Category — SECRET CHEF TIPS

{recipe} Overnight Cinnamon Rolls

This was one of the most popular recipes on my old site, but I haven’t made it in years so I thought they deserved another go. Now I’m wondering: what took me so long? They are just fantastic.

cinnamon roll

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June 3, 2013   No Comments

{recipe} Broiled Halibut with Chermoula (Plus a Few Tips About Cooking Fish in the Oven)

We’re experiencing record high temperatures here in the Bay Area, which makes me want to eat light, bright dinners like this broiled halibut with chermoula. Chermoula is a versatile North African condiment made with toasted spices, cilantro, and parsley, and it goes beautifully with fish.

broiled fish with chermoula

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April 29, 2013   No Comments

{old cooks’ tales} Allow Me to Debunk 10 Common Food and Cooking Myths Using Science, Facts, & Common Sense

There are so many nonsensical myths about food and cooking that people trot out, and I’m not going to lie: they make me a little grumpy. They are awful and they are persistent and they need to stop.  I reached my limit this week when I saw a viral Pinterest post about how to tell whether a bell pepper was male or female.

grumpy peppers

Once I was done shaking my head at the sheer inanity of it all, I decided to arm myself with (some) science and facts and a liberal dose of common sense to explain why some of these common food tropes are as mythological as unicorns, leprechauns, or free parking in San Francisco.

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April 25, 2013   7 Comments

{top tip} Getting Accurate Candy Temperatures Without A Thermometer

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

You’re all set with a fudge, caramel, penuche, or candy recipe, and as you read the directions more closely you learn you need a candy thermometer. But it’s Thanksgiving/Christmas Day/post-apocalypse so there is no way you’re getting one today! What to do? Don’t fret: you don’t need a candy thermometer to get accurate temperatures, just a little know-how and a bowl of ice water.

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November 22, 2011   16 Comments

{top tips} Chef-Tested Methods & Scientific Facts for Perfect Mashed Potatoes

To me, mashed potatoes are like a blank canvas. They can be creamy and pillowy or rich and silky. They can be chunky or smooth. They can have green stuff in them. But most importantly, they can be really really really good or just so blah and boring that they’re not worth the calories.

I always make mashed potatoes a little differently, so I’m not here to share a specific recipe – but rather a group of the most important scientific potato facts and chef tips gleaned from years of experimentation and experience. Armed with this knowledge, you will never need a recipe to make fabulous mashed potatoes under any circumstances.

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November 16, 2011   14 Comments

{top tip} Loose Tea in A French Press

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

A lot of the tea I like comes in loose form only, so I’m always fiddling around with it. I absolutely loathe that kitchen drawer with all the tea balls in it. It’s such a messy and inelegant way to make loose tea. Recently I had a flash of memory and remembered that one of the fancy restaurants I interned at served loose tea in a French press. Brilliant! No more mess, just a perfect cup every time. I’m drinking from one RIGHT NOW.

April 19, 2011   20 Comments

{top tip} Make Your Own Buttermilk on the Fly

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

One morning you want to make buttermilk pancakes, so you buy a quart of buttermilk (the smallest size available) and then use the 1/2 cup your recipe calls for. Flash forward a month or two and you find a funky smelling carton in the back of your fridge that contains exactly 1 quart minus 1/2 cup of skanky old buttermilk. Does this sound familiar to you? No problem. Unless you are a total purist and insist on only the finest buttermilk, you can make your own buttermilk in whatever quantity you need for a recipe. Just mix lemon juice (or vinegar) with any type of milk–nonfat, lowfat, or whole–and wait 5 to 10 minutes for the acid to curdle the milk.

Here is a guide for what proportions to use:

  • 1/3 cup milk + 1 teaspoon lemon
  • 1/2 cup milk + 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon
  • 1 cup milk + 1 Tablespoon lemon

April 12, 2011   2 Comments

{top tip} Guess What? I Use Pam

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

There, I said it. I use Pam, and I LOVE it.

Pam

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m impure because I use Pam and that all my baked goods must taste funny and that if I were a REAL chef I would never use such a horrific product. But the ugly truth is that cooking spray is one of the most useful things in a restaurant kitchen. At the range of places I have cooked, from the medium-low end to the very very very high end, there have been industrial-sized aerosol cans of cooking spray all over the place, and they get used all the time.

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April 5, 2011   2 Comments

{top tip} Starchy Water for Better Sauces

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Every Italian nonna worth her salt will tell you to save your pasta water! Before serving, add a splash of the pasta water to the sauce simmering on the stove and cook, stirring, to combine and heat through. Then toss it with the pasta. The starch in the water will make the sauce a bit creamier and help it hold on to the pasta. If it looks watery and gross when you first add it to the sauce, don’t worry–just keep cooking it and it will get incorporated into your sauce. You don’t need much, anywhere from a couple of tablespoons to half a cup!

This also works very well if you’re making gravy and potatoes in the same meal. Use part water and part potato water for a creamier gravy that needs less flour.

March 29, 2011   1 Comment

{top tip} Steam Your Way to Crustier Homemade Bread

In my home kitchen, I use a lot of shortcuts and tricks gleaned from my checkered pants past. From time to time I will pull one out of my toque and share it with you! If you have questions or requests, leave them in the comments and I’ll tackle them in a future post.

Have you ever tried making bread at home and found that it didn’t come out with a nice crust? What you need is some STEAM in your oven. Commercial bread ovens have steam injectors to get the crust brown and crisp. You only need steam on the loaf for the first 10-15 minutes of baking. There are a couple of ways to get the steam in your home oven for a better crust:

  • Moderately Dangerous But Pretty Darn Effective Way: When you turn on the oven to preheat it, put a metal pan (like a 9×13 pan) in the bottom of the oven. When the oven is preheated, put the loaf pan on a rack and pour boiling water into the hot metal pan. This will make a big amount of steam really quickly, so close the oven door so it stays inside and don’t open for at least 10 minutes. Steam burns are very painful, so be reeeeeally careful to position yourself as far away from the pan as possible when you add the water.
  • Lazy Way That Works But Not Quite As Well: Throw a couple of ice cubes in the bottom of the preheated oven as you place your loaf pan on the oven rack.

March 22, 2011   2 Comments