Just as I was getting ready to Spring forward—dreaming of alfresco lunches, planting
my tomatoes and getting a good dose of vitamin D—winter knocked back on my kitchen door in full force. Tonight I’m slow-cooking my go to veal stew, Guinness carbonnade, while making the last, hopefully, roaring fire of the season, then I’m finally updating my longtime neglected blog.
As we all know April showers bring May flowers, when the rain finally goes away,
we will all need a good dose of fresh, and some crunch on our table. Out they go the hot broths, the toasty cheesy sandwiches with the forever stewed tomatoes soups, in they come the beautiful iron and vitamins loaded green salads, the sweet plump strawberries and dare I dream,
the chin dripping juicy cherries.
In preparation for the farmer markets to burst with nature bounty, I’m sharing some of the stratagems I learned while working for years in the kitchen, to help you prepare quick and sunshine filled meals. You can read more of them in the article, written by the very talented Michael Catarevas, in the April issue of Ct Magazine, but since it’s raining outside I thought I would give you a preview here and save you from a bad hair day.
- Choose Local And In Season Ingredients
Locally grown foods always better taste, fresher, longer lasting and more nutritious. I like to cook using seasonal ingredients not only because they are healthier for you and better for the environment, but also because I get stronger, bolder flavors in my dishes. For example, I use peaches and melons in summer, then chestnuts, cabbage, potatoes and citrus in fall and winter, and asparagus, cherries, strawberry in spring. At the end of winter I get excited for snap peas and peppery radishes!
- Learn To Prep Ahead
I learned to plan and prep ahead at Cordon Bleu and working in professional kitchen. Prepping is probably the most valuable skill one can acquire when it comes to cooking. I wash and chop all my vegetables, herbs and most ingredients in advance. I think about recipes and what I will cook for the week on Sunday, I make a list of what I will need and I shop on Monday. I load the freezer with all I can prep ahead and cook in bulk. Dishes like soups, meatballs, stews, grilled vegetables are perfect for week-nights meals.
- Keep Your Pantry Stocked
Keeping your pantry stocked it’s like insurance and money in the bank. You can make a meal anytime in less than 20 minutes by shopping in your cupboards. This is a basic list of what I have in my pantry:
Extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Red wine vinegar
Balsamic or sherry vinegar
Rice vinegar (unseasoned)
Flour: all purpose, 00, whole wheat or pastry
Cream of tartar
Cocoa powder (unsweetened)
Chocolate: chips or bar
Pure vanilla extract
Rice and Grains
Long-grain white rice
Grains: bulgur, quinoa, couscous or farro
Pasta: standard, whole grain, rice noodles or egg noodles
Breadcrumbs: plain or panko
Snacks and Cereals
Cookies or biscuits
Dried fruit: raisins, apricots or cherries
Seeds: sunflower, flax, chia or hemp
Peanut butter or almond butter
Old-fashioned rolled oats
Beans: cannellini, navy, chickpeas or black
Vegetables: hominy, corn or green beans
Olives or capers
Chiles: chipotles in adobo or pickled jalapenos
Roasted red peppers
Anchovy fillets or paste
- Keep Your Working Space Organized and Clean
Clean as you go. Really. In the end you wont have a pile of dirty pots and pans in your sink.
- Know and Master 10 Basic Recipes
Have 10 or even 20 recipes you can make with your eyes close and with out cooking books. Master a couple of pasta dishes, some salads and sides. Think about what you have available at home and transform it in to a pantry dinner. Imagine you are on Chopped and you only have 30 minutes. Have fun, No Stress.
- Don’t Start A Lengthy And Difficult Recipe If You Don’t Have Time
Keep it simple. If you only have 30 minutes don’t start cooking something overly complicated like a Baked Alaska. Leave the blow-torch in the drawer and instead go for a simple dish. For example I love baked apples. I learned to make them from my Italian mother in law Betta. They are delicious and beautiful! It’s what I love to do, simple a chic cooking. The recipe is below.
- Don’t Cook Hungry or Angry
Cooking should be relaxing. I believe cooking is like therapy, actually I think it’s better than Prozac. If you cook in a bad mood your food will taste bitter and sad. Didn’t you see ‘Like water for Chocolate”?
- Have Fun, Explore
Be a little adventurous. Explore new ingredients, taste new flavors, educate your palate. The more you learn and taste the better it gets. I always look for ingredient I’m not familiar with and challenge my self. I love shopping at Indian stores or in Chinatown and scare my kids with weird dishes. It keeps them on their toes.
- Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes. You Can Always Order Pizza
We all make mistakes. Don’t feel bad, don’t get discouraged. If you cook a meal and things go bad, hang up the apron, pick up the phone and order a pizza then open a nice bottle of wine. Try your recipe again another time and give yourself an A for trying.
- Enlist Help From Family And Friends
Put anybody you know at work in the kitchen. Kids can help and they should, so can your friends and family. Give them chores. Delegate. Form a family prep crew and be the head chef.