10 Easy Tips To Help You Cook Smarter

A few months ago we decided to cut processed food to the very minimum. Whew! I can now understand why women stayed home back in the day. They didn’t have time to work. They had to cook 3 meals every day! (not to mention clean the house, take care of the kids, do laundry and wash dishes. No dishwashers back then.)

So, as long as I’ve committed to cutting out processed food I’ve been thinking more and more how to take advantage of this additional time in the kitchen to become more efficient, improve and simplify my cooking skills and maybe learn some tricks to save a little money while I’m at it.

Here are some things that I’ve learned so far:

1. Do what the professional chefs do… Mise en place

This is probably the ultimate way to make the best use of your cooking time. Mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs) is a French term meaning “put in place”. The idea here is to put only the things you’ll need for your recipe out on the counter. All the ingredients are measured out, grated, chopped, peeled, etc. in advance. Any pans, bowls and tools you’ll need are out and waiting for you. You’ll know before you start cooking if there are any missing ingredients so you don’t have to run to the store in the middle of making dinner. You’ll also find that when you mise en place, you’ll find a couple of minutes here and there while cooking to clean up as you go because you’re not so overwhelmed.

I know it seems like you’re adding extra steps doing it this way but it really does save time in the long run. And the best part is you’ll be able to relax and enjoy your time in the kitchen instead of wearing yourself out trying to get it all done simultaneously.

2. Pasta water the right way

When cooking pasta the rule of thumb is to use 6 quarts of water and 3 tablespoons of salt for each pound of pasta. This is the only chance you’ll get to season the pasta itself so don’t skip the salt.

Make sure the water comes to a rolling boil before adding the salt. There’s two reasons for this: 1) if the water isn’t bubbling hard enough the salt falls to the bottom of the pot and scars your pot (I’ve done this) and 2) the water will take longer to boil.

3. How to pasteurize eggs

10-Easy-Tips-To-Help-You-Cook-Smarter-EggsDo raw eggs in a recipe make you nervous? If you’re concerned about the possibility of salmonella bacteria in eggs, learn how to pasteurize raw eggs to reduce or eliminate this bacteria before you add them to a recipe. If you don’t know what pasteurization is, it’s a process that applies heat to destroy bacteria in foods.

If you’re interested in trying it yourself WikiHow takes you through two different methods for pasteurizing eggs. The first is the Standard technique where, when you’re done, you can either use the eggs immediately or store them in the refrigerator for another week or so. The second method is called the Open Egg technique and these eggs need to be used right away. WikiHow says there is no guarantee that eggs you pasteurize at home will be completely free from bacteria. Don’t serve raw or pasteurized eggs to anyone pregnant, the very young or the elderly. 

If you don’t want to take the time to pasteurize your own eggs, or if you’re nervous about doing it yourself, most grocery stores sell pasteurized eggs. Of course they cost more than raw eggs, but will save you some time and give you peace of mind.

4. How to get beautifully caramelized roasted vegetables

If you want your veggies to turn out restaurant quality this is how to do it. Industrial ovens are much hotter than your home oven. To mimic this intense heat at home turn on your oven as hot as it will go and put an empty sheet pan in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. While the pan heats, put the veggies in a bowl and toss them with oil and any seasoning you want to use. Spread them out on the hot pan and roast. (Stir the vegetables around halfway through so they can get crispy on both sides) This high heat will help to caramelize them to get that delicious roasted flavor.

5. Don’t overcrowd the pan

10-Easy-Tips-To-Help-You-Cook-Smarter-Frying Meat

If you want your meat to get a nice brown crust it’s important that you don’t overcrowd the pan. As soon as the food hits the pan it starts to let off moisture. If there’s not enough space between each piece of food the moisture gets trapped in the pan and you end up steaming the meat instead of searing it. The same thing can happen if the heat is too low; you’ll just steam it instead of getting a nice brown crust. And a brown crust equals flavor. It’s best to cook in batches when you have a large amount to sear.

6. Save your Parmesan rinds

Have you tried adding a Parmesan cheese rind to your soups, sauces and stews? Next time you shop for Parmesan cheese look for a chunk that has some rind on it. Cut it off and freeze it. Next time you’re making something that needs that Parm flavor throw it in the pot.

Here are 10 uses for Parmesan cheese rinds to help you use up those rinds. I never thought to make Parm-infused olive oil!! Sounds delicious.

7. The secret to making creamy mashed potatoes

After the potatoes are done boiling (a fork should be go in and out easily) drain them well in a colander. Put them back into the dry pot and turn the burner on low. With a potato masher, mash them over the heat. This lets the steam escape so your potatoes won’t be watery. Water left in with the potatoes will dilute the other ingredients you’ll be adding. When you’re done mashing turn the stove off. Now’s the time to add in the butter, cream and salt and pepper.

8. The quickest way to “chop” garlic (with no cleanup)

This is so ridiculously genius I can’t believe I’ve never heard this before. Remove the garlic skins (papers) off of the cloves you want to chop and put them in a ziplock bag. Use your kitchen mallet to smash them into smithereens. Turn the bag inside out to easily get the bits of garlic out. Throw the bag away. Done. No smelly cutting board, knife or hands.

9. As long as we’re on the subject of garlic…

10-Easy-Tips-To-Help-You-Cook-Smarter-GarlicWe’ve all had garlic start to sprout after it sits around for a week or two. These sprouts are very bitter and will make whatever you’re cooking taste off. Should you use this garlic or throw it out? If the sprout is any bigger than the one in the picture, you should probably throw it out. But if not, then either cut the clove in half and remove the sprout or, what I do, is smash the clove with the side of a knife, take the paper off and then remove the sprout (any green you see) at the same time. Use the rest of the clove as usual.

10. What to do with stale tortillas

Tortilla chips get stale fast but don’t throw them out! Stale tortillas can be re-crisped in the oven. Spread them out on a baking sheet and stick them in a 400º oven for a few minutes. That’s all it takes to get them crispy and delicious again.

Do you have any kitchen shortcuts you want to share? Leave me a comment.