I could spend the rest of my life watching cooking shows and be happy. Ina Garten is a little too fancy for me, and Guy Fieri is a little too trashy, but somewhere in the middle is a perfect mix of classic cooking with a down-home spin, and since I've been cooking since I could reach the fridge and pantry, I've got some solid tips down. Here, in no certain order, are my tips/rules/suggestions for making everything taste better.
- If a recipe calls for mayo, use Duke's. Hellman's will do in a pinch, but the tangy, creamy consistency you're looking for isn't gonna be found in any other brand. If you sub in miracle whip, the only people eating it should be your sad friends who are on a diet. You only live once. Don't use crappy mayonnaise.
- Need a good barbecue sauce? SWEET BABY RAY'S. If you're in Iowa, stop by and grab some Bubba-Q, which is just as fantastic, but not quite as easy to find. If you're making your own, don't skip the liquid smoke. You need it. Seriously. Texas is all about BBQ, and the sauce is all about that smoke.
- If a recipe calls for grated cheese, ESPECIALLY if it is being melted, GRATE THAT STUFF YOURSELF. Pre-grated, in-a-bag cheese is coated in that awful flour crap to keep it from sticking together, which keeps it from melting correctly and makes it taste a little funky. I am not a fan. Do yourself a favor and put in the extra work, I promise you, it's worth it.
- There are two kinds of people in the world: Those you use diced tomatoes in their homemade pasta sauce, and those who actually know how to make pasta sauce. Tomato paste and WHOLE PEELED TOMATOES ONLY, PLEASE. No shame in buying that in a can, mind you, just don't make your sauce look like a sad salsa. Italian food is not Mexican food.
- Speaking of Mexican food... mozzarella and queso fresco are not the same thing. Never forget that. Neither is sour cream and Mexican crema. Wonder why your at-home version is never as good as the restaurant's? That is why. Use the right thing.
- Whenever you can, substitute broth for water when boiling ingredients. Couscous? Chicken broth. Rice? Chicken or beef broth. Potatoes? Beef or veggie broth. Even noodles do well in broth, and it adds flavor like you wouldn't believe. Yes, it's more expensive (because water is free), but if you're making a meal for other people, it's definitely worth it.
- Similarly, good frozen drinks and smoothies are blended with juice or tea, not water. Calories are not the end of the world, people. Bad-tasting drinks are.
- When making fried chicken, YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO BRINE IT. The best brine calls for buttermilk. Don't trust those shady people who use regular or 2%. Also, when coating your chicken post-brine, do it dirty like we do in the South: Put your coating in a big brown bag, toss in the chicken, roll the top closed, and shake what your mama gave ya. It works much better than flipping it around in a shallow plate of flour, and it also allows you to "exercise" a little while you're cooking, so the enormous amount of calories is slightly lessened.
- This is coming up soon in a post, but here me now: Scrambled eggs require butter and milk. ALWAYS. ALL OF THE TIME. Butter the pan, crack in the eggs, pour in the milk, whisk to combine, and about a minute before the eggs are done, turn off the heat and let them finish cooking in the pan. Don't salt and pepper until you're ready to serve, because it breaks down the egg and makes it dry and crumbly. The way I just taught you gives you perfect, fluffy, delicious eggs every time, and people will notice.
- If you're making a cheese sauce, you need a base. Making a roux with flour and butter is a good start, but you're going to be sorely disappointed if you try and turn that into a creamy, thick sauce and your only other ingredients are shredded cheese and milk. Bring on the heavy cream, and if at all possible, toss in cream cheese. Velveeta works too, and don't sit there and tell me how bad that is. Outback Steakhouse uses Velveeta in their sauce, and I could live off of that macaroni. And again, grate the real cheese yourself. Trust me on this.
- Invest in a garlic press. There are a million and one ways to crack and mince garlic, but none are as easy or as uniformly perfect as a good garlic press, and you'll use it so often that you'll wonder how you ever did without it.
- Same with a food processor. It's a staple in any good kitchen, and these days, a lot of recipes call for one. You can only chop and stir so much on your own.
- If it can be made in a microwave or the oven don't be a wimp. Make it in the oven. Only in dire emergencies should you resort to baking in a microwave. Microwave taquitos are disgusting. Bake that shiz.
- Risotto and grits recipes are not kidding, at all, when they say "keep stirring". It's a huge pain in the butt, but the consistency just doesn't work without that extra love, and you'll regret it when you sit down to eat. A lot of sauces are the same way. When in doubt, stir it out.
- Salting your water before it boils doesn't actually do much, but it also doesn't hurt. Go wherever your heart leads.
- When seasoning beef, chicken, lamb, pork, or other meat that used to walk around, season both sides. You'll look like a janky chef if you only do one, because when all is said and done and you cut into a piece, one side will be kickin' while the other is bland, and that is no bueno. Both sides, even if it's just salt and pepper. You'll thank me later.
- With fish, slow your roll. You usually only need to season one side if it's filleted, and even if it isn't, it soaks through much more quickly than in any other meat. Overseasoning your fish is like overcooking it. Gross.
- Garlic salt is not the same as regular table salt. Duh. But did you know that Himalayan Pink salt isn't the same as table salt? And subbing it will make your dish taste markedly different? Don't sub in recipes unless you absolutely have to. Similarly, don't use regular salt on top of garlic salt, or any other seasoning that contains salt (check the container) unless the recipe directly calls for it, because you'll end up with some sodium overload that bites. My mom always taught me that it was rude to salt your food after someone lovingly prepared it for you, but some people are picky buttholes who like to ruin there meals. Let them do it on their own. Don't over salt.
- When barbecuing any meat, it will taste 100% better if you marinate it in Dr. Pepper. I know that sounds absurd, but I swear, it's true. Or you can add DP to whatever marinade you like.
- The old 'poke test' is tried and true for all cakes. If you don't have a broom you feel like pulling a piece from, break off an uncooked spaghetti noodle and stick it in your cake. If it comes out clean, you're done baking. If not, back in the oven you go.
- When cooking any type of gourd (pumpkin, squash, etc.), place it cut-side-down. Example: Cut a butternut squash in half, drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper lightly, then place the flat side down (skin pointed up... I don't know how to be more clear about that) on a lined baking sheet and pop it in. This creates a natural flow of heat that doesn't overcook the outside or undercook the inside, and makes everything more fragrant and delicious. This counts double when you're making squash spaghetti, because it's really hard to drag a fork through tough squash.
- Anchovies are disgusting, but Caesar dressing is delicious. Just because you hate an ingredient doesn't mean you'll hate the outcome, and if you sub, it's gonna taste wrong. Honestly, just don't sub anything, ever, unless you have to. I get that you're trying to be skinnier, or healthier, or lazier, but in the end, eating is an experience that you should enjoy. Have smaller portions, or spend additional time walking, or shake that bag of chicken and flour like it's going out of style, but PLEASE don't sub ingredients unless you're SURE that it works or the recipe allows it. Seriously.
- Deck out your spice rack. Man cannot live by salt and pepper alone. "When am I gonna use cayenne pepper?", you may ask. "I'm a white woman in the suburbs with picky children!". You'll use it if you know what's good for you. I put it in my mac and cheese sauce, and even the teeny amount I toss in makes a world of difference. Lawry's Seasoning Salt is great, but it's not an all-inclusive pass to skip stocking your cabinets. Make sure you've always got cajun seasoning, too.
I'm sure I'll be updating this at some point, because I'm nit-picky and bossy, and I know how to cook. Keep checking the site, because recipes are about to start going up, and you won't wanna miss them, if only for the food-porn glory that recipe photographs entail.