How to cook like a pro

Local chefs and restaurants share some of their favorite tools, techniques and recipes.

By Bailey Gilliam

There’s a difference between a cook and a chef. Elevate your home cooking skills with these eight tips from local professionals. Try these tips and practice with some of their recipes. You’ll be cooking like a pro in no time. 

Good gravy!

You’ve got to love biscuits if you live in the South. Take them up a notch with this sausage gravy recipe from the local experts on breakfast, Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe.

Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe 

Sausage Gravy 

1 pound breakfast sausage, mild or hot
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 quart whole milk
Salt and pepper, to taste
Texas Pete hot sauce, to taste

Directions [1] Brown sausage in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook through. Take off the heat and add flour, stirring so that all of the fat is absorbed by the flour. Return the pan to medium heat. [2] Slowly add the milk until the gravy starts to thicken. Stir the mixture continuously for 10 minutes to avoid burning or sticking. Bring the gravy to a slow boil to cook the flour. [3] Add a teaspoon of pepper, or more if you prefer it hotter, and a pinch or two of salt. Pour over hot biscuits and serve with hot sauce. 

Drop it like it’s hot 

“So much about breakfast food is cooking it at the right temperatures – and that means starting out hot. Don’t pour scrambled eggs into a cold pan. That’s when they start to get dry, because it takes so long to cook them. It’s the same with pancakes; get the griddle hot first. They should bubble within a very short time. If they don’t, they’ll be flat and thick and doughy, and you don’t want that.” — Paul “Stew” Stewart, Palmetto Bay Sunrise Cafe

Tea time

Iced tea is a must around here, but it doesn’t have to be cloyingly sweet. This recipe from The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten was shared by Cassandra’s Kitchen, a kitchen supply store in Bluffton that sells products used by Garten. It is the perfect combination of sweet and tangy and is easy to make. 

The Barefoot Contessa 

Ina Garten’s Herbal Iced Tea

4 Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger tea bags
4 Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea bags
4 cups pure apple juice

Directions [1] Steep the 8 tea bags in 4 cups of boiling water for about 10 minutes.  [2] Discard the tea bags.  [3] Combine the tea with the apple juice and refrigerate until cold. [4] Serve over ice.

(Copyright 1999, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, All Rights Reserved)

Don’t read and weep

“Read the recipe a day ahead, (especially if it’s your first time making it). Something might need to be marinated or sit in the fridge overnight.” — Cassandra Schultz, Cassandra’s Kitchen

Take a dip

It’s not always all about the tomatoes. This salsa recipe from Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte makes corn the star of the show. And with their pro tip for removing corn from the cob, you’ll be swimming in salsa.

Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte 

Roasted Corn Salsa

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for roasting corn
1 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 jalapeno, finely diced
1 small red onion, finely diced
1 small roma tomato, finely diced
1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
4 ears of corn
Salt and pepper
Dash of cumin

Directions [1] Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Place shelled corn on a large baking sheet, toss with olive oil, coating generously, and sprinkle with fresh ground salt and pepper.  [2] Place in the oven and roast until golden brown. Allow to cool.  [3] Using a mandolin, remove the corn from the cob.  [4] In a large mixing bowl, combine the corn with all the remaining ingredients. Enjoy alone or as a topping for fresh fish or lighter meats.

Earn your corn

“Have you ever struggled to get corn off the cob? Give up the mixing bowl and knife and do it on the mandolin. It’s 400 times easier.” – Josh Castillo, Charlie’s L’Etoile Verte

Green with envy

You know you are in the Liguria region of Italy when you see pesto. Enjoy it with this artisanal pasta, trenette, compliments of Nunzio Restaurant + Bar. It’s great for an afternoon lunch or a fast dinner meal in under 25 minutes, minus a few seconds for sipping your favorite wine.

Nunzio Restaurant + Bar 

Trenette al Pesto 

6 garlic cloves
1 bunch of fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
½ cup of pecorino cheese
1 cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of water
1 pound of trenette or linguine pasta

Directions [1] In a blender, place the basil leaves, garlic and pine nuts. As you blend, gradually add the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of water. Finally, add the cheese to the pesto when it becomes nice and creamy.  [2] Cook the pasta al dente and drain.  [3] Then, put the pasta in a large bowl and pour the pesto onto the pasta. As you toss the pasta, add one ladle of pasta water to loosen up the pesto. Serve.

Pesto chango!

“When making pesto, here are a few things to consider. Do not over-blend the pesto. Stop when you see the pesto begins to get creamy, add the pecorino cheese after you blend the pesto, and do not add salt. The pecorino cheese will add the salt the pesto will need.” – Nunzio Patruno, Nunzio Restaurant + Bar

Worth melting for

Browning butter is an art, and Odd Birds has it down pat. Take your butter game to the next level with this brown-butter recipe. Since the process of browning butter will evaporate the water in the butter, make up for it by increasing the total amount of butter and only browning a portion of it, mixing it with some additional whole butter.

Odd Birds 

Brown butter 

For a recipe that calls for 1 cup of butter, increase the total amount of butter by 1/4, or an additional 4 tablespoons.

Directions [1] Place the 2 sticks of butter in a skillet and an additional 4 tablespoons in a heat-proof bowl. [2] Melt the butter on medium heat until it begins to bubble and foam. The milk solids will begin to separate and turn golden. It also will smell amazing! Scrape the pan often for even browning. At this point, brown to your liking, but be careful because it will go from brown to burnt very quickly. [3] Once you reach your desired toast, remove the pan from the heat and pour the butter into the bowl, mixing with the whole butter. Set aside to cool. You can use it in liquid form or refrigerate it.

