Food

15 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me When I Started Cooking

Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I Started Cooking

You know you’ve been in the food-writing world for too long when you’re shocked to see someone cut birthday cake with a knife…

How does this person not know to use a strand of taut dental floss or baker’s twine, which makes for the easiest, most mess-free slicing?

Sometimes I forget that not everyone is walking around with a mental catalog of time-saving, energy-saving, sanity-saving, life-saving, money-saving, surefire, guaranteed foolproof, plan-ahead, stress-free, problem-solving shortcuts, tips and tricks in the kitchen. I started my food editing career at Real Simple (where yes, all those words scored the highest with the focus groups) and I need to remember that not everyone out there feels comfortable with recipe-writing language that calls for a “handful of beans” or a “pinch of cayenne.” (Don’t pinch cayenne, especially if you are using those same pinchers to remove contact lenses an hour later.) I need to remember that calling for anchovy paste in a recipe is a potential deal breaker and that not everyone knows to store your folded garbage bags inside the garbage can (so you can conveniently grab a replacement as soon as you discard the full one). In honor of those home cooks, here are fifteen things I wish someone had told me when I started cooking.

1. Don’t make recipes (or trust cookbooks) that have overly cutesy recipe titles like “Struttin’ Chicken.” These kinds of dishes rarely have the kind of staying power that a simple Roast Chicken will.

2. Buy yourself a pair of kitchen scissors. You will use them to snip herbs. You will use them to chop canned whole peeled tomatoes that have been dumped and contained in a 4-cup Pyrex. You will use them to snip spinach right in the skillet as the spinach wilts. Spinach! As long as we’re on the subject: always make more of it than you think you need. This way you will not find yourself in the position of having one cupcake-sized mound of steamed spinach for your whole family of four to share.

3. Some Type-A behaviors worth stealing: Do everything you can in advance when you are having people over for dinner. No matter how easy and tossed-off the task may be. No matter how many times your partner-in-crime says, Why don’t we just do that later? Filling the water pitcher takes 15 seconds! If you forgo this advice and do nothing in advance, at least make sure you start off the evening with an empty dishwasher. You will thank yourself a few hours and a few cocktails later when staring at the mountain of greasy plates in the sink. Lastly, if at all possible, go to sleep with a fresh trash bag in the kitchen garbage can. I find it somewhat soul-crushing to see last night’s dinner scraps piled up before I’ve had my morning coffee. And I sleep better when I know it’s empty. (See: Type A.)

4. Brushing dough with a quick egg-wash is the secret to getting that shiny, lacquered, I’m-worth-something-after-all glow to your pies, breads, and galettes. This especially comes in handy when trying to pass off store-bought crust as homemade. Whisk one egg with a fork, then use a pastry brush to cover every inch of the exposed crust before baking.

5. Meat will never brown properly if you add it to the pan when it’s freezing cold and wet. It should be patted dry and room temperature. Unless you have just walked in the door, it’s 7:30, the kids are screaming and the instruction to “bring it to room temperature” is the instruction that will make you swear off family dinner forever.

6. Add acid. A drizzle of vinegar, a spoonful of tangy buttermilk or plain yogurt, a simple squeeze of lemon or lime will always add brightness to an otherwise boring and flat dish.

7. Figure out the correct way to slice and dice an avocado. You will not only save time, energy and sanity by doing this, but you will find yourself giving tutorials to awed, in-the-dark observers every time you make guacamole in front of them.

8. Ice in the cocktails, people. Fill that glass all the way up! Don’t be stingy. Nothing worse than a lukewarm gin and tonic.

9. Learn how to make a handful of healthy dinners without using a recipe. Whether it’s scrambled eggs on toast or your great-grandmother’s 19-ingredient mole sauce, making dinner is so much more enjoyable when you can do it on autopilot, catching up with your kid or your partner as you go, or just savoring the aromas of sautéing leeks, instead of bobbing back and forth from cookbook to stovetop.

10. Compliment the cook. It doesn’t even matter if you don’t like the food! Someone took time from his or her day to plan, shop, and put together a meal for you to enjoy. Be exceedingly, absurdly grateful always.

11. A salad is not a salad without some sort of crunch — whether that crunch comes in the form of a cucumber, a radish, a nut or a crouton.

12. Food trends come and go, but spaghetti and meatballs are forever. I love experimenting with preserved lemons and yuzu paste and pomegranate molasses as much as the next guy, but is there anything more comforting than a simple bowl of spaghetti and homemade marinara showered with Parmesan, and studded with tender, fluffy (and, of course, optional) meatballs? I dare someone to turn down an invitation to your house when that’s on the menu.

13. Salt the water. I told my husband this should be the title of his memoir. Any time I’m the one charged with making the pasta or farro or vegetables, he checks and double checks and triple checks “Did you salt the water?” As, um, charming as this line of questioning is, the motivation behind it is legit — food tastes so much better when it’s properly seasoned. This is especially true of pasta water, which should taste as salty as the sea.

14. You will never regret ending the day with a sit-down meal. Whether it’s frozen pizza on a Tuesday or a big batch of pork ragu on a Sunday, sharing dinner with people I love has brought me more happiness than just about any other ritual I can think of.

15. You won’t get arrested if you leave out an ingredient or replace it with something that’s not called for. That doesn’t mean leave the shrimp out of the shrimp and grits, but if you don’t have scallions for the chopped salad, or if you don’t have red wine called for in the braised pork, take a look around and see what else might stand in for what’s missing. Every time you do this and it works, you’ll be a little more confident in the kitchen. And every time you do this and it doesn’t work, you have one more good story to tell.

P.S. What food geniuses eat when they’re home alone and the joy of potluck dinners.

(Photo by Trinette Reed/Stocksy. A version of this post first appeared on Dinner: A Love Story, five years ago. Reprinted with permission.)

  1. Julie Fannin says...

    I learned the trick of using dental floss (unscented) maybe 20 years ago. Using floss for slicing cheesecake is the bomb! It makes it so easy! I usually preslice cheesecake, cover well with saran wrap then place in the freezer. It’s just my husband and me and he doesn’t eat cheesecake so I have to freeze it for later. But by pre-slicing it’s so easy to unwrap and easily slide a piece out. And yes, I use it for slicing sheet cake also. I also find keeping a cake knife that’s V shaped makes lifting a slice (especially if it’s a round cake) out super easy.

  2. HM says...

    My husband is a wonderful cook, and I do my best. I know I’ve created something great when my kids say “uh, Mom… did Dad make this?”

    Bless their souls.

  3. Claire says...

    Salt the water….. if it’s pasta or potatoes or white starch. Otherwise don’t! Then you can use your mineral-rich cooled water for happy plants, and less wasted drinking water :)

  4. Samantha says...

    I love Jenny’s writing and am so glad she’s on Cup of Jo!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Me too :)

  5. Christine says...

    – cooking someone a meal from the heart is equal to (sometimes greater than) saying “I love you”
    -you can learn a lot about someone by watching them cook
    -cut tomatoes with a serrated knife and ginger with a smooth knife!
    -throw your “season-all” away!!! And definitely don’t use half the bottle in the first ever meal that you cook for your now husband 😂

  6. Virginia says...

    Ha! Yes. I had a similar thought the other day when I went really slowly down the baking aisle. Didn’t need anything, just found comfort in all the types of flour and evaporated milk and whatnot. Like Maurice Sendak’s Night Kitchen ;)

  7. Elise says...

    This revelation came to me very recently after years of resistance to opening any cookbooks. I realised I don’t have to learn to cook EVERY recipe in a cookbook, or purchase EVERY ingredient in the book (both things that were previously very overwhelming to me). Instead I could dwell on one recipe for a long while, studying it, taking time to collect the ingredients, imaging how it will turn out, and then finally thoroughly enjoying cooking and eating it with company!

    Cooking isn’t a race to the end (or the end of a cookbook)… for non naturals like me it’s a one-at-a-time exploration. Phew!

  8. Natalie M says...

    “Did you salt the water?” Ha. This is the first year (we’ve been together 15) that my husband trusts my salting. I’m Greek! We season with other things *along with* salt! He’s Irish and would prefer his salt with a side of food. I think his first tattoo will be the Maldon diamond.

  9. Laurel says...

    In our house, for every meal, we start by saying “thank you chef.” Our boys are 6 and 4 and my hubs and I both work full time….it’s a lot. Thanking whomever made a meal and got it on the table is the highest priority! Jenny is right as well about it not mattering whether it’s good or not. Cooking for anyone other than yourself takes effort and is worth being acknowledged.

    Thanks for these tips Jenny!

