Web Cooking Classes with Chef Todd MohrWeb Cooking Classes with Chef Todd Mohr
Baking Steak or Grilling Steak

By Chef Todd

Baking Steak Not Grilling Steak With The Lid Down

The difference between baking steak and grilling steak lies in HOW you apply heat to the beef. There are two types of heat in cooking and only one of them is the right one for grilling.

Grilling is a conductive cooking method. It uses intense direct single-source heat to quickly cook thinner and more tender items. That’s why nobody grills a whole turkey.

Larger, thicker, tougher items need indirect heat over longer periods to cook into the middle and help tenderize the product. This type of heat found in your oven is called convective heat.

Apply convective heat to beef
and you’re baking steak, not grilling it.

Should you keep the lid up or lid down when grilling steak?

Home cooks are trying to decide if the barbecue grill lid should stay up or down during the grilling process. I’ve seen backyard grillers open and close the lid so many times, I thought they were sending smoke signals!

The best results in grilling come from the direct source heat that quickly caramelizes sugars, giving you those beautiful grill marks. This direct heat has to be single-source. In grilling, that means from below the item being cooked.

Home grillers that close the lid create a convective cooking environment where the hot air and trapped moisture circulating within is baking steak just like your oven indoors would!

Things to remember
when grilling steak, chicken, fish, or anything else:

1) Because grilling uses intense direct source heat, always choose an item that is thinner, that will cook completely under this quick cooking process.
2) Items to be grilled will not tenderize during the process, it happens too fast. Choose a cut of meat that is already tender.
3) Marinades add moisture, flavor and tenderizing properties. While grilling steak won’t tenderize it, marinating in an acidic liquid like tomato, vinegar, citrus, or wine will help break down connective tissues.
4) Grill 75 percent on the first side and 25 percent on the second. As soon as you flip your steak, you’ve lost all the visual indicators of whether it’s done or not. Cook as long as you can on the first side (the “show” side), and finish on the second.
5) Get yourself a thermometer! The ONLY way to quantifiably tell when your grilled item is done is by internal temperature. Guessing, gashing, and poking are not reliable methods.
6) And, LEAVE THE LID OPEN!

Closing the lid of your barbecue grill means you’re baking steak and not taking advantage of all the benefits of actually grilling steak correctly.

All of cooking comes down to repeatable, reliable, dependable, standard METHODS that can be applied to anything YOU want to cook. That’s what the professionals know and home cooks are quickly finding out the same secrets.

Home cooks all over the world are discovering the cooking secrets taught in culinary college during my FREE online webinar, “The 5 Skills Only Taught In Culinary College That Are Essential In All Cooking”.

You’ll become empowered with SKILLS, not recipes when you can use these most important 5 skills that everyone should know. Reserve your spot in the next webinar by clicking HERE.

With these insights, it will be the last time you’ll suffer from inconsistent cooking, dried out food, bad sauces, bland flavorings, and wasted food, but you must attend the webinar to get the benefits.

Then, you’ll know when you’re baking steak and not grilling it.

make gravy

By Chef Todd

You’ll Never Use Sauce From A Jar Again
When You Discover This Easy Way To Make Gravy

There are a lot of great home cooks out there, but many of them have a stumbling block in one particular area of the kitchen, they can't make gravy. Perhaps you have the same hurdle.

I interact with hundreds of home cooks every day. I answer their questions, I share their successes, I try to guide them through their challenges.

We share the same problem that I had many years ago, and this problem may be the singular reason a decent home cook named Todd Mohr made a dramatic life change and enrolled in culinary school 20 years ago.

Like the people all over the world that I now help with their cooking questions, I had a LOT of uncertainties and skill-gaps in my cooking back then.

I could roast a chicken. I could sauté some vegetables, I could grill a steak. I felt confident with those things. I was consistent, I could depend on the results.

 

But then, I’d cover it with a jarred sauce because I couldn't make gravy!

 

I was buying Alfredo Sauce in a jar, Beef Gravy in a can, even frozen Tomato Sauce! This is where my skill-gap was most evident.

What Chef Todd Mohr would like to tell Todd Mohr of 20+ years ago is that the key to making ALL sauces is the concept of Thickening Agents. If you can thicken a liquid so it sticks to food, you can make ANY sauce known to mankind.

