If you've resolved to cook more in 2011, you're in luck: The Twin Cities boasts a wealth of chefs with advice at the ready, and they have more to say than just, "Eat out." (Though they wouldn't mind if you did, of course.) The Hot Dish took chefs' tips for home cooks from our recent chef chats and put together a handy Top 10 list:
"Practice, practice, practice," says Michelle Gayer of Salty Tart
. "People go, 'Oh, I made that once, and I didn't really like it.'
How do you get good at riding a bike? You've got to practice. You can't just make it once. You should have seen my first frosted cake. Everything takes practice."
2. Start with good ingredients.
"Buy fresh," says Tom Begnaud of Town Talk Diner
. "Go to the farmers' market. Get fresh produce." (If this seems like cruel advice to reprint during the dead of winter, sites such as the Wedge's "This Week in Produce"
explain what produce is in season now.)
3. Season your food.
"Use salt, lemon juice, you know," says Piccolo's Doug Flicker
. "Don't be afraid to season things."
4. Keep your pantry full
. "Grocery shop once a week, and make sure your kitchen is stocked," advises Brenda Langton
, owner of Spoonriver. "If you don't have good ingredients in your kitchen, you open up your cupboards and there's nothing to work with."
5. Clean as you go.
"The biggest thing for any home cook is to clean as you work," says Steph Hedrick of Jack's
. "It takes all the joy out of cooking if you cook a big huge meal and then you have a million dishes to do. If you can't clean as you cook, then find a friend who can clean."
6. Bakers: Use a baking stone.
"I always advise all of my home bakers to use a baking stone and leave it in the oven always," says Solveig Tofte of Sun Street Breads
, slated to open in mid-March. "Our ovens are these little tiny metal boxes, and whenever you open the door, all the heat flies out. If you have the stone in there you have a heat sink, so it holds some of the heat, and everything cooks a little better."
7. Be flexible...
"Recipes aren't Bibles," says Highland Grill's Joan Ida
. "If you don't have the broccoli, you can substitute something else and not ditch the entire idea because you don't have one ingredient."
8. ...yet precise.
"I always recommend a digital scale, precise down to a few grams," says Rustica Bakery's Steve Horton
, a recommendation aimed at home bakers. "When you're measuring salt and things of that nature, you're going to need to be fairly precise. Volume measurement with teaspoons, tablespoons, cups is just not as exact."
9. Relax and experiment.
"Don't take yourself too seriously," says D'Amico Kitchen's Justin Frederick
. "Cooking requires a bit of yourself on a soulful level, so try to have fun with it."
"Don't be intimidated by the food," says Lenny Russo of Heartland
. "Everyone can cook. All it takes is some patient practice with a little trial and error thrown in. How's that for a recipe?"
"Don't be afraid to fail," says Piccolo's Doug Flicker
. "People look at professional chefs and think, 'How can you make things that taste so good?' I've made plenty of things that taste bad. It's not rocket science. It's just trial and error. You learn more from a failure than you do from doing something right."
10. Learn from a professional
. "Spend a day in your favorite restaurant's kitchen," suggests Burke Forster
, chef at Cafe Maude. "You might be surprised that a lot of chefs will let you do this if you ask."