Learn The Five Kitchen Skills That Will Make Your Life Easier

We know: You're busy. You've got a full-time job. You're trying to have a life. Maybe you've even got a spouse and some kids who keep your schedule jam-packed every evening. So, we're not suggesting that you need to be a top chef, whipping up gourmet dinners every night. Nonetheless, there are a few simple kitchen basics you should know —- because they can make your life easier, they'll make cooking much more fun, and they might even help land that promotion when you invite your boss to dinner (hey, it could happen!).

And, well, if nothing else, they'll save you a lot of money when you're not ordering takeout every night.

How To Make Pasta

Now, I'm not suggesting that you don't know how to make pasta (um, boil water), but there are a lot of little adjustments that will ensure you make perfect pasta.

First and foremost, always salt the water, and salt it more than you think — as in, about a tablespoon of salt for a 4-litre saucepan of boiling water. Nobody likes flavorless pasta, and cooking it in salted water will keep that from happening.

Next, while you may have been told to run a little cold water over pasta while you drain it to prevent it from sticking together, don't — it can leave your pasta with a gummy texture. Plus, it's actually better for the pasta to be a bit sticky so the sauce clings to it.

Finally, restaurant chefs often say you're not really supposed to fully cook the pasta in the water. Instead, drain it when it's very al dente — which means firm and chewy (but not crunchy) — then add the pasta to the sauce in a pan. The pasta will finish cooking, and the sauce and flavour will fully permeate each strand.

How To Cook Garlic

Garlic is a great staple to have in your kitchen — a dash can really jazz up all kinds of dishes, from salads to stir-fry. But it's also a little tricky to work with.

First, you have to know how to prep it right. To get the pesky peel off before chopping, smash the clove with the back of a chef's knife. (This will also help release the oils.) Then, remove the peel and chop. Most recipes call for a very thin slice, like that famous scene in Goodfellas.

It's also really easy to burn garlic when cooking it. When sautéing, always use a very low heat and remove from heat when the edges of the garlic are the very faintest shade of brown. It will continue to cook a bit in the hot oil, so pulling it off the heat early will prevent over-cooking. You can also add the garlic to the pan after most of the other meat or veggies to give it less chance to burn.

How To Chop An Onion

By knowing how to chop an onion the right way, you'll be safer — not to mention more efficient — with your cooking. Plus, it looks really impressive.

I've found that the easiest way to learn to chop an onion is to watch a video-so I made one for you!

How To Make Salad Dressing From Scratch

Homemade dressings make even the most basic salads seem gourmet. And once you realise how easy and cheap it is to make your own dressing, you might just ditch the store-bought stuff altogether! The trick is to keep it very simple-as in, just two or three ingredients, plus the optional dash of salt and pepper.

A classic vinaigrette is the best place to start. For this, you need one part vinegar to three parts oil (for example, 1 teaspoon vinegar to 1 tablespoon oil). I prefer light olive oil to extra virgin — the texture is less weighty on greens — combined with a very high-quality balsamic vinegar. Just pour the oil and vinegar into a mini Tupperware-style container and shake vigorously to mix. You can adjust the ratio or add salt and pepper until it tastes good to you.

Once you know the basics, variations are simple. You can experiment with different types of vinegars or use citrus juice instead (just increase the ratio to one part juice to one part olive oil). Try adding some chopped garlic or shallots, or a dollop of sour cream or Greek yoghurt for a creamier texture.

How to Make 2 Signature Dishes

OK, this sounds complex, but I really think [everyone] can benefit from having two signature dishes that [they] feel comfortable serving for guests.

First, you should have a simple recipe — think easy biscuits, a yummy dip, or a quick side dish — that you can whip up for a party. You should also have a more complex signature, a main course that you joyfully labour over. Having both of these in your back pocket will prevent you from stressing when you're asked to make something for a party — or when your boss (or your future spouse) comes to dinner!

My basic signature is a roasted lemon and garlic Brussels sprout dish. It's simple to prepare, garners fans even from non-Brussels lovers, and tastes great hot or cold. My more complex signature is a Russian Jewish barbecue chicken dish that my grandmother taught me to make. It's a tricky, messy, and complicated recipe — definitely for weekends and special occasions — but the end result is a memorable crowd pleaser!

