The Biggest Mistake Most Men Make when they Cook …

We make many .. And I’m a man, so please, men, don’t feel I’m singling you out. I mean .. I am. But that’s sort of the point of the blog. Right? So if you feel slighted in reading this, please go to and rant there. I read it.  Really …

The biggest mistake we make in our cooking is pretty simple. We overcook almost everything. We do it for two reasons. We don’t pay close enough attention to what’s on the heat. We are afraid of poisoning the people we’re feeding.

Let’s talk about that second one first. It’s a very real concern. When you’re cooking, and food poisoning is not, as some seem to think, limited to chicken and shell fish, in fact, one of the most common sources of food poisoning is unwashed, uncooked produce. (Especially now that we’re all ‘organic’ and everything). So, let’s talk about not making people sick. Or how to not make people sick – or however you want to say that.

I own and operate a restaurant. As such, I had to take a food safety course and pass a test. In it, I learned the federal guidelines for safe cooking temperatures for all sorts of things. Here’s a great resource… Food Safety Minimum Temperature Guidelines. 

Now, here’s the problem. With most of the proteins you will cook if you cook the food all the way to the federal guideline – (and, ahem, you often cook it to internal temperatures that are even higher than these) – whatever flavor might originally have been in whatever you are cooking is long gone.

So, the best way to avoid poisoning your guests may surprise you.

  1. Know your source. (Where does the chicken you’re going to cook come from and is the source reputable, hopefully organic, and does your purveyor trust and speak highly of them?)
  2. Know your protein is fresh. (I’m not a person who is afraid of previously frozen products. Frankly, if something is coming from New Zealand I’d prefer it is frozen there and thawed – correctly – here). But the trick to fresh is when was it harvested and when did it go in the case?
  3. Wash your proteins, carefully, before preparing them. (And then dry them off, equally carefully, before cooking them).
  4. Wash your hands after handling anything raw – including produce – with actual soap (it doesn’t actually need to be labeled anti-bacterial – but it helps). Wash them for a minimum of 20 seconds and actually wash between your fingers.
  5. Be mindful of utensils used to handle raw proteins. (including tongs, cutting boards, service items, etc) and wash them before you use them to touch food you will serve.

Cook your foods to a temperature that comes within site of the federal food safety guidelines, but know that if you’ve followed the above steps, and especially step one and step two, you can actually cook most proteins to a much more flavorful medium rare, medium rare – plus, and you (and your guests) will enjoy your food much more.

And also remember that cooking your foods to a perfect internal temperature means you need to pay attention. (And yes, I understand, that’s something that is hard for almost any man).


Perfect Grilled Steelhead (or Salmon) Explained.

There are two foods in particular that I do a really good job on.  (If I do say so myself!)  Chili, which I only make once a year for Halloween, and Grilled Seafood, Salmon in particular.  My method for cooking great fish is pretty simple.

Season the fish heavily with a seafood oriented spice mix. (My favorite is “Trinity” from Penzey’s Spices).

The first step is to season the fish pretty heavily.  It’s going to go on a VERY hot grill and most of this will burn off.

If you know my secret, you can easily turn this and leave great grill marks!

The second step is to lay the fish down on a very clean and very hot grill flesh side down (Skin Up) for about three minutes.  In fancier restaurants they’ll usually cut into the skin several times (at intervals) to insure a crispy skin.  Since we’re going to leave it on the grill I don’t do this here.

Once the fish is turned, leave it until you begin to see the fat bubbling through in the thicker parts of the fish.

Once the fish is turned, the third step is to cook it until you begin to see the internal fats coming up through the thicker parts of the flesh.  This will yield a perfect, medium rare to medium finish.  Shaving the fish off of the skin on the grill (putting just the flesh on your platter) will save you a step inside and make it really easy to portion the fish.

So what’s the real secret?  Pam.  Simply “Paming” the flesh side of the fish (over your seasoning) AND the grill will make it very easy to flip the fish with those nice grill marks.  You don’t need too much on the fish and it will ALL burn off if your grill is hot enough.  Simple Pimple.

The last step is to serve the fish immediately.  While I don’t mind Salmon at various temperatures, when it’s dinner I like it hot.




The Secret Ingredient to Really Great Tasting Food

My cooking went through a major transition a couple of years ago.  I’d like to say that it was something I learned at the Culinary Institute of America or something like that.  It wasn’t.  It was a simple observation.  Good cooks taste their food before they serve it.  I know – revolutionary huh?

A Surprisingly Underused Ingredient

These days I keep a small supply of tablespoons nearby when I’m cooking.  If I’m developing a sauce (the other night I made one up with Lemon Zest, English Peas, Fresh Basil, Roasted Garlic and Cream that was pretty damn good) I taste it as I’m cooking it to make sure it’s right.  I use each spoon one time.  Some cooks use their stirring spoon to transfer food to the spoon they’re tasting with.

This simple step will keep you from adding too much salt, help you know that a dish is too spicy, etc.

I know this seems extraordinarily basic, but it happens all the time.  When all else fails, taste it and see if it’s good!

Want Your Food to Taste Better? Get Rid of Old Stuff!

I frequently cook in other people’s houses.  It’s fun.  “Let’s get together on Saturday and cook and have dinner!”  “Great! What time should I be there?”  Even though I’m kind of a knife snob I usually leave my knives at home.  (The exception would be times when I know that a lot of people will be cooking …) It’s just easier to use everything that’s there when I get there …. But there is one thing that drives me batty …

Old bottles of spices, herbs and olive oils.

I know …. Herbs and spices are dry and olive oil is expensive.  I get it.  You want to use it up.  The other problem is that for some unknown reason people decided at some point (probably in the 50’s) that storing their herbs and spices over the stove was a good idea.  It’s close to where you’re cooking, right?  But feel the bottom of those cabinets when you’re cooking and understand that that heat translates into what is stored in those cabinets.  Want your pantry ingredients to last longer?  Get them away from the stove.