    • Julie Fannin says...

      I know for a fact that my husband of 32 years absolutely loves my cooking but he never says “thank you!” or compliments it without me asking first if he likes a new dish. It would sure be nice to hear without having to ask…..sigh……

  10. Alison says...

    I don’t want these comments to end…
    Food talk is so comforting to me.

  11. Victoria says...

    Bright and very useful post!. The relaxed tone makes it even better. Thank you Jenny, love it all! (from Madrid, Spain)

  12. Jen says...

    Jenny. Have you read Commonwealth by Our Lord and Savior Ann Patchett? There’s quite a bit of gin in that book, but the part that sticks out most vividly is when a bartender deals with drunks, she mixes the tonic and the ice and then pours a bolus of gin on top. That way, when the drunk tastes it, he gets that bracing kick of gin and believes it’s a strong drink. Well, I tried that method kinda as a joke, and now it turns out I like my gin on top, just barely mixed, so I get that initial kick.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I have read Commonwealth but I have no recollection of that scene. I’ll definitely try it. All about that initial kick! Thanks for the tip.

  13. Lisa says...

    This. These are all spot on! Thank you!

  14. Agnes says...

    I dice my avocado exactly like he does, so therefore it’s the right way ;)

  15. Liz says...

    Brushing everything with egg white is a great way to ensure people with egg allergies can’t eat something that is typically just fine (like pie crust).

    • maria says...

      chill

  16. Laurel says...

    The thwacking your knife into the pit of the avocado isn’t necessary!! Here’s what I do: whichever side the pit remains on, cut that in half again (so you have two quarters of the avocado remaining on the pit). The avocado slides off the pit easily then.

    • Sarah says...

      YES, Laurel! I personally think stabbing the pit is an awful cooking tip that everyone seems to love. I do it exactly like you and it’s safer and more effective. :)

    • MJ says...

      Agreed! I used to stab the pit like this but then I find it is hard to get the slimy pit off the knife and do some… less than safe maneuvers to remove it.

    • Hanna says...

      If making guacamole, my tips is squeeze it first, cut it in half and then just squeeze all the content out and the pit. Easiest way and you don’t have to mash it as much

  17. Leslie says...

    I love this list, and I enjoy many articles I read here. But I have to offer you a gentle reminder: regarding your advice to generously salt the water in which you cook anything like pasta and potatoes – please be mindful that many people have to limit the sodium in their food if they want to remain alive. You say that food tastes better when it’s “properly” seasoned, but the definition of “properly” is a fluid thing, dependent on many factors, including cultural background, economic situation, medical concerns, and primarily, “properly” is usually defined as “what we are accustomed to”. Which brings me (finally!) to my point: it is it quite possible to get used to the taste of pasta, potatoes or whatever cooked with less salt. The way we taste salt depends on how much salt you’ve eaten in the past day or so. If you eat something very salty, the next day food that’s less salty will taste bland to you. This is why processed foods are made so high in sodium – the more you eat, the more you will want, so the more they can sell! But if you can allow yourself to tolerate a day or two of bland tasting food, your taste buds will adjust, and less salty food will taste fine to you. Do this for a week, and you will be surprised at how some of your previous favorite foods or preparations will be so salty you can’t even eat them. So please, keep in mind that what you call “properly” seasoned, someone else might call “a health risk” or even “too salty”! Just saying 😊

    • MJ says...

      If you need to reduce sodium in your diet for health reasons, then you should feel free to do so. However, this doesn’t mean everyone should be reducing the amount of salt in their cooking. That’s like saying “well, gentle reminder that not everyone can eat pasta due to Celiac disease so you better just stop mentioning pasta on this blog”. …ok, well, that’s very pertinent information for your personal life but irrelevant to most people. The fact of the matter is that food tastes better when it has more salt in it, and it’s something that home cooks often underestimate. Also, the amount of salt in home cooking is drastically less than the amount of sodium in processed food and even restaurant cooking. If the tip “salt your food properly” gets people to enjoy their home-cooked meals more and therefore eat out less, I think it’s a great general tip.

    • Patricia says...

      Agree. Wholeheartedly. Thank you.

    • Anna says...

      That’s true, Leslie. As a student, I spent a month volunteering in the Russian countryside, where we mostly ate simple home-cooked salads and soups; nothing imported or fancy. When I got home, European deli foods like olives and pecorino tasted unbelievably salty to me.

    • Mims says...

      I agree with Leslie. I am a naturopathic physician with 25 years of clinical experience and these last 5 years as a medical researcher in nutrigenomic field. Excess sodium from salt ABSOLUTELY causes subtle and insidious damage to the body over time: the science on this clear. From inhibiting endothelial nitric oxide production responsible for relaxing your blood vessels, increasing oxidative damage and increasing glucose transport through the intestinal wall to increase glycemic response with attendant risk of Type 2 diabetes too much sodium is not your friend. Home cooks should not be salting cooking water or salting to taste at the table. Humans evolved for millennia with-out ready access to salt as we know it. Our body’s physiology has not had time to adapt. It has only been in our very recent evolution (5,000 years) it has been available. What most people consider to be a normal salt diet is still actually too high. 90% of Americans eat too much sodium. Just because you currently see no obvious problems with salt consumption does not mean it is not thinning your bones, setting you up for high blood pressure down the road or contributing to increased risk of other chronic degenerative diseases. Lear to use herbs, spices, vinegar, etc for seasoning. Your taste buds adapt….and it spoils eating out, as everything tastes SO salty! Off my soap box. But knowledge is power.

    • isabelle says...

      And some people can’t eat pork for religious reasons, or can’t eat a peanut without needing epinephrine, or can’t eat a sandwich without enduring severe GI issues for the next 24 hours. Everyone has to adjust their diets to account for allergies, sensitivities, and health concerns. Each of us is responsible for being mindful of what we eat, and it doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to cook as if they are catering to our specific needs.

      Regardless, “properly seasoned” doesn’t necessarily mean it has high levels of sodium. Generously salting your pasta water (most of which will eventually get poured down the drain) is really different than eating a bag of processed and artificially preserved potato chips or a mediocre restaurant dish that is oversalted to compensate for ingredients of poor quality. Experienced home chefs are also using kosher diamond salt, which has about half the sodium by volume than iodized Morton’s (which is disgusting anyway). Your average Joe probably IS oversalting their food because they are using Morton’s in recipes written for kosher salt.

      Perhaps you should think of “proper” seasoning as “mindful” seasoning. If food is “properly” seasoned, you will not taste the salt. The salt helps bring out the natural flavors of the ingredients, not mask them (this is why it’s also great for baking). Sprinkling some salt on your dish at the table cannot compensate for ingredients that were not properly seasoned during cooking – and again, you don’t need that much to bring out their natural flavors. You are welcome to cook however you like but keep in mind that a suggestion to properly salt your food is neither a call for oversalting nor a personal attack on you.

  18. The correct crunch in a salad is apple!

  19. Anu says...

    Strong believer in No. 10! I have a mantra – if someone gave a presentation or fed you some food – tell them they did a great job presenting / the food is delicious! Just do it!

    Thankfully, my family always profusely thanks the cook and compliments the food, but I was taken aback the first few times I cooked for people who didn’t seem to comment positively on the food at all! I have to admit, I’ve decided not to invite those people back – maybe a bit immature, but I take a lot of trouble to bring something tasty to the table, and expect that to be appreciated.

    • Leslie says...

      I, too, like to be thanked or complimented when I make a meal for someone. But you should know that according to proper etiquette, as defined by Miss Manners (Judith Martin), the food that is being served is not an appropriate subject for dinner-table conversation, though a deep and sincere expression of thanks is, of course, good manners! Her contention is that conversation at a social gathering should be about concepts, ideas, various events such as movies, concerts, sporting events, places you’ve traveled to and other such subjects. I suspect it might come from a time when the hostess often had hired help who did the cooking, so could not really accept compliments on what was served.
      So the guests who didn’t offer compliments on the food you served them may have only been being polite, according to the rules they were taught. Not disagreeing with you, just wanted to offer a different perspective.

    • Kris says...

      Same Leslie as the above post on less sodium?

    • Anu says...

      Leslie, that’s kind of funny to me – I actually did grow up in a family where “hired help” did most of the cooking – and I’m pretty sure we were still supposed to compliment the hostess and the cook on the food. But cultural norms do differ. That said, the particular friend I have in mind is actually Brazilian so I don’t think he can use Miss Manners as an excuse.

  20. Gina says...

    My first thought when I read the floss cake cutting tip “But will it give all the slices a faint taste of mint?!”

