Cooking Basics

Great cooking starts with the right tools.

With all the kitchen gadgets available, it's easy to get overwhelmed about what you need to be an efficient — even artful — cook. But when it comes to working your kitchen like a true professional, think back to basics. Stefanie Paganini, of the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking, shares some of her must-haves.

Parchment Paper

This stock item can help even the most mediocre of bakers turn out tray after tray of beautifully browned sweets. Because the stuff comes in a roll and can be hard to flatten out as needed, Paganini suggests cutting it into cookie-sheet-sized pieces and storing it in stacks right on top of the sheets. "It will be flat and ready when you need it."


This rasp-edged tool helps cooks create flavorful fruit zest and also turns out wonderful grated cheese and spices. "We always recommend buying nutmeg whole and zesting off a bit as you need it. It's fresher and lasts longer this way," Paganini says.


In the past, people were fearful of illness, so they cooked their food way beyond the point of good flavor and texture. But in recent years the food industry has done a good job educating the public on food safety and, specifically, cooking temperatures for meats. "A basic stick thermometer and knowledge of meat-temperature guidelines will give you the ability to control the outcome of your dishes," Paganini says. "You'll be confident in cooking meat that is safe but still juicy and delicious."


Paganini says having the right knife can actually change your attitude about cooking. "So many people dislike recipes that require lots of chopping," she says. "But that would change if they just had good, sharp knives." Besides being more pleasant and comfortable to use, a good knife will cut down on prep time.

Cutting Boards

"Some people do their chopping right on the countertop," says Paganini. "But that can harm your counter, and it dulls your knife." While wood cutting boards are attractive and make great serving and display pieces, Paganini swears by the cheap silicone ones. They are easy on knives and can go right into the dishwasher for sanitizing. She also suggests chopping in an order that won't contaminate: fruits and veggies first, meat last. And always sanitize the board after you're done.

Food-Safe Sanitizer

There are lots of great countertop cleaners, but not all of them are food safe. Check to be sure you're using one that is green. "They're just as effective as ones that are not safe, but you can trust that they will leave your countertops clean and ready for cooking," Paganini says.

At The Show

Loretta Paganini School of Cooking will be hosting the Great Big Home and Garden Expo's Cooking Stage with lots of demonstrations designed to entertain and educate everyone from amateur cooks to gourmets. The agenda calls for plenty of warming comfort foods and Italian delights, but other ethnicities will be represented as well. There will be a focus on fast cooking that simplifies life and also traditional meals created slowly and carefully.

"There's room in everyone's repertoire for both," says Stefanie Paganini.

And because they operate a cooking school, the hosts will emphasize the reasons behind each step in the process."When you know the whys and not just the hows, you will be better able to create these recipes at home," Paganini says. "For example, when we teach how to make risotto, we talk about what kind of rice and wine to use and why. We tell you to stir often, but also tell you why it is important to do so." (It helps evenly distribute the starch being released from the rice, which adds to the creaminess of the final dish.) Go to for the Cooking Stage schedule.

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