So, if you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you might have picked up that my family is culinary inclined. My mom was a chef for… about 2-3 decades, one of her brothers is a chef that runs his own kitchen in Virginia, and we also have an aunt that’s married to an award-winning mixologist. There’s an aunt that used to be a sous chef at a french restaurant.
It’s too many people that work with food.
Being raised in the family, there was this sense of pressure growing up. I wanted to be good, because everyone I knew was a good cook. Even my dad can make a mean egg scramble, breakfast sandwich and Spanish-styled rice.
Luckily, my older sibling (brother) and I enjoyed cooking after school. Being 8 years older than me, he would pick me up, walk me back home, then we’d pull out the pots and pans and destroyed mom’s kitchen.
Mac n’ Cheese, poached pears, bread, casserole, etc. We tried it all, and you know what? We weren’t half bad!
So, it’s safe to say that now that I’m in my mid-twenties, I’ve picked up a few tricks along the way. Things that I swear by and that would surely make your life easier.
Here’s 10 things you should know:
1) Hang a kitchen towel on handles, or reach for the flour.
That’s right, those pots and pans, casserole dishes, etc. all have hot handles after being used in the oven or on the stovetop. A trick used in French restaurants is to sprinkle flour on the handles to signal that it’s hot. But if you don’t want flour everywhere, try placing a dishtowel on them instead. It helps to not only remind you not to touch it, it also saves you from burns if you accidentally get too close.
2) Always, always, always start with the hearty vegetables first.
When cooking, remember to always start with whatever is going to take the longest, that way nothing is overcooked. Cook the potatoes and starchy veggies before anything else. Carrots should go in early on. Peas go in last minute, because when overcooked, they lose their color. Mushrooms don’t need that much time either.
3) When hosting, you need at least 4 hors d’oeuvres and 4 ounces of dip per person. And by at least, I mean THE ABSOLUTE MINIMUM.
People like to eat something small before a big meal. They also like getting 4-5 course meals where they feel like they’re constantly eating, being treated like royalty, and yet not overdoing it on the calories (hopefully). So, make sure you have something to greet guests with. Ideally, you want to have more than what they’re capable of eating, so you don’t have an embarrassing moment of “oops, I didn’t make enough.” Especially if someone brings an unexpected guest!
4) Never cook in a dirty kitchen.
It sucks, having to clean before making yet another mess. But cooking in a kitchen where there’s a ton of dishes to do and things aren’t at the cleanest peak of the week is just plain gross. Not only is it unsanitary, it’s also a matter of relaxation. Who can relax in a dirty kitchen? You want to pour a glass of wine and really savor the process. Some fancy music in the background. Not deal with maneuvering around gross plates and forks.
In high-end restaurants, the chef will yell at his crew and make everyone stay longer to clean at the end of the night. If for some reason, say the chef leaves for whatever reason, and the kitchen is left a mess the night before, it’s an awful morning for everyone. Everyone has to clean and clean until it’s spotless in there before starting, and that can set them back a few hours.
5) Always keep two bottles of vinegar in the pantry. One apple cider, one white.
White vinegar is great for cleaning, softening up stuck-on food in casserole dishes, cleaning your washing machine (seriously, add some baking soda and detergent, run the hot water, and cycle by itself without clothing at least once every 2 months), etc. You can even use it to poach eggs, but that’s irrelevant to vegans!
Apple cider vinegar can be used in salad vinaigrette, in marinades, sauces and soups. It can be used to clean, kill weeds in your tasty herb garden, etc.
6) Always keep a plant or two in the kitchen.
Not near the stove, obviously, but around the sink is just fine. Reason being that plants help act as natural humidifier. It keeps the air in your home much more bearable, so you don’t have that dry knuckle problem, which makes cooking all the more difficult. Have you ever tried reaching into a hot oven to just poke a toothpick in your bread, and felt that on your hands? That heat? Imagine what that’s like with rough, dry skin.
In a kitchen, it’s even nicer, since there’s plenty of water running whenever you’re in there. Water to wash dishes, water to fill pots, water to make tea. It’s easy to maintain the plants in there, and they help set the mood and make their air nicer in there.
7) Don’t talk gossip in the kitchen.
That means if someone calls, take it elsewhere. If someone visits and wants to chat about that girl you both used to know, stop cooking and just eat some appetizers with them. If your friend shows up unexpectedly and wants to talk about their husband who may be cheating, well, be there for your friend! Why are you still cooking?!
The reasons are simple. Only two reasons.
#1 – the kitchen is a serious place, a sacred one where a cook goes to get work done, feel at peace, and connect with honest ingredients. Even in a stressful situation, there’s a kind of artistic harmony between a chef and the food. Each plate a work of art in its own right. And to split your attention is to not savor in the moment.
#2 – when you need to talk to someone, you need to pay them attention. You look at them, you interact, you nod, you ask questions, you gasp when needed. Let’s be honest, you won’t hear a word they’re saying when you’re measuring out ingredients. You’ll be hoping you weren’t distracted enough to mess up the recipe.
8) Always blind bake the pastry.
Yeah that pie? That cheesecake? *Gasp* That tart? If you don’t pop in the pastry by itself into the oven first (with baking beads to weigh it down), and instead add in the filling and then bake it all, you’re going to ruin it. All that work down the drain.
Soggy bottom. No one likes that nonsense!
9) Serving temperatures aren’t absolute essentials.
In a restaurant, the minute something is done, it needs to go out. If it sits for too long and gets cold, the cooks have to redo it. However, the rule isn’t for everything. Things like vegetables and fruits can sit out for a few minutes, or half an hour. Meat shouldn’t, but again, not a vegan problem! Ha!
A good rule to live by is to simply start with what can sit out and get to room temp, then finish with the stuff that’s better served hot, hot, hot.
10) Always give yourself more time than you need.
And yes, that means starting an hour or two early. Things happen. Meals get ruined, certain ingredients get burned, people interrupt, you get a phone call, you realize you ran out of something and have to wait for the boyfriend to come back from the store with it.
In restaurants, cooks will often clock in 2-4 hours before service to prep everything. Measuring out ingredients, searing meat, chopping vegetables, etc. That way when it’s time to cook to order during service, they have all this stuff ready to go.
Best of luck in the kitchen, vegans!
Writer. Marketer. Vegan.