  21. Jeannie says...

    These are great tips! I especially love #15. I feel like a culinary genius whenever I substitute something and it works perfectly.

  22. Great blog! I have never cut a cake with dental floss or twine but I will try it next time. I sent a link to my friend Jenean who makes high-end wedding cakes.

    Love your tip about adding acid to dishes. My mom taught me years ago fresh lime juice brightens up all seafood, chicken, pork, etc. I have learned [from Ina Garten] that brussells sprouts and/or fresh spinach are really yummy when you add balsamic vinegar and garlic. I told a friend recently no wonder kids don’t like vegetables – most parents don’t season them well. I hated veggies as a kid but now that I cook for myself I’ve figured out ways to make them tasty.

  23. Emily says...

    I really enjoyed this post. Thank you!

  24. Carol Wayne says...

    My best advice for cooking comes from Laurie Colwin’s wonderful cookbook “Home Cooking” which I have used and re-read for 30 years…the novice cook should call up the best cook he or she knows and listen to what that person says. And then the novice should stick to it…
    I would add ….same for the directions in the cook book….

    Avocados and bagels are the two most dangerous foods!!

    • Julie Fannin says...

      Oh I have to disagree about sticking to another cooks tips and especially not varying from recipes. I always add my own twist. I can always (or 95% of the time) improve on a recipe. I enjoy the creativity of making it my own.

  25. Verona says...

    Jenny, I just want to say that I love your posts. A breath of fresh air, because I so often feel overwhelmed by cooking for our family of five. You make everything sound fun, light, and most importantly, doable. Thanks!

  26. Tracey says...

    My tip:
    Mood over food. Always.
    Remember that the people you are cooking for love you and are here to spend time with you. If your dish fails, preserve the mood- no over-apologizing! Just order pizza, pour more wine and laugh. And try again another day.

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I love that. You should get “Mood Over Food” embroidered on an apron.

    • Tracey says...

      :) that’s a fun idea!

  27. Jennifer says...

    But don’t salt the water when boiling artichokes! Not tasty at all…pretty gross actually

    • isabelle says...

      Why boil an artichoke? I always steam them over salted water with the juice of two lemons. Home run every time.

    • Robert Phillips says...

      I use my rice cooker for that, just raise the artichokes above the water and put it on white rice and walk away, when it dings, bring on the mayo or???

  28. Olivia says...

    I have enjoyed learning to cook things my own way.

    I love French green beans but was always bothered by the fussiness of cooking them – shocking in ice water? Really?? And just cooking in a pan with oil often made them too hard.

    I tried cooking them with oil, adding a little water, covering, and steaming-ish them. After I finished I was kind of wondering if that was “allowed” but they’re so good this way!

    • Anu says...

      That’s pretty much how I was taught to cook them as an Indian cook, so you’re not alone!

  29. Orsolya Soos says...

    I love Jenny, I love her writing, her ideas, her recipes. So happy she’s a contributor here.

    • Neile says...

      Me too!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      <3 <3 <3

  30. L says...

    “Did you salt the water?” was the mantra in our family! As kids, my brother and I always knew when something was made by our mom vs our dad because our dad frequently forgot to salt the water. He claims he truly doesn’t taste a difference! Luckily, after decades of getting “Did you salt the water?” from my mom, brother and I, he is now firmly in the habit of salting the water. Haha.

  31. Bec says...

    Love this but all the references (mostly in the comments) of food and scraps ending up in the bin make me cringe a little- food rotting in landfill is terrible for the environment! I live in a tiny apartment and have a compost bucket, it’s fabulous and no food scraps end up in landfill, my heart sings!

    • Vero says...

      I agree! In our community, we are required to compost food scraps. We get a bin that they pick up at the end of our driveway or compost ours in the backyard composter. Apparently providing these bins has cut down on over 30% of residential landfill waste in our area!

    • Bebe says...

      Do you have a large indoor garden or do you give it to a friend? I would like to compost my scraps as well, but city living doesn’t give me many options.

    • Lucy says...

      Bebe, we keep store our compost in old plastic yogurt containers in our freezer, and then every Saturday we put them in a bag and walk to the farmers market (we live in Brooklyn and walk to the Ft Greene Market) where they have composting drop off. Check in your city to see if there are similar composting collection sites or a community garden that collects it!

    • Cynthia says...

      Agreed. I am proud to live in a city like Seattle where they put money toward making our environment better. I haven’t had a full trash bag or a wet trash bag in over a decade. The only things that are in our trash collection bin (which is the size of two shoeboxes) is used tissues, used floss, bottle caps, and jar lids which are under 3″ in diameter. It would take me a month to fill our trash box! Virtually everything else can be reused, recycled, or composted.

    • Anna says...

      Yes, and with many vegetables you can eat the whole thing, or almost. E.g. no need to peel carrots they’re organic and carefully washed = no/fewer scraps

    • I loathe smelly trashcans – the side benefit of composting is no more smelly kitchen trash! We live in a small city with a small yard and we have a compost pile. I was so impressed when we visited friends in Seattle and saw their 3 trash cans: trash, recycling, and compost. SO COOL.

    • Bec says...

      Bebe- we have friends with a compost heap that we sometimes contribute to, but my boyfriend found the Share Waste app which connects us to locals with compost/worm farms/chickens that love the scraps! The first time we used it we met a lady in our neighbourhood that gave us kale, silver beet and herbs for our waste. Win win.

  32. t says...

    Jenny what are your thoughts on vacuum sealed pre-pealed garlic (other than wasteful packaging) or even minced garlic in a jar?

    • Michelle says...

      Trader joes has frozen garlic cubes that are the closest thing to fresh garlic, I’ve found. If I’m cooking something special I’ll use the real stuff, but man it’s so easy to pop one of those in the pan some nights when you need dinner to be a little easier.

    • Sarah says...

      Try a garlic press – so easy!

    • Julie Fannin says...

      I don’t understand why using fresh garlic would be difficult?

  33. Sarah says...

    This reminds me of the time I was 23 and cooking for my new boyfriend at his bachelor pad. It was a house rented by four young guys and there were amps in the living room instead of couches. The pans were all shredded teflon. I asked him where his kitchen shears were and he laughed in my face. Years later, we now live together, he is a cooking snob too, and we have two pairs of kitchen shears :)

  34. ~Heather says...

    One of those metal thingies that fits into the mouth of a jar (oh, a jar funnel!), thus making the mouth wider, so you can get your leftover tomato soup, or smoothie, or cheerios into the jar without spilling food all over the table. I use mine daily, but whenever I try to take the shortcut of NOT using it, I end up regretting the mess I need to clean up and shake my head in shame…

    • Sasha L says...

      Agreed. Jar funnels are so handy!

    • Julie Fannin says...

      That’s a helpful tip! Thank you! I’ve never heard of a “jar funnel”, I just use a funnel purchased from wherever in a store when I need one. I have jars available to store leftovers, I’d just never thought of it. I’ll also be looking for that jar funnel!

  35. I’m so glad this exists. Since I live in an apartment now, I’m constantly cooking and it’s always good to have some pro tips. Cooking is one of those things that you can either be good at or bad at, and I feel like there’s no in between. For me, I feel like I’m pretty good but it’s always nice to have some extra tips for when I decide to start cooking for others.

  36. Sasha L says...

    Dental floss is the very best way to slice homemade cinnamon or caramel rolls before you put in pan to rise before you bake. You take a long stand, hold an end in each hand, slip it under the roll of dough, criss cross the two pieces and pull. It doesn’t pull the dough, or squish it or drag out your filling

    And now I desperately want a warm caramel pecan roll

  37. This is a wonderful post, thank you for the tips!!!

  38. Stephanie says...

    No. 1 cooking tip: no cooking tip works for everyone : )

    Part of the joy of cooking is giving yourself permission to find your own way. When I cook for my family and friends, I remind myself that most of the memorable meals from my childhood were prepared by thrifty folks with slim budgets coaxing cheap ingredients (often processed and never organic, ha!) into something delicious and comforting, usually with dull knives and Teflon pans. It reminds me that feeding people well doesn’t have to be complicated. However you cut the cake, as long as you share it with people you love, it’ll be delicious.

    • Kriww says...

      This. So much this.

    • Kara says...

      This is such good perspective.

  39. Maree says...

    As a student I worked in a children’s party shop and had to rapidly slice and wrap 5 birthday cakes a day for party bags in time for the kids going home…that string tip would have been AMAZING!

  40. Anna says...

    “No matter how many times your partner-in-crime says, Why don’t we just do that later?”

