How to Chop a Mushroom – into chunks or slices

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

We have a bit of a love/hate relationships with mushrooms in our house. By which I mean, two of us love them, one is indifferent, and one of us hates them.

Hand drawing of a pair of chestnut mushrooms, with the stalk and cap labelled

 

 

Mushrooms are a type of fungus, and there are actually a lot of different varieties. However, the ones you’ll see most often in supermarkets are closed-cup, chestnut, or button mushrooms.

These mushrooms have already had some of the prep done for you. All that’s left are the stalk and cap, so you can eat the whole thing!

 

 

 

You don’t even need to wash mushrooms; in fact it’s best to avoid getting them wet. Not only will it make them feel kind of slimy, it makes it very easy for mould to grow on mushrooms. (Mould growing on mushrooms has always amused me, a little fungus growing on a big fungus, but I digress.)

Hand drawing of the cap of a chestnut mushroom, showing the inside

 

 

 

If your mushrooms are getting a little old, however, you may want to peel them. It’s actually easiest to do this with your fingers! Start by pulling the stalk off the mushroom. You can then reach into the middle of the mushroom and get hold of the edge of the skin, close to where the stalk was. Then, gently pull it off.

 

 

 

To chop your mushrooms, it’s easiest to start with them lying on their caps. For chunks, you can just quarter them.

Hand drawing of a chestnut mushroom showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

If you’d rather have sliced mushrooms, start by chopping them in half. Then place the mushroom on its cut side as you slice it. I like slices about half a centimetre (1/4 inch) thick.

Hand drawing of a halved chestnut mushroom showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Mushrooms can be eaten raw or cooked, but an overcooked mushroom is rubbery and chewy. To fry mushrooms, simply heat them in a frying pan for anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes! It really depends on how well-done you like your mushroom.

How to Pan-Fry Chicken

Chicken is a popular (and tasty!) source of protein, but it’s one you have to be a little bit careful cooking because of the risk of salmonella. Luckily, chicken undergoes a very helpful change in colour and texture from raw to cooked.

Like fish (which I wrote about baking here), raw chicken is translucent, or kind of see-through, and has a kind of jelly-like texture. Once cooked, the colour fades from pink to a kind of off-white (though this does depend on the part of the chicken). The texture also changes, becoming firmer and more stringy.

If you’re going to be handling raw chicken, make sure to wash your hands (and utensils) with soap and water afterwards. Don’t wash the chicken though – this can actually spread harmful bacteria. You can find out more on food safety in my post here.

Pan-frying chicken is a great way to cook it quickly, and you can even cook it from frozen!

To start, add a little oil to your pan, and put it on a medium heat. You don’t need a lot of oil to fry chicken, just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. We like to use a silicone brush to get a nice, thin layer.

Once you’ve added your chicken, putting a lid on your pan will help it to heat up quicker. It can also help to keep moisture in. (You can even add a little water if you want – this can help distribute the heat more evenly, as well as stopping the pan from overheating and burning your chicken! A little water is especially helpful if you’re cooking from frozen.)

Now chicken usually comes in quite large chunks – breasts or thighs for example. This means the heat reaches the outside of the chicken much quicker than it does the middle. This can lead to the outside being overcooked while the inside is undercooked. To avoid this, I like to chop my chicken into cubes a couple of centimetres (a little under an inch) on each side. You can even do this while the chicken cooks, as long as you don’t have a non-stick pan! Doing it in the pan also helps you to check whether the chicken is cooked right through to the middle.

It takes about 20 minutes to pan-fry chicken, but it does of course depend on how high you turn up the heat!

Pan-fried chicken is great for salads or sandwiches as well as hot dishes, but if you’re looking for a hot chicken recipe, why not try adding it to my curry (link) or stir-fry (link)?

How to Make a White Sauce

A white sauce is a sauce made using milk. It has a mild, creamy flavour that complements a range of ingredients, including mushrooms, chicken and fish.

