Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Reblogged: 6 Rules to Break.

Today I am reposting one of the most popular posts I ever wrote. It comes from Blogathon 2010--who knew people were so eager for permission to BREAK rules?

I say have at it!

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...(Edit: Savoy has closed, but you can visit Peter's Back Forty.)

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. (Edit: I've come over to the dark side. Now I almost NEVER let water touch my beloved pan...I let it cool. Then I turn the heat on high and let any residue kind of burn off. Add oil and salt, scrape a bit with a wooden spatula and ...done...I don't break this rule much any more.)

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. (Edit in 2012: Still do this.)

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? (Edit in 2012: Still doing this!)

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...) (2012? Same!)

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).... (2012: Yup, still do this.)

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 is not!)

So now tell me: What rules do YOU break??


Laura said...

I don't understand how you cannot use water is you scramble eggs in cast iron? Or once it's dried/hardened will te heat and salt do the trick? I can't get my head around it. :)

Babette said...

Laura, I put the skillet over a high flame...any residue starts to burn off. Then I add enough oil to cover the surface and then I sprinkle salt over anything that is burning off...the salt acts like a sponge almost, attracting the burning-off residue. I use a wooden spatula to rub the salt into the spot and then scrape it, using the spatula to "scrub" the skillet at the same time. Then it cools off and I use a paper towel to wipe everything out.

It sounds complicated, but it's really not.

Of course, up until I decided this, I was...washing my cast iron, just like I said!

Maybe that's the rule you will continue to break...

connie said...

Livin' on the edge! I wash my mushrooms and use milk of varying degrees of fat even when recipes call for whole milk. And I substitute sometimes when I lack an ingredient when making a recipe. Even in baking sometimes, such as substituting sour cream or plain yogurt for buttermilk when I am out and wanted cake.

Christina said...

I break the mushroom washing rule but keep my eggs and butter in the fridge. I live in AZ and it wouldn't be good to leave things out.

One rule I break is eating cookie dough.

Anjuli said...

so glad to hear about the washing of the cast iron- because I do that too and people have chided me for it!!

Ah- I'm learning something now about the non stick pan- great idea- get a cheaper one and toss it after it has run through its life- so much better of an idea than having all that non stick stuff floating around in my stew (really happened once- had to toss the stew)

yes- I put my butter on my counter- I'm smiling knowing I'm not the only one!! Went off margarine when I moved to the States 4 years ago-- had lived on margarine all my life- but now that I've tasted REAL butter...I mean REAL butter not the "I can't believe its not butter"...I will never turn back!!

Anonymous said...


It has been a constant debate in my marriage whether or not to leave a little butter out. And my husband does the same thing that your mother does with your eggs - he PUTS IT BACK in the fridge. My mother kept her butter out, my mother's mother kept her butter out, and I imagine my mother's mother's mother did the same thing. :)

(proud member of Paul's Posse)

Annie said...

I wash my cast iron and my mushrooms. I use EVOO and leave butter and eggs out on the counter, even in summer (my house stays under 80 naturally and the eggs are from my own hens, I substitute things all the time, but one thing I will NOT do is use nonstick. Ick, yuck, yech. I would rather apply some elbow grease to my All Clad or cast iron than use pans with a plasticky coating that invariably starts to flake into your food after a short time.

One other rule I break - never bother to take the bread dough out and clean it and oil it before letting the bread rise. What a waste of effort. The bread rises just fine and I scrape it out with a rubber spatula.