Cooking: Small Things with BIG Impact

I just read on www.food52 that when it comes to cooking, BIG impact can come from small things. The author of this article, Leslie Stephens, suggested we consider working these 25 things into our cooking routine. Consider her suggestions and try these recipes:

1. Cook with red wine. As a cooking ingredient, wine imparts flavor, body, and acidity. Its acidity makes it a perfect meat marinade, by the way. To use, be sure to allow it to cook for 3 to 4 minutes after added to a recipe, so the flavors have a chance to meld. The alcohol will burn out, but oh the flavors that are left!

2. Make a beautiful meal, whether you're dining alone or not. If you don't treat yourself well, who will? And research shows that a beautiful presentation, as well as wholesome food, adds to good digestion and overall health.

3. Make homemade chicken or vegetable broth as often as possible. It's savvy use of your food and your money! Here's a beautiful recipe (found on for this purpose. It takes about 15 minutes to put together and about an hour to simmer:


1 large onion, roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, chopped into 1-inch bits

2 stalks of celery, chopped into 1-inch bits

6 button mushrooms, halved or quartered if very large (optional)

4 cloves of garlic, peeled or unpeeled, cut in half if large

1-inch knob of ginger root, cut into strips

1 bay leaf

5 allspice corns, crushed slightly

1 tsp peppercorns

1 tsp olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

10-12 cups of water

2 sprigs fresh rosemary (1 tsp if using dried rosemary).

Other savory herbs are fine too, like thyme or sage.

(NOTE: Herbs like mint, coriander and parsley are not great in stocks.)

Heat the oil in a stock pot. Add the onions and salt and saute over medium-high until the onions start to turn golden-brown at the edges. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Add the rosemary, bay leaf, all-spice, peppercorns, carrots, celery and mushrooms and saute, stirring frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Add the water-- the less water you add, the more flavor your stock will have. About 12 cups is a good rule of thumb.

Bring the stock to a boil. Cover with a lid, lower the heat to a simmer, and let the stock cook, undisturbed, for an hour. Turn off the heat. Let the stock stand until cool and then strain through a fine-meshed sieve or a sieve covered with cheesecloth. Press down on the vegetables to release any liquid in them. Refrigerate and use as needed.

TIPS: Although you can definitely rough-chop the vegetables, don't cut them into very large pieces- you want the water to be able to draw as much flavor out of them as possible. On the other hand don't go overboard and mince the vegetables either.

You don't have to pull out all your best vegetables when making stock or broth. Scraps and odds and ends left over from cooking other dishes are perfectly acceptable. For instance, freeze the hard ends of asparagus stalks (the hard ends you can't eat), celery tips, and apple peels. You can even add onion and garlic skins.

4. Buy yourself at least one piece of cookware you've always wanted and notice how often you use it.

5. Keep portioned servings of pasta sauce in your refrigerator for those nights you're not in the mood to cook.

6. Try a new recipe at least twice a month. Here's a yummy treat I found in the book, Super Natural Every Day (by Heidi Swanson). We were in the mood for tapioca pudding:


3 cups milk, divided
1/3 cup small pearl tapioca
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp fine-grain sea salt
1/3 cup mild honey
Grated zest of 1 small lemon

¾ cup fresh or frozen raspberries (if using frozen, allow to thaw, then drain well)
Chopped toasted pistachios(or other nuts) for garnish (optional)

Soak the tapioca in 1 cup of the milk in a medium, heavy saucepan for 30 - 60 minutes. Whisk in the yolks, salt, honey, and remaining milk. Bring the mixture barely to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring. This will take about 15 minutes. Decrease the heat so the mixture gently simmers, stirring constantly, for another 20 minutes or until the tapioca is fully cooked (this depends on how large your tapioca pearls are.) The tapioca is fully cooked when the pearls swell up and are nearly translucent - tasting is the best way to tell. The pudding itself will also thicken into a custard. Continue to taste and stir, preventing the tapioca from scorching.

Remove pan from heat; stir in lemon zest. Let the pudding cool (it will slightly thicken). Fold in raspberries. When ready to serve, garnish with extra raspberries or pistachios.

7. Invite a new person over for dinner (a new coworker, your neighbor, etc.) and share your favorite dish with them.


Splurge on high-quality olive oil.

9. Exchange a recipe a month with friends and family (maybe the prepared recipe as well).

10. Treat yourself to a new cookbook, then make a feast of the five most delicious-sounding recipes.

11. Make a roast chicken for a Sunday lunch or supper.

12. Host a dinner where you spend twice as long talking at the table as you did preparing the meal.

13. Create a dish that you've become known for then take it to someone.


Eat seasonally. Start now: choose from onions, broccoli, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts, beets, kale, leeks, mushrooms, or radishes, and make a season dish this week.

15. Celebrate a holiday or special occasion you've never celebrated before. For instance, besides Valentine's Day, February is the time to celebrate Black History Month, Dental Health Month, Groundhog Day, the Winter Olympic Games, and President's Day.

And besides St. Patrick's Day, March is the time to celebrate Women's History Month, Nat'l Nutrition Month, Music-in-Our-Schools Month, Nat'l Crafts Month, Read-Across-America Day, the Iditarod, Basketball's March Madness, the arrival of spring, and Pi Day. Wouldn't it be fun to invite friends over for Pi Day and serve a few different pies?

16. Get to know the farmers at your farmers market, and let them dictate your menu once in a while.


Listen to your favorite music while you cook dinner or have a bake day.

18. Invite a friend over to teach you how to make their favorite recipe.

19. Indulge in a lovely cheese plate with your favorite crackers before dinner once in awhile.

20. Give away things in your kitchen that you don't love.


Eat like a kid sometimes-there's magic and satisfaction in nostalgia.

22. Either make or buy an apron you love.

23. Ask your parents, grandparents, and aunts and uncles about their favorite recipes. Record them and then actually make them.

24. When you see a vegetable at the farmers market or grocery store that you've never cooked with, bring it home and incorporate it into dinner.


Keep your sink clear of dirty dishes (so that your kitchen is always a place you want to be).

I'll conclude by asking you, "What are some of the small things you do that give a BIG impact when you cook?" Tell us in the comments below!

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    Alice Osborne
    Weekly Newsletter Contributor since 2006
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