Tasty Tufts: How to Conserve Water in the Kitchen

drought

My latest post on Tasty Tufts has been published, and it includes my top ten tips to reduce water usage in the kitchen. You can find the article by clicking here. Little things like loading the dishwasher correctly and being careful about running the tap can really add up over time when done consistently, and while these habits are especially important for us Californians they’re good ideas for all cooks regardless of your state’s annual rainfall.

In other news, I’m home for the summer! Which means that there are two loaves of bread rising on our kitchen counter and I’ve already seen my brother laugh so much that he accidentally inhaled some mesclun greens at dinner. It’s good to be back.

Tasty Tufts: Easy Ways to Improve Flavor

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Happy Friday, everyone! Click on over to Tasty Tufts to read my new post on how to improve the flavor while you cook. There’s all sorts of food science and tips for how to apply the information to your meals, whether you eat all your meals in a dining hall or at home.

(Unrelated photo, but if you’re looking for a way to celebrate spring break, make a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies!)

Sunday Dinners

Starting in May of 2006, when I was just ten years old, my dad and I started making dinner together every Sunday night. We didn’t anticipate that this would be such a long standing tradition, but one Sunday night turned into two, and here we are just over eight years later. Last night was the final Sunday dinner before I leave for college—an event that made me choke up in the pasta aisle of Trader Joe’s. That doesn’t mean, of course, that there won’t be more dinners during the summer and winter vacations, but it is the first real break in a tradition that has meant so much to me.

Making tomato sauce, winter of 2008-2009.

The food and cooking was one of the reasons why I loved making Sunday dinner, but it was always so much more than that. Sundays were about spending a few minutes in the morning planning the menu and making a list, one person with a cookbook and a pad of paper and the other rummaging around in the cabinets to see if we still had a bottle of sesame oil hiding behind the red wine vinegar.

Chocolate Soufflé, September 27, 2009. Modeling done by Aidan, pre-growth spurt.

No Sunday dinner would be complete without a trip to the grocery store, a route that we biked the first few years, then started driving when it came time for me to practice for my driving test. Dad would head to the butcher counter, and I to the international foods aisle before meeting in the produce section for the final decision of the morning: romaine or spring mix?

On the first Sunday, we made breaded, pan-fried Tilapia with roasted red potatoes and salad, which we also made the second week. Thankfully we started to branch out on the third week, and soon no cuisine was left alone. A few highlights from our dinners include sweet potato and potato gnocchi, French onion soup, falafel, homemade ravioli, Thai curries, aloo gobi, carrot and walnut pizza, grilled pizza, Vietnamese bun, all types of pastas, risottos, and polentas, lettuce cups, mushroom bourguignon, and a nearly unheard of quantity of salad.

Stuffed mushrooms, roasted sweet potatoes, and rustic dinner rolls, probably fall of 2008.

In the summers we would explore the berries at the farmer’s markets before bringing home cardboard trays of loganberries, ollalieberries, raspberries, and marionberries to turn into brilliant containers of fuchsia and eggplant-colored sorbets that the four of us would eat together at the table, Aidan’s spoon clattering against the edge of his bowl in a race against melting berry juice.

Chocolate Pots de Crème, winter of 2008.

Above all, I owe so much to my dad for devoting much of his weekend to fold ravioli with the precision of an engineer and the patience of an Italian grandmother. He rescues the burning walnuts that I often neglect on the stove and closes every drawer that, despite my intentions, stays open every time I reach for a spoon or measuring cup. I am so lucky to have a family that shares their love of food with me every single Sunday, and I am going to miss these dinners more than I ever thought I would back when I was ten years old and making our very first Sunday dinner.

Our last Sunday dinner was a good one: Arugula, apple, and feta salad, grilled Portobello mushrooms, Cacio e Pepe spaghetti, and almond-crusted chicken (for the meat eaters). For dessert, two sorbets: one made with blackberries and the other with golden raspberries. It was a bittersweet evening, but I know that the next time I’m back in Palo Alto, Sunday dinner will start again like it never stopped.