Don't have signatures yet? Just start experimenting. Scroll through food magazines and blogs and make a dish that inspires you. If you find yourself wanting to make it again and again (and, others keep begging you to), it's probably a winner.

Top Chef: 5 Kitchen Skills That Will Make Your Life Easier [The Daily Muse]

Debra Shigley is the creator and host of Deb's Kitchen, a web cooking show, and the author of The Go-Getter Girl's Guide.


Comments

    My usual dishes are:

    - Salami and Cheese Bread
    - Salami and Vegetable Soup
    - Homestyle Spaghetti Bolognese (none of that pesky sauce in a can stuff!) - This one also contains salami.. I love the bite that salami brings to dishes.
    - Yellow Curry Chicken - Something different to keep the guests happy
    - Pork Adobo with noodles and some vegetables. Sometimes I like to use a dark soy to really darken the colour of the meat.. and other times regular soy.. just depends on the other dishes.

    Desserts:
    - Choc-caramel slice
    - Scones, Jam & Cream - Using cream whipped by myself rather than store bought stuff.. I always add a little icing sugar for that extra indulgent sweetness.
    - Chocolate butter cake with caramel fudge and mock cream filling, iced with soft chocolate butter cream icing.

    I'm currently going through a bread stage at the moment.. cooked 3 loaves in the last 4 or 5 days.

    I've been cooking and experimenting since I was around 6 years old.. lots of disasters over the years but it's all been a learning experience.

    Last edited 25/02/13 12:18 pm

      As for a totally easy recipe of the ones listed above.. one that is really hard to mess up, I'd say the Pork Adobo. Basically you grab about a kilo of Pork (lamb/beef should work just as well) and cut it into roughly 2inch cubes.. chuck it in the saucepan, throw in a bunch of soy and some kind of mild vinegar (Palm vinegar and rice wine vinegar work well.. but any vinegar that isn't too strong will work well.. I haven't tried apple cider vinegar yet.. but that could work also).. the amounts are very rough.. I'd guess around 1/2 cup soy and 1/2 cup of vinegar.. but I don't measure it at all.. just throw it in there ( the total of liquid should almost cover the meat depending on the size of the saucepan). Now you just bring it all to the boil.. when that's done you throw in some crushed garlic (at least 1 tablespoon but more is ok too depending on your tastes.. I usually end up with around 1.5 tablespoons.. but again, I don't measure it) and some bay leaves (no need to crush the leaves). Now allow it to boil again and when it's boiling again, remove the lid and reduce the heat down to medium so it is simmering.. now just let it reduce.. and reduce.. and reduce till there is no more liquid.. and fry the meat in the remaining fats. That's it.. there's really nothing that can go wrong until the last bit when there is no more liquid left and you might burn it.. but other than that.. easy peasy.. If you want a more Chinese flavour you can use Star Anise pods instead of Bay Leaves.

      Last edited 25/02/13 12:28 pm

    How to make pasta: 100g of "00" flour + 1 egg + pinch of salt + dash of oil. Knead and roll.
    Also, when boiling the water, add the salt AFTER it's boiled. Salted water takes longer to boil.

    For garlic, you can also remove the center bit of the clove which is the part that people with intolerance to garlic react to i.e. my wife.

    At the moment, I've got a bit of obsession with making mayonnaise.

      Adding salt to water makes the boiling point higher, but the ebullioscopic increase is so small (approx 0.2*C) that it doesn't make much of a practical difference.

        Interestingly if you put the salt in just as its starting to boil, when you see the first little bubbles appear, the salt will provide nucleation points to start it bubbling. because in a really clean smooth pot water can get above 100C with out boiling. the salt just little tiny air bubble to start the process

      Boil the water in a kettle while heating the pot (with a small amount of water in it to prevent losing a lot of water to steam). Much faster and then you can add the salt.

    Oh and buy at least 1 decent knife.. makes a HUGE difference when you have a main knife for most of the tasks of chopping. Buy a decent one.. and look after it like it is made of gold..

      Completely agree! I just bought a proper set of knives and my cooking has never been better.
      Also it makes cooking so much more enjoyable!

      Oooooh, this this this. I grew up in a house with a father who loves to cook and took our knife set for granted in a major way. When I moved in with a partner a couple of years ago and he was using a blunt veggie knife from Coles, I realised how important it is to have a good chopping knife (this is also safer!) You will never ever go back.

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