I’m not a professional chef. I claim no real expertise as a cook or chef other than the fact that I cook for my little family a lot and I like to eat good food. As a result, I spend a surprising amount of time cooking. There are lots of other places where people can get cooking tips from experts and professionals. This post is just me sharing a few things I have learned over the years that I wish I had known before I started cooking. The tips are shared in no particular order.
Don’t Waste Chicken Bones (applies to other meats as well – pork, beef, fish)
We don’t eat a lot of meat in our house, but occasionally (a few times a month) we’ll have chicken and on holidays we often have a turkey. Sometimes, I buy whole chickens either pre-cooked or smoke five or six chickens at a time then freeze the chicken to use for recipes. But what to do with the chicken bones and scraps? The obvious answer is to cook them and turn that into chicken stock. But that can also take hours and hours if you cook them on the stove (many stock recipes require boiling for 4 to 6 hours).
Enter: InstantPot. Whenever I have chicken bones and scraps, I throw them into one of my InstantPots with any veggies that are on the cusp of going bad (e.g., celery that is leftover from a recipe, a spare onion, some carrots, a few cloves of garlic, etc.). I then fill the InstantPot up with water to just below the max fill line for pressure cooking, close the lid, and set the pressure cooker to manually pressure cook everything for 2 hours. That’s half the time you would normally have to boil the chicken bones and scraps and it works just as well. (NOTE: How long you pressure cook everything is flexible – if you only have 1 1/2 hours, that works; if you want to go longer, you can as well.)
When it’s done, you can let it cool on its own or release the pressure. I then use a strainer/colander to extract all the big stuff and spoon the chicken stock into mason jars. If it’s just a couple of small jars, you can store those in the fridge and use the chicken stock in the next week or so in any recipe that calls for chicken or vegetable stock. If it’s more than a few jars, these can be canned in a pressurized canner: 20 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure. Those are good for at least a year.
Chicken stock from a store costs anywhere from $0.09 to $0.34 per ounce (about $3.00 per carton). Since you’ve already bought the chicken, why not save yourself the money (and get better chicken stock in the process) by making your own? Yes, it takes a little time, but it’s mostly just letting your InstantPot do the cooking. I’m guessing my total time investment when I do this is 15 minutes for a small batch up to 30 to 45 minutes for a big batch of chicken stock (which might yield 4 to 6 quart jars of chicken stock).
Zest Your Citrus
I have a number of recipes that call for zest from citrus – lemon, lime, or even grapefruit. Zest is a great ingredient to have around for sweet breads, cheesecakes, and even soups. And the bonus bit of information is that you can freeze zest and then use that frozen zest in those same recipes.
My recommendation, then, is to zest all of your citrus before you use it or eat it. Need the juice of a lemon or lime? Zest them first, then cut them up and squeeze the juice out. Going to have a grapefruit for breakfast? Zest it first, then enjoy.
I use small, cheap plastic bags (stored inside a freezer grade plastic bag) for my zest but you could also use a mason jar or tupperware to keep your zest in. And having a handy zester on hand that you can pull out whenever needed is ideal.
Grapefruit Spoons Are Awesome!
My wife and I really like grapefruit in the morning. We slice them in half, cut around the outside, then spoon out the endocarp (the part most people eat). For years, we used a regular spoon for this. Then I was introduced to serrated spoons. Wow! Game changer! They are so much easier to use for eating grapefruit.
Do yourself a favor and pick up a few grapefruit spoons if you like grapefruit in the morning. They are far more efficient when it comes to eating grapefruit than are regular spoons.
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