Taste of Home food editors and test cooks share the most useful cooking hacks they learned in culinary school.
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Here at Taste of Home, our resident food experts are bursting with cooking knowledge. Our food editors and test cooks spent years at culinary school learning how to chop, roast, season and much, much more. Now, they’re sharing favorite cooking tips that you can start applying in your own kitchen today.
1. Use a damp towel to keep a cutting board in place.
It can be so annoying to try to chop on a cutting board that keeps sliding all over the counter. Lock it in place by placing a damp paper towel or dish towel underneath it. (Psst: Are you taking good care of your cutting board? Here’s how to do it right.)
2. Use a bench scraper to transfer ingredients from a cutting board.
It’s better than dragging a sharp knife across the cutting board, which dulls the knife over time. Plus, the bench scraper is large enough to hold (or push) a lot of food at once.
3. Add baking soda to tomato sauce.
If you don’t want to add sugar to a pot of marinara sauce but the tomatoes are a bit acidic, add a little baking soda. Simply stir 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon into the pot and cook for a few minutes to take the bite out of the flavor. Then, add the sauce to one of these delicious Italian pasta dishes.
4. Add sour cream for extra-smooth scrambled eggs.
Sour cream will keep them soft and, well, creamy for a long time while you’re holding them warm for a big brunch. Add about 1/4 cup per dozen eggs once you’ve removed the eggs from the heat.
5. Give in and get that really good set of knives.
It really does make slicing and chopping so much easier. Plus, you’re less likely to cut yourself with a sharp knife than a dull one, which would be prone to slipping on the food’s surface and landing—ahem—somewhere else.
7. Do the mise en place thing to stay calm in the kitchen.
Simply put: Prep all ingredients before cooking. That way, you’re not scrambling to chop the garlic when it needed to be in the pan 5 minutes ago.
It’s important to let meat rest for a while before slicing into it. The longer you can let it rest the better; otherwise, the juices run onto the cutting board instead of staying in the food. You don’t want to ruin one of these impressive roast recipes.
10. Toast nuts and spices.
This may seem to be an unnecessary step, but it actually perks up the essential oils and boosts a recipe’s flavor tremendously.
11. Use a small ice cream scoop to evenly portion out cookie dough.
It ensures each cookie is the same size, which means they’ll bake evenly. You can also use an ice cream scoop to evenly divide batter into a muffin tin. Need inspiration? These muffins are worth waking up for.
12. Cut cheesecake (or any dessert) with a warm knife.
Run a knife under very hot water and dry it off, and you’ll be able to make a clean cut through cheesecake or any other sticky dessert.
13. Add acid to perk up a dish.
Don’t be afraid of acid! If a dish is missing something and you just can’t put your finger on it, chances are it could use a touch more acid, such as wine, lemon juice or orange juice.
14. Use an egg wash to make baked goods look irresistible.
Brush a light coating of egg wash (one yolk + 1 tablespoon heavy cream) over baked goods while they’re baking to give them a shiny golden brown hue. Try it on Grandma’s Rosemary Dinner Rolls.
15. Invest in a kitchen thermometer.
Take the guesswork out of doneness and invest in a quality kitchen thermometer to make sure recipes are cooked to perfection.
Start using these tips today and you’ll instantly become a better cook!
