This won’t be my most theological post, but all of us have to eat which means all of us have to cook (or at least should). After all, Paul says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), and showing hospitality is a part of advancing the Kingdom and living as the Church. I’ve only been a grown up for about seven years, but my wife and I have actually done quite a lot of cooking and baking together. My wife would say I’m the more adventurous one–which is a nice way of saying I do things the hard way and choose really involved and time intensive recipes. However, these are really easy changes you can make to your cooking that will make a huge difference in the taste of your everyday cooking.
You are cooking everyday, right?
1. Squeeze your own lemons.
You know the old adage, “When life hands you lemons…” But to be honest, my wife and I used that yellow bottle of packaged lemon juice for the first four or so years we were married. You know the one shaped like a lemon? If this is you: Buy lemons. They are cheap, and it takes like two seconds to squeeze a lemon. It will add a whole new level of freshness to your cooking.
2. Shave your own nutmeg.
Because I am a nerd, I watch and enjoy the super-nerdy cooking show Good Eats with Alton Brown. Something he always insisted on was that every cook should shave his own nutmeg. Brown would often quip that he kept nutmeg in his pocket at all times (I don’t doubt it). You can pick up whole nutmeg at most groceries, and one bag of whole nutmeg will last you more than a year. All you need is a fine grater or a zester, and you are set. (And Brown is right, it really does makes a huge difference).
3. Grate your own cheese.
We’ve been buying block cheese for several years now. If you want that satisfying cheesy gooey-ness in your pizzas or lasagnas, you’re never going to get it out of that bag of pre-shredded cheese. The reason is that there is an anti-caking agent in that bag that prevents the shredded cheese from really melting and binding together. Just buy the block of mozzarella or cheddar (it costs the same or less than the bag), and put in the two to three minutes at the box grater. The key to nice and easy cheese grating is a smooth long down-stroke on the box grater. (My wife hates grating cheese, but I swear it’s really not that bad and totally worth it).
4. Use kosher salt.
Keep kosher salt in your cabinet. Not only will it make you feel like a real chef, but it will change the way your food tastes. You will notice that many recipes call for kosher salt, and that’s not a mistake. Here’s a grilling tip: the key to a good burger or steak is a generous sprinkling of kosher salt and cracked black pepper on both sides. And that’s it.
5. Get a cast iron skillet.
I got one of these for Christmas a few years ago, and I had no idea what I was missing. Skillet cornbread has become our favorite. I do all of my pan-frying in it. And I’ve learned how to make a Dutch baby which is a great late night snack. Cast iron skillets are cheap, virtually indestructible, and they do a better job of distributing heat evenly for long cook-top applications like pan-fried chicken. They are also basically non-stick. (Note: Cast iron skillets require particular cleaning, so make sure to read the instructions! You will need kosher salt–see point #4).
6. Make your own pizza crust.
I can already hear you groaning, but hear me out. We make a lot of pizzas at our house from scratch, and it’s really not as hard as it sounds. If you are like us, you probably buy Pillsbury pizza crust from a can if you ever make pizza. We used to do that until my wife got the first The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook and we realized that pizza crust was only four ingredients: yeast, olive oil, flour, and salt (and water). Her crust recipe is here. You literally dump it all in a stand mixer, let it go for ten minutes, and it’s done. Since we began making our own crust, we’ve discovered this recipe from Ina Garten which I think is even better, and it only has a few extra ingredients. It requires a shorter rise time than the Pioneer Woman recipe, so it’s a trade-off. Seriously, making your own pizza crust will make you feel like a real boss.
7. Use Recipes.
This is the most important key to our life in the kitchen. I am always surprised at how many people never use cookbooks or recipes! A recipe is like the Lego instructions. As long as you use the right pieces and follow the instructions, you can make a dish with as much taste as a professional chef. Recipes force you outside of your comfort zone and keep you from falling into cooking ruts. They also have helped us stay efficient when grocery shopping. My wife and I cut our culinary teeth on the Better Homes and Gardens Wedding Edition Cookbook. For the first two years of our marriage, we cooked from it religiously. It’s a great place to start.
Get in the kitchen, cook something tasty, and show hospitality to the glory of God!