With ONE method, you can make sauce for fish, sauce for chicken, sauce for beef, or any sauce you just dreamed up. It’s empowering!

I wish I had known that 20 years ago because it’s so simple.

Any sauce that you can dream up is made of the same three elements; 1) liquid, 2) thickener, 3) seasonings and flavorings. It’s that easy, 1-2-3.

But, the real skill lies in being able to create the appropriate thickening agent for the right liquid, the METHOD of creating a thickener that will be the foundation of your flavorful sauce.

I share the secrets to making great sauces that are original, flavorful, and didn’t come out of a jar in my Webinar Workshop, The 5 Skills Only Taught In Culinary School That Are Essential In All Of Cooking and you can claim your spot for FREE.

Sauce-making is a skill that immediately turns one cooked chicken breast into 10 different meals when you can just whip-up a variety of sauces using this ONE skill that I’ll share in my webinar presentation.

Discover the secrets and make gravy like the pros to add flavor, color, texture, moisture and appearance to ALL your dishes. Get your FREE admission to my Webinar and you’ll be making great sauces in your own home.

Discover the difference between how professionals and home cooks are taught in my next
FREE Webinar Workshop

Claim your FREE Spot for the next webinar session by CLICKING HERE

By Chef Todd

The 7 Reasons Women LOVE a Man That Can Cook

"Thanks Chef Todd, your cooking lessons got me laid last night" is an actual comment I received from one of my students. It's not one of the promises I normally make when men become members of my online cooking classes, but I'm sure it happens all the time.

Women LOVE a man that can cook. It tells her a lot about what kind of man he is. Men think becoming a rock star gets all the girls, I'll tell you that a great cook IS a rock star in the kitchen, and learning to cook is much easier than playing guitar.

Whether you're new to the dating world, returning to it after a broken relationship, or want to demonstrate your years of admiration for your wife, being a maestro in the kitchen will have a greater impact on the opposite sex than dozens of roses ever will.

When you're a man who cooks, you tell women that you're:

1) Sensitive - Men that cook show they're in touch with the subtleties of the romance surrounding preparing a meal for someone else. It's a gift you give when you take the time and effort to offer someone else nourishment and fulfillment during one-on-one time together. If you've used the ingredients she loves, or cooked for her specific diet, you've shown you are already interested in the things important to her.

2) Creative - Women love artistic men, those that can express themselves through art, music, literature, or culinary endeavors. Whether it's the inspiration to plate interesting meals every night for your wife, or the second-date thrill she'll experience at seeing what you can improvise, you'll prove that you're a creative guy with an artistic streak.

3) Successful - The success of your cooking skills shows that you can bring a project and presentation to fruition. She'll be attracted to a man that can plan a menu, gather the best ingredients, coordinate the timing of the cooking, and present a visually appealing plate. This is a guy that's dependable, that sticks with something that makes the entire relationship more enjoyable for both of you.

4) Worldly - If your food habits consist entirely of Mac and Cheese, Chinese food and pizza, you haven't traveled very far from the middle school lunch room and she'll recognize this. When you learn to cook, you can gather ingredients from all over the world and speak articulately about why you chose them for your meal together. You're aware of the global food scene and that makes you well traveled, whether you leave the kitchen or not.

5) Generous - Women may complain that men don't "give of themselves". You can stop that thought immediately when you give of your time and cooking skills to make her happy. If you think picking up the $150 check at the restaurant makes a man generous, you're wrong. Most women expect that you'll be paying for dinner. But, MAKE dinner and you've really given something that can jump start a relationship.

6) Multi-Dimensional - A man that can cook is interesting to women. "How did he do that, where did he learn that, how does he know?" And perhaps even more impactful to a relationship is the question in her head that remains, "what else does he know how to do?" Men can create a curiosity about themselves in her mind which leads to wanting to get to know them better.

7) Skilled With Your Hands - When you cook for a date, she'll definitely be impressed when dinner is all laid out for her upon arrival for the reasons stated above. However, if part of your romantic time together included the ACT of cooking she can see how dexterous you. Flash those knife skills, deglaze that pan with flambe' because each kitchen skill you show just makes her wonder what else you can accomplish.

