Love Notes From the Cutting Board

I don’t know what came first for me–a love of food, or a love for cooking. I remember being in elementary school, making scrambled eggs and grilled cheese sandwiches under the supervision of my father, and watching him and my mom make fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, pork chops, and hamburgers. When I got older, a few years before my dad passed away, he was thrilled to see me attempt to make collard greens with fresh ingredients. He gave me pointers on which parts of the leaves to cut and discard, and which ones were keepers.

Along with what I observed from my parents, I picked up cooking skills from watching cooking shows on public television and, in recent times, from the Internet. I spent many Saturday afternoons parked in front of the TV, watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Martin Yan, Marianne Esposito, Lidia Bastianich and many others prepping and cooking delicious meals.

I began to cook my own meals at home after college, and this is when I really got to take advantage of those lessons I’d apparently filed away in my head. My mom was one to cut onions with a paring knife, but I opted for a cutting board and a chef knife instead; today, I’ve graduated to a santoku knife.

I’m nowhere near as fast or precise as the TV chefs, but I feel pretty efficient with my approach, and I am truly one of those people who finds it enjoyable to cut up a bunch of vegetables. Seriously. And, I believe preparing your own food makes a difference in losing weight or maintaining a weight loss. You know what’s going into your meals, you control the quantity of ingredients, you can make substitutions for dietary needs as appropriate. And you get the satisfaction of feeding your body and your creative spirit.

What are some things I’ve picked up over the years with knives or other cutting gadgets? I’d like to share a few today, along with when I use these techniques.

How to Chiffonade: this is when you stack, roll and slice leaves. I’ve done this for things as small as mint leaves (in dessert made of strawberries, mint, Splenda and balsamic vinegar), or for leaves as large as collard greens (though you have to be a little more aggressive with the leaves, pushing against the stems to get them to flex over and over again into circles as you roll them up.) I’ve also used this technique for grain salads with baby spinach leaves. It’s a quick, simple way to make uniform, small slices of leaves.

How to Cut a Mango: I have my husband to thank for teaching me this one, and it has come in handy this year, as I went back again and again to capitalize on dollar mango sales at many different markets I frequent. (Here’s a video from Mango.org on cutting techniques.) There are gadgets you can buy to cut mangoes, but IMO, you don’t really need them. Basically you’re cutting down the sides, avoiding the seed in the center. (You’ll feel it with your knife and can adjust your knife’s position accordingly.)

How to Cut a Pineapple:This is one fruit for which I do use a tool.

(Lifted this one from my Instagram page. Profile: dcangah.)

I chop the ends off, making sure that the area of the fruit exposed on both ends is wide enough to accommodate the circular cutting tool. Then I push the tool through the pineapple, and push the fruit back out of the tool. That’s my corer pictured above, but in researching this post, I see there are tools out there that may be easier to use. (I think I’ll eventually buy one of those.) One other piece of advice: place your pineapple in a dish or a pan before slicing, to catch the juice that you’ll lose when using the tool.

How to Cut an Onion: There are a lot of onion-cutting techniques that people use, but what I like to do is cut both ends off, take off the top layer, slice into rings, and then dice. (This Gordon Ramsay video, however, says to slice lengthwise through the onion, keeping the root attached, to avoid leakage from the onion and teary eyes. I may try that to see if it’s true. I do agree 100% with Ramsay to let your knife do the work for you–a nice, heavy knife that gives you power behind the blade.)

How to Cut a Pepper: I saw this technique on a cooking show, and I like it because it makes pieces of pepper that are the most convenient to cut, with the least amount of waste.

Cut off the ends, slice vertically through the ring, cut out the ribs and seeds inside, slice into strips, and then dice.

Then, dice the top and bottom of the pepper, too, popping out the stem from the top portion.

How to Cut a Jicama: I like the fresh, crispy taste of jicama paired with lime as a snack. Other people also eat jicama in salads, thinly shredded. However you want to use your jicama, it’s pretty much like preparing a potato.

Jicama and papaya, with lime.

Peel it, cut it into large chunks, then cut those chunks into whatever shape/size you want.

How to Spatchcock a Cornish Game Hen: I love to grill Cornish game hens and serve them with barbecue sauce, because if you serve a half of a hen, it’s a nice, portion-controlled way to get a little taste of all of a full-sized chicken’s parts. (And because the hens usually cost less than $2.75 each where I live, the price is also right.) The easiest way I’ve found to grill them is to spatchcock them first. This is a technique I saw in Steven Raichlen’s How to Grill. Here’s a video of Raichlen showing you how to do it. Rather than using poultry shears, though, I use a butcher knife.

What are some knife techniques that you use, or guidance you’ve found to prep your favorite healthy foods? Drop a line!

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