 

 

 

 

Fresh Pasta: Malloreddus and Fettuccine

About once or twice a year I get the urge to make fresh pasta. I don’t make it all that often because it’s a pretty involved process and our (very active) family of four can put away a significant amount of pasta, so you really have to be ready to spend a chunk of the day pretending you’re Lidia Bastianich behind your kitchen counter. When I want to take the extra time to roll out fresh pasta, I seize the opportunity, because there is nothing quite like a hot plate of pasta that just minutes ago was rolled out on the countertop. The pasta strands are unbelievably light and tender without being mushy, and the clean wheat flavor really shines through a simple sauce.

There are two main types of pasta dough that Italians make: pasta all’uovo, or fresh pasta dough made with eggs, and pasta fresca di semola di grano duro, or fresh pasta made with semolina flour. A few nights ago for dinner, I made fettuccine from pasta all’uovo and malloreddus from semolina dough. Although the ingredients for the two pasta doughs vary slightly, the mixing and kneading process is quite similar. The steps below are shown using the pasta all’uovo.

The dough can be made either in the food processor or on the countertop with just a fork—the food processor will save you some time and effort, but I almost always use the countertop method because I would rather spend a few extra minutes kneading pasta dough rather than use up precious dishwasher space to clean the food processor.

Start with a mound of flour, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.

Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.

After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.

As a comparison, the photos above show what the semolina dough looks like before and after kneading.

Once the dough has rested, it’s time to roll out the pasta dough. The dough can be rolled with either a rolling pin or a pasta roller, but the pasta roller is so much easier and faster to use than doing it by hand. The dough is cut into portions, then rolled starting on the widest setting to the thinnest setting, with about 3 passes though each numbered setting. The pasta dough is properly rolled when it’s smooth and thin enough that light can pass though it and your hand is clearly visible when placed beneath the pasta sheet.

Once you’ve rolled out the sfoglia, let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes so that it will cut more cleanly into fettuccine. While it’s resting, you can roll out the remaining portions of dough.

Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.

Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce (pictured above is a sautéed garlic and olive oil sauce), and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Now for the semolina dough:

Semolina dough is much sturdier than pasta all’uovo, so I use it to create pastas like cavatelli, or small dumpling shapes like these malloreddus. Malloreddus are originally from Sardinia, and occasionally include saffron in the dough for color and flavor. You can sometimes find them sold as dried pasta, but they can also be made fresh. They’re much less time consuming to shape than any sort of noodle or filled pasta, but they do take a little bit longer to cook. The dough gets rolled into long ropes about half an inch in diameter, then cut into half-inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi.

To give the malloreddus a curved shape and ridged exterior, they’re traditionally rolled on the back of a wicker basket, but a cheese grater is commonly used as well with similar results.

Malloreddus take about eight to nine minutes to cook in the pasta water before they get tossed with sauce (pictured below is a brown-butter and shallot sauce) and served.

Pasta all’uovo for fettuccine

Serves 4

2 cups all-purpose flour

3 large eggs

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the eggs into the cavity, then pierce the yolks with the tines of a fork, and begin gently beating the eggs while slowly incorporating more flour into the beaten eggs.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start rolling the pasta into the sfoglia, or pasta sheets.
  4. Cutting the dough into the fettuccine is the easy part. Either roll the pasta sheets like you would a yoga mat and cut crosswise into strips, or cut it on a fettuccine-sized attachment on a pasta machine. Liberally dust the cut pasta with all-purpose flour, then pile the noodles loosely on a dishcloth dusted with flour while you cut the rest of the pasta.
  5. Thin, fresh pasta like this cooks almost instantly, so it needs just one to two minutes in boiling, salted water before it’s perfectly al dente. Toss it in a simple light sauce like pesto, butter, or a light tomato sauce, and serve the hot pasta immediately with a little parmesan.

Pasta di semola di grano duro for malloreddus

Serves 4

1 lb. semolina flour

200 ml (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) filtered water

  1. Mound the flour on a countertop or large cutting board, then create a deep cavity in the center of the mound with your fist.
  2. Pour the water into the cavity, then use the tines of a fork to slowly beat the water into the semolina flour.
  3. After a few minutes, you’ll end up with a shaggy mass of dough that you can begin kneading with your hands. After 15-25 minutes (or one episode of The Mindy Project), the dough will be smooth, supple, and feel like a dry earlobe. Then it’s time for the dough to rest; it takes at least 30 minutes for the gluten molecules to relax and allow for the dough to hydrate fully, so wrap the dough in plastic wrap, stick it in the fridge, and wait for a bit before you start forming the mallorredus.
  4. Cut the dough into six pieces, then roll each piece into a long, even rope about ½ inch in diameter. Cut the rope into ½ inch pieces, a little smaller than a piece of gnocchi. Roll each piece off the ridged side of a cheese grater (see pictures in the post for more details), then place the malloreddus on a dishcloth dusted with flour.
  5. Cook the malloreddus in boiling salted water for 8-9 minutes, until al dente. Drain and toss with sauce, then serve immediately.

