#113 | Essential Tools, Tips, & Techniques for the Home Cook
Essential Tools, Tips, & Techniques for the Home Cook
By Michelle Doll
Intro: Welcome to the Cookery by the Book Podcast with Suzy Chase. She's just a home cook in New York City sitting at her dining room talking to cookbook authors.
Michelle Doll: Hi, I'm Michelle Doll and this is my new book, Essential Tools, Tips, and Techniques for the Home Cook.
Suzy Chase: As a home cook, I'm always looking for techniques and tips, so I was excited to see this book pop up in my mailbox. You graduated with honors from the French Culinary Institute and you're an instructor, plus you're a cake designer. But your true passion is educating the home cook. How did that get to be your true passion?
Michelle Doll: It's kind of funny. Yeah, I did the whole professional route and ended up in lots of restaurants, getting lots of tips and techniques, and then I started to teach at Sur La Table. As the resident chef there, everybody who was coming to class, occasionally you would get somebody in a chef's coat, but mainly it was people who were just passionate about food and wanting to learn more to do at home. Every class was different every week. The people we had there and the techniques that we were teaching were always evolving and changing, so it really kind of piqued my interest. It made my job super fun again to have to kind of relearn things and apply them to people who were doing this on a much smaller scale and at home.
Suzy Chase: How is this cookbook organized?
Michelle Doll: Each chapter is based on a technique and the tools you need to do it. So our first chapter is rolling pins, which sounds kind of weird I realize. But I start off with just talking about all the different varieties that are out there, what's worth spending some money on, what's worth passing on, how to fix it if you ruin it, proper technique and care, and then I jump into some recipes that are great recipes that will serve you for your entire life. How to make a quick puff pastry, how to make ravioli dough, pasta dough, how to make a really nice pate brisée or pie crust.
These are things that you can personalize too. So I don't just give the recipe out, but I also talk a little bit about what's happening on a molecular level, why does the laminated dough in the puff pastry rise like it does and what can we do to make sure that that always turns out for us. So kind of demystifying a lot of the techniques and then giving some great base recipes that people can then personalize if they want or just jump and use these forever.
Suzy Chase: This is the first cookbook I've seen that's talked about useless gizmos and thingamajigs and how we can clear them out. The problem is, I always think I'm going to need that gizmo. What's the process for clearing things out?
Michelle Doll: If I haven't used it in six months or so, kind of like a closet, you want to just clear it out. It's not worth it. That's what yard sales are for, pass along our junk to somebody else who might want it. But yeah, if you can't use it for more than one purpose, then I also find that it's kind of useless. Like a melon baller I use all the time for lots of different things. That's one of my favorite tools and it's super basic, but to have that and to know that you can use it for so much more than just melon balling makes it a great tool to have.
Suzy Chase: What are some different ways you use your melon baller?
Michelle Doll: I core all of my apples and pears. You can take the inside rib out of them. It's pear poaching season right now. Actually there's a recipe in the book for poached pears and it's done in a white wine and a lemon sauce. With the melon baller, once you slice it in half you get this perfect little sphere taken out, so you don't have to quarter it and remove the seeds that way. It's a super easy way to kind of pop it right out.
Suzy Chase: That's so smart. I used to have a melon baller. I don't know where that darn thing went, so I'm going to have to get another one.
Michelle Doll: That and Microplanes, I think I have multiples of because I'm always ... There's always one in the dishwasher.
Suzy Chase: One item I bet every home cook uses as least once a day is a saute pan. Go over the three types.
Michelle Doll: You've got a regular stainless steel, your All-Clad basic, the shiny ones. We have a nonstick, and with nonstick you really want to look for something that's not Teflon. There's a couple different varieties on the market that I talk about. There's also crepe pans, which are kind of considered saute plans. And then you could do a carbon steel saute pan, which is what they usually use in restaurants. They're not as pretty. They're super heavy. But they conduct heat like crazy, super fast.
Suzy Chase: What's your favorite saute pan?
