Home / Articles / Food & Drink / Kitchen Witch / Tricks are for cooks
Print this Article
Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2007 02:38 am

Tricks are for cooks

ItÂ’s never too late to learn new shortcuts in the kitchen

Untitled Document Time flies when you’re chopping chives; this year makes 10 since I received my blue-ribbon diploma from cooking school. It was there that I learned, among many other things, how to bone a quail, make a sauce, and cook eggs in more ways than I cared to know. Ten years hence, I’ve not boned another quail, and I’ve left my egg-coddling skills somewhere along the side of the road with my boning knife. As much as I appreciate my culinary education, I am not the cook I am today because I know how to butcher 80 lobsters or the difference between a beurre maniО and a roux (raw versus cooked). I am that cook because of the boot-camp-like intensity of a commercial kitchen, which instilled a do-or-die sense of purpose and confidence and forced me to acquire the organizational and time-management skills of a CEO. And I am that cook — simply put — because of the tricks learned along the way, the things not found in textbooks but passed on from those who have been around the chopping block a few more times than I have. Despite what the commercial says, tricks are not for kids; they’re for cooks, and they’re indispensable to getting things done in time, whether you’re cooking for 80 or for your brood on a school night. Tricks also make you feel smart and competent, which inevitably makes your food great, wins you praise, and makes you hungry to learn more. A bag of kitchen tricks is like a pot of . . . gold. Take, for instance, peeling ginger. How the heck do you peel that knobby, tough-skinned beast without losing a year of your life — or the tip of your thumb? One word: teaspoon. Cut off the hunk you need, and simply peel away with a spoon, which saves time, body parts, and the root itself.
Chopping fresh basil without its turning black is another stumper. Pile those fragile leaves into a little pillow, roll them up into a cigar shape, then gently cut on the diagonal. This method, called chiffonade, yields still-green shreds rather than unsightly bruised leaves. And one for the road: Transform boring boiled potatoes into sublime spuds simply by salting the water and shaking them in a pot when done. The starch that’s released, combined with some butter or oil, yields a creamy sort of sauce and gives potatoes a new lease on life. I don’t know much about dogs, but it’s never too late to teach an old cook new tricks.
Culinary questions? Contact Kim O’Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.
M.F.K. Fisher’s “Shook Potatoes”
Adapted from West Coast Cooking, by Greg Atkinson
2 pounds red or yellow thin-skinned potatoes (four    to six medium potatoes; estimate two per person) 6 cups water 1 teaspoon salt 4 tablespoons fat (unsalted butter cut into half-inch    dice, or olive oil, or a combination thereof) 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, chives, or both Black pepper to taste Salt to taste
Scrub the potatoes and cut them in half, if necessary. Place in a heavy saucepan with water and salt. Cover the pot and cook on high heat until water is boiling; lower heat to a simmer. Cook potatoes until very fork-tender, about 20 minutes, and remove them from heat. Drain most of the water by tilting the pan over the sink. Leave a little cooking liquid in the pan (just enough to cover the bottom). Add butter/oil, chopped herbs, and salt and pepper. Shake pan vigorously to break up potatoes and combine them with the other ingredients. Serve hot. Makes two or three side-dish servings.
Log in to use your Facebook account with

Login With Facebook Account

Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes


  • Tue
  • Wed
  • Thu
  • Fri
  • Sat
  • Sun
  • Mon
Get "IT" in your inbox
 Illinois Times was gratified by the number of entires that we received for the Visitors Guide Cover Art Contest. We would like to thank all of the 56 participants who submitted entries. Your eff...