Culinary pros share some of their insider expertise.
Wish you could prep like a pro and have all your meals looking like an expert had a stab at it? Well, let your inner chef rejoice! We asked some of our culinary faves to share their insights to help home cooks take their skills to the next level while making the experience enjoyable, whether they are preparing a small dinner or for a celebration.
Chef Roselee-Marie is a culinarian by trade and artist by heart. With a background in graphic design, she completed her studies at Le Cordon Bleu and immersed herself in culinary media and food styling. She has worked with companies such as Whole Foods and the Cooking Channel and shares these quick tips:
- Wrap fresh herbs in damp paper towel to stay fresh longer. Chop leftover herbs and add to an ice cube tray with a favorite oil or butter to make herb infused oils and butters.
- To quickly de-stem greens like collards and swiss chard, use a small funnel to pull through each stem only leaving the leaves.
- If your knife skills aren't the best, you can use an egg slicer to cut fruits and veggies like mushrooms and strawberries.
Chef Padua Player
Chef Padua Player specializes in desserts. In fact, his tagline is “Making life Sweeter One Dessert at a Time.” As the owner of Suga Chef Desserts LLC, he bakes by the dozen and more. Here are some of his baking bites:
- If a recipe calls for 1 cup of sifted cake flour, sift the flour first and then measure it. If the recipe calls for 1 cup of cake flour sifted, measure the flour and then sift it. Sifting the flour is done through a sieve to aerate the flour (it helps to create lighter pastries, cakes, etc.) and also to catch any foreign objects.
- When making piecrust, use cold cubed butter. Dice the butter when it’s cold and place back into the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it. Cubing the butter will allow it to incorporate quicker when mixing into the flour.
- When baking a cake, always separate eggs when they’re cold. They are much easier to separate and it reduces the chance of breaking the yolk. Use room temperate butter and eggs. The buttercreams easier and you get more volume out of the eggs, especially the whites. When whipping egg whites, add cream of tartar (it stabilizes the whites) and sugar once the whites have developed some structure.
- For baking rolls and other breads use softened butter – much easier to incorporate into the dough.
- For holiday baking, invest in small ice cream scoops. They make cookie baking much easier for measuring cookie dough. Silicone baking mats are wonderful to use for baking cookies, hand pies, turnovers, and countless other baked goods.
- For everyday baking, invest in a good digital scale. They’re invaluable when baking and measuring. Always preheat your oven for at least 15 minutes before baking. It will allow the oven to reach the proper temperature for your next baking adventure.
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Chef Justice Stewart
Chef Justice Stewart of Gourmet Deconstructed shares some of his insights from years of cooking with “exotic” meats and other unusual ingredients. These include:
- Hack: Many prepare potato or egg salad with a knife, cutting the hard-boiled eggs into tiny cubes. A quicker way to get this done is to unshell the eggs and cut them in half lengthwise. Next, use the palm of your hand to force the eggs through a cooling rack (the kind with small square openings) for perfectly cubed eggs.
- Safety tip: Some of us are taught to wash raw chicken in the kitchen. This is unsafe as you are likely splashing harmful bacteria, like salmonella, on other parts of the kitchen, onto utensils, in the sink, etc. Raw chicken should be cooked properly to remove bacteria NOT rinsed or washed. The only foolproof way to prepare chicken and kill bacteria is cooking it to an internal safe temperature of 165°F.
- Technique: Want easy to make creamy scrambled eggs? All you need is a nonstick pan, a rubber spatula and a pat of butter. Start by whisking eggs in a bowl until you don't see clear streaks from the whites in the mix. Melt the butter in the pan over medium heat. Add eggs and continuously stir with a spatula. The idea is to keep the eggs moving while they cook to avoid any browning or overcooking. When close to the desired doneness, remove from the heat and stir a couple more times, season and serve.
Chef Tracey Augustine
Chef Tracey Augustine, a Los Angeles, California native and professional chef who enjoys cooking and teaching while creating testing recipes for the global kitchen appliance brand Breville, Inc. She shares a few practical pointers:
- Have sharp knives in your kitchen to prevent cutting yourself when slicing or chopping. Buy a hand-held sharpener that is easy to use and invest in steel which helps keep the blade and edges aligned in between sharpening. Invest in a good cutting board and have separate boards for raw meats.
