Nov 09

Make Your Fresh Food “Fast Food” :Tips For Kitchen Knife Safety and Speed

By Joan Lesko | Food and Preparation

If you want to cook fresh meals everyday, then you’d better learn how to chop up your food fast. Improving your chopping skills is the number one way to speed up the entire cooking process. And, trust me, when you’ve got two hungry children squirming around by the dinner table, you don’t want to keep them waiting. In this article, I’ll tell you about some easy tips to keep in mind whenever you have to cut up veggies, fruit, or meat.

How To Make Your Cutting Board Stable

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Of course, safety is always the most important thing to keep in mind when using kitchen knives. One easy way to keep yourself safe is to ensure your cutting board is flat and stable. Many professional chefs actually put a damp cloth underneath their cutting board to keep it from moving around while they chop. You can certainly try this useful tip if you think your board is too loose.

Don’t Let Your Foods Wobble Around

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Be sure to keep safety first in your mind whenever you are cutting larger foods like onions, carrots, or apples. Since these foods all have a tendency to roll around on the board, it’s important to either half these foods or to slice off an end to provide you with a flat surface. Once they have a flat edge, you can place that side on the cutting board and then start chopping with greater speed.

The Cross-Chop

The cross-chop is a popular and safe cutting technique using the chef’s knife. Just hold your dominant hand in a pinch grip formation, and then place your other hand over the top of the knife. You then gently rock the knife back and forth across your food item. The hand you have on the top of the knife is just used as a gentle guide; you shouldn’t be applying any pressure against this knife. Some people like to start their cross-chop slowly and gradually increase speed. This is great for chopping up fresh herbs and garlic cloves.

Rock-Chop

Another chopping technique is called the rock-chop. This is similar to the cross-chop, but instead of laying your less dominant hand on top of the knife, that hand will be placed on the food you are chopping. This hand should resemble a claw on your food item, with your knuckles facing towards the knife. You will slowly push the food into the knife as you move your chef’s knife in a rocking fashion. Your fingers should be slowly coming together into a knuckle as your knife pushes forward. Also, be sure to keep your thumb behind the end of your food item for maximum safety. This is a good technique for veggies like carrots and chilies.

Chopping The Dreaded Onion

Onions are one of the most common ingredients in many recipes, so we need to learn how to chop them up properly. I don’t know about you, but I easily get teary-eyed if I don’t chop these bad boys as fast as possible. The best tip I’ve found to reduce the waterworks is to keep the onion root on while cutting. Once you cut the root off, the onion’s juices start to squirt out rapidly, which, of course, causes our poor eyes to burn. Use your chef’s knife to slice the onion in half. Place the onion slices on the flat side, then place three fingers from your less dominant hand on top of the onion. It’s best to have your middle finger slightly in front of your fourth and index fingers. Then use your chef’s knife to chop long slices all across the onion with the tip of your blade facing the root. Then push the onion together, slightly make an incision in the middle of the onion, and then just slice all of these pieces off across the top of the onion. Of course, dispose of the root once your onion is all finely chopped up.

Nov 09

5 Nontraditional Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas for Your Family

By Joan Lesko | Food and Dining

On Thanksgiving Day, tradition says that you eat turkey. Whether your family likes it or not, you’re going to spend hours roasting a bird in the oven, basting it, and desperately hoping that it will be done in time for dinner. It’s even worse for people who celebrate Thanksgiving more than once. Turkey here, turkey there, turkey everywhere! If you’re tired of all the turkey talk, consider some of these nontraditional ideas for Thanksgiving instead.

Have a Chili Cook-Off

Do you have plenty of budding chefs in your family? Chances are, everyone has a go-to chili recipe–and they’re probably dying to show it off. Instead of bringing in dozens of side dishes, arguing over who fixes the best broccoli casserole, and dragging out the pumpkin pie at the last possible minute, try a chili cook-off instead! Each family brings a pot of their favorite chili. Family members who don’t enjoy cooking can bring the fixings: cheese, corn chips, crackers, or anything else you might like to put on your chili. Looking for the perfect chili recipe? Some of these favorites might give you a starting place.

