Friday, May 14, 2010

6 Kitchen Rules I Routinely Break--You Should Too

There are some absolutes in a professional kitchen, some from home kitchens--things we do just because...well, we do... And some of them are great...and some simply don't work for me. So here you go...things that might make my first chef (Hi, Peter Hoffman, owner of Savoy in Tribeca!!) or my mom or my nana shudder...

1. I wash my black cast iron pan. Look, I get it--layers of flavor settle into the very being of the pan. Romantic. Flavors down the centuries. Blah blah blah.

No. Just no. Here's why. I might be cooking up onions and garlic one day...and then making biscuits for shortbread (sweetISH if not sweet sweet) the next. I don't WANT the flavors to be there.

So while I may not scrub with Dawn and a scrub brush, water always hits the pan after use. Mind you, so does a coating of oil and then I pop it into a still warm oven. It is pretty damn nonstick at this point and I love it. (Buy Lodge: Made in America....) But really? Wash it.

2. While we are on the subject of washing, I give my mushrooms a rinse. I was taught to patiently wipe the shrooms with a damp paper towel...washing them would make them act like sponges, I was told. Well...I'm not that patient. Now I toss them into a colander and give 'em a quick shower, shaking off excess water before popping them into a hot pan. Me? I don't think they suffer.

3. I cook ALMOST exclusively with extra virgin olive oil. I'm told it's a waste of money, but...hmm. I like the flavor...(sometimes, I know, I really DO want the non-flavor of vegetable oil and that is in the house..)...and it's what is at the side of the stove. And I like the flavor, did I say that already?

4. I don't buy expensive nonstick pans. Don't put your money into nonstick pans if that coating is on the inside of a $100+ pan. Heck, don't do it if the pan is $30+...I haven't come across a nonstick surface that lasts forever--not the way I cook, at least. And no, I don't use metal, I wash them by hand...but ultimately, I toss them and buy a new set of nonstick pans...once a year. And I don't spend a lot (check out Ikea)...(or do what I  plan to do and replace them all with cast iron eventually...cast iron that I WASH...)

5. I use skim milk almost every time they say milk, no matter what--yes, even in baking. This is another form of lazy, because unless I plan, skim is what's in the fridge. I've never had it not work...I think some things may lack some depth of flavor, but...not enough that the family notices.

6. I keep butter and some eggs always at room temperature. I have never used margarine, only butter--and I do not like rock hard butter...not at home, not in a restaurant (it's always a mark against a place if they bring be bread and rock hard butter...) Now this doesn't mean there's a pound of butter on the counter...At most, there's one stick in a covered glass butter dish. I guess if you don't have A/C, this wouldn't work in the height of summer, but other than that? Always there. Same goes for some eggs. I go through eggs relatively quickly, so this isn't a problem for me (although if my mom visits, we play the she-puts-the-eggs-into-the-fridge, I-take-them-out-of-the-fridge dance...until I snap and say: LEAVE THEM ON THE COUNTER. IT'S WHERE I WANT THEM..) Again, I used them up quickly and if I'm baking, I want eggs at room temperature...So if half a dozen are on the counter for a few days? No. Harm. (Again, YMMV if you live in a hot climate with no A/C)....

Bonus Item: SUBSTITUTE, PEOPLE, SUBSTITUTE!!! I have experienced cook friends and family call me now and then and ask: Can I substitute red onions for yellow? Can I use white wine if I don't have sherry? Can I use sherry if I don't have white wine? Chicken thighs instead of breast? Will bourbon work for whiskey? YES, OF COURSE YOU CAN AND OF COURSE IT WILL.
Again, these are some experienced cooks asking. No, of course sherry doesn't taste like white wine. (But onions DO taste like onions)--I can't begin to tell you the recipes I make...when I at times only have half the ingredients. Be bold. You really can't ruin it by subbing one veg for another or one wine for another. (Okay, so there's the time DH wanted a whiskey sour and subbed Scotch for the whiskey? That? THAT didn't work...) (Caveat: The same doesn't hold true in baking, as I bear witness to time and again in my rough attempts at baking...Baking is for precision...cooking is not!)

12 comments:

Marni said...

Great post! I totally use extra virgin olive oil more that I should! And I totally agree with you about the non stick pans!!! I do wipe my mushrooms with damp paper towels though...You should see how many "rules" are broken in southern Italy! The food was awesome but Drew and I had our mouths hung open in disbelief in some instances! (their life expectancy is higher than our in the states...so they are doing something right)

Babette said...

Oh, too true about the "rules" or lack thereof getting broken in other countries! thanks for stopping and commenting.

Denise Reynolds said...

I say Santa should bring you another cast iron pan, so you can use one for savory and one for not. I do that with coffee grinders (one for beans and one for spices) and dish brushes (one for foodstuffs and one just for beverages).

Jeanne said...

Love this. I have a segment in my soon-to-be-finished book telling people to loosen up in the kitchen. Cooking is a creative art with a little bit of science. Be creative. Make up the rules as you go along. Unless you're working with wildly expensive ingredients, just play. Taste. Play. Taste. (Then toss if it doesn't work!)

Jael said...

I bake with salted butter. SHHHHH.

Celia @ Fig Jam and Lime Cordial said...

Barb, I used to be exactly the same way about non-stick until I discovered Woll pans from Germany. Don't know if they're in the US yet. My husband went into the kitchenware store and said, "my wife is Chinese, and she can't cook over a low heat, what do you have in non-stick?". He came home with a Woll, the instructions of which said, "heat over high flame until hot, then add oil, pan will heat to 300C". So far deliriously happy with them, and our oldest one is now showing wear after three years of daily use. Still non-stick though.

But...wouldn't work for you, as the only people we've known to ever kill a Woll pan did so by cooking with EVOO. The pan gets way too hot for the olive oil and you end up with a coating laminated on, which affects the non-stick. We use grapeseed oil only because of the high heat tolerance.

Other things - have always washed mushrooms, can't fathom using a pan you're supposed to never wash, I not only use skim milk, but often UHT milk straight out of the carton, but I do keep my eggs in the fridge. I'm too nervy about getting salmonella poisoning!

Babette said...

Celia--That is definitely one of my problems: She can't cook over low heat!!! I'd switch oils if that helped, although can't say I've ever seen Woll here...will keep my eyes open, though.

Amanda said...

This post is right on -- eggs, butter, cast iron, substitutes, all of it. Say no to Teflon, yes to room temperature butter. No stinking margarine ever. Smart woman.

Sue Dickman said...

I'm totally with you on some of these. I wash my cast iron frying pan too--no soap, but it gets rinsed out thoroughly and scrubbed gently. And I definitely use EVOO more often than not, though I keep a bottle of canola oil around as well. (I know there's a granola recipe with olive oil that's supposed to be good, but my favorite needs a more neutral oil.)

And I didn't even know that I was supposed to be wiping mushrooms with a damp cloth! Whoops.

Two Hands and a Roadmap said...

I'm the same way with 1 and 2; I just don't buy nonstick pans; and I always have butter at room temp. Eggs too sometimes, but only if I have a specific plan for them. I enjoyed this post a lot.

BIKE LADY said...

I had to learn the hard way about the expensive non-stick pans. They're supposed to last longer, but they don't. I love cast iron skillets. The sturdiest things ever. Loved the butter rule. Funny.

Jen said...

I love this! Especially #2 because I hate wiping the mushrooms one by one too. How exciting that you can wash mushrooms wihtout them becoming tough! The substitute rule is great too. I substitute all the time, even when I'm baking, which like you said, doesn't always work out. But I like experimenting and I learn something every time so at least there's that!