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Chefs share their best tricks for making 16 foods everyone should know how to cook

Summary List PlacementWhether it's the skill of baking a basic birthday cake or properly blanching vegetables, there are certain foods that all adults should know how to make. But unfortunately, this isn't always the case, and many have gaps in their cooking knowledge. To help you make those key dishes even better, Insider asked three professional chefs how to upgrade 16 foods everyone should know how to cook. Read on to see what they had to say. Make super creamy mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes in milk instead of water  To step up your mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted milk...

A stacked grill cheese.

Summary List Placement

Whether it’s the skill of baking a basic birthday cake or properly blanching vegetables, there are certain foods that all adults should know how to make. But unfortunately, this isn’t always the case, and many have gaps in their cooking knowledge.

To help you make those key dishes even better, Insider asked three professional chefs how to upgrade 16 foods everyone should know how to cook.

Read on to see what they had to say.

Make super creamy mashed potatoes by boiling the potatoes in milk instead of water 

Delicious creamy mashed potatoes with butter, fresh herbs and freshly-cracked black pepper. Top view with close up.

To step up your mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted milk instead of water, said Hauman. 

“After the potatoes have cooked, drain them and add soft butter to make super creamy not even remotely greasy mashed potatoes,” Hauman told Insider. “For even more creaminess, add sour cream or cream cheese.”

Use mayonnaise on the outside of your bread for a great grilled cheese

Sara Hauman, head chef of Soter Vineyards in Carlton, Oregon, said the trick for a great grilled cheese is using mayonnaise instead of butter on the outsides of the bread. The milk solids in butter tend to burn, she explained. 

Also, make sure you’re cooking your grilled cheese on medium heat to get the ultimate melted-cheese pull, Hauman recommended. 

Use high-quality chocolate for the ultimate chocolate chip cookies 

Chocolate Chip Cookies Fresh from Oven

To make your cookie recipe stand out, use better chocolate, according to Krystal Craig, head pastry chef/chocolatier and co-owner of Intero

“Go by your personal taste in terms of using milk or dark, sweeter or more bitter chocolate, but look for a ‘couverture’ choice to create a more fulfilling taste,” Craig told Insider. 

Couverture just means the main ingredients are the chocolate itself and there is a higher amount of cacao butter, Craig explained. Finer chocolates can often be found in the bulk section of stores.

Prevent soggy roasted vegetables by putting your pan in the oven 10 minutes prior to roasting

Roasted vegetables flat lay.

Roasted vegetables are a great side dish, but they can easily get kind of soggy. 

To prevent sogginess, heat your baking tray in the oven for at least 10 to 15 minutes before tossing your vegetables onto it, Hauman said. 

Make the perfect, flaky pie crust by adding a teaspoon of white alcohol to the dough 

Flaky pie crust can be used for sweet and savory dishes — and there are a few ways to take it to the next level. 

“Instead of giving your fingers a workout when distributing the butter into the dry ingredients, freeze the butter, then grate it using a cheese grater,” Hauman told Insider. 

Adding a teaspoon of white alcohol, such as vodka or gin, to your pie dough slows down gluten formation and ensures the flakiest crust, Hauman added. 

Enjoy perfectly blanched veggies by salting both your ice and boiling water 

If you’re not into roasting vegetables, another option is to blanch them for maximum crunchiness and vibrant colors. The process involves scalding the vegetables in boiling water for a few minutes and then purging them into an ice-water bath.

For the best results, salt the ice and blanching water used for shocking your vegetables, Hauman said.

By salting both, you won’t rinse off the seasoning when you transfer the vegetables from the blanching water to the ice water, she explained. 

Season your poultry in advance to make no-fail chicken 

Flat lay image of a non stick frying pan with a chicken breast sautee inside. Meat is seasoned with herbs, tomato, spices, parsley, spring onions and mushrooms. There is a chopping board

Ian Thurwachter, executive chef and co-owner of Intero, said it’s best to season your chicken an hour before you cook it. 

“Plus, put a little bit of butter under the skin of the breasts to keep them moist and tender while cooking,” Thurwachter told Insider. “Separate the skin from the meat by sliding your finger between the two making a place for the butter.”

Whisk your brown butter constantly to bring out the best flavor  

Brown butter can be used in pasta, sauces, or even cakes and cookies, Hauman said. It’s also a way to add more depth of flavor in even the simplest dishes.

The way to the best brown butter is to just never stop whisking, Hauman said. 

“As the milk solids caramelize, they want to sink to the bottom of the pan,” Hauman told Insider. “Don’t let them, they are full of flavor.” 

Save some of your pasta water to add to your sauce 

Overhead view of savory marinara, slow cooked all day in an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.

The key to a great pasta dish is to save some of the starchy pasta water to add to your sauce, Hauman said. 

“Adding the pasta water will help emulsify the sauce together, especially if it is olive oil-based,” Hauman told Insider. 

Avoid heat when making pesto to keep it a vibrant green color 

Knowing how to make a quick pesto will dress up boxed pasta any day and turn it into a gourmet meal. 

 It’s important to avoid heat so that the sauce stays a vibrant green color, Hauman advised.

Also, you can add parsley to your pesto, as it is not very sensitive to heat and will stay green much longer, she said. 

Make the perfect omelet by adding a pinch of salt to loosen up your eggs 

An omelet can be a quick and healthy breakfast, but getting that perfect fluffy texture is not an easy feat. 

To make a great omelet, add a pinch of salt while whisking your eggs, according to Hauman. This helps to denature the proteins quickly and will loosen and fluff your eggs with ease, she said. Another important tip is to always cook on low to medium heat, Hauman said. 

“When the eggs are almost set, pop your omelet under the broiler for 30 seconds to finish cooking and keep the base of your omelet intact ensuring nice clean folds,” Hauman told Insider.

Save your leftover herb stems for a homemade salad dressing 

Greek salad with grilled chicken with herbed vinaigrette dressing

If you’re one for salads, making your own dressing with fresh herbs is a must, according to Thurwachter. 

Save leftover herb stems in vinegar to make a super easy and more flavorful vinaigrette,” Thurwachter said. “Let the stems sit in the vinegar for at least a full day before using to help maximize the taste.”

Make your crepe batter a day early to allow the air bubbles to settle 

Crepes are another great breakfast dish and can also make for an impromptu dessert or a savory lunch, Hauman said.

To make the best crepes, always make your batter a day in advance so the air bubbles can settle.

“Crepe batter can be made in the blender and can sit in your fridge for up to a week for any sweet or savory dishes,” Hauman told Insider. 

Invest in a scale to convert measurements into ounces and grams for more consistency in your cakes 

Knowing how to make a basic cake comes in handy for birthdays, anniversaries, and many other celebrations. 

“With cake recipes — and all pastry recipes for that matter — invest in a simple scale,” Craig told Insider. 

With a scale, you can convert ingredient measurements into ounces and grams, which will yield a better consistency for your favorite cake, Craig explained. 

Let your rice rest for at least 10 minutes after it’s done cooking 

Fried rice

Rice is a popular pantry staple and some tips can be applied to many varieties. 

One helpful trick is to stir the rice only once when the cooking water is added, Hauman said. It’s important to resist the urge to stir any more than that.

She said you can also place a kitchen towel on top of your pot and lid to prevent condensation from dripping back down into the rice, which can make it soggy. 

Lastly, make sure to let your rice rest covered for at least 10 minutes after you finish cooking it so it can finish absorbing all of the water, according to Thurwachter. This will result in rice that is light and fluffy instead of mushy.

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