Shifting Gears

Making the shift from small-batch cooking at home to making large quantities in a commercial kitchen has been a real learning process.

For starters, I'm using new and different commercial-grade equipment -- equipment that changes even the most basic recipes.

Here's one example: At home, I make rice in my small rice cooker or in a saucepan on the stove. I combine 1 cup of uncooked rice and 2 cups of water and cook the rice through, taking care to avoid burning it.

But in the commercial kitchen, instead of a small counter-top appliance or saucepan, I use a gigantic steamer to make several cups of rice at a time. I add several cups of raw rice to a large pan, add just enough water to cover, set the steamer to 212 degrees and wait 20 minutes. Viola! Perfect light, fluffy rice. The best part about this method is that it's fairly foolproof. It's darn-near impossible to burn rice in the steamer.

And the way I follow recipes has changed too. When you're making one casserole, it's easy to follow a recipe from start to finish. But when you make several at a time, you have to tackle recipes in stages.

Here's what I mean: With one 11x17 casserole, you can chop veggies while browning the meat. It takes only a few minutes to dice onions, celery and carrots -- a task you can accomplish in the amount of time it takes to brown a pound of hamburger.

But when you're making big batches, it could take an hour to prepare all of the fresh herbs and vegetables.

So the first thing I do when I hit the kitchen is complete all of my prep work first. For every recipe. That means washing, slicing and dicing EVERYTHING needed for ALL of the recipes at the same time.

Then, when it's time to actually make the casseroles, I take my large bins of diced ingredients and simply scoop out what I need.

It takes quite a bit of advanced planning to cook like this, but once you actually start making the meals, the cooking process itself goes much faster. And it's more enjoyable.

I like putting on music and chopping away. That zen-like state you enter when working with your hands can be relaxing.

But don't get me wrong. I've had my bumps, burns and bruises adjusting to big-batch cooking. I've had a full sheetpan of brownies take an hour to set. I've turned my fingernails orange from handling so many carrots. And my hands ALWAYS smell like onions.

And then there's this:

That commercial range sure gets hot!

Luckily, you can teach an old dog new tricks. If that pooch is open-minded, resourceful and maintains her sense of humor.

Did I just compare myself to a dog here?!?