More Tips for a Happier Kitchen, Pt. I

During my adventures in the kitchen, I discover various tips and shortcuts — usually by accident — that make my cooking easier or more effective. I could probably do a whole blog just on handy cooking tips, except that’s not really my thing and I’m sure someone else is already doing a good job of it.

Applewood smoked bacon from the clearance aisle

For now, here are some recent epiphanies that I hope will benefit your cooking, too!

Flavor & the Passing of Time
I was preparing an Italian roasted green pepper salad the other day when I was reminded of a simple truth in cooking. That often, when ingredients are allowed to sit idly integrating together, the flavors meld and the sum is greater than the individual components.

This is true of many of the world’s great dishes. When I make Bolognese sauce, it’s really good the day I make it. The next day it’s better. Two days later, it’s sublime. Same with gumbo, chili, minestrone.

The Clearance Section at Your Grocery Store
My grocery store has several “clearance” sections — usually where they put things that are near or have reached their expiration dates. (Expiration dates, by the way, are not the same as “food gone rancid” dates. They are merely “sell by” dates, and most food is good well past its expiration date.)

One section is the “sausage/bacon” clearance. I often find bacon, which can be quite expensive, at 75% off. I buy it, and put it in the freezer. I usually have 4 or 5 packages of bacon in the freezer. In this area, I also find cured sausages such as kielbasa or andouille, which I also freeze for future borschts and gumbos, respectively. Sometimes they’ve got great deals on premium hot dogs for kids or parties.

My freezer is pretty full.

Another good clearance area is the meat section — note: beef that has reached its expiration date is BETTER than beef that hasn’t!! You want your beef aged, practically breaking down if possible. It will be more tender and flavorful.

In the clearance section of the Japanese market, I can sometimes find my favorite ponzu sauce for $4 a bottle instead of $15!

A few things NOT to buy in the clearance section: bread, fruit, seafood, poultry, dairy.

Beurre Manié
Tired of lumpy gravies, soups and sauces? Massage together equal parts butter and flour — I usually do 1 tbsp. of each — into a smooth paste. Then, stir the beurre manié into whatever you want to thicken. As an added benefit, the butter adds a lovely silky richness.

Scissors for Cutting Meat
I bought some Hawaiian barbecue the other day, and needed to portion up a long strip of Korean-style flank short ribs, as well as some flattened grilled chicken thigh. Rather than putting the meat on a cutting board and turning to a knife, I picked up the meat in my left hand and deftly snipped it up with my kitchen shears — much easier, less mess and oddly satisfying. Works wonderfully for larger, flatter cuts of meat such as skirt steak.

Stop Stirring that Risotto So Much!
You’ll find the process of making risotto much easier and happier once you realize that you don’t have to stand there for 20 minutes stirring. If you stir it once or twice each time you add liquid, you’ll achieve the exact same wonderful result. And your wrist won’t hurt afterward.

Any great tips of your own to share?

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17 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Benjamin J Thompson (@ThompsonBenjami)
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 18:11:31

    You’re from Cali so you don’t suffer from lack of produce but in other parts of the country where we don’t live in Shangri La, tomatoes are good for about 5 minutes every year. A good tip for that is to buy grape tomatoes the rest of the year when tomatoes are not in season and/or roast tomatoes before using them in recipes, including salads where a roasted-room temperature tomato is definitely better than an out of season tasteless tomato.

    Reply

    • scolgin
      Jan 25, 2013 @ 18:17:11

      That is an excellent tip Ben, thanks! I think another good tip is to remember to preserve some of those seasonal things when they’re at their peak. On the flip side of tomatoes, I have a food dehydrator that I use to dry wild mushrooms while they’re around, so I can enjoy them in June!

      Reply

  2. andrea@andreacleall.com
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 18:39:54

    Things worked for the best. Bruce got sick so we’ll just dash home. See you soon again I hope. oxo

    Original Message:

    Reply

  3. heather
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 20:46:21

    When you Massage the ingredients together – it makes everything happier.

    Reply

  4. Lisa Gaskin
    Jan 25, 2013 @ 23:57:27

    The butter and flour….softened butter? Not melted?

    Reply

  5. Michelle
    Jan 26, 2013 @ 04:08:45

    Good tips all! I use a beurre manié all the time. And, yeah, it seems the scissors are always in the sink ready to be washed, so I guess I use that idea too. I will have to try your risotto tip. I think the stirring issue is why I so seldom make it.

    Reply

  6. Jessamine in PDX
    Jan 26, 2013 @ 20:12:13

    Double yes to the scissors — I use my shears constantly!

    Reply

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