We generally approach cooking with a great deal of thought. We plan menus, envision beautifully composed plates, and seek out the best ingredients for those we love. But there is also a part of cooking that is almost thought –less. I’m talking about the automatic, almost subsconscious things that we do because someone taught us that it was the way things were done.
For many of us, those habits and routines were passed down as we stood on stepstools alongside our moms or other people important to us. The kitchen is where we learned about food, but time in the kitchen with people we love and respect also taught us other life lessons. As we fixed mistakes, made substitutions, and learned the importance of following directions, we were actually learning a little something about life. We even learned how to navigate when there are were directions at all — and that’s something.
We asked a few notable Clevelanders about their own kitchen secrets or “hacks” that they learned growing up:
My mom always told us not to cook in the kitchen from a recipe, but instead to start with the ingredients and build a meal plan around what looks good, what is fresh at the market, and what appeals to you that day. I also learned that adding a teaspoon of herbs to pasta, as it reaches a rolling boil, will take away some of the bitterness that you might encounter in whole wheat pasta.
Vel Scott, Owner Vel’s on the Circle (now closed)
I learned the importance of tasting and adjusting, to bring flavors into balance. I am not a formally-trained chef, but I am well-traveled. I love to eat! Growing up in the south, food preparation was a family affair. My grandfather was a fisherman we always had his fresh-caught Mississippi bayou fish on Mothers Day and on Sundays. He is the one who taught me how to handle fresh fish…to dress it and refrigerate it immediately, and use it the day you caught it. He told me that is should come to room temperature before cooking. We did a Sunday buffet at Vel’s on the Circle for years, and we served my grandfather’s stuffed fish recipe, which had fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and greens, and a sprinkling of herbs – always added last, just before serving.
Coach Ted Ginn, Sr. — Founder of The Ginn Academy and head coach for Glenville High School Tarblooder football team
My mother, Lear Ginn, taught me how to make sweet and sour pork chops when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I’m a whiz at it! If I have time to cook, my best meal is pork chops, fried corn, and cabbage or hot water bread (corn bread that’s made on top of the stove). I still make them the way my mother showed me: clean ‘em off, season with salt
and pepper and Zatarain’s New Orleans style spices. Then brown them in the pan and remove for a minute. Mix vinegar and sugar in a cup (proportions to your taste) and add the pork chops back to the pan with that. It cooks down into a sort of syrup and if you turn them kind of slowly and let them simmer, that’s what makes them sweet and sour and very tender. Make some sweet tea to go along with it. That’s a good meal right there.
Laura Ross — Owner of Cleveland Vegan
Ahh. Both Jason and I learned some tricks from our Moms that we use at the restaurant and in our home. The browning apples in a fruit salad, always a bummer. My Mom thankfully shared with me that after cutting the apples put them in water and put a little salt in there with them and that will prevent them from browning…at least for a lot longer than they would normally.
Also, I LOVED baking cookies with my Mom growing up, especially at Christmas time. I know this may not be that unknown, but she always “undercooked” the cookies. She would pull them before they looked done and then let them continue to cook while out of the oven. I always thought she made the best cookies and I still do this today.
Crystal Angersola – Food Blogger at Eat*Drink*Cleveland
The best tip my Mom ever gave me was to freeze excess fresh parsley while it’s still fresh. Unless I know I’m going to use the whole bunch immediately, I’ll toss half of the bunch of parsley into my mini food processor. I put the chopped herbs in a Ziplock bag and freeze them. I just break off a chunk and toss it in whatever I’m cooking. I also do this for cilantro and dill. This past summer, out of desperation, I decided to try it with all the tons of greens I was getting from Fresh Fork. My Mom’s method worked great on greens too! I love having them frozen and pre-chopped in the freezer. I add them to soups, mac ‘n cheese, eggs, spaghetti sauce and more. It’s a great way to reduce food waste and add more leafy greens to your diet.