Click here for printable versions of these recipes!

Bake Sale Update

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I would like to thank everyone that came out and supported my bake sale on Tuesday. Because of your generosity, I raised $42 for the Second Harvest Food Bank, which will help provide food for families especially during the summer when school lunch programs are no longer in session.

I hope that everyone enjoyed all of the cookies, desserts, breads, and beverages that they bought and it was very exciting to see how successful the bake sale was. As always, thank you for reading and supporting my blog!

What We Eat When We Eat Alone

A little over a year ago I read the book by Deborah Madison of Greens Restaurant, What We Eat When We Eat Alone. The title says it all, but essentially the book explores what different types of people from all walks of life eat when the only person they have to feed is him or herself. Everyone from the single woman buying a boneless, skinless chicken breast and a bottle of chardonnay to a restaurant cook meticulously searing a pork chop on his night off. Even the classic cereal-for-dinner meal has its variations, as a few paragraphs are allotted to describe how different people decide how much milk to pour on their frosted flakes—some people stop once they can just see the milk around the edges, while others wait until the cereal is fully submerged. There are a few recipes—a tofu curry for one, a grilled cheese, among others—but on the whole it is an interesting narrative that is a fun and fast read.

Seeing what people will decide to eat when they have no other palates to please other than their own is pretty fascinating. Cooking for one has its limitations for sure; you must scale portion sizes appropriately and are sometimes left with a large amount of an obscure ingredient, but I think seeing the result of a meal prepared to precise preferences is one of the best ways to learn about someone’s personality. Some people see solo nights as an opportunity to ramp up the spice on a dish or use an especially pungent cheese. Sometimes it is an opportunity to prepare a favorite meal from childhood that has its roots in a past generation’s home country. Others still will prepare an expensive ingredient—they may not be able to afford black truffles for a family of four, but a few slivers on a single plate of fettuccine is more budget-friendly.

For example, when the rest of my family is off at various evening activities, I often go for one of three choices:

Tofu noodle or brown rice bowls with peanut sauce, because tofu is simple to prepare and rice noodles just have to soak under boiling water for a few minutes. If I don’t have rice noodles, I tap into my stash of cooked brown rice that’s already in the freezer.

Pasta with cauliflower because pasta is simple yet delicious, and I happen to love cauliflower. I rarely bother with the breadcrumbs if it’s just me that’s eating, but with the last few ounces of a box of pasta, some cauliflower, garlic, olive oil, and parmesan I can have a really great meal in just 20 minutes.

Sometimes I warm some pita bread or Afghan bolani to serve with hummus and feta cheese. As a self-proclaimed hummus lover, it’s rare that I go a few days without having some with pita, crackers, or carrot sticks, but the rest of my family is not quite as hummus-crazy as I am, so I save it for nights on my own.

My brother often goes the route of a large quantity of pasta (gnocchi in this instance) with tomato sauce or two grilled cheese sandwiches, sometimes with an Izze in a frosted Batman glass. My mom, on the other hand tends to go the route of eggs and toast. One of my friends will eat oatmeal topped with lots of cinnamon, while another will prepare a steaming hot bowl of udon noodles with broth. Some meals fall squarely in the simple, comfort food camp, but I’ve found they can run the gamut from obscure (fried spam with cottage cheese, or a spaghetti frittata) to elegant (seared rib-eye steaks).

I love hearing what other people eat for their single-serving meals, so you tell me in the comments, what do you eat when you eat alone? I’d love to hear!

2013: A Year of Dinners

I am not really a person to make New Year’s Resolutions, but last January I decided to start a year-long project. I bought a notebook, and resolved to journal every one of our family’s dinners throughout 2013. I saw the idea through the blog Dinner: A Love Story, and I thought it would be a great way to create a year of memories that revolves around one of my favorite subjects. I wish that I could read something similar from every family around the world—food is the ultimate cultural universal, and there is so much that can be learned from other communities simply from what they eat.

