Introduction

Welcome to How to Chop a Carrot!

I was lucky enough to grow up with a mum who, while not a great chef, is a very good cook. She knows how to put together a good meal quickly, and she taught me to cook too.

Cooking is really hard to learn without a teacher! If you look at even a ‘simple’ recipe, each step in the method contains three different things to do, half the ingredients are pre-prepared, and they all seem to think you know what terms like ‘finely diced’ mean. This blog is different.

Each month I want to introduce to you a handful of new cooking techniques, as simple as “How to Chop a Carrot”, and then bring them all together in a yummy dish at the end. I’m going to share with you some of my favourite dishes that I grew up with, and some of my newest inventions. Hopefully there’ll be something for everyone.

Before we get cooking though, I’ve taken the first four posts to cover some kitchen essentials – basic kitchen equipment (here) and a little health and safety (knife, heat, and food safety). Please take the time to read them – it’s not nearly as exciting as yummy food, but it is important.

I’m really looking forward to continuing this kitchen adventure with you all; I hope you love it as much as I do!

(Updated 5/1/2019)

How to Make Stock

It’s back to basics this week with a common ingredient for adding flavour to dishes – stock. You probably already know how to make stock from a stock cube, but did you know it’s surprisingly easy to make from scratch?

Stock is, quite simply, water with added flavour. Whenever you boil ingredients in water, some of the flavours (and nutrients) mix with the water. In fact, when you boil vegetables you’re pretty much making vegetable stock at the same time!

Most stocks, however, have more flavour than vegetable water. You can make stock more concentrated, in other words stronger, either by putting in more ingredients or by boiling off more water.

Let’s start with what kind of ingredients you can use for stock. As I said above, you can boil vegetables in water to make a vegetable stock. You can use any combination, but a classic is onion, carrot, and celery (known as a mirepoix).

You can make fish, chicken, or meat stocks by using the parts you might otherwise just throw away – the skin and bones. In fact, making stock is a great way to get the most out of your food.

Now for the method.

Start by chopping your vegetables. The smaller you chop them, the faster the flavour will mix with the water. However, if you’ve got plenty of time for your stock to cook, chunks of vegetables (about an inch on each side) are fine. Bones and skin usually don’t need chopping.

Cover your ingredients with water, and a lid, in a large saucepan or slow cooker. At this stage, it’s better to have too much water than too little. Too little water and your stock can burn, but you can always boil off excess water later.

Boil your ingredients for at least half an hour. As long as there’s enough water left, there isn’t really an upper time limit for making stock. It will just keep getting stronger the longer you boil it for.

Drain your ingredients. Remember to save the water – that’s now your stock! If you don’t think your stock has enough flavour yet, you can put it back in the saucepan and boil it very gently without a lid. (The fancy name for this step is reducing down.)

You can use your stock as soon as it’s cooked, but if you won’t be using it for a while, pop it in the freezer to keep it fresh.

And that’s it! Why not try it the next time you have some ingredients going spare? And come back later this month to find out how to turn stock into soup, or gravy!

How to Make Coleslaw

This is the last of my trio of summer side salads. Coleslaw is a simple mix of carrot, onion, and cabbage in a creamy sauce, but they complement each other perfectly!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • carrot
  • cabbage
  • onion/spring onion
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)

Start by slicing your onion as thinly as you can. (You can find my cutting tutorial here.) If you find white onions too sharp, red onions are milder, and spring onions are milder still.

Thinly slice your cabbage (tutorial here), and grate your carrot (grating tips here). Put your sliced onion and cabbage, and grated carrot into a large mixing bowl.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, and grated carrot in a stainless steel mixing bowl

(Save the carrot for last because, once cut, it can oxidise and turn brown. It’s still perfectly edible, but it doesn’t look as good. The sauce, which is the next step, will prevent air getting to the carrot and so prevent oxidisation. )

The sauce for coleslaw is very similar to that for potato salad (you can find my potato salad recipe here). Simply mix equal parts mayonnaise and salad cream. Alternatively, use mayonnaise and a little vinegar for a tangy sauce.

Photograph of thinly sliced cabbage and white onion, grated carrot, two large dollops of mayonnaise and a splash of vinegar in a stainless steel mixing bowl

Mix everything together really thoroughly – using a fork will help break up the onion and cabbage. And it’s ready to serve!

