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The Basics of Stir-Fry -Stir-Fry 101

If you’re anything like us, you love a good stir-fry. But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our home cooked stir-fry just don’t taste as good as the ones we get at restaurants.

We at love to breakdown, explore, and then share with you how these things are done.  With a little bit of know-how, you will make delicious stir-fries right in your own kitchen. Keep reading to learn the basics of stir-fry and get some practical tips for making these amazing dishes at home.

What is stir-fry and its history

Ancient China in 5th century

Stir-fry, which has become an integral part of many cultures’ cuisines around the world, can be traced back to ancient China as early as the 5th century BC.

The technique is simple and efficient: food is quickly cooked in a large wok with oil at high temperatures.  This is in part a fuel saving process by creating a small contained hot fire for brief period of time and quickly cooking food cut into small pieces. The ubiquitous wok is designed to take advantage of this by providing a very hot core surface.

Aromatics such as garlic and ginger are added first before ingredients such as sliced vegetables and meat, adding ingredients based on the cooking time needed. Add in some sauce components for a finishing touch of flavor. There are countless variations to this technique that have developed over centuries, depending on regional ingredients and preferences.

The key ingredients in a good stir-fry dish

Creating a classic stir-fry can seem intimidating, but the key is to understand the basic rules of making them. The first ingredients to most stir-fry are good quality proteins, such as beef, chicken, seafood, or even tofu, with loads of fresh vegetables. Consider adding flavor enhancers like shallots, peppers, garlic or ginger for an extra layer of flavor, then add liquid or broth for some moisture and sweetness. Finally, don’t forget a few additional elements like chilis or sesame seeds to really elevate the dish. With these basics in mind, you’ll be able to make a delectable stir-fry meal any night of the week!

The equipment you need to make a perfect stir-fry dish

Chef cooking in wok with tong

To ensure your stir-fry is easily and quickly cooked, there’s certain equipment you’ll want to have on hand. For starters, you’ll need a wok, or a large sauté pan with high sides, that can accommodate plenty of ingredients. This will help cook without overcrowding and will also provide enough room for those golden-brown edges we all love so much. Additionally, make sure you have a good set of wooden spoons or some tongs on hand. Use these to keep the food moving, remember “stir” fry. The movement will prevent food from sticking to the bottom of your pan or scorching while letting it get well colored.

The steps involved in making a delicious stir-fry meal

Stir-fry is one of the classic, quintessential Asian cooking techniques. That means a great quick and easy meal for you to make at home. To begin, it really is important to have all the ingredients measured out, cut, chopped, and prepped beforehand so that everything can move quickly when it’s time to cook.

When you are ready, you start by heating oil in your pan or wok over medium to medium-high heat, then add in your chosen proteins (chicken, shrimp, etc.), cooking for just a couple minutes. Next, incorporate your vegetable selections into the dish -bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, or whatever you have in the fridge. Utilize the shape of the pan by pushing ingredients away from the hot center and up the sides as you add each new ingredient.  Finally, the sauces!

Here’s where you get to be creative. Try out different combinations of sweet and savory like Hoisin sauce and soy sauce, sherry and oyster sauce, chili sauce or oil, rice wine or even rice wine vinegar for some tang. Cook all these ingredients together until everything is evenly heated through before removing from heat and serving over a bed of steamed rice to soak up your sauce. This is how you whip up an effortless yet yummy stir-fry dinner right at home…no takeout necessary.

Some of the best dishes to try at home

There are plenty of easy stir fry recipes for beginners, but if you’re looking to get a bit more creative, there are some classic dishes that will definitely impress. Popular meals include General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli with black pepper sauce, and Kung Pao chicken. Here’s the basics for each of these dishes.

General Tso’s chicken

General Tso’s Chicken is a classic stir-fry dish that packs a flavorful punch. To make it, you’ll need boneless chicken thighs or breasts (dark meat is best), garlic, ginger, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and of course General Tso’s sauce. Start by marinating the chicken in a mixture of soy sauce, rice vinegar and a bit of sesame oil for at least 20 minutes (longer if desired).

While the chicken is marinating, prepare all your other ingredients. Mince the garlic and ginger, chop any veggies you’re using, and measure out any sauces needed. Once everything is ready to go, heat up some oil in your pan over medium-high heat. When hot enough, add in the chicken pieces and cook until golden brown before removing them from the pan and setting aside.

Next cook the vegetables you’d like, bell peppers and onions are traditional, then pour in your prepped General Tso’s sauce.

Let all these flavors simmer together until bubbly before returning the cooked chicken back into the pan to warm through. Ready to serve and enjoy.

Beef and Broccoli with Black Pepper Sauce

Making a delicious beef and broccoli stir-fry with black pepper sauce is a tasty way to enjoy a Chinese style meal at home.

Start by prepping your ingredients of thinly sliced the beef, minced garlic and ginger. Measure out your sauces then set them aside until ready to cook. Heat some oil in a pan or wok over medium heat and once hot, add in the beef slices. Stir-fry until lightly browned before adding in any vegetables you’d like; bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms work especially well here.

Sautee these together for two minutes before adding in your garlic and ginger as well as soy sauce, oyster sauce and black pepper sauce. Let all these flavors simmer together while stirring occasionally.

Finally, when everything is cooked through, remove from heat and serve this savory dish over steamed rice.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao chicken is a popular Chinese stir-fry dish that packs a flavorful punch. It features juicy chunks of chicken cooked with a savory sauce and usually served with steamed white rice.

The key to making great Kung Pao chicken lies in the balance of flavors between the sauce, veggies and protein. Here is an easy walk through of how to make this classic stir-fry dish right at home.

First, as you’ve seen above, prepare all your ingredients. Thinly slice the chicken, mince the garlic and ginger, chop any vegetables you’d like to add (such as bell peppers, zucchini or mushrooms), and measure out your sauces. Mix together one tablespoon of soy sauce, two tablespoons of oyster sauce and one tablespoon of black bean paste for the Kung Pao sauce base.

Heat some oil in a pan or wok over medium high heat then add in the sliced pieces of chicken. Stir-fry until lightly browned (does not need to be fully cooked) before adding in any vegetables. Sautee these together for two minutes before adding in your minced garlic and ginger as well as your prepped Kung Pao sauce base.

Let all these flavors simmer together while stirring occasionally –it should take around 5 minutes for everything to fully cook through. It really is that easy, serve and enjoy.

Now you have seen that in just a few simple steps you can create restaurant quality dishes right at home, just like our mantra; no takeout (NTO) necessary.

Dos and don’ts to know about stir-frying

Stir-frying is a great way to quickly bring together tasty ingredients for a flavorful dish, but it’s important to keep a few dos and don’ts in mind. When stir-frying, remember that higher heat is best used to cook thinly sliced meat and correctly sliced vegetables. Larger quantities of delicate ingredients can be cooked at a lower temperature; however, it is very important not to overcrowd the pan. This can result in steaming your food rather than sautéing it.

To ensure even cooking, make sure all items are cut into the same size; this will allow each ingredient to cook quickly and evenly. Lastly, don’t forget to season your dish -an easy mix of sugar, salt, pepper and soy sauce added in at the end can take your stir-fry from good to great!

Keep in mind that high heat equals rapid cooking so you can use less oil. Be aware that too low will burn your food. Different oils have different smoke point , so use a high temp resistant oil like peanut oil.

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Pro Hacks, Tools

Knife Skills Everyone Should Know

As a home cook, you’re always looking for ways to make your life easier and cooking is no exception. After all, who has time to waste when there are only so many hours in the day? You want to be able to get dinner on the table quickly and efficiently, without any fuss. One way to do that is by mastering some basic knife skills.

Culinary schools teach essential knife skills that every chef uses on a daily basis. These same techniques can also be used at home to improve your everyday cooking. Here are some of the best tips and tricks for using knives like a pro.

The different types of knives and their uses

different types of knives in draw

Selecting the right knife can be daunting in the kitchen, but understanding the different types and their uses will quickly become second nature.