Now that I have the completed journal, I love flipping through the journal to take a few minutes to remember the night of my 17th birthday party, where my dad and I cooked peel after peel of hot pizza for my closest group of friends, or the incredible week I spent in France and Spain with my choir (and ate eggplant nearly every day). Paging through the summer months, I recall the frequent barbeques we had with friends from Denmark or England or the weekly pizza dinners that took place along the periphery of our neighborhood pool every Friday night.

It’s fascinating to see the patterns and preferences of our family as well as observe what dishes we fall back on when busy weeknights don’t allow for much time to be spent on dinner. The one thing that never changed from night to night was our daily salad. We are from California after all, and no dinner was complete without a large bowl of greens often augmented by a handful of cheese, maple walnuts, croutons, or apple slices.

A Monday night classic was Spaghetti and Meatballs for the meat-eaters of the family, but we happen to be equal opportunity pasta lovers, so 2013 saw lots of pasta variations and pestos. My favorites were Rigatoni with Mushroom Ragout and Campanelle with Cauliflower and Breadcrumbs.

Pizza was another common dinner this past year, from our Friday night pizza dinners at the pool, to Carrot-Walnut pizzas at home, to incredible brick-oven pizza at restaurants like Apizza Scholls (Portland) and Ragazza (San Francisco).

Speaking of restaurants, I am incredibly lucky to live in an area that has a wide variety of delicious cuisines. We had lots of curry and spring rolls at Indochine, as well as plenty of green salad at Sprout and deep bowls of hummus at Oren’s Hummus.

At home as well we created meals from all around the world. Burritos were a Thursday evening favorite, and I also discovered how simple it is to make an authentic Thai curry at home with a quality curry paste and a can of coconut milk.

Like a typical vegetarian, I also ate my fair share of lentils. They formed the base for lots of healthful, simple meals that came together in minutes, whether it was a basic lentil salad with vegetables or a spicy red lentil daal.

2013 was a great year for food, and I am so glad that I have this collection of memories to keep for the rest of my life. The commitment level was never more than 30 seconds every evening, and I fully intend on continuing the journal for 2014—it’s anyone’s guess as to what it will look like a year from now.

Thank you for supporting Kinsey Cooks over the past seven months and encouraging me to make 2013 one of the most creative and interesting years for me so far. It means so much to me to have such an amazing and dedicated group of readers; I couldn’t do it without all of you.

Holiday Gifts for the Food Enthusiast

At a loss for what to give the chef or foodie in your life? Try a few of these books, gadgets, and homemade treats:

Cookbooks and Food Memoirs

 

The Complete Cook’s Illustrated, by America’s Test Kitchen

This is my go-to book for new recipes or cooking advice. It includes more than a decade of Cook’s Illustrated recipes—making it a great deal compared to paying for ten years of the magazine. The recipes are incredibly precise and thoroughly tested, ensuring that they are always consistent and successful. America’s Test Kitchen develops and tests recipes from a scientific perspective, and the explanations for how the recipes work are incredibly fascinating. Most of the recipes are traditional and made with classic techniques in mind (Potato-Leek Soup, Mushroom Risotto, Chocolate-Chip Cookies), so don’t expect any revolutionary flavor combinations, but do expect great results every time you open this book.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perlman

This cookbook came out just last year, but I know it will be a staple in my kitchen for a long time. The recipes are written with a sense of humor and an awareness for how the average home cook operates (unlike some cookbooks written by restaurant chefs that have recipes completely unsuited for the home kitchen). Every single recipe I’ve tried has been a complete success, and I just wish I had time to make them all. Give this book to anyone who loves food and good stories; maybe if you’re lucky, they’ll give you some Linguine with Cauliflower Pesto or Black Bean Ragout.

A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

Although dotted with recipes, this book by Molly Wizenberg is a memoir rather than a cookbook. It’s a fascinating read covering her background with food through her family, friends, and time spent in France. The recipes are fantastic (the chocolate cake in particular), and they align perfectly with the events in her life. A must read for passionate home chefs.