    YES YES YES

    I’m laughing. These are all so great! And buying those kitchen scissors! They have a JAR OPENER?! I use scissors to cut pizza – is that sacrilegious?

    • Kereru says...

      The first time I ever saw someone cut pizza with scissors was when I lived in South Korea years ago.

      Any time someone ordered pizza for the staff room (quite often), the school lunch lady would come in and quickly cut the slices in half again with scissors to make them go further. It was genius and how I’ve cut pizza ever since!

    • rosa says...

      I grew up in Italy, and we had a pair of scissors specifically for pizza ;-)

    • Anna says...

      Oh my gosh, Kereru and Rosa this is so exciting! Screenshot-ing your comments to show my skeptical husband. :)

    • I got rid of my pizza cutter and only use the scissors!!! Works so much better.

  41. kate says...

    Sharp knives are so key! I have mine professionally sharpened every year the week before Thanksgiving. By “professionally,” I mean at the hardware store. Annuals sharpening = sharp knives all year round! :)

    • isabelle says...

      I suggest buying a whetstone. “Professional” sharpening is often overly aggressive and takes off a lot of material. More frequent sharpening on a whetstone is gentler on your knife, prolongs its life and ensures that it’s sharp all year round.

  42. Kim says...

    I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen anyone cut a slice of cake with anything other than a knife!

  43. Capucine says...

    I do not know about cutting birthday cake with dental floss.

    I do know being judged at my kid’s next birthday party for not using floss to cut the cake will feel really yuck.

    Now I know about that tip, but I feel embarrassed that there is a technique ‘everyone’ knows and has been judging me about for years unbeknownst to me. Great is the teacher who can impart their greater wisdom without shaming the student, eh?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh we weren’t saying you had to do that or would be judged in any way — just that in the small food world, it has become so common that it feels normal. definitely cut your cake however you’d like! hope this helps and thank you so much for your note xoxo

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      If anything I was making fun of myself: The point is, what loser/nerd walks around thinking that normal people know this stuff?

    • j ha says...

      Context is everything and this particular remark begins with “You know you’ve been in the food-writing world for too long when”… very clearly giving context to Jenny’s comment on her thoughts on cake cutting techniques. No need to get in a tiff.

    • NH observer says...

      Agreed — no need to get unnecessarily bent out of shape! Several of the comments in this thread are from folks who appear to regard Jenny’s entirely innocuous and well-meaning suggestions as criticisms of them. Jenny, I don’t know you at all, but based on your blog and your gracious responses here, I highly doubt that you intended to stigmatize anyone or make them feel uncomfortable.

    • Owl says...

      I have never even met anyone who uses dental floss to cut cake! Lol! Which I think is the case for most people! So Jenny was making a joke – she was pointing out how immersed she is in her cooking world and how most people haven’t even heard of things that now seem so obvious to her. It made me chuckle! Though now that she has shared the tip on COJ, I bet everyone will be using this trick! Haha! Great tips Jenny! Thanks. From now on, I will salt the water… my son will be happy that you have converted me. Lol!

  44. C says...

    More hosting related…

    Pour your guest(s) a glass of water, even if they didn’t ask for one :) I like to give people a glass within five minutes of them sitting on my couch… I just know we’re going to be sinking into good conversation. I get so parched while talking/catching up with friends that I crave water even if we’re chatting over drinks!

    It’s nice to be offered a glass of water in someone’s home without having to ask- it feels so welcoming. Obviously harder to do in large scale settings, but good for small groups or one-on-ones.

    This seems kind of silly after typing it all out, but it’s the small details that help build a welcoming environment.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      i love that, C!

    • Sherry says...

      Thank you for this great reminder. I have a renewed vision of watering my guests. I like using beautiful water glasses or goblets, which turn it into a small luxury.

    • Astrid says...

      No, not silly at all – I feel the exact same and it winds me up when I have to ask people for water at their houses )despite being offered every other drink imaginable) from your friends in Ireland! X

    • AM says...

      This is super normal in Indian culture. Guests come in and a tray of water glasses comes out in 5! Its almost rude to not do this before serving them other things :)

    • Taylor says...

      Yes, water! My absolute favorite drink is water but some people think you are just being polite when you choose water over wine, juice, cocktails, etc. as in “Please don’t fuss, I’m fine with water”. No, I honestly want water! I once started crying at the home of my then new in-laws because they kept giving me liquor and wine and I kept politely asking for water. The thought of giving a guest water as a drink was so rude in their culture that they wouldn’t even entertain the idea. When I started crying due to an hour of frustration and, truthfully, thirst, they were baffled but rushed to get me water. To this day I’m still mortified that I started crying but water is now freely available to me when I go visit my in-laws!

  45. D says...

    Help! I need to cut a half sheet cake next week. What should I use? Should the cutting be before or after the singing/blowing out of candles? I’m all aboard the Type-A Train so almost everything else will be done in advance but the opening paragraph of this post gave me sweaty palms.

    • Andrea says...

      Cutting a sheet cake with floss is bonkers. It’s impossible. I think she meant for smaller 8 inch cakes.

      No one cares how you cut a big cake as long as you do it quickly.

    • Christina says...

      D, I agree with Andrea! No need for floss on a sheet cake. Use as long and sharp of a knife as you have, and have a napkin to wipe between swipes. I think cutting pre-candles sounds so sad!!! It always feels like a huge rush to get cake passed around, but it only takes a couple minutes in real life. (kind of like how 5 seconds feels like forever when you’re giving a presentation but no one actually notices that you lost your train of thought and took a breath.)

      No matter what, SOLICIT HELP! Grab a friend early in the party and ask that she or he help you. Putting forks on plates and passing them out while you cut will make it go much faster. And have FUN!!!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I agree with Christina below — don’t worry about the speed with which you cut that cake! It’s ALL in the host’s imagination that people are clamoring and getting impatient. “It only takes a few minutes in real life…” YES.

      PS I’ve actually used dental floss to cut sheet cake, but (do I even need to say this?) we will all be JUST FINE if we go with the tool that the world over has been using for centuries, i.e. a knife. :)

    • Emma says...

      sometimes it’s worth trying a serrated (bread) knife especially if that’s the longest one you have! Another trick is to have a damp cloth ready to wipe the blade between cuts so the knife doesn’t get gummed up.

  46. Devorah says...

    Buy a few pairs of cheap tongs and keep them on hand at all times. Tongs are like extensions of your hands–they do everything!

    • KFrank says...

      Yes! I have one small one I keep by the toaster. Way better than juggling my hot toast to the plate!

  47. Kelly says...

    also – i’ll add a pro tip for those working moms who use in home childcare, or even anyone who has the occasional sitter:

    i have a nanny, and over the years i’ve learned to outsource some meal prep to her. basically whenever i get a new round of groceries i just have her slice up the fruits and veggies i bought. i’m much more likely to cook from scratch or even snack healthier when there’s a bunch of freshly sliced fruits and veggies available.

    And, i tell my nannies (but this could easily be told to even a Saturday night sitter) that full garbage is a THING for me and its an easy way to score big points with me to remember to take it out and put a new bag in.

    • Jenny says...

      Are these people providing childcare or are they compensated for additional household/kitchen tasks? I provide professional in-home services and this comment has my eyes rolled to the back of my head, but I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt.

    • H says...

      Is having babysitters prep groceries a thing now? I feel like I’m paying them to play with my child, not doing household tasks. For nannies, perhaps if it’s explicitly stated in your contract, but that also feels outside the realm of nannying (beyond prepping snacks for the child perhaps).

    • J says...

      I was a nanny for years and have many friends who have nannied, and this is a very typical task to be given as a nanny in my experience. I think for many families, “nanny” means “household manager.” I did the grocery shopping, meal prep, light housework (the family had a cleaner come in for deep cleaning). Everyone I’ve known who worked as a nanny had a similar experience. The childcare is always the priority, but very few children need 100% attention for 8-9 hours straight.

    • Pamela says...

      My sitter arrives when my 4 year old is already asleep. She mostly watches tv (he never wakes up in the middle of the night). I will occasionally ask her to unload my dishwasher, wash up dinner dishes etc which really helps me out. I always have awesome snacks so I have zero guilt making her earn her $15.00 an hour rate.

    • Sasha L says...

      I worked as a nanny for many years and I did extra household tasks IF I was paid for them. Where I live there is a difference between nannies, housekeepers and cleaning crews. Nannies make about $15 an hour for one child, housekeepers $20+, cleaning services at least $50. I think expecting someone you’ve hired as a nanny to do ANYTHING other than childcare (and tidying up after the child, feeding the child) is disrespectful and taking advantage. If you had to hire a person to do just those food or cleaning tasks, you’d be paying a lot more. Childcare deserves more respect, not less.