Liquid gold

“Browning butter is a simple step you can take to boost the flavor of your baked goods and savory dishes. It adds a depth of flavor and nuttiness that is unmistakable and absolutely delicious!” – Lesli Shelly, Odd Birds Cafe

On the lamb

Fine dining is at its finest with this rack of lamb recipe from Lulu Kitchen. This recipe not only teaches you how to make lamb but also every possible element to make it a complete experience. 

Lulu Kitchen 

Kona Five Spice-Rubbed Australian Rack of Lamb 

1 Australian rack of lamb, (bone removed and reserved for sauce)
1 teaspoon finely ground Kona coffee
1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 shallot, thin sliced and pickled, (equal parts of red wine vinegar and red wine, bay leaf, sugar to taste)
1 avocado, blended with 2 tablespoons heavy cream and pinch of kosher salt
1 radish, thinly sliced
Thinly sliced slices of rosemary sourdough bread
Shiso leaves

Directions [1] To make rosemary sourdough tuile, place slices of rosemary sourdough bread on oiled parchment and cover with oiled parchment. Roll around a cannoli roller or other metal tube, hold closed with a paper clip attached to each end. Place in a 325-degree oven and bake for 3-4 minutes. Carefully remove the clip. [2]  For the sauce, add lamb bones to a pan with carrots, celery and onion. Toss with 2 tablespoons of oil and 1 tablespoon of kosher salt. Roast in a 375-degree oven till brown, about 35 minutes. Add bones and vegetables to a small pot just covered with water. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 30 minutes, making sure to skim off any impurities. Strain stock into another pot and continue to simmer. Add 2 tablespoons of demi-glacé and 1 teaspoon of Kona. Reduce to a thick state, about 20 minutes. [3]  With a hot pan on the stove top add 1 teaspoon of canola oil. Rub lamb with spices and salt. Place in a pan and continually roll the lamb from one side to the other, until you achieve a rich brown color. Place the lamb in a 325-degree oven and bake for 6-7 minutes or until desired temperature is reached. Remove from the oven and place lamb on paper towels to remove any excess oil. Slice lamb 1/2 inch thick. [4] Arrange the lamb on a plate. Top each slice with the sauce and a sprinkle of the Kona/five spice mixture. Arrange shallots and cream along with radish and shiso. Garnish with tulie.

Timing’s everything

“Have all your ingredients ready when preparing a meal, (mise en place). This makes for a tastier, quicker preparation of the meal and more time with the loved ones.” — Scott Hastings, Lulu Kitchen

All choked up 

Artichokes can be enjoyed in their entirety and then some with this delicious recipe from The G-Free Spot. “This classic was brought to you by my nana,” said Nicole Gardner. “A beautiful way to enjoy a ‘not so common’ delicacy — the whole artichoke, not just the heart.”

The G-Free Spot 

Stuffed Artichokes

2 large, fresh artichokes
4 large hard-boiled eggs, diced
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 can anchovies in oil, minced
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons small capers
Drizzle of olive oil

Directions [1] To prepare the artichokes, clean the outer leaves from the base of the artichoke and remove the stem to create a flat bottom. Cut “spikes” off of each leaf with kitchen shears. Wash artichokes thoroughly and submerge in a pot of water. Boil until slightly tender, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from water and drain. [2] To prepare the filling, combine diced hard-boiled eggs, breadcrumbs and anchovies (including oil) in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Add salt, pepper and garlic powder and combine. Add Pecorino Romano and capers and toss lightly. [3] To fill the artichokes, use a kitchen spoon, (a teaspoon usually works best), and working from the innermost part of the artichoke, fill between each of the leaves to evenly disperse filling between both artichokes. Once filling is completely utilized, place artichokes in an oven-proof pan and drizzle with olive oil. Fill the pan with approximately 1/4 inch of water, cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan and bake for an additional 10 minutes to crisp up the filling. [4] Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Enjoy artichoke by “plucking” each leaf and its filling. Scrape filling and a small amount of artichoke leaf, (the tender part at the base of the leaf), with teeth and enjoy! 

Play dress up

“Meal planning makes meal prep a breeze. Determine the things that you can use across most of your recipes and stock up. For me, it’s salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. I call it my magic potion. When it’s just “too hard” to figure out what to make at night, I use these four things to “marinate” whatever protein I have in the fridge. Keep in mind that marinating can be a quick coating before cooking, or several hours in the fridge. Don’t stress over the details and just roll with whatever time you have to work with. The same holds true for veggies — a quick steam, drain and dress with, you guessed it, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Yummy doesn’t have to be complex when feeding your crew. Sometimes simple is best.” – Nicole Gardner, The G-Free Spot

Souped up

Whip up some mushroom soup with this hearty recipe from Sprout Momma. This flavorful soup will bring that warm feeling we all love and an earthy taste that’s to die for. 

Sprout Momma 

Truffle Wild Mushroom Soup

Farmers market shiitake mushrooms
White onion
Fresh garlic
Chicken broth
Heavy cream
Truffle oil 

Directions [1] Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add sliced mushrooms and chopped onion and sprinkle them with salt. Cook until the onions are transparent and the mushrooms have released their water. [2] Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes. Transfer the mushrooms and onions to a saucepan over medium heat. [3] Add chicken broth and heat through. [4] Use a food processor to process the soup until the mushrooms are finely chopped. [5] Add heavy cream, stir, and heat the soup until it is warm. Add truffle oil and serve immediately.

Stock up

“When making your mushroom stock, instead of throwing out the stems and stuff, use them in the veggie soup because that’s what gives it that earthy taste.” — Ryan Fennessey, Sprout Momma

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