If you've eaten your mom's and grandma's delicious Latin cooking your whole life, you might not be used to flying solo in your own kitchen. So we asked Bren Herrera, chef and the lifestyle expert behind BrenHerrera.com — warning: once you log on, you're likely to spend a few hours drooling over food porn and Pinning your life away — to drop some knowledge for novice cooks. Here, her top six tips — plus a few beginner recipes to get you started.
1. Buy a pressure cooker.
Yes, we're talking about the casuela your grandmother used all the time. It's like a pot with a special lid that has the capability to heat and cook foods much faster — about 70 percent quicker — which is a tremendous time-saver. Who doesn't want delicious foods in less time? Herrera recommends looking for a modern six-quart cooker that has all the bells and whistles, like a safety valve. (The newest ones won't even let you open the cooker until all of the pressure is released, helping to avoid any accidents.) Trust us on this one — it's the best cooking invention ever.
2. Make your own spice blends.
Of course, we all know that Sazón Goya is a classic, easy-to-use cabinet must have. But don't be afraid to experiment and create your own blend. "If there are flavors you love together or often use for recipes, mix them up ahead of time so you'll have them on hand to toss into your favorite dishes," Herrera says. You can become a cooking bartender: an expert in the practice of cocktailing spices!
3. Invest in high-quality chef's knives.
And always keep them sharpened! Dull knives make chopping quickly tougher — plus they don't cut your foods as cleanly and put yourself at a higher risk for injury. Herrera recommends these from NewWest Knife Works. "I love their wood handles, and they're 100 percent American made," she says.
4. Don't toss burnt food.
If you slightly charred your favorite beans, don't worry. "Just dump a large raw onion or a red potato with skin into the pot. It absorbs the toxins and saves your dish. My mom taught me this flavor saver over 20 years ago, and it works like a charm every time."
5. Freeze your meats.
Cutting steak or any cut of beef can be a challenge. To make life simpler, freeze it first until it's firm, but not brick hard, Herrera says. This will make your slicing and filleting so much easier. And you'll get good practice cutting along the grain!
6. Read, read, read!
Before you even step in front of the stove, read the recipe you're going to be tackling several times. "It will help you get a handle on all of the steps and understand the language and techniques ahead of time, so you're not just trying to do it on the fly," Herrera says. And reading through the recipe several times gives you time to research unknown ingredients. You don't want to invite a special friend over for dinner and as you're cooking find out that you're missing a key ingredient!
Got that? Now, keep reading for some amazing beginner recipes to help get you started!