KITCHEN SKILLS TO MASTER IN YOUR 30’s
We know you’re not looking for a career in the culinary arts, but even if you are, there are skills you need to learn in order to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.
Selecting Produce from Local Markets
It can get rather confusing and a little overwhelming when stepping into a produce market filled with fruits and vegetable you have never seen and have never been part of your childhood menu or any menu for that matter. Well, the time has come to make some changes! Be brave and experiment. Get rid of the GMO corn on the cob that used to be your favorite side dish and try something a little more nutritious and clean. After all, eventually what you create now may be a part of your child’s menu. Think a head and be smart. There are so many wonderful varieties of fruits and vegetables that are out there that are grown locally, therefore supporting your local farmers. You just never know what little tasty treasures you may find that tastes great and can become an official and permanent part of your daily menu. Remember to always buy produce that’s in season.
Regardless if locally grown or not, cleaning your produce is crucial! Even when the packaging indicates already prewashed, I never take a chance. I surely don’t want to bite into anything that might have been crawling through the vegetable, so clean them well. Fill two big bowls with cold water and then let your veggie of choice soak for a bit. Swoosh it around well and lift the fruits or veggies out leaving the dirt behind. Transfer your greens to the other bowl. Dump out the dirty water and refill with fresh water. Repeat this process until your water is crystal clear. For quick and efficient drying, indulge in a salad spinner for best results
If you can’t make anything at all, you must at the very least be able to make eggs! That is just essential to any age. Breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. I can eat it during the official time of breakfast or at any time of the day I crave it. Our family dinners have included eggs as the main course. Nothing strange about that! If you love eggs as much as I do, having a different way of preparing them is also a huge must. Eating fried eggs every morning can get boring fast. Learnt to scramble an egg, poach, soft boil, hard boil. Eventually you will go on to make an omelet or a frittata with those delicious veggies you selected all by yourself at the market earlier. You’ll be sure to impress your friends and family for breakfast, brunch or even dinner.
The difference between rookie and restaurant-quality pasta is just a little pasta water, salt, finesse, and maybe butter (OK, often butter.) Your pasta-cooking water should taste like the ocean: salty. This seemingly obscene quantity of salt is crucial, as it will flavor your noodles. Cook your pasta al dente (meaning it still has some bite to it). Before you dump it out, save some water: it’s loaded with all the beautiful starches from your pasta that will naturally make any sauce you add it to creamier. Finish off your pasta in a sauté pan with whatever sauce you desire, plus some of that pasta water. This way the sauce will be creamier and will better bind to your pasta. And adding a little butter at the end never made anything worse.
Make Pan Sauce
Pan sauces are a quick and easy way to take your roasted chicken or pasta to the next level. If you’ve roasted or seared a piece of meat, the little brown bits at the bottom are solid gold. Hit them with a little wine, garlic, and chicken stock and within minutes you’ll have a ridiculously delicious sauce. Other quick sauces can consist of tomatoes, basil, and olives; white wine, shallots, and tarragon; or the classic lemon, capers, and brown butter. Add a dab of cold butter at the end, off the heat, to emulsify your sauce and make it extra delicious.
Make Your Own Vinaigrette
Store-bought salad dressings are full of sugar and other harmful ingredients we all should avoid. Instead, make your own vinaigrettes with two basic components: acid and fat. Acid is usually a vinegar or citrus and the fat is often a type of vegetable oil. They work on a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil, or 1:2 for milder acids such as lemon juice. Throw in some salt and pepper and you have basic vinaigrette. Add mustard to help bind the mixture and add some flavor. Then get creative. Mix up the vinegars and oils; add honey, shallots, ginger, soy sauce, and herbs. Everything that you need will be freshly available in your local market excluding the harmful chemicals and ingredients.
Fun fact: dull knives are more dangerous than sharp ones, and are more likely to slip when cutting because they don’t have a defined edge. So don’t keep dull knives. There are three main ways to handle sharpening: use a sharpening stone, use a manual or electric sharpener, or send your knives out. The pros all use stones, but it requires some technique and time. A sharpener is easy enough to use, but if you are super lazy, just send them out. Warning: professional sharpeners tend to take a lot off the knife, so your knife’s lifespan may decrease. Not sure if your knives are dull? Carefully run the blade over your thumb nail. If it catches, you have a sharp knife. If it glides right over, it’s dull as hell. Now go and sharpen it.
Learn to Handle a Knife
Congratulations, you are now an adult so basic knife skills are an integral part of cooking. There’s no need to start chopping, slicing and dicing like a professional chef, start off nice and easy and take your time. Eventually you will feel comfortable enough with a knife to increase your speed, but until then – take it easy! Feel free to do some research on your own and find a tutorial that works for you and learn their tricks. We certainly don’t want you losing a finger trying to learn a new skill.
Make a Chicken Cutlet
Whether you bake it or fry it, a chicken cutlet is an essential part of most daily meals unless you’re Vegan. Some have described it as “Chicken fingers for grown-ups”. And who doesn’t love chicken fingers? The proper breading technique requires four steps: 1) season your chicken; 2) dip it in flour; 3) dip it in eggs; 4) dip it in breadcrumbs. Then fry or bake it. If using a chicken breast, we recommend either pounding it or slicing it in half to ensure a crispy-yet-moist cutlet. Personally we prefer skinless, boneless chicken thighs, but that’s your call.
