Posts tagged ‘Cooking Basics’

May 31, 2014

Mise En Place

As I was making our Saturday morning eggs today, I got to thinking about learning to cook. More specifically, about what I think may be one of the most important things to learn in cooking, something that can take you from being a novice, to being a great cook. Three words: Mise En Place. All mise en place means is “to put in place.” In other words, gather and prepare everything you need. Have you ever started in on a recipe to get part way through and realize you needed to marinate something first or maybe peel the potatoes or maybe you are missing a key ingredient. So now you are stuck hurrying to clean them while you hope whatever you have in the pan doesn’t burn. By prepping ahead of time, you can be much more efficient. Why do you think cooking shows make things look so easy? When you have done all the tedious work ahead of time, you can make any recipe look easy!

I realized this morning that this is something I do now for things as simple as scrambled eggs. It has become a natural step for me. When you have a complicated recipe like beef bourguignon, or an elaborate layer cake, it makes sense to gather all your ingredients, but for eggs? Well, if you have all of your veggies chopped, garlic minced, eggs beaten, when you heat your pan, all you have to do is throw things in. You won’t be running to the fridge (or the store) to grab one more thing you desperately need. I even set up my kitchen in a way that some of my mise en place is always accessible. Things like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and spices are always close at hand so I can grab them whenever I need them.

This concept also translates really well to prepping for your week. Remember when we talked about menu planning? I often go one step further and prep parts of my dinner recipes for the week. For example, I might slice and marinate my beef for stir fry, cook chicken ahead to throw in salad or tacos, blanch green beans. It is a way of putting parts of your mise en place together before you even need it, making you weeknight cooking much easier! I know when I walk in the door after a long day; I can usually still find a way to pull together a great meal when all I have to do is finish everything. If I don’t prep ahead there is a good chance I will just be grabbing take out on the way home.

Mary has always done this, especially when we know we need to make a bunch of things at once. You can always lay out dry ingredients separate from wet ingredients ahead of time and come back to them later. This is just one more way to make cooking much easier!

Do you have shortcuts that help you in the kitchen?






November 14, 2011

Chicken Stock

So you made your Roast Chicken, now what? Chicken stock of course! As I mentioned, we make roast chicken regularly and one of the biggest benefits is homemade stock. While there are some good options out there now for canned stock, nothing beats homemade. It really is a simple process with simple ingredients and really worth the time and effort. We use stock in everything, especially soups and sauces. When you keep some on hand in the freezer, you always have the start of a quick meal on hand. It is also a great way to clean out the fridge: you can use all kinds of vegetables, herbs and aromatics to flavor your stock. Don’t be afraid to experiment with flavors; just know that different ingredients can change the color of the stock as well as the flavor. My great grandmother’s secret addition was a few cloves stuck into the onions, just a little something special. This is a good basic stock recipe that I fall back on; it always produces a good flavorful stock.

P.S. Don’t forget when you are done with your Thanksgiving turkey to save the carcass for turkey stock. Turkey soup is one of the best parts of Thanksgiving after all!


Chicken Stock


1 roast chicken carcass

1 large onion, quartered

4 carrots, cut in 1/2

4 ribs celery, cut in 1/2

Small bouquet fresh herbs including thyme, parsley, etc.

2 bay leaves

Tablespoon whole black peppercorns

2-4 cloves, stuck in the onion pieces

2 whole cloves garlic

2 gallons cold water

Place chicken, vegetables, and herbs and spices in 12-quart stockpot. Cover with cold water so the chicken and vegetables are submerged.

Cook on high heat until you begin to see bubbles break through the surface of the liquid. Turn heat down to medium low so that stock maintains low, gentle simmer. Skim the scum from the stock with a spoon a couple times for the first hour of cooking and as needed each hour for the next 2 hours. Add hot water as needed to keep bones and vegetables submerged. Simmer uncovered for 3-5 hours until you have a rich colored stock.

Strain stock through a fine mesh strainer into another large stockpot or heatproof container discarding the solids.

Allow to cool then place in refrigerator overnight. Remove solidified fat from surface of liquid and store in container with lid in refrigerator for 2 to 3 days or in freezer for up to 3 months. Bring to a boil before use.

P.P.S. If you don’t have an already roasted chicken, you can buy some chicken bones and pieces and roast them with a little olive oil at 450° for 30-40 minutes before making your stock.

