In a perfect world, we'd all have the time and energy to cook flavorful and healthy meals morning, noon, and night. Obviously this isn't always the case, and we find ourselves reaching for shortcuts to cut down on our prep time or for ingredients that may promise big flavor but in exchange for extra sodium, chemicals and other nasties. Here are my suggestions of items that don't deserve any real estate in your kitchen and great products or techniques you can use to replace them.
If you have any sort of meat tenderizer in your cabinet, throw it out. Most commercial tenderizers contain something called Papian, which is a mixture of enzymes found in papaya and pineapple that will turn any meat into the consistency of cat food. The true trick to cooking protein until tender is to use the proper cooking technique reccommended for the cut you're working with. Muscles that work more, like a shank muscle, are tougher and have more connective tissues that require a low, slow, moist cooking technique. Cutting meat against the grain will also ensure a tender bite every time.
Jarred Minced Garlic
This blog is a safe space free of judgement, so raise your hand if you've got one of these jars of minced garlic in your fridge, then use that hand to throw it in the trash! Minced and jarred garlic is soaked in a solution that really changes the flavor for the worst. The best and only garlic cheat if you like good and real garlic flavor is buying pre-peeled garlic and use that. While garlic presses and food processors tend to overprocess garlic, a Microplane grater is gentle enough and great way to get minced garlic quickly. My favorite hack is to roast garlic in a small baking dish or ramekin. Place peeled garlic in the baking dish and cover with grape seed or canola oil and cover with foil. Place into a 325 degree oven for 30-45 minutes or until the garlic is a nice golden color.
This little bit of prep will cut down on your actual chopping time as roasted garlic can be smashed into a purée with a bench scraper. You may find yourself using more roasted garlic than raw as this makes the clove sweeter.
While iodine is an important part of your diet, most people get enough iodine through other fortified grains. Iodized salt is straight sodium chloride like you remember from the periodic table of elements. It's metallic, and quite frankly too salty! It also tends to build the more you eat it. Switch to a nice sea salt or kosher salt which boasts a briny, more complex flavor as well as mineral content. We like Maldon sea salt at The Chopping Block because it also has a lot of texture, which is a nice touch in everything from seared steaks to avocado toast! It comes in large pyramids shapes that you can crush between your fingers to your desired consistency.
You'll be surprised how much the quality of what you cook will change when you make some simple changes with the ingredients that you cook with. These are simple changes that don't cost too much money that you'll notice big results! If you want to hone up on simple skills for weekday meals, check out our series of demonstration classes at the Merchandise Mart. You'll learn how to make quick and delicious tacos on Taco Tuesday or weekday meals during Monday Meals.