The Kid’s Menu: Cutting Corners

If you’re strapped for time (I’m looking at you, new parents), do yourself a favor by not doing these five things when you cook.
cutting corners

How do you make your broccoli rabe?” asked my babysitter one afternoon. “I saw a chef on the food channel blanching it in hot water first, then putting it in an ice water bath, then sautéing it…”

I sighed. Granted, this is the proper way to get gorgeous, emerald-green broccoli rabe, and I appreciate the position TV chefs are in, with all that time to fill. Still, I couldn’t help noticing that all these steps set up more obstacles for home cooks who are curious to try new things but don’t necessarily have time for the work involved. It’s intimidating—doubly so for parents, especially new parents, who can barely keep their carpets clear of tiny jingling toys. As a new mom, I’m not about to voluntarily fill my countertops with nine bowls and pans, no matter how appealing the recipe.

So here, parents, and everybody else, I’m throwing you a bone. Here are five things you don’t have to do in the kitchen.

1. Don’t plunge your veggies into an ice bath. The reason fancypants chefs do this is that it instantly stops the cooking when the vegetables are at their prettiest color and perfect state of doneness (or, in the case of broccoli rabe, which will subsequently be sautéed, almost-doneness). Things don’t have to be that precise at home, at least for weeknight cooking (although you might still want to break out the ice bath if you’re entertaining). Just take the greens out of the boiling water and set them aside until you’re ready to sauté. Even better, cook your broccoli rabe on nights when you’re making pasta, so that you can give them their quick boil in the pasta water, either before or after boiling your noodles. Yes, it will turn the water yellow and make it smell vegetal, but everything will taste fine, I promise.

2. Don’t stir and stir and stir the risotto. “But the starches!” you protest. “You have to stir to release the starches!” Guess what? I’ve worked in fine Italian restaurant kitchens, watching the genius pasta cooks who preside over 10, 11, 12 little pots and pans at a time, so fast and skilled you’d swear they were octopuses. They certainly don’t work their risotto pots obsessively while chewing the nails on their other hand. Every once in a while, they give the risotto pot a quick and vigorous stir. Your Italian grandmother won’t approve, but you will have a nice dinner.

3. Don’t turn and turn and turn the meat. You should stop doing this even if you’re not a new parent! I know, it makes you feel like you’re doing something, while the meat sits on the grill or in the sauté pan. But you’ll get better grill marks, and more even browning, if you just let it stay put and turn it ONCE.

4. Don’t skim the broth. Personally, I can’t stop skimming when I make homemade chicken broth. It’s a snobby tic I picked up in cooking school, a point of pride to keep any trace of visible impurity out of my broth. But I grew up eating broth made in a pressure cooker—that’s right, cooked at rapid boil! And often I think Mom’s broth is better than mine. “Just take off the lid at the end and cook it for another 20 minutes,” says Mom, “to concentrate it a little and get rid of that pressure-cooker taste.”

5. Don’t time everything to be done at the same time. It’s okay if the roast comes out a half hour before the potatoes are mashed (and in fact it’s always important to give a roast some time to rest before serving). Lots of things—meats, many vegetables—taste just as good, and some even better, when they’ve cooled to warm or room temperature. Just tell skeptics this is how people eat in Europe.

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