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Long before the writers and editors at The Daily Meal were reading cookbooks, watching Food Network and working for a food website, we learned how to cook from the earliest teachers in life: our parents. We’d sit on the counter as Mom rolled out cookies or sip orange juice while Dad made weekend brunch. Some of the best things we learned cooking with our parents weren’t just the basics, but cooking hacks that we still use to this day. These are the most useful tricks that The Daily Meal staff learned from Mom and Dad.
There’s a lot you can do with a cast-iron pan — as long as you use it properly. Our parents taught us that no pan gets a sear on your steak or adds flavor to fried chicken quite like a cast-iron skillet. Plus, as your skillet absorbs oil, the seasoning adds flavor to your pan, creates a natural non-sticking surface and also provides protection against rust.
If you’re not sure what to make for dinner on any given night, look no further than your pantry. A bottle of salad dressing, especially Italian dressing, makes a super simple and scrumptious marinade for a chicken breast.
Using old spices that have lost their flavor is definitely a bad cooking habit, but you don’t need to throw those spices out entirely. Add the amount of spice you intend to use to a skillet that’s on medium flame, shaking the pan or stirring for one to three minutes until the spices start to give off a strong aroma again.
Bones are one of those ingredients that no one cooks with anymore but should. If you save your vegetable scraps and carcasses from turkey, rib roast or whatever meat you had for dinner and simmer them all together, you’ll make a broth that’s better than anything you can buy at the grocery store.
Whether they would use chicken fat, lard or pure butter, our parents taught us that you should read the amount of fat listed in a recipe as a suggestion — and then use way, way more to up your flavor. And though you may think fat is bad for you, there are a surprising number of reasons you should actually eat more fat.
If you want your cookies to be pillowy soft but not flatten out as you bake them, refrigerate your dough and thoroughly chill it before you put it into the oven. This allows the fat to penetrate the cookie and gives the sweet ingredients like sugar and vanilla time to marinate and become more pronounced.
You’ve made the most delicious guacamole ever, but despite your best efforts, you can’t finish it all in one sitting. Mom gave us one hot tip: After spooning your leftover guac into a container, lightly press it flat with a spoon to eliminate any air pockets and pour a thin layer of water over the top. It sounds gross, but the water sits on top of the dip and creates a perfect air-tight barrier.
Mom and Dad knew when to call it quits. Whether you burned your roast chicken, forgot to pick up an integral ingredient at the grocery store or just had a really long day at work and are tired, you should know when to take care of yourself, relax and order takeout from your favorite pizzeria.
If you want to cook and peel hard-boiled eggs perfectly every time, don’t start with a dozen eggs you just bought at the grocery store. Older eggs will peel much more easily. Add the eggs to a pot of cold water, bring them to a boil, take them off the heat and stew for 13 minutes. Then you can make the most delicious deviled eggs with ease.
Did the spinach in your spring mix get all sad and droopy before you had the chance to put it into one of the best salads ever? If you want to bring that green back to life, fill a sink with cold water about 4 inches deep and add half a cup of white vinegar. Put your lettuce into the bath and it will crisp right back up.
When Mom and Dad were on a budget or looking to save time when meal prepping, they’d forego fresh fruits and vegetables and opt for frozen broccoli, peas and berries. As it turns out, frozen food can be just as healthy as fresh produce, and it keeps much longer.
When trying a classic pie recipe or a new creation entirely, save the trimmings. You can sprinkle cinnamon and sugar on that leftover dough and bake it quickly for an extra sweet treat.
If you’re baking cookies or a cake, chances are the recipe calls for a certain amount of butter, softened. If you didn’t have the foresight to set it out early enough, don’t pop it in the microwave. Instead, put your butter in a zip-lock bag and roll it out using a rolling pin. This trick will help even an amateur baker look like a pro.
Whether you’re looking to make a vegan-friendly dessert or you’re simply out of eggs, both bananas and applesauce can be used as a good alternative. The general rule is to use one mashed banana or 1/4 cup of applesauce per one egg called for in the recipe.
In order to make the perfect steak, it’s important to allow your meat to “rest” after cooking it. Place the steak on a plate or cutting board, lightly covering it with some foil, and leave it for about five minutes or so. This allows the juices in the steak to settle and distribute evenly; if you cut into the steak too soon, you risk allowing it to dry out.
If you’re baking bread or a pastry that calls for a more flaky texture — such as scones, pie crust or a homemade childhood dessert like toaster pastries — leave your dough in the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes or in the fridge for an hour or two. It’s important to do this before rolling out the dough to get that nice flake when baking.
It can be easy to make the mistake of adding too much salt when cooking, especially since there are so many ingredients that already have a surprising amount of sodium. If you’ve found yourself in this predicament, mix some flour with water to make a small ball of dough and place that in the pot along with your food. Let the ball sit in there for a few minutes before taking it out, and it should soak up some of that extra salt.
One trick to chopping onions without crying is to do so in a bowl of cold water. This will also take some of that “bite” out of raw onions. Leave your cut onions in a chilled bowl of water for five to 15 minutes, and it will get rid of some of that pungent flavor.
Fresh ingredients can make all the difference when cooking, and produce doesn’t get any fresher than when it’s homegrown. Even if you’re new to gardening, there are plenty of easier things to plant such as basil, mint, green beans, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Growing your own vegetables may seem kind of old-school, but it's probably part of the reason your grandma was such a great cook.
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Just as bones should be saved for use in a chicken or beef stock, vegetable scraps can be used in making a vegetable stock instead of being thrown out. If you’re saving up those scraps for more than a couple days, make sure you know how to freeze them properly.