5 Cooking Tips For the Novice Chef

I am a self-proclaimed, self-taught chef. Six years ago there were about three things I could do in the kitchen: pour myself cereal, cook instant mac and cheese, and make a salad. It really wasn’t until I started dating my boyfriend back in college that I decided I needed to add some dishes to my repertoire. It all started one summer, the summer I fell in love, that I started whipping up pesto pasta with spicy sausages. Literally I made this about 10 times in just a couple weeks, eagerly trying to perfect this relatively simple dish. When Ed and I look back at that summer we refer to it as the summer of pesto pasta. I overdid it, but I wanted to teach myself to cook and to cook well.

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Now I can cook other stuff!

For the novice, or possibly even the more experienced chef, I’d like to share some tips I picked up along the last six years that have advanced my cooking and overall attitude towards being in the kitchen. Just remember, cooking takes time and lots of patience, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes. I’ve certainly messed up my fair share of dishes, but those mistakes were valuable in helping me improve.

1- Know when to salt. Depending on what you’re preparing there is a proper time to salt. For pasta, rice, and meat, salt before cooking to boost flavor. Aka, for the pasta and rice, toss in salt before bringing the water to a boil. Mushrooms and beans should take salt at the end of the cooking process. For onions, it is a matter of preference. If you enjoy your onions browned and caramelized, add salt at the end of cooking. Conversely, if you like your onions soft and translucent, add salt earlier on (Source: Organic Authority).

2- Use the healthiest pans out there. I grew up using teflon pans because they were so easy to clean, however, I’ve since learned that teflon is some of the worst cookware out there. It releases toxic chemicals into the food and air when you cook, especially if you scratch it, so why not avoid that and use better pots and pans?  Avoid teflon, aluminum and copper, and use cast iron, stainless steel, or enamel. I am a huge advocate of cast iron. Not only does it add iron to your diet when you cook with it and heat food faster, but I also personally think it makes food taste exceptionally good. Especially fried eggs (I love eggs!). The best fried eggs can be made in cast iron by frying it with a little oil, then steaming it by adding a tiny bit of water and covering it with a lid for a couple minutes. You’re welcome.

13.25 Inch Cast Iron Skillet

I like cast iron cookware by Lodge

3- Use a variety of cooking methods. Steam, sauté, sear, boil, roast, bake, raw… there are so many ways to enjoy your food. Switch up the way you prepare your meals, because cooking tends to reduce the vitamin content of the food, since some vitamins are sensitive to heat, water and air.Try eating your vegetables raw, especially in the hot, summer months.

4- Use your microwave minimally. Of course using a microwave is convenient, but using a microwave isn’t the healthiest. Not only does the radiation from microwaving change the molecules in our food and substantially reduce the nutrients, it can also release toxins if using plastic to reheat your food. It’s actually been found that cooking vegetables in a microwave reduces the number of nutrients by 97% (source: Natural News). I know, I can be lazy too, but try reheating your meals at a low temperature in the oven or on the stove top, or at least use glass containers or microwave-safe dishes if you need to microwave.

jennifer lawrence fire american hustle microwave

5- Prep all your food when you get home from grocery shopping. This sounds like a pain, but it actually will save you time and effort during the week. I like to salt and pepper my meat before I put it away in the fridge or freezer, wash and chop all my fruits and veggies, and maybe make a pot of whole grains to last me a few days. This way I can reach in the fridge and grab pre-made or pre-prepped items without having to always pull out the cutting board. This also saves on clean up time!lemons

 

Have additional tips for the novice chef?  I’d love to hear them! Want more tips and health info? Subscribe to my newsletters!

Chicken Parmesan

chicken p 2I lived in New York for four years and never had chicken parmesan better than my own.  Chicken Parmesan is an Italian favorite, definitely one of my man’s favorites, and just seems to be a crowd pleaser.  This dish goes great with pasta, zoodles (zucchini noodles), vegetables, or a side salad.  I like to make extras and have it available to eat throughout the week, using the leftovers to make chicken parm sandwiches.

Personally, I prefer homemade breadcrumbs, but some people still prefer store bought seasoned or plain breadcrumbs.  If you decide to make your own breadcrumbs, it’s easy.  All you need is some day old bread or defrosted bread broken into bite-sized pieces.  Throw the pieces in a food processor or blender and blend until you have crumbs.  I season my breadcrumbs with some dried basil and dried oregano, but that’s also optional.  When using herbs, crush and rub the herbs between your hands, because this will release more flavor.chicken p 3

For the sauce, I admit, I buy this freshly made red sauce I love from the store because I’m a little particular about my sauce. Most bottled sauces, like Prego, are filled with sugar, so I recommend either buying fresh sauce or making it from scratch.

Ingredients:

6 boneless, skinless, organic chicken breasts

-1 1/2 cup breadcrumbs

-1/2 cup freshly grated Romano cheese + 3 tbsp for topping

-4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely diced

-Salt and pepper

-2 large eggs, well beaten

-1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed

-8 ounces fresh mozzarella, 1/4 inch thick slices

-3-4 cups marinara sauce of choice

Steps:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Wash chicken and pat dry.  Place chicken breasts in large plastic ziplock bag or between sheets of plastic wrap or wax paper.  Pound chicken with a mallet or hammer chicken with your fists (my own solution to not owning a mallet) on a flat surface until chicken breasts are about 1/2 inch thick.

3. On a dinner plate, add the bread crumbs, 1/2 the Romano cheese, garlic, salt, and pepper.  In a shallow bowl large enough to fit the chicken breasts, add eggs and 1 tbsp water, then beat with a fork.

4. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add oil.

5. Dip each chicken breast into the eggs and then into the breadcrumb mixture, coating each side. When the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pan and cook each side for about 3 minutes, or until lightly brown and not quite cooked.  Add any remaining breadcrumbs to the pan and fry, adding more olive oil as needed and keeping the bottom of the pan filled with 1/4 inch of oil.

6. In a 9 by 13-inch baking dish, cover the bottom of the dish with a 1 inch layer of red sauce.  Remove chicken and fried breadcrumbs from the skillet and arrange in the baking dish.  Pour another layer of sauce over the top of the chicken.  Cook chicken uncovered in the oven for 10 minutes.

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Layer red sauce on the bottom of a baking dish. Place cutlets and fried breadcrumbs in dish and layer more red sauce on top.

7. Remove chicken and top the chicken with the mozzarella and remaining Romano.  Place back in the oven uncovered for another 10-15 minutes, or until sauce bubbles and the mozzarella melts.

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Remove dish from oven after 10 minutes and cover with cheese. Bake for another 10-15 minutes.

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Nom nom, melted, cheesy goodness 🙂