The Sweet Life in Paris, by David Leibovitz

For those of you who have ever wondered what it’s like to be a pastry chef and cookbook author living in Paris, you must read this book. It’s very humorous take on the inefficiency of Parisians, without being complaint-filled. You don’t have to love food or cooking to appreciate this book, it’s good for anyone in the mood for a laugh.

Kitchen Gadgets

Microplane Zester from Oxo

This small, sharp grater is a culinary workhorse. I use it all the time to grate garlic and ginger, zest citrus, and grate cheese. It’s inexpensive, dish-washer safe, and stays sharp for a long time. Get one for a friend and pick up one for yourself as well—you won’t be disappointed.

Kitchen-Aid Mixer Paddle Attachment “Beater Blade”

As someone who bakes cookies all the time, this mixer attachment make the cookie dough process fast and uncomplicated. It’s like having a spatula in your mixer at all times, eliminating the need to ever scrape down the sides of the bowl. It work on stiff doughs as it decreases the power of the mixer slightly, but it is a game-changer for cookie bakers.

Bench Scraper, From Oxo

What can’t the bench scraper do? I use it almost daily to turn bread, divide doughs, lift pie crusts of the counters, smash garlic cloves, transfer chopped vegetables to hot pans, and clean up sticky work stations. This one by Oxo even have ruler markings on the edge, which is very helpful when rolling out specific sizes of dough.

Kitchen Spider

Ever since I got a kitchen spider (essentially a small colander with a long handle) I rarely use our large pasta colander. It makes it very simple to lift cooked pasta or vegetables out of pots of boiling water, and it’s perfect for more delicate fresh pastas or gnocchis that can’t handle rough treatment. It cuts down on dishes and allows you to blanch mulitiple batches of vegetables or boil many batchs of pasta without pausing.

Homemade Treats

Salted Caramel Sauce

Pour some homemade Salted Caramel Sauce into a jar, and you have the perfect holiday gift. It’s easy and inexpensive to make, and I don’t know anyone who would not be delighted by it. One batch will yield enough sauce for about 5 half-pint jars, which should last you the holiday party circuit.

Bread Mix

I used to give this gift to my mom for Christmas fairly often in elementary school. Simply take a bread or quick-bread recipe and mix together the dry ingredients. Place the mix in a bag, and include the instructions and ingredients to prepare the dough and bake the loaf. This is perfect for anyone who has a bread maker and loves making homemade bread, but doesn’t always have the time to do it.

Maple Candied Walnuts

Quick and easy to put together with pantry ingredients is just what you want for holiday gifts. Make up a big batch of these and hand them out in cellophane gift bags for party favors.

Cherry-Almond Granola

For anyone who’s tired of giving away Christmas cookies, try bags of wholesome granola instead. The combination of dried cherries and almonds makes it a delicious and unique holiday gift.


Homemade Almond Butter


A few months ago, it was brought to my attention that California has a honeybee shortage, which, among other side effects, is bad news for almond orchards. The decrease in the bee population means less fertilization of almond blossoms, which explains the rise in almond prices and lack of almond butter in grocery stores (namely, Trader Joe’s). Having an almond butter shortage is a little frustrating, especially since Trader Joes has affordable and delicious almond butter, but it has given me the chance to perfect my homemade almond butter. As long as you have a powerful food processor, you can make a jar that is blended and flavored according to your preferences, and costs far less than a $15, miniature jar of raw almond butter (no thanks, MaraNatha).

To start, roast 3 cups of raw almonds in a moderate oven until they perfume the whole kitchen. This happens in only a few minutes, so keep an eye on them to avoid burning your almonds. Let them cool until just warm so that they don’t make the almonds too moist when processed, then pour them into the bowl of a food processor.


Process the almonds for three to four minutes, until a rough paste forms. This will create a huge racket, so be sure to warn family members before starting, or make this in an empty house. Scrape down the bowl to redistribute the almonds, and continue to process for another six to eight minutes, scraping down the bowl every few minutes.


After those six-odd minutes are up, you will have something that looks like almond butter, but do not be fooled. It may look spreadable, but you have to process it for at least three more minutes to make it creamy and irresistible.


The above picture is what you ultimately want; the almond butter is creamy and incredibly rich. I like to pour in a little almond extract and a pinch of salt at this point then pulse it for a few seconds, but I’ve included more flavor variations below if you want a little variety.