The man that can cook instantly demonstrates sentiments that many can't vocalize. Men aren't good with words and poetic sentences, but they ARE good at cooking. I've had hundreds of men in my online cooking courses and they are always the best students. I find that men want to know the HOWs and WHYs of cooking, they want to figure it out.

Male cooks don't like following recipes. Have you ever known a man that WANTS to ask for directions? No, they want to solve the problem for themselves, not just follow a list of tasks. That's why the best approach for them to learn to cook is concentrating on the basic methods behind cooking, experimenting with what works and repeating successes to arrive at the basic cooking skills everyone should have.

A few basic cooking skills will attract more women than all the flowers and greeting cards a man can gather, it says so much more about them.

Join my FREE online Web Class to discover my exact process for creating a "soup to nuts" romantic meal at home using Aphrodisiac foods (and I promise, it's easier than you ever imagined) Click Here now.

Get started toward better food, better nutrition, and better relationships TODAY

By Chef Todd

The Top Food Topics Of The Year So Far

Today is day 183 of the year. Look over your shoulder at a calendar and you'll discover that the half-way point occurred yesterday. It's the day where you ask, "Where did it go"? "What have I accomplished in this time"? "Exactly what WERE those New Year's resolutions I made?"

The one thing I'm sure of after day 182 is that this year has been no different from any other. My passion for finding and sharing the best food news, instruction and information hasn't changed at all, nor will it, no matter what month it is.

So, let's look back at the food topics that have caught our attention, given new information, inspired us, or angered us over the past 6 months.

January - The Best Hangover Breakfast - BaltiMohr Benedict
It was a wild New Year's Eve in my beloved Baltimore. Brightly lit ships cruised the Inner Harbor as fireworks could be seen from three different locations down the Chesapeake Bay.

However, all those explosions remained in my head the next day, and could only be cured by my favorite brunch and hangover remedy, the BaltiMohr Benedict. If you're ready for the amazing combination of crab cakes and poached eggs, you should start drinking now so that you can enjoy the true value in this star of the first day of the year.

 

 

February - Stay Home Or Go Out For Valentines Day?
I wondered the same thing that many people do when it comes to the most romantic day of the year, should I make restaurant reservations or start planning my own dinner? It's an easy decision for me, but one that might not be as simple for others.

I know I've helped thousands of people LEARN how to cook, but the email response I got from this blog post made me realize I'm helping a few people find great success in rooms other than the kitchen. I can't make you any promises, but the act of preparing a romantic dinner for the one you love may bring extra rewards when you answer the question for yourself. Should you stay home or go out for the best romantic dinners?

 

March - Maximize Your Limited Time For Cooking And Fitness

I partnered with local fitness icon Donavon Israel to combine our expertise and motivate people to eat well AND exercise well. The most effective way to reach your health and fitness goals are to concentrate on both simultaneously.

Eating great food but being sedentary won't bring you closer to health any more than exercising constantly but eating poorly will. However, most people are pressed for time in their busy schedules and need usable tips for healthy eating and exercise.

April - These 11 Facts Prove Why The Farmers Market Is Better

I wait all Winter long for the Farmers Market to open so I can start practicing my craft and art on the freshest ingredients available. It might as well be the start of a new year because all cooking starts when the local market re opens.

For all those people who had written me to say that shopping the way I do is more expensive or less convenient, or just a bother to actually talk to other people, I had to remind them that there are 11 reasons, (one more than 10) that farmers market shopping is better.

May - The 3 Grill Issues That Could Ruin Your Cooking This Summer

Boy, the year does go by quickly and it seems I've gone from New Years Day to Memorial Day in about a week's time. I'm already getting ready for the grilling season and helping others toward the best outdoor cooking of the year but only if they're ready for it.

Having the skills to control the most intense heat available to the home cook is only part of being ready for grilling season. Preparing your grill for Summer means the cooking equipment won't screw up your great grilling this year.

June - The 5 Best Reasons Cooking Makes Me Happy

I might be a bit solemn that the year is half past, but it doesn't change my appreciation and excitement about cooking, something I hope to transfer to everyone that has ever seen one of my videos or taken my online cooking classes.

There are many reasons that cooking makes me happy. My reasons might be different from yours, or you might hate cooking entirely. If you do hate to cook, review my reasons for being a joyful cook and it might be contagious.

