Every girl needs some chef hacks you can use at home. After a long day of work, the last activity we all want to do is turn on the burners and concoct something edible from a cacophony of ingredients. Will it turn out well or will it not? I was certainly guilty of throwing a package of frozen dumplings in the microwave to eat with a few scoops of rice after my 9-5.
When I lived with a relative who homecooked all of the meals for her family, it made me realize how important it is to make time to prepare homemade meals. A few benefits being that you control what goes in, you can flavor it to your heart’s content, and you feel a sense of accomplishment. If nothing else, at least you can make healthy dishes to keep microwaveable meals and takeout a bay.
Want to learn how to motivate yourself to serve up a delicious plate for breakfast, lunch or dinner? Read on for some chef hacks you can use at home.
Having the basics is one of the best chef hacks you can use at home. You can have a list of all the recipes to try but if you’re missing a pot and want to make soup, or are handling meats and vegetables but only have one cutting board, then you should prioritize building at least a basic arsenal of kitchen tools and accessories.
Kitchen basics that I recommend are:
Several mixing bowls
At least three types of knives
Kitchen utensils such as turners, tongs, slotted spatula, and a ladle
While you don’t need the most expensive saucepan from All-Clad or twenty different types of knives, invest in versatility first and then upgrade pieces if you find yourself using that same tool many times. For example, my husband and I wanted to grind down fresh herbs as we made pasta every week so we ended up purchasing a mortar and pestle. The next time you cook, you’ll have fewer excuses to start chopping and can get to business!
Most of us have salt and pepper to add flavor and taste to our meals, but spices and herbs can add that extra depth and layer to your meals without you have to throw in extra ingredients.
If possible, purchase a spice rack that comes with spices so you can experiment. Or, if you don’t want an enormous supply of spices, buy two spices or herbs that are polar opposites on the flavor palette from each other, such as sprinkling cardamom in with mustard seed or using a dash of paprika with parsley. Fresh herbs are always best but if you’re not sure what you like, try the dried kind in a glass bottle first.
When I cook a dish I’ve made numerous times before, I sometimes mix things up by adding an herb I’ve never tried before to see if I end up preferring the new flavor. This is how you discover and make dishes your own.
Minus the times you want to treat yourself or your family to eating out (once in a while is no problem), it’s a good idea to use downtime on Sunday afternoon to plan out what you need for groceries and buy the ingredients you need for the next week or two. This will help you focus on what to look for at the grocery store, and will restrict you from mindlessly grabbing various items off of the shelf “in case you need it” (or want to snack later).
As you make note of recipes and what you need, keep in mind that you want to use fresh ones first, making it likely for the first few days that you have leftovers. Use the freshest ingredients with a short expiration date in dishes earlier in the week, such as vegetables or fresh garnishes, as when they are cooked they will last longer. The week then begins with you cooking more elaborate dishes so you feel that sense of achievement as the week progresses. Finish the week off with a dish that is easier or you have made previously.
As you plan your meals, be conscious of the possible, multiple uses of each ingredient. For example, I always have onions because no matter what type of cuisine or savory dish you’re making, it’s usually one of the basic building blocks. They are so easy to stock and you can put them in soups, an oven roast, in curry, in pasta, with steaks, or fry them up as onion rings. Another vegetable that can be used in multiple ways is zucchini, which I have handled similarly to onions.
Finally, try a variety of mushrooms as they can be transformed and cooked in basically every method. Mushrooms are a great substitute for meat as they can be cooked to imitate a “meaty” taste but can also be a great accent. Two of my favorite ways to devour them is roasted with scrambled eggs and melted into creamy fettuccine.
Recently my husband and I found oils from a brand of stores that sells a huge selection of international foods infused with varying garnishes, herbs, and spices. One of the flavored, dipping oils had parmesan and garlic so anytime I was grilling onions and garlic, it would add that toasted aroma and element to the base. These flavored oils are multi-use in the sense that they can be splashed into the pan, waved over potatoes going into the oven, or used as a dressing accent on a lovely bed of salad.
Again, without having to toss in more ingredients, you’re able to enhance the flavor of the natural ingredients.
When I say over and over again, I would say the rule of thumb is to make the same dish at least ten times. You learn not only what works the second or the third time but eventually, you will become an efficient machine cooking up tempura like a pro. As with anything, repetitive practice drives you to make small tweaks such as lowering the temperature or adding more seasoning that you wouldn’t have assumed.
Risotto is one of my favorites when it comes to lunch and dinner and when I used the same recipe over and over, I swapped out the mushrooms for different types or used a different cheese, eventually finding the perfect blend of arborio rice, mushrooms, cheese, onions, and butter to make up this Italian classic. I now create my “perfect” blend risotto after cooking it in the same fashion. Sometimes you have to change recipes if it isn’t working out but just keep at it!
While you might be tempted to make a pot of macaroni and cheese and call it good for dinner, challenge yourself to add a side dish with a taste on the other side of the spectrum. The five basic tastes are salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and savoriness (often called “umami”). Eating salty with sweet actually entices your appetite. The Japanese and Korean dishes I eat consist of a savory main dish with rice and pickled vegetables on the side.
Now you don’t have to go out and buy a tub of kimchi to eat with your next steak but think about what you already have on hand that you could nibble on that is in the other side of the taste spectrum. An example could be roasting peppers for the sweet and sour taste to pair with the steak. Alternating between the sweet, sour, and savory bites will be heavenly.
When I have to fire something up for me plus one, I feel more motivation to pull what hopefully is an edible treat through. Even if it means having to make plans in advance with a friend or having dinner later to physically be able to sit down with your significant other at the table, grilling portobello mushrooms on the stove or baking a potato au gratin in the oven won’t feel like a chore but a bonding activity.
When there is another mouth to feed in the picture, it forces me to try new recipes so we don’t end up eating chips and guacamole every day. You can even chat about the elements and what to test in the kitchen next time. And, at least you’ll have someone to either help you wash up or keep you company when it’s time to clean.
Why have you been holding out on cooking? I hope these tips have inspired you to break out your apron and oven mitts to make a scrumptious mini feast!
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