Michelle Doll: My main reach-to is a nonstick pan. I like GreenPan a lot. SCANPAN's my favorite. They're from Copenhagen and what I like about it is it's not a coating, it's the actual pan that's nonstick. So you can use a fork or tongs on it, metal. You don't have to worry about little black flecks coming up. All you're going to do is scratch the pan, you're not going to release any weirdness into your food. It's green. There's no gases that come off of it like with a regular Teflon nonstick pan, if you heat it up with nothing in it, really noxious gases come off of it. It's kind of dangerous.
You want to definitely make sure that you're springing for something that's going to be safe to use.
Suzy Chase: Another frequently used item would be a sheet pan. What types of sheet pans do you prefer?
Michelle Doll: Kind of similar to our saute pans, you've got a couple different varieties. There's your heavy steel version. They tend to bow. They will pop up a little bit if they get over 400 degrees. So the heat actually changes how the molecules in the pan are moving and that's what you hear, like a loud bang sometimes when you're cooking something really hot. It's your pan buckling. So that's your heavy stainless.
There's a lighter aluminum sheet pans. Then there's also nonstick sheet pans. Nonsticks I actually avoid for sheet pans because they tend to be darker and that darkness attracts a lot of the heat. So it gets really hot in the pan so the bottom of your cookies get really dark, but the top is still totally raw and it's super frustrating. If I have to use those, if for some reason I'm forced to use a nonstick pan, I usually cover it with foil so that it deflects some of the heat and protects my cookies a little bit.
Suzy Chase: Now when your sheet pan bows, does that mean it's ruined or is that okay?
Michelle Doll: Sometimes it doesn't pop back. Sometimes it does stay like that. But usually you can push it back or when it cools back down, you'll hear that bang again and it's flattening itself back out.
Suzy Chase: I hate that bang. I feel like someone shot something through my window.
Michelle Doll: Scared to death.
Suzy Chase: Yes.
Michelle Doll: And if you put one ... At work I have these giant stainless steel tables and if somebody puts down a hot sheet pan on top of it, the whole table makes this loud shotgun bang and the pan sometimes will even bounce into the air. It's really dramatic.
Suzy Chase: Do we really need a pizza stone if we're making pizza at home?
Michelle Doll: I think so. Pizza stones and there's also pizza steels. It depends on who you talk to which is their favorite. I prefer the stone but ... What it does, you cook directly on it, but if you get it wet, it does crack. But you can still push it together. You could still continue to use it. It heats up and it distributes the heat really evenly. Any kind of oven that you have whether it's steam, electric, gas, whatever, convection, they all have hot spots. When you're baking on something, if it's really delicate, you don't want to be opening up the oven door over and over again.
If you're actually baking on top of a pizza stone, you put the pan right on top of the pizza stone, it disperses the heat much more evenly so you don't have to go in and constantly be flipping it around to get everything evenly baked. But as far as pizzas go, yes, a pizza stone, since it's so dry it'll take some of the moisture out of the bottom of the pizza crust so you get this really nice, crisp crust. If you're doing it on a stainless steel pan, it just doesn't have the same effect. You end up with a soggier pizza. It's not quite as crisp and authentic-tasting.
Suzy Chase: In addition to tips, techniques, and tools of the trade, you have a collection of really easy recipes. I made Mom's Mongolian Beef on page 183.
Michelle Doll: Oh good.
Suzy Chase: Now why is this called Mom's Mongolian Beef?
Michelle Doll: It was my mom's. I'm an Army brat and we would move every three or four years. What was kind of great about that, when we lived in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, it was in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest. We were in the middle of nowhere. Most of the population there was Army brats and they came from all over the world. It was such a wonderfully diverse community that we had ... My neighbor would make her own kimchi and bury it in the yard and then on the other side, they would make their own barbecue rubs and sauces. Food is just this great thing that brings everybody together.
It was funny to be exposed to that in the middle of the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri. It's not where you would expect it. But we fell in love with Beef Bulgogi and this is kind of a riff on that recipe that she would do. The officers' Wives Club, they would always have a recipe book that they would put together once a year and sell. This was based on one of the recipes in there that she had done.
Suzy Chase: When I was in junior high, I went to a dance at Fort Leonard Wood. Isn't that crazy?
Michelle Doll: Get out. No way. That is amazing.
Suzy Chase: I used to live in Prairie Village, Kansas, outside of Kansas City. So funny.
