We live in a world where food blogs are born every time a kitchen timer dings and aspiring chefs have millions of recipes at their fingertips. Call us old fashioned, but we think the mark of a good home cook is having a stable of recipes they can make off the cuff -- no instructions, few measurements, just old-school knowledge handed down from previous generations. If you're a novice, take notes. If you fancy yourself a chef, it's time to test yourself.
Think you know how to scramble eggs? Think again. Achieving the perfect balance between fluffiness and moisture takes both practice and technique, though there's really only one secret to perfect scrambled eggs: not overcooking them. Meat expert Josh Ozersky's secret? “I cook them very quickly,” says Josh. “They go off the heat very quickly and finish off the heat.” Rule of thumb: if it’s cooked in the pan, it will be overcooked on the plate. - in association with Rachael Ray
The perfect roast chicken starts with the skin. To get that golden, semi-crispy crust, Josh slips a little butter between the skin and the meat before rubbing it with oil and seasoning it liberally. And his roasting technique is decidedly no-frills. "You'll notice what is not on this pan," says Josh. "There are no little baby fingerling potatoes, purple Peruvian tubers, little pearl onions or fresh herbs." Just crispy, chicken-y goodness. - in association with Rachael Ray
Related: Watch Classic Roast Chicken in HD
“Grilling a steak is the summit of meaty sciences,” according to Josh, and if you’re grilling for the black marks, you’re going about it all wrong. “Anything that is black on a piece of meat is ruined. It is destroyed, denatured protein and has no place in your mouth, your stomach or the world at large,” he says. Instead, aim for a nice brown texture so you can get the caramel Maillard flavors. - in association with Rachael Ray
Freshly Baked Cookies
There is nothing quite like that fresh-from-the-oven cookie smell. Regardless if your favorite recipe is from your great Aunt Mildred or the back of your chocolate chip bag, baking cookies from scratch is a skill everyone should have in their back pocket. Want them extra chewy? Add a bit more butter and shave a few seconds off your cooking time. Want them super chunky? Make your own “chips” by chopping up your own bar of good-quality chocolate and add some more flour to your dough.
Simple Salad Dressing
The principle behind the one true French vinaigrette is simple, chef Michael Roux explains in his book "Sauces" -- one teaspoon Dijon mustard, one tablespoon vinegar and three tablespoons oil. “Everyone has his or her own take on this simple recipe -- adding a pinch of sugar here, some garlic, chopped onion or raw egg yolk there,” Roux writes. Meaning any deviation from the traditional three ingredients is a creation all your own.
Fish can be tricky. Between picking out the best fillets and prepping them appropriately, you might find yourself floundering in the kitchen. Baking is a simple hands-off way to great tasting fish as you let your oven (and some strategically placed tinfoil) do all the work. In his book "Mark Bittman's Quick and Easy Recipes From the New York Times," Bittman suggests wrapping salmon in tinfoil, along with tomatoes and pesto sauce. Fifteen minutes later, you will be pulling basil-infused salmon out of the oven.
Blanch them, fry them, put them in a stew -- each vegetable cooking method helps you get a slightly different color, taste and texture. Roast your vegetables in the oven for crispiness, steam them over simmering water to preserve vitamin content, or blanch them and pan-sear them like locavore chef Louisa Shafia to give them that barely-browned look. “I put [my Brussels sprouts] in boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute, then I put them in ice water,” says Shafia. “They still have a lot of crunch and a lot of color.” - in association with Rachael Ray
Chicken Noodle Soup
It’s good for the body, it’s good for the soul, and it’s good to have the method memorized so you can whip up a fresh batch at the first sign of a runny nose. The key to chicken noodle (and most soups) is the stock, which can be made by simply simmering of celery stock, onions carrots and chicken scraps.
Sure, you can top off your noodles with a jar of store-bought sauce, or you can jazz them up like Josh and make Spaghetti al Limone. “All I basically need to do it is spaghetti, a lemon, oil and garlic,” says Josh. “I’ve always got that in the house.” It’s a simple one pot, one pan meal you can throw together if you’re expecting last-minute guests or you’re wanting some quick comfort food. And once you master this simple sauce you're ready to graduate to bolognese and puttanesca. - in association with Rachael Ray
Quiz: Should you trust James Bond when making a martini? According to beverage director Joe Campanale, you should not. "If you want that nice silken texture, you stir," he says. "You want to stir any sort of drink that is just spirits." So the next time you're preparing a drink for 007, casually let him know that his martini taste is a little lowbrow for your liking. - in association with Rachael Ray
Related: Watch How to Mix a Martini in HD