- A non-porous cutting board is best for raw meats as bacteria are less likely to get in.
- Let meat sit out for at least 20 minutes before cooking as it will help with gauging the temperature required. Also, let meat rest for 5-10 minutes after cooking to help seal in the juices.
- Use a spoon to peel ginger for less waste. Put onions in the refrigerator or freezer to help slow the gasses which are released when cutting and causes tears.
- When cracking eggs, use the eggshell to gather any shells that inadvertently fall into the bowl.
Gloria Clay of www.mykuntryvegankitchen.com offers a few great tips for transitioning to a vegan diet. Her blog is all about southern vegan cooking and baking as well as recycling, reusing and repurposing. Among her go-to kitchen appliances are a Kitchen Aid stand-up mixer and Kitchen Aid food processor that she says will cut your time in the kitchen in half. Her additional tips include:
- On transitioning to vegan: Take it one day at a time and don't beat yourself up if you happen to eat something that's not vegan. Start with Meatless Mondays at home and go to monthly vegan potlucks in the community. For sugar, she uses Florida Crystals Sugar, which is not as expensive. White sugar is not vegan as it contains charred bones.
- Tips to save money in the process: Don't eat out every day, cook enough food to have leftovers and freeze them. Soups and pasta freeze well. Plan your meals ahead of time and plan shopping and meals for the week to reduce unnecessary impulse buying. Helpful vegan and vegetarian groups include www.veganoutreach.org and www.tryveg.com.
- Food safety: As with cooking raw meats, follow the same food safety guidelines when handling vegan products. To avoid cross-contamination, wash your hands in between everything you do from the refrigerator to the sink, cleaning counters to cutting boards. When buying “mocked meats,” cook them for the allotted time instructed.
- Product substitutions: Swap out dairy milk for nut and plant milk brands such as So Delicious and Kroger’ Simple Truth. Swap out dairy cheese for brands that include Daiya, So Delicious and Follow Your Heart Brands. Swap out dairy butter for I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Earth Balance and Aldi’s has a great butter alternative brand.
- Pantry/fridge staples: All types of beans, rice, pasta, fruit/veggies, seasonings and cooking oils. Clay prefers coconut, vegetable, canola, and olive oils. Also, stock canned and frozen vegetables and fruits and snacks such as popcorn, pretzels, pita chips with salsa/hummus, raw fruit and veggies with your favorite dip.
Chef Angela Shelf Medearis
Chef Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning author specializing in nutrition for diabetes and diet-related illnesses. She’s the executive producer and host of the new show, “The Kitchen Diva,” show debuting nationwide on PBS/CREATE in 2020. Here are her hints:
- Preparing pasta? For each pound of pasta, always use six quarts of water. Boil water faster by placing a lid on the pot. After the water comes to a boil, stir in three tablespoons of kosher salt. Do not put in any oil in the water as it will coat the pasta and prevent it from properly absorbing the flavors of the sauce. Cook pasta one minute less than the package instructions and cook it the rest of the way in the pan with sauce so the sauce will coat the pasta thoroughly.
- Know how to peel garlic using the microwave? Wrap garlic bulbs in damp paper towels and place into the microwave. Run high for 15-20 seconds. Remove garlic from the microwave and rub lightly with the paper towel. Cloves will easily emerge from their skins. To store, place in an airtight container and refrigerate for later use. For garlic oil, place peeled cloves in a clean jar and cover with warm, olive oil and always store in the refrigerator.
- Want to poach eggs in the microwave? This poaching method produces a runny egg yolk. Increase cooking time to 60 seconds total to cook the egg. Use a 4-ounce ramekin or small bowl, one for each egg you're poaching. Pour in water until 3/4 full. Heat on high until boiling. Stir in one teaspoon of vinegar per bowl. Crack the egg and gently slip it into the water in the bowl. Cover each bowl with plastic wrap and microwave on high for three seconds. Use a soup spoon to turn the egg over gently. Cover again and microwave 15 seconds longer. Use a spoon to immediately remove the egg from the bowl. Drain the egg on a plate lined with a paper towel.
Hope these tips and hacks are helpful and here’s to making your chef aspirations come alive in the kitchen.