Updated: 11/08/2016 4:06 PM | Print Story |  Email

Top Secrets in the Kitchen

Cookbook author and Betty Crocker recipe developer Mary Jane Miller shares her secrets every cook should know.

The one tool every kitchen needs

A good cook’s knife. Most chefs I know started with a 10-inch Wustoff knife. You can get a refurbished knife at Eversharp on Taft in Minneapolis for less than $200. You’ll have it the rest of your life. I get mine professionally sharpened by Joe at Eversharp once or twice a year. The only other knives I use are a paring knife and a good serrated bread knife (which is great for slicing tomatoes). A couple of times a year I’m glad I have a decent boning knife and a long slicer for roasts, as well as my big scary cleaver that makes quick work of cutting up a chicken, but my cook’s knife can do those jobs, too.

A Cook’s Knife can:

  • Smash garlic for easy peeling with the side of the blade and to mash it into a paste (like a garlic press)
  • Crack open lobster or crab with the blunt back of the blade (like a lobster cracker)
  • Cut up a whole chicken (like a boning knife)

The biggest mistake chefs make

This isn’t really a mistake, it just an unnecessary complication of an easy thing.  Most vinaigrette recipes tell you to drizzle the oil into the dressing very slowly to make an emulsion.  This is not a true emulsion, like mayonnaise is.  You can get a very nice dressing by just shaking the ingredients together in a jar.  Having a little jar of this on hand is a secret weapon for lots of quick scratch cooking ideas. (see below for recipe)

  • This is great as it is, but you can add a little anchovy paste, Parmesan and lemon to make it a Caesar dressing, or your favorite fresh herb or pesto. 
  • Beyond salad dressing this is a great marinade for chicken. Add a little soy sauce and it’s a great marinade for beef or pork. 
  • Toss it with cooked potatoes (sweet or red) or pasta.  Add mayo for a creamy salad
  • Toss with roasted or grilled veggies for a great side.

How to tell if a recipe is good

  • Are the ingredients listed in the order they are used?
  • If it’s an online recipe, are the comments good?
  • Does the recipe have details about the ingredients? For example, if a recipe just calls for 1 onion I’m less confident than if it says: 1 small onion, chopped. If it says 1 small onion, chopped (about 1 cup) it’s even better. Do they tell you to use 80% lean ground beef or just ground beef.
  • A good recipe should have a second indicator of doneness. For example: for cookies:  bake 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown and still moist on top.
  • More details. Do they tell you what kind of pot and utensils to use? To they tell you how hot the stove should be?

Basic Vinaigrette

Every time I visit my brother, Bob, I make him a jar of vinaigrette.  He whined about how the olive oil sets up in the fridge so I now make him a dressing that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.  I only make up enough that can be used in a week.   Any longer than that and the olive oil starts to lose its fruitiness.

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup vinegar (your choice: white or red wine, balsamic, apple cider, sherry, etc.)
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp. Honey
1/2 tsp. Garlic powder
1 tsp. Salt
1/2 tsp. Pepper

Place all ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.  Store tightly covered for up to a week.  Shake before each use.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups