How to Look Sharp in the Kitchen (Video)
Yesterday was my inaugural cooking class in my new job at Manna Food Center! If you check out last week’s post, you can see all the budget shopping secrets I shared with the young parents participating in yesterday’s class. But that was just the first half—we spent the second hour of our class practicing essential cooking skills. Family Services Inc. was generous enough to allow us to learn and cook in their beautiful teaching kitchen. This dynamic organization offers comprehensive services to address local needs in the home, school, and the community, and also serves as a weekly distribution site for Manna Food Center.
In our surveys at the end of the class, one student said the most valuable part of the class was learning to chop correctly (I take that to mean safely and efficiently). We spent much of the class practicing basic knife skills.
Here’s my theory: We all have to eat to live, so it only helps to be excited about what you’re making. If you’re looking to maintain a healthy diet, or simply have a picky eater under your roof, cooking at home is the most affordable way to enjoy a delicious, personalized meal. Unfortunately, many homecooks are easily discouraged by the prep descriptors: “julienne”? “dice”? “rough chop”? When scoping out a recipe, be sure you understand what these phrases mean and what technique to use to accomplish the task. If you’re like me and didn’t go to culinary school, we are super lucky because we live in the age of the internet.
Check out this brief video that demonstrates what different types of cuts look like:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rbRaeJNmDQ
Here is a wonderful, slightly longer video that covers knife grip and technique, with thorough demonstrations. Please don’t believe Dani that you must invest $100 into a kitchen knife. As I told my students yesterday, I have a 6” Furi chef’s knife with silicone handle I have loved for years… and it was $6 at Ross. Stores like HomeGoods, Marshalls, TJ Maxx, or Ross that carry overstock items regularly sell good quality knives likely sharper than the ones you’ve been using for years (and often under $15). A sharp knife is a safe knife—it will cut right through your food without slipping off and cutting you.
I like to chop my food to match the other ingredients—here, where the young women made whole wheat couscous, they diced all of the ingredients so that the vegetables complemented the itty bitty grains. Despite being unfamiliar with couscous—and utterly stumped by the name—the class enjoyed eating their creation and left with a bag of ingredients to make it at home. Here’s the dish they can’t wait to recreate for families:
Couscous with a Crunch
Whether you’re making a small batch of couscous or a large pot, the cooking time remains 5 minutes! Pick at least 3 vegetables to add into the couscous if you don’t have all on hand. Add shredded chicken or chopped seafood to fill out this dish to a full meal. Couscous can be steamed with water or broth. If you’re using broth, be sure it’s low-sodium. Use the same amount of water/broth as couscous (2 cups couscous = 2 cups water; 4 cups couscous = 4 cups water).
For 6 servings (2/3 cup = 1 serving) Total time: less than 10 minutes
MATERIALS: pot with fitted lid; knife; fork
1 tablespoon oil (such as olive oil)
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 cup water or low-sodium chicken broth
1 small onion, diced
1 pint small tomatoes (“cherry” or “grape”), halved
1 cucumber, diced
1 yellow or red bell pepper, diced
PROTEIN ADD-IN’s: garbanzo beans, shredded chicken, cannellini beans, shrimp, or sliced almonds
CHEESE ADD-IN’s: 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese or grated parmesan cheese
Cook the onion.
CHOP the onion very small—you can even grate it on a cheese grater. HEAT 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm (about 1 minute), ADD the chopped onion. STIR the onion then let it soften in the oil about 2 minutes.
Steam the couscous.
MEASURE 1 cup dry couscous and keep it near your pot. POUR 1 cup water over the onion and turn the heat up to medium-high. As soon as the water is boiling, ADD the couscous, STIR, TURN OFF THE BURNER, COVER the pot and MOVE the closed pot to a cool burner. Set a timer for FIVE MINUTES.
Chop the Vegetables.
While the couscous is steaming, CHOP the cucumber, bell pepper, and tomatoes. After the timer goes off, REMOVE the lid and gently fluff the couscous with a fork—RAKE through all the grains with your fork until there are no clumps.
ADD all of the cut vegetables, along with your favorite cheese or protein. Season with pepper if desired.