Cooking for the holidays? Here are ten must-know methods that will help you navigate the season much, much easier.
1. Simple White Sauce
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and stir until the butter and flour are well combined, becoming paste-like (“rue“). Pour in milk, stirring constantly as it thickens. Add more milk depending on desired consistency.
2. Simple Red Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 medium cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed red tomatoes
zest of one lemon (optional)
Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Stir while you heat the saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté just 45 seconds or so until everything is fragrant (you don't want the garlic to brown). Stir in the tomatoes and heat to a gentle simmer; this takes just a couple minutes. Remove from heat and taste (careful not to burn your tongue). If the sauce needs more salt add it now. Stir in the lemon zest.
3. Simple Gravy (Poultry)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water, or as needed
1 (3 pound) roasted chicken/turkey (drippings from either)
Add water to the chicken drippings to make about 1 1/2 cups of liquid in the bottom of the roaster. Whisk water into the flour until it is thick, but not pasty. Whisk the flour/water mixture into the drippings, and put the roaster on the stove top over medium heat. Stir constantly until mixture is thickened and bubbly. Add sea salt and/or pepper to taste.
4. Simple Vegetable (Vegetarian) Gravy
1/2 cup vegetable/olive oil
1/3 cup chopped onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons nutritional yeast
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 cups vegetable broth (stock or canned)
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sauté onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in flour, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce to form a smooth paste. Gradually whisk in the broth. Season with sage, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer, stirring constantly, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until thickened.
5. Simple Vegetable Stock
Making vegetable stock is a great way to clean out the refrigerator of food that is less than fresh, and you needn’t limit your stock-making ingredients to whole vegetables. Start saving peels (well washed, of course) and trimmings while you cook throughout the week. (Don’t worry, your stock will be strained before being used, and all those unattractive peels will be gone.) Some excellent vegetables (and vegetable scraps) to use are: onions, garlic, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, celery, mushrooms, peas, corn (empty corn cobs can also add lots of flavor to vegetable stock), parsley, green beans, beets, bell peppers, scallions, green onions, shallots, fresh basil or other herbs, etc. And, you can also add some fruit or fruit scraps to your vegetable stock such as apples, pears and even pineapple. A few vegetables you may want to avoid are cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower, which can overpower the flavor of stock. Ass you will soon see, each batch of stock will have its own unique taste and consistency, based on what you put in it.
A good rule of thumb is to have about half solid ingredients to half water. It's a good idea to throw in a tablespoon or so of whole black peppercorns and a bay leaf or two for added flavor. Cover your ingredients with water, bring it to a boil, then turn it on low and let it simmer for about an hour. Cool and strain to remove any pieces of vegetables, fruit or other scraps. That's all there is to it.
6. Simple Poultry Stock
4 or 5 pounds of chicken or turkey parts
1 large chopped onion
2 or 3 large chopped carrots
3 or 4 stalks celery (the leafy top parts are great for stock as well)
6 to 8 chopped garlic cloves
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
(As for the vegetables that go into poultry stock, you can use whole fresh ones, or save leftover scraps just like you did for vegetable stock. If you want a darker, richer stock, roast your poultry, poultry bones and vegetables in a 450° oven for about forty minutes, before adding them to your stock pot.)
Put all your ingredients into a pot and simmer for about two hours. Periodically skim off the foam with a large spoon as it rises to the top of your pot. When finished cooking, strain the broth and refrigerate for a few hours. Any fat in the broth will congeal at the top and can be easily strained off. Your stock is now ready for use or for the freezer.
7. Simple Seafood Stock
4 to 5 pounds mild white fish (such as cod or halibut) bones and trimmings, and/or shellfish shells (shrimp shells are especially effective)
2 tablespoons butter (olive oil if you’re health conscious)
2 large onions chopped
4 or 5 chopped garlic cloves
1 stalk celery
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (crushed is okay)
1 cup dry white wine (optional)
approximately 1 gallon of water
Melt butter (or oil) in the bottom of stock pot and then sauté onion, garlic and celery for about 5 minutes or until soft. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about an hour. Periodically skim off foam that will appear at the top of pot. Cool and strain out solid ingredients. Your stock is now ready for use or for the freezer.
8. Perfect Rice
1 cup long-grain white rice
Unsalted butter or olive oil (optional, but makes smoother texture)
Rinse the rice in a few changes of cold water. Drain the rice well in a sieve.
In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid, combine 1-3/4 cups water, the rice, and a bit of butter or oil and salt, if you like. Bring to a boil over high heat. As soon as the water is boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cover. (If you have an electric stove, use two burners: bring the rice to a boil on a hot burner and then immediately slide it to a burner set on low to continue cooking at a slow simmer.) Cook at a gentle simmer until the water is completely absorbed and the rice is tender, about 12 minutes (it's okay to lift the lid to make sure the rice is fully cooked and the water is absorbed—just replace the lid quickly). Remove the pot from the heat and let it sit, undisturbed with the lid on, for at least 5 minutes and for as long as 30 minutes. Remove the lid, fluff the rice gently with a fork or chopstick, and serve.
For stouter varieties of rice such as brown or black, increase water to 2 cups and cooking time to 15 minutes.
9. Perfect Pasta
1 cup of uncooked pasta = 2 cups of cooked
½ teaspoon salt
Fill a large stockpot with water. (Pasta only sticks when cooked in too little water, so fill almost to capacity.) Add salt. Bring the water to a rolling boil. Measure the pasta you need. Pasta generally doubles in size when cooked, so 1 cup uncooked = 2 cups cooked. Slowly add the pasta to the boiling water. (With spaghetti, it’s traditional to feed it in slowly as it softens so as to keep the long length.) Ideally, the water shouldn't stop boiling, but if that happens, that’s ok. Stir. Pasta will stick together if it isn't stirred during the crucial first moments of cooking. Start timing when the water returns to a boil. Most pastas cook in 8-12 minutes. You can regulate the heat so the pasta/water mixture doesn't foam up and boil over the pot sides (as it is prone to do!). The only true way to tell if pasta is correctly cooked is to taste it. Most cooks want 'al dente' (firm yet tender), but texture is individual. Now drain the pasta into a colander placed into your kitchen sink. Lift the colander and shake off excess water. Don't rinse if you're serving a hot dish because that removes the starch that helps hold the sauce. If you’re making a cold salad, rinse so the salad isn't sticky.
10. Simple Salsa
2-3 medium sized fresh tomatoes (from 1 lb to 1 1/2 lb), stems removed, finely diced 1/2 red onion, finely diced
1 jalapeño chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
1 serano chili pepper (stems, ribs, seeds removed), finely diced
Juice of one lime
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Optional: oregano and or cumin to taste
(Other varieties of hot peppers can be substituted)
Start by chopping up 2 medium sized fresh tomatoes. Prepare the chilies. (Be very careful while handling these hot peppers. Avoid touching them with your hands if possible.) Use a fork to cut up the chilies over a small plate, or use a paper towel to protect your hands. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling and avoid touching your eyes (or other sensitive areas of your body) for several hours. Set aside some of the seeds from the peppers. If the salsa isn't hot enough, you can add a few for heat. Now, combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl. Taste. If the chilies make the salsa too hot, add some more chopped tomato. If not hot enough, carefully add a few of the seeds from the chilies, or add some ground cumin. Let sit for an hour for the flavors to combine. Makes approximately 3-4 cups.