published Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Braly: Insider chef secrets that will wow your favorite dishes

Most people in America eat seven dinners per week. And while a few of those may be in restaurants, at least a couple are at home. But trying to come up with creative meals every week can be a chore. Many times its the same old thing. Whatever’s easiest.

But if you know some of the insider chef secrets, many of the standby meals that you create regularly can become tastier and more interesting. While these secrets may seem like small things you can do, they can make a big difference in the final dish.

“There is a reason why a dish you make at home seems to taste so much better in a restaurant,” said Rahman “Chef Rock” Harper, celebrity chef, season three winner of “Hell’s Kitchen,” and adjunct culinary instructor at Stratford University. “Chefs prepare things in a matter that can make a regular dish seem more like a gourmet one. But you can easily do these same things right at home.”

Here are several hints for success:

* When it comes to chopping, start by folding up a slightly damp towel and placing it under the cutting board. This will keep the board from moving around, and will help reduce the risk of injury to your fingers.

* If you are cutting items like carrots, first cut them in half lengthwise, then put the flat edge onto the cutting board to start chopping. This will make the process easier and safer.

* When using salt, many chefs opt for sea salt, which is believed to be healthier (see today’s Ask-a-Dietitian for warnings). If you happen to over-salt something, add a dash of vinegar to balance it out.

* If you have vegetables that are beginning to wilt, you can give them life by dropping them into ice water for a couple of minutes. This will help replenish the water in them, the lack of which causes the wilting.

* Pay attention to plate temperature, making an effort to serve hot foods on slightly warmed plates and cold foods on plates that have been chilled in the freezer.

* Store food correctly to retain the best flavor. For example, things that should not be stored in the refrigerator include onions, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes and garlic.

* Don’t forget quality control. It is important to taste-test the food a couple of times as you are preparing it. That is the best way to keep up with what needs seasoning and how well the dish is turning out.

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