    • Anna says...

      Totally on all of this!

      I think it’s reasonable to seek and find a support resource with whatever help you need, as long as you’re clear up front about the expectations! After all, “mom” comes with a pretty expansive job description that would fit no neat category on LinkedIn.

    • C says...

      No matter what, this is something that should be clearly established at the beginning of a nanny relationship (in the interview!). Give your kids’ schedules and ASK whether light housework or food prep is something they’re willing to do during naptime. Definitely don’t surprise them with it after you’ve engaged their services, unless you’re willing to pay extra, and even still be okay with hearing a no.

      I really appreciate J’s insight here as a former nanny, but I would also add that nannying isn’t like a regular 9-to-5 job in which you have bathroom breaks and kitchen breaks and check-your-phone breaks and sit-outside-and-eat-lunch-alone breaks. Probably for a lot of full-time nannies (or sitters on a long shift), naptime or playtime or bedtime is their chance to do that.

      Re: Saturday night garbage, I don’t know how much garbage generally gets generated at your house on a Saturday night, but I would never imagine there would be enough to require the sitter to take it out. If there’s that much garbage for the 4-5 hours they are with my kids, I’m assuming there’s a teenager at home and maybe that should be their job. Otherwise, the garbage was probably part-way full to begin with, and maybe that’s my job as an adult who lives in my household. Everyone has their THINGS, but I was rolling my eyes at this too.

    • Amy says...

      I agree, it totally depends on what you and the nanny/sitter have agreed upon for the wage that’s being paid. I usually approach a sitter saying, “the kids will already be in bed; would you like to babysit for $10/hr on ___ night?” or “They’ll need to be fed dinner and have bedtime routine started; would you like to babysit for $15/hr on ___ night?”

      This way it’s up front, and they’re getting paid a reasonable amount for our area for what it is they’re actually doing, and they can decide if that’s fair and if they want to sign up for it. A lot of babysitters around here just get what’s handed to them at the end of the night and the actual amount per hour is tiptoed around.

    • Penelope says...

      When I was working as an afterschool nanny during my last few years at uni I did the meal prep in the evenings and loved it! Sometimes I’d even cook the entire dinner. I wasn’t paid anything extra specifically for my cooking services and really didn’t think it was warranted either. While I was cooking, the younger kids (7, 9) would help out if they wanted to or else they’d play and the older daughter (12) would do her homework. For me, doing the meal prep always felt like the best use of my time but of course, the kids I was nannying were old enough to entertain themselves so it was easy to focus on something else.

      I guess this is just another case of to each their own! xx

    • Kelly says...

      For those wondering,
      1. I pay my nanny a fixed weekly rate for a set number of hours each week with generous vacation and sick time. I rarely use all the hours I pay for, but I need her commitment to be available for those hours, so I pay 52 weeks a year whether we use the hours or not.
      2. Half her hours are when my kids are in school. I am very explicit when I interview that household tasks are part of the job responsibilities, and give her a fair amount of flexibility when she’d like to perform those tasks.
      3. We’ve had nannies my kids’ entire lives. While I expect them to prioritize kids’ well being over all other tasks, I certainly don’t want to raise kids who think someone is there to entertain them at all times. So just like I do on weekends, nanny washes dishes and does kitchen tasks while kids play nearby.

      I babysat my whole teenage years and my mom told me to ALWAYS clean up and do whatever I could to take care of housework while making sure kids were taken care of and I did so happily and had happy employers. If that is not your speed as a childcare provider you’re certainly welcome to make that clear, but based on the expectations of families I know who use regular nannies you’ll be far more limited in your job opportunities!

      Hope that helps answer ?s. In any employee/employer relationship communication and establishing clear expectations are critical!

    • Kelly says...

      Wow my original comment has generated lots of thoughts!

      Maybe a topic for a post, Joanna, what do you expect from sitters/nannies!

      I just want to say – I’ve had lots of sitters and nannies over the years, and done lots of sitting myself – and In my experience, and many others in my network, asking a full time nanny to take on meal prep and housekeeping responsibilities is the norm!

      And asking a weekend sitter to take the garbage out – also just fine! I just paid one of our long time weekend sitters $150 to sit from 6 pm to 1 am last weekend. She knows my expectations and my kitchen was spotless and she asked me when she could sit again. Kids were asleep for 5 hours of that time, I think it’s totally fair to ask her to take the garbage out!

      So, all relative to your expectations and norms where you live and what you’ve agreed with your employer or employee! But pls don’t roll your eyes at my arrangements that both sides are happy with!

    • Taylor says...

      I worked as a nanny for almost twelve years and felt that my job was not only to take care of the children but to make the parents’ lives easier and give them more time to be with their children. I was happy to make meals, grocery shop, do laundry, run errands and abviously clean up after myself and the children. That being said, everything was agreed to up front. The one job that I left after only one year was a job where the mother kept adding on responsibilities that were NOT discussed prior to me taking the job and she did NOT additionally compensate me in any way. As Kelly said, as long as expectations are established up front, meal prep and other “parent-like” chores are the norm for nannies.

    • isabelle says...

      I hope “easy way to score big points with me” translates to “I have discussed with you prior to your acceptance that it would be part of the job description or I will be compensating you fairly for this additional labor.”

  48. Maclean Nash says...

    These are great tips, thanks Jenny!
    I made your infamous pork ragu for family dinner last weekend and…OH MY GOODNESS IT DID NOT DISAPPOINT! Everyone loved it, everyone had seconds, and I was so glad that I took the time to go and get fresh pasta (learning how to make it is on my to do list. “It’s easy”, people say!). My husband was complimenting the meal two days later!
    I cant wait to make it again and I paired it with steamed veg and lightly dressed them with your vinaigrette recipe. All this to say, thank you for having straightforward instructions, always having the best recipes that will become my family’s memories, and giving me the confidence to feel like a boss in the kitchen!

    • Katy says...

      Fresh pasta is actually very easy if you follow Lydia Bastianich’s* methodology. She uses the food processor. We followed exactly what it said to do and the pasta was perfect on on the first, and subsequent, attempts. Rolling it out is time consuming, but I find it soothing I would not recommend making your own pasta for dinner for 12!
      *I may have butchered the spelling of her name.

  49. Marnie says...

    For people who think they “can’t cook” because their attempts fail every now and then: think of it like skiing. Even expert skiers wipe out – it means they are pushing themselves and trying new things. Expect meal disasters as part of the learning curve! (Some of mine are legendary, and they make for great laughs and stories).

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      Coming from someone who “learned” how to ski late in life, I find this advice so true and necessary.

    • Joyce says...

      I, too, learned to ski as an adult, and, to extend the metaphor, half the battle is not being absolutely discouraged by the four-year olds whizzing by you down the mountain when you’re 23, over six feet tall, and falling in line for the bunny hill.

      Cooking is the same for me and having a supportive family/partner is very helpful. My husband (a great cook who also asks “Did you salt the water?” incessantly) always compliments any culinary attempts I make, despite “failures” — but mostly, I’ve found it’s important for me to be kind to myself in the process and acknowledge how far I’ve come. (I can make about four meals without a recipe now!) So maybe this whole comment is just to say: Be kind to yourself in the kitchen, in skiing, and in life.

  50. Kate says...

    One leaky garbage bag will cure you of the desire to store clean ones underneath. Ask me how I know! *shudder*

    • Robin says...

      That was my very first thought when I read that tip!!

    • Capucine says...

      Especially if you are using those biodegradable-compostable bags these days.

    • KC says...

      Ditto.

      But storing them somewhere handy is definitely key! Just… not downstream of the garbage.

    • Devorah says...

      My trash can actually has a hidden compartment for storing spare bags, it’s inside the can but at the top, just under the lip of the can. So they are handy, but not in the line of fire of a leaking bag!! Such a small thing, but makes the daily chore just a little bit less annoying. It’s the SimpleHuman brand.

    • KT says...

      Oh my gosh, 100% agree. Just had to wash out the bin this past weekend for this very reason and was so glad I didn’t have clean bags underneath.

    • Ashley says...

      Ha! Love this, it’s never off topic (to me) to discuss Mr. Darcy 😂

      I’m 35. COLIN FIRTH is the correct answer.

    • Cassidy says...

      32. Matthew Macfadyen forever.

    • laura says...

      27 and my vote is with Macfadyen as well!

    • MJ says...

      Omg thank you for this hilarious moment. “Filthiest Finger Flex” made me lol at my desk. And yes that moment still makes my heart swoon even when I see it on a tiny gif.