Cheer up and don't think of the calendar as half-empty, think of it as half-full of things yet to happen, excitement to come, and new cooking techniques, foods, farmers, and travel yet to come.

Burn Your Recipes DVDs are like culinary college in your home

But, at your convenience in your own time. Don't let the next 183 days go by without knowing what chefs know.

By Chef Todd

The 5 Best Reasons Why Cooking Makes Me Happy

Some people see cooking as a chore and they dread having to do it. Others may have magierocophobia, the fear of cooking that keeps the out of the kitchen. Many people have given up all together and just eat take-out and convenience foods. To these people cooking is difficult, it's time consuming and the results aren't worth it.

But, that's not me. I love cooking, it makes me happy. I get great enjoyment from finding new ingredients, combining flavors, making sauces, and accepting the accolades that come with a meal so good that it rivals any restaurant in town.

Why do so many people hate and fear cooking while I love it? What could the difference be? Yes, I'm a professional Chef and Certified Culinary Educator, but since it's my job you'd think I'd need a break once in a while. When I go on vacation from my "job", I cook even MORE. How can that be? Why would I cook while on vacation?

The answer is obvious to me, and can become obvious to you as well. Cooking is not a chore, and it's not feared when it becomes fun and easy. How do you make cooking a stress-free, fun and easy hobby?

First, you forget about written recipes. Stop trying to cook line-by-line. They'll just confuse you with their variables and photography that can never be duplicated. Don't concentrate on WHAT to cook, focus on HOW to cook.

The next step is to think of cooking as a standard, repeatable method. Whether you will saute, roast, steam, grill, or broil, there are steps that can be duplicated again and again no matter what the item you're cooking is.

This removes the chore and fear in cooking. If you are cooking by recipes, you have to re-learn cooking every night. You have to figure out what the author's opinion of what you should be eating tonight should be. This creates the stress of whether "the recipe will come out or not". Evidently, some recipes work and others don't. The fact is that NO recipes work correctly and you shouldn't depend on them.

Once you start to look at cooking the same as driving your car, working at your career, or practicing your hobby, the things you do without thought every day, you will enjoy the same benefits of cooking that make me happy.

1) Freedom - I have the freedom to cook ANY ingredients I can find, even if I don't exactly know what they are. I can create fantastic meals from the items I have on-hand and don't have to run to the grocery store for food that the recipe commands. I make recipes from what I already have.

2) Confidence - I have the confidence to know that my meals will be a winner every single time because I repeat a standard process on a wide variety of foods. I can saute many different ingredients, or I can cook one ingredient in many different ways. Confidence makes you happy.

3) Health - I'm happy because I know I'm improving my health with wholesome foods that I cook myself. I love the farmers market and the nutrient rich fresh foods they have there. I've experienced more energy, more brain power, and better sleep patterns because of good food. I know how to cook fresh foods!

4) Family - Cooking is a social skill. My family is excited when I cook because they know it will be exciting and interesting. I attend more parties because of my cooking skills, and I can talk about food topics because I've been behind the stove and seen what happens when I apply heat. Being around friends and family with a good meal makes me very happy.

5) Money - I save money because I can cook. The meals I make at home would cost me $20 a plate or more at my local restaurant. Plus, I save money on the BEST ingredients by purchasing at the farmers market. I'm happy because I know that cooking at home saves me empty calories, bad ingredients, and lots of money over restaurant and convenience foods.

If you're watching Food TV, buying cookbooks, or searching the internet for recipes from bloggers, you're not learning HOW to cook. You're being exposed to entertainment about WHAT to cook. (They often leave out the HOW when it comes to recipes).

However, if you're a curious person who wants to know the HOWs and WHYs behind things, you'll seek out the best information about cooking METHODS over recipes. When you know the 10 steps in grilling, or the 9 steps in a basic saute procedure then you can create meals from the ingredients you have and the creative inspiration in your head. Then, you'll be happy like me.

Does cooking worry you or make you happy?
What do you love about cooking, or what do you hate?
Please "vent" to me with a comment below:

Start Cooking Happiness Today!

You’ll see how with my online cooking classes

Enroll in the FREE CLASS HERE

By Chef Todd

Answer The Whats For Dinner Question Forever

"What's for dinner?" It's a question that makes many home cooks stressed and insecure. The pressure is on! It's up to YOU to conceive of, prepare, cook and serve dinner for your family. It had better be good or you'll be ridiculed. Don't blow it!