Once you’ve mastered this basic principle, countless variations are at your disposal. You can substitute chicken with almost any protein, from pork and beef (think chicken-fried steak) to fish and even tofu, and serve it over rice or salads, in wraps, sandwiches, and more. With a few simple variations and help from your foreign-language buddy, you can be cooking up Milanese, schnitzel, or katsu. Sounds fancier than just a cutlet right?
Make some Baked Goods
You’re almost 30, and let’s face it: those PTA meetings and bake sales are right around the corner. Don’t be that parent who brings in cardboard donuts from the gas station. Instead, master at least one baked good and make it your go-to. Cookies are great because you can keep all of the ingredients in your pantry and refrigerator for a long time. Banana bread, pumpkin bread, and brownies are other easy crowd-pleasers. Bonus: baking makes your home smell amazing.
When vegetables surpass 280 degrees, something beautiful happens. Thanks to Maillard reactions and naturally occurring sugars and amino acids, the vegetables start to brown and develop a beautiful, more intense flavor. And the best part? To roast vegetables, all you have to do is preheat your oven to around 425 degrees, chop up your vegetable of choice, toss it with some oil and salt, and pop it in! We recommend using parchment paper or a silicone mat on your baking sheet for easier clean-up. And remember, water boils at 212. Therefore wet vegetables can never brown, so keep those veggies nice and dry!
Season Your Food
In the culinary world “season” means to salt. Properly seasoning your food is crucial to locking in flavor and making your food tasty. It’s important to salt your food throughout the cooking process, not just at the end. Big pieces of meat such as thick steaks and roasts require a ton of salt to help develop that golden crust we so love. But be careful: you can always add more salt at the end, but you can never un-salt your food.
Sauté Your Food
Sautéing is quick, insanely flavorful, and fun. To do it successfully, put your pan on the burner, turn up the flame as hot as hell, add your oil, allow it to heat up, and don’t crowd your pan with too many veggies. Ignore any of these tips and you’ll never attain that golden sear you so desire.
The Art of Blanching
Vegetable cookery is vast, filled with so many possibilities: shocking and blanching your greens opens you up to so many of them. The concept is simple. Bring a pot of salted water to a roaring boil. Add your vegetables, making sure they are more or less of the same size and type to ensure even cooking. Cook until they’re tender with a little bite (adjusting to your preference) and then, using a strainer or tongs, immediately place them in a big bath of ice water. This polar bear plunge abruptly stops the cooking process and locks their color and texture in place. From here you can enjoy a lovely vegetable salad or go on to dry and then sauté your vegetables, making them crispy yet tender. This technique works great for herbs if you are making purees and want them to be green.
Nobody likes a runny sauce. In fact, the general desired consistency for a sauce is “nappant,” meaning “coating”: you want your sauce to coat your food and your mouth. There are many ways to thicken up a sauce, but here are our favorite three techniques: 1) reduce; 2) use cornstarch slurry; 3) add beurre manié.
Reducing your sauce works best when one of its main components is animal stock (i.e., chicken or veal). Over time the natural gelatin in the stock will cause it to thicken and become glorious. Veal stock is higher in gelatin than chicken and makes for the richest sauces. Reduce your sauce slowly, over a gentle simmer, and be sure to skim it for any impurities on the surface. Be careful not to over-reduce or it may become too salty or too thick, almost like glue.
A slurry is a fun word for a semi-liquid mixture and is a classic American go-to for thickening sauces. To make a slurry, combine regular cornstarch and cold water. Add equal parts water to the corn starch, mixing it well with a fork or small whisk to ensure no lumps. Slowly drizzle your slurry into your sauce, while whisking it over heat until it bubbles, thus activating the thickening agents. Usually you want about 1 tablespoon of slurry mixture per cup of liquid you want to thicken. Be sure to adjust your seasoning as you’ve slightly diluted your sauce. And yes, this method is gluten-free.
Beurre manié is like a roux but made with your hands (it literally translates to kneaded butter). Work very room-temperature butter with equal parts flour, until you make a paste. Drop this concoction into your sauce and whisk very well, letting it come up to a boil, activating the thickening agents, while cooking out the flour flavor. Now you have a thickened and buttery sauce. And, once again, butter is a good thing.
Strawberries dipped in a rich chocolate sauce is the classic sexiest dessert and it happens to be the easiest one. To make your own chocolate sauce, you need chocolate pieces or chips, heavy cream, and a double boiler. To create a double boiler, take a small saucepan, add some water to it, and cover it with a metal or glass bowl (plastic will melt, obviously). You want there to be some space between the bowl and the water. Bring the water up to a light simmer. Add the chocolate and heavy cream and stir until melted. And that’s it.
Keep Your Kitchen Safe and Clean
Accomplishing everything above is great, but worthless if you can’t keep your kitchen clean. The best way to maintain a healthy and manageable kitchen is to clean up as you go. Always wipe down surfaces and appliances after use. There are all sorts of antibacterial soaps and bleaches at your disposal to spray as you go. Distilled vinegar is a wonderful natural disinfectant and is incredibly versatile for all your cleaning needs. When handling raw meats and fish, try to wear gloves and make sure to thoroughly wash and disinfect your cutting boards and knives. Don’t forget to regularly clean out the refrigerator and wipe it down as well. Lord knows it’s time to throw out that half-eaten yogurt from two months ago.
In the process of learning the previous skills, you’ve probably picked up a dish or two to work on. Master three basic meals and you’ll be set for dinner parties, potlucks, and general entertaining while still keeping it exciting for yourself. Once you’ve truly become comfortable with the techniques necessary to execute the dishes, you can start to experiment and get creative. Now you’re cooking.