7 Essential Tips to be a Badass in the Kitchen

 Photo by  Allen Nguyen

Photo by Allen Nguyen

 For the uninitiated to my story, it should be known that I am someone who learned to cook out of pure necessity. Growing up, I had a parent at home most of the time that cooked every meal: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I made the occasional pancake or biscuit breakfast, and that was the extent of my kitchen prowess. 

Oh, and I could make a mean peanut butter cookie by age 7. 

But aside from my exploits in carbohydrate sugary delight, I never truly learned how to make a meaningful main dish.

Fast forward to my early twenties when I lived away from home for the first time: it was no surprise that (prior to adopting a plant-based diet) I relied heavily upon all things frozen, pre-made, and "roasted".

Looking back, I really didn't know any better.

To combat any anxiety you may feel in the kitchen (like I did), here are some skills that proved very enlightening for me, and are extremely useful for any home-cooked-food lover:

1) How to Chop/Mince/Dice/Julienne

What the heck?

Technique: For an amazing article, I recommend this one from Goop. It has some really short (yet informative) gifs on "knife skills every home cook should master". 

The essential part of the puzzle to this having ONE sharp, quality knife.

I once heard Rachel Ray talk about knife sets vs single expensive knives, and she recommended having just one knife that you take great care of. Also remember, a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp one! Keep it sharpened, and be sure to follow the care instructions. We use this J. Henckels knife in our kitchen just because of the reputation of the brand, and we've been very pleased with it. Make sure to also get a cutting board that doesn't damage your knife. 

 
 

Bonus: having a mandolin also increases the likelihood of success with the "julienne" technique. I purchased one and never paid for the "convenience" foods again at the store, which are always more expensive! (read: pre-sliced/shredded carrots, you devils).  

2) How to pop a clove of garlic out of its "shell"

Technique: **Smash on cutting board** (yes, I love to smash things in the kitchen) using the side of the knife and the base of the palm of your hand, garlic squashed underneath. The skin naturally breaks apart, making it much easier to peel. 

I had no idea that this would save me so. much. frustration. 

Have you ever tried to peel garlic without smashing it? If you'd like an exercise in patience and torture, try it. I dare you.

Some people also advocate using olive oil during this process, but I find the smashing to be equal parts effective and stress-relieving ;)

3) How to avoid eyeball irritation from onions

Technique: Place a sliced-in-half onion in the freezer shortly before chopping (or use the handy food processor); supposedly this makes the vapors less likely to escape (?). 

This technique is one we've tried in the past, but you can always just pulse your onion in a handy food processor to avoid the eyeball stress all together. Either way, onions are usually a big part of cooking. We go through at least 5-6 weekly. 

4) Liquid vs Dry Measurements

They aren't the same, FYI. 

My husband informed me of this sad fact years ago. He blames my lack of Home-Ec training (jokes!) on my ignorance of measurements.

So, in order to be accurate in my assessment of measured ingredients, I always make a point to use our glass measuring cups for liquids (the Pyrex ones are awesome) and the metal dry ingredient cups for grains and flours.

 
 

5) The proper measure of flour into a cup

Technique: Scoop out of the bag with a small spoon into the measuring cup of choice; do not excessively pack. 

DO NOT (as I was taught as a child) attempt to directly scoop the dry measuring cup into the bag of flour and then proceed to pack down the contents until firmly in place. This leads to dry baked goods. BOOOO. 

6) Proper utensil choice

Technique: silicone vs wooden vs metal utensils MATTER; don't scratch up your supplies. 

This is important for the care of your kitchen items, plain and simple. If you spend money on your stuff, you want it to last, right? Hint: metal on metal is never a good idea. For cast-iron pots, use silicone; for doughs and flours, use wooden spoons; for a metal skillet, use a metal utensil. 

7) Proper dish care

DO NOT put your lovely pots and pans in the dish washer. Just don't. 

Also, our cast-iron pots aren't even supposed to be washed with soap or the rough side of a sponge. Season it and let it be! The nasties will just add to the flavor in the end ;)

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