Chef’s Secrets For a New Year’s Worth of Dishes

How many recipes do we really need to know? When I am creating recipes for classes or television, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. When I cook at home for friends, however, I find that I like to rely on old favorites that fit my cookware and my pocketbook. While my trademark is to never serve the same dish twice to my guests, I work from a core group of recipes that provide me a base for my endless repertoire of culinary creations.


If you master eight to ten great dishes, you can spin countless variations from these core recipes. Once you master the process, you can add more ingredients and easily substitute others for another meal. It’s the beginning of the process of learning how to cook without recipes.

I advocate starting with basic roasting of meats and poultry. Perfecting roast chicken will carry you through years of flawless dinners. Once you master that, roast turkey is only a few adjustments to the recipe.

For proper food safety practices, always use a thermometer and cook by temperature, not by time. Poultry should be cooked to 165F, meats 130F for rare, and 140F for medium doneness. Pork temperatures can vary but for larger cuts of pork cook until 150F and let rest for ten minutes after out of the oven. The temperature will rise 10 degrees and distribute “carry over” heat, which will cook the meat or poultry another 10 degrees after removed from the oven.

After practicing meat and poultry, aim next for fish. The basic rule of cooking fish is simple-ten minutes an inch. Begin with a flavorful tilapia or salmon fillet and purchase wild or line caught if possible for best flavor.

Side dishes are endless if you learn the basic techniques of vegetable cookery. Decide on five side dish recipes you are fond of and write three variations of each one that work with the equipment in your kitchen. You now have fifteen great recipes that are easy to make for a dinner party.

When you apply the same principals to desserts, your comfort level of baking will increase. A fundamental piecrust recipe can double as a tart dough and a mini-turnover dough. Learn how to make chocolate ganache and the possibilities are endless. A good cake like the Sticky Toffee Cake that can be made on the fly with cupboard ingredients will be indispensable when you have friends dropping by for coffee.

When you feel like honing your cooking skills, open the fridge and pantry and produce dinner without a trip to the store. Sometimes you have to have a “what the heck” attitude about cooking and observe how dishes come out. You will quickly learn what doesn’t work, but this is a good thing in the big picture of food preparation because you only make those mistakes once.

Chef’s Secrets to Make Life Easier in the Kitchen

–To grind nuts quickly, crush them with a rolling pin or wooden mallet in a Ziploc bag.

–To freeze foods for easy separation such as berries, spread on cookie sheets until frozen and pack in containers.

–When cooking with herbs, use twice as much fresh as the dry counterpart.

–Brush soy sauce on meat before broiling for a rich brown color.
–To keep boiled potatoes white, add a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar to water.

–Put lemon on fish after cooking, never before, to keep from getting mushy.

–If soups or stews are too salty, add a few slices of potato. Boil a few minutes and remove.

–Before peeling oranges, cover with boiling water and let stand 5 minutes. The bitter white membrane can be removed more easily.

–Nuts keep up to one year in the freezer.

–Keep popcorn in your freezer for better popping.

–Coat raisins with flour to keep them from sinking to the bottom of muffin and cake batter.

–For soup with rich flavor and color, brown bones, onions, celery, and carrots in oven first.

–Forming meatballs is easier if hands are first chilled with an ice cube.

–Raw mushrooms, kiwi, and strawberries can be sliced evenly and quickly with a egg slicer.

–To cut fresh bread, heat the serrated knife.

–Shave chocolate with a potato peeler for a quick dessert garnish.

–Make a cardboard ring to keep the rim of plate clean when spraying salad dressing or dusting desserts with powdered sugar.

–Marinate hard cooked eggs in beet juice before making them into deviled eggs.

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2 Responses to Chef’s Secrets For a New Year’s Worth of Dishes

  1. Gayle Eklund says:

    Arlene:

    We have purchased your frozen scones many times in Canal Park. They are heavenly. Our favorite is the cranberry lemon. Have you published a cookbook? Anything you make would be wonderful. I would love to have any recipes you are willing to share.

    Thank you so much for making the scones available. Last week I purchased your Tom & Jerry scones and can’t wait to try them.

    I’d love to hear from you.

    Gayle Eklund
    rgkeklund@juno.com

    • Avatar of Arlene Coco Arlene Coco says:

      Thanks for your support, I appreciate it. Yes I do have a cookbook, it’s all about cajun cooking. I am currently developing a new cookbook hopefully to be out sometime late next year.

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