The only list you’ll need in the kitchen

21 October 2013

When I was living in my teensy-tiny Soho apartment a couple of years ago, I received a letter from Con Edison (the electricity and gas company) stating an error when attempting to read my gas meter. They needed to send someone over to manually check the meter seeing that for the last three months the meter was reading “zero.”  The meter-reading-man shows up, opens the cupboard to a meter reading of zero.  He gets to work.  I stand and watch. He asks a few routine questions, scratching his head, not being able to figure out the problem. He is fiddling with stove, flicking on the gas, seeing that it works, he opens the oven door, looks over at me in dismay and quickly realizes the problem.  I stand there clueless, waiting for this big reveal.  He shakes his head when he sees I’ve been using the oven to store extra dishware, and maybe a random handbag or five. I thought this was a genius move on maximizing the little space I did have, meter-reading-man, clearly did not.  He asks me when the last time I actually used my (gas) oven. I start putting it together and see where this line of questioning is going.  Don’t use your gas oven = zero reading.  I finally reply in total embarrassment, “um – never?”

Faced with the stark reality of my inability to cook, I decided to make a change.  I was going to actually start cooking, and stop seamlesswebbing.  My goal was to have my gas meter actually have a reading while cooking something that someone might deem edible.

Acknowledging I had not a clue where to begin, I called on the one person I knew could break it down for me. I needed someone to talk to me like I was a five year-old and only the very basics beyond boiling water and toasting bread.   My dear friend Talia, woman of many talents, including whipping up a five course meal with ease,  to sushi peeps, to baking pies, wrote me out a VERY basic list.  I have this list starred in my Gmail + printed copy sits in the drawer to the right of the now electric stove.  I’ve called upon this list many times and once I was able to get past the fear of screwing things up, I actually found myself at ease in the kitchen and enjoy it.   We all need a Talia in our lives.

Here’s the list, enjoy:


  • Always season with salt & pepper at every addition to the pan.  Be conservative because you can always add, but never take away.
  • Allow your onions & garlic & other watery vegetables to cook down for a minute before salting.  Salt draws out moisture, so if you do it at the beginning the veggies will never brown.
  • Don’t be afraid of oil.  An extra teaspoon will make a huge difference to flavor & add virtually no calories when spread across a few portions
  • Tenderize! Pound down your meat, chicken, other protein
  • If you use bonelesss/skinless chicken breasts, lightly dust in a coating of flour before sautéing
  • Use equal parts butter & oil to get best saute flavor
  • Let your pan get really really hot before adding anything!
  • Cook scrambled eggs on very low heat, stir stir stir (add a dash of milk or water!)
  • Don’t waste the good brown bits! whenever you are cooking something with protein, cook the meat/chicken/fish first, remove from pan, then scrape up the brown bits by deglazing the pan with whatever cooking liquid you are then using for veggies or starch – chicken broth, water, etc. those little brown bits are like flavor explosions!
  • Save your parmesan & other cheese rinds – I keep a ziploc in the freezer & just add the rinds.  You can then later toss them in cooking pot of soup (any soup!) and they will melt down and just impart this awesome extra flavor & richness. (she knows I love soup!)
  • Acid, acid, acid! a splash of vinegar or lemon really can brighten up any dish. I keep quite a few varieties of vinegar in my fridge, they never go bad & always come in handy
  • Never buy bottled lemon or lime juice.  Never. The only place for rose’s is in a gin gimlet.
  • The perfect hardboiled egg: cover eggs in cold pot with cold water.  put on stove on high.  let the water come to a boil.  as soon as it hits a boil, remove from heat, cover & let sit for 9 minutes.  no more, no less
  • Always skin your tomatoes if you are going to cook with them – it takes 5 minutes & makes a big difference in the texture of sauces – cut a little X in the bottom of the tomato, put in boiling water for 30 seconds, remove and immediately shock in ice water bath to stop the cooking.  skin will them peel right off
  • Always try to prepare condiments & sauces yourself.  even if you pre-buy everything else already made, these make a really big difference in things tasting ‘homemade’ – mayo, ketchup, cocktail sauce, salad dressing party dips – all take under 10 minutes to prepare & usually only require staple pantry items you’d already have to put together
  • Don’t cook with low-fat dairy, it’s just never worth it
  • Learn a basic dish everyone will love – chicken parmesan or spaghetti & meatballs or even stir-fry.  master it & then don’t ever try to get too fancy

+ finally:

“Learn a dish you love & know will bring you comfort and happiness when you eat it & confidence because you prepared it yourself.” – Talia 

Further reading:

Do you have any tips you’d like to share?



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