Whether we have been cooking for a lifetime or just boiled our first pot of pasta, there are always new tools we can add to our culinary tool box. Building culinary skills can elevate cooking from a daily chore to a delightful experience. Today I’d like to share a few time-honored tips and tricks that I’ve learned on my food journey, all of which have made cooking and food prep a more enjoyable experience for me with a better end result.
Let’s start with onions! (Both literally and metaphorically). Onions are a magic ingredient in many dishes and all kinds of cuisines the world over use onion as a launch pad from the simplest to the most complex recipes. Eaten raw, onions can be quite pungent and even bitter, but slow cooked with the right amount of heat, they metamorphosize into a sweet, buttery, caramelized base that eventually penetrates and blends all of the flavors in a recipe. Most soups, curries, stews and sauces start with a bit of oil and onion in a pan. Rather than tossing raw onion into a broth or sauce,
sautéeing the sliced or diced onion in oil with a bit of salt will caramelize the sugars and completely change the flavor. The key is to use a medium-high heat until the onions just begin to brown, then turn down the heat and let the onions rest at a low simmer until they are soft and sweet. They may then be combined with other ingredients.
Garlic, much like onion, is also a commonly used base ingredient. Unlike onions, garlic is a gentle allium that begins to lose flavor if it is over-cooked. For this reason, (in most cases), garlic should be added fairly late in the
sautéeing process, needing only 5-10 minutes to heat through before adding other ingredients. Peeling garlic can be a deterrent for using it, as it can be tedious and sticky work, but there are some tricks to peel garlic quickly and easily. My favorite method is to smash it with the flat of a chef’s knife. This can be done safely using the heel of your hand and keeping the blade pointed downward and away from you, but I definitely recommend watching some videos of professionals demonstrating this technique, first. I like to cut off the root end before mashing so that the skin pops off all at once. This also partially crushes the clove, making it easy to mince. Using a bit of water in a bowl helps remove the skins and keeps them from sticking to your fingers. You can toss the crushed cloves directly in the water, or rinse them under a faucet, and the skins slip off more easily.
Knives are obviously a key component of cooking and getting familiar with your knives will take you a long way in the kitchen. A chef’s knife is a great tool and can be used for most culinary tasks. Keeping knives sharp is important, so learning how to sharpen your own knives is a useful skill to have. There are plenty of sharpeners you can buy, but learning to use a wet stone is a valuable skill and much cheaper than paying a professional. For much of your prep work, the back end of the knife is used and is generally the sharpest part. It is also easier on your hand and wrist to use the back end of the knife. A safety trick I learned from a restaurant chef years ago is the claw grip, which keeps your thumb and finger tips folded inward on your non-cutting hand to keep them out of the way of the blade. This enables you to chop and slice more quickly without the risk of cutting yourself.
Herbs and spices, much like garlic, are sensitive ingredients in a hot pan. In most cases you want to lightly “toast” your herbs or spices in your skillet just before adding sauces or other ingredients. In a soup or stew, if the herbs were not added in the first step, they can be added directly to the broth, but will need sufficient time to simmer and release their flavors. I personally feel that many recipes are very conservative with the portions of herbs they call for and I often add more as I cook until I get the desired flavors.
Making rice is a simple task, but rice not being a traditional food in the United States, many Americans are uncomfortable or unsure of how to make good rice without a rice cooker. However; perfectly cooked rice can be accomplished in three easy steps.
- Add desired amount of rice to a pot and add approximately 2 cups of water per cup of rice. (Portion hack: dip your finger in the water until it touches the top of the rice. If the water comes up to your first knuckle, the water portion should be accurate).
- Bring rice to a boil and then turn down to simmer for 10 minutes, uncovered.
- Turn off the burner, place a lid on the rice and walk away. It should finish steaming in about 10-15 minutes.
Do you have any culinary tips or tricks that you couldn’t live without? Post them in the comments below!