When you have no ideas, you search for recipes and try to follow their written instructions. You ask the cookbook for WHAT to cook and they try to tell you how to cook it. This type of search is half-flawed.

Recipe books are good for ideas, but they frustrate most home cooks because of vague directions and variables that make them hard to duplicate results.

However, if you turned your thought process around and concentrated on HOW to cook something, then the WHAT to cook question would answer itself. You'd be able to Make Your Cooking A Winner Every Single Time.

You can get fast dinner ideas by using a repeatable cooking method and simply change the ingredients. With command of a basic saute method, you can cook anything with the ingredients you already have on hand.

The meal I've improvised in today's video was imagined only 10 minutes earlier. I looked into my pantry, rummaged through the refrigerator and the ingredients presented themselves to me.

I've called this improvised dish Shrimp and Cannellini Bean Florentine using a stove-top saute method and only ONE pan to save clean-up time.

Perhaps tomorrow it will be Chicken and Black Beans Over Rice using the same exact procedure. Those pork chops will become an Asian stir-fry the next night all because I repeat the HOW and change the WHAT.

Answering the what's for dinner question should begin with asking yourself, "HOW will I cook dinner?" When you're confident in a repeatable method, the ingredients can be easily changed.

But, saute is only one cooking method, there are many more. If you want to cook great food more consistently, then you'll want to explore all the repeatable methods behind cooking. These are the same methods I reveal in my webinar, Discover The 3 Secrets To Making Your Cooking A Winner Every Single Time.

You can register for the FREE webinar HERE and you'll always have an answer for the what's for dinner question.

What 5-6 ingredients do you have in your home RIGHT NOW that you could apply this method to?
Please tell me your most creative ideas below:

By Chef Todd

Sharpen Your Own Knives For A Few Bucks

You don't need to have your knives professionally sharpened. Perhaps if you've been using it as a machete against trees or concrete, you might need to have someone with a grinding wheel look at it, but that's not what most people do with their kitchen knives. The typical household blade doesn't get the use and abuse that professional kitchens exert on their knives, so simple maintenance will keep it sharper and safer if you use your knife correctly.

Having your knife professionally sharpened means removing material from the blade. The knife is ground down by the process. However, this is often too drastic a remedy for what is really going on with your home kitchen knife. A truly "dull" knife is flat on the edge, it no longer has a point. This is a candidate for the grinding wheel because a new point must be created.

But, this is not the issue with the majority of knives. Most people deny the fact that a dull knife is more dangerous than a sharp knife. A well maintained blade will cut effortlessly through food. One that is not kept in good condition will drag through items, requiring you to press harder and apply more force. This is usually when the knife slips and you cut yourself. A sharp knife never needs to have excessive pressure put on it, and when used correctly is the safest tool in the kitchen.

The typical issue with your kitchen knife is that it develops "burrs". These are tiny splinters where then edge has become frayed or flattened in spots. A knife with burrs will create friction and drag through items, making it more dangerous. Solving this problem doesn't require the removal of material as if it were dull. The knife needs to be "re-trued".

The sharpening steel is used to re-true a knife. It doesn't remove material like a sharpening stone, but will remove the burrs that slow the knife down and cause you to force it. When a knife is correctly steeled, it will be easier to use and you'll have avoided a knife sharpening charge.

Flashing the sharpening steel around like a Japanese Chef may look cool, but it accomplishes little. The correct way to remove burrs using the steel is to set it at a 90 degree angle against a table and pull the knife across it in a concerted fashion. I often imagine a stringed instrument and the knife is the bow. A 20 degree angle is preferred when using this method.

Pull the blade across the steel at least 5 times on each side of the knife and you'll have re-trued your knife. But, if it is still dull, you may need the help of a sharpening stone. For just a few bucks at the local hardware store, you can purchase a small stone that will gently grind material off and bring back the edge.

Holding the knife at a 20 degree angle against the stone, pretend you are trying to cut thin slices. Five times on one edge, five times on the other edge, and then repeat on the finer-grit side. This will be more dramatic than the steel, but will help return your knife to usable condition if it has been cutting shoes or tin cans like on late night TV.

