Westchester Home Cooks’ Top Tips, Hints, and Ideas

Our amazing amateur chefs dish out everything you need to know to get cooking.


It Happens to the Best of Us: Everyday Cooks’ Biggest Mistakes

“Trying to make too many dishes to be served together that all need attention at the same time—like risotto that needs constant stirring with a filet mignon that needs watching and cutting.” – Lisa Ocasio

“Trying to make their meals look like they just came out of Martha Stewart’s test kitchen.  Family, friends, and guests appreciate the time and effort you’ve made to prepare a home-cooked meal and they’re not going to judge or even notice if you don’t garnish a platter or if your silverware doesn’t match.” – Elly Kelly

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“Relying on prepared/packaged goods. If you plan, you can make great food in no time. And it won’t include any preservatives or weird ingredients you can’t pronounce.” – Gina M. Larson-Stoller

“Not understanding heat—either using too low of a heat and not getting a good brown sear or too much heat and burning the outside without cooking the inside. Also, not patting food dry well before searing it. The extra water will steam the food instead of giving it good color and flavor.” – Mike Zollner

“Forgetting that preparation is two-fold—the taste and the presentation.” – Susan C. Beer

“Over-seasoning. Seasoning should accentuate the primary ingredient, not hide it.” — Todd Stankiewicz

“Not treating each meal like it’s special. Whether it’s throwing together a quick 10-minute skillet meal or preparing a three-course dinner for a special occasion, if you are going to cook, put in a little extra effort to make it delicious.”  — Wendy Pregiato

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One for the Home Team: Dishes at Which Home Cooks Best the Pros

A hamburger, particularly one made with grass-fed beef. The variations are endless—you can put as much bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, or any cheese in any amount that you prefer. You can mix any ingredients you want inside it, like onions or mushrooms in the same fat of the same burger, and you can cook it to the exact done-ness you desire.” – Brian Murdock

“Lasagna—because it’s difficult for restaurants to mix all the key ingredients and keep them from being overcooked. Plus, the sauce is the key to the final taste of the lasagna.” – Lisa Ocasio

“Spaghetti with turkey meatballs. It’s nearly impossible to get turkey meatballs in a restaurant and, since I grew up with the turkey variety, I prefer the flavor it brings to the sauce.” – Elly Kelly

“Pizza—it’s so simple to grill! I’ve actually had people tell me it’s the best they’ve ever had, but I think they underestimate how easy it is to do. That cardboard stuff that often comes out of a commercial oven just can’t compare.” – Gina M. Larson-Stoller

“Bacon and eggs. Most restaurants have trouble not overcooking eggs and providing their customers with crispy bacon. Plus, a restaurant will never match the feel of a lazy Sunday morning with bacon sizzling in a cast-iron pan and a plate of fluffy eggs steaming on the table next to a hot cup of coffee or green tea!”  — Mike Zollner

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“Fresh non-yeast breads. Restaurants tend to use prepared flour mixes. The breads look good but lack taste.” — Susan C. Beer

“Fresh, homemade gnocchi is unbelievably light, fluffy, and delicate. Restaurant gnocchi is always more dense. I prefer mine with a tarragon cream sauce or homemade pesto.” – Todd Stankiewicz

“Meatloaf. Everyone has a different way to prepare it, whether the recipe was passed down through generations or if people choose to use ground turkey versus other ground meats or if it is full of vegetables or coated in something sweet or served with a brown gravy or tomato sauce on the side. It’s such an individual taste that it’s better prepared at home, based on the tastes of the family.”  —Wendy Pregiato

Cooking 101: Beginning Cooks’ Most Common Mistakes

Not cleaning as they go. A big mess or cleanup job at the end of a meal can turn one off to cooking.” – Brian Murdock

“Thinking they can’t make a recipe because they are missing one ingredient. Most of the time, it can be substituted or omitted without anyone being the wiser.” – Elly Kelly

“Not keeping things simple at first and trying to make difficult dishes. It’s so important to understand spices, cooking times, temperatures, et cetera, before venturing into more complex meals.” – Lisa Ocasio

“Not reading the recipe fully and getting themselves prepped beforehand. Having ingredients ready to go and visualizing the timing of each step is an important part in making sure you cook everything the way it needs to be.” – Gina M. Stoller-Larson

“Being intimidated by the rumors. Soufflés and risottos are notorious for their apparent complexity, but both are relatively easy to make. Intimidation and fear are the downfall of the new cook.” – Mike Zollner

“Taking on a too-complex recipe and not realizing the time that preparation and cooking require. Also, not having all the ingredients ready and available, and not knowing how to improvise with what they do have on hand.” – Susan C. Beer

Overcooking food—let the flavor of the meat shine through. You can always go back and cook everything a little more but you can’t ‘uncook’ it. Use a good thermometer if you have to.”  — Todd Stankiewicz

“Trying to make an elaborate, time-consuming meal with too many ingredients. Some of the best meals that people enjoy eating the most are the simplest—a perfect roast or a flavorful chicken breast or streak on the grill, a baked potato, and some steamed broccoli cooked perfectly with a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.”  —Wendy Pregiato

 â–º Plus:

Gina M. Larson-Stoller, Cortlandt Manor
Wendy Pregiato, Eastchester
Brian Murdock, Mohegan Lake
Elly Kelly, Tarrytown
Susan C. Beer, Bedford/Pound Ridge
Lisa Ocasio, Cortlandt Manor
Mike Zollner, Port Chester
Todd A. Stankiewicz, Tarrytown

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