Family Circle Test Kitchen Tips and Tricks

It’s a given that food editors know tons of tips and tricks, thanks to spending most workdays in a kitchen. Now you can benefit from our experience. 


1 of 10

Store Herbs the Right Way

herbs in glass

Photo by Rumulo Yanes

Photo by Rumulo Yanes

Store leafy herbs like parsley, cilantro and basil in a glass of water on the counter, as you would flowers. (Refrigerating them may turn the delicate leaves black.) Wrap hearty herbs like sage, rosemary and thyme in a towel, then refrigerate in an airtight container. For many soup or stew recipes, if you don’t feel like stripping the tiny leaves, just throw in whole sprigs and remove stems before serving.

Don't Miss: Everything You Need to Know About Growing, Storing and Drying Herbs


2 of 10

Sear Meat Like a Pro

searing steak

Photo by Kritsada Panichgul

Photo by Kritsada Panichgul

Searing is simple. All you need to know is: hot pan + dry food + leave it alone. If you want a restaurant-style crusty steak:

  1. Leave meat out for about 30 minutes so it’s at room temperature.
  2. Set a dry stainless steel or cast-iron skillet over high heat for about 5 minutes—it will be extremely hot. Pat meat dry and season liberally with salt and pepper.
  3. Add a neutral oil (like vegetable or canola) to the pan, give it a minute to heat up, then lay in the steak.
  4. Now do nothing but let it sear! If you try to move it and the steak sticks, it’s not seared—let it cook a little longer.
  5. When you can move it, check that the steak has a nicely browned dry-looking crust. If so, flip it and sear the second side. Thin steaks can be cooked completely in the skillet, while thicker steaks should be finished in the oven. Always let meat rest 5 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness) before slicing. 

Related: You're Scrambling Eggs All Wrong


3 of 10

Sharen Your Knife Skills

knives

Photo by Rumulo Yanes

Photo by Rumulo Yanes

The right knives

Comfort is key for a good knife. Make sure you like the style of the handle and that it feels balanced. Your knives aren’t interchangeable—each has its special function. Learn the best way to use these three workhorses:

  • Serrated knife for slicing foods that are crusty, like bread, or delicate, like tomatoes or cake. Wüsthof Classic Double-Serrated 9-inch Bread Knife, wusthof.com, $120
  • Paring knife for peeling, coring, slicing and fine work like scraping out vanilla beans or shaping vegetables. Global 3-inch Paring Knife, globalcutleryusa.com, $45 
  • Chef’s knife for slicing, dicing, chopping; the flat side can also be used for crushing. Zwilling J.A. Henckels 8-inch Gourmet Chef’s Knife, surlatable.com, $50

Honing

The honing steel is an underutilized tool. Honing is not sharpening, but it can extend the time between sharpenings. Sharpening removes a bit of the metal to reshape the blade. Honing realigns that sharpened blade, which can microscopically “fold over” with use, causing the edge to dull.

Many chef’s knives (such as Wüsthof or Henckels) have a blade angle of 20°, so try to match that when honing. A trick for finding the angle: Hold the blade perpendicular to the steel. That’s 90°. Half of that is 45°, and half of that  is 22.5°. From there, you can estimate 20°. Be sure to hone safely, keeping the blade away from you.


4 of 10

How to Store Tomatoes and Food Labeling

tomato sauce

Photo by Romulo Yanes

Photo by Romulo Yanes

The great tomato debate

If you’re squabbling with someone about storing tomatoes in the fridge versus on the countertop…you’re both right! Underripe tomatoes will become mealy if kept in the fridge. Let them (and avocados and peaches!) ripen on the counter. But once they’re ripe, pop ’em in the refrigerator to preserve them. Then eat—at room temp—after a day or two. 

Labels

Label everything! Restaurant kitchens have very specific rules regarding identifying and dating foods (line cooks sometimes learn how to label food before ever learning a recipe). Do the same in your fridge and freezer. When packaging food, include the item name and either the date it was cooked or an “eat by” date. Find the system that works best for you: freezer-weight bags with a panel you can write on, removable sticky mailing labels, good old-fashioned masking tape. Keep a permanent marker in the butter compartment for last-minute notes (such as open marinara sauce and chicken broth, which have a limited life span in your fridge). 