There's even a correct way to wipe your knife when you're done. Please don't cut through a towel into your own hand. Trust me, you'll only do that ONCE. I know from experience. Place a towel on the table. Place the knife on the towel and fold it over to cover the knife. Apply pressure from above and pull the knife out of the towel to wipe it without coming in contact with your hands.

Have you used your sharpening steel? Give me a Yes or No in the comments below:
I'll bet most people have one in their homes and don't know what it is for.

By Chef Todd

Choosing Kitchen Knives By The 3 Metals They're Made From

Choosing kitchen knives means giving a lot more thought to your purchase than the brand name. All popular knife makers have a low-end model and a high-end model, so name alone won't help you. There are three things to consider when buying this kitchen tool that you'll spend the majority of your prep time with because the knife will probably last longer than you do.

The first item to consider is the TYPE of metal the knife is made from. Kitchen knives are generally made from one of three types of metals:

Carbon Steel - A carbon steel knife is the least expensive you can find. It's a soft, flexible material that will allow for easy sharpening. However, if it's soft enough to be easily sharpened, it can lose it's edge quickly also. This type of knife can rust, it can pit and corrode.

Stainless Steel - In cost, this is the middle-range knife. Stainless steel is a much harder substance, so this knife is not as flexible, is more difficult to sharpen, but holds it edge longer as well. This type of knife will not rust, pit or corrode.

High Carbon Stainless Steel - Only in the last few decades have we developed the best combination of all. This type of knife is soft enough to sharpen, but hard enough to retain its edge. It won't rust, won't pit, won't corrode, but is the most expensive knife of all.

The second thing to consider when choosing kitchen knives is the construction of the knife. Generally, a knife made of ONE piece of metal is better. This piece of metal should extend from the tip of the knife to the bottom of the handle. If you can look at the handle of your knife and see the metal extending through the handle, it's of better construction. It will usually have a handle with two pieces that are riveted together.

Lastly, the knife has to feel good to you. I had a petite woman in one of my cooking classes who purchased a new knife to show me. The woman was barely 4 foot 10, but her knife was a 14 inch machete! "Is this a good knife, Chef?" she asked. "If you're 6 foot 4," I responded.

You should choose a kitchen knife that feels good in your hand, one that is well balanced and easy for you to use. If you're a petite woman of less than 5 feet, you should have a 7 inch knife with a short handle. That 14 inch knife is better used by someone who is taller because of the difference in leverage they'll have.

You don't need 24 steak knives! My best advice is to avoid the combination sets of butcher-block knives and purchase each of the 4 knives you need in your kitchen separately. Nobody makes steak for 24 people. Purpose that money to better quality purchases for the knives you'll use most often.

The Only 4 Knives You Need In Your Kitchen:

1) Chef's Knife - This is the tapered knife that is wider at the heel than the tip. It will be used for 75 percent of your kitchen tasks. It's used in a "tip/fulcrum" method where the tip stays on the cutting board and the knife rocks in a choo-choo train fashion.

2) Boning Knife - This is the knife used ONLY on raw products. It's used in a full-stroke swiping fashion to cut fat from chicken, clean sinew from beef, and portion raw meats.

3) Slicing Knife - A serrated slicing knife can handle the softer items that the chefs knife would crush. The teeth of this knife cut into soft items without much downward pressure. The blade is drawn toward the user in one long stroke.

4) Paring Knife - The smallest of the kitchen knives is used for close-up work on fruits and vegetables. It's the only kitchen knife used with the sharp edge facing us. It's held in a choke grip and items are pushed past the blade with your thumb.

When choosing kitchen knives, don't choose the brand name you're most comfortable with. You're probably paying more for advertising than a knife at that point. Find a knife that fits your budget, is made of the best materials, and buy only the knives that you'll actually need for your kitchen.

That being said, I also have a clam knife, an oyster knife, and a pizza knife in my kitchen drawers. What other knives do you think are absolutely necessary for the kitchen? Please comment below with your ideas.

Knife Skills, Basic Cooking Methods, Using Herbs and so much more in my cooking DVDs!


The Complete cooking DVDcollection for cooking without recipes.