Photograph of coleslaw in a white ceramic dish

Coleslaw is a really refreshing dish, and even though it’s a classic it’s fun to play with too! Try using different types of cabbage, or even brussels sprouts! Or you could add beetroot to complement the carrot, or some finely chopped nuts to make the sauce even creamier. And of course, you can add herbs and spices to make it even more flavoursome!

If you make coleslaw with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Cabbage

Like a lot of green vegetables, cabbage is a terrible thing when overcooked. However, raw or lightly steamed it has a lovely flavour and crunch.

Hand drawing of two green cabbages - a savoy and a sweetheart

Just like lettuces, which I wrote about in an earlier tutorial (here), there are many different varieties of cabbage. And just like lettuces, cabbages share the same kind of leafy structure!

To chop a whole cabbage, you can just start chopping slices off the top! (For rounder cabbages like savoy, it’s easier to start by chopping them in half, then placing them on the cut side to chop.)

Hand drawing of a sweetheart cabbage with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Because the cabbage is made of layers of leaves, it falls apart into thin strips once sliced. For cooking, I’d recommend slices about 1cm thick, but for salads I’d try to chop slightly thinner slices.

 

However, although they keep better than lettuces, cut cabbages don’t last for very long. So if you only want a little cabbage, peel a few leaves off the outside of the cabbage by hand. You can then stack them to make your job easier, and cut slices just as above.

Hand drawing of a pile of cabbage leaves with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

These slices of cabbage take no longer than 5 minutes to cook, whether boiled, steamed, or stir-fried. It should become a slightly brighter green and soft (but not soggy!) when cooked.

(To make sure the whole cabbage is cooked at the same time, you may want to pull the leaves off the thickest, toughest part of the stem before cutting, but this is of course optional. )

How to Make Potato Salad

Just like the pasta salad from two weeks ago (link), potato salad has been a firm favourite of mine since I was little. I love the creamy sauce, with just a little tang to it.

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • a saucepan
  • a mixing bowl
  • a spoon or two

and the ingredients:

  • potatoes
  • mayonnaise
  • salad cream (or vinegar)
  • spring onions

Start by chopping your potatoes into chunks (full instructions here). You can use any potatoes, but my favourites for potato salad are small, firm ones like new potatoes.

Boil your potato chunks for 20-25 minutes, or until just cooked. They should be soft enough to poke a fork into, but still firm enough to hold together when you mix them with the sauce.

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked potato chunks

While your potatoes cook, slice your spring onion. (If you’re not sure how, check out the tutorial from last week here.)

Once your potatoes are cooked, drain the water off and allow them to cool. They don’t have to be completely cold, but if they’re too hot they’ll ruin your sauce. (If you’re in a hurry, try putting the potatoes in the mixing bowl on top of a freezer block or ice pack.)

Mix together your potatoes, spring onion, and equal parts salad cream and mayonnaise. (for a creamier sauce, use more mayonnaise; for a tangier sauce, more salad cream! And if you haven’t any salad cream, try mixing a little vinegar into your mayonnaise instead.)

Photograph of a mixing bowl containing cooked potato chunks, sliced spring onion, and a spoonful each of mayonnaise and salad cream

And that’s it! Potato salad is a great summer dish, for barbecues and picnics, or even to go with your favourite sandwich!

Photograph of a white dish containing potato salad

If you make potato salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Chop a Spring Onion

If you haven’t already, please make sure you’re familiar with basic knife safety before starting this tutorial. (link)

Spring onions (also called green onions) have a much milder flavour than mature onions. They’re less likely to make your eyes water, and they’re perfect for salads and sandwiches.

To prepare spring onions, start by chopping ½cm or so off the root end. Also, remove the dried out ends of the leaves.

Hand drawing of a spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you have a whole leaf that’s dried out (like the top one in the picture above),  simply peel it off the onion.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion

Now depending on what you want to use your spring onion for, you may want to cut strips or slices.

 

Strips of spring onion are my first choice for sandwiches, and they’re good for stir-fries too.

Start by chopping your spring onion into sections, the same length you want your strips to be.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Then simply halve each section twice lengthwise. Because of the layers inside the onion, you’ll get lovely thin strips.

Hand drawing of two chunks of spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

Slices of spring onion are great for mixing in with salads, and I like them in soups too. Simply cut off slices about ½ cm thick. I recommend working from both ends into the middle, to help the onion stay together while you cut it.

