Cooking and meal prepping should be enjoyable. We here at Isolator Fitness strive to make your experiences doing so as simple and fun as possible. That’s why we’ve assembled our most useful cooking hacks into one easy to navigate list. Enjoy.
The Cooking Basics
Professional Chef’s practice ‘Mise En Place’ which is French for ‘Everything in it’s place’. This refers to prepping your ingredients and tools prior to cooking your meals. By taking this extra step you are actually saving yourself time and stress. Instead of searching for your measuring spoons and then measuring your spices while your food is overcooking, you’ll have everything prepped and prepared for cooking ahead of time.
Before you start cooking you want to make sure that you have a clean workspace, clean cooking utensils, clean hands, and hair pulled out of your face and away from your food. This will cut down on prep and cooking time and will diminish the risk of spreading bacteria.
The ingredients make the meal. Buy high quality natural or organic produce and meats. Never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink, and never cook with an oil unless it tastes good on it’s own. If it doesn’t taste good on it’s own merit, it won’t taste good in your food.
Before cooking you’ll want to make sure that your meats, fruits, vegetables, etc. are all cleaned as to prevent the spread of disease and bacteria. Be sure to wash your hands when switching between handling these items. ALWAYS wash hands IMMEDIATELY after handling any raw meat products.
Use them as an extension of your hands. They can be used to flip your meat, pull a pan out of the oven, stabilize hot or messy ingredients (steak, chicken, pork, etc.) while you cut them.
They aren’t just for cleaning up messes, they’re also for preventing them. Put a wet paper towel under your cutting board before you start chopping away to make sure it stays securely in place during your ingredient prep.
Avoid opening the oven door or crock pot lid (or any other pot or pan lid for that matter) while you’re food is cooking (unless necessary) as it will let out heat and reduce the internal temperature which will increase your cooking time.
Keep your pan handles turned into the stove. If they are hanging over the stove you are more likely to accidently bump it or hit it and cause the pan to fall, spilling and ruining your meals, and possibly burning yourself.
Don’t start out with a pristine kitchen and finish with a war zone. Cleaning as you go ensures that you won’t have a disastrous mess to clean up after cooking and also makes the actual cooking process smoother because items are easier to find and already clean (if they need to be re-used in measurement, cutting or mixing)
If you treat meal prepping like a chore it’s going to be a major pain in your life and cause you unnecessary stress, but if you treat it like a culinary adventure it will be an enjoyable and exciting experience that you’ll look forward to each week.
Adding one or two tablespoons of vinegar onto your meat while it cooks will the tenderization process
Do not marinate meat with citrus juices. Rather than adding juiciness and flavor it will actually dry out the cut and ruin your meat. If you want a citrusy flavor added to your meal, wait to add it to the finished product. This will also make the citrus taste more prominent while using less juice.
Always let your meat rest for a few minutes after cooking, before cutting into it. This is especially important if the meat has been grilled.
To make meats like pancetta and bacon easier to cut, place them in the freezer for 15 minutes. This process makes them more firm and thus easier to cut.
When roasting meats and poultry save time by buying the bone in option. The bone helps carry the heat to the inside of the roast faster causing shorter cooking times.
Be sure to brine all of your poultry before cooking to give it added flavor.
To make your fish nice and crispy rest it on paper towels (skin side down) before cooking. This will pull unnecessary moisture from your fish. Next saute your fish (also skin side down) in oil, over medium heat and flip only once (towards the end of the cooking process).
When cooking fish use the 10 minute rule. Measure the thickest part of the fish and adjust cooking times accordingly. You’ll want to cook the fish for about 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Flip the fish once about halfway through. (Double the cooking time if you’re cooking frozen/not defrosted fish.)
If you’re new to cooking fish or the process still intimidates you wrap it in packets of parchment paper before you bake it, this will allow the fish to cook by the trapped steam. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 10-15 minutes.
Bread tilapia with whole-wheat breadcrumbs or panko and bake in the oven. You’ll get the crunch you want, without the calories of fried fish.
A finished piece of fish should reach an internal temperature of no less than 145 degrees F.
If you need your vegetables to ripen quickly simply place them in a brown paper bag and store them in a cool, dry, dark, space overnight. By the morning, they will have ripened.
To stop the cooking process of your veggies and ensure that they retain a crispness, transfer them directly into cold water after cooking.
When making stuffed peppers use an ungreased muffin tin as a mold to keep them upright while stuffing and baking.
