Sunday, February 6, 2011

Kelsey Nixon Teaches the Essentials: Tips, Tools, Techniques, Pantry and More!

This past Tuesday I attended an excellent class taught by chef Kelsey Nixon sponsored by The Learning Annex.

Kelsey Nixon
Going into the class I wasn't sure what to expect. My fellow audience members and I were wondering "where's the kitchen?" when we entered the room at the Midtown Hitlon East. The description given by the Learning Annex didn't say there would be cooking, I think we just assumed Kelsey would be showing off some of her kitchen skills to help us learn them. 

Instead of cooking, we receive a very informative and fun presentation from Kelsey and great discussion with a room full of experienced home cooks. Kelsey gave a detailed background of her journey getting to where she is today. She has had great experiences from interning with Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, to working on her own cooking show in college: Kelsey's Kitchen, to earning a culinary degree from Le Cordon Bleu Hollywood, working on Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade, to being a contestant on The Next Food Network Star (which is where I know her from best) and finally to being one of Cooking Channel's leading chefs with Kelsey's Essentials

Kelsey's presentation covered the essentials in terms of Tips, Tools, Techniques, Pantry, and how to stay organized and implement these into your routine. Some of the essentials are no-brainers that any practiced home cook will have learned, hence why they are essential. But others are very smart ideas that can make a big difference in the kitchen. Here are 6 Essential Lists from Kelsey. More information and comments from Kelsey have been given in italics. 

Kelsey's Essential Tips
1) Read the Recipe
When cooking from a recipe this ensures you don't get half way through and realize you are missing an ingredient or need more time than you have to prepare the dish. 
2) Mise en Place (French for "Put in place")
Kelsey says "Mise en place will save your life," prep everything for your dish before you begin cooking. When chopping vegetables, it will save time to chop extra for later in the week. 
3) Keep a personal recipe file or binder
A great resource for your favorite dishes but also a way to keep recipes in your family and have an easy reference when friends or family ask for a recipe. Also, Kelsey suggests recording variations you make to recipes you follow so you know how to make them again if they turn out deliciously! Kelsey's blog post about her's: Recipe Book
4) Invest in Good Equipment
Once every 3-6 months Kelsey invests in an essential tool for the kitchen. Instead of getting something inexpensive that will last for a year she buys something that will last a long time- or forever.
5) Ignore Cooking Times*
*Except when baking! Trust your senses to know when your food is done. Check while it is cooking for doneness.
6) Embrace Salt
Kelsey says home cooks often shy away from salt, but it is "what makes restaurant food taste so good." Don't leave it out, use coarse kosher salt (Morton's). 
7) Taste as You Cook
Keep a tasting spoon or spoons around for trying everything you make (unless it is raw meat).
8) High Heat in the Kitchen
Cooking in hot pans and hot ovens makes a difference. (Again, except when baking in which case temperature instructions should be followed)
9) Use a Sharp Knife
Using a sharp knife is safer than using a dull knife; you will work faster and more efficiently. To sharpen knifes Kelsey suggests bringing them to your butcher or local culinary shop (Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, etc) for sharpening. 

Kelsey's Essential Tools
1) One Good Sharp Knife
2) Cast Iron Skillet
To Clean: Use course salt to agitate anything stuck to the pan, wipe out. NEVER USE DISH SOAP: it cuts and ruins the seasoning of the pan which is the essence of the flavor you get from cooking with cast iron. 
3) Tongs, multiple pairs
Great for handing everything from raw meat, to cooked pasta, to tossing salad.
4) At least one saucepan or pot
5) A large solid wood cutting board
A high quality board will be sealed and should be safe for meat. However, Kelsey uses a plastic board for meats just to be extra safe. Kelsey only cuts on one side of the wooden board and uses the uncut side as a platter for cheese and charcuterie. 
6) Dutch Oven with Lid
7) 13 x 9 Baking Dish
8) Wooden Spoons and Rubber Spatulas
9) Half Sheet Pans
Great for everything from cookies to collecting and carrying ingredients (think Rachel Ray at the beginning of 30 minute meals). Very versatile.
Additional Tools
> A Food Processor (Cuisinart or Kitchen Aid)
> Stand Mixer (Kitchen Aid)

