An Uncomplicated Life Blog: My Best Cooking Tips and Tricks

Thursday, August 9, 2018

My Best Cooking Tips and Tricks

I've been in the kitchen since I was a toddler and have developed some great cooking tips and tricks over the past three decades

One of the biggest surprises and sources of joy for me from blogging has been how well my recipes have been received by y'all. People are marking my food pins on Pinterest as "tried" and giving them amazing reviews and food and wine companies are reaching out to me to curate recipes for their websites and blogs. That is SO rewarding! I love it when people love my food. I have no classic training beyond a few classes at Cooks Of Crocus Hill and Central Market. I was taught the old fashioned way - my mom had me in the kitchen. By the age of 8, I was responsible for cooking one to two meals a week because she was a busy, working single mom. My stepmom is also a gifted cook and had my sister and me by her side in the kitchen. She taught us to recognize herbs from smell alone! From all my informal education via hands-on learning and decades of cooking later, I've got some great cooking tips and tricks I've developed for everyday meals. No concrete recipe, but rather ways to make your everyday food turn out great and tasting better than ever.

 Cooking tips and tricks on how to prepare tricky meal items like juicy burgers, homemade bone broth and perfect every time

I created this list of tips and tricks based on foods the American family eats regularly, and what we ourselves eat a lot of. Some of the items are things I struggled with for YEARS (I literally just learned how to make perfect-every-time quinoa) or things family members or friends text me about, asking for my advice on how to do it better or have it turn out tastier. And voila! These are my best cooking tips and tricks that you can use in everyday cooking and weekly meal planning for great food, every time.

Perfect every time quinoa or brown rice:

Want the recipe of the quinoa pictured above? It's right here! Quinoa is a staple in our house because it's a complete protein and refrigerates well. Brown rice is an awesome complex carbohydrate that makes great casseroles, side dishes and salads. But like I said, it took me FOREVER to figure out how to have it be light and fluffy, and not thick and clumpy. Here's how to have your quinoa and/or brown rice turn out every time (no stupid rice cooker needed!):

- the water to grain ratio should be 2:1 meaning two cups of water for every cup of quinoa/rice you're making
- bring water to boil with 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt for every cup of grain you're making (the only time I'd omit the onion flakes is if you're making a sweet rice pudding - add the salt still though!)
- cook on medium low heat covered until the water has disappeared. Once the water is gone, turn off the heat and leave covered on the stove for a half hour to "steam." The quinoa/rice will not be fully cooked until it's had a chance to steam! No more water is necessary however. Just let it sit and absorb the water fully as it sits covered on the stove (if you have an electric stove, first I'm so sorry and second, move it to a non-hot place on the stove so the bottom doesn't burn while steaming.)
- after the quinoa/rice has sat for 30 minutes, uncover and fluff with a fork. It will be light, airy and each grain will be separate from the other. The grain will also be seasoned and tasty as is, or ready to be added to a salad, stir fry, casserole or whatever dish you're making for supper.

Tastiest burgers

I wasn't much of a burger lover until I moved to Texas. Kinda like how you get way better seafood when you live by the sea, and pork products were far better when I lived in MN (I won't even eat the pork here in Texas, it tastes so bad to me!), when in Rome, you do as the Romans, and here in Texas, the beef is fantastic. I now joke I could be a vegetarian who eats beef once or twice a week! I can pass on every other animal product but the beef here in Tejas is amaze. Here's what I've learned makes the best, tastiest burgers:

- Do NOT buy pre-frozen patties. I repeat: DO NOT BUY PRE-FROZEN, PRE-SHAPED PATTIES.
- In a large bowl, place your fresh ground grass fed beef (local if you can, it's best when it's never been frozen.Yes, the extra bucks for the grass fed beef is totally worth it!) and salt and pepper it well. Add 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder and a tablespoon of steak sauce for every pound of beef you're preparing.
- Mix with your hands. You want the seasoning to be well incorporated, but not mixed to mush! Form beef patties of your desired size and use your thumb to indent the middle. Beef "plumps when you cook it" so this will make it cook to an even size, as opposed to a rounding effect of the patty.
- Let rest for at least 5 minutes after your remove it from the grill. This will enable the juices to stay in the patty rather than running out all over your plate or making your bun soggy (and that bun should be toasted too)!

Homemade Bone Broth:

It's trendy AF right now to drink or cook with "bone broth." Which is actually how all broth used to be made... And is SO easy to make yourself! I was at Whole Foods and saw that an 8oz container (EIGHT OUNCES!) was $2.99. Is that a joke?! If you're buying that, the joke is on you homie. Bone broth is more flavorful than stock. It's cooked longer and therefore more marrow comes out of the bones from which it's made. It's how I've always made stock, but I'll get on-trend and call it bone broth. Don't be bamboozled and spend your retirement on this stuff, it's so easy and CHEAP to make yourself!