A local restaurant serves a similar cheeseburger soup but wouldn't share its recipe with me. So I developed my own, modifying a recipe for potato soup. I was really pleased with the way this all-American treat turned out. —Joanie Shawhan, Madison, Wisconsin
We always serve this impressive layered breakfast bake with a salad of mixed greens and tomato wedges. It is one of our most requested dishes and can be served warm or cold. —Danny Diamond, Farmington Hills, Michigan
For me, this is the best coleslaw recipe because a package of shredded cabbage and carrots really cuts down on prep time. This creamy coleslaw recipe is great for potlucks or to serve to your family on a busy weeknight. —Renee Endress, Galva, Illinois
My sister shared this white bean chicken chili recipe with me. I usually double it and add one extra can of beans, then serve with cheddar biscuits or warmed tortillas. The jalapeno adds just enough heat to notice but not too much for my children. —Kristine Bowles, Albuquerque, New Mexico
These easy-to-make, old-fashioned Amish sugar cookies simply melt in your mouth! I've passed this recipe around to many friends. After I gave it to my sister, she entered the cookies in a local fair and won best of show. —Sylvia Ford, Kennett, Missouri
I got this grilled chicken recipe from a friend while living in Hawaii. It sizzles with the flavors of brown sugar, ginger and soy sauce. Huli means "turn" in Hawaiian. This sweet and savory glaze is fantastic on pork chops, too. —Sharon Boling, San Diego, California
The desserts of my dreams have both chocolate and peanut butter. So when I came up with this chocolate peanut butter dessert, it quickly became my all-time favorite. It's a cinch to whip together because it doesn't require any baking. My family loves this chocolate peanut butter cup lasagna! —Debbie Price, LaRue, Ohio
We first sampled this chili-like taco soup recipe at a church dinner. What a warming dish for a cold day. And because it uses packaged seasonings with several cans of vegetables, it's a snap to prepare. —Glenda Taylor, Sand Springs, Oklahoma
These well-seasoned baked potatoes are a fun alternative to plain baked potatoes. It's easy to help yourself to just the amount you want, too, since the potato halves are scored into sections. — Barbara Wheeler, Sparks Glencoe, Maryland
I'm the proud mother of wonderful and active children. Simple, delicious and quick meals like this BBQ pork skillet are perfect for us to enjoy together after school activities, especially if I have leftover pulled pork. —Judy Armstrong, Prairieville, Louisiana
This pleasing pasta salad is like eating a BLT in a bowl. Filled with crispy bacon, chopped tomato, celery and green onion, the sensational salad is coated with a tangy mayonnaise and vinegar dressing. It’s a real crowd-pleaser! —Norene Wright, Manilla, Indiana
This is my favorite tortellini soup recipe. It's quick to fix on a busy night and full of healthy, tasty ingredients. It originally called for spicy sausage links, but I've found that turkey sausage, or even ground turkey breast, is just as good. —Tracy Fasnacht, Irwin, Pennsylvania
If you'd like to learn how to bake bread, here's a wonderful place to start. This easy white bread bakes up deliciously golden brown. There's nothing like the homemade aroma wafting through my kitchen as it bakes. —Sandra Anderson, New York, New York
For my mother's birthday, I made this strawberry pie recipe instead of a cake. Since it was mid-May in Oklahoma, the berries were absolutely perfect. It was a memorable occasion for the whole family. —Josh Carter, Birmingham, Alabama
I served this crustless quiche at a church lunch, and I had to laugh when one guy told me how much he disliked vegetables. Many people were surprised by how much they loved this veggie-filled quiche recipe—and he was one of them! —Melinda Calverley, Janesville, Wisconsin
While sailing in the Mediterranean, we tasted a lemony artichoke pasta. I developed my own version of it that our guests love. Try it with shrimp and kalamata olives. —Peter Halferty, Corpus Christi, Texas
This homemade potato salad recipe doesn't have many ingredients, so it isn't as colorful as many that you find nowadays. But Mama made it the way her mother did, and that's the way I still make it today. Try it and see if it isn't one of the best-tasting potato salads you have ever eaten! —Sandra Anderson, New York, New York
Whenever I serve this make-ahead, easy pinwheel recipe, they disappear fast. When a friend at the office shared them with me, I knew in one bite I'd be taking her Mexican pinwheels home for the holidays. —Diane Martin, Brown Deer, Wisconsin
Whole wheat noodles and zucchini pump up nutrition in this delicious, family-friendly dinner. Topped with dollops of ricotta cheese, it has an extra touch of decadence. No one will believe this one’s lighter. —Lorie Miner, Kamas, Utah
Take the chill off any blustery day and make something special to accompany meaty entrees. This is the best scalloped potatoes recipe ever, and my family loves when I serve it. —Agnes Ward, Stratford, Ontario
Leftover chicken gets Mexican flair from cumin in this fun main dish. The chicken quesadilla recipe has an impressive look and taste yet requires little preparation. —Linda Wetzel, Woodland Park, Colorado
We've enjoyed a few hearty breakfast casseroles while visiting an Amish inn. When I asked for a recipe, one of the ladies told me the ingredients right off the top of her head. I modified it to create this quick and easy breakfast casserole my family loves. —Beth Notaro, Kokomo, Indiana
