For most of us, even those who are practically in a relationship with food delivery apps (hello, Caviar), cooking has become a huge part of everyday quarantine life. Whipping up your own culinary masterpieces is not only keeping you occupied and well-fed, but it’s also saving you a little money during this global pandemic—which can be used to fund your new WFH wardrobe. Of course, some folks are more kitchen savvy than others. For those of us who need some help in the kitchen, we’ve gathered tips from a celebrated top chef to make life at home a little easier. Enter Lauren DeSteno, Corporate Executive Chef at the world-class Altamarea Group, which includes Michael White’s Michelin-starred Marea.
As an accomplished, badass female chef who has worked at award-winning Eleven Madison Park, and later with celebrity Chef Rocco DiSpirito, DeSteno has more than a few culinary tricks up her sleeve. To give your culinary skills a creative boost, she shares her go-to cooking tips and hacks, below, using basic ingredients.
Repurpose your food scraps
Don’t toss the meat and vegetable waste from your latest meal—it can be up-cycled in many different ways. For instance, when you buy a rotisserie chicken, DeSteno recommends saving the carcass to make stock. If you roast vegetables to accompany the chicken, save parts such as onion skins, carrot peels, tops and bottoms, and beyond to make stock with the carcass. You can use it for soup or freeze it for later.
Wine drinkers: If you have extra wine sitting around that you want to get rid of, make a reduction. Reduce the wine by 1/2 a or 2/3, and freeze it in ice cube trays. You can then use this reduction to add flavor to sauces, stews, or soups.
Food prep for the future
Use the extra time you have right now to prep and freeze food for later in the week or month. DeSteno suggests starting with potatoes. Choose potatoes of similar sizes to wash, dry, and roast, and then allow them to fully cool before freezing them until needed. She likes to defrost roasted sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh for a pureed side dish. If you decide to make a stew or a chili, defrost a frozen Idaho potato and heat it up to create a “bowl” to eat from.
Cook in big batches
Sometimes, the more the merrier when it comes to cooking. If you’re preparing something versatile like tomato sauce, make a big batch and freeze it in quantities. It can be repurposed as a sauce for pasta (add in sausage, pork ribs, or meatballs, and simmer), a base to cook braised meats, or blended into a soup with or without cream.
Step outside of your comfort zone
Practice makes perfect. Set aside an hour or two to experiment with new dishes. There are so many recipes that call for just a more little than flour, water, salt, and sometimes yeast, but can result in many different breads, pastas, crackers, etc. These items are inexpensive and also have a tactile quality that serves as a great way to keep children of all ages entertained.