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Chefs' Culinary Secrets & Cooking Philosophies







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Chefs' Culinary Secrets & Cooking Philosophies | America's Test Kitchen, Jeff Smith

Compiled by Vicki McClure Davidson



Cutlery image Notes from the Chefs at America's Test Kitchen


"Juicing Lemons: Most of us know that getting as much juice as possible out of a lemon can be a mind- and hand-numbing experience. We wanted to get the most juice from a lemon with the least amount of effort. The best way to find lemons with the most juice is to squeeze while you shop. Without fail, whole lemons that yielded under pressure contained more juice, regardless of shape. As for juicing methods, we've tried countless gadgets for juicing lemons over the years and dismiss most of them. However, there is one simple technique we do endorse: Rolling the lemon vigorously on a hard surface before slicing it open to be juiced."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," May 29, 2009.


"We've always been big fans of frozen peas. Because they are flash frozen right after being shucked, they are often sweeter and fresher tasting than 'fresh' peas that may have been in storage for days. We noticed that frozen food sections often offer a choice between regular and "petite peas," or baby sweet peas. To see if there was difference in taste, we tasted both types with butter. Our tasters unanimously preferred the smaller peas for their creamier texture (although regular frozen are just fine). Since both varieties cost about the same, if given a choice, you should go with the petite peas."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," March 4, 2010.


"Does tying meat for roasts really make a difference? Yes; tying ensures a uniform thickness so meat cooks evenly. Also, pieces of well-secured twine will keep meat from falling during braising or as it cooks."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," December 12, 2008.


"The majority of seeds in a watermelon are found in a concentric ring a few inches from the center of the melon. You can take advantage of this fact when removing seeds. First cut the melon into circular slices of the desired thickness. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, remove the seedless melon center. With a paring knife, next cut out the ring that contains most of the seeds, and then cut along the inner boundary of the rind. Simply lift off the rind and slice the now-seedless fruit, including the melon center."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," August 29, 2008.


"Our 100% foolproof pie dough relies on an 80-proof secret ingredient! Pie dough should be simple: mix flour, salt, and sugar together, cut in some fat, add water, roll it out, and bake it. But somehow the same recipe can result in perfect crust one day and a tough-as-nails crust the next. We wanted to figure out why this happens, and how to guarantee a tender, flaky crust every time. The trick to creating consistently great dough depended on the amount of water incorporated, and in particular how it was absorbed. There had to be a substitution that would keep the dough moist but not create too much gluten, which is produced by combining water and flour and makes for a leathery crust. After many dry, crumbly, dough "don'ts," we discovered the perfect liquid to use. Vodka! It added moisture, but is only 60% water—the other 40% of vodka is ethanol. The alcohol doesn't create dough-toughening gluten, so when we baked up this pie dough, we had a perfectly flaky AND tender pie crust with absolutely no vodka taste (all the alcohol evaporates in the oven during baking)."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," February 27, 2010.


"You can buy chicken cutlets—a 1/2-inch-thick cutlet will cook through in just five minutes—at the supermarket, but they are expensive and the butchering often leaves the edges ragged and uneven. We prefer to buy boneless, skinless chicken breasts and make our own cutlets. Just a few minutes in the freezer will firm the meat enough so that a knife will slide right through it."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," March 6, 2009.


"Too often, apple cakes are either spice cakes studded with cubes of raw apple or as complicated to make as fine pastry. We wanted a simple, easy-to-make cake in which the sweet-tart apples starred. The apples must be cooked before baking to bring out the best of their flavor and reduce the juices that would otherwise turn the cake mushy. Cooking the apples in butter and sugar until soft adds a deep, caramel flavor to the cake."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," October 3, 2008.


"The goal was to create a weeknight Italian-Style meat sauce that tasted like it had simmered for a good portion of the day. This required concentrated flavor and soft, succulent meat. But just throwing together browned ground beef, onions, garlic, and canned tomatoes for a quick half-hour simmer produces lackluster flavor and meat with the texture of a rubber band. To keep the meat from becoming dry and tough, we opted not to brown it, instead adding browned mushrooms to replace any lost flavor, and we solved the texture problem with a panade—a paste of bread and milk blended into the meat before cooking—which keeps the meat moist and tender. The result? A sauce with supple bits of meat and rich flavor that simmers for just under an hour."

