The one piece of advice I can give you is to always season your food. 99.9% of the time, I use kosher salt. It is milder than table salt and has less of a metallic taste. I keep a small, bamboo salt box full of kosher salt at all times. I also grind my own peppercorns with a mortar and pestle and keep the fresh, crushed pepper in the bowl so it is always readily available.
Each step of cooking allows you to deepen and enhance the flavor. For instance, meat. I always remove my meat from the fridge at least one hour prior to cooking and salt and pepper it. Overnight is even better. The salt tenderizes the meat and the longer it sits, the better the flavor. As you cook, salt and pepper each layer accordingly. There is nothing more satisfying than a perfectly seasoned dish that needs no additions.
Invest in a good knife and take care of it. You don’t need a huge, expensive, fancy knife block. An eight inch chef’s knife is my best friend. I pretty much use it for everything. A nice paring and serrated knife are always good to have on hand as well. Keep your knives sharp and they will return the love for a very long time.
Mise en place. Learn it. Live it. Love it. This French term basically means to organize and arrange everything you will need before you even start cooking. I promise you that if you embrace this concept, your time in the kitchen will be infinitely easier and stress free. Read the recipe from start to finish. Gather every ingredient, utensil, pot/pan or machine that you need to make the recipe. Measure. Chop. Preheat. Soak. Slice. Boil. Season. Wash. Learn that recipe inside and out before you even begin so you are already an expert in the subject when you decide to tackle it.
Use the best ingredients that you can afford. Some things that immediately come to mind are vanilla, chocolate, meat, cheese, wine, olive oil, spices, bread and produce. When you use high quality ingredients, you can effortlessly prepare a simple and elegant meal.
One of my favorites is this simple dish. Slice some good quality bakery bread, rub with a garlic clove, drizzle with olive oil and grill. Serve some with fresh ricotta that has been topped with some lemon zest, fresh thyme, salt pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. Simple, high quality ingredients can instantly turn into a lovely and elegant dish.
I work full time so trust me, I know that time can be a hurdle when it comes to cooking. However, that doesn’t mean that you have to settle for heavily processed, pre-made ingredients. Do not limit yourself. Stocks, sauces, pesto, breads, seasoning and condiments are all relatively easy to make.
Spend a weekend making a huge batch of stock to keep in the freezer. Whip up a pesto and store it in a mason jar to add to pastas and vegetables for instant flavor. Throw some spices together to have a homemade taco seasoning or barbeque rub on hand. It is easier than you think.
Taste your food as you cook. There is nothing more upsetting than spending loads of money and time on a dish to have the end result turn out unappetizing or inedible. If you taste as you go, it allows you to make the adjustments before moving on.
One of my favorite tips is to do this for meatballs. Take a quarter size amount of the finished mixture and fry it up in the pan before forming all of the balls. This way you can evaluate if any changes need to be made before moving forward with the entire dish.
And the most important piece of advice; you can always add more but you can’t take it out. When in doubt, add a little seasoning. You can always add more later.