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The One Ingredient That Makes You a Better Cook, According to Chef Alex Guarnaschelli

Taste of Home logo Taste of Home 10/12/2018 Kiersten Hickman
a person holding a sign: Alex Guarnaschelli © Instagram / Alex Guarnaschelli Alex Guarnaschelli

When you're getting dinner on the table, don’t be so hard on yourself. At least that’s the advice coming from celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli (and we agree!).

Even after years of running her famous restaurant Butter in New York City and working on the hit television show Chopped, she still finds simplicity to be key when getting a good meal on the table for dinner. Dinner doesn’t have to always be a fancy affair (especially with these easy dinner recipes), and that’s advice coming from a well-known chef herself. 

“Whatever you’re cooking that’s homemade, you’re ahead of the curve already,” Alex explained in an interview with Taste of Home. “I just think that however simple you think dinner is going to be, if you’re getting it on the table yourself, that’s three-quarters of the battle in my book.”

And when it comes to getting dinner on the table, Alex has a few tricks up her sleeve. And she should know—she literally wrote the book on home cooking.

The ingredient Alex absolutely swears by

Finding yourself with an absolute cooking disaster? Here's the trick, according to Alex:

Water.

“You know while you’re cooking stuff and things are overly brown and things are spinning out of control, a splash of water [will help],” said Alex. “If your sauce is too thick and it’s boiling away, a splash of water. If your chocolate sauce or your hot fudge is separating because it’s too much cream or butter in it, a splash of water will fix it."

Her go-to pantry items

While she claims water to be her key ingredient while cooking, she also has two other go-to ingredients that assist her while cooking dinner.

Dijon mustard

“Life is not life without Dijon mustard,” she said. “A jar of honey in the kitchen is important, cause you can balance out an overly bitter or overly spicy anything—sauce, vinaigrettes, even a piece of meat—with just a tiny bit of honey. I think it’s just a great fixer of things.”

Vinegar

Alex also has an obsession with vinegar, especially since it’s an ingredient her father loved to use while she was growing up. His “mouth-puckeringly” strong vinaigrettes were used for salads or even to soak up a side of broccoli with some garlic. Vinegar will always bring Alex back to those childhood memories.

Alex keeps dinner as simple as possible

She's certainly well known in the world of foodies, so it’s natural to assume that Alex would mix some of her restaurant cooking with what she does at home. Alex, however, explains that it’s the absolute opposite of how she lives her life. She values that work-life-balance (aka, leaving work at the restaurant or on set) and keeping things simple when cooking at home.

“Taking a step back and just making a pork chop right on a baking sheet at home gives me a moment with food where there’s not so much pressure to take the temperature on everything I’m feeling,” she said. “Because I sit on Chopped, I have to constantly react to what I’m eating. I have to taste food at the restaurant, I’m constantly reacting to what’s being made. It’s nice to have a moment at home where I don’t react.”

Cleanup should also be easy

While the world may be obsessed with slow-cooked, one-pot, or even Instant Pot meals, Alex swears by the baking sheet (here's the type our Test Kitchen loves). Throwing a few pork chops on a baking sheet is one of her go-to family meals on a busy weeknight. Her reasoning? The minimal cleanup she’ll have to do afterward.

“I think that minimizing the amount of time you do the dishes is critical,” she explained. “I just line a baking sheet with parchment. And if a higher temperature cooking is involved, I just skip the parchment and I just use aluminum foil.”

Alex's favorite sheet pan meals

Some of her favorite ingredients for sheet pan dinners? Think chicken thighs with an onion medley (onions, leeks, shallots, and a few slices of lemon), beef top round, and even mushrooms or eggplant for a Meatless Monday. She recommends seasoning these items with some olive oil, salt, pepper, and even a dash of curry or cumin before roasting it in the oven. Add some garlic gloves, tomatoes, beans, or some broccoli florets and you have yourself a meal.

Lining a baking sheet to roast dinner certainly does make cleanup a lot easier. Between that and a quick wipedown using her go-to Lysol spray, the kitchen is left smelling clean and fresh in no time. Plus, bellies are full and her family is happy.

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