Alex Guarnaschelli's Secrets to Being a Great Home Cook

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Alex Guarnaschelli's Secrets to Being a Great Home Cook

Chef Alex Guarnaschelli is a powerhouse on the culinary scene. Read on to learn her tips for being an excellent home cook.

Pantry and fridge essentials

Alex says that she always has mustard, mayonnaise, capers, cornichons, lemons, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce on hand in her fridge and pantry. "If I have those things I feel like I could make pretty much everything—except pierogis probably," Alex jokes.

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Spices to always have around

Alex enjoys fennel seeds, bay leaves, star anise and dried ginger in her pantry. "A little drive by of a bay leaf for 15 or 20 minutes in a soup base is dynamite," she reveals.

Alex also elaborates on why she loves star anise. "People always have cinnamon, but when you add a little piece of star anise when you’re making mulled cider, anything with apples or anything where you would put in cinnamon... I think it just adds more life," she says.

When it comes to dried ginger, Alex says that it has a kind of heat to it that's not "knock-your-mouth-off spicy," but it makes you want to eat more. "You know that little hint of heat where you just say, 'What is that?' And then three bowls later you're still eating and saying, 'What is that?'"

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One simple dish for any weeknight

"I really like roasting or making a one-pot meal," Alex shares. At home, she loves to make one pork chop dish in particular. "I’ll take a couple of pork chops, cut up some broccoli and a few red bliss potatoes ... and I’ll toss the broccoli and potatoes together with a little bit of garlic. I’ll put them in a large cast iron pan or on a thick bottomed baking sheet, and I just leave a little distance between each thing so there’s a little room for cooking without sort of boiling everything. I love what the pork does to the broccoli. The broccoli gets kind of dried in this wonderful way, and then I just take it out and squeeze a lot of lemon over all of it, even on the potatoes and the pork. It’s embarrassing how simple it is. But it’s really good," she says. Alex notes that if she's feeling fancy, she'll give the pork chops a little smear of grainy mustard when they're done cooking.

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Her two essential kitchen tools

"I’m not a proponent of making people go and buy a hundred million dollars worth of stuff, but I would say that a really good vegetable peeler is underrated," Alex tells us. "I like the square ones. And if you’re going to invest in something, I think a Vitamix blender is pretty great. I think it’s an investment worth making. I always joke that you could make anything taste good [with it], the blender just brings things to life."

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A favorite freezable dish

Alex shares that her mother used to make a marinara sauce for spaghetti in minutes by chopping and cooking a carrot with a few onions, some garlic and a can of tomatoes, and simmering it for for just 10 minutes with some chili flakes and olive oil. "It was dynamite, and that stuff freezes really well," Alex explains. "To that end, if you have a batch of that marinara sauce in the freezer, you could make a dish of pasta with it. You could also brown off some chicken, or even brown some pork, and pour the tomato sauce over it and just kind of braise it. I love that."

Pork chops pizzaiola was a dish Alex's mom used to make when she was growing up. "It's just browned pork chops simmered in tomato sauce. There’s something so delicious about the browned meat swimming in this bright tomato. That little bit of carrot just gives it a sweetness without being artificial or over the top," Alex recalls.

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Advice for hesitant cooks

"I think everybody has their little planet of comfort in the kitchen," Alex says. "They have two or three things they know how to make and they love it, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making those things over and over again."

"I think that all cooking, however simple or complex, is great. I would say one, don’t give yourself a hard time, and two, if you want to branch out, then start with the things you’re comfortable with, and just add on to them. If you love making an omelet with mushrooms, next time, try it with a new kind of cheese and some roasted peppers thrown into it. Build on the foundation where you’re comfortable, instead of feeling like you have to make a soufflé from scratch. I think when you do partial comfort zone and just a little stretch, you can actually expand your repertoire and enjoy it more ... Cooking takes a lot of practice."

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Alex Guarnaschelli has worked in France with Guy Savoy and in New York City with Daniel Boulud. Now, she's a powerhouse on the culinary scene as executive chef of Butter Restaurant in midtown Manhattan and makes frequent Food Network appearances as a judge on Chopped. But while Alex is familiar with the fast-paced world of upscale restaurants, she's also well-acquainted with the life of a home cook. Alex tells us that as a mother, she finds herself cooking more at home now than she did when she was a line cook, and shared some great advice for those looking to do the same.

Alex reveals the foods she always has on hand in her pantry and refrigerator, the spices she recommends all home cooks keep around and her go-to dish for a busy weeknight—but that's not all! Check out the slideshow above to learn all of Alex's secrets to being a great home cook.

Then, just in time for Thanksgiving, learn Alex's 10 tips for a foolproof holiday dinner, discover the chef's own Thanksgiving traditions and find out 10 other fun facts you don't know about her!

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