Years ago, I drove 4-1/2 hours to a cake contest, holding my entry on my lap the whole way. But it paid off. One bite and you'll see why this velvety beauty was named the best chocolate cake recipe and won first prize. —Sandra Johnson, Tioga, Pennsylvania
Slab pie is a pastry baked in a jelly-roll pan and cut into slabs like a bar cookie—or a pie bar, if you will. My grandfather was a professional baker and served pieces of slab pie to his customers back in the day. Here is my spin, featuring rhubarb and gorgeous red raspberries. —Jeanne Ambrose, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
If you like foods with southwestern flair, this just might become a new favorite. Loaded with cheese, meat and beans, the layered casserole comes together in a snap. There are never any leftovers when I take this dish to potlucks. —Terri Keena, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
I didn’t see my son, Lance Corporal Eric Harris, for more than two years after he enlisted in the Marines after high school. And when I saw him arrive at the airport, I just grabbed hold of him and burst out crying. When we got home, the first thing he ate was two bowls of my easy banana pudding recipe. He’s a true southern boy! It’s a dessert, but you can have it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. —Stephanie Harris, Montpelier, Virginia
There's nothing like fresh salmon, and my mom bakes it just right so it nearly melts in your mouth. The sour cream dill sauce is subtly seasoned with horseradish so that it doesn't overpower the delicate salmon flavor. —Susan Emery, Everett, Washington
Ready-to-go crabmeat makes these delicate patties easier than other crab cake recipes. You can also form the crab mixture into four thick patties instead of eight crab cakes. —Charlene Spelock, Apollo, Pennsylvania
Between family and friends, we average 375 visitors a year! This casserole is handy—you can put it together the night before, let the flavors blend, then bake it in the morning. —Nancy Schmidt, Center, Colorado
If you've wanted to learn how to make crispy fried chicken, this is the recipe for you. Always a picnic favorite, this deep fried chicken recipe is delicious either hot or cold. Kids call it my Kentucky Fried Chicken! —Jeanne Schnitzler, Lima, Montana
This moist chocolate cake recipe with coffee reminds me of my grandmother because it was one of her specialties. I bake it often for family parties, and it always brings back fond memories. The cake is light and airy with a delicious chocolate taste. This recipe is a keeper! —Patricia Kreitz, Richland, Pennsylvania
Topped with cinnamon and sugar, this overnight French toast casserole is my favorite way to make this breakfast favorite. Since you assemble this baked French toast the previous night, you save time in the morning, and if you have an extra hungry crowd, it's easy to bake up a few batches. —Sharyn Adams, Crawfordsville, Indiana
This is the best New England clam chowder recipe, ever! In the Pacific Northwest, we dig our own razor clams and I grind them for the chowder. Since these aren't readily available, the canned clams are perfectly acceptable. —Sandy Larson, Port Angeles, Washington
My sister-in-law always made this delicious breakfast dish when we were camping and had to come up with good, easy breakfast ideas. Served with toast, juice and milk or coffee, it's a sure hit with the breakfast crowd! One-dish casseroles like this were a big help while I was raising my nine children. Now I've passed this recipe on to them. —Pauletta Bushnell, Albany, Oregon
I remember coming home sullen one day because we'd lost a softball game. Grandma, in her wisdom, suggested that maybe a slice of hot apple pie would make me feel better. She was right. —Maggie Greene, Granite Falls, Washington
It was during a visit to my husband's relatives in Europe that I was given this Belgian waffle recipe. These homemade waffles are fantastic with any kind of topping: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, fried apples, powdered sugar or whipped topping. —Rose Delemeester, St. Charles, Michigan
This is the best chicken potpie recipe! Chock-full of chicken, potatoes, peas and corn, this recipe makes two golden pies, so you can serve one at supper and save the other for a busy night. —Karen Johnson, Bakersfield, California
My family first tasted this rich, homemade lasagna recipe at a friend's home on Christmas Eve. We were so impressed that it became our own holiday tradition as well. I also prepare it other times of the year. This classic lasagna recipe is requested often by my sister's Italian in-laws—I consider that the highest compliment! —Lorri Foockle, Granville, Illinois
This shrimp scampi recipe looks elegant enough to serve to company, but it’s easy to prepare. The bright flavors of lemon and herbs enhance the shrimp. Serve it over pasta and wait for the compliments. —Lori Packer, Omaha, Nebraska
Once I tried these rich, gooey bars, I just had to have the recipe so I could make them for my family and friends. The shortbreadlike crust and the rhubarb and custard layers inspire people to find rhubarb that they can use to fix a batch for themselves. —Shari Roach, South Milwaukee, Wisconsin
We have a tradition at our house to serve this creamy cucumber salad with the other Hungarian specialties my mom learned to make from the women at church. It’s especially good during the summer when the cucumbers are freshly picked from the garden. —Pamela Eaton, Monclova, Ohio