By Chef Todd

What You Must Do NOW For Great Summer Meals

When daylight savings time comes around, it's said that you lose an hour of sleep. I just sleep an hour longer, but what I do lose sleep over is the state of my kitchen after a long winter of cooking chili, stews and soups. My kitchen is a mess.

Change the batteries in your smoke detectors, set your clocks ahead, but also start thinking about the best time of year for cooking. Summer is when the outdoor cooking starts. Summer meals are the ones for celebration. There are holidays, birthday parties, dining "al-fresco", and the blossoming of all the fresh fruits and vegetables. It's THE time of year I enjoy cooking most.

But, to enjoy great summer meals, I have to bring my kitchen up to summer standards and wash away all the frigidness of winter. When daylight savings time comes around it also reminds me to do a few things that I really don't want to, but I know that a season's worth of great food rides in the balance.

1) Start Outdoors - Inspect your barbeque grill. If it's charcoal, clean it well. Heat reflects off smooth shiny surfaces better than one that has caked-on char from last August. If it's a gas grill, inspect the entire gas line. Use a small brush on the gas feeder tubes to the burner. This is where spiders build webs during the winter that can clog your gas flow and potentially cause an explosion!

Clean the grates of the grill. Again, a shiny smooth surface heats better. Inspect the gas burner to assure it has not corroded and will create hot spots on your grill. Also, test the connection from propane tank to the grill with some soapy water. If you see bubbles, you have a gas leak.

2) Sew Your Garden - Now is the time to take a small patch of land and start an herb garden. Herbs are often flavorless and expensive at the store, but cost pennies and are full of life when they come out of your own garden.

3) Fix That Wobbly Table - Your outdoor dining table has been snowed on and left in the cold all winter, but it will be the host of so many Summer meals that it deserves your attention. Tighten all bolts and screws, clean the surfaces and oil any moving parts on chairs so your al-fresco table will be ready all Spring and Summer.

4) Move Inside - If you don't have room for an outdoor garden, now is the time to start your window box herbs. Your cooking will have a fresher aroma and flavor with herbs you've grown yourself, even if you aren't a farmer.

5) Clean Your Oven - Just like the outdoor grill, the cleaner and more reflective your oven surfaces the more efficient your cooking will be. Remove the crumbs from the bottom, clean the racks with steel wool pads, and run the self-clean cycle if your oven has one.

6) Inspect Your Spice Teams - Spices DO go bad. Using a seasoning that has lost it's flavor is like sprinkling styrofoam on your food. You're kidding yourself if your spices aren't the freshest. Discard any small jars that don't have a fresh and easily definable smell. If you're unsure, place a sticker on the bottom of the jar and when the clocks change next, we'll inspect again.

7) Review All Wares - All those plastic food containers with tomato stains have to go! If you don't have a lid for it, throw it out. Inspect all your utensils, spatulas, ladles, slotted spoons and measuring devices for cleanliness and replacement. If you have one of those rubber spatulas that is melted or has a chunk taken out of it, replace it.

8) Clean All Pots and Pans - When cooking on the stove top, good heat conduction is essential. If the bottoms of your pans are dark with burns, make them clean and shiny and you'll use the optimal heat this Summer. Scrub the inside of the pans for the same reason, something smooth and shiny heats better. And, if you have non-stick coated pans that are scratched, THROW THEM OUT! Where do you think that chemical coating went? It went in your food and more will follow unless you get a new pan.

9) Organize Your Freezer - You may have items in there from Christmas. They're freezer burned by now and if they haven't made it into a leftover dish in months, it never will. Don't distract yourself with bits and pieces of past meals, Spring has sprung and better food is on its way!

10) Inspect Your Pantry - It's time to go through all those assorted canned goods you bought during the winter grocery sale. If you can't use them for your Summer cooking, consider donating them to an organization that needs them more than you. Clean out the crumbs, discard the containers that have been 10% full all winter and get ready for fresh food, not cans.

I know you don't want to do many of these things. Cleaning your oven, scrubbing pans, planting herbs sounds like a lot of work. It does take an effort, but like most great efforts it will yield results beyond what you put in.

If you follow these guidelines, your Summer cooking will be better, more flavorful, quicker, easier, and more enjoyable for you and the people you serve.

Have I forgotten anything? What else should be on my kitchen preparation list?
Leave a comment below and we'll add it for next year.

