Saturday, January 21, 2012

Kitchen Basics

 While I'm busy whipping you guys up a healthy recipe, I wanted to give you a few kitchen basics. Simple guidelines so to speak, that will make cooking easy, and your food delicious!

 Prep-work ladies and gentleman, make it part of your cooking routine and I guarantee you will thank me.
     The French call it "mise en place," or to set in place. The French are considered to be among the world's culinary elite, yet as sophisticated, and precise as their techniques are, each dish begins with basic prep work. Only once everything has been prepared will a classically trained French chef begin to cook.
     Start by making a list of everything you are going to need for your meal, every ingredient and every spice, and lay them all out in front of you.
If your oven needs to be pre-heated this is a good time to start. If there is anything that needs to be cut, like meat, vegetables or herbs, go ahead and chop them up.  Start to measure out all of your ingredients and then place them into small individual bowls. I recommend buying a set of small plastic bowls, they are easy to clean, and they are stack-able so they won't take up too much space in your cabinets. You know you are fully ready to cook when you can stand in front of the stove with your ingredients and not have to budge to finish your meal.
     Good preparation will make the cooking process go smoothly. Having to stop to cut something, or take measurements while food is in a hot pan can make cooking feel stressful. When you have everything in place you will be amazed at how easy cooking can be!


    When it comes to cooking oil many people may know what to choose. After all, swing down the isle in the supermarket and it's loaded with all different types of oil; corn, vegetable, olive, canola, sunflower seed, and the list goes on. So what should you have in your kitchen? 
  • Olive oil  - First off olive oil contains heart healthy omega-3s and is a  mono-unsaturated fat, AKA- the good fat. This fat can actually help to lower cholesterol. Virgin olive oil also contains an antioxidant called polyphenol which helps to eliminate cell damaging free radicals. Olive oil is great for light sauteing and salads. If you are using high heat go with an extra virgin olive oil, it has a higher smoke point so it will stand up to the heat better. If you are unfamiliar with olive oil try different ones, there are plenty of options from light to extra virgin. There are also different types of olives which offer unique flavors, pick one that suits you.
  • Canola Oil - Canola is another monounsaturated fat loaded with omega-3s. Use it in place of vegetable or corn oil to reduce the saturated fat in your dishes.
  • Coconut Oil -  Coconut oil has been around for some time , but recent studies are are bringing attention back to this forgotten oil. Coconut oil boasts a wide variety of health benefits. There are many misconceptions about coconut oil. Being roughly 90% saturated fat, it sometimes gets a bad wrap. So what makes it so good? Coconut oil is jam-packed with lauric acid, which has been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Coconut oil has also been used for years for it's anti-aging affects on the skin and hair. Coconut oil has also been studied for it's affects on cancer and other infectious diseases. The list of benefits goes on, learn more about the health benefits of coconut oil click here.
  • Peanut Oil - Peanut oil is great for frying and high temperature cooking due to it's high smoke point. I generally only use it for frying because the majority of other oils actually turn carcinogenic when brought to extremely hot temperatures.What some people don't know is that peanut oil also contains the antioxidant reservatrol and a good healthy dose of vitamin E.
     Every chef has a go to knife, so should you. You don't have to go overboard and splurge $500 on a chef knife, but you need something sharp. Having a dull knife, ironically, is more dangerous than having a sharp one. Having to apply extra pressure to cut with a dull blade can cause you to slip and possibly cut yourself. Cutting should be smooth and effortless. I recommend that you hone your knife after every use to keep the blade cutting smooth. Sharpening, which is different from honing in that metal is actually stripped away from the blade, should only be done when the blade no longer cuts clean after a good honing.
    There are many different options when it comes to knives so some people may not now what they should have in their kitchen. The following is a list of the three knives which I believe should be a staple in every kitchen. With these three knives you can accomplish nearly any task on the cutting board.

  • Chef's Knife - Also called a cooks knife, the chef's knife was designed to be a multipurpose knife. The broad, plane edged blade is curved to allow a smooth rocking motion.
  • Paring Knife- A small plane edged knife perfect for peeling or for small jobs that require precision, such as cleaning shrimp.
  • Bread Knife- Just like the name folks, the bread knife is serrated allowing for clean smooth cuts through the toughest baguette.   


