During college in Gainesville, Florida, my friend Katie Resmondo and I met while waitressing at a Mexican restaurant called El Toro. We’d hang out after shifts at each other’s apartments, chilling and cooking super-easy comfort food like Hamburger Helper Stroganoff.
This is the first time I’ve admitted that publicly.
Gradually we improved a bit though, serving “everything” bagels slathered with cream cheese, smoked salmon, and scallions to our girlfriends when we gathered with Cosmopolitans for our weekly Sex and the City viewing nights.
Fast forward more than 10 years later: Resmondo is a professional chef at Simply Wine, an American bistro in Billings, Montana, as well as a personal chef who caters and teaches classes. And I’m a food writer and editor in New York City.
We’ve come a long way since those boxed-meals. As Resmondo learned through hands-on experience in commercial Asian and American kitchens, I soaked up knowledge by interviewing and watching chefs in those kitchens and trying it at home.
“One thing I teach people is if you know a combination is good, it doesn’t have to be done a traditional way,” Resmondo says. One time when I was visiting her, she blended corn chips to use as a binder in Mexican-inspired meatballs because she didn’t have bread or bread crumbs around. With cheese inside also and a tomatillo sauce draped on top, those meatballs were to-die-for. The bacon-speckled Spanish rice underneath those savory orbs was the perfect pairing.
She’s taught me to experiment, to not be intimidated by unfamiliar foods, dishes, or techniques. Other chefs, such as Samin Nosrat of the bestselling Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat cookbook, remind me to taste everything as I cook, throughout the whole process. Recipes aren’t necessary once you understand the four elements of good cooking, Nosrat told me.
“People assume that things are a lot more complicated,” Resmondo says. “Pretty much every cooking class I’ve taught, they’ve said, ‘Oh, that is a lot easier than I thought it’d be.'” Word.
Despite our 2,000-mile distance these days, Resmondo continues to teach me cooking tips and tricks that I use in my personal home cooking. She’s even created videos to show me her tricks that I try in my Brooklyn apartment.
You can benefit too. Try these tips from Chef Resmondo:
- How to separate egg yolks and whites.
There are many ways to do this, but Resmondo showed me the most basic, popular way that I use every time I need to separate my eggs. Tap the middle of the egg against the sink or bowl, and break it in half, pouring the yolk from one half to the other as the clear egg white oozes down into the bowl. This video shows that method, plus the technique of holding the yolk in your hand while the egg white seeps down between your fingers.
- How to scrape off the skin from ginger root.
I make smoothies a lot, and I love to use fresh ginger. The zingy root is also great in Asian-inspired stir-fry and noodle dishes. I used to slice off the bark-like skin, but it’s awkward and I wasted too much of the insides. Then Resmondo showed me how to scrape off the skin with the edge of a spoon. That way, you don’t lose as much of the peppery flesh. Plus, it’s easy.
- How to keep weeknight cooking simple.
This one I haven’t fully grasped yet, but I’m a work in progress. “I don’t like to be in the kitchen for more than half an hour,” Katie says of her weeknight cooking for family at home. “Working in restaurants, you just get a lot faster, when you’ve done so much prep, chopping and such.” So how do the rest of us get faster? Repetition of your favorite recipes is one. And tacos. While the protein is cooking, toss the salsa ingredients in the blender, starting with garlic and jalapeño, which you fully blend, and finishing with tomatoes, which you pulse to keep it a little chunky. Add salt, lime juice, and cilantro afterward. Then add a dab of that salsa to some avocado you scooped out of its shell, and mash it with a potato masher, adding salt and lime juice. Put the protein (beef, chicken, pork, fish, beans, whatever) in the hard or soft taco shell, then those two toppings for a well-balanced, flavorful meal. That’s it. You can also check out our taco recipes.
- How to chop an onion.
It’s not the usual way. Slice off one end of the onion, but leave the root intact. You need that root to grip as you make horizontal slices from the edge toward the root, heading up. Then you slice vertically, with the tip of the knife facing the root. And finally, you slice vertically the third time, parallel to the root, to make little cubes. Our video can help.
- How to make a fancy swoosh on the plate.
The swoosh (not related to Nike) is a cool technique when you’re cooking for guests, not necessarily for a Tuesday dinner with the family. It looks fancy and modern, but it’s so easy. Use this trick when you have a sauce or purée: Drop a dollop of the sauce on the plate, then place a spoon in it, and drag it out with a slight turn. The end.
- Sushi can be as diverse a foundation as tacos, pasta, or bread.
You can put anything in your sushi, from a roll with bacon, chili peppers, and cream cheese, to more sweet rolls with dates, honey, and cream cheese and fruit sushi with mango, kiwi, and pineapple with coconut sauce. Full disclosure: I haven’t made sushi at home yet, so this is just a cool idea.
— Head photo: Vegan Food Like.