- First, you need a carcass. Turkey, chicken, ox tails - something with the bones still attached to it so that you can get at that marrow. Butchers will sell bones, or use the skeleton from your rotisserie chicken (which I also find foolish to buy - $10-12 for a precooked chicken when you could buy it raw and make it yourself for $4.99. It's called math folks. Stop getting ripped off!)
- If you bought raw bones from a butcher, roast in the oven at 375 for an hour to develop the flavor. If you're using your turkey from Thanksgiving or you forked over too much cash for a rotisserie chicken, you're all set.
- Place bones in the largest stock pot you've got and fill with water. Quarter an onion (no need to even peel it), add about 4 stalks of celery (just break them in half with your hands) and add a handful of prepared snack carrots (the kind that come peeled and cut for snacking) or cut regular carrots into thirds and toss them in. Again, no need to peel them.
- Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and let boil for 3-4 hours. Add water as necessary. You can cover it partially with a lid too, just allow some room for steam to escape so that it doesn't boil over.
- I always start my bone broth after dinner (you know, when I've got a carcass to use after we've eaten it!) so at this point, I turn off the heat and leave it covered on the stove. Yes, overnight. You're going to fully boil it again, it's fine.
- Next day, crank the heat back up on it. Make sure it's only partially covered. Add salt, pepper and celery seed (if making it from poultry) or a few shakes of dry steak seasoning (if making it from beef). Let boil for another hour or two.
- Turn off the heat and allow to cool. Strain with a colander to get all the bones, onion, unpeeled carrots, etc out. Great to use in soups, sauces, or drink as is. Freeze for up to 3-4 months and make a soup later with it.

Non-gooey/raw center banana bread

Have you ever made banana bread, followed the directions to a T, cut into it after it was done aaaaaaand... Had to toss out the middle because it was still raw? Or it barely bakes up to the middle of the bread loaf pan, and is insanely dense and and just too dang gooey? You know, when you're kinda like, "Is there still some salmonella up in this bread from the raw eggs I'm definitely consuming right now?" or "this bread would be so much better if the person who had made it had actually BAKED it!" These are all thoughts I've had when I've eaten others' banana bread. I made a homemade loaf last week, and my nanny asked me how I got it to "look so perfect and taste so good", right as I was drafting this post, and I thought, dang! I bet a lot of people don't know this. Here's how to get cooked through perfectly, yet still moist banana bread:

- First, there are tons of recipes and I'm sure you have your favorite. If you don't, use this one.
- Use extremely ripe bananas, and use all the juices that come out of them! I'm talking nearly all brown bananas. No matter what recipe you're using, you'll want at least 3 of them in there. Yes, you will.
- Unless you're following my recipe that I linked above, double the baking power the recipe calls for. Don't use any baking soda, that's too salty for a sweet recipe. Omit any baking soda, and double the baking powder. That's how I get my loaves to get so high in the middle, when is essential for having a non-dense, non-brick-like banana bread.
- MOST IMPORTANTLY: Bake the loaf for over an hour. Recipes call for all kinds of baking times and temps. If you're using a standard loaf pan and the recipe only calls for 45-50 minutes of baking, find a new recipe because that creator has no clue what they're doing. The edges of the bread should be a dark golden brown. I've lived in all climates and I've never once had banana bread take less than an hour and 10 minutes. You really want to take it to the point of thinking, "crap, I'm going to burn this!" and then give it another two minutes in the oven. I promise if you used enough butter or oil in the bread, and at least 3 bananas, it will still be a delicious and non-dry loaf of goodness!

Perfect every time!
I'm thinking of turning this into a mini-series, so if you have any questions on how to make something, shoot me a comment on this post or in social media and I'll add it to my list for the next one! Cooking is definitely an art. It takes years of practice to master certain skills, and years of mistakes to learn the best way to do things. These are my best cooking tips and tricks I've developed from my own years of mistakes and botched dishes. Enjoy!


  1. LOVED reading your tips and am going to save it, particularly for the quinoa and banana bread (which I haven’t made in YEARS but that’s gotta change).

    Thanks love ;)

  2. Great tips! Very useful for lots of people, thanks for sharing!!

  3. All of these tips are so great! I love quinoa and will def use your water to quinoa ratio when I make it next!

  4. Thanks for sharing. I've also been in the kitchen since I started walking and totally agree with your tips. Especially the burgers! Whenever possible I buy full chunks of beef and grind them myself for burger beef. You can control the amounts of fat and flavor.

  5. These are some great tips! We love quinoa and that salad looks delicious. And I completely agree about the burgers!

  6. Great recipes I can't wait to give them a try.

  7. Really great tips. Making homemade bone broth is so easy to make and manage the salt.

  8. There are great tips!

  9. Ohhh my god so helpful, I will be making better banana bread from now on!!! Thanks for all of these tips.

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