Chef’s knife is first and foremost as the go-to cutting implement for a variety of preparation tasks. Measuring six to ten inches long, this multipurpose workhorse has a versatile blade designed for slicing, dicing, mincing and chopping. Your knife should be well balanced and sized to your hands and build. See some of our favorite value knives here.

Utility knives generally have shorter blades, 5-8 inches for lighter jobs such as peeling and slicing fruits/veggies. Santoku knives are a great knife for this category.

Paring knives for intricate cutting have shorter smaller blades, some quite flexible. Peeling small veggies, paring (hence the name) which is cutting off unwanted pieces, stems, tips edges, etc. that you don’t want in your food, are the tasks this knife is suited for

Boning knives have longer somewhat to noticeably curved blades that somewhat flexible. This makes them ideal for getting meat off the bone and trimming excess fat from meat.

Serrated knives are perfect for sawing through hard-crusted breads, some will have softer serrations for slicing meat and such. Tomato knives are serrated to more easily break the skin without crushing the fruit.

Slicers will generally have longer straight blades so that they draw easily through meats and such giving you smooth slices with no tearing of the tissues.

The range of blades available to cooks gives an advantage when attacking any culinary task! Knowing which one to grab before you start hacking and slashing your food into submission will make your cooking experience much better.



How to hold a knife for maximum control

Holding a knife correctly is an important skill to learn in the kitchen, not just for safety but also to ensure maximum control while cutting. Just try walking into a commercial kitchen and grabbing a knife, they will set you straight right away, because yes, there truly is a proper way to grip these tools. It is called the pinch grip.

The best way to do this is by gripping the handle with your dominant hand wrapping the last three fingers around the grip. Place your thumb firmly on the blade close to the bolster (that’s the thickened band where handle meets blade) and pinch the very back part of the blade between thumb and forefinger. Your forefinger can wrap just around and touch the tip of your thumb right behind the bolster.

This gets your center of gravity in the right place for controlled slicing and chopping, it also comes in handy when cutting harder vegetables. Keep your ‘pinch’ close to the handle itself to maintain balance and control of the knife. Let it rest in your fingertips so you can move it freely and give yourself more precision. With these basics skills in place cooking will become safer, neater and faster.

Note; This is a western kitchen grip – not like cowboy – differing from what you may see in a sushi house where cooks will have their index finger extended out over the spine of the blade.

The basic cuts every home cook should know -slicing, dicing, chopping, mincing

Girl Cutting cucumber on cutting board

Knowing the proper way to slice, dice, chop, and mince  can make a world of difference in your home cooking. Learning these foundational techniques found in culinary school is essential for making the best use of your time in the kitchen. From slicing through soft produce such as tomatoes and mushrooms, to chopping harder veggies like onions and potatoes, mastering your knife skills can simplify meal prep by allowing you to move more quickly between ingredients. Then add flair with julienne cuts and intricate dicing; this will take any dish up a notch on both presentation and flavor. Knife skills save time by producing better results in less of it!

Common Mistakes or Bad Habits when Using Knives

Dull Knives in kitchen

Always-always-always make sure your knife is sharp. The biggest cause of cutting accidents is using a dull knife.  This forces you to apply too much pressure while cutting, which in addition to being unsafe, can lead to uneven slices and take longer than necessary. Proper techniques are key when using a knife in order to cut safely and efficiently. This includes keeping your fingers curled inwards away from the blade while chopping and using your off hand as a guide. Generally, you want a straight up and down motion when chopping, use a back-and-forth motion when slicing. Picking the right knife is important here too. Knifes for chopping will allow the blade to contact the board and keep your knuckles just clear of contact. Slicer blades don’t have that height because your motions are front to back not up and down. Lastly, having an adequate surface on which to cut. Cutting boards should always be used, they protect your knife’s edge, and will help keep countertops from being damaged by knives.

What Our Favorite Chefs Have to Say

chris cosentino knife pro
Chris Cosentino, Top Chef Winner & Knife Guru


Popular chefs agree that having the right knife for the job is key when it comes to using a knife. According to James Beard Award-winning chef Chris Cosentino, “Having the right size and type of knife not only makes cutting easier, but safer too.” He emphasizes the importance of investing in good quality knives as they can last longer and provide better performance.

Chef José Andrés also encourages home cooks to invest in well-crafted knives that feel comfortable in their hands. He explains that having a comfortable grip is essential because it helps with control and accuracy while cutting or chopping. He also recommends learning how to sharpen knives which can help improve their longevity and keep them sharp for longer periods of time. A great tip he provides is to store knives properly in woodblock or on magnet strips to helps protect the blade and anyone reaching into a drawer.

For many chefs, knowing how to properly hold a knife is just as important as having good quality tools. Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay emphasizes keeping your wrist straight when holding a knife to ensure maximum control while slicing, chopping or mincing ingredients. He advises against gripping too much of the blade itself since it could lead to fatigue, cuts or other accidents during food prep.

Popular chefs understand the importance of using high quality knives and knowing how to use them correctly for maximum safety and efficiency during food prep.

Investing in well-made knives with comfortable handles, practicing proper technique when holding a knife and storing blades properly are all tips supported by experienced professionals in the culinary world.

Tips for using knives like a pro; honing, sharpening, storing

Girl sharpening Knife

Becoming an expert with a knife doesn’t have to be difficult. Just mastering the basics like honing, sharpening, and storing it correctly, can make you feel like a pro in the kitchen. Hone your knife regularly so you have greater control over the blade and can maintain sharpness.

Sharpen, or get professionally sharpened, when needed to ensure a proper edge on the blade so that it glides through food perfectly. Finally, investing in good storage for your knives is important for safety reasons, you don’t want them loose in a drawer. Think about getting a magnetic wall strip or sturdy block, or specific drawer inserts where you can always find them easily. With just these three tips, you’ll quickly be cutting like a pro at home.

Putting it all together

Now that you’ve honed your knife skills (pun intended), it’s time to put them into practice! Try putting your newfound techniques to use with some recipes that are sure to impress based on your cutting skills. From herb-filled salads to veggie-packed stir-fries, dinner prep is a breeze. For a great cooking experience, follow the basic tips shared here; selecting the right knife for the job, learning proper technique and safety, and using honing or sharpening techniques regularly to keep your blades sharp.

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Pro Hacks

Molecular Gastronomy For Everyday Cooking

Are you ready to geek out?!

I mean, are you a passionate home cook always looking for new ways to improve your skills? That sounds better. If so, you will be interested in exploring molecular gastronomy. This approach uses scientific principles to create delicious dishes that are both visually and tastefully appealing, pretty, much the goal of all cooking really. However, by understanding the physical and chemical processes involved in cooking, you can take your home cooking to the next level. So, let’s explore how molecular gastronomy can help you create amazing meals that will wow your family and friends.

What is molecular gastronomy and how can it be used in home cooking?

Beautiful couple cooking at home

Molecular gastronomy is a branch of food science that focuses on the physical and chemical processes that arise when cooking. It may sound complicated, but molecular gastronomy can actually be used in home kitchens to create delicious meals. Through molecular gastronomy, cooks gain control over their ingredients by experimenting with and manipulating processes and interactions in order to yield flavor and great looks. To do this, cooks may use advanced techniques such as reverse spherification or gelifying agents which allow them to make perishable foods last longer, enhance flavors, or add visual appeal to dishes..

 Manipulating chemical processes

cooking prawns in pan

Cooking is an incredible process in which physical and chemical reactions form the building blocks for culinary creativity. Heating alone can cause changes in the properties of food, from altering textures to forming new compounds. Consider how a simple egg transforms from a clear-ish liquid when raw to a solid white with yellow custard when cooked. This transformation is caused by proteins denaturing and forming cross links, resulting in coagulation.

Beyond heat, other physical processes like grinding can be used to generate more intricate flavors; this helps release essential oils and causes chemical reactions among ingredients.

Different cooking techniques play an important role—think of tossing spices in hot skillet to bring out their aromas, blossoming food like garlic with a quick sauté to open it up.

