Cooking Made Easy
Knife Skills – Chopping Mushrooms
Taste it Up!
Don’t suffer with bland, no-flavor foods just because you’re on a certain meal or diet plan. Try some of these combinations for instant flavor. You only need a drizzle of oil and a sprinkle of spice to start “Tasting Up” the flavor:
Eggs and Omelettes: Rosemary Habanero Olive Oil – creole spice and Italian seasoning.
Albacore Tuna: Garlic olive oil – lemon pepper and creole spice
Low-fat cottage cheese: Creole Spice and Herb Grill Seasoning
Grilled chicken breasts: Garlic oil and lemon pepper / Rosemary Habanero oil and creole spice / Italian Herb Olive Oil, Champagne vinegar and herb grill spice /
Steak or hamburgers: Garlic Oil and Grill Spice / Italian Herb Oil and Herb Grill Spice
Seafood: Garlic oil and Blackened Seasoning / Garlic oil and lemon pepper / Italian Herb Oil and Italian Seasoning / Garlic Oil and Herb Grill Spice
Pasta: Italian Herb Olive Oil and Italian seasoning.
Zucchini or squash: Garlic Olive Oil – Creole Spice and Italian seasoning.
I love to cook!
It’s that simple. I’ve been cooking since I was a kid and started my first restaurant job at the age of 16. Since then, I’ve worked every kitchen position from grill to saucier (the guy who makes all the soups and sauces). I’ve opened and managed restaurants for other companies and I’ve owned my own restaurant and catering business. And one thing that has become clear to me over the years is that most people NOT in the restaurant business would like to be able to cook better at home, for their families, at holiday gatherings. But either they’re intimidated or no one ever taught them the basics. The things that all of our grandmothers seemed to know how to do without even thinking about it – Home Cooking – now seems to be almost a lost art.
Well, I’m here to tell you that anyone can cook. Anyone who is really interested can learn and master the steps to cooking delicious meals right away. Now, I’m not talking about learning how to make foie gras or beef Wellington. I’m talking about the basics. Good, home cooking. And the reason I know that is that I learned exactly that way, by practice and following a few hard and fast principles. I wasn’t professionally trained, but I have learned to cook well and now I’m going to show you how. Anyone can cook. I mean it.
Prepare and Plan
No good meal starts without preparation and planning. It is the heart and soul of this program. Having your space organized and knowing what you are doing is absolutely essential to setting up a working, efficient kitchen.
In commercial kitchens, there are several cooks who are dedicated to nothing but preparing food for the next meal. Wouldn’t we all like to have our own prep cook who could do everything from chopping vegetables for soup and sauce preparation, to slicing tomatoes and onions to go on hamburger buns to peeling shrimp for any number of seafood recipes. If a busy restaurant kitchen had to stop to prepare ingredients every time they needed something, they would be lucky to serve handful of meals a night. The truth is that no restaurant can function without it’s prep cooks, they are the first step in the long planning process that it takes to serve hundreds of meals in a few hours.
Now even though you might not be cooking for hundreds, there is no reason that you can’t make kitchen prep a part of your cooking process. It will make everything easier. I promise.
How to Set-up and Efficient Working Kitchen
First, you have to take an inventory of what you have in your kitchen already. Most of us have things in our kitchen that we haven’t used in years and that we don’t plan on using anytime soon. So before you do anything else, take an inventory of your kitchen. That doesn’t mean you have to count every spoon, knife and fork, but you will have to get a general sense of what you have and what you need to add. The items that I do want you to inventory are:
Pots and Pans:
The best place to start is with the pots and pans. Open your cabinets and pull out all of your cookware. Anything that is broken should go in the trash. Do you have a pan that is missing part of the Teflon? We all have had one of those at one time or another. Nothing flakes off faster than cheap Teflon. A good non-stick pan, on the other hand, should have none of those problems. Look at this as your chance to get rid of every useless thing that has been clogging up your kitchen for far too long.
Next, get a piece of paper and write down everything that is still on the counter. How many sauté pans? How many non-stick pans? How many sauce pans? What quart size are they? Do you have a stockpot?
