix the seasoning with vinegar before adding the oil. Oil coats herbs and traps the flavors.

  • Season Cole slaw, deviled eggs, salad dressings with leftover pickled jalapeno juice.

  • Add Maple Syrup to pancake batter for extra flavor.

  • Correct excess amount of salt in cooking with a pinch of sugar. For soups or stews, drop a raw, peeled potato for five minutes and remove.

  • Roll and microwave a lemon for 7-10 seconds for more juice.

  • To crisp celery, radishes, carrots, and other water-loving vegetables place in a pan of ice water. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

  • To soften cold butter, slice thinly into a warm bowl or if frozen, grate onto plastic wrap.

  • To dispose easily of bacon grease, form a piece of aluminum foil around a cereal bowl and pour the grease in and let cool. Toss the foil when grease is solid.

  • First in, first out. Write the date on everything you put in the freezer so older items can be used first.

  • A slice of lemon or lime in a bottle of green olives in brine will add a fresh citrus flavor.

“The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

― Julia Child


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