On a molecular level, these techniques can break down cell walls to release flavorant or cause molecules to bind together differently than they would have otherwise, leading to novel flavors you could only create through conscious manipulation of food components. Here’s six good practical examples on how you can take advantage of science to bring great flavors to everyday cooking at home.

Create new and interesting flavors, textures, and colors in dishes

Vegetables with chemical formula illustration

From adding sweet spices to savory dishes to blending unexpected ingredients, the possibilities for creating new and interesting tastes and textures through food are endless. That is why cooking is both an art and a science.

Exploring the way different ingredients interact with each other can result in unique payments that turn up the flavor of a dish. The chemical processes that occur when cooking also affect how flavors and colors interact when heat breaks down proteins. Acids change the pH level of a dish, resulting in a more complex flavor because of how the food will interact with your sense of taste and tongue at the molecular level. Manipulating these physical and chemical processes while cooking can open up many opportunities for discovering delicious new combinations.

Potential risks associated with using molecular gastronomy

man eating unhealthy food

With the rise of molecular gastronomy in home cooking, there are a few potential risks that cooks should be aware of.

This relatively new form of cooking involves manipulating physical and chemical processes, using tools such as immersion circulators for precise temperature control or liquid nitrogen to freeze ingredients, and can yield delicious results when done correctly.

With the use of these techniques however, comes the potential danger of lack of knowledge from both the inventive culinary perspective or scientific background needed to safely and effectively utilize them.

To ensure safe cooking practices in molecular gastronomy at home, cooks should research carefully before they begin experimenting with potentially hazardous materials, taking extra precautions with proper handling and storage. With a few minor modifications to creative technique and safety measures in place, cooks can now explore the ever-evolving artistry in their own kitchens without worry.

Relationship between food and culture

Cooking necessarily involves myriad physical and chemical processes taking place within food molecules, as they interact and form new molecules that result in flavor, aroma, and color. By understanding these processes, chefs all over the world are able to manipulate raw ingredients in various ways to yield desirable results. In understanding how one culture prepares food differently from another, we gain insight into the unique identity of each individual society; ultimately it is this beautiful diversity that shapes our appreciation for all facets of global cuisine, and gives the inquisitive cook multiple avenues to explore.

Cooking styles of particular regions

Girl cooking food in traditional way

The traditional cooking styles found in particular regions are more than just a reflection of local ingredients, they often reflect the greatest accomplishments of their culture. From immense wood-burning ovens to terracotta pots heated in fire pits, hundreds of ingenious methods have been used to prepare meals according to the customs of a region. Through an exploration of physical and chemical processes like flame, oxidation and dehydration as well as reactions between components such as fats, acids and enzymes during cooking, flavors can be manipulated to delicious effect. Time-honored recipes rely on these principles for flavor and texture differences unique to each dish, turning the simple act of eating great food into a simultaneous celebration of culture.


Cooking involves more than just following recipes; it requires an understanding of how ingredients interact with cooking style, temperatures, protocols, and tools. There are many different approaches to cooking around the world that draw on a variety of physical and chemical processes to yield delicious meals.

  • In Asia, some dishes are prepared with traditional wok cooking, where ingredients are tossed in a hot metal pan over intense heat. The heat causes an array of reactions between fats, acids, and enzymes that give food its flavor and texture.
  • In India, tandoori cooking utilizes clay ovens to roast meats and vegetables. This method locks in moisture and nutrition while giving the food a smoky flavor.
  • Mediterranean cuisine often relies heavily on the use of olive oil and herbs to create savory dishes such as paella or ratatouille.
  • Grilling is another popular cooking style used throughout the world that involves exposing food to direct flame for a brief period of time to impart charred flavors without compromising texture or taste.
  • Sous vide is a scientific technique that uses vacuum sealed bags submerged in warm water for slow, even cooking without overcooking or drying out the ingredients.

Each regional or contemporary method demonstrates how humans have been able to manipulate their food for centuries to achieve wholesomeness and great tastes.

Science of good eating

meal served on table

Crafting delicious food is a science, as much as an art. Understanding the physical and chemical reactions that occur when cooking can greatly affect the quality of meals we create. Food scientists have identified ways to control these processes and thus our dishes’ flavors. Centuries of experience taught us that cooking proteins at lower temperatures for a longer duration allows for a more tender texture without removing its moisture content.

Changed ingredients or varying levels of acidity in sauces can modify flavor profiles completely. Having knowledge of things like cooking temperatures and reaction times required to transform ingredients lets cooks customize recipes to perfection.


How does heat affect the ingredients in cooking?

The temperature, duration and intensity of heat can cause different reactions between fats, acids, enzymes, and other components which results in varying flavors and textures.

What are some traditional cooking methods used around the world?

Virtually every culture has techniques that are based on local availability, from braising to barbecue, confit to canning. The more of them you explore the deeper your own lexicon of cooking becomes.

How does an understanding of physical and chemical processes help us craft delicious food?

An understanding of physical and chemical processes involved with food preparation can help cooks customize recipes to their liking. Different reactions occur between components like fats, acids, enzymes, oxygen and more during cooking, resulting in different flavors and textures that can be controlled through techniques such as temperature control; altering ingredient levels; changing acidity levels in sauces; and introducing fresh components during the process.

What is the connection between culture and cuisine?

Cuisine is closely linked with culture as it not only reflects local ingredients but also reflects their human accomplishments through their traditional methods of meal preparation. Each region has its own individual set of skills that can also teach us about their customs for meals with family or friends.

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Pro Hacks

Plating Food 101 – How to Plate Food Like a Chef

 Focusing on the basics of presentation to plate food like a pro. We’ll cover topics like composition, balance, and even share some tips from top chefs.

They say you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

That is how it works with food, people enjoy it with their eyes first, so one of the most important aspects of cooking is learning how to plate food – the specific term in a restaurant for the design of the food on its particular serving dish.

It may seem like a small detail, but the way you present your dish makes a big difference. In fact, many cooking experts will say that plating is just as important as the taste of the food itself. If you’re new to the world of plating, don’t worry -we’ve got you covered.

Basics of plating food

Man plating food with basic principles

Plating food is an art form, and the basic principles to plating successfully are essential for any culinary student or professional chef. For plating of food, one must consider many aspects like texture, color and shape.

Professional chefs use their own style to enhance a meal’s plating design and presentation but the basic plating principle remains the same. The plated dish should be colorfully arranged as it incites hunger and enhances the overall flavor experience for diners. With enough practice, achieving stunning plated dishes will become second nature.


When plating food, textures such as crunchy fruits or vegetables, smooth sauces, or fluffy rice can all help create an interesting visual effect on the plate that complements the dish’s flavor. Shapes are also important: neatly placed components of food with varying shapes often look more appetizing than those that are haphazardly arranged. Arrangements of different heights on a plate bring dimension to a dish by adding visual interest in a way that flat-lay plates cannot achieve.

By keeping these factors in mind when plating dishes, one can begin to play around with different color combinations for beautiful results.


When it comes to plating food, the colors one chooses to use can make all the difference. While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing colors for plating, certain color combinations go together well and can help create a beautiful dish. For example, vibrant and contrasting colors such as yellow and purple, or red and green, will create a striking visual that instantly draws attention to the plate. Similarly, complementary shades like blue and orange or pink and navy blue also look great when plated together. The plate itself is the palate for the food you serve. From a broad simple ivory China plate to a stainless-steel tray, consider the color aspects of the serving dish when you consider your plate presentation.


When it comes to plating food, complementary shapes can help bring out the beauty of your dish. Pairing circular and oval shapes gives a sense of balance and symmetry, while triangle shapes can be used to create visual movement on the plate. Utilizing different sizes of components can also add depth and texture to your dish. For example, large cubes of meat arranged between small pieces of garnish or nuts adds an interesting contrast to the plate. Additionally, using mounds or peaks adds a dramatic effect to the presentation as well as helping keep food from spilling off during transport. Finally, arranging food in a radial pattern around a central point helps create a visually appealing effect that invites diners to dig in!


