This article was originally written for Kansas Living Magazine, September 2017.
You may not be a professional chef, but in your home kitchen you can act like one! Here are 7 little things you can do that can make a big difference:
1. Do the 10-second tidy (often)
Cleaning your work space as you go makes cooking of any sort much less daunting. If you wind up with mounds and mounds of dirty dishes at the end of each cooking session, are you really going to want to cook dinner? Hardly. Loading the dishwasher and tidying up along the way keeps the aftermath much easier to handle.
2. Toast your quinoa, then cook it for just 1 minute
We eat a lot of quinoa around here. To add an extra flavor layer, I place my quinoa into my (dry) electric pressure cooker pot set to the sauté setting. In just a minute or two, as you stir, you’ll detect a very nutty aroma, much like peanut butter cookies. This is the signal it’s time to stir in your broth, locking your pressure cooker’s lid into place. Choose high pressure for one minute; when the timer sounds, use a natural release for 10 minutes to allow the quinoa rest. If there is remaining pressure in your electric pressure cooker pot at the end of the 10 minute natural release, do a quick release. Remove the lid and fluff with a fork. I typically cook 1 ½ cups of quinoa with three cups of broth at a time, using this method.
3. Aspire to be the straightest knife in the drawer
Straighten your knife every time you use it. Please notice I didn’t say sharpen your knife every time you use it (doing so would grind away your knife at a very quick rate). Purchase what’s called a v-blade knife sharpener at your local culinary store. This handy tool works as a straightener for your knife blade, just as you see professional chefs doing when using a knife steel. Yes, I do get my knives sharpened a couple times each year, but insist on straightening them each and every time I prepare to chop. What a difference this makes for a clean, sharp, effortless cut.
4. Go ahead, be a late bloomer
As I travel around the state for various cooking demonstrations and classes, I’m often asked this exact question, “How long can I keep my spices in the cupboard?” To which I inquire “How long have they been in there?” Invariably the (sheepish) answer, “Well, I got married about 30 years ago.”
The best way to give spices new punch is a technique called “blooming”.
It’s quick and worthwhile to do. Simply place spices into an empty skillet or Dutch oven over medium heat. In a few seconds you’ll smell a wonderful aroma, telling you your spices have been successfully bloomed and are ready to go. Keep a watchful eye out when utilizing this technique – spices burn quickly.
5. Go kosher
I know many of you enjoy using sea salt, which is totally fine. I prefer kosher salt because it’s easy to keep on my cupboard in a salt pig where I can quickly grab a three-finger pinch when I need to. I personally find the coarse, even texture of kosher salt to be a pleasure to use.
6. Salt as you go
Do I salt as I’m cooking? Yes. I try to add a bit of salt throughout the preparation of the dish to add more flavor layers during the cooking process. Always taste as you go, salting from a high position above your dish to get more even distribution. I do think it’s nice for guests to be able to add that final topping of salt, if needed, so it’s one of the first things to hit their palate, bringing great satisfaction to the eating experience.
7. Be hand-y
Learn what specific measurements feel and look like. When you grab a three-finger pinch of kosher salt, how much is that exactly? My three-finger pinch is 1/8 tsp. Your three-finger pinch is likely to be different based on the size of your fingers and grasp. What does a level teaspoon of oregano flakes look like in the palm of your hand? Place what you think would be one level teaspoon into your palm; now measure it. Is it a teaspoon like you thought? You won’t know until you measure. Why in the heck does this eye-balling and measuring matter, you ask? Because when you can recognize or feel specific amounts in your fingers or your palm, you don’t have to stop and find a measuring spoon when it’s time to get dinner on the table.