On my most recent roundtrip drive from Cincinnati to Chicago and back, I decided to indulge in a book on tape/CD this time around. I was supposed to read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell while studying in Florence, but I hope you agree there were far more valuable ways to spend my time in Italy. I’m glad I gave Gladwell another shot, because I like what he’s on to. The book applies a good deal of real life, pop culture-induced situations and uses them as case studies, explaining social catalysts in our world today. What makes something “tip”? Within the book, Gladwell refers to connectors, mavens and salespeople– influential people have different skill sets and qualities, which he categorizes into these three buckets. Personally, I pegged myself as a connector. I cannot help but introduce people who have so much in common (not in a Yenta kind of way) and one of my favorite things in life is when my “worlds collide.” I successfully accomplished introducing my different groups of friends one New Years Eve and it turned out to be fabulous. Unfortunately, George Costanza did not have the same experience.
However, I’m prefacing this post for two reasons: a) read/listen at leisure to the book if you haven’t already and b) I am switching from my connector role to a kitchen maven. In honor of a certain friend who recently packed her bags, headed Northeast for the Big Apple and defaults to sandwiches for dinner– this goes out to you. Acting as your trusted foodie expert for the time being, allow me to share some simple and serious insight from a dabbling cook.
The Book of Ruth All good things begin when you get yourself a cookbook. Any cookbook will do the trick, though I prefer one with tips and notes and colorful pictures. My guilty pleasure was buying Ruth Reichl’s Gourmet Cookbook, solely out of desire. It is classic and glorious and has an in-depth index that makes life easy. Mark Bittman is another great recommendation; How To Cook Everything lives up to its title. You can find recipes online, but there’s something nostalgic about using a cookbook to guide you. It will also serve as a great reference for your cooking future.
Contextual Segregation Simple: wash your veggies. When it comes to meat, chicken, fish and beans, separate but equal applies. Keep those proteins separate and you and your body will thank you. There is a reason everything comes packaged separately at the grocery store, so until everything is thoroughly prepared and the bacteria has been cooked off, err on the side of caution and clean the area well.
Two Spoon Rule 1. You will need to taste your food throughout the process of cooking. 2. Just because you’re not in a restaurant does not give you the right to use the same utensil to taste. You must have more than one- use them all if necessary. They’re easy to wash! Double dipping is not allowed.Your hungry friends who randomly stop by because they can smell your culinary creations down the block will thank you.
The freezer is your friend Lots of recipes yield multiple servings, so you might be deterred to make something that would feed a small army. However, freezing meals is so easy and completely worth it. You can also pat yourself on the back when you use or save fresh produce, instead of letting it turn into a fuzz ball in the back corner of your fridge. We’ve all been there. Don’t O.D. on the same meal for a week straight- mix it up, freeze a few different meals and thank yourself later.
Size matters I am the worst when it comes to estimating. I have trained myself to go for the larger option when it comes to cutting boards, skillets, pots and pans in order to avoid mass chaos. Life is much more enjoyable when your water is not boiling over, your pasta is not on fire and onions are not scattered across the counter. When faced with the choice, go big or go home.
Ninja Knife Skills You don’t need them. You do, however, need a great knife. One that requires sharpening or at least did not come alongside a spoon and fork. The knife should be bigger than whatever you’re cutting, for the most part. When dicing, chopping, mincing or cutting anything, make sure you’re consistent. When slicing an onion, make sure you’re slicing evenly. When you use the ingredient in a dish, it will cook evenly.
Crack is whack I adore the built-in grinders attached to salt and pepper shakers. However, the steam from the stove will clog your grinder and create lots of issues down the road. Unless you’re into mushy or uneven cracked salt and pepper, grind away from the stove before you season the dish.
Don’t be a vino victim One of the most important lessons I learned in Italy is the wine you cook with should be just as good as the wine you drink. From stove to table, you should use wine that you would enjoy by the glass. Luckily, we are inundated with great wine at reasonable prices. Don’t skimp on the alcohol- you’ve only got one body. Put the best in it. My grandpa always said that; words to live by.