While advertising may try to convince you that you need dozens of kitchen gadgets, cookware and other accessories, most efficient kitchens can get by with only 4-5 absolutely essential pieces of cookware. What is far more important than the quantity of cookware is the quality of cookware, which we will get into later. For the time being, listed below are the basic cookware items that every home kitchen should have:
Sauce Pan with Lid. They can range in size from 1.5 qt to 4 qt, we recommend a 2 or 3 qt version as a good all-around pan for making sauces, soups, vegetables, rice and much more. As your skill improves, you can add more shapes and sizes to better suit your cooking needs.
Fry Pan. The star of every kitchen, the fry pan will get more use than probably any other cookware. It is perfect for fast cooking with olive oil over high heat. The gently curved sides lend themselves to flipping, turning and manipulating foods easily and quickly. Because of the variety of foods you will prepare in your fry pan, we recommend that you have a non-stick and a stainless steel or aluminum pan. If money is an issue and you can only add one to your kitchen right now, choose a good non-stick fry pan like All-Clad. Not only will you use it all the time, but it will last for years to come.
Saute Pan with Lid. The sauté pan is designed for frying, searing and is also suited for preparing sauces and other dishes. The high sides are ideal for holding in liquids during cooking and can make preparing foods much easier.
Casserole or Stockpot with Lid. Casseroles run to about 4qt size while a stockpot might get as large as 8 qt. Ideally, a kitchen would have a variety of these sizes, but in order to keep your costs down, selecting something in the middle of that range might suit all of your needs at this point. Once again, as your cooking skill progresses, you can add pieces to your collection.
As I mentioned before, the quality of the cookware is much more important than the quantity. Equally important is the material. Every material can run the full range of price and quality. Don’t be fooled into thinking that every stainless steel or aluminum pan is the same as any other. Your cookware is an investment. Period. Don’t be put off by a high-quality pot or pan because you will literally be using it for years to come. If it is too expensive to do all at once, take your time and add to your collection gradually. We use All-Clad products in our kitchen exclusively (and no, we’re not getting paid to say that, we really like the product), but there are many other quality manufacturers around so do some shopping and choose a brand that you are comfortable with using.
Copper Cookware – copper makes a very efficient heat conductor. It is usually lined with something else like stainless steel or nickel. It can be very beautiful, but is costly and difficult to maintain because it scratches and oxidizes easily.
Aluminum Cookware – The most popular type of aluminum is hard-anodized, a process that makes the pot a charcoal gray. There are also cast aluminum and pressed aluminum. The main advantages to this cookware is it is light and is dishwasher safe.
Cast Iron – Cast iron cookware is usually coated with some type of enamel. Creuset is a brand of cast iron you may have heard of before. It conducts the heat slowly and it great for browning, stewing, and slow cooking. One thing to remember with cast iron though is that it is usually quite heavy and can be hard for some cooks to work with.
Stainless Steel – Very durable and resistant to denting and scratching. Very often the bottom of stainless steel cookware is lined with copper or aluminum to improve the heat conductivity. It is easy to clean and durable.
Non-Stick – A must for a good fry pan, non-stick cookware is easy to clean and perfect for cooking with less oil and butter.
Each of these types of cookware have their own unique advantages and disadvantages. Shop around and find something that really works with your own personal taste and preference.
Once you have organized your pots and pans and are sure that you have a good variety, the next issue to consider is placement. Ideally, your cookware will be stored directly underneath your cooktop or next to it. We tend to leave our fry pan sitting on top of the stove as we use it so much. It never gets put away and if you are investing in some good quality cookware, it almost becomes a piece of kitchen art. There is no reason not to share it with friends and family.
Cooking Utensils –
This is another area where you might end up with drawers full of broken, unusable utensils when in fact what you need are about a dozen basic tools to handle most projects in the kitchen. We recommend that you get as many of these tools as possible in a non-stick version. In most cases, that would mean purchasing a tool with stainless steel handles and silicon or nylon at the working end. These tools are perfect for any type of cookware and are especially resistant to high heat. You will need:
Slotted spoon - slots or round holes in the curve of the spoon to release liquid
Slotted Spatula – same principle, different shape
Tongs with Lock
Other cooking accessories we like to have within reach–
China Cap – Large, pointed metal strainer that can be lined with filters for very fine straining
Assortment of smaller mesh strainers
Set of Mixing Bowls and spoons
Set of Pyrex baking pans in varying sizes
Non-stick sheet pans – one round and one rectangular
Now, there are literally dozens more utensils and appliances that you could add to this list and you may wish to do so. For our purposes here, this variety of accessories and utensils is sufficient to learning.