This week in Local Choice CSA
Bifrost Farms – Garlic dill chevre
Essence Homestead – Potatoes
Hexagon Projects & Farm – Arugula, salad mix, beets, Tokyo market turnip
Mary Dirty Face Farm – Apples
Towering Heights Farm – Ground beef
Valley Pasture Farm – Whole chicken, buttercup squash and pie pumpkin
Winnowburrow Farm – Baby Dill Pickles and all-purpose seasoning
This week’s meal plans are provided by Nick Rigger of Hexagon Projects & Farm
Whole Braised Chicken (adapted from Jamie Oliver):
1 whole chicken
½ cup butter
2 lemons, zested
1 cinnamon stick
6 cloves garlic
2 cups whole milk
4-5 potatoes, roughly chopped
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
- Rinse the chicken well and pat it dry with paper towels. Season generously with kosher salt and coarse black pepper. Make sure you season the cavity too.
- Melt the butter in a medium Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When bubbling slightly add the chicken and brown well on all sides.
- When brown, remove the chicken to a plate and pour the butter left in the pot into a small bowl. (You could use it for vegetables, potatoes, etc.) Quarter one of the zested lemons and pop it into the chicken’s cavity. Return the chicken to the pot and add the lemon zest, cinnamon stick, garlic, sage, potatoes, and milk.
- Put the lid on your Dutch and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove the lid, baste the chicken with some of the cooking liquid and roast uncovered for another 15 minutes. Remove from oven. Serve and pour a little of the juice over the chicken and potatoes! Pairs wonderfully with the salad mix and chopped salad turnip on the side.
Creamy Pumpkin Soup (adapted from Creme De La Crumb) and Arugula & Beet Salad:
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
2 cups of pureed squash (you can use either the pie pumpkin or buttercup in your share)
1 ½ t freshly grated garlic
½ onion, minced
½ t ground ginger
1 small apple, finely chopped
¼ t salt (or more to taste)
¼ t black pepper
1 ½ cups cream or half n half
- In a large pot, coat the bottom with oil, and add garlic and onion. Allow to cook for 4-5 min or until the onion is translucent
- Add pumpkin, broth, ginger, apple, salt, and pepper and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 10-15 minutes at a low boil.
- Stir in heavy cream, reduce heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Using an immersion blender, puree the soup in the pot until the desired consistency is reached (mainly to incorporate the apple and add just a touch of sweetness to the soup).
- Serve hot and topped with crumbled goat cheese.
For the Salad:
1-2 small beets, peeled and grated
- Add the arugula to a plate and top with the grated beets. Add any additional toppings of your choice (i.e. goat cheese, onion, etc.) Serve with a little olive oil, salt, and lemon juice or another dressing of your liking.
The History of Tokyo Market Turnip by Johnne Smalley of Towering Heights Farm
Turnips, members of the prolific Brassica family, are one of the oldest cultivated vegetables. Their fast-growing habits, long winter shelf life, and ability to grow in a wide range of temperatures has made them an indispensable vegetable in many cultures for hundreds of years and counting. Their first recorded use dates back to Europe around 2000 BC. In 16th century northern Europe, images of turnips were displayed on the coat of arms of several noble families. Turnips first traveled to Japan about 1,200 years ago, where they steadily grew a following as dedicated seed selection helped them adapt to their new environs and grow stronger with each generation. However, most Japanese turnips prized today, like our beloved Tokyo Market Turnip, are newer heirlooms. They first became popular in the 1950s, when the famine brought on by World War II made their fast growing habit and ability to withstand a wide spectrum of temperatures particularly valuable. The Japanese name for this group of sweet, quick growing, white turnips like Tokyo Market is Kabura.
Tokyo Market Turnips will make you rethink everything you’ve ever thought about turnips. Sweet, petite, juicy and mild: these are not your average turnips! Bright white and bite-sized they are excellent fresh from the garden, on their own, as a snack or sliced in salads. Of course, they are also great on toast with salt and lemon, pickled, steamed, grilled, roasted, and mashed. Their young green tops make excellent sautéed greens.
Steam. Steamed Tokyo turnips are nearly a delicacy. Choose turnips of equal size and wash them thoroughly under running water or soak them until any grit or sand falls away. You don’t need to remove the greens; you can actually use them as a bed for steaming.
Spread the turnips with greens attached on a steamer rack over boiling water, cover and cook until just barely tender, about 3 to 6 minutes depending upon the size of the turnips. (Choose turnips of equal size for even steaming of the bunch.)
When tender, drain the turnips and greens and serve with salt, butter, and/or pepper.
Thanks for reading and choosing to eat local! We’d love to hear from you in comments below, or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org Happy eating!