      29, and Matthew Macfayden if the finger flex didn’t give me away already

    • Maddy says...

      25, Matthew Macfadyen 100%! What a dreamboat.

  51. Elizabeth says...

    My number one tip? Get good kitchen knives and keep ’em sharp.

  52. Maryann says...

    Love this list and all wisdom from Jenny. :)

    I would add: Check out cookbooks from the library. If you renew them once or twice or check them out again, might be worth the purchase. Right now, I have the Ottolenghi Jerusalem cookbook checked out and I’m loving it. I’ve looked at it in bookstores before but never would’ve bought it until now. We’ll see how many times I renew. :)

    • Lesley S says...

      This is a great tip! I love checking out cookbooks and have found some of my most favorite in my collection by checking them out from the library first. We go to the library a couple of times per week and always leave with at least one.

    • Maria says...

      So so true. I rarely make more than one or two recipes from a cookbook so the library is my go-to place for these. If I find I want to try more recipes, I make the purchase.

    • Tori says...

      Yes! I do this and have so many new recipes that I never would have tried otherwise! I love having access to so many great cookbooks, but the library stores them for me.

    • Amy says...

      I think I own 6-7 cookbooks, yet I cook 95% of our meals. The library is amazing to vet out the true “keepers” of cookbooks; they’re so fun to browse through, but it’s rare that I get around to trying a new recipe from a cookbook no matter how good it looks (to be honest I’m much more likely to try one from a blog, where there’s feedback from other cooks about what worked and didn’t for them).

      P.S. I own all three of Jenny’s cookbooks. I don’t cook from them (sorry!) but I love to read them like a book!

    • Penelope says...

      This is such a great idea! I can’t wait to try this out next time I stop by the library. Thanks, Maryann :)

    • Devorah says...

      Love this tip about getting cookbooks from the library! I taught myself how to cook when I was 10 years old–my mom broke her arm and had a new baby at the same time (long story!) and I started to help her in the kitchen. After the first week, I was bored making the same dishes over and over, so I asked if I could get cookbooks and try something new! I used to literally write down the recipes I liked best in a notebook before I returned the book to the library. I still remember some of them 20 years later–like the spinach salad with sauteed mushrooms that we all thought was SO fancy! By the time my mother’s arm healed, I was able to cook a Shabbat dinner for my whole large family plus guests on my own–and I never stopped cooking after that!

  53. Abesha1 says...

    “Things I Wish Someone *Had* Told Me…”

    Editors 😉

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thank you, abesha!

    • Kim says...

      THANK YOU.

  54. Ll says...

    The best tip I ever got was to “learn what it does”. This means, learn why an ingredient is in the food. Lemon? Is it there for acid or flavor? If acid, then you can use vinegar, but if for taste maybe use lime or an orange for the citrus flavor. Mango salsa but no mango? Use peaches or any other fruit with similar taste and texture. This has helped me SO MUCH. I since way more confident in the kitchen and the self named queen of making dinner out of nothing. Comes in handy very often when hunger strikes and the fridge is empty.

    • Jessica says...

      This is great tip! Something I’ve definitely practiced but never thought much about, and it would be huge for someone to learn when they’re first getting experimental in the kitchen.

    • Sara says...

      Silly question, but – how do you go about finding such information? Most of the recipes I come across don’t provide it.

  55. kash says...

    fun! if i could go back in time, i’d tell myself that stock powder or cubes are totally fine, a garlic crusher is like $10 and saves a lot of pain, and you don’t need to do open “a bottle of nice wine” just to put in sauce–despite what many recipes will claim! it’s ok to take a lower-key approach to cooking and the food will still taste delicious.

    also i’d tell myself to buy a fishbone spatula, which is the Most. Useful. kitchen tool for me!

    • Amy says...

      …googling fishbone spatula….. :)

    • Erin says...

      Same! I bought a fish spatula this summer. Just two nights ago – as I served fish veracruz – I smiled thinking about how much pleasure this little spatula brings me and what a difference it make when handling fish.

    • Kat says...

      That’s so funny because I bought a fish spatula a few years ago and find it about as helpful as any other wide spatula.

      I’m also the same person who uses a hand mixer over my KitchenAid because it’s 1) too awkward to add ingredients to the KitchenAid while it’s mixing and 2) the beater doesn’t scrape the bottom of the bowl, leaving parts of the batter unmixed. To each person their own favorite tool!

    • LK says...

      @Kash, you can change the height of your kitchenaid so it reaches the bottom. Get it as close as possible without touching, and a quick stir should pick up whatever isn’t getting picked up.

  56. Denise C says...

    Number ONE! I automatically skip over every single pinterest recipe titled “crack” anything. I trust Chicken and Dumplings over Crack Chicken and Dumplings 100%.

    • Rae says...

      Yes Denise! YES

      Also — please –can someone tell me how to properly wash pastry brushes? I’m a *bit* of a clean freak and I never feel the brushes are clean enough so they sit unused in my baking drawer.

    • Jessica says...

      @Rae – I have a silicone baking brush that works for what I need (I am not precise and not much of a baker), but the “bristles” are thicker and I throw it in the dishwasher and it comes out clean.

    • Heidi says...

      Yes, this. I can’t stand recipes with the word “Crack” as a descriptor!

      I will add to that list recipes with “Better Than Sex” and “Change Your Life.” It’s just chicken. Think bigger. ;)

    • isabelle says...

      Pinterest is also plagued with cake recipes where the ingredients include a box of cake mix. Why?!

  57. Lynn says...

    Words of affirmation are my jam. Compliment the chef, people!! Compliment the table setting, the beverage selection, the thoughtfulness of remembering your food allergy. Never stifle a compliment. If the host blushes and then tells you all the things WRONG they did, give him or her a playful shake, look firmly in their eyes and say, “hush now, this is wonderful.”

    • talia says...

      AMEN!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      YES. “Never stifle a compliment.” Words that apply beyond the kitchen!

  58. Laura says...

    1. I learned this tip from Rachael Ray and it’s a total game-changer: have a garbage bowl next to you as your chopping, cooking, etc to throw any rubbish in and save yourself from walking over to the trash bin over and over. When you’re done you can just chuck everything at once.

    2. You don’t need to wash chicken. In fact, it can actually do more harm than good because you are potentially spraying raw chicken juices all over the place.

    3. Learned this tip today: if you’re having people over who don’t know each other well, leave out a hunk of cheese for when they arrive. If you need to finish up cooking and 2 people who don’t know each other are the first to arrive, there is something to do and something to chat about.

    • Stephanie says...

      Yes to the garbage bowl!!!!! I feel like my workspace stays so much cleaner when I use the garbage bowl :)

  59. Madeleine says...

    The best advice from my mother on how to make a perfect salad every time: something crunchy, something juicy, something creamy. Examples: celery/orange/avocado; cucumber/tomato/feta. Evan simple Caesar follows this recipe with croutons/romaine/dressing. Just have all 3 somehow and you can’t go wrong.

  60. Trauma shears > kitchen scissors. Just saying.

  61. Jillian says...

    I am 37 yrs old, been trying my hand at cooking for the past 15 or so yrs & this is THE best list, agree with everything! 🙌

  62. Akiko says...

    Wow, these tips are so helpful. Thank you!

  63. Marie says...

    so good! desperately need help on knife sharpening! my beloved chef’s knife is less beloved with every sweet potato it chops. what’s the legit chef-way to sharpen a knife and what is the real-person way (or are they the same?)

    x

    • Sara B says...

      Some cooking stores sharpen knives for a fee…Sur La Table used to, but I don’t know if they do currently.

    • Rachel says...

      Hey Marie! Many hardware stores will offer knife sharpening, and in my town there is a specialty knife shop that will do it. I will also say that the metal knife sharpeners (look like a metal wand) are super effective if you use them regularly, and there are tons of YouTube videos on the technique. Good luck!

    • See if your farmer’s market has a knife sharpener vendor! I can get my knives sharpened for a few bucks per blade by an expert :)

    • isabelle says...

      Buy a whetstone and learn to use it. Youtube is your friend. Don’t use those weird sharpening rods, and I would also discourage getting professional sharpening. It removes too much material from your blade, shortening the lifespan of your knife, and it’s just one more errand that you have to pay for.

  64. Deb says...

    Is it just me or are there a gazillion things worse than a lukewarm G&T? I’ll take it where I can get it ;-) (but I also try to make sure I have a bag of ice in the freezer because yes, ice for the win!).

  65. Maggie says...

    This is brilliant and brilliantly written. It sparked my day right up!