Extracted from: America's Test Kitchen newsletter, "Kitchen Tips That Work," March 18, 2009.


Chef foods divider


Cutlery image Jeff Smith

Acclaimed 1980s TV celebrity and chef known as "The Frugal Gourmet" and the shortened nickname "The Frug"; owner of Chaplain's Pantry in Tacoma, Washington, in the 1970s, was an ordained Protestant minister. Jeff's national television career took off when he appeared on the Phil Donahue Show; his popular TV show was the most watched cooking show in the US at the time. Author of a dozen successful cookbooks, including The Frugal Gourmet, The Frugal Gourmet Cooks with Wine, and The Frugal Gourmet Cooks American. Died in 2004.


"Please stay away from the hamburger drive-ins as they offer too much fat and too little flavor. You can feed your chosen family much better hamburgers if you grind your own beef and cook at home. I promise you that this is true!"

The Basic Rules for a Good Omelet

  1. Use butter and peanut oil in your cooking. The blend of the two will prevent the butter from burning and will give the eggs a fine flavor and color.
  2. Have the eggs at room temperature. I always have a few eggs sitting in a bowl on the counter to use for cooking. They keep fine for 2 weeks in the refrigerator, but you must bring them to room temperature before creating an omelet.
  3. Never put salt in the egg mixture. It toughens the eggs. Add the salt just before folding.
  4. Never use milk in the egg mixture. Use only water. Milk makes your omelet watery since it will not blend with the eggs. Water blends and helps keep the omelet high.
  5. Heat the pan before you put in the peanut oil and butter. When the butter stops foaming, add the eggs."

Extracted from: Smith, Jeff, The Frugal Gourmet Whole Family Cookbook, William Morrow & Company, NY, 1992.


"The French have given us a lovely meat or fish dumpling called a quenelle (pronounced ke-nell). Originally, I suppose these dumplings were made with scraps in an effort to avoid waste, yet still create something palatable. In our time, we can use inexpensive fish and chicken and enjoy a dish that is very fancy and quite rich. I contend that when something is rich in flavor, you are not likely to stuff yourself on that single item. That concept is a major component in frugal cooking. "

"I do not purchase garlic in any form except that which the Creator intended. All salts and pastes and powders and juices taste nothing like the real thing. Try to purchase along string of garlic, generally available in autumn. Have it in the corner of the kitchen, and use it for the year. If you must purchase garlic in the supermarket, be careful to find full heads because most of this product has spent a good deal of time in cold storage and has probably dried out."

"After browning meats or vegetables, add wine or broth to the pan while it is on high heat. The rich coloring that remains in the pan is gently scraped with a wooden spoon into the wine or broth. This is added to the sauce or gravy."

"So many marvelous things have come to us from the desert. Bulgar wheat has been made in desert communities in the Middle East for centuries, and it is simply wheat that has been soaked until tender, cut up into small grains, then spread on a cloth in the sun to dry. The product cooks up like rice, and that is how it is eaten. Any good delicatessen should have for you in the bulk or try a Middle Eastern store. It will be cheaper there. Note that there are three grinds: coarse, medium, and fine."

"Keep salads moist on buffet with wet paper towels. When your guests arrive, remove the towels an all will be crisp and fresh. This works well with cold meat plates and many hors d'oeuveres."

"I rarely serve hard liquor at a dinner party, nor do I serve hors d'oeuvres. The liquor well burn out the taste buds, and the snacks will fill people up. If I have worked hard on a dinner party, then I serve my guests dry sherry and perhaps a few olives and a bit of cheese. Then I bring on the dinner. And please, serve dinner nor more than an hour after you have invited people. The dinner is sometimes terrible!"

"I love the flavor and cleansing quality of fresh rosemary. The shrub is a perennial and will grow larger by the year. We can grow this herb in most areas of the country, so ask your garden man if you can grow it as well."

"When I was a child, I thought my Uncle Vic was very wealthy because he always had a stick of Italian salami in his refrigerator. I decided that I wanted to have the same. Now that it has happened, I am not wealthy, but I do enjoy that salami stick. I put it into dishes on occasion."

"Lentils are the most nutritious legume in the world. Couple these little disk-shaped beans with chicken and you have a whole meal at little expense."

Extracted from: Smith, Jeff, The Frugal Gourmet, Ballantine Books, NY, 1984.



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