Take It Up a Notch

Still enjoy your turkey, but want to do something completely different with it this year? Try a recipe for Turducken: a chicken stuffed inside a duck, which is then stuffed inside a turkey. You’ll certainly have more than enough leftovers to last for a while! You could also try this recipe for Thanksgiving Turkey Cake, which combines all of your Thanksgiving favorites into one convenient and attractive dish. Note: this particular Thanksgiving meal is probably not appropriate for toddlers who have issues with their food touching.

Go Italian

Who says that Thanksgiving dinner has to embrace American tradition? Go Italian instead with a great lasagna recipe, pizza, bread sticks, and more. Of course, a fancy Italian dinner wouldn’t be complete without an excellent dessert!

Try a Vegetarian Meal

Whether you’re counting calories or just don’t like having meat in your life, try a vegetarian Thanksgiving with this great Tofurky Roast. It has all the flavor you’re looking for in a main dish with fewer calories, making it great for Thanksgiving on a diet. If you want to add some meat back into your meal for the non-vegetarians in the crowd, this Stuffed Pumpkin is a great way to do it.

Try a New Meat

If you’re just tired of turkey and want something new for the holiday this year, Martha Stewart has plenty of “beyond the turkey” recipes that will have everyone around the table clamoring for seconds. Roast pork is a popular option, but chicken and prime rib also feature prominently in her offerings.

Picking Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t have to mean turning straight to the turkey when there are so many other great options available. Check out some of these great recipes and discover just how different this Thanksgiving can be.

Nov 05

A Beginners Guide to Tasting Wine

By Joan Lesko | Food and Wine

As a mother of two school-aged children, I have just enough time to take mini-vacations now and then. Recently, I and some girlfriends had the luxury of a spa weekend that included an afternoon at a local winery where we learned some of the finer points of wine tasting.

wine-tasting-2The wine tasting took place in one of the bottle cellars, which was cool but brightly lit. The bottles for sampling were arranged on long, lawn-covered tables and every few feet was a silver spittoon.

The host started by telling us that most people don’t know how to appreciate wine. They can’t tell the difference between a $150 Grand Cru or that serviceable stuff one buys at the supermarket for $3.00. That’s because they emphasize the wrong sense to taste the wine.

wine-tastingThe main sense to use in wine-tasting is not the sense of taste, but the sense of smell in the upper part of the nasal cavity. This area doesn’t really respond to smells that come from the outside, but when you have a mouthful of wine it will dissolve the wine’s volatile gases and take them to the olfactory bulb in the brain. In professional wine tasters, who’ve drunk lots of wine, this stimulates the memories of wines they have sampled. The reason why the wine is spat out after the taster evaluates it is to keep the new wine from becoming overwhelming.

But since I and my girlfriends were novices, I can only guess the new wine would return all those memories of that good, cheap stuff we had at our dinner parties.

pouring-wineThen, the wine was poured for us. In our case, we were sampling reds. The thing about reds is that they’re served at room temperature, in large-bowled stem glasses that are filled only a third of the way. This allows you to swirl them safely and allows their volatile gases to collect.

You start by tilting the glass against the pale cellar wall and evaluating the color. A blackish, purplish wine means that the wine is young and will take a long time to mature. If it’s brick red, it’s mature. Brown wine, with the exception of sherry, is too old. My first glass was ruby colored. It was young, but good.

Then, you stick your nose into the glass, close your eyes and inhale deeply, as you would a bouquet of roses. The wine should not smell “funny,” musty or vinegary. The best wines have a complex bouquet that comes from the grape, the barrel and the bottle. Some experts can even identify what type of grape is in the wine. I wasn’t there yet! I would say that the smell of the first wine I had was “lively.” This means the fresh smell of a good, young wine. It also had a nice, grapey scent, which is also a good sign.

wine-tastingThen, I took a mouthful. Our host warned us to not sip but take a mouthful so the wine could reach every area of the mouth. I and my girlfriends looked like hamsters, but that was fine. Then, we had to pucker our lips and draw in air. This helps volatize the wine and help it rise into the nasal cavity. The words I thought of as the wine was in my mouth were “raspberries,” and “violets,” which are good appellations.

Then, while everybody spat their wine out, I swallowed mine. It was too good and too expensive to spit out! Plus, spitting it out was gross.

I’m not sure if this ruined my experience with the other wines, which I also swallowed, but one day, I hope to be experienced enough, or blasé enough, to use the spittoon. I will always remember the lessons I learned at the winery!