    • Tina crisas says...

      Ι know, right? I’m not the most savvy chef or cook often- my husband takes that wheel, but this was so helpful and interesting to read!

  66. Katrina says...

    I read this while browning meat balls and simmer sauce for dinner tonight.
    Kitchen shears and a meat thermometer are PRICELESS! For the past few years I’ve spatchcocked a turkey for thanksgiving (cutting out the back bone, cracking the breast bone and cooking it mostly flat) and wouldn’t be able to do it without my handy kitchen shears.
    At this point in my life I consider myself a better than average home cook, I got this far by actively learning. I read tons of recipes, watch YouTube videos for techniques, and am willing to trying to make just about anything. And if it doesn’t workout there’s always a pizza in the freezer as a back up.

  67. E says...

    I came here with the same question! We also switched away from paper towels but miss them when patting meat dry, drying our cast iron, and removing excess oil from a pan, etc …can someone please advise? How were these things done before paper towels were invented?

    • Madeleine says...

      Good for you passing on paper towels! I haven’t used them for years and honestly can’t remember what I even used them for anymore!! We use a rag to pat meat dry. At the end of the dishes, we hand wash the rag and hang to dry over night. It takes 2 seconds and usually doubles as the final wipe out of the sink so, bonus. As for drying the cast iron: we rinse ours with cold water (we have a slim piece of wood shaped like a credit card to scrape off extra food bits if a bare hand and running water can’t do the job) and rest them tilted in the sink over night to dry. We found rubbing them down with cloth or paper towel soaked up the much needed oil. Basically, the less touching the better results! And to remove excess oil, we just tilt the pan and pour it out :)

    • p. says...

      I use a dish towel instead of paper towels. If I use one to dry meat, I put it in the laundry.

    • Rae says...

      I can second the other replies and add that if your cloths get gunked up with oil an little pre-soak in dish detergent before throwing them in the laundry helps keep the oil out of the washing machine.

    • Anna says...

      Drying cast iron pans- After rinsing them with water and scraping any food off, I put them on the stove over medium heat for a few minutes until the water evaporates.

    • madie says...

      Always heat a cast iron on the stove to dry it after washing – then rub in your olive oil :)

    • Sasha L says...

      By all means you do you, but I still use paper towels. Paper products are actually renewable (the trees are grown just for that purpose, on farms, no virgin forests go into paper, and probably in the PNW, so not even far from me at least), and paper breaks down pretty fast. Waste is waste, but I’d rather throw away a few paper towels after cleaning up cat puke, than throw away a kitchen towel (no, I’m not going to wash cat puke). So many ways we can be better stewards of our planet – I’m sticking to no meat, very little dairy, being minimalist, a tiny home, wearing clothes out instead of following fashion…..

    • Jennifer says...

      We just bought a giant stack of cheap washcloths when our kids were little. At the time, they were great for wiping dirty hands and faces. Now we just pull them out of the drawer when we would otherwise use a paper towel, and chuck them directly into the laundry after. It doesn’t matter if they get stained or spoiled in any way. We have saved so much money not buying paper towels and so many cubic feet of landfill!

    • Madeleine says...

      I used to always heat my cast irons on the stove to dry and then add oil – it works and is of course totally acceptable. The best result I’ve ever had, though, is when I stopped drying over heat. It dried out the cast iron, which is to be avoided, and therefore required a drizzle of oil every time. Instead, I tilt the pot in the sink to air dry and I honestly can’t remember the last time I even poured oil in my cast iron? Maybe for oil-heavy recipes. But usually I just crack the egg in, or whatever, on a “bare” (ie: well seasoned and never dried out) pan. Tip courtesy of my great grandma – can’t take credit where credit is due!

  68. m says...

    Great advice with the kitchen shears – They are the only tool that can easily dice bacon and pancetta.
    Am I the only one who finds those types of meat impossible and messy to cut with a knife unless they are frozen??

    • Sara B says...

      Yes! There’s always one part of the fat my knife doesn’t quite get through and it’s a mess.

  69. Natalie says...

    Let me be clear here, you would be hard pressed to find someone who loves avocados as much as I do (I even named my calligraphy and art business Avo Ink because I love them so much)… but a quick PSA: “Avocado Hand” is a real thing and many ER docs and orthopedic surgeons will tell you that cutting an avocado with a knife while it rests in your hand is a true recipe for disaster. There are safer ways to cut/prepare an avocado without risking any digits.

    This video is a bit cheesy, but good info:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tzmF9lEZi0

    • R donn says...

      Yes!!

      Thank you.
      My friend sliced right through a tendon. Months and surgery to recover.

  70. Anonygirl says...

    This is excellent advice. I can’t wait to live by myself someday so that I can cook all the delicious recipes shared here and put these tips to good use.

    Also, for the Type A folks out there: buy Kindle editions of cookbooks when you can. It’s easier to wipe down an iPad screen than to get splatters off an actual book. And, bonus, Kindle versions are usually cheaper.

    • Alexandra says...

      A Kindle version of a cookbook? OMG no. Never. Those splatters? The sticky pages? The fingerprints? The dog eared corners? The fact that a break in the binding causes it to fall open to the same recipe every time? That’s the love of a home cook right there. That’s the kind of thing you cherish forever and pass along to your kid someday.

    • Emily says...

      No! how do you flip through and look at recipes and pictures in a kindle cookbook? Cookbooks are the ONLY books I insist in having in hard copy.

    • Erin says...

      No way. Electronic gadgets fall asleep halfway through the recipe and then you have to wash and dry your hands just to see how many teaspoons of whatever you’re supposed to add in step 4. And electronic gadgets never fall open at that one pancake recipe you’ve made every Saturday morning for the last two years, either. :)

  71. Yiiiikes, I immediately take issue with “rule” number one.

    Some of the most amazing, simple, standard recipes in Poor Rural American cooking have so-called cutesie names like “washday soup”, “Hoppin’ John”, or even “Pattina Blair’s Sick Soup”. All delicious tried-and-true things I make often. These names belay a culture that even Harper Lee herself called, “a beautiful testament to a stubborn people of proud and poignant heritage.”

    When people care enough to cook for others, how is it any of your business to judge them on how they name their food? Perhaps these names help to dissipate the shame they feel that their food is simple, humble. And certainly not UNTRUSTWORTHY.

    Ooooooo….. I am FIRED UP!

    • Jean says...

      I agree. I’m sure it wasn’t intentional on Jenny’s part, but I thought that first tip came off as elitist. Many of the classic Southern cooking recipes my family uses have eclectic names. I think it adds to the fun of making a dish for a crowd when you can present it as “Miss Jenny’s Heaven-Sent Mashed Potatoes,” or whatnot.

    • Taylor says...

      I think this is less about the recognized cultural names of dishes and more about click-baiting recipe headlines in today’s online recipe culture. I think we’ve all clicked on “31 NON-BORING CHICKEN RECIPES TO MAKE TONIGHT” only to have number 1 be called “LICK THE BOWL CLEAN CHICKEN” or something and it’s like….a chicken with sriracha sauce.

    • Abesha1 says...

      I agree… one of my favored examples from my own kitchen is titled Best Bran Muffins, from Diana Shaw. And they really are bakery quality bran muffins! So good. And of course I had to try the recipe after I read that title!

    • Jenny Rosenstrach says...

      I 100% hear where you are coming from. I guess my mistake (other than a poor attempt at humor) is that I don’t think of dishes that have real names attached (Pattina Blair’s Sick Soup, Best Bran Muffins from Diana Shaw) or dish names that are so entrenched in our culinary vocabulary (like Hoppin John) as being remotely cutesy. It’s a fine line in the sand I guess, but when I wrote that line five years ago for the original post I was thinking more about it as advice to someone just starting out, ie for someone building a basic repertoire of simple dishes and an easy way to determine uncomplicated recipes is to look for uncomplicated names. But yes, you are right, there are about 8 million exceptions to this, including one of the most popular recipes I’ve ever published which is called “Grilled Chicken for People who Hate Grilled Chicken.” So the (bad) joke’s on me too. Thank you for your comments.

    • Sasha L says...

      I admire your unflappability and your sense of humor Jenny.

    • isabelle says...

      I feel like her point was more about the Pinterest-y recipes where everything is called “Better Than Sex Brownies” or “Crack Casserole.” They are specifically named to be clickbait, while Hoppin’ John or Cathead Biscuits are just regional names with a rich history behind them.

  72. Jessica says...

    Same same same! <3

  73. Whitney says...

    Amen to emptying the trash at night! Nothing is worse than looking at (or smelling!) last night’s garbage early in the morning. After nine years of marriage, my husband finally gets this pet peeve of mine and to my delight, empties the trash every evening while I start the dishwasher. It’s the simple things, really.