In culinary school, chefs are taught not only the importance of vivid and vibrant colors on a plate, but also mixing textures for an enjoyable eating and dining experience. Each cooking technique creates differing textures in the process, a process that you control. Contrasting between crunchy, creamy, or smooth toppings or sides is what helps bring together different components of a dish. Chefs across the board understand that creating contrast in textures along with shapes and height, will also draw attention to the primary item on each plate.

How to choose the right plate for your dish

Different types of plates in kitchen

As we mentioned, different colors, shapes and sizes, along with different materials, all make a huge impact on how your dish is perceived. Selecting the right plate can be one of the most difficult tasks in presenting dishes.

We understand that home cooks often have limited choices in their cabinet and do your best with what you do have. Used wisely, plates can help you set the tone for your meal and draw attention to key aspects of it, including texture variations and flavors.

Types of Plates

When it comes to plates, there are a variety of shapes and sizes that can be used depending on the type of food being served.

  • Round or oval plates are best for serving a complete meal as they provide space for each component to be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way.
  • Square or rectangular plates are ideal for serving dishes like pizza, burgers, sandwiches, and other single-serving items.
  • Large platters such as chargers or slates can hold multiple items at once and are often used to serve appetizers or side selections.
  • Round platters can also be used to create interesting centerpieces by arranging small components in a radial pattern around the edge of the plate.
  • Smaller plates such as dessert dishes are perfect for showcasing individual desserts like cakes and pies.

Plate Coloration

In addition to shape and size, color is also important when selecting plates for different types of food.

Bright colors such as yellow and orange can help draw attention to lighter fare such as salads and fruits; while dark colors like navy blue or black may pair better with heavier foods like steak or pasta dishes. White plates also look great with most meals and provide a neutral backdrop for any dish you serve.

In the end, choosing the right plate depends on the type of food being served as well as your desired presentation style, and of course the options you have available.

Tips and tricks for creating beautiful dishes

Man plating food

Combining garnishes and presentation creates an endless variety of creative ways to plate a dish so that it looks as good as it tastes.

Focus on things like using complimentary colors, layering ingredients and adding sauces strategically and utilizing contrasting shapes and heights to create visually captivating plates. Chefs are encouraged to think outside the box in order to create unique and memorable meals for their guests.

Temper this with keeping things somewhat simple, too busy from a visual sense can become a negative.

How to avoid common plating mistakes

Over-garnish plate on black surface

  1. Don’t overcrowd the plate or pile too many ingredients onto one dish. This not only creates a cluttered look, but can also take away from the texture and flavor of each individual component.
  2. Be careful with your color selection. Too many bright or bold colors as this can create a visually unappealing plate that is too busy.
  3. Try to use high quality ingredients when possible. Lower quality ingredients may not look as attractive or lack flavor.
  4. Don’t over-garnish your dishes and can detract from the beauty of the main components on the plate. Select only garnishes that complement and enhance the flavors in the dish rather than overpowering them.

Much of cooking your food is science. Plating food is eye-catching, artful and often times a reflection of the chef’s, or your, culture, values, and character.

From mastering the basics to discovering your own plating style, remember that creativity is king when it comes to how you present and serve your dishes. Even if you’re not a professional chef, plating can be great fun and an enjoyable way to show off your culinary skills—just don’t forget the parsley sprig.


What techniques do professional chefs use to plate food?

Professional chefs utilize techniques like layering ingredients, adding sauces strategically, and utilizing contrasting shapes and heights to create visually captivating plates.

How can I make sure my dish looks as appealing as possible?

To ensure a dish looks visually appealing be mindful of the colors you select, make sure to use high quality ingredients, when possible, don’t over-garnish your dishes.

What should I consider when choosing a plate for my dish?

It is important to select the right type of plate based on the type of food being served. Considerations include size, shape and materials used in construction. Make sure it complements both your cuisine and décor style.

What are some tips for creating an aesthetically pleasing plate?

To create an aesthetically pleasing plate, start by selecting the right size and shape of plate for your dish, balance ingredients to ensure no one component overwhelms the others add subtle garnishes that enhance the flavor without overpowering it, arrange your food in unique shapes or patterns.

How do I make sure my food is cooked perfectly when plating?

To ensure food items are cooked to perfection every time, invest in a quality thermometer such as an instant-read meat thermometer or infrared thermometer. This will allow you to monitor temperatures accurately and make sure everything is properly cooked before it goes on the plate.

What type of utensils should I use when plating?

The type of utensils you use when plating depends on the type of cuisine being served. Generally speaking, tongs are best for serving salads or lighter dishes while larger spoons work well for heavier entrees like soups and stews. Additionally, tweezers can be used to arrange small items like herbs and spices into intricate designs on top of each dish. There are also specialty tools available such as cake decorators and dough cutters which can be used to create unique shapes out of dough-based dishes such as pizza or pasta.

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Pro Hacks

The Science of Cooking

Exploring the science of cooking, from how heat affects food to why salt makes things taste better.

If you’re a foodie, you know that there’s more to cooking than just throwing some ingredients together and a meal is made. There is an artistic aspect, along with a science to it -and we’re not just talking about following a recipe.  Whether you’re a seasoned chef or just getting started in the kitchen, understanding the science behind cooking can help you create amazing dishes that will impress your friends and family.

What is the science of cooking?

Scientist Checking food

The science of cooking combines knowledge from science, technology, and culinary arts to ensure both creative and delicious results. Chefs use cooking science to manipulate food molecules that form final dishes. Culinary schools teach courses about the science of cooking which offers valuable insight for chefs and aspiring cooks alike. Whether you know it or not, most of what happens in the kitchen is a result of science, and we are not talking about the science ‘experiment’ sitting for a couple moths in the back corner of your fridge in some Tupperware.

Knowing the science behind the culinary process helps you unlock a world of possibilities when it comes to flavor experimentation and recipe creation!

How can science help you in the kitchen?

Girls checking biochemical reactions in food

Understanding the science of cooking can revolutionize how you approach cooking in the kitchen.

It will both help make cooking easier, and also give you the knowledge that there is a reason why certain methods work better than others. This will go beyond knowing the types of cooking techniques and into what foods pair best together and what are the biochemical reactions of food when exposed to different cooking temperatures. Once applied in your cooking, these same concepts taught by culinary schools and chefs alike, will solidify your foundation for creating each remarkable dish with confidence.

Common techniques used by chefs and restaurants based on science

Chef cooking at resturant

Chefs and restaurants are right now using scientific techniques to unlock the full potential of the ingredients they work with.

Techniques such as sous vide, deglazing, emulsifying, and modernist cuisine all have their roots in food science, providing simple yet powerful tools for creating great tasting dishes.

Sous vide is a popular form of slow-cooking that helps to retain flavor through the use of precise temperatures over specific period of time.

Deglazing uses liquid to dissolve and release the browned bits of meat or vegetables left on a pan so that they can stay in the dish for maximum flavors. Emulsifying combines fat and liquids together to create stable results like mayonnaise or hollandaise sauce. By introducing air particles suspended in a mixture through whisking or blending, you create lighter dishes and sauces.

Modernist cuisine uses tools like high-pressure infusion cooks or liquid nitrogen to prepare food using methods not used in traditional cooking.

Learning these techniques provide chefs with an additional edge when it comes to crafting delicious meals, and you can use them at home as well. See more on how you can experiment with various chemical reactions when cooking to bring more flavor into your everyday home cooking.

What topics are taught in culinary school that relate to the science of cooking?

Girls cooking at culinary school

Good culinary schools will provide aspiring chefs with a comprehensive education in the art and science of cooking.

A major focus is on the science that underlies classic and modern techniques, enabling them to produce delicious and aesthetically pleasing dishes. This includes understanding of ingredients’ physical and chemical properties in order to maximize flavor, texture, color, seasoning, and presentation. They learn how different cooking processes work, studying topics like the Maillard Reaction and why food browns when heat is applied.

They become adept at using equipment including ovens, pots and pans, knives, mixers, blenders and more, many of which are putting the science into action. In addition to these practical skills, they learn the artistic side and an appreciation for flavors combinations, often from cultural diversity, through their studies of regional cuisines around the world.