Michelle Doll: That is absolutely amazing. Yeah, Waynesville is the town right outside of Leonard Wood. That's where I went to high school, so everybody went to the high school off post and then we would all go back on post at night. That was the whole town. It was crazy, but it was great. I loved it. I really love Missouri. It was a great place to live.
Suzy Chase: I live in the West Village in New York City and have a small galley kitchen, so I'm dying to hear how you've made more space after outgrowing your kitchen.
Michelle Doll: I lived in the West Village for a while myself.
Suzy Chase: You did?
Michelle Doll: And I had a half-refrigerator. It wasn't even like a ... It was like a hotel refrigerator. I had two burners and a tiny, tiny little dorm sink. It was hilariously tiny. So everything hung on the walls. I just had like Julia Child had those pegboards. So I adopted that technique of just hanging everything up. Now we live in Brooklyn. I have a little bit more space and it's kind of leached into another room, so I'm sort of taking over the adjoining room. Crock-Pots and Instant Pots and Dutch ovens, they're huge and they're heavy and they take up a lot of space.
You really want to pick one that you love, that you're going to want to have forever. Invest in a piece and just keep it. Don't start accumulating too many pots and pans. Just pick one or two of each. And then another space-saving technique is we've gone vertical. I have a shelf over the door, the entry door to the house. I'm looking at it right now. There's the Instant Pot on top of that, some giant stock pots, all of that stuff is up and out of the way. I mean it's a bummer in a way because you can't ... It's not super easily accessible. You can't just reach and grab something, but a little step stool keeps everything kind of straight and neat-ish.
Suzy Chase: Yeah. Neat-ish. But so what-
Michelle Doll: Ish, yeah. I'm looking at it now going, ugh, I'm so glad you're not here.
Suzy Chase: What have you-
Michelle Doll: When you open the door, you hear the paella ... I have a giant paella pan hanging off of that shelf over the door and when you open the door too aggressively, it makes this giant gong sound. It's kind of funny. It's our security system.
Suzy Chase: Yeah, you'll know if you've been broken into.
Michelle Doll: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Suzy Chase: So the holidays are coming up and your limoncello granita sounds like the perfect drink for entertaining. Describe that and what tools do we need to pull it off?
Michelle Doll: I love the limoncello granita. It's so good and it doesn't make any sense, but it tastes kind of creamy. The amount of alcohol that's in the recipe controls the size of the ice crystals. It takes a couple hours for it to get jellified, but it does. It gets jellified. You just scrape it up, you don't need any tools at all. Really just any sort of vessel to freeze it in. It's best if it's kind of shallow and flat, so a little lasagna pan or any kind of ... even a cookie sheet if it has tall enough sides.
You dissolve the sugar down, basically making a simple syrup and then mix that in with the limoncello. I did it once with orangecello, which is just an orange version of the same liqueur. It was fantastic too. I love it. If you want to get fancy and you want to have a little cookie portioner. You can scoop it up with that, that works really well. But otherwise just spoons is fine.
Suzy Chase: For my segment called My Last Meal, what would you choose for your last supper?
Michelle Doll: It changes day to day. It's cold out right now, so I would want a beef bourguignon and a bottle or two of wine if it's my last supper.
Suzy Chase: Why not?
Michelle Doll: Some roasted potatoes. I make potatoes with herbes de Provence. It's super simple, just some olive oil and herbes de Provence. That would be really nice. They crisp up really pretty on a sheet pan. And then for dessert, I would probably do a Pavlova with a passion fruit curd.
Suzy Chase: Where can we find you on the web and social media?
Michelle Doll: Sure. On Instagram, it's Chef Michelle Doll and on Facebook the same, Michelle Doll, D-O-L-L. My website is Michelle Doll Makes and I'm currently teaching at the New York Cake Academy in Manhattan. They just reopened and they have a big, beautiful teaching space, so I've been getting to teach there as well as still being adjunct at the International Culinary Center.
Suzy Chase: Well, thanks for coming on Cookery by the Book Podcast.
Michelle Doll: Thanks for having me. This was so much fun.
Suzy Chase: Follow me on Instagram at Cookery by the Book, Twitter is IamSuzyChase and download your kitchen mixtapes, music to cook by on Spotify at Cookery by the Book and as always subscribe at Apple Podcasts.