You could definitely spend hundreds of dollars outfitting your kitchen with appliances, but just like when talking about pots and pans, the quality is much more important than the quantity. You can do practically everything you need to do with the following three items:
Good Quality Blender
The deep fryer and slow cooker are more a matter of preference and can be put off until later. Your food processor is the most important of these appliances and will be used frequently. If you plan on doing a lot of baking, an electric mixer would be something you might want to consider adding.
Buying the Proper Knives
Just like when you are selecting your cookware, with knives quality is way more important than quantity. Most kitchens can get by with a collection of four basic knives:
Chef’s knife – Includes 8-10 inch blade. The top of the knife is flat and the cutting edge has a deeper curve to it. This curve makes it ideal to handle the gentle rocking that is called for when chopping large quantities of food. More recently, chef’s knives are being made with fanned edges and grooves to prevent sticking. The chef’s knife is the workhorse of your knife collection and you will find yourself using it most of the time.
Boning Knife – smaller than a Chef’s knife, only 5-8 inches, the blade is usually thinner and a little more flexible. This is perfect for cutting tenderloins out of larger pieces of meat or peeling the skin off of fish.
Paring knife – This is the small knife in our collection and should be used for detail work and other small jobs. It can come in a curved or flat blade depending on personal preference and is usually about 4 inches long.
Serrated knife – And finally, the fourth knife to round out our collection is a serated knife or bread knife. This knife is also ideal for cutting things with soft skins like tomatoes or fruit like watermelon.
General Knife Tips
Other important things to remember when working with knives:
- Your knife should be very sharp. More people get cut by a dull knife than a sharp knife. It is just as important as having the right knife for the job.
- You can use a soapstone or a commercial knife sharpener at home, or if you’re intimidate by that, most cities have professional knife sharpeners that will either come to your house or you can travel to them.
- Depending on how rough you are on your knives, you may have to have them sharpened as often as every three months.
- Learn how to use a knife properly. Try to make the least amount of strokes as possible to cut something. When you’re cutting vegetables, for example, cut it into 1/8 to 1/4 inch strips, then turn on its side and cut again to cube. Check out the video on our website that shows you exactly how.
- Keep separate knives, whenever possible, for meat and produce. The easiest way to get sick from food is to cross-contaminate raw meat with other products. If you are unable to keep separate tools, then be sure to wash between meat and everything else or if not practical then cut all your cooked stuffed and produce first and then use the knife to cut your meat.
- When choosing a cutting board, remember that more traditional, wooden cutting boards are much more porous and they can absorb germs much easier. That’s why a lot of people use plastic cutting boards and other kitchen accessories. Either way, make sure you wash it thoroughly between uses, especially when you go from meat to veggies.
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT OIL AND SPICES
There are some people who are not fans of frying and there are many other ways to use olive oil to make foods taste delicious. One is marinating. For example, you can take almost any type of vegetable, brush it with olive oil and spice on both sides and grill it on a broiler or barbecue. When it has reached a deep golden brown, remove it and cover to keep warm. Serve with any grilled meats or other dish. It makes a healthy delicious companion to whatever you are cooking.
Olive Oil Facts
Olive oil is, without a doubt, the healthiest cooking oil on earth. It has been used for thousands of years not only to create delicious meals, but as a major staple of a healthy diet. Here are just a few of the health benefits of olive oil:
According to recent studies conducted by the FDA, consuming at least 2 tablespoons of olive oil per day may reduce your risk of heart disease.
- What makes olive oil so beneficial for heart health is that no other naturally produced oil has as large an amount of monounsaturated fat, up to 80%, as olive oil.
- Olive oil is totally cholesterol free. It can lower harmful LDL cholesterol and raise the beneficial HDL cholesterol
- Olive oil is rich in vitamins including A, B-1, B-2, C, D, E, K and iron.
