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

Whether they’re baking a basic birthday cake or properly blanching vegetables, all adults should know how to make certain foods. But that isn’t always the case, and many people 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.

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


A bowl of creamy mashed potatoes with butter, fresh herbs and freshly cracked black pepper. Top view with close up.
Swapping out water for milk when boiling potatoes makes a huge difference. 
Dina Saeed/Shutterstock

To step up your mashed potatoes, boil the potatoes in salted milk instead of water, said Sara Hauman, the head chef at Soter Vineyards in Carlton, Oregon.

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

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

Hauman 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 said.

Use high-quality chocolate for the ultimate chocolate-chip cookies 


Chocolate chip cookies fresh from oven sit on a wire rack.
Using high-quality chocolate will guarantee the best cookies. 
Regan Baroni/Shutterstock

To make your cookie recipe stand out, use better chocolate, said Krystal Craig, the head pastry chef and 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, with a higher amount of cocoa butter, Craig said. Finer chocolates are often available in the bulk section of stores.

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


Roasted vegetables flay flat on a baking sheet.
Place your pan in a preheated oven for crispy vegetables. 

Roasted vegetables are a great side dish, but they can easily get 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 is useful in both 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 said.

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 said.

Season your poultry in advance to make no-fail chicken 


A nonstick frying pan with a chicken breast sautee inside. Meat is seasoned with herbs, tomato, spices, parsley, spring onions and mushrooms.
Prepare your chicken at least an hour beforehand. 

Ian Thurwachter, the 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 said. “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, cakes, and cookies, Hauman said. It adds more depth of flavor to even the simplest dishes.

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

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

Save some of your pasta water to add to your sauces

Overhead view of savory marinara, slow cooked in an enamel coated cast iron Dutch oven.
Hold onto your pasta water for your next sauce. 
Aimee Lee Studios/Shutterstock

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,” she added.

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

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

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

You can also 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, Hauman said. This helps to denature the proteins quickly and will loosen and fluff your eggs with ease, she said. And 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 said.

Save your leftover herb stems for a homemade salad dressing 

Greek salad with grilled chicken with herbed vinaigrette dressing.
Preserve herbs in vinegar for salad dressing. 
Elena Veselova/Shutterstock

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 said.

Invest in a scale to measure ingredients by weight 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 said.

With a scale, you can use weight measurements like ounces and grams, which will yield a better consistency than using cups and tablespoons for your favorite cake, Craig explained.

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


A plate of fried rice with peas, carrots, and eggs.
Avoid over-stirring your rice. 

Rice is a popular pantry staple, and some tips are applicable to many varieties.

One helpful trick is stirring 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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