Hand drawing of a trimmed spring onion with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

 

There are so many cold dishes that benefit from a little spring onion, including mixed salads that I wrote about here. They’re also great in potato salad and coleslaw! For hot dishes like stir fry (recipe here), I’d recommend no more than 5 minutes on the heat.

One last thing about spring onions – they don’t tend to keep as well as mature onions, so make sure to use them up!

How to Make Pasta Salad

Pasta salad has long been a favourite summer side dish of mine. It’s full of rich tomato flavour, but it’s light enough to eat even on the hottest days!

You will need:

  • a sharp knife
  • a chopping board
  • 2 saucepans

and the ingredients (for four portions):

  • A little oil
  • 1 onion
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • mixed herbs
  • basil
  • pasta

Start by placing your larger saucepan on a gentle heat. Add a little oil (less than a teaspoon is fine), and dice your onion. (You can find more detailed instructions here: onion)

Add your onion to the pan, along with a generous sprinkle of mixed herbs and basil. (A little dried garlic also helps add to the flavour.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs

Gently fry the onion until it becomes translucent, and a slightly golden colour. (A little splash of vinegar can help speed up this stage.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing diced onion and dried herbs. The onions are now slightly golden and translucent

Add your tinned tomatoes. (Remember to wash out the tin with a little water so as not to waste any.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing a mixed of diced onion and tomatoesHeat your sauce to a gentle simmer (a constant, quiet bubble), and let it bubble away while you cook your pasta. (If you’re not sure how to tell when your pasta’s cooked, check out last week’s post here.)

Photograph of a saucepan containing cooked macaroni pasta

Taste your sauce. The great thing about this sauce is that you can cook it really quickly and keep the flavours of the individual ingredients, or cook it long and slow so it all blends together. (Just make sure to put a lid on it, and make sure it doesn’t dry out.) I usually cook it for about 20 minutes, then add a little tomato puree (or ketchup) for richness.

Once you’re satisfied with your sauce, mix together the sauce and pasta. You could also add some chopped olives or pickles, if you want.

Photograph of a saucepan containing macaroni pasta in a sauce of tomatoes and onions

And it’s ready to serve! Perfect for picnics and barbecues!

Photograph of a white bowl containing pasta salad, with a single olive on top

This is quite a simple recipe, so it’s a great one to experiment with! Why not try adding paprika or chilli along with the herbs, or adding some bell peppers in with the chopped tomatoes?

If you make pasta salad with this recipe, I’d love to see a picture of your finished dish!

How to Cook Pasta

Pasta is a popular and versatile source of carbohydrates, and once you know how it’s easy to cook too!

Pasta comes in all sorts of different shapes and colours, both fresh and dried. But all types of pasta are made from the same basic ingredients, so you can apply the same principles to cooking them.

 

Dried pasta is easier to store and transport, so it’s more common and cheaper than fresh pasta.

Start by measuring a portion of pasta. You can use your hands for this – the amount of dried pasta you can grab in a handful is one portion for you. (Remember: if you’re cooking for people who are bigger or smaller than you, their portion sizes will be different!) It often won’t look like enough when you first put it in the saucepan, but as the pasta cooks it absorbs water and expands.

Place your pasta in a saucepan and cover it with water. (Starting with hot water from a kettle will cook your pasta slightly faster, but cold water works fine too.) Your pasta does need to be fully submerged, but using as little water as you can saves time and energy.

Put a lid on your saucepan and heat it on the hob. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t boil over. Once it’s boiling (big bubbles in the water), turn the heat down to a nice simmer (small, regular bubbles in the water), and make a note of the time. The pasta packet should give you a cooking time, but generally small pasta like macaroni take as little as 5 minutes, while larger pasta shapes can take up to 20.

As dried pasta cooks, it goes from being slightly translucent to opaque, and becomes soft. To check pasta is cooked all the way through, cut (or bite) a piece in half. If it’s soft and the same colour all the way through, it’s cooked.

 

Fresh pasta is a little trickier, both to store and to cook. Because it hasn’t been dried out, fresh pasta cooks more quickly. However, the changes in colour and texture are harder to spot, so it’s easier to overcook fresh pasta.

(If you really want to push the boat out, you could try making your own pasta from scratch. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, but it’s still a bit beyond the scope of this blog!)

 

Once your pasta is cooked, you can mix it with a sauce*, herby pesto, or just a splash of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Pasta is great in a huge range of dishes, but for warm weather my favourite is a tomatoey pasta salad!

*(You can cook pasta in a sauce, but it will take a little longer than in water.)