At her celebrated family of Seattle restaurants, 2016 Best Chef: Northwest winner Renee Erickson serves food that feels at once elegant and effortless. You’ll also find her unfussy style in her charming first cookbook, A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus. Below, we share tips for better home cooking—whether you’re feeding a crowd or just yourself—from the book and from Erickson herself.
Serve Food at Room Temperature
Although we’ve all been admonished for letting hot food get cold, I’m a big fan of serving food at room temperature on purpose. It’s the temperature at which a dish’s flavors can be the most complex, and it means you can serve a large group easily. I dare you.
Eat More Tinned Fish
I always have some in my pantry for last-minute appetizers. My favorite is smoked Pacific herring whipped with room-temperature butter, shallots, lemon juice, and cayenne. Serve on toast with your favorite pickles.
Keep Great Condiments on Hand
I often find myself at home after work without much food. In times of need, it’s helpful to have great condiments in your refrigerator and pantry. Some of my favorites are a few varieties of hot sauce, mustards, olive oils, nice vinegars, yuzu koshu, chile paste, nut oils (kept refrigerated), and za’atar. Any of these on soft scrambled eggs makes the perfect meal at any time of the day.
Don’t Be a Messy Cook
Clean as you go. Put dishes in the dishwasher, if you have one, rather than in the sink. Wipe up after each step. If you don’t, you’ll have a messy disaster when you’re done cooking and ready to eat.
Use Real Towels
I’m a fan of towels—not the paper kind, but real cloth towels, the kind you hang from the oven door. At home, I keep a huge wicker bin of them next to my oven, and I use them in lieu of paper towels, to mop up messes, blot food, and soak up excess liquid wherever it appears. It makes me feel good to use a little less paper at home.