|Learn to make great bread--it's easier than you think.|
1. Make a good salad dressing. Look, I am sure there are some good bottled dressings out there. I used to be a big fan of Newman's Own Caesar--until they changed it some. To me, all bottled dressings taste the same...or there is a certain note (preservative? thickening agent?) that is common to all of them, and I really don't like it...So learn to make a great dressing. When I guest blogged the other day for La Belle Dame de Merci, I wrote about my little lettuce garden and gave a basic recipe for balsamic vinaigrette..
2. Learn how to make bread AND biscuits. Basic french bread? Flour, water, yeast, salt. A little muscle and a little time. Biscuits? Well, a few more ingredients, but none of the time for rising..Here's Dorie
Greenspan's recipe for biscuits and her tips on making flaky biscuits. For simple bread recipes, check out this NYT recipe for no-knead bread. And if you REALLY want to get into bread-baking in a big way, check out Tartine Bread by my friend Chad Robertson, co-owner with wife Elisabeth Prueitt, of Tartine Bakery and Cafe in San Francisco.
3. Roast Chicken. To me, a great roast chicken is heaven. It needs salt. No, you don't need to "wash" it. Add a few sprigs of fresh rosemary and a cut lemon to the cavity. Roast away. Here's a basic roast chicken recipe from America's Test Kitchen (you'll have to sign up to read it, but sign-up is free). You should also check out the magic that is Marcella Hazan's Roast Chicken with Two Lemons. (Scroll down that page for the recipe.)
4. Steak. Learn these things: Prime is best. Choice is second best. Pick one of those two. Get to know YOUR favorite cut. I'm a big fan of choice ribeye. I save a few bucks per pound and get a great steak. Look for even marbling (the light veins of fat that run through the meat), not too much. Talk to the butcher, yes, even the men and women behind the counter at the local grocery store. They DO know what they are talking about. Then use my cast-iron skillet method. I found this video of me cooking the perfect steak for Boca Raton Magazine. This is cooked to medium--the way my family likes it. Things that don't get said: pat the steak dry before cooking it (use paper towel). Season well. Let steak rest AT LEAST FIVE MINUTES before cutting into it. (And this: I'm a lot thinner now...wow. Who knew what training for a triathlon would do...my ego had to say that..)
5. Fish. Learn not to overcook fish. Educate yourself about what you like. Do you like flaky fish (think sole or flounder)? Meaty (tuna, halibut, salmon)? Same advice applies here about talking to the men and women behind the counters--they'll be able to tell you something. Pay attention to the Seafood Watch from Monterey Bay Aquarium- learn what fish is being overfished and which fish is safest (you probably have all read about mercury in fish already). Two of my favorite techniques are a simple sear in that black, cast-iron skillet I used for the steaks and cooking fish on cedar planks--soak the planks for at least 30 minutes, place on super hot grill, lower heat, place fish on cedar planks, close lid and let cook/smoke until done. When I do fish this way, I usually make up a spice rub with cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, paprika (sometimes smoked paprika), and a touch of sugar...Play around to see what you like.