- Medical studies have indicated that olive oil may help reduce your risk of colon and other cancer.
- Olive oil has proved helpful in helping ulcers and gastritis.
- -Virgin olive oil is the least processed form of olive oil and contains the highest levels of polyphenols, a powerful antioxidant that helps discourage artery clogging and chronic disease.
And while many people are familiar with olive oil as part of Italian cooking, it can also be used for many other types of cuisine including frying, salads and dips, omelettes and more.
Everything You Need to Know About Olive Oil
Only Buy Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
Extra-Virgin olive oil is the first cold pressing of the olives. It is considered the least processed, most healthy and most desirable type of olive oil. Extra-Virgin olive oil contains more antioxidants and a minimal acidity level and, most experts will agree, has a subtle, very mild flavor that is good for cooking, dipping, salads and more.
Unlike many other flavored oils, which use lower-quality oil or canola / olive oil combinations. I only use extra-virgin olive oil.
Can I cook with Olive Oil?
Yes. The smoke point of olive oil is 375 – 400 degrees farenheit and does not degrade as quickly as some other oils. Like most other cooking oils, as long as you don’t let it boil, it is perfect for sautéing and deep-frying, Olive oil can also be used for baking, we recommend buying a pure Extra-Virgin variety and substitute it for butter in your next recipe.
I’ve heard olive oil can break down and become unhealthy when heated?
Highly monounsaturated fats like Extra Virgin olive oil actually hold up very well to the oxidation and hydrogenation that occur when oils are repeatedly heated as is done in commercial kitchens. Most restaurants and commercial operations do not use olive oil because it is too expensive, not because it is inferior for deep-frying or cooking. Either way, this would never be an issue for someone cooking at home.
Does Olive Oil “Go Bad”?
Olive oil can turn rancid after an extended period of time. We recommend keeping your olive oil no longer than 6 months. Keep it in a cool, dark place and tightly sealed and it will stay fresh longer. You can tell if oil is rancid because it will have a stale smell to it and a noticeable aftertaste in the mouth.
The Secret is in the Spice… and Oils, Marinades and Easy Techniques that you can apply to everything you make.
Believe me, I understand where you’re coming from. I know it sounds almost too good to be true.
You want to learn to cook really delicious, healthy meals without having to spend a pile of money or hours of your time to do it.
You want cooking to be easy, fast and actually fun to do without messing up your diet plan.
You want to see the look on everyone’s faces when they taste what you’ve made for them and they like it.
But most of the people I’ve talked to either don’t really know how to cook or they just don’t have the time to do it. The stuff they watch on TV about cooking is too complicated or takes too long.
And they end up getting really frustrated. They end up with the same dishes all the time. They have a hard time finding meals that taste good, are healthy and are easy to make.
Well, the most important thing I’ve learned along the way is that cooking well is mostly about learning to use spices, oils and marinades the right way. In other words, once you have the right flavor down, the rest is pretty simple.
When I used to run a restaurant, I came up with my own Chef’s blend that I used as an overall seasoning in most of my dishes. I developed a line of gourmet-infused olive oils that I used to sautee and cook a lot of the foods I was preparing day to day. You see, I was looking for a way to make delicious meals easier and faster for my customers and friends.
I never really planned on doing anything with that spice outside of my restaurant. I mean, I was busy enough taking care of my business. But then some of my customers started asking for take-home samples of my spice blends. And my sister-in-law wanted to know if I was going to send her some of my Tuscan Garlic extra-virgin olive oil to use for Christmas.
People were using them in their kitchens to cook, sautee and season everything. It got to where I had to do something with my oils and spices because people just kept asking.
So I put together some recipes that showed people how to use those spices, oils and marinades to make their cooking a lot more flavorful and delicious without sacrificing their health to rich sauces and a lot of saturated fat.
And what started with just a handful of items turned into literally dozens of spices and oils and tons of recipes and techniques
Storing Herbs & Spices
Herbs and spices have a huge impact on the taste and aroma of food, so use your instinct when selecting the spices you are going to use on a daily basis. Fresh herbs should smell pungent. They shouldn’t be wilted, have brown spots or mold, or feel slimy. Fresh spices like ginger or garlic should feel plump and firm. We only use elephant garlic, the larger cloves that pack way more flavor than more traditional garlic. Make sure that it doesn’t have any soft areas or other blemishes.