Transfer the almond butter to an air-tight container, and store it in the fridge. Almond butter is full of vitamin E, magnesium, calcium, zinc, and monounsaturated fats, which together aid in skin health, nerve and muscle function, bone strength, and immune system health, which makes it a perfect snack for the health-conscious individual. Spread it on toast, apples, and crackers, use it to top hot oatmeal, or blend it into a fruit smoothie. You’ll be impressed both by how delicious it is, and how simple it was to make.


Homemade Almond Butter

Makes about 1 ½ cups

3 cups (12 oz.) whole, raw almonds

1/8-1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon almond extract

  1. Spread the almonds on a rimmed baking sheet and preheat the oven to 350F. Roast the almonds for 6-8 minutes until fragrant and lightly toasted, then remove from the oven and let cool for about 30 minutes, until just warm to the touch.
  2. Place the almonds in the bowl of a food processor and process for 2-3 minutes, until a fine meal forms. Scrape down the sides and continue to process for 10-12 more minutes until a very smooth and creamy almond butter is produced, stopping to scrape down the bowl every few minutes. When it has reached the proper consistency, add the salt (1/8 teaspoon for a less salty version, ¼ teaspoon for a more pronounced salt flavor) and the almond extract, then process for another 30-60 seconds until well combined. Scrape the almond butter into an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.

Flavor variations: Stir in these various sweeteners, extracts, and spices into the almond butter after it has been transferred to its storage container. Do not incorporate them using the food processer, as it will negatively impact the texture:

Maple Almond Butter: Add 1 tablespoon maple syrup. (This is my favorite variation.)

Honey Cinnamon Almond Butter: Omit the almond extract, and add ½ teaspoon cinnamon and 1 tablespoon honey.

Gingerbread Almond Butter: Omit the almond extract, and add 1 tablespoon molasses and 1 teaspoon ground ginger.

Chocolate Almond Butter: Add 1 oz. finely grated dark chocolate.

Vanilla-Cardamom Almond Butter: Omit the almond extract, and add 1 teaspoon vanilla and a scant ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom.

Click here for a printable version of this recipe!

Helpful Kitchen Tips and Strategies

Here are some of the shortcuts and strategies that I use almost daily in my kitchen to simplify cooking as well as improve flavor. I hope you find these as helpful as I do.

  1. Wrap a paper towel collar around the jars of sticky liquids like molasses and corn syrup then secure with a rubber band to keep cabinets mess free.


    Before I started doing this, the shelves of my cabinets were covered in sticky rings that made it impossible to safely remove molasses jars from high shelves and made a mess out of all the baking supplies. Now, I just fashion a collar around a new jar and our baking cabinet is cleaner than ever.

  2. Use parchment paper when baking for easy cookie release and even baking.


    Cookies will naturally stick to metal pans due to the sugar, fats, and starches in the dough. Greasing the cookie sheets, however, is not the best way to prevent sticking because the fat makes the cookies spread unevenly and brown faster on some of their edges. Parchment paper lets the cookies bake evenly, have a quick release, and makes clean up easier.

  3. Store natural nut butters upside down in the pantry to facilitate oil mixing when it’s time to open a new jar.

    Anyone else ever find themselves mixing a peanut cement with a sloppy layer of messy oil? Make things easier and let gravity do the work by storing the jars upside down. When a new jar is opened, all it takes is a few stirs around the sides with a knife and the consistency with be ready for a batch of peanut butter cookies or almond blueberry rolls.

  4. Make big batches of grains like rice or quinoa, then freeze extras in single serving containers.

    When you need a quick side dish or have nothing in the fridge for lunch, pull out one of these containers and after a few minutes in the microwave, the texture will be identical to freshly cooked grains. Toss them with some beans, a light vinaigrette, and some chopped vegetables, and you have a nutritious lunch that takes less than five minutes to make.

  5. Freeze parmesan rinds, then add as needed to simmering soups to boost flavor.

    Parmesan rinds are packed full of glutamates, which adds umami (savory) taste to food. Since no one eats the hard rinds anyways, pop them in the freezer and throw an inch-long piece in your next pot of minestrone or bean soup.

  6. Freeze ginger root for easy grating and quick access to fresh ginger.

    Ginger can be a difficult ingredient because it is notoriously hard to grate and I never manage to use the giant piece from the produce bins at one time. By freezing it, the flavor stays fresh and the fibers aren’t as stringy when it comes time to grate the ginger.