Using the ‘science of cooking’ to improve your own cooking skills at home?

Girl cooking at home

Home cooks have much to gain from understanding the science behind cooking.

After all, culinary schools and experienced chefs use scientific principles to create delectable dishes, so why should you miss out on this type of knowledge? A little bit of science knowledge explains how heat transfer with techniques such as sautéing, caramelizing, and deep frying, all make such tasty food.

With the right background information and a good understanding of basic kitchen chemistry, even novice cooks can learn how simple adjustments to technique or subtle changes in ingredients or processes can make all the difference in their cooking. Unlocking the secrets of the science of cooking will show home chefs that they don’t need a professional kitchen or elaborate recipes to make delicious meals.

Our message to you

Learning the science of cooking will greatly improve your cooking repertoire.

Whether you’re aiming to become a Restaurant Chef or just want to upgrade your home kitchen game, understanding what is happening when you follow the basics and applying this knowledge will help you successfully execute dishes like a pro and make for an enjoyable experience in the kitchen. Add to this your own personal taste, what do you like and why?

Like the scientific process, do not be afraid to experiment.

As Mark Twain famously said “We are all ignorant; just about different things”. In other words. There is always something new to learn. Be sure to subscribe to our newsletter to continue expanding your knowledge for your journey of great home cooking -From NTO, happy experimenting!

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Minestrone Olive Garden soup Featured Image

Minestrone Soup – Olive Garden Copycat

Are you a fan of minestrone soup? Do you love the minestrone soup served at Olive Garden, but hate the price tag that comes with it eating a meal out? After all, drinks are always cheeper and there’s no need to worry about the tip.

We’ll explain how to make a delicious minestrone soup with a copycat recipe for Olive Garden’s tasty dish. We’ll provide step-by-step instructions on how to create your own version of this classic dish at home. With just a few simple ingredients and some basic cooking skills, you can easily recreate the taste and texture of Olive Garden’s minestrone soup in your own kitchen.

So let’s get started.

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone has such deep roots. The Latin base word minestra, that it came from, literally means soup and to serve. When Rome consolidated Italy they brought about a burgeoning of new crops and vegetables in their markets. An off shoot of this was broader foods to choose from, and more leftovers. Which even today means soup makings!

Throw in a few items from a prior meal – no waste – and add in some freshies to build a great soup. They say there are no new ideas, just recycling of old great thoughts. Cooking in particular uses foundations that go way back into the years of millennia. With new information flows we get to see ideas that have been used forever in other cuisines and cooking styles, pick and choose and enjoy the results.

That sums up Minestrone soup. There is no right way. There isn’t even a decent example of a mother recipe to point to as the origin story. Just a bunch of people throwing a bunch of stuff into a pot with good results. Hone in on what works, a general consensus of similar approaches and ingredients and voila, a dish is made.

Minestrone Soup 2.0

This evolution brought us a tomato-based soup that usually has an assortment of vegetables, beans, and pasta, with the herbs and spicing that Italian cuisine is famous for. We make ours with chicken stock which brings an extra layer of richness. This is a great dish for those who are vegetarian. Just substitute vegetable stock for the chicken stock and you will be good to go. There are great stock bases in the market for this, from baked vegetable to roasted garlic flavors.

Olive Garden, an Italian-American restaurant
Olive Garden Arizona

Minestrone is one of the classic dishes served at Olive Garden, an Italian-American restaurant chain popular throughout the United States. It’s a delicious and easy to make soup packed with vegetables and beans in a savory tomato broth. Making this soup at home is a great way to save money while still enjoying a restaurant quality meal. If you don’t have the breadstick ready, these cheese biscuit muffins are a great way to make this a complete meal. Here’s how to make Minestrone like the Olive Garden does -it’s sure to be a hit with your family and friends!

Olive garden soup recipe

Minestrone soup copycat recipe

Allen Bixby
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Course Soup
Cuisine Italian
Servings 4
Calories 86 kcal


  • 1 Cup water
  • 1 Quart chicken stock
  • 1-14 Ounce can diced tomatoes
  • ½ Teaspoon oregano
  • 1 Teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 Bay leaf
  • Teaspoon salt
  • ½ Teaspoon black peppers
  • ¼ Teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1-15 Ounce can small white beans drained and rinsed
  • 1-15 Ounce can kidney beans drained and rinsed
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 Diced yellow onion
  • 3 Diced carrots
  • 2 Celery stalks thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 6 Ounces small shell pasta
  • 1 Cup finely chopped cabbage
  • 1 Medium zucchini
  • 1 Cup frozen green bean


  • In a stockpot over medium heat add water, chicken stock, diced tomatoes with juice, oregano, basil, bay leaf, salt, black pepper, and chili flakes.
  • In a skillet add oil and sauté onions carrots and celery.
  • When onions are translucent add garlic and sauté for another two minutes
  • Add onion and all to the stockpot
  • Add kidney and white beans and pasta to the stockpot
  • Lightly boil for 10 minutes
  • Add cabbage, zucchini and green beans to the stockpot
  • Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Simmer two minutes and remove from heat
  • Serve with parmesan cheese if desired
  • Enjoy


Serving: 241gCalories: 86kcal
Keyword minstrone copycat olive garden, minstrone soup, olive garden soup
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Scalloped Featured Image

Scalloped Potatoes

Mm… scalloped potatoes, served with juicy pork chops, are about as good a cold season meal as you’ll find. Sure, it is meat and potatoes, but it is also comfort food extraordinaire. We’re going to take a look at how this once popular, perhaps resurging, potato casserole dish came to be. But, perhaps even more importantly, we’ll show you the basics and advanced tips to make the best scalloped potatoes at home.

The Potato

The way back machine

No, we are not going to wander back to the very mists of history in South America and the original cultivation of potatoes. Although those indigenous peoples certainly deserve a tip of the cap for finding such a culinary treasure.

potatoes in South America

And treasure it was, as potatoes found their way back to the old world some five or six hundred years ago. There they found a happy place. Even when an authoritarian ruler forced the populace to eat them, they found their place in the history of food.

potatoes in market

As a member of the nightshade family, folks were naturally a bit cautious, since that meant they were relatives of the toxic belladonna. This slightly slowed down the acceptance of potatoes in Europe. But enough about the dark side of the humble spud.

Food Chameleon

Potatoes are truly amazing; they can fit into to so many levels of our culinary tapestry. Humbly baked and served fluffy and hot, or take your pick, they respond well to any cooking method.

baked potatoes

They also do really well when dairy gets involved, which is exactly where scalloped potatoes start singing the right tune. Most things baked with whole milk, cream, butter and such are going to come out well, but potatoes take it to a whole new level.

Why Scalloped?

Big scallops

Take your pick. Big old scallops have a shell large enough to actually use as a baking dish, and that is speculated as one name source since that food was ‘scalloped’. Or the old English word ‘collop’, to slice thinly, transmogrified into the cooking term for scalloped potatoes.

thin meat

Similarly, ‘escalloped’ is often thought to be the ancestor of scalloped potatoes. Both collop and escalloped were terms used for thinly sliced meats, which migrated to other foods as well. In France ‘escalope’ also meant thin meat, but it was often hammered to get that shape. The short answer is that we don’t really know the etymology of the term.

First Scalloped Potatoes Recipe

Easy scalloped potatoes

There is no clear winner to this title either, to be honest. The dish ‘scalloped potatoes’, thinly sliced potatoes cooked in a thickened milk-based sauce, has probably been around for centuries without a specific attribution.

In England and Australia, a potato scallop is a thin slice of potato battered and deep fried. this and other trends make it pretty clear that the roots of what we call scalloped potatoes is of Irish and/or American origin. Even at that, it is subject to interpretation.

Making the Best Scalloped Potatoes

Au gratin potatoes?

