The Basics

Let’s get started today with one of the most basic elements you will need when preparing meals at home:  vegetable preparation.  We will start with proper knife technique.  First, always start with a sharp knife.  A dull knife is harder to get through a product, meaning it is more likely to slip and cut your hand.

Knowing how to hold your knife is very important as well.  First, wrap your middle, ring, and pinky fingers around the handle of the knife right up against the backside of the blade.  Then use your index finger and thumb to pinch the blade of the knife to gain control.  As for your other hand, curl it into a claw, so your knuckles stick out farther than your fingertips.  This prevents you from cutting yourself and getting the nickname Nubby.

The most common technique used for cutting is called low technique.  This technique is done by keeping the tip of the knife on the board, pressing down into the food your working with, pushing the knife forward, and lifting while pulling back to repeat.  This rocking motion keeps your knife moving and with the tip staying on the board, keeps you from cutting yourself.  I have included a website here that shows both proper knife grip and low technique with great visuals.

http://allacucina.com/how-to-properly-use-a-chef-knife/

Now, we will start with the four basic cuts and then move to meal preparation.  Before cutting, always remember to rinse vegetables and fruit with edible skin under warm, running water to remove any dirt that is on the outside of the produce. Once that is done, be sure to remove any seeds, cores, or other parts of the vegetable you don’t consume.  The four cuts used most commonly in cooking are the slice, julienne, dice, and mince.

Slice:  Slicing can be done one of two ways.  If you slice longitudinally from end to end, you will end up with planks.  If you slice latitudinally through the center, you will end up with round slices, also called coins or rings if the product is hollow (like a pepper).

Julienne:  A julienne, also called a matchstick if thin enough, is a cut used for presentation purposes (Aka, it looks pretty).  This cut is made by cutting planks into thin strips or sticks.  This cut can also be used to make a dice.

Dice: Dicing by far is one of the most common cuts used in the kitchen.  A dice is used in most recipes when you don’t want very large chunks in your dish.  This cut is made by cutting a large or small julienne into small or larger squares.

Mince:  Mincing is commonly used for items that have very pungent flavors or need to be small enough to thoroughly spread out throughout a dish.  Typically, garlic or ginger is minced, but it can also be used to make a sauce seem less chunky.  A mince is made by dicing a product.  Then holding one end of your knife on the board with your hand stretched out flat on top of it, rock the knife on the board while moving it forward and backward, like those snazzy chefs on TV.  Another alternative to dicing that I prefer to use is a tool called hand held grater.  It is similar to a zester, but has a little bit bigger holes.  I like this because the grated garlic can mix well in a dish and then no one bites down on a big piece of garlic.

Example
This visual depicts each of the types of vegetable cuts that are used in everyday preparations. (Original Photo)

The recipe for today is one that I whipped up the other night for my fiance and me.  It incorporates almost all the slicing and dicing discussed above, plus basic pasta preparation.  This dish is quick, easy, and meatless but hearty enough to please even the manliest man.  Throughout my recipes I will try to give you all the hints that I found would make this recipe work even better and some tips to help make them a little healthier.  Also, I will give exact measurements to the best of my ability, but I am one of those people who likes to throw in a couple pinches or a handful and taste.  Like I said before, cooking is creative, so make it what you want!

 

Zucchini Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms with Penne and Breaded Zucchini

Zucchini Parmesean Stuffed Mushrooms
Zucchini Parmesan Stuffed Mushrooms (Original Photo)

Serves 2

Ingredients:

1 egg

1/4 cup of breadcrumbs (Homemade whole wheat are best, but whatever you have will work.)

1/4 cup of parmesan cheese (Right now I have a blended variety that has parmesan, asiago, and romano. Yum!)

7 to 10 small mushroom caps OR 2 large Portobello mushroom caps, plus a few additional caps for the stuffing

1 medium zucchini

1 onion

2-3 cloves of garlic (If you’re like me and love garlic, I would recommend three.  If not, two is just fine.)

about 2 Tbsp. olive or canola oil

1-__ oz can of tomato sauce (No salt added is the best, but that’s up to you)

about 1 Tbsp. of basil

about 2 tsp. of oregano

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/4 to 1/2 cup of your favorite white or red wine OR chicken stock/broth

1/4 lb. whole wheat penne, rotini, or any shortcut pasta (not spaghetti, linguini, etc.)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.  Beat an egg in a bowl or pie plate with about a tablespoon of water and set aside.  In another bowl or pie plate, combine breadcrumbs, parmesan, and about a teaspoon each of basil and oregano and set aside.

Clean mushrooms by wiping with a damp paper towel.   Slice a very thin piece off the bottom of the mushroom caps so they will sit flat on the baking sheet.  Place the caps onto the prepared baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil.  Dice the onion, the extra mushrooms (the ones you aren’t stuffing) and about half of the zucchini.  Slice the other half of the zucchini into 1/4 inch thick slices.   Grate garlic with a handheld grater or mince finely.

Set aside a couple tablespoons of the breadcrumb mixture.  Then bread the zucchini slices by dipping in egg and then the breadcrumbs.  Place on the baking sheet.

Heat a non-stick skillet on medium heat and add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Saute the diced onion, mushroom, and zucchini until tender.  Then add the grated garlic and saute another minute.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the tomato sauce and cook until slightly thicker, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Once thickened, turn heat down to low and use about half of the total mixture in the pan to stuff the mushrooms.  Place the baking sheet in the oven and bake for about 20-25 minutes or until mushrooms and zucchini are tender.

Once the mushrooms and zucchini are in the oven, bring a medium sauce pot of water to a boil. Salt and add pasta. Cook until al dente, or just slightly chewy and drain.  If it needs to sit for a minute while other things finish cooking, toss with a little oil to prevent sticking.  When there is about 10 minutes left in the cooking time for the mushrooms, turn the heat back up on the tomato sauce and add the wine or broth to the pan.  Bring to a boil and then turn the heat off.  By this point, everything should be cooked, so serve and enjoy!

Hint:  If you double the amount of pasta you cook for this recipe, you can toss it with oil and freeze it in a gallon-sized bag.  Then, when you want to use it, just run under warm water and drop into boiling water for 1-2 min to heat through.

I hope you enjoyed today’s post and meal, so until next week, keep your knife sharp and your mind sharper.

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