10) Season Everything – The best way to NOT end up with bland food is to season each and every component along the way. Seasoning is not just for meat! All veggies love to be seasoned. Pasta desperately needs salt. Sauces, stocks, rues, etc. all say YES to more flavor. Seasoning typically consists of salt and pepper, however I read through an entire recipe and see what other spices and herbs it calls for and I add those flavors into the other components as well. When you taste my food, I want you to TASTE my food!
9) Taste throughout – The only way you will know if each and every component is seasoned and how the flavors are coming together is if you taste each and every component. So before moving on to the next step, taste what you have done so far. If it tastes bland, add a little more salt or pepper or herbs or spices. If you taste one flavor, such as salt but not much else, add in more spices to balance out the salt flavor. This is a process and one that you only get better at through practice. I highly recommend having some tasting spoons handy. Coach bought me these from Party City and they sit in a coffee cup next to my stove top.
8) Double: Vanilla, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Garlic – There are a few spices that I automatically double and sometimes triple, in a recipe no matter what. For me an ingredient list is a suggested guideline, it is not something you are married to for life. I have a lot of friends who are nervous to deviate in any way from a recipe but I am giving you permission to loosen up the playbook a little and call an audible. There certainly are some ingredients and techniques you don’t want to stray from, but seasoning, spices and sauces such as Worcestershire are not one of them. Most recipes are made to appeal to the masses and as such, are light on flavor. If you want more flavor, then you have to add it in and Vanilla, Cinnamon, Nutmeg and Garlic are a good place to start. ANY recipe that calls for these ingredients, I automatically double the amount it calls for and then I add a pinch more. If you aren’t comfortable playing with flavors yet, start with the recipe exactly as it calls and then taste and add a little bit more and taste again and add a little bit more, etc. I bet when it’s all said and done, you will find you have doubled these 4 ingredients.
7) Sharpen knives – A sharp knife is a cook’s best friend. A dull knife will make you want to never cook again. There are several places around Dallas that will sharpen your knives and there are even some mobile sharpening trucks that are awesome. Every third Saturday of the month a mobile truck pulls up to Central Market and from 10-2 you can have your knives sharpened while you shop! Sur La Table will sharpen your knives any day, but you will be leaving them overnight. There is also a permanent vendor in Shed #2 at the Dallas Farmers Market who will sharpen your knives while you shop. Most chefs sharpen their knives every day, so, depending on how often you use them, you should have yours sharpened once a month to every six weeks. You can use a steel sharpener in between professional sharpening to keep your knives in tip-top shape. If you don’t have any where close to you to have your knives professionally sharpened, I recommend using any of these Wüsthof knife sharpeners.
6) Rest your meat – No matter what kind of meat you are cooking, steak, roast, chicken, pork, lamb, etc., they all need the proper time to rest and absorb all of those delicious juices back into itself. The best rule of thumb on how long you should rest any cut of meat is when the internal temperature has reached 120˚ it is ready to be sliced. For a steak this might be 10 minutes. For a roast it might take 45 minutes. I know how difficult it is to wait on this process sometimes, but the worst thing you could do is to spend all that time preparing a delicious cut of meat and then lose all of the flavor because you didn’t properly let it rest. So when planning your meal, make sure you allow time on the back-end to let the meat rest when you set your time to eat. Your friends and family will thank you!
5) Pinch and roll dried herbs and coarse ground pepper – Whenever I use dried herbs and coarse ground pepper, I roll them between my fingers with some force or rub them between my hands to break them into smaller pieces which opens them up. This brings out the natural oils causing them to be more fragrant and flavorful. Dried herbs are great to use if you don’t have fresh herbs, which is why I always have some on hand. Typically you need less dried herbs than you do fresh herbs and you will want to add them in the beginning of the cooking process so they have more time to infuse their flavor into your dish.
4) Cast Iron Skillet – I get asked a lot if cast iron makes a difference, and my answer is unequivocally YES! It can take the heat (it gets screaming hot, stays hot and the heat is evenly distributed), its non stick, it is durable, it makes the best fried chicken (or fried anything), it is cost-effective as they will last forever, and when properly seasoned, they add so much flavor to your food. Here are the 5 things you need to know to care for your cast iron skillet. 1) Don’t use soap, soak with water or clean with metal scouring pads. And for goodness sake, NEVER put it in the dishwasher. 2) After each and every use, rub it down with kosher salt and a kitchen towel that you don’t mind getting dirty. The kosher salt and some pressure from the towel will remove any bits that are burned onto the pan. If it needs a deep cleaning use 1 cup of Kosher salt and make sure the skillet is still warm while you scour. Rinse the skillet with warm water and immediately dry it or put it over a low flame to evaporate the moisture. 3) “Season” the pan with lard or fat. I use Canola oil to season my skillet. You want to pour enough in to coat the bottom (1-1 1/2 tablespoons should do the trick) and then you will wipe the entire pan including the sides with your towel to make sure the oil is evenly distributed. This is a very important step as it helps the skillet to maintain its non-stick properties, fights off rust, and develops a glossy thin protective layer. 4) Store your skillet with a paper towel covering the interior bowl. This will ensure it stays clean and seasoned. 5) If you need to “start over” and re-season your skillet due to rust or for some other reason, you can do so by scrubbing it clean and then coat the interior and exterior of the skillet with your lard or fat of choice. Place your skillet on a sheet pan and “bake” it in the oven for one hour on 350˚. You will want to let the skillet completely cool in the oven before removing and storing it.
3) Take a cooking class – I love taking cooking classes to learn new flavors, new techniques and new cuisines. It is so much fun to do with a group of friends, for a date night or with your kids. It is a great place to ask questions and to sample new things. I prefer a hands on class where I get to cook along with the host as I learn better by feeling my way through the recipe. (Shameless plug here: Beginning in July, I will be offering cooking classes! Check back here and on my Facebook and Instagram pages for more details and announcements on when, where and how to sign up).
2) Find a Foodie – Central Market has been my go to store for years. There really are a million reasons why I love shopping there (I’ll save those for another post) but my #1 reason is the Foodies they have throughout the store. I befriended two of them and before every single party I have, I go there and I run my menu and my counts and my thoughts by them and we create an effective game plan that I use as my playbook for the party. They help me to make sure my menu is balanced with flavor, starches, colors, etc. and that my wine and beer pair well to bring everything together. I highly recommend you find a Foodie either at your local grocery store, a friend or me! I’d love to be your Foodie and help bring your vision to life!
1) GET IN THE GAME – In other words, don’t be afraid. You will never know what you can do or how good you can be if you don’t try. I try and fail all the time and each failure makes me better and stronger. My friends and family think I’m crazy when I have a dinner party and I have things on the menu I have never cooked before. The only reason I can do that is because of what I have learned from all of my failures along the way. I’ve learned how to adapt on the fly and figure out how to bring it all together if it starts to go sideways. Now a days, I thrive on the challenge and I up the ante with every party. That is how I stretch and grow, and it is how I get better.
Don’t forget to comment with any questions you have and let me know any other topics you’d like advice on! Stay tuned for my next Top 10!