Synopsis: Presented are some basic tips for the kitchen.
Who: KMs will want to pass this on to residents.
Knife Skills, Safety, etc:
The most dangerous knife in the world is the dull, un-honed knife. A “true” edge stands up straight (you true with a sharpening steel). A leaning, untrue edge is dull in the plane of the cut and requires more force to cut, causing slips and making it more likely it will bounce onto your finger, where it will have no problem finding something to bite into.
Dull knives bounce off of bell peppers and tomatoes especially. Keep a “sharpening steel” on hand and train residents how to hone a blade (they don’t’ actually sharpen, only hone). Hone your knives before every meal.
5 on each side
3 on each side
2 on each side
roughly 20-25 degree angle
A truly dulled knife needs more than a “truing” it needs sharpening. Various local businesses will sharpen your blades for you and its cheap. If your knife, once honed doesn’t cut a tomato at the end of the meal in a satisfactory manner you may need to sharpen that knife.
Never cut on plates, metal, or glass cutting boards! Only cut on wood or poly cutting boards.
Always cut with your fingertips pointed down on even inward. Never raise the blade above the supporting hand in a chop or mince.
Never place a dirty knife into a tub of water with suds or without. Always keep the knife and blade in sight.
Always cut bell peppers with the smooth side down, the inside is easier to catch a burr on, keeping the blade from bouncing.
Basic Cooking Tips
Steaming Vegetables – Steamed vegetables don’t actually have to be steamed, a quick “blanch” in hot water will often suffice. For instance, asparagus, when bright green is usually done enough to be pulled from the hot water, it will continue to cook, unless shocked by cold water. For thicker veggies like brussel sprouts, cutting them into smaller pieces helps the boiling water “steam” method work more thoroughly. This works for carrot, broccoli, cauliflower as well. When actually steaming veggies in bulk, stirring the veggies can help prevent an uneven cooking depth. Either that or invest on a wider steaming unit, the more vertical, the more depth problems. Keep an eye on these, very easy to turn veggies grey. If you want to preserve color with shocking with cold water, try lemon juice. Allow residents to salt to taste.
Stir Fry – Timing is everything. Whether on flat-top or wok, do your meats first and harder veggies, then move up the wok, or over to the side where the heat is lower (turn off a burner on the flat-top). Add progressively the items that take less time to cook and absorb your sauce. Serve immediately, serve as fresh and green as possible. Onions and tomatoes can go last. Chicken can be precooked and set with corn starch, to be seared at the last as well. Bulk thigh meat can be easily cut while still semi-frozen into strips, use a sharp but non valuable knife for this. Do ALL your prep before cooking, including sauce. Serve immediately.
Chicken – frozen chicken breast will never cook as juicy as unfrozen chicken breast. Bone-in and skin-on is also more juicy. Buying fresh is often worth the extra cost. Higher fat content pieces (thigh, legs) can be cooked longer at lower temps for better textures. This is true of all meats. Lean cuts do better with a quick sear and THEN a lower cook through. Use a thermometer and knife to test whether the meat is done. Give it 3-4 minutes to rest after grilling, it will continue to cook during this time. Vegetables can be easily roasted with skin on chicken and seasoned the same way for more flavor, juts set aside veggies to steam for vegetarians, but don’t’ be afraid to season these too.
Pasta – there are many ways to make pasta and serve fresh. Spaghetti can be oiled and cold shocked for colder service under a hot sauce in a separate pot. However, if a pasta is to be mixed with sauce, don’t rinse it with water (just drain and splash on oil). Then return to pot, stir in oil and get the sauce on it ASAP. Clumping pasta when cooking in bulk means you’re not stirring enough, did not oil water, not enough water, and/or are using cheap pasta. Salted water boils faster. Cold shock, rinse orzo, and then oil before making a cold pasta salad. The oils that sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, olives, etc are packages in can be used to great effect. If making a marinara, be aware of water content of any veggies you add, stir frequently to help it reduce, and use low flame, as it burns on bottom easily. For lasagna there is no need to pre-cook noodles. Noodles should be able to cook in sauce and cheese if prepared right and sealed with plastic covered by foil to seal in the water. Buttered pasta tastes 50x better when made the day before and re-heated. Ravioi or pasta cooked in chicken or veggie stock where possible always tastes better.
Sauces – when reducing sauces, keep a true simmer and keep your eye and mind on the sauce. Set a timer if you need to every 3-5 minutes to remind yourself not to forget to check on everything.
Burgers – thaw them before cooking. Have veggie and turkey alternatives. Have fun with garnishment, add sautéed onions, mushroom, bacon, avocado, not the standard fixings tray only.
Seasoning – fresh herbs often have a very different flavor profile , layering need, and strength than dried. Pay attention to the recipe and be aware of potentially overdoing it if you don’t’ have fresh seasoning herbs on hand.
Chiles – wash your hands after handling chilis, under the nails too!
Oil/Zest/Lemon Juice – a decent olive or canola oil can be used for cooking most dishes, but a nicer extra virgin finishing oil can really add fruity zing to a dish. Peanut oil is excellent with baking chicken, lamb, pork, but should be used moderately, it is really bad for you. Sesame oil likewise can be used to really add flavor to Asian dishes (sesame oil, seeds, and soy sauce make an excellent asparagus dish served pre-blanched cold and steeping for a while). Grapeseed oil is really fun for pre-mix salads and is not as heavy as olive oil. Zesting lemons can really add life to a dish. Micopplanes are great tools for zesting. Lemon and lime squeezers are invaluable tools for any kitchen. Lemon Juice is especially great for orzo salad, roast beet salad, fish, chicken, shrimp.
Fruit Salads – citrus juice will keep a fruit salad fresh and un-oxidized longer.
Texture – think your menu through. Most people these days prefer a little crunch to their fruits and veggies. If you’re doing pasta, then keep the broccoli crunchy. If you’re doing broccoli in a casserole with macaroni and cracker crumbs, cook the broccoli through, shock it with cold water and lemon juice to keep color, but let it bake in soft and let the crackers be the crunch. Thin sliced water chestnuts, celery, green onions, red onions, etc can add crunch to a stir fry, pasta salad, or salad. A handful of candied pecans can save a salad that is otherwise bland.
Seasonal foods – pay attention to the veggies, fruits , and dishes you’re envisioning. Heavier cooking goes over better in the winter, fall vegetables can be excellent in fall but leave you wanting when you try in similar weather in the spring. See our list of seasonal vegetables/fruits in the KM resource materials. Be prepared to explain to residents why they can’t have strawberries in the winter, educate them.
Labeling dishes/presentation – fear is bred of ignorance. We eat with our eyes as well as our mouths. Use of color, heat, cold, plate, zest, garnish can help a ton. 1/4 red bell pepper chiffonned on top of any dish adds wonderful color. Think parsley, chard, cilantro, tomatoes, paprika, green onions, sesame seeds (black/white), yellow bell pepper, green beans, egg, etc. Label your dishes, label them with flair but also let folks know if you used allergens like peanuts, milk, cheese, meat. Spaghettini de Boyardee sounds so much better than Spaghetti Os. ;’)
This document researched and written by: