There are so many little things that make the difference between the success or failure of a dish, or its elevation from just okay to really superb. They bear repeating, if I’ve mentioned them in previous blog posts:
- The best baked potatoes – lightly coat your Idaho baking potatoes with a little olive oil and then rub all over with Kosher salt. Bake at 425 for an hour, rub off the excess salt with a double thickness of paper towels, squeeze gently and score down the middle with a fork. Add your dressing of choice – mine is sour cream blended with S&P and a bit of horseradish. The potato skin will be crisp, the interior moist. Never ever bake a potato in foil unless you’re burning brush in your yard and choose to roast a potato on a tree branch. The foil will steam it. Blech.
- Reduce your sauces. Whether it’s a stew or a braise, do not be tempted to thicken a sauce with cornstarch or flour. Simply remove the solids, add a bit of honey and butter, and turn the heat up to medium high to reduce your sauce to a glossy and flavor-filled reduction. Note – this does not pertain to gravy, where your turkey will require a gravy made with a roux base to achieve oohs and aahs.
- Never buy bottled salad dressing. Period. Same goes for cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. Making your own is far superior, takes no time, and is totally under your control. Rule of thumb for any vinaigrette – oil to vinegar ratio is 3:1.
- Use panko whenever a recipe calls for breadcrumbs. Less absorption of cooking fat, crunchier outcome.
- Never waste the lemon rind. Grated lemon zest should be added to just about any recipe requiring lemon juice. A little bit goes a long way – so flavorful. To discard a lemon having used only its juice is wasting so much of its essence.
- Butterfly a whole chicken for roasting – lay it atop a bed of thickly cut onions, carrots, celery, and whole garlic cloves. Do whatever else you do with your chicken recipe, but reduce the cooking time to about an hour at 425 for a 4-lb bird. It cooks faster, the juices flavor your vegetables, and it cuts up nicely with poultry shears. Adding white wine or vermouth along the way doesn’t hurt either.
- Grill your sandwiches with a schmeer of Hellman’s Light mayo on the bread – skip the butter. Really flavorful, and much better for you. And if you’re grilling a ham & cheese or turkey & cheese, sandwich the sliced cold cuts between a slice of cheese on each side. Obviously this helps melt the cheese much better.
- Lightly brush your steaks with either Kitchen Bouquet or Gravy Master before seasoning and grilling. Really kicks up the flavor, helps develop a nice crusty exterior.
- Buy your herbs & spices in bulk, especially those you use most often. Kept in your cupboard in foil bags (Frontier brand), they will stay fresh for a couple of years.
- Never use dried parsley or cilantro. Self explanatory.
- Marinade recipes usually call for twice as much as you’d need. Cut back by half.
- Make your stews with chuck, not round. Round is dry and flavorless, lacking the marbling of fat that add tenderness and flavor…
- …and buy your chuck as a whole roast – cut it into chunks the way you like it, not like puny pieces of cat food (Julia’s expression, not mine).
- Balsamic vinegar is nice in any recipe calling for red wine vinegar. And a reduction boiled down with a bit of brown sugar is lovely drizzled over salad that’s been lightly tossed with EVOO, S&P.
- Grate or shred your own cheese – especially if you have a food processor or high-powered blender (for grating). More economical, the whole chunks stay fresher longer until you need to use them grated or shredded in a recipe, and the flavor difference is worth bit of the effort.