Dried herbs and spices are trickier to evaluate because they’re usually in sealed containers. Shop in stores with a high turnover, and check expiration dates. Avoid dusty bottles and ground spices that appear clumped. If possible, buy whole spices and grind them yourself. And think twice about buying in large quantities, unless you’re sure you’ll use the herb or spice within six months.
Once they’re cut from their plant, fresh herbs have a short shelf life.
Maximize their freshness by wrapping the stems in a damp paper towel, and placing the herbs in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Most will keep for at least a few days. Spices like garlic and ginger can be kept at cool room temperature.
Dried herbs and spices do not have an indefinite shelf life. For optimal flavor, use within six months to a year after opening.
Keep them out of sunlight
Do not store them above your stove or cooktop
Don’t shake your spices directly into the pot, instead sprinkle them into a bowl or other container and sprinkle into the recipe as you need them.
Ten Spices Every Kitchen Should Have
Basil: One of our favorite spices to use in Mediterranean cooking, it has a sweet herbal bouquet. We love it n pasta dishes or as a topping for salads like caprese. It blends well with garlic, thyme and oregano. It can also be crumbled over chicken or fish dishes.
Bay Leaves: Bay leaves are pungent and have a sharp, bitter taste. They are a must in soups and stews, adding a great flavor when you are cooking, but be sure to remove before eating!
Cilantro: Used a lot in Mexican cooking. Adds a fresh, citrus flavor to dips, salsas, beans and more. Mix with stir fry vegetables or as a topping for chili, tacos or enchiladas.
Cumin: Also a must for Mexican cooking. This ospice is one of the staples in our Taco Seasoning Mix that can be used for tacos and fajitas.
Curry Powder: Is perfect for Indian and a lot of Asian dishes. Makes a great complement for our flavored rice dishes or use as a marinade for chicken or vegetables.
Garlic: What can be said about garlic? We use it in so many of our recipes, it is a staple of many different ethnic varieties of cooking. You can purchase the whole garlic cloves and peel and cut those to use in sauté dishes, stews or sauces, or buy it minced or powdered.
Ginger: Ginger has a slightly hot and biting flavor. It has a rich aroma that is sweet and warm. We use ginger a lot for marinades because it can give meats such a delicious flavor. Is also a staple in a lot of Asian cooking.
Oregano: Another staple for Mediterranean cooking. It makes a great topping to dishes made with cheese and red sauce like pizzas and pasta dishes.
An herb from the mint family, rosemary has a tealike aroma and a sweet, minty flavor. It is one of our favorite spices to use in marinades and oils like our Rosemary Habanero Olive Oil and as a staple in our spice blends. It is also great for potatoes and vegetable dishes, with chicken, meats and fish dishes.
Thyme is another spice that makes a great marinade for beef, chicken and seafood dishes. It can be used in stuffing, on pizzas, in spaghetti sauces or with any combination of marjoram, basil, oregano, sage, rosemary or garlic.
How Eating Spices May Help You Live Longer
People have been using certain foods and spices for their medicinal value for thousands of years. As far back as the Egyptian, Roman and Greek periods, people relied on spices and foods to help cure their diseases and ailments.
Just recently, the Chicago Tribune reported that the US Department of Agriculture found that spices may have, measure for measure, more anti-oxidant compounds than fruits or vegetables. Consuming anti-oxidants may help prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes and heart disease.
Some spices are known for their individual traits:
Cinammon: Can lower blood sugar, Triglycerides, LDL, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes.
Turmeric: Contains curcumin which can inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Rosemary: Stops gene mutations that could lead to cancer and may help prevent damage to the blood vessels that can raise the risk of heart attack.
Garlic: Destroys cancer cells and may disrupt the metabolism of tumor cells.
Paprika, Cayenne and Red Chili Peppers: Contains capsaicin, whose anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects may lower the risk of cancer.
Ginger: Can decrease motion sickness and nausea. May also relieve pain and swelling associated with arthritis.