Tips for a Successful Dinner
Been a while since you cooked a full meal? We're all a little out of practice and inevitably sh*t can happen in the kitchen. We're here to provide a few tips to make things run a little smoother, avoid some common mistakes, and give you a plan to save it all even when it's a disaster.
How to not make mistakes
Use a timer
Forgotten to perfection.
Just start a timer. This is the tool that will save you over and over again. Even when you don’t think you’ll forget, you probably will. Emails will need to be answered right now, the phones will still ring, the kid/pup always needs a snack. Use a few prep timers to help plan when things need to get rolling and when they need to finish. Use a timer while browning those shortribs in a dutch oven. Time the chicken thighs, acorn squash, and ribeyes. Always use a timer for your pasta- and then taste, taste, taste.
Write a prep list:
A little bit of organization goes a long way in the kitchen. Whether you’re grilling a few burgers or in charge of the holiday spread, a simple prep list saves time and undue stress. Writing out prep lists might seem an unnecessary step for a home cook, but they play a big part in keeping restaurant kitchens orderly(ish) while preparing for a busy service. Take a cue from the folks on the line and make a gameplan the next time you’re on dinner duty.
Here’s how we like to do it:
Break menu items down into tasks and separate tasks into three groups:
- These tasks are always the most time consuming. Get that mise en place and let your equipment do the heavy lifting in the background. Measuring, knife work, marinades, vinaigrettes- these all require the love and attention that only your hands can give.
- Anything over a burner! Is it something that needs constant tending (sweating garlic) or something that’s happy to simmer quietly on the far burner (pot of beans)? Pasta water, sauces, sautees, braises, browning proteins.
- If you can put it in the oven, put it in the oven. Just set a timer. Out of sight really is out of mind. Low and slow or are you flipping a pan every 10 minutes? Crisp potatoes, roast a chicken, poach a salmon, braise some leeks.
Once you’ve got your list divided into Hands, Stove and Oven, you can decide which tasks can be completed simultaneously. Let water boil on the stove while you chop some veggies, all while a bird is roasting in the oven. Knowing where you need to be when you need to be there, will save you time and help to ensure everything lands on the table hot and ready, at the same time (or close to it- pobody’s nerfect.)
How to fix mistakes
- It’s probably underseasoned. Add some salt, acid, fresh herbs. Chicken noodle soup quickly goes from a truly spiritless pot of warm food to something worthy and bright with a good squeeze of lemon juice and enough salt.
- Dilute, balance or rethink the end goal. Sauce or soup? Add more broth, cream, coconut milk, sauteed veg or a starch- like pasta, grains or potatoes. Added richness from fats like butter or olive oil will mellow most salt bombs. Sweetness or acid can bring balance and highlight other background flavors in any dish. Throw a little honey or chopped dates in that salad dressing. Repurpose that center-of-the-plate steak, roast or veg into a lasagna or taco filling or throw it over an herby, fresh salad. Don’t give up. Things are rarely unsalvageable.
- Turn the volume down with some salt or salty-savory ingredients- anchovies, capers, pickles, or something funky and fermented. Last resort: a sprinkle of baking soda can work wonders on a tomato soup or chili seemingly too sour to save.
- How bad is it? A slightly overdone pork chop or piece of poultry? It can totally be saved by a some stock, butter or sauce. Our go-to: drown it in chimichurri and don’t look back. Is it shoe leather? Might be time to chop it into a filling for ravioli, pierogies or empanadas.
- If you’re out of time and your roast is still cold in the middle, slice it into smaller pieces, drizzle with a butter or oil and get it into a hot oven stat. If you’ve got some time between now and dinner, make life easy and repurpose it into something needing an additional cook anyway- stew, baked pasta or enchiladas, chili or curry.
When it's really, really bad:
If it all goes to hell, keep these on hand and everyone will be fed and happy in no time:
- Good dry pasta
- Good jar of sauce
- HVMC Meatballs (they’re frozen so they’ll hang around a while)
- Bonus tip: Carmelized Onions- You can make a big batch anytime you’re overstocked on onions and park individually packed protions in the freezer for a rainy day.