Cooking for beginners
When Bunny Crumpacker’s son got his first apartment, she wrote down some easy cooking tips, including the simplest way to dice an onion.
This fall she released a book “How to Slice an Onion: Cooking Basics and Beyond” to serve as a guide for those like Crumpacker’s son, who are new to cooking.
We asked Crumpacker, a veteran food writer, for some cooking basics to aid those that feel hopeless in the kitchen.
Basic (and necessary) tools
1. A good knife — It doesn’t have to be a chef’s knife, Crumpacker said. A good paring knife can do most anything really well. When choosing one, “hold it in your hand and see what feels good.”
2. Three cutting boards — Wood or plastic are best, Crumpacker said. You’ll usually want one for chicken and meat, one for garlic and onion and one for everything else.
3. Whisk — They’re great for mixing things together quickly and smoothly. “You can use them for soup, white sauce, custard, salad dressing and a lot more,” she said.
4. Tongs — These are helpful for flipping meat and for getting food out of big pots.
5. Mixing bowl — You’ll always need something to mix in.
6. Saucepan, frying pan and soup pot — You can do anything with those three.
7. Food processor — Crumpacker said if you need to choose between a blender and a food processor, a food processor is best. “I haven’t done anything that I didn’t need a food processor for,” she said. “I make cakes with them.”
Use heat: Starting with a pot that’s already hot intensifies flavor.
Clean up as you go: “It’s so depressing to have a sink full of dishes when you’re done cooking, cleaning up as you go makes everything easier,” Crumpacker said.
Cutting an onion: The first thing to do is cut the onion in half, through the root end. Then, peel it and place the half cut-side down on the cutting board. Next make a series of slices down into the cutting board (but don’t cut through the root). After that, make one or two horizontal lines parallel to the board (also making sure not to cut through the root). Finally, slice the onion in the other direction as the one you started (vertically). You’ll have made a perfect grid and pieces will just fall off.
Peeling garlic: The easiest way to peel garlic is to cut off the root, place the knife flat on the clove and punch it with your first. When you cut garlic, you can use the same technique as the onion for a checkerboard/dicing effect.
Keep white, dry vermouth on hand: Crumpacker credited this tip to Julia Child. You can use vermouth as a substitute for white wine in most recipes; this way you don’t always have to have wine on hand.
Bean soup: Add oil, onion and minced garlic to a hot pot (add each item one at a time). Then add a can or two of beans, a can or two of chicken broth (look for a low sodium variety that has carrots and celery in the ingredient list. Cans of stock are better than bouillon cubes because they’re usually less salty), fresh thyme and a tablespoon of tomato paste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Bring it all to a boil and then let it simmer. If you want to add texture just mash the beans.
“You can make any soup that way,” Crumpacker said. “You can substitute beans for broccoli or carrots.”
Chicken: Use either chicken breasts or thighs (those take longer).
Whisk together some orange juice from a fresh orange, a little bit of olive oil, white wine or vermouth, a teaspoon or tablespoon of mustard, a little rosemary and one mashed or minced clove of garlic. Let the chicken marinate in that mixture (if you have time).
Put the good side of the chicken (usually skin side) down in a 350 degree oven. Flip the chicken half way through cooking, and drizzle some honey on the good side, that’s up now.
Breasts will be done in 15 minutes, and thighs will be done in about 30. If you have a thermometer it should read 165 degrees, or simply cut into it and see if it’s still pink
Dessert: Here are three simple (no-bake) ideas:
1. Peel and slice blood oranges and serve with sour cream or crème fraiche and a light sprinkling of sugar.
2. During the summer, serve blueberries with a pitcher of maple syrup and heavy cream. You can do that with any berries.
3. Top yogurt with honey and crushed nuts.