Here are two easy to follow rules of thumb with your herbs and spices.

1.  Spices last longer than herbs.  Stored in a dark, cool (but not cold), dry place herbs can last up to three years and spices can last a little longer.  WOOPS!  Forgot I was writing this for guys….  Generally, herbs are leafy greens like basil, oregano, thyme, etc. and spices are ground powders like Cumin, Allspice, etc.  Sometimes it’s better to keep spices whole – this is the case with Nutmeg, which loses its punch quickly once it’s ground but will keep more or less forever as a whole pod.

2.  When in doubt, pour a small amount of an herb or spice into your hand and smell it.  Grind it a little with your thumb.  The smell should be pretty strong.  (and it should smell like what it is – Basil should smell like basil, not garlic…)  If it is then the ingredient is fine and you can keep using it. If it isn’t do everyone a favor and throw it away.  I know the jar is full.  Next time don’t buy the big bottle of celery seed to satisfy 1/4 teaspoon in a recipe.  Buy the little plastic container the first time so you know you like the dish. (you’ll also save about $4).

Oils go bad much more quickly.  As a rule I never buy the big bottles of olive oil.  Once opened, a bottle of high end extra virgin olive oil will only last about 3 months.  When they’re closed (factory sealed) they’ll be fine for quite a while – even a year or two, but once they’re opened there is nothing you can do to stop the process of oxidation and rancidity.  If you cook less often, buy smaller bottles of olive oil.   If you want to know if your oil is rancid smell it.  If it smells like anything but olive oil – it can smell nutty, or fishy and sometimes it can even smell like bananas-  it’s gone.  Throw it out.

If you’re inviting me over to cook, do this before I get there…  Then I won’t complain about your old spices and rancid oils.

Yes, I will complain.  I pretty much say what I think.  I’ve never been able to shut that off.  Not really trying any more.

Now That’s a Handy Gadget!: Prepara Olive Oil Sprayer

As a rule I hate kitchen gadgets.  I cook, so I get a lot of them as gifts.  I have a can opener that creeps around the top of a can more or less on its own.  It’s a novelty.  I get it out at parties.  (actually, come to think of it I use this when I have a lot of cans to open.  It gets them all open while the onions are sauteing.) I have a few other odds and ends.  I basically try a thing once.  If it doesn’t work … gone.  Stuff I don’t use doesn’t get to take up room in my kitchen.  My wife bought this at our local Sur Le Table.

Prepara' Olive Oil Sprayer. A very useful gadget.

I was sure it’d get one try and be gone.  (I just make things disappear in the night! Kind of like the creepy bad toys in Toy Story…I digress).  This thing works great.  It puts a nice even coating of olive oil on something – like the chicken I’m roasting tonight – and that saves me time and energy doing it with my hands.  (I also probably use less oil).   I’ve had these before and they always break.  This one seems sturdier.

With it's cap off ... Sitting next to stuff so you can see how big (small) it is.

The other thing I like about this one is that it doesn’t hold too much oil.  Olive oil – especially good EV oils, will go rancid very fast.  So make sure you clean this out when it’s running out, but keep it on the counter and enjoy it…  Cool little thing!

The worst thing ever invented.

I hate these things…

Remove and discard ...

When you buy a new bottle of dried herbs or spices.  Before you do anything else, remove and discard the plastic disc with the holes in it.  Do this with ALL of your spice and herb jars.  Any time you want to add spices or herbs to a dish, measure the amount out in the palm of your hand.  These things get in the way.

A much better way to measure than using those silly plastic spoons.

As an important safety tip.  Removing all of these will ensure that you never expect the thing to be on the top of your cayenne pepper container and therefore end up dumping the entire container in the chili you’ve been letting simmer for hours.  (not that I’ve ever done that …)..

Quick Tip – Recipes that call for Italian Sausage

There are a lot of recipes that call for Italian sausage to be broken up and mixed into a sauce or other meats or whatever.  Here’s a quick easy way to do that.

Ready?  Skin the sausage length wise and drop into a hot pan whole.  As it starts to cook use your potato masher to break it up.  This also works with ground beef.  Stop when it’s the consistency you want.  Try not to nibble on the sausage.

Clean While You Cook!

I have one friend that I cook with all the time.  His name is Richard.  Richard and I are compatible in the kitchen because our mom’s taught us the same thing.  We are each compulsive cleaners.  That makes both cooking and cleaning easy and making cleaning easy is a big driver of whether you will love to cook.

As I go through the process of cooking I clean the kitchen with the conclusion of each step.  That doesn’t mean that I always wash all of the dishes.  Remember – I have two dishwashers.  It does mean though that there are never piles of dirty things laying about and frankly, I do wash a lot of dishes.

The Chili is still cooking, but the cleanup is done. The Cilantro will be used right before serving so the board and knife are at the ready.

Wash out your frying pans while they’re not – but not too hot.  Stuff can’t stick when the pan is hot.

Wash off your knives and put them away.  Never put them in the sink.  It’s too easy to reach in there later and grab a handful of VERY sharp blade.

Use a separate cutting board for raw poultry.  I have a red plastic cutting board that I only use for raw chicken.  I cut the chicken on it, rinse it off and put it in the dishwasher.  Then wash the knife and clean off the counter top.  Sound like overkill?  Ever have food poisoning?

Soak large pots before washing.  They’ll clean out easier.

Don’t be afraid of Pam on baking sheets and in baking dishes.  Never use Pam on nonstick.  (It turns in to a semi permeable and completely unremovable sticky substance).

Have a large supply of cheese cloth drying towels.

Replace your kitchen sponge at least once a month.