By Chef Todd

10 Mardi Gras Foods and The Skills You Need To Make Them

It’s Mardi Gras time and that means parades, beads, boobs and good food in New Orleans. But, you don’t have to go to the city below the river to enjoy the Fat Tuesday celebration.

Mardi Gras means Fat Tuesday, it’s the end of the season of celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday and fasting for Lent. That’s why it’s FAT Tuesday, because it’s the day to fatten up before going without.

While revelry and drink are most closely associated with Mardi Gras, it’s the food that puts the Fat in Fat Tuesday. There are many foods closely associated with this holiday, and you can make them all, if you know the methods behind their creation.

1) Etouffee’ (Et-two-fay) – This Creole dish of sausage, chicken and/or shellfish is made rich and muddy by a very dark roux. Any Creole worth their Tabasco will tell you the key to great etouffee’ is a brick colored roux. Roux is the combination of fat and starch, but HOW you cook the roux is most important.

2) Muffulettas (muffle-letta) – A New Orleans sandwich of ham and cheese with an olive spread. Anyone can make a ham and cheese sandwich, right? Yes, but the olive tapenade is what makes the difference. Can you create a flavorful spread from chopped olives, pickles, capers, onions and peppers? That’s the method here.

3) Shrimp Po-Boy - The Cajun submarine sandwich of fried fish or shellfish is the bomb of Bourbon Street. Beside the local bread, the key to great fried shrimp is how they are cleaned and cut BEFORE frying. Shrimp are thicker at the head and thinner at the tail. This leads to inconsistent cooking. Learning how to butterfly shrimp is the key skill in this sandwich.

4) Creole Rice - There are many ways to make rice. Most people use the “boil” method. That’s where you put rice in boiling water and walk away. However, NOTHING has less flavor than water. Louisiana rice is made with flavorful liquids and choosing the right liquid with the right method is the key to making great fluffy rice.

5) Shrimp and Grits – This dish might be more Carolinian than Cajun, but the combination of creamy grits with spicy shrimp and mushrooms makes it one of my favorite meals. But, if you’ve never made a grit you can wind up with a mushy paste. Knowing the difference between boil, simmer, and poaching methods will yield better results.

6) Remoulade (rem-ew-lahd) – Some people call it Cajun tartar sauce, but it takes much more skill than tartar to make a good remoulade. This dipping sauce and sandwich spread takes advantage of the process of emulsification, the mixing of two unmixable items. If you can’t emulsify, your dressing will break.

7) Jambalaya (jam-ba-lie-a) – A Louisiana staple, jambalaya is a low-country stew of rice, sausage, pork, shellfish, and whatever else you find crawling through the back yard. Generally a stewing method is used, but with delicate fish it’s trickier than you might think. For a great jambalaya, you can’t use the crock pot!

8) Gumbo – One of the best skills a cook can have is to be able to make a flavorful soup. Gumbo is not shy in its flavors, it’s aggressive and bold. The ability to extract rich flavors INTO a liquid is key in soup making.

9) King Cake – Similar to a coffee cake, the Mardi Gras King Cake usually has a surprise hidden inside. Originally, it was a bean. The person that found the bean in their slice was “king of the feast”. Today, it’s normally a plastic or porcelain baby. King cake is leavened with yeast. Working with the live organism is a challenge for most home bakers, and knowing how to treat your yeast well will make you king of cakes.

10) Beignets (ben-yays) – A leavened doughnut particular to Louisiana, the beignet is my favorite of all Mardi Gras foods. This is not a round doughnut with a hole, it takes many shapes. Often they are round balls, sometimes squares but always delicious. However, the mixing method for beignets has you cook the dough twice. It can be difficult if you don’t know the secrets.

I like to reflect upon food holidays with a quick inventory of the cooking methods I have in my repertoire and how they match up to the things I may have to make. I DON’T go looking for recipes, I look for ideas that can compliment the skills and abilities I already have.

How many of the needed skills above do you possess? Can you make a brick roux? Can you create cold salads and dressings? Do you know the three ways to make rice that you’ll need? Can you feed yeast without killing it? Great! Then you can have a great Mardi Gras feast.

If you don’t know the methods I’m mentioning, leave a comment below and I may be able to help.

Did I leave one of your favorites off the list? What would you add? I’d love to know with your comment below:

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