Thursday, December 30, 2010
It is one of my beliefs that good knife skills are the foundation of a good cook. You can only become a good cook with practice, and practicing is the only way to develop good knife skills. Which comes first? Well, I believe they come simultaneously. Because I so much wanted to be a good cook, I had to cook. To cook, I had to chop. To chop, I had to use a knife.
One of the first cooking "lessons" one learns is "Mise en place", it's French for "put in place". Before you try any recipe, especially for the first time, it is highly recommended that you put all of the ingredients you need together, in one place, before you start cooking. This way once you start to assemble the recipe you already have everything right in front of you. This also helps to not forget any ingredient or step. I haven't "mised" in years...yikes...but I used to and that set me up for some good habits.
Although I no longer "mise" (meese, rhymes with cheese!), I'm still in the habit of doing the bulk of my chopping and dicing before I turn on the stovetop. Because I use so many fresh vegetables, easily 2-4 times what most people use, it takes me 10-15 minutes on average, but sometimes as long as 25-30 minutes to prep just the vegetables for my soups and stews. Salads don't take nearly as long because most of that is shredding, and taking 20 minutes I can prep salad ingredients to last a week.
Last month I got this idea to try and make a truly vegetarian chili using no tomatoes (it's winter for God's sake, lol), and no beans, but loads and loads of veggies. I used beets and beet stems to make the chili red, along with the standard ,onions celery, carrots that go in everthing I cook. Fresh chilis, of course, jalapenos, pasilla, and red bell. Oh, and a butternut squash (I learned that from Fawn). The regular chili powders, spices and garlic. It came out OK, not great, but good...I'm not going to lie!
Hot and edible are the only requirements I have for a new recipe! Because of the beets and butternut it was a bit on the sweet side and I felt lacked depth. I helped it a little by adding a bag of frozen yellow corn (I know, I know, it's winter for God's sake).....a little ground meat wouldn't have hurt either, lol.
I'm very proud of my knife skills considering I've never been formally trained, Rachel Ray has nothing on me! I often see food prep, especially chopping and dicing as a form of meditation. I get just as much satisfaction from cooking and preparing my meals as I get from eating them. I will always choose to "eat in", saving my money for more good wine and a few pieces of Lululemon...how luck am I?
top picture is a 12 x 18 inch sheet pan with all of the veggies in the bottom picture diced and ready to make "vegetarian beet and butternut chili". middle picture is me stacking and dicing jalapenos.