5 of 10

Minimize Waste

veggie scrap broth

Photo by Blaine Moats

Photo by Blaine Moats

Get scrappy with food scraps

  • Toss citrus zest into simple syrup and steep for flavored cocktail or soda syrup.
  • Bag up veggie trimmings and herb stems to use in stock.
  • Reuse pickle brine to preserve vegetables.
  • Sprinkle broken chips on salads, soups and chilis. 

Waste not!

FYI, FIFO will help you ASAP. FIFO stands for “first in, first out.” It’s standard practice in professional kitchens (including our test kitchen) and will benefit your fridge, pantry and wallet. Put new milk/crackers/cereal behind older ones so you’ll use the older items first. We like having a staging area in the pantry to keep purchased but not “on deck” items visible if there’s no room for them in their usual spot.


6 of 10

The Secret Weapon to Restore Shine to Pans

bar keeper's friend

Photo by Romulo Yanes

Photo by Romulo Yanes

The most unexpected secret weapon of chefs: Bar Keepers Friend. It’s a powdered cleaner that tackles stainless steel, porcelain, aluminum, enameled cast iron, copper, fiberglass and more. A little sprinkle and a bit of elbow grease can help you restore pans to a like-new shine.


7 of 10

Help Prevent Wilting in Greens

lettuce

Photo by Romulo Yanes

Photo by Romulo Yanes

The best way to keep leafy greens from wilting is by controlling exposure to air and moisture. Choose a container large enough so they won’t be crammed, line it with a tea towel, add washed and dried greens, then fold the towel over them. They’ll stay fresh for at least a week. 


8 of 10

Get Good Cookware

pans and pot

Photo by Rumolo Yanes

Photo by Rumolo Yanes

Along with a good knife, you need good cookware. Be sure you select the right pan for the job.

1. Stainless steel
Best for:
searing, sauces and reductions
Pros: can use any utensil
Cons: delicate food can stick; doesn’t retain heat very well 
Anolon Tri-Ply Clad 12.75-inch Covered Skillet, anolon.com, $100 

2. Coated nonstick
Best for:
eggs, crepes, fish 
Pros: foods don’t stick; easy cleanup; durable
Cons: only plastic, silicone or wood utensils (no metal); not good with high heat on the stove or in the oven
Breville Thermal Pro Hard Anodized 12-inch Skillet, potsandpans.com, $130

3. Ceramic nonstick
Best for:
eggs, crepes, fish
Pros: foods don’t stick; can use any utensil; good for high-heat cooking
Cons: not as durable as coated nonstick; requires gentle cleanup
Green Pan 12-inch Chatham Open Fry Pan, greenpan.us, $50

4. Cast iron
Best for:
searing, browning, roasting, baking
Pros: retains heat extremely well; can last forever with proper care
Cons: heavy; requires maintenance
Lodge 12-inch Skillet, shop.lodgemfg.com, $40

5. Enameled cast iron
Best for:
searing, browning, roasting, baking, simmering, braising
Pros: durable; no need to season
Cons: heavy; can be expensive
Staub 5.5-quart Round Cocotte, williamssonoma.com, $325


9 of 10

Measure the Right Way

dry and liquid measure

Photos by (left) Colleen Duffley and Blaine Moats

Photos by (left) Colleen Duffley and Blaine Moats

A liquid measure is for liquids, and a dry measure is for dry goods. It sounds obvious, but many try to use the same cup for both—and wind up with recipes that don’t work well. Using the proper tool will improve your accuracy, which is key when baking. 

Pro tip: Spoon flour into a dry measuring cup, then level it with a butter knife. Scooping flour out of the bin compacts it, which means more flour per measure…and dry baked goods.


10 of 10

Use Rimmed Sheet Pans

sheet pan

Photo by C2W, LLCC, Charles Worthington

Photo by C2W, LLCC, Charles Worthington

Never underestimate the value of a good rimmed sheet pan. It’s wonderful for cooking a full dinner in one shot. But test kitchen cooks also use sheet pans to:

  • Organize ingredients and tools (like meat, tongs and spices to be carried out to the grill).
  • Catch crumbs and drips under cooling racks.
  • Serve as a makeshift lid for large pots and pans.
  • Nest inside one another to keep something flat while baking. 

Related: Healthy Sheet Pan Dinners