You knew this was coming. We’ve avoided the term au gratin potatoes. This term is specifically a dish with an added top crust of breadcrumbs, often grated cheese, egg or butter. So it could be added to your scalloped potatoes, as it is to a pasta au gratin or many dishes.

gratin potatoes in tray

Closer to a scalloped potatoes recipe is Gratin Dauphinois. The thinly sliced potatoes are baked in a well buttered casserole dish layered with cream. Some recipes do call for eggs or cheese. Technically this is what we call au gratin potatoes in the US. By all means, add a crumb top to crips and add flavors to your dish if you choose.

The Big Brouhaha; Cheese

Should your scalloped potato recipe call for cheese? Technically no, according to the purists, but realistically, yes please! Straightforward scalloped potatoes recipes are a bechamel style cream sauce with some garlic powder and thyme perhaps, layered in a prepared baking dish with the thinly sliced potatoes and cooked until they are tender, and golden brown on top. The perfect side dish as is.

Brouhaha Cheese

Mix that up with some shredded cheese added and the results are also really good. Both Martha Stewart and Julia Child use cheese in their recipes, specifically gruyere which has a great melt and rich flavors. Bake until tender and bubbly, you can’t go wrong with cheese.

Pick a potato

Types of potatoes

You really only have two tater choices to consider, russet potatoes or Yukon gold potatoes. These two have the best starch content so they help thicken the dish to a creamier consistency. The russet more so, it also gives you the most tender end result. Yukon gold potatoes stay slightly firmer and have excellent look and flavor.

Yes, you can use any tater you so desire. Baby reds are good, white potatoes are also a decent choice. Because of the nature of the dish a purple potato will bleed out color that doesn’t end up very pretty. Some fingerlings will do this as well. We recommend going cheap on the spud and spending up on the cheese and cream.

Getting thin

No, we are not suggesting this as a diet dish. Scalloped potatoes are meant to be rich, and that brings calories. But all your scalloped potato recipes will call for thin and uniform slices of potato. If you have decent knife skills, potatoes are fairly easy to work with, especially if you peel one side slightly flat as base for better slicing.

Slicing potatoes

Yes, peel your spuds. Scalloped potatoes are one dish that is unquestionably better when the skins are removed. Save your rustic look for mashers.

It is not cheating to use a mandoline slicer for your slicing duties. It is probably the best way to get the most uniform slices. Another option is your food processer, most have a slicer blade. If you are cooking for a large group, this a faster option than a mandoline slicer, but it is a bit harder on the potatoes, and does not typically allow for choosing your thickenss.

White sauce or just baking

Martha Stewarts scalloped potato recipe

This actually leads us to two questions that are related. As mentioned, russet potatoes and Yukon golds are great to use for scalloped potatoes, in part because of their high starch content. In fact, they have enough starch that adding flour is not necessary to achieve a great sauce texture with either a cream sauce goal or a cheese sauce goal. See Martha Stewarts scalloped potato recipe that is flour free.

whisking sauce

The alternative is to build a creamy sauce first and layer it with the potatoes. Bechamel is a classic ‘mother sauce’ in French cooking. Make a quick roux with butter and flour, whisk in milk, half and half, or even heavy cream, bring to a boil stirring constantly and it will thicken into a cream sauce. It’s called a mother sauce because it takes other flavors so well, from mushrooms to cheese.

Adding flavor

Just cooking potatoes with a cream sauce risks a bland meal. Obviously salt and pepper are necessary. Thyme is probably the next most popular herb to add to your recipe, preferably fresh thyme. You can start it in with your sauce base or add it to the layers as your build the dish. Of course, no recipe will be complete with garlic, or garlic powder.

sliced onions

Many recipes for scalloped potatoes will call for onion. This will work great, but you need to be slightly cautious. Onion cut to the same thickness as your potatoes will often not get as tender while in the oven. They are delicious sliced thinner and added with the layers in your casserole.

Make it your own

Scalloped potatoes

Scalloped potatoes is definitely a dish that allows for the cook’s personality to shine. From choosing a creamy sauce to a cheese sauce, and the cheese to use in it, you get to guide the flavor profile. Find a good recipe to start and then build the scalloped potatoes that suits your pallet, or just uses what you regularly keep on hand in your pantry.

Once you start baking, you might as well fill the oven with pork chops, chicken, or roast beef to be the main bill with your scalloped potatoes the perfect side dish. Or go with a hearty and rich approach with lots of shredded cheese, maybe some diced ham and a sprinkle of breadcrumbs on top, then the scalloped potatoes can become a delicious entree with great veggies and salad on the side.

The humble spud

Scalloped potatoes ready to serve

Scalloped potatoes are yet another way to elevate this simple tuber beyond the earthy realm in which it grew, to a fantastic dish to grace any table. Slice it, dice it, cube it, mash it; the tater always delivers. Baked in a casserole until tender with some cream and salt and pepper, or all the way to multilayered recipe with many techniques, you will not go wrong expanding your kitchen repertoire to include scalloped potatoes.

Scalloped potatoes Recipe

Scalloped potatoes Recipe

Scalloped potatoes are a delicious side dish that can be enjoyed year-round. This recipe includes garlic, onion, thyme, and cheese for an added layer of flavor. Here's how to make them:
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes
Course Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine UK
Servings 4
Calories 215 kcal


  • 4 Large potatoes thinly sliced
  • 2 Cloves of garlic minced
  • 1 Small onion diced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 Cup shredded cheese (cheddar or gruyere work well)
  • 2 Cups heavy cream
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9x13 inch baking dish with butter.
  • Arrange the thinly sliced potatoes overlapping each other in the baking dish. Sprinkle the garlic, onion, thyme leaves, salt and pepper over the potatoes evenly.
  • Pour the heavy cream over the potatoes and spread out evenly using a pastry brush or spoon. Top with cheese and cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Bake for 45 minutes covered in foil and then uncover for another 15 minutes until top is golden brown and bubbly around edges. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving warm.


Serving: 245gCalories: 215kcal
Keyword best scalloped potato recipe, scalloped potatoes, simple scalloped potatoes
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Zoupa Toscano Olive Garden Featured Image

Zuppa Toscana Copycat – Olive Garden

Olive Garden’s Zoupa Toscano is a hearty Italian soup that packs a flavorful punch. With a blend of vegetables like potatoes, kale or spinach, and onion, and flavorful seasonings combined with Italian sausage in a savory broth, it’s sure to satisfy even the most discerning palate. Plus, it pairs perfectly with warm breadsticks for an unforgettable Italian restaurant experience.

Olive Garden

image of olive garden building from parking lot

Originally in Orlando Florida, and purely as a corporate endeavor, there is a lot that can be critiqued about Olive Garden. In fact, nine years ago one of their own investors went on a rampage. In the great spectator sport of American corporate business, the Starboard Value group wrote a paper with all the things they would change to make the restaurants more profitable. They included the unthinkable; no more unlimited bread sticks. We know how that turned out, feel free to go get your breadsticks to this day.

Lots of people like to poo-poo Olive Garden as not being traditional Italian enough. While they may have a valid point, the food served is tasty and consistent, delivering a good enough value that consumers keep showing up. In other words, it probably will not be the best meal you have ever had, but you will get a good meal with great flavors. Those folks can quibble about labels and ‘traditional foods’, but like wine, the only question is if you, the individual, enjoyed what you were served.

Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana

This dish is not an exception. Italian soups lean toward broth and tomato filled dishes with all kinds of vegetables, beans, and pasta or gnocchi. We love those feel-good flavors. Zuppa Toscana adds a little more fuel to the fire in thinking that they are not a traditional Italian restaurant. So be it. But it is an excellent dish. That comes from it actually being a fairly easy recipe to put together. It is also a quick dish that can be kitchen to table in about 30 minutes if you want.

Part of their success is unlimited soup salad and breadsticks.

What’s not to like? Especially with the Zuppa Toscana.

The star of the show is the Italian sausage, which is why we highly recommend a hot or spicy sausage. With creamy richness, mild potatoes, some green from the kale, the stage is set for a bold flavor component from the sausage. If you do not use a hot sausage, you can always add some red pepper flakes right at the beginning with the taters to get their flavor permeated throughout.