  74. Hannah says...

    Love this! Thank you! One question though — how do you store the pastry brush? This may be a silly question, but I don’t really know how to store and care for the pastry brush so it doesn’t get gross. Any pointers?

    Thanks again!

    • CaraM says...

      I ended up getting a silicone pastry brush. I can easily throw it in the dishwasher or dishwater for easy cleaning. I never thought butter or egg truly got cleaned from a traditional pastry brush.

  75. Kandice says...

    This is so great! Thank you for the advice, encouragement, and for making cooking and family meals together so enjoyable.

  76. Annie says...

    This is awesome! As an older 20-something who’s main source of entertainment since childhood has been cooking, I’m always appalled when younger friends and co-workers tell me that not only do they not enjoy cooking, but that there’s not a single meal they can cook without a recipe.

    I’m always trying to think of the best shortcuts and tips I’ve learned over the years so I can help usher them into delicious/affordable/healthy adulthood. So far the ones that have really made a difference for me are:
    -Brining chicken and pork chops before cooking infinitely reduces the chance that they’ll come out tough and dry.
    -Similarly, searing any protein in a hot cast iron skillet on the stove then finishing it in the oven is pretty much idiot-proof.
    -Everyone needs tongs.
    -Curries and stir fries are the key to eating cheaply/quickly/healthily for one without creating a ton of leftovers/waste. They are also infinitely customizable depending on what you have on hand.
    -Definitely salt the water.

  77. Allyson says...

    Number 10, always. My lovely mother in law makes dinner for her family (one husband, two kids, two spouses, two grandkids) EVERY Tuesday. Regardless of what she makes, I am so appreciative. Growing up my dad would not let me leave the table without telling my stepmom how much I liked dinner. My husband, sister in law & father in law are fast & loose with the critiques of our Tuesday dinners and it makes me cringe!

    • Emily says...

      Your expressions of appreciation for your mother-in-law’s Tuesday night dinners probably mean a lot to her and set a good example for her other guests;)

  78. Jennifer says...

    Dinner always tastes better with background music. Also, that thing about the importance of sharp knives? It’s true.

    • Elisabeth says...

      And make yourself a drink to sip on while you cook! Even if it’s just a glass of seltzer, it’s a nice way to make the experience more enjoyable.

    • Ellie says...

      Agree with both of these ideas! I’ve started making myself a little plate of snacks to tide me over if I’m making a longer recipe and the hunger is setting in too quick. Just something easy that won’t spoil my appetite, like some veggies and hummus. That plus music and a drink feels like I’m really treating myself right.

  79. STEPHANIE O'NEILL says...

    Jenny, Can you be my life coach?

  80. Andrea says...

    Cutesy recipes thy name is Rachael Ray. It made me swear off her early on.

    16. The vast majority of cookbooks are not worth your money. Only a few cookbook authors have tested their recipes thoroughly and have anything to add over a run of the mill recipe. Why I most frequently search out a recipe written by Ina Garten or Martha Stewart.

    • CaraM says...

      Exactly! I highly recommend checking out a cookbook from the library before actually purchasing for this very reason. In theory I’m excited to try many new cookbooks, but end up resorting to just my tried and true.

    • Liza says...

      Dinner A Love Story is my go-to, most-used cookbook of them ALL!

    • Katie says...

      I love to use anchovy paste in salad dressings, especially when I grill romaine. A little bit of evoo and red wine vinegar with a dash of pepper, salt and anchovy paste makes a delicious salad!

      My only deal breaker is fish sauce, which is a total bummer. Years ago, when I just started cooking more involved recipes, I tried and spectacularly failed to make America’s Test Kitchen’s Pad Thai for my then boyfriend. It was his birthday. The smell of the fish sauce ruined my nostrils for days! And our dinner.

      When I was a kid, I would go fishing on the Mississippi with my dad and Grandpa. We used stink bait to catch catfish. You’d dip a rubber worm in this tub of gross smelling stuff. Cast your line. Wait for your fish. Sometimes, my grandpa added too much bait and it would fly everywhere. Fish sauce smells exactly like the tub of sticky, brown stink bait.

      My then boyfriend and I ended up going out for sushi that night.

  81. Becca says...

    Meat in our house goes straight from the freezer into the pan. Maybe defrosting it in the microwave just enough to get it out of its sad plastic package.

    However, the only time I try to pat meat dry is when making Jenny’s pork loin with cabbage and pomegranate juice. And then I am flummoxed. Is there a way to pat meat dry without paper towels? We successfully made the shift to rags and dish towels, but patting meat dry is the only time I miss paper towels.

  82. Amy says...

    Okay, as a Texan who eats like 10 avocados a week, how else are people slicing avocados?!?!? Even that video tutorial included numerous steps I have never seen anyone take (cutting off the lil stem part, WHO DOES THAT???). I had no idea this was a thing people don’t know how to do?? So confused.

    • Nina Nattiv says...

      As a Californian, I agree. So confused by the confusion!

    • Ana D says...

      I don’t cut the top off. I might try it now after watching that video, but i just make sure to pop the little stem out so it doesn’t fall into my food.

      I cut it in half and take out the pit as shown, and then do his dicing method. I use whatever fork I’m going to be eating with, because by the time I’m cutting up my avocado, I’m about to eat. It’s fast.

    • CHelsea says...

      I’ve never had issues, but I had a friend in physical therapy and they had a list of the most common injuries and ‘Avocado Hand’ rehab was the number one thing due to people slicing tendons while cutting avocados so there’s definitely a wrong way to do it!

    • LT says...

      Yeah, who does that? And why? Inquiring minds NEED to KNOW!

    • Kelly says...

      i think many people just don’t eat avocados at home! partly due to not knowing how to slice them. Here in the midwest they don’t grow in our backyards, so unless you’re going out and buying an avocado, which you wouldn’t be likely to do if you didn’t know how to cut it up, you might just encounter them at restaurants or other people’s houses.

    • Sharon in Scotland says...

      When I’m able to have a ripe avocado in my house, I hold it in the palm of my left hand and slice with a knife with my right hand. I can only imagine cutting tendons if I used a scalpel and a heavy hand, I don’t always use a paring knife, it can be the rounded end of a dinner knife, little pressure is required…………..am I missing something?

    • Karin says...

      I know…how else do people cut avocados? I’m dying to know! But the real question is WHERE DID HE GET SUCH A PERFECT AVOCADO??? I’ve seriously only seen an avocado so pristine ONCE and my husband and I still talk about it in hushed tones as if we’d seen the Second Coming….(“Remember that avocado?” “Oh yeah…”)

    • Agnes says...

      I put the avocado on the cutting board and slice around the pit like he does, except towards the board instead of my hand! I don’t cut the tail off, that seems unnecessary.

    • Erin says...

      Re. “Where did he get such a perfect avocado” — never buy a ripe avocado if you can possibly help it. It will probably already be bruised. Get the rock-hard still-green ones, let them sit on your kitchen counter next to some bananas for about 3 days (until the skin darkens and they are just starting to give to the touch) and you will be enjoying perfect avocados in almost-no-time.

    • Sequoia says...

      As a native Californian, what I don’t understand is how/why there was so force used cutting an avocado that you slice a tendon. Seriously, if an avocado is that hard its not ripe. A ripe avocado can be smashed with a fork and lime juice. The weight of the knife is all you need.

  83. Katie Larissa says...

    I love you so much, Jenny. Thanks for all the inspiration and advice,
    and for the warmth you send from your kitchen to ours.

    • Agnes says...

      Agree. There are a lot of picky comments here today.. full moon? We love you Jenny!

  84. Erin says...

    Great advice! Some I knew and put to good use, some that is new to me…garbage bags in the garbage, who knew?? I love your practical and warm approach in the kitchen.

    Just curious about your thoughts on meal services?

  85. Simone says...

    My husband came from a line cook background and when we were newly married, I remember watching him cook and thinking how silly it was to have a million little prep bowls and how annoying it was that he was so particular about his knife. Now I am that person… No one touches my knife, and life really is much easier when you’ve chopped the onions and peeled the garlic ahead of time :)

    • prep bowls are everything (and a great knife). Those 5 extra dishes that need to get washed are SO worth it!

    • Betsy says...

      I love this comment about the knife. I had to have a few stern chats with my former roommates about how my chef knife does not, under any circumstances, go into the dishwasher. They thought I was nuts for being so protective of my cooking utensils but guy is my #1 pal in the kitchen.