1. Mise en Place
This literally means "everything in its place." For cooking dinner, it means having all your ingredients on the counter, prepped (e.g. cut, diced, sliced, etc.), measured. It means having all the tools you will need out and ready to use. It means reading the whole recipe through twice before you begin cooking. I've had countless swear-at-the-ceiling moments in the kitchen that could have been avoided had I just read the entire recipe before starting to cook.
2. Clean as You Go
Do you dread cooking because of the clean-up after cooking? What if you cleaned as you cooked so that when you are finished with dinner all that needs to be done is dishes put in the dishwasher, a couple of pieces of cookware hand washed, and counters wiped down? Any time you are cooking dinner and you find yourself standing around, clean something. We used to pile everything we used to prepare dinner in the sink. After dinner, when I was getting tired, I'd be confronted with the Mount Everest of dirty kitchen crap. It felt awful, and I became cranky. As a Taurus, I know cranky. Once I started cleaning as I went, after dinner became a much more pleasant part of my day because it wasn't consumed with cleaning the kitchen.
3. How to Defrost Food
The first time I ever taught a meal planning class, the piece of information the students found most useful was how to defrost food. From culinary school, I can tell you what not to do. Do not, under any circumstances, leave frozen food on the counter to defrost overnight. It's an invitation for a bacteria festival that may lead to your digestive distress. One method for defrosting is to put the frozen item in the fridge the night before. I find this method just OK. Some of the time, the food is defrosted 24 hours later, and some of the time it still has frozen areas. In culinary school, we learned the safest way to quickly defrost food is to put it in a colander under running water. That was well and good when I lived in the water plentiful wonderland which is the East Coast. When I moved to Southern California, land of the drought, that method was no longer feasible. Now I stick the frozen item, well-sealed, in a bowl of room temperature water for an hour or so, and that does the trick 95% of the time.
4. Label Your Leftovers
My favorite kitchen tools may surprise you. Yes, I do appreciate a good, sharp chef's knife, and I use multiple cutting boards daily. Yet, my two favorite tools are a Sharpie marker and masking tape. Why? In restaurant kitchens, the health department requires that everything that goes into the refrigerators, called walk-ins and low-boys, be labeled with what it is and the date. Every single thing I produced in culinary school was labeled. This way, you are never served food that is past its expiration date or has gone bad. At home, how many times have you pulled leftovers out of the fridge only to wonder how long ago you made the food or worse what it actually is? When you label your food, you'll eat it before it goes bad and you'll always know what it is. This will lead to less food waste, which is a HUGE problem in our society.
And there you go. You've officially learned stuff taught in one of the best culinary schools in the country. I'd love to hear which of these tips you found most useful. Please let me know in the Comments below!