You’ve baked approximately 12 dozen Christmas cookies, served up a fancy holiday dinner for the in-laws, made toffee for all your coworkers and even DIY’d your own doggy treats. But even after all that quality time you spent in the kitchen this month, it still feels like chaos every time you turn on the oven. You’re in need of some kitchen 101, and ASAP. Lucky for all of you aspiring #topchefs out there, we’ve got you covered with a little expert advice from renowned housewares designer and entertaining guru Carter McGuyer.
Carter is the brains behind more than 350 kitchen tools and gadgets, and has collaborated with fan-favorite brands like Crate and Barrel and Crisp. He definitely knows what’s up when it comes to kitchen efficiency. For all of us that get a little cray in the kitchen this time of year, Carter is serving up his top tips for keeping things under control. They’ll come in super handy when you’re prepping for your holiday feasts and getting a jump start on meal planning and weeknight eats for 2016. Read on and you’ll be cooking like a boss in no time.
Tip #1: A Well-Stocked Kitchen Is a Happy Kitchen
A few high-quality essentials make meal prep faster and more efficient. Carter suggests investing in a basic cook’s knife and a paring knife to handle all of your needs. You’ll never reach for anything else. Carter says, “Good paring knives, like the Bird’s Beak Paring Knife ($12) I designed for Crisp Cooking Tools, can be used for peeling, coring, slicing or carving creative designs, making attention to detail a breeze. A basic cook’s knife is great because — assuming you keep it sharp — it is extremely versatile and can be used for almost 90% of cutting tasks.” And, while we’re on the topic, Carter also insists on keeping those blades sharp. It’s a step that people often overlook, but keeping your knives in tip-top shape is the first secret to chopping like a pro.
Tip #2: Learn the Basic Cuts
Now that you’ve got those fancy schmancy knives, get familiar with them. Good knife skills make any kitchen task easier and waaaay faster. A quick search on YouTube will land you tons of tutorials. Not sure what you’re searching for? Carter talks about his most-used methods and why you need them: “Some of my favorites include mincing, which can be used to cut garlic, shallots or other pungent alliums into small pieces; slicing, which is useful for everything from vegetables to cheeses; and julienning, which is a specialty method that can spruce up any salad or cocktail garnish.” His Wavy Knife ($13) design is also great to add a little ruffled texture to your veggies.
Tip #3: Prep in Advance
For easy entertaining or weeknight meals, make a game plan. Prep as much as you can ahead of time or on the weekend. Carter’s time-saving secret? Because fruits and veggies can be stored overnight, he cuts up everything he needs several hours or up to one day ahead of time. One of his go-to meals is a warm, rich fondue served with a generous platter of (pre-cut!) fruits and veggies. How genius us that? Carter also keeps things easy with elegant twists on common slow cooker meals like chili and soup. His suggestion for a relaxed dinner is a total home run: “Set it up the night before your party, and then welcome guests into your delicious-smelling home the next evening. Slice onions or scallions ahead of time, and along with cheese and some sour cream, you have a full-fledged toppings bar for guests to add to their chili or soup.”
Tip #4: Kick It Up a Notch With Fresh Herbs and Spices
Carter loves serving simple dishes and amping up the flavor with fresh herbs and spices. It’s a great way to keep a dinner party understated, yet elegant. His go-tos are oregano, dill and a generous helping of garlic, and he loves using an herb mincer. “Not only can you use an Herb Mincer ($16) to finely chop your herbs, but you can also use it to strip the leaves from the stem, which saves you a lot of time and frustration!”
Tip #5: Citrus Is Your Friend
To lighten up dishes that might be too rich or indulgent, Carter uses citrus. “Citrus zest and juice can be used in a variety of ways, in dishes both sweet and savory, by incorporating lemon juice into a cream sauce for poultry or topping off a chocolate dessert with orange zest.” Check out his favorite Dual Juicer ($20) and Zester ($13), which both make getting that zippy flavor a snap.
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