This is not a cream soup in the sense of a thick chowder or stew. The ‘soupy’ part is a mix of chicken broth and heavy cream. The potatoes are cooked in the broth, so some of their starch will add a little texture. If you want to thicken it slightly you can mash a few of the potato pieces down. We love using yellow or red potatoes with the skin on. If you want to use russets, they will do better if peeled before dicing. Use just enough chicken broth to cover the potatoes when cooking.

We do highly recommend finding some tasty soft breadsticks, or even a brown and serve item that will round out the restaurant experience at home. Or if you are feeling it, break out the yeast and knead your way to some soft homemade bread sticks. And of course, shredded parmesan cheese to add a little flavor and texture, and the classic feel of a good-looking meal with it sprinkled on top.

Olive Garden’s Zoupa Toscano Recipe

Olive Garden’s Zuppa Toscana Recipe

Allen Bixby
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Soup
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6
Calories 220 kcal


  • 1 Pound hot Italian sausage
  • 2 Medium yellow onions diced
  • 2 Tablespoons minced garlic
  • 5 Yellow or red potatoes diced
  • 2-3 Cups chicken broth
  • 1 Cup heavy cream
  • 1 Cup chopped kale
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shredded parmesan for garnish


  • In a skillet over medium heat add diced onions and Italian sausage
  • Cook until sausage is done drain off excess fat
  • Add minced garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes
  • In a pot add potato cubes and chicken broth
  • Simmer until the potatoes are tender and fully cooked
  • Add sausage mix and chopped kale
  • Add additional chicken broth if needed
  • Leave on medium heat until at a light simmer then turn off the heat
  • Add cream, salt and pepper to taste
  • Serve garnished with parmesan
  • Enjoy!


Calories: 220kcal
Keyword copycat zuppa toscana, olive garden recipe, Zuppa Toscana
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Carbonara featured image
Homemade, Pro Hacks, Scratch

Your Best Carbonara

Spaghetti Carbonara is an ala minute pasta stirred in with an egg and cheese mixture, sizzling smoked pork jowl and a few tablespoons of the pasta water. From a motley roman heritage to your table, we’ll explore carbonara, one of the classic and favorite pasta dishes of Italy.

History Time

Like many Italian dishes, the exact origin of Carbonara is obscured by the mists of time like steam off a boiling pot of pasta.

Lazio region of Italy

It is likely from the Lazio region of Italy, a safe speculation since it includes Rome. While all roads may no longer lead to Rome, we still feel the impact of Roman cuisine. Although even that is speculative.

charcoal burner

Further speculation is that the name Carbonara derives from ‘carbonaro’, a charcoal burner, which leads to thinking it was a dish for charcoal workers, and transfers to “coal miner’s spaghetti” in the US. Keep in mind there is even the secret society Carbonari fighting for citizen’s rights a couple hundred years ago.

Odd US tie in

Lastly, sounding particularly speculative is that the name first appears and is associated with WWII American GIs, their version of scrambled eggs with local foods included, in an article published in 1950. How’s that for a wild etymological path?

WWII American GIs

For a dish that is cured pork, hard cheese, pasta, egg and black pepper. it certainly has an interesting back story. Likely the Carbonara name is actually from this press mention. In the same culinary family, and also from Lazio, is a dish called Pasta alla gricia. This uses the fat from guanciale to glaze the pasta, the pasta water, freshly ground black pepper and Pecorino Romano, however it has no eggs in the dish, perhaps anther origin source.

Makings of Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Boiling pasta

Among things we do know is that spaghetti is the most common pasta associated with the dish. Yes, you can easily make it with fettucine, rigatoni, or a host of other noodle shapes, but for pasta carbonara, spaghetti is your first, and traditional, choice. Hence the common moniker spaghetti carbonara.

Regardless of your noodle, this dish relies on the pasta cooking water from the pasta pot. This is actually a common technique for pasta dishes like Aglio Olio (link to our article) and many more. The reason for this is it brings over some of the starch of the cooked pasta to give a little more texture to the carbonara sauce and keeps the raw egg from binding up to become scrambled eggs. Here’s a breakdown of the other ingredients.

Cured Pork

Italian bacon

Guanciale is the most common meat used and is often found in Italian recipes to add flavors and richness. Think Italian bacon from pork belly or the pork jowl.

thick cut bacon

Pancetta is a close second, also their version of thick cut bacon, it is usually not considered as rich as the guanciale from pork jowl. Wherever you source the lardons for your pasta carbonara, the meat fats are an integral part of the best carbonara sauce.

Pecorino Romano

Possibly the most important ingredient, although we never sell bacon short around here, is the cheese.

Crushed cheese

Pecorino Romano or parmigiano Reggiano are what folks will expect in a classic pasta carbonara. The combination of rich and intense flavors is what makes the carbonara recipe work filling out the rich sauce.

Eggs and Pasta water

beaten eggs with pasta water

You heard it right, beaten eggs and pasta water are the last two main ingredients to fill out the creamy sauce that makes spaghetti carbonara so tasty. Finish with freshly ground black pepper. This simple ingredient list is part of why pasta carbonara is almost considered Italian fast food.


Here’s your carbonara recipe recap. Cook the pasta al dente in water with a bit of olive oil and kosher salt.

brown pork in skillet

While that cooks, brown your cured pork in a Dutch oven or heavy skillet. Remove the meat leaving the oil. Drain pasta and keep some reserved pasta water. Toss the pasta in the oil to coat, add ground black pepper liberally.

Eggs for pasta

In a medium bowl whisk a couple large eggs with the grated pecorino Romano and parmesan cheese.

Keep stirring constantly while you add the egg and cheese mixture, adding your hot pasta water as needed to keep a creamy texture. Toss in your meat, serve immediately with a little more cheese and pepper over the top.

pasta with cheese mixture

Making Amazing Carbonara

So that is what makes up good carbonara. What is not included in spaghetti carbonara is heavy cream. And if you think that is an option just look a few years back to the falderal of the French video showing a one pot carbonara recipe with creme fraiche (heavy cream) and – gasp – farfalle, or bow tie, pasta. Apparently, they used a meager amount of parmesan cheese…but the damage was done, the Italian people were incensed that their classic roman dish was blasphemed against.

Fast-ish food

In contrast to many Italian dishes with a simmering pot of red sauce, or the accumulated components used to build a lasagna and then bake it, pasta carbonara is easily a one pot dish, maybe two depending. Most of the time a carbonara recipe calls for a Dutch oven, which is great at heat retention.

pork on cutting board

So, brown off your bacon or such and set aside with fat. Boil and drain the hot pasta, reserving some pasta water, set it aside. Put the pork fat back in Dutch oven, add pasta and coat well, add pepper and meat bits. Whisk your eggs, quickly stir into the pasta, adding pasta water as needed to keep a creamy consistency. Stir in about half your grated cheese, serve immediately garnished with remaining cheese.

raw eggs


Some carbonara recipes call for just the egg yolk. The logic likely being that egg whites can toughen up a somewhat, the egg yolk stays creamy and softer in part because it cooks at a higher temperature than the whites. Regardless, we are in the school of using a whole egg.

Some would argue that the raw egg is not getting cooked since it never sees high heat when making carbonara. ‘High’ is relative, even though the yolk cooks at a higher temp, that is only a medium heat at 150, certainly not needing the 212 of boiling water. Between the hot pasta and the pasta water you certainly are exposing the egg mixture to enough heat to be safe.

Still classy

Spaghetti carbonara is definitely a great dish to serve at a dinner party. It comes together quickly, has few ingredients and is not an especially complex dish to cook. Like virtually any pasta dish from Italy, carbonara literally brings a lot to the table. Served family style of if you dish it up, your family and guests will enjoy the experience.

Spaghetti carbonara with cheese

From the humble roots of the carbonari, simple charcoal makers, or the secret society that later used the name, we’re happy carbonara as we know it eventually found its way into the mainstream and to our table.


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How to cook tofu featured image

How to Cook Tofu

We’re going to explore some of the most popular ideas on how to cook tofu to get you off to a great start at integrating this into your diet.