November 12, 2011

Roast Chicken

Roast chicken is one of those wonderful comfort foods and is a staple item that every cook should perfect as part of their arsenal. It creates the building blocks for so many other things that we make. During the fall and winter months, we make this on a nearly weekly basis. It is a great Sunday night meal with leftovers for the week. Plus, we always make chicken stock to use during the week or freeze for later…more on that soon. Sometimes we will throw in a couple extra breasts on the bone if we have a lot planned for the week. We don’t always buy organic for this, but we do always look for a good natural roaster which, according to our butcher, will give you more meat than if you bought two smaller fryers. We usually go to Whole Foods as they seem to have the best consistency and quality in our area. It does cost a bit more than if you go to Costco and buy a roasted chicken, but I do feel like you get more out of roasting at home. It really is amazing how much better a good chicken tastes (and smells!) and how much it effects every dish you make with the ingredients. We used to just buy roasted chickens from the store and the difference is night and day. If you are wanting to get a lot done while making one mess, you can make two chickens and freeze the extra meat and stock. (If you are freezing the meat, try freezing it in some of the stock to keep some of the integrity.) We get 3-4 meals out of each chicken between the initial meal, leftovers, and 1-2 soup meals. Once you get the hang of it, this is something you can easily throw in while you are doing other things.

Mary & Kelly

Simple Roast Chicken

1 4-5 lb Natural Roaster

2-3 T Olive oil or butter

Bell’s Poultry Seasoning

Salt & Pepper

Herb Bouquet

1 Lemon

1 Onion

2-3 Carrots

2-3 Ribs Celery

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Rinse chicken inside and out, and then pat dry. This is important for a crisp skin. Baste with melted butter or olive oil. Season with Salt, Pepper and sprinkle with Bell’s poultry seasoning. Got this tip from Martha Stewart and I have to agree that it’s a great product. You can get it at Whole Foods or via mail order.

Stuff the cavity with fresh herbs, parsley, rosemary, whatever you have on hand. I’d also cut an onion and lemon to add to the cavity. If the chicken isn’t trussed, tuck the wings behind themselves and tie the legs together with string. I used to not do this but it really does make it look better and cook more evenly.

If you have a V-rack you can put the chicken on the rack with some celery, onions and carrots under it. I usually use a jelly roll pan or a large skillet and put the veggies under the chicken to hold it off the pan.

Put the chicken in the oven and turn oven down to 450.

Turn on the timer for 1 hour 15 minutes. A lot of recipes tell you to either put the chicken in breast down or turn it over later or to turn it every 15 minutes. Personally, I can’t be bothered with that. Maybe it helps keep it moist, but…I think if it’s upside down it makes the breast look ugly, even if you turn it later. I think fresh cooked chicken, especially if it is a good quality chicken tastes so much better than what we are used to, it doesn’t matter.

Turn the pan around halfway through. When your timer rings, take the temp in the thigh, it should register 175°. Another way to check is to wiggle the leg. It should wiggle pretty easily. And if you poke a knife in the thigh, the juices should run clear and not look bloody.

Allow to rest 10 minutes before carving.


August 8, 2011

Basics: Peeling Tomatoes

Every once in a while we want to include some basic cooking skills; just in case you don’t already know. Some recent recipe recently called for peeled tomatoes and I thought I would share the technique. Why bother? Well sometimes you don’t want to chomp on the skin; like in a delicate salad, a refined bruschetta or silky tomato sauce. The technique: bring a pot of water to a boil. I like to take the core out first using a strawberry huller. I think it makes it easier to peel. Drop the hulled tomatoes in the boiling water for 10-30 seconds, depending on how thick the skin is.

You will see the skin begin to split. Pull out with a slotted spoon and immediately put in ice water or under cold dripping faucet.

The skin should easily come off in your hands.

Then you need to decide if you need the seeds or don’t want them. If you don’t want them, cut the tomatoes in half and slip your fingers under the seed packet and pull it out. If there is a pale vein in the middle take that out too. So you should be left with a filet of tomato. Then chop coarsely or proceed with whatever your purpose is. Bruschetta with basil, garlic and olive oil is hard to beat! This is also great on grilled pizza; look out for that later this week!!


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