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Die Uppity Cooking Terms!

I don’t know if it bothers you, but it REALLY bothers me when I’m reading a recipe, or a magazine or watching a cooking show and they make food or cooking seem super difficult and elitist. Sure we can’t all make saffron truffle mussels every night easily, but still, this isn’t that complicated if you own the expensive stuff. So I’m on a crusade to expose fancy terms for what they are… I only have a few so far (6 and a half to be exact), but please add to them!

  1. Compound butter – this is just butter with stuff in it rechilled into butter consistency
  2. Julienne – slicing veggies or whatever in slim matchstick like pieces… I’m sure french chefs will say this is a poor explanation, but it’s just about right
  3. Baste – that liquid at the bottom of the pan? Spoon it up on the meat, done. No need for a baster or brush etc. Use a damn teaspoon.
  4. Chiffonade – see Julienne.. just do that with leaves or herbs, same deal. 
  5. Au gratin – ok, I love au gratin stuff. Broccoli au gratin, potatoes au gratin… nom nom. You know why I love it? Because it just means to be topped with cheese and bread crumbs. Seems l pretty obviously delicious, no need for the fancy title
  6. Roux – The most unnecessarily intimidating cooking process of all time. If you want thicker soup or sauce, or a great mac&cheese… do this. Put some butter (melted) or stock in the bottom of a pan. Stir in some flour. Then heat while stirring until it thickens up. TADA you’ve rouxed (not a word, shhh). So easy. 
  7. Ok, really 6.b: Bechamel this is just an extension of a roux, because a bechamel sauce is just roux+milk. Generally you then add cheese so you’ll have a gorgonzola bechamel, for example, but technically it’s just butter, milk and flour, so we cut it out with froufrou stuff. 

Small Kitchen Tips – the Basics

Apologies for the lack of posts… between a finicky photobucket (why are there so many duplicate photos from my phone???) and an inordinately busy work/non-blog life here lately, when I’ve cooked, taking pictures hasn’t been a priority. But I’m having people over on Thursday, so I’m aiming to take some pictures of that lovely dinner.

Until then though — some basic kitchen tips from, and of course my comments 🙂

1. Make your cutting board non-slip. Putting a damp paper towel, damp kitchen towel or piece of non-slip cupboard liner under your cutting board before you start chopping will give you a stable surface to work on safely.

I have never had this problem, but by all means, if you do, fix it immediately before you chop off a finger.

2. Keep your knives sharp. Regular honing will keep sharp knives in good working order. If they aren’t sharp to begin with or are dull even after honing, it’s time to stone them or get them professionally sharpened.

I really need to do this more often, because it makes a HUGE difference! For Christmas the bf gave me a new ceramic knife and it’s been pretty good to me in this regard.

3. Wear an apron. Aprons protect your clothing from burns, food splatters, and even mysterious holes. They also provide a handy way to carry a kitchen towel.

Yes! Wear them. I wear them to cook, do dishes, clean the kitchen… I collect them for fun too. Love aprons. And if you tend to get little holes at the bottom of your shirts…. check this out! I used to ALL THE TIME, and now I know why. Is Your Kitchen Causing Holes In Your Clothing?

4. Wear clogs or other supportive shoes. Comfortable shoes aren’t a necessity when throwing together quick weeknight meals, but for big dinners or weekends when you are spending hours in the kitchen, they save you from back and leg pain, and protect your feet from spills or other accidents.

Supportive is a loose term here for me. But even wearing my molded-to-my-feet Reef flip flops does make a big difference if I’m cooking all day. I prefer to be barefoot, but flip flops are the next best thing. I’m not sure about those Dansko clogs, they just remind me of my college roommate (nurse) going off to work and clomping around loudly. I’ll pass on those thanks.

5. Carry a kitchen towel. Sure, have pretty tea towels hanging on the front of the stove for drying hands, but when there is serious work to be done, grab a plain kitchen towel, tuck it into your apron and use it to wipe up spills, grab hot pans and dry your knife in between rinsings. (Use a separate towel when cooking with raw meat, and keep plenty of clean ones on hand to change out as needed while cooking.)

I didn’t know this really needed to be a tip. I make such a mess it’s automatically what I do. But if you’re a mess maker and haven’t found the glories of a good kitchen towel, do so immediately. From tomato insides (you know, the inside liquidy stuff that makes a big mess when you cut them) to olive oil splatters to the insidious counter water puddles (seriously, where do those come from? Everywhere, that’s where), kitchen towels are your friend. I try to aim to dirty only one for each big meal… but that depends. If I’m making a cake/anything with chocolate & flour… it’s at least 2.

6. Practice mise en place. You don’t need to prep all your ingredients when cooking something simple, but when preparing a complicated recipe or one that comes together very quickly, like a stir-fry, this technique is a necessity.

Chop first, cook second. Chopping isn’t as fun, so just get it out of the way and you’re ready to go. But as I never measure spices etc. that goes w/o prep.

7. Use a “garbage bowl.” Collecting your scraps into a bowl, bucket or bag keeps your counters clear and save trips to the trash can or compost bin, making you a cleaner and more efficient cook.

Sometimes I do this. I try to use the bag I had 1/2 a pepper in, or the mushroom box etc. to collect extras for the disposal… easier than throwing them over my head into the sink, and much less messy (though also less fun… but seriously, don’t try that with an egg shell…. egg hair, ew)

8. Clean as you go. Getting in the habit of clearing counters and washing up as you cook makes cooking a much more efficient and pleasant experience, and makes post-meal clean-up less of a chore.

I never do this. If I’m lucky I remember to wipe rogue cat hair off the counter before using a surface, so it’s beyond me to do it again WHILE cooking. That being said, the kitchen towel helps tame the mess creep.

Do you have any other basics you hold to in your kitchen that you can share? My addition: Taste as you go. You can always correct while cooking — harder to do when it’s on a plate in front of a guest and you realize it’s bland.

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