These are some of Havilah’s best cooking tips and hints she’s acquired from years of cooking. Enjoy!
Cooling Rack over a rimmed cookie sheet
One of my all-time favorite kitchen “hacks” is to put a cooling rack over a rimmed cookie sheet for everything for quick defrosting, breading shake-off, grease drip-off, baking for crispy and so on. It’s a super simple trick and almost everyone has a cookie rack that fits in or over a rimmed cookie rack.
Defrosting – I am horrible about remembering to get the frozen protein out of the freezer the night before I need to use it. Inevitably I am pulling it out the morning of the meal I plan to use it for. And if you buy from any larger retailer the packaging can impede that thawing process even more. Putting it over a cookie sheet out of the package allows the air to circulate around all of it, keeps it out of any liquid that accumulates while thawing and speeds the whole process up. It’s super easy to clean up once it’s thawed and ready to use.
Breading “shake-off” – you are adding flour and or a breading coating to something you want to bake or fry. I use this trick every time, it allows the excess coating to fall off in a contained place that is easy to clean up when done. It also helps keep the coating on all sides from getting to damp from the meat or vegetable it is on. Best part is if you are baking it you can pop it right in the oven from there.
Grease Drip off – If you are frying you can put it back on afterward to drain verses a paper towel. Both sides will stay crispier as they drip off verse sit in it on a paper towel. And if you haven’t notice there is a theme emerging – it’s easy to clean up
“Fried” baked food – when you are using your oven to give the appearance of a fried food, keeping the bottom crispy and not soggy can be a challenge, most particularly with fish. I place my breaded protein or veggies on the cookie rack over the cookie sheet and get evenly crispy pieces each time.
Kitchen tool essentials
You don’t have to have a huge kitchen or expensive pots and pans or even awesome gadgets to be a successful home cook. There are however some essentials that you will need in every kitchen to make meal prep easier and more enjoyable. Here is my list of must haves.
· Rimmed Cookie Sheets – one of the best and most essential tools to have in your kitchen. Rimmed cookie sheets are great for so many cooking and baking tasks. Having the rim allows you to use them for anything that may drip, leak, run, or drop in the oven bottom. I love the double walled heavy-duty ones of stainless steel. They transfer heat evenly and they clean well.
· Tongs – I own 6 pairs of these in varying sizes and shapes. Tongs are great for nearly everything. They are my go to 8 out of 10 times when I am cooking. And then the serving applications are just endless.
· Wooden/bamboo spoons & scrapers – if you have no other serving or cooking spoons you should have at least one wooden/bamboo mixing spoon and one wooden/bamboo scraper (that’s the flat spoon with an edge to it). These are very inexpensive and can be purchased in sets at all grocery stores, department stores, or discount retailers. Do not put them in the dishwasher, these do need to be hand washed.
· Silicone flipping spatula – I have tried all kinds of non-stick safe spatulas and the only one I have found that does not deteriorate quickly with regular use are the silicone ones. They don’t break down with heat. If you use non-stick of any kind you need one of these.
· Rubber/Silicone scraping spatulas – these are a must…and you need them a variety of sizes and shapes. They are useful for everything and help you to waste less. You can find very affordable ones in sets most places kitchen items are sold. You don’t need to spend a lot of money on them because they will get worn (even the expensive fancy ones) with regular use. You will replace them many times over your lifetime of cooking.
· Wood/Bamboo and Plastic Cutting boards – I like to have both Wooden/bamboo and plastic, but NO glass. Wood/Bamboo are the easiest on your knives and will not dull or take the edge off. However plastic cutting boards are necessary for things like meat and stinky veggies (onions, garlic, and the like). These can go in the dishwasher. Plastic ones you will need to replace as they start to get cut up (which will happen) to eliminate places for bacteria to get trapped. Do not use glass – they are very slippery, dull your knives quickly and will break (shatter) if dropped or if something is dropped on them.
· An expensive chef knife and 2 good paring knives – sharp knives are very important, and an expensive knife will hold its edge better making it safer to cut with. Sharp knives are much safer for cutting then dull knives. You can control a sharp knife and will have less mis-cuts with a sharp knife. They are worth investing in and will last a long time. Plus, high quality knives resharpen easily.
· Pots and Pans – Well clearly everyone needs these to cook, but which ones really matter? Non-stick are important because sometimes you need the ease of use they provide. However, I would not spend lots of money on them as the finish ALWAYS comes off no matter how expensive. They are semi-disposable. The ceramic and stone ones are a little longer lasting but they are not as good at non-stick as the more traditional non-stick are. I try to avoid Teflon as well.
- 8” non stick pan – perfect for eggs.
- 12” non-stick pan – this is a universally necessary size.
- 10” cast iron skillet – cast iron is one of my favorites and if seasoned correctly be almost as good as a non-stick. They last forever when well cared for and they are extremely versatile in what and how you cook with them. Stove top, bake, broil, grill, it does it all.
- 12 to 14” cast iron skillet – for all the reasons above and because having a really big pan is great for doing single pan meals…it fits everything.
- 12” heavy bottomed stainless steel skillet (not non-stick) – this pan you can cook everything in, but you must use some sort of oil or grease to keep things from burning or severely sticking. This pan is where you cook when you want that brown bits on the bottom to make sauce or gravy with, you won’t get that in a non-stick pan. This too is very versatile in where you can cook with it.
- Small sauce with lid – 1 quart to 2.5 quarts is great. If you are only getting one, get 2.5 quarts pan, it will be your most versatile. I use non-stick because it makes cooking oatmeal or other sticky grains or sauces easier to get out and to clean up.
- Mid-sized sauce pan with lid – 5 to 6 quarts. These are great for pasta, particularly long or large pasta. Heavy pots are better, especially if you are using non-stick. The heavier the pot the longer it lasts.
- Dutch Oven – this is a ceramic covered cast iron pot and is the go to for large soup batches, braising, or frying. It’s deep, heats evenly, and cleans up easily. You can make bread in them as well. They are a great universal pot. You will probably know these a the Le Creosote brand, though there are many others out there.
- Large stock pot is 10 to 12+ quarts – Heavy is better but this would be the one pot I would say a heavy aluminum is okay. This is for making large batches of stock, lobster, I use mine to brine ribs in. It’s big, so it’s more of a nice to have only if you have storage for it.
These I have in a variety of sizes. Listed here are the ones I use the most often. For most baking dishes I prefer glass or ceramic, please note you can not put glass or ceramic on the cook top with heat. They will explode.
- 11 x 7.5 baking dish
- 11 x 8.5 baking dish
- 13 x 9.5 baking dish
- 9” deep ceramic pie pan
- 8 x 8 OR a 9 x 9 square pan, these are usually metal and can be non-stick. This is also known as a brownie pan. Most mixes call for an 8 x 8 pan.
- Bread pan – I prefer a heavy-duty metal to ceramic on this unless you are making crusty (risen) bread. I have two metal ones, one for meat loaf and one for breads.
- One dozen muffin tin – heavy-duty metal for this one too. Heats better, and the heavier it is the longer it will last.
Mixing bowls – I have multiple set; however, if you chose just one (which is more then enough) I would select a high quality ceramic group that nests and is attractive to look at. You can use them as mixing bowls or serving bowls. They are easy to store because they only take up as much space at the largest one.
Large shallow stainless-steel bowl – this is a VERY large bowl and it’s one of my favorites. It is easy to mis things in, it holds a lot of volume and it makes caring it easier. This is less a serving bowl (unless you are making a large batch of popcorn) then a work bowl and they are best in stainless steel. They are lighter in weight and easy to handle.