Conversations about food are, not surprisingly, some of my favorite conversations to have.
But conversations about food that happen while in the act of cooking—now those are the very best.
They begin, of course, in the kitchen, the invariable place where people linger, no matter how much bigger/cooler/quieter any other room in the house. They’re conversations that are a little of this and a little of that (How’s your mom doing? Where’s this wine from?), jumping around like the cooking itself. But through them, bits of knowledge and cooking “style” emerge. I’ve never seen someone cut an onion like that!, or, I love this little butter knife, or, How do you keep your cilantro fresh for so long?!
The answers to these questions come from years of cooking, or notes from a grandmother’s cookbook, or a friend’s recommendation, or something somebody once read in a magazine at the doctor’s office. Kitchen fairy dust. We take them home and apply them to our own cooking, adapting as we see fit, and perhaps even re-telling to future guests at our own table.
With that in mind, I’m sharing ten of my favorite cooking and kitchen tips here today. They’re quite a mish-mash and some you probably already know, but perhaps you’ll find a few you can hang onto. Feel free to share your own in the comments as well! 🙂
My Top 10 Kitchen Tips
- When prepping for a meal, keep a mixing bowl on the counter just for garbage/scraps. That way you’re not walking to the trash every five seconds to throw peels and onion skins away. I seriously couldn’t function without doing this and the garbage can is only about 3 steps away, ha. Just dump out the bowl once full, or at the end of cooking.
- Keep a loaf of sliced bread in the freezer. Whenever I make homemade bread, or buy a nice artisan loaf from the store, I slice it all and put it directly in the freezer. That way nothing goes stale and we always have bread—very important considering toast is my favorite breakfast item. Sliced bread defrosts in no time, so all you need to do is take it out a few minutes before mealtime (or put it directly in the toaster). To serve warm, just wrap in foil and put in a 400°F oven for 10 minutes or so. // As for bread ends and crusts certain people despise, I save them in a bag in the freezer. When it’s full, I pulse in the food processor for instant breadcrumbs, which I use for breaded chicken.
- Keeping on the freezer theme, keep a running list of all the things you have in your freezer. I keep mine in the Evernote app (see my screen shot below), so I can access the list anywhere. This is especially helpful when at the store, or when thinking about dinner at 3 pm and trying to figure out a plan. It really helps you use up stuff too, rather than letting it go to waste. Note: We have a small freezer (see photo below) and I’m able to fit all that stuff by stacking things flat and being completely anal about it, ha—though there is still a certain risk factor when you open the door sometimes, as Suraj will tell you, and it’s usually a full pint of Häagen-Dazs to the foot.
- Make double batches of grains, rice, and beans on a Sunday (or whatever day you have free), and freeze the leftovers flat in a gallon-size bag. I know I’ve mentioned this before (here), but I truly find this indispensable. Just last week, Suraj and I were eating leftovers for a quick work lunch and he mentioned that his curry would be great with rice, which we didn’t have in the fridge and had no time to make. I grabbed the bag of frozen rice out of the freezer, knocked off a chunk, and tossed it in his bowl. Such a
lifelunchsaver. // Bonus tip: While you’re cooking up your grains, start washing and slicing up any produce you have the fridge. This little bit of prep work goes a long way on busy weeknights or when someone wants a snack. Sliced carrots, celery, and peppers are a favorite.
- When making homemade burgers, meatballs, or kebabs, add shredded zucchini. This keeps them from drying out, adds flavor, and makes them healthier. It also helps you use up zucchini if you’re lucky enough to have an abundance! I add 1 to 2 cups shredded zucchini for every 1 1/4 lbs meat (usually lamb or turkey). This makes at least 8 burgers for us, and I freeze half the batch for future dinners. // Since we don’t have a grill, we cook our burgers by first searing in a hot cast-iron pan, then transferring to a 400°F for 10 to 15 minutes. Perfectly cooked burgers every time, plus you can throw some potatoes into the oven around the same time for oven fries. This tip originally came from one of my favorite cookbooks, Jerusalem, and the author’s turkey and zucchini burgers (recipe can be found here if you’re interested).
- If you get stuck coming up with a new dinner every night, try at least establishing a “theme” each night and using that as a template. For instance, make Monday “meat and potatoes” night, Tuesday “pasta” night, Wednesday “international” night, and Thursday takeout. Then be creative within those parameters. I find this helps prevent burnout and keeps me from getting overwhelmed with ideas. Thursday, for example, is always “sausage and roasted veg” night for us because I have no time/energy by week’s end. This strategy can also be really useful for families with children, as it gives kids the structure they often crave.
- My favorite bread dip / oil for roasting vegetables / salad dressing: Garlic confit. It sounds fancy but is dead easy to make. Heat a cup of olive oil over low to medium heat. Add whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic (I add at least 20-25 cloves, or two small heads), a pinch of kosher salt, and any herbs you like (I just do red pepper flakes). Let simmer for 20 minutes. The cloves soften and can be pulled out of their skins and mashed onto bread or added to roasted veggies. The garlic-infused olive oil is pretty much amazing on anything, from meat to veggies to salad (with a little lemon juice). It also keeps in the fridge indefinitely (note that my oil solidifies once chilled, though not all olive oils do).
- My fastest, goes-with-anything dip: Greek yogurt + squirt of Sriracha. Dash of lime, cumin, and/or salt optional. I eat this with sausage (on Thursdays!), sweet potato fries, and basically any vegetable I can dip (cooked or raw).
- Save your strawberry tops (yes, the leaf part) and add them to a bottle of water. Leave overnight and the next day you’ll have delicious strawberry-flavored water. This works with actual berries too, but I prefer eating those! Use organic if you can, since you’re using the leaves. This is a great drink for parties, or when you’re bored with just drinking regular water.
- You can clean almost everything with a simple solution of vinegar + water. I measure equal parts of each, add in a few drops of essential oil (usually lemongrass and grapefruit, but anything will work), and put it in a spray bottle. I use this solution throughout the house, and even as a vegetable- and fruit-wash, usually diluted with a little more water. Vinegar is one of the best all-purpose, natural cleaners you can find.
Oh, and if you’re still wondering how I keep my cilantro fresh for so long (astute reader that you are), I wrap it in a moist paper towel, put it in a plastic bag, and keep it in the crisper drawer in the fridge. Lasts for a good two weeks that way.
I’d love to hear your favorite tips in the comments below!