Tofu is a pretty amazing food, and an excellent source of plant-based protein. In and of itself, it is frankly nothing spectacular, but given a little time and some other ingredients and you can concoct some pretty good food and tasty meals. Before we take a deep dive into the ways to cook tofu, we should know the history. Different from most techniques that are thousands of years old, tofu was not a process for preserving food. Although, similar to most, it was probably an accidental discovery. Like many great innovations in China the idea of tofu is attributed to a prince, and it was first noted about 150 BCE.

Great wall of china

Don’t read too much into the fact that it took about another thousand years to become popular. Fresh tofu has an amazingly short shelf without refrigeration, like just one day. So, it was initially a winter food which probably slowed down its widespread acceptance. Regardless, it was actually still spreading throughout Asia and Japan, the latter being where we see it being mentioned regularly about 800 BCE.

What is tofu

man making tofu

Process-wise, it is a slurry of soybeans, ground and mixed with water and cooked. Naturally occurring coagulants are added to create the curds. If this verbiage sounds familiar, it should, because the same terms, and sometimes same additives to the soy milk are used in cheesemaking with animal milk.

curds pressed into shape

The curds are then drained and pressed into shape. There are varieties completely ‘unpressed’, a useful ingredient for soups or such, but too loose for other ways we cook tofu. These are the types of tofu we will spend some time exploring:

Soft Tofu or Silken Tofu

This style does not actually visit the tofu press, it is shaped then allowed to drain only slightly.

tofu press

Firm Tofu

Has been put in a tofu press and drained, although it is allowed to retain quite a bit of moisture and crumbles when you cut the tofu too thin.

Extra Firm Tofu

Also known as dry tofu, this style uses a tofu press to extract the most moisture from the raw tofu curds

Faux Tofu


Like many food terms, tofu has been arguably misused to include a variety of differing products. From almond to chickpea to peanut, these ‘tofu’ variations are not soy based. There is also a Japanese hybrid variation called aptly called Egg Tofu, with some dashi thrown in for that umami flavor.

When we look at cooking tofu, we will be focusing on the soy-based product specifically. These other tofu style products will not substitute well in a tofu recipe, with perhaps a few exceptions.

Why Tofu

tofu in bowl

The blessing and the curse of tofu is that it is mild to the point of being bland. That is why virtually every tofu recipe will have a lot of flavors coming from other sources. The beauty of it is that the texture, and mildness, of tofu allows it to take on flavors very well.

The main reason for the popularity of tofu is that it offers one of the better sources of protein from a non-animal source. It does bring a degree of fats to your diet, which is good. As much as we watch our fats, your body does require some fat to keep moving along, especially for brainpower.

Why cook tofu

raw tofu

Technically, or rather health and wholesomeness-wise, there is no reason to cook tofu. You can certainly eat raw tofu safely. However, tofu by its nature takes on flavors very well as mentioned. You can simply make marinated tofu with anything from soy sauce to sriracha sauce, and it will come out great. Same idea if you use it in soup or as scrambled tofu, the mild base flavor becomes a savory flavor nugget wherever you can include tofu cubes, slices, or curds.

chameleon tofu

As a flavor chameleon tofu will fool most meat eaters into not noticing its presence. Many tofu recipes use it as straight-line substitute because it does fill in the protein part of a menu. It’s up to you to find your best tofu recipe, but what we will walk through are the most common techniques to prepare tofu.

Freezing Tofu

You are no doubt wondering how frozen tofu fits into a discussion about how to cook tofu. Trust us it does. When you freeze tofu, it actually changes the structure. The science is basic, water expands when it freezes, this creates more channels which absorb more flavor. At the same time, the channels create an extra firm texture when you freeze it. Some folks will always freeze tofu until it is time to cook it. For those folks it is their first step of how to cook tofu.

Making crispy tofu

Cooked Crispy tofu

This is probably the goal of many a tofu recipe. It certainly makes it more enjoyable to eat by offering the contrast of a crisp exterior and a soft interior. Of course, this same logic applies to so many foods, which is obvious in all the ways we have engineered to get heat to the outside of our food, in high enough volume and at temperatures that will achieve the goal of browned and crisp.

Pro tip;

A light dusting of corn starch helps get your cubed tofu perfectly crispy

picking tofu

This is where you use firm tofu and extra firm tofu exclusively. The soft styles will not work well with trying to get a crisp or crunchy exterior. You may have to press tofu more to get the moisture out, because a high fluid content is not your friend when the goal is crispy tofu. Think about pan frying wet foods, and all the resulting pops, snaps and splattering you will get. It’s no fun.

Pan frying

frying tofu in pan

This itself is a broad category, but also a very straightforward way to cook tofu. You can toss cubed tofu into your favorite cast iron skillet with olive oil, or your preferred oil, some salt, pepper and garlic powder, and voila in a few minutes you have golden brown tofu pieces. Pan fried tofu is a prep step used in lots of favorite dishes, although you can certainly just toss them on a paper towel to drain for a simple fried tofu snack.

Stir fry

traditional stir fry tofu

This is probably the most common way to integrate cooked tofu. We include sautéed tofu in this category because the cooking styles are so similar. Get some fresh ginger, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil going, and you will get a great base for traditional stir fry flavors.

Crispy baked tofu

Crispy baked tofu on parchment paper

Put your tofu slices on parchment lined baking sheet when you bake tofu, it will release much easier and stay intact. This is a great way to cook larger volumes, and baked tofu is a great step for prepared tofu to use in many dishes. It doesn’t crisp quite as well as a pan fry however and is starting to lose ground to the new kid on the kitchen counter cooking device list.

Air Fryer

air fried tofu

An air fryer is the king of extra crispy, for more than tofu, but it does a great job with all your favorite tofu recipes. These little units are really good at achieving perfectly crispy results for people who love tofu.

Ways to prepare tofu with more fluid

soft tofu

This is where soft tofu has a moment to shine. Mostly we have focused on savory ways to enjoy tofu. There is also a segment of dishes that are sweet and add tofu for texture and body. And we have to mention using tofu in soups. It is a natural, again for flavor absorption, but also the delicate texture even firm or medium tofu will offer. Here are some examples.


Specifically hot and sour soup, this is probably the most common way that people have eaten tofu, possibly without knowing it, folks who might not think of themselves as a tofu fan.

tofu soup

The cubes will often be quite small. so extra firm tofu is the most likely for this dish. In the realm of how to cook tofu, for soups, you generally just place the tofu cubes in the pot or dish.

Marinated tofu

tofu with soy sauce

This doesn’t qualify as cooked tofu, and typically you only need to marinate tofu for about 30 minutes. Try just watered-down soy sauce and toasted sesame oil for a simple marinated tofu dish to enjoy as a side or appetizer.

tofu with olive oil

Another idea is to marinate tofu in ways that you might use feta cheese. Olive oil and balsamic vinegar with some fresh herbs is an excellent complement to a summer meal. With a softer style you can take the block of tofu and pour a thicker sauce over it, chill and serve just like that.

Scrambled tofu

Scrambled egg like tofu

A tofu scramble is probably one of the best tofu recipes. Before you scramble tofu, you break it into uneven pieces, which it will do naturally. Use some curry powder for color and flavor plus a little salt pepper and onion powder to finish it off. Now the pieces will resemble the curds that form in scrambled eggs as you gently keep them moving in the skillet. Also, just like eggs, you can add a vast array of other ingredients to fill out your dish. If you haven’t tried this yet, you can thank us later.

Sweet tofu

sweet tofu in glass

Appropriately, we saved desserts for last. This is where the soft and silken tofu shine. Right out of the gate you can make a great version of chocolate mousse with just silken tofu, cooled melted dark chocolate and some agave syrup, blended together in a food processor. Silken tofu makes a great base for ice cream style desserts. Again, it is a blank canvas that will take any flavor profile you want to color with. Due to its roots, you will see great recipes that use coconut milk and tropical fruits.

Silken tofu cake

But let some continental influences come to play and you are looking at viable component for a non-cheese ‘cheesecake’ guaranteed to satisfy your pallet. Now it’s your turn, get creative and see where you find the best fits in your favorite dishes.

non-cheese cake


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