Kelsey's Essential Techniques
1) A few good knife skills
Kelsey suggests taking a basic knife course or watching YouTube videos
2) Basic sauce making - acronym: BETH V     
Béchamel, Espangol, Tomato, Hollandaise, Velouté
3) Sauteing
High heat + Little Fat + Short  Cook Time
4) Searing
The way to cook any protein unless braising
5) Roasting
Dry heat, low oven, uncovered
6) Stir Fry
Sauteing with more fat or water
7) Grilling
For indoor grilling, get a grill plate or grill pan
8) Egg Cookery
Omlette, scrambled, fried, poached, hard/soft boiled, baked, fritattas
9) Slow Cooking
Crock-pot cooking or slow cooking in the oven

Kelsey's Essential Pantry
> Butter and Olive Oil
> Pasta - Rice - Quinoa (pronounced Keen-Wah) - Couscous
> Good Quality Canned Tomatoes 
Whole, Crushed or Diced, depending on how you use them
> Chicken Stock or Low Sodium Broth
Many uses, but especially great for making pan sauces (which can revitalize a slightly overcooked chicken)
> Onions and Garlic 
> Eggs
> Frozen: Chopped Spinach, Artichoke Hearts, and Peas
Kelsey suggests these three vegetables to have on hand frozen because they hold up so well
> Bacon and Prosciutto 
A few attendees did not eat pork products, some alternative suggestions were duck fats or fish fats where bacon is used for flavor
> Seasonal Ingredients, mostly fruits and vegetables
Buy what is at the Farmer's Market. 
Kelsey gave a great resource for seeing what is in season now from Epicurious: Seasonal Ingredient Map

Kelsey's Tips for Organizing Your Kitchen 
1) Declutter - If you haven't used it in a year, get rid of it! 
2) Go vertical - Hang up tools, pots and pans, etc on hooks and racks.
3) See Through Storage - If you can see it, you will use it.
4) Store it where you will use it - Spatulas and spoons by the stove, plates in cabinet by sink/dishwasher, etc.
5) Store like with like - Baking items together, Pots and Pans together, etc.

Making the Essentials Work on a Budget
1) Stick to the staples - By keeping staples on hand you will always have ingredients for cooking a great meal already in your kitchen which will result in less ordering out, dining out or running to the store to buy ingredients.
2) Know your seasons - Shopping in season food, especially at the Farmer's Market, will help you save money. I also recommend stocking up when things are particularly inexpensive and freezing fruits and veggies for the dormant winter months. The Visual Food Lover's Guide is a good resource for learning how to store a wide variety of foods.
3) Keep an eye out for deals and coupons
4) Shop the right foods - Buy quality store brands that will save you money; instead of buying high-quality products at stores where they will be expensive, check for them in higher quality stores and they may be less money
5) Buy less
6) Stop Wasting Food - I recommend Jonathan Bloom's site and book, American Wasteland, for help reducing your food waste. Here are some tips from him: Wasted Food

Writing Original Recipes
Kelsey recommended The Kitchn's article on "How To Write a Recipe Like a Professional." It is a great resource for getting comfortable writing down your own recipes and making them consistent. Keeping your own recipes makes it easy to pass them on to family and friends.


After Kelsey's presentation she took a ton of questions from the attendees and we had some great discussion about a wide variety of culinary things. It was a great 2 hours spend with a room full of passionate home cooks who love food and love learning new ways to prepare it. 

I hope sharing these tips with you gets you rethinking your kitchen, how you cook and helps make you a more efficient cook. The more at ease you are in the kitchen the more creative your cooking can become! 

Anything you would like to add? 
Please leave comments with your "Essentials" and tips for the kitchen! 

Follow Kelsey on Twitter! @KelseyNixon


kitchen pantry organizers said...

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