     Having the right pan for the job always makes the job easier. For the basic home cook, toss a few saute pans with a small, medium and large pot and you have an arsenal. The problem I find in most home kitchens is not the quantity, but the quality of the cookware. There seems to be some notion that everyone should be using a nonstick pan. Let me dispel the myth, they are NOT BETTER!!!
     Walk into any gourmet kitchen and tell me if you see any nonstick pans laying around. So why do chefs prefer good old fashioned stainless steel over the more modern nonstick surfaces? Well there are a few reasons, first lets take a look at the nonstick pan.
  • Nonstick- When heated to high temperatures the nonstick surface can begin to release toxins into your food. Non stick surfaces are also not very durable, the surface seems to wear down in a relatively short period of time, possibly leaving trace elements in your food. Not good! If you must have one save it for your morning eggs. Sear a piece of meat on that? Never!!!
  • Stainless Steel - First let's talk value, buy a good stainless steel pan and it can last a lifetime. They can be brought to high temperatures without damaging the pan and leave no toxic residues. Most stainless steel pans can also be put in the oven. Look for good quality steel that heats evenly and go sear yourself some scallops!
  • Cast Iron - I believe everyone should have at least one cast iron pan. A cast iron flat top is actually my favorite way to cook a steak. Cooking on the flat surface enables the meat to take on an even sear, and there is just something about the flavor you get from it. Cast iron needs to be heated gently, but once hot it can be brought to extremely hot temperatures and has excellent heat retention.

Cutting Boards
One thing that I recommend is having two cutting boards. One for herbs and vegetables, and one for meats and fish. The reason for this is simple sanitation.
  • Wood - Wood cutting boards have been shown to hold some antimicrobial properties. Wood cutting boards are easy on knife blades and work great for cutting fruits, vegetables, and herbs. When cleaning a wood board never soak it, it may absorb water and warp. Instead try a quick rinse and wipe dry. Some people use vinegar to disinfect their wooden boards.
Plastic - Due to its porous nature I never cut any sort of meat or fish on a wooden bard. Contaminants could potentially be absorbed by the wood. Plastic will not absorb any bacteria and can be sanitized using a diluted bleach solution..
Helpful Tips
     Now that you have all your equipment in order you are ready to cook! These couple of pointers will turn your old bland recipes into true works of art!
  •  Wine - All too often I see people in the supermarket reaching for the cooking wine in the isle. My general rule of thumb, if you wouldn't drink it, don't cook with it. Good wine can be inexpensive, try making your way to a tasting and sample different varieties to get a feel of what you like most. I always recommend cooking with the wine you will be serving with your meal, it will better compliment the flavors.
  • Herbs/Spices - Incorporating fresh herbs and spices into your dishes is easy and can help bring a bit of jazz to lifeless recipes.
  • Fresh Produce - There is no replacement for it, stay away from the cans. Try to buy produce that is in season and aim to shop at local farmer markets. You may be pleasantly surprised by not only the freshness, but also by the wide selection of specialty produce that many of the markets carry. 
  • Patience - Good food is never rushed. "Low and slow" as many chefs say, referring to cooking food slowly at low temperatures. Pay close attention to the temperatures of your food. Overcooking a steak will ruin the best marinade. If you are short on time, don't try to prepare a time consuming dish. So take  your time, and have fun with your cooking. Give your food a name every time you present it to your family, I like to name food how I cook it. After all what would you order on a menu, scallops and corn salad, or pan seared scallops with a roasted corn relish?
     These are a few pointers which I picked up along my quest to discover better food. I hope they help to take the scary out of cooking, and put flavor into your dishes. If you have any other areas that you need pointers on, feel free to drop me a comment, I'll be sure to get back to you with some useful info. Make sure to keep your heads up for my upcoming recipe. I've been in the kitchen coming up with a unique, healthy and easy dish! So until then , happy eating!!!

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