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9 cooking tips from a top-tier chef

Learn at-home cooking tips—such as why to soak onions and the secret to perfect salad dressing—from a five-star resort chef.

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending the Salute to Escoffier food and wine event at Colorado Springs' Broadmoor resort. (Tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.)

Out of several fabulous events showcasing the resort’s talented food and wine tastemakers, I think my favorite session was the cooking demonstration hosted by chef Aaron Haga.

While Haga’s recipes were outstanding, what I found myself writing down were his off-the-cuff cooking tips. Here are some of his clever ideas that you can use in your own kitchen.

1. Peel portobellos. Before sauteeing portobello mushroom caps, Haga peels off the dark brown and relatively tough top layer. I’d never seen this done before, but it does make for a more tender and just as delicious mushroom. (That's one in the photo at right.)

2. Soak onions. Crying over cut onions? Haga suggests soaking peeled onions in ice water overnight to reduce their acidity.

3. Semi-freeze bread before slicing. You know how baguettes tend to squish when sliced? Pop the loaf in the freezer for 20 minutes until slightly frozen; then slice easily with a serrated knife.

4. Substitute shallots. These teardrop-shaped, small alliums “are a little sweeter than regular onions,” says Haga. “You can use them to replace part or all of the onions in a recipe.”

5. Add oil last. When making a salad dressing, whisk all ingredients together except oil; and then add the oil slowly, whisking thoroughly as you go. “If you add it all at once,” says Haga, “it won’t emulsify, and all of your flavors will be at the bottom with the oil on top.”

6. Use honey. “I prefer honey instead of sugar for dressings because it’s already liquid, it’s not as processed as white sugar, and it dissolves better than sugar,” says Haga. “Sugar won’t sweeten a dressing right away because it doesn’t break down until one or two days after you stir it in.”

7. Cheat on stock. “Good stock is the basis of good cooking,” says Haga, who says that the Broadmoor chef team makes 50-60 gallons of homemade stock—which takes 12 hours—every single day. Here’s his clever trick for the home cook: “Get beef bones from your butcher and roast them in your oven until dark; add them to canned broth and let simmer for an hour. You’ll end up restaurant-quality stock in a fraction of the time.”

8. Keep butter cold. When making a sauce, be sure butter is cold when you add it in so that it emulsifies correctly. “Otherwise your sauce will be greasy,” says Haga.

9. Get a Vitamix. OK, this isn't exactly a tip, but Haga gushed persuasively about this top-of-the-line blender appliance. “The Vitamix is one of my favorite pieces of equipment,” he said as he used one to emulsify a vinaigrette. “I’ve asked for it for the past three Christmases but my mother still hasn’t gotten the hint.”

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