  7. Freeze black bananas for future banana bread.

    We always have a few bananas that get neglected and ripen too quickly, so I toss them in the freezer, and when I get enough of them, I pull them out for banana bread. Since they’re overripe, they’re nice and sweet, which makes for delicious bread.

  8. Stock your spice cabinet with widely used spices: cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and dried thyme.

    I consider these to be the most widely used spices. With this collection, you can make food from around the world—Mexico, India, France, South America, Italy, Spain, Greece, North Africa, and much of the Middle East.

  9. Toast all your spices briefly with the aromatics before adding the liquids in a curry or a soup.
    080613_1515_HelpfulKitc9.jpg

    The chemical reactions that release the most flavor in dried spices occur at temperatures over 300 degrees. When you add the spices directly to a boiling pot of liquid, the hottest that the spices can get is 212, which dulls the flavor of the dish. A quick toast with the sautéed onions and garlic greatly increases the flavor and complexity of a dish.
  10. Read recipes carefully to ensure proper measuring.


    One cup of flour (measured before sifting) weighs 4 ½-5 ounces, while one cup of sifted flour (measured after sifting) weighs less than 4 ounces. This can have a huge impact on a baked good, so make sure you recognize what the recipe is asking for.

  11. Add an acid to a dish if it seems like it’s missing something.

    More often than not, a dish that tastes dull is not in need of salt, but the bright notes of a vinegar or citrus juice. Keep a wide variety on hand for multiple cuisines, as they will keep for a long time and can save a flavorless recipe.

  12. Store nuts with high oil contents like walnuts, pecans, and pine nuts in the freezer to keep them fresh.

    Rancid nuts taste bitter, and in the case of pine nuts, can leave you with a bitter taste in your mouth for up to a week. If you buy your nuts in bulk, store them in the freezer, where they will keep for about 4 months, compared to just a few weeks in the pantry.

  13. Mix granulated sugar with molasses in case of brown sugar shortages.

    It happens to me all the time: I’m making my way through a cookie recipe when I realize I don’t have any brown sugar. Rather than go to the store, I mix 1 cup of regular sugar with 2 teaspoons of molasses—problem solved.

  14. Add a handful of chopped herbs to brighten the color of a dish and give it a fresh flavor.

    We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, and if a dish is beige and drab, it’s not going to be as impressive as a bright and vibrant dish. Just a tablespoon of chopped herbs will work wonders on the aesthetics and taste.

  15. Save extra tomato paste in the freezer for constant fresh supply.
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    I don’t know about you, but I rarely use the whole can of tomato paste. Any extras that I have I stick in the freezer, then when I need some, I chop off the desired amount and throw it in the pot. It defrosts easily and the flavor does not suffer when frozen.

  16. Make buttermilk with 1 cup of low-fat milk and 2 teaspoons of either lemon juice or a mild vinegar (white or apple cider).

    I never have buttermilk at home, but milk and lemon juice or vinegar works just as well and doesn’t leave me with 3 cups of buttermilk that I have to find a use for in the coming week.

  17. Offset the smell of cooked cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, brussel sprouts, or kale by melting 1 tablespoons of butter with ½ teaspoon of cinnamon on the stovetop.

    Dark green vegetables are incredibly healthy, but very pungent when cooked. This quick mixture, when heated, helps to fix the aroma of steamed broccoli.

  18. Use a large (1/4 cup) ice cream scoop to make portioning baked goods a quick and easy process.

    A quarter cup measure is the perfect size for scooping out muffin and cupcake batter, and I even use if for cookies. 1 scoop, divided into 4 sections, makes perfectly portioned cookies that are the ideal size for snacks or parties.

  19. Boil spaghetti and toss with minced garlic and olive oil when a kitchen disaster has left you without dinner.
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    Everyone has kitchen flops and disasters, and when that happens, just make this quick Spaghetti with Garlic and Olive Oil. It’s delicious, fast, and easy to make. Everyone needs a backup plan.
  20. Stay far away from any fat-free cookie recipes. It’s a lie. They’re not really cookies.

    Cookies need fat for the proper texture and flavor. If you don’t want to eat fat, don’t make cookies.