Stephanie Alexander’s 10 most useful cooking tips ever

This Australian food legend has been cooking for almost all her 80 years. Here she shares her top kitchen tips gained throughout her remarkable career.

Photo of Stephanie Alexander

Stephanie Alexander: “Try to involve all members of your family and make the family table a lively and happy place.” Photo by: Simon Griffiths

1. Think ahead. 

Before you go shopping write a list of what you are intending to cook over the next few days to be sure you shop efficiently and don’t buy stuff “just in case”, nor will you begin to cook and realise that you needed some plain flour.

2. Make friends with your oven.

Develop a repertoire of a few dishes that will cook themselves slowly and without attention. Those dishes will include braised vegetable dishes, casseroles of meat and pulses, gratins, rice pilafs and baked pasta. Most will reheat perfectly – leftovers can be enjoyed for lunch, microwaved at the office (for those who go to an office!) or kept warm in a Thermos for school.

3. Buy local and in season.

Where possible, select fruit and vegetables that are locally grown. Not only are you supporting our farmers and growers, but the food will taste better, be great value if in season, and help you enjoy the seasonal turning of the year.  

4. Be organised when you plan to cook. 

Many tasks can be done ahead of time. Spinach leaves can be quickly wilted or steamed ready for a final toss with butter. Onions and garlic can be chopped and left in a covered bowl for an hour or so (don’t leave overnight). Cheese can be sliced or grated. Good-quality stale bread can be turned into crumbs and frozen to make an instant crunchy topping.

5. Preserve. 

Learn simple techniques for preserving summer gluts of fresh produce, so jars of stone fruit and frozen berries can be enjoyed in pies or porridge over the cold winter months, and all those lovely summer tomatoes can be turned into a handy store of passata.

6. Use extra-virgin olive oil.

Extra-virgin olive oil is fruit juice. It does not mature with age and should be used within two years (preferably one) from when it was pressed. Always buy best-quality Australian extra-virgin olive oil for all cooking.

7. Invest in equipment.

Some kitchen tools and equipment deserve to be best quality. A medium-sized enamelled cast-iron casserole dish with its well-fitting lid is an investment for life. I use mine several times a week. I actually have three of different sizes. These make a perfect Christmas present for a serious home cook.

Frying-pans should be heavy-based and I like mine to have ovenproof handles so I can seal something on top of the stove and then transfer it to the oven to finish cooking.

And if your household loves good-quality bread you need to invest in a solid, non-bendy bread knife.

8. Season all food.

Meat, poultry and fish all need to be seasoned appropriately before cooking. Use sea salt and a pepper grinder. Some spices are best dry-roasted and ground in a mortar and pestle before using.  

9. Use herbs.

If you have room for even one pot of home-grown herbs, grow your own parsley. Delicate freshly picked parsley is a delight. Other herbs to grow which are attractive as well as delicious would include rosemary, sage and thyme.   

10. Enjoy it.

Enjoy everything about your food life. Planning it, shopping for it, preparing and - best of all - sharing what you have made. Try to involve all members of your family and make the family table a lively and happy place.

 

Coles is a proud partner of the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation (SAKGF). Stephanie’s new book Home can be purchased from the SAKGF website at www.kitchengardenfoundation.org.au, with proceeds supporting pleasurable food education for children and young people.