I have been cooking for a long time, in professional spaces as well as personal ones, and I find that some of the tricks of the trade really come in handy at home. some of these are super obvious, and some are super simple, but friends are often surprised when I mention them. so, from my kitchen to yours, here are a few of the things that I've learned.
1. do your dishes as you go
cooking is such a pleasure for me, and sharing food with people that I love is a joy, but there is NOTHING worse than finishing a meal and then having to get up from the table to do dishes. my solution is to clean as I go, which is absolutely essential in a professional kitchen. space is usually pretty limited, and there are often multiple projects in process at any given time, so you have to clean your pots and pans and cutting boards, etc. as you finish with them. the downside of this is that sometimes it feels as though you are always doing dishes; the upside is that by the time dinner is ready, all of the pots and pans are clean, and you only have the plates and dishware from the meal to contend with.
2. label everything that you put into your fridge or freezer
sure, we've all put something into a tupperware container and popped it into the fridge thinking, I'll totally remember what that is when I go to eat it tomorrow. but then tomorrow comes, and you end up eating lunch out, and by the time you find that tupperware at the back of the fridge, who knows how long it's been in there, or what food item is languishing inside. every professional kitchen has a roll of masking tape and a sharpie right by the walk-in, and when you make a sauce or filling and refrigerate it, you write what it is, and the date on a piece of masking tape and put it on the outside of the container in plain sight.
I've heard about some restaurants where ripping the tape incorrectly can get someone fired, which seems a little absurd to me, but at any rate, labeling the stuff that goes into the fridge is super easy. I think it also acts as a reminder on some subconscious level, so that you're more likely to use what's in that tupperware, so it helps to prevent waste as well.
3. designate savory and sweet utensils
this might sound a little bit nutty, but I keep separate utensils for sweet and savory cooking. when I worked at the bakery, we would write SWEET or SAVORY on the handle of the spatula or spoon, to ensure that it was used in the right kind of dish. it prevents stirring your beautiful french custard with a wooden spoon that you used last night to make ratatouille. why go through all of that work preparing your custard only to contaminate it with a garlic-infused tool?
4. read the whole recipe the whole way through before you start
this is probably the closest thing to a golden rule in cooking. I am not the only person to advocate it, but it bears repeating: before you start cooking, you should read the recipe all the way through before you start. now, don't get me wrong, I have forgotten to do this myself. I get carried away with the idea of throwing together some brownies, and don't realize that I used the last of the chocolate earlier in the week. by being mindful and reading through the recipe, you'll avoid being caught off guard if a component needs chilling, or if there's an ingredient you need to pick up.
5. make hay while the sun shines
what I mean in this case is to use your downtime in the kitchen to plan ahead and prep, as you're able. at the bakery, I used to arrive very early in the morning to bake off the morning pastries for our coffee shop. even though we made everything from scratch, I didn't want to be starting from scratch at 5am, so I would prep our scone and muffin mixes in advance.
you may not need to make hundreds of pastries each week, but spending a few minutes prepping a muffin mix from pantry staples while you're already simmering soup means that you have the components ready for muffins any time you want them. It's like having a box mix that's made from scratch! I've included the how-to for this, along with my favorite muffin recipe below.
blueberry muffins (and mix)
when we were baking off muffins every morning, I would spend 30 minutes, once a week, prepping dry and wet mixes for the entire week. at home, I usually just make up one or two, but I'll sometimes throw together a few extra mixes as the holidays creep closer, as there's always a reason to indulge in a treat.
this recipe is infinitely variable: change up the fruit, add a little almond extract, or a pinch of cinnamon. I happened to have extra crumb topping on hand, so I sprinkled that on top for a little extra flair.
1 1/2 cups lightly packed brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries (if frozen, don't thaw them)
crumb topping (optional)
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cardamon
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into 1/4 inch chunks
method to assemble the muffin mix components
- place all of the wet ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.
- pour the wet ingredients into a mason jar or old yogurt container with tight-fitting lid. you need a container that will hold about 5 cups of liquid.
- label the container with the date and "muffin wet mix"
- refrigerate until needed. this will keep in the refrigerator about a week or so.
- take a gallon-sized ziploc bag and roll the sides down a little.
- place all of the dry ingredients in the ziploc bag
- roll the sides back up and seal.
- label the bag with the date and "muffin dry mix." this will keep in the cupboard indefinitely.
- if making crumb topping: combine all of the ingredients except the butter in a medium bowl. whisk to combine.
- using a pastry cutter, blend in the butter until the mixture clumps together in your hand, and there are nubbles of butter throughout.
- pour the crumb topping to an old yogurt container or mason jar, label it with the date and "crumb topping" and refrigerate. this should last in the fridge up to 3 weeks.
method for baking from the mix
- preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. line a muffin tin with paper muffin cups, or grease with baking spray.
- pour the dry ingredients from the bag into a large bowl.
- add the fresh or frozen fruit to the dry ingredients and toss to coat them in the mixture.
- make a well in the center of this mixture.
- use a rubber spatula to remix the wet ingredients, as the brown sugar may have settled to the bottom during its time in the refrigerator.
- pour these wet ingredients into the well of the dry ingredients.
- very gently fold the wet mixture into the dry. some people advocate using no more than ten folds. I say be very gentle, and don't worry if the batter is a little lumpy.
- spoon the batter into the lined muffin tin. only fill each well about 2/3 of the way full.
- if you are using crumb topping, add it now, gently pressing it into the top of each muffin.
- place the muffin pan on a rimmed baking sheet and place the sheet in the preheated oven.
- bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 8 minutes. reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and continue baking about 10 more minutes. the muffins will be lightly domed and golden brown around the edges.
- let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, and then remove them to a wire cooling rack to finish cooling.
- repeat with the rest of the batter.
- if you don't want to eat all of the muffins on the day of baking, you can freeze them: just wait for them to cool completely, then in groups of two or four, wrap the muffins in at least two layers of plastic wrap. I label the wrapped muffins with the flavor and date, then pop them into a ziploc bag for an additional layer of protection. I freeze them, and then during the week I'll remove a few from the freezer as I'm making dinner, as a treat for breakfast the following morning.
yield: this mix makes about 18 regular size muffins.