When sauteing garlic it will be less likely to burn if you slice it rather than mince it. (To remove the scent of garlic from your hands simply run them over stainless steel [sink, bar, etc.] for 30 seconds before washing them.)
Turning down the heat on spicy peppers is often as easy as removing the seeds. To do that you’ll want to cut lengthwise and spoon the seeds out of the pepper. (Wash your hands after you touch hot peppers as the oils have the ability to burn your eyes and skin.)
To avoid a slimy layer forming on your mushrooms during storage wrap them in paper towels.
Extending the crispness of vegetables is as easy as storing them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer over a layer of paper towels. The paper towels work to pull the excess moisture away from your vegetables leaving them fresher, longer.
Place your limp vegetables in a bowl of ice cold water with a slice of raw potato. This will bring your wilting vegetables back to life.
Make cutting corn off the cob an easy and mess free task by using a bundt pan. Stick the ear of corn into the hollowed out center hole and proceed to run your knife straight down the corn allowing all of the kernels to fall directly into the bundt pan. (After cutting the corn off of the cob run the back of the knife [not the blade] over it to extract the milk of the cob. Stir this into the corn to add body and flavor.)
Dicing an onion can be complicated, but you can make it easier by not removing the root. Leaving the root on for the dicing process with make sure that the onion stays conveniently together rather than sliding around your cutting board.
Adding just a pinch of soda bicarbonate to tomato based sauces will remove the acidic taste from the tomatoes.
Make sure you always have the fruit you’re craving on hand by buying fruit from farmer’s markets when it’s at the peak of it’s season and immediately freezing it. This means you can have any fruit you want, any time of year (as long as you haven’t eaten your entire stock yet).
Guarantee that you’re getting the most out of your lemon or lime when you juice it by first heating it in the microwave for 10 seconds and then rolling it forcefully under your palm for a minute before slicing into it and extracting the juice.
Rather than zesting a lemon or lime into a separate bowl and later transferring it to your ingredients, wait to perform this step until you can zest directly onto the ingredients. The aromatic citrus oils will provide more flavor to your dish this way.
If you don’t have a juicer and you can’t squeeze a lemon or lime hard enough to extract enough juice simply grab a pair of sturdy tongs to help give you leverage.
Herbs & Spices
To keep your herbs from flying around during chopping add a very small amount of salt to the cutting board.
Putting the basil stems into water and storing at room temperature will help to keep it fresher, longer.
When seasoning a dish you want to make sure you season it from start to finish, for the duration of the entire cooking process. This helps to pull out the flavors of the seasonings.
To keep your herbs fresh it’s easiest to combine liked herbs into bunches, place in a sealable plastic bag, and store them in the freezer. They will be easier to chop when you’re ready to use them and they will defrost immediately upon placement into the hot pan.
Be cognizant of how long your eggs have been sitting in the refrigerator before you decide to cook with them. Here are your maximum storage times. Raw eggs (in shell) = 4-5 weeks after packaged date. Raw egg (beaten) = 2 days. Raw egg whites = 4 days. Raw egg yolks = 2 days. Hard-Boiled (in or out of shell) = 1 week.
To test whether or not an egg is fresh all you’ll need is a glass of water. Place the egg in the water and it sinks it’s fresh. If on the other hand it floats it’s probably old, or just a bag egg and you’ll want to avoid cooking with it.
One of the most annoying things about making hard boiled eggs is peeling them. It becomes much easier to do if you run them under cold water immediately after boiling them and then refrigerating them for 30 minutes prior to peeling. (If you don’t have time to refrigerate them running them under cold water in an ice bath will cool them faster.)
If you only want the egg whites then crack your egg over a funnel. The egg white will run through the funnel and the yolk will remain intact in the funnel.
To remove the fat of soups, stocks, or stews simply put the entire pot into the refrigerator and let sit for about 30 minutes. The fat will congeal on the top and will be easy to spoon out of the soups, stocks or stews.
Add lemon juice to balance the salt. If it’s still too salty add a few wedges of raw potato or apple slices to it and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove them. The salty taste should diminish.
If you don’t have any broth but want to make a soup you can substitute water. (This also helps cut down on sodium consumption.) When using water you’ll need to add in your own salt but since it’s not a pre salted broth, you’ll be able to control how much you use.
Use a healthy amount of herbs and spices including: chili powder, curry powder, paprika, garlic, bay leaves or chives (especially when you use water as your base). These will add spark and flavor to your soups. If you crave more flavor try adding more acidic ingredients like: tomatoes, vinegar, yogurt, or lemon/lime juice, to help bring out the other flavors.
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