The first thing to decide when making a white sauce is what kind of milk you want to use. If you’re using dairy, using skimmed milk will give you a very thin sauce, so I would recommend at least semi-skimmed. If you’re using a non-dairy milk, you need one with more fat and protein than sugar. This means that soy and nut milks will work, but things like coconut milk won’t. And, if possible, use an unsweetened milk.

The next thing to decide is how to flavour your sauce. I like to start a white sauce by gently frying some diced onion (cutting tutorial here) or crushed garlic in a little oil before I add the milk. You can also add a stock cube directly to the milk as you heat it – try and match the flavour of the stock to the ingredients you plan to put in the sauce. You could also add a little grated or cream cheese for richness, nutmeg for a little spice,  or some dried parsley.

Finally, you’ll need to thicken your sauce. There are two main techniques you can use here.

The classic technique to thicken a sauce is called a roux. A roux starts by frying a spoonful of wheat flour in a little butter or oil. You have to be careful at this stage that the flour is cooked, or the resulting sauce will taste floury. You also have to be careful to avoid lumps – one way to do this is to add the flour to onions, rather than directly into the pan. After a few minutes of frying, you can add your milk. To avoid lumps (again), you need to add it very slowly at first, and keep stirring!

It can be quite easy to get a roux wrong, so the thickening method I prefer is cornflour. Simply mix together one spoonful of cornflour with one spoonful of cold water or milk. Then, add the cornflour mix to your sauce. The great thing about this method is that it can be done last-minute, there’s no floury aftertaste, it’s a lot easier to avoid lumps, and it’s even gluten-free!

Whichever method you use, a white sauce is really versatile. You can use it with all kinds of fish, in pasta dishes like lasagna, or in a chicken and mushroom pie…

One final thing though – if you have leftover white sauce you may find that it sets when chilled, especially if you used cornflour as a thickening agent. This is perfectly normal and doesn’t mean the sauce has gone off; it will go right back to liquid when you heat it up again.

How to Grate Anything (except your fingers)

A grater is a very useful piece of kitchen equipment; so much so that it made it into my top 20 (link)! It’s a great (or should that be ‘grate’) tool for quickly chopping ingredients very finely.

A grater is essentially a metal plate with sharpened holes in it. You can get a variety of shapes and sizes, but my favourite is a box grater because it has multiple sizes of holes in the one tool. Also, your grated ingredients (mostly) collect neatly underneath.

To use a grater, hold it steady in one hand. (Usually your non-dominant hand.) Hold your ingredients in your other hand, and apply gentle pressure as you rub your ingredients up and down the grater. Just keep your fingers out of the way – while graters aren’t as sharp as knives, they can still break your skin.

I think perhaps the most common ingredient to grate is cheese. Grated cheese is perfect for on top of pasta dishes, mashed potato, or in sandwiches. You can buy grated cheese, but it’s often much cheaper to grate your own, and it’s a good ingredient to practice grating. If you have, for example, a large block of cheese, you can grate quite quickly, especially if you’re not using all of it. However, the closer your fingers are to the grater, the more slowly you need to grate.

I also like to add grated vegetables (and even fruits like apple) to enrich sauces for dishes like pasta and curry. (All the flavours meld together in a blend of deliciousness!) The easiest vegetables to grate are those that are quite sturdy, particularly root vegetables like our old friend the carrot.

When grating a carrot you’ll want to chop the bottom (or ‘tail’) end off, and cut out any blemishes as usual. However, if you leave the top end on for now, you can use it as a ‘handle’ as you grate, to help keep your fingers safely out of the way. Other vegetables that come with their own ‘handles’ include parsnips and courgettes. With rounder root vegetables like sweet potatoes, you may find they need chopping into smaller chunks before they’ll fit on the grater.

There are many more ingredients you can grate, including chocolate and even some spices! But the best thing about a grater is that once you know how to grate one thing, you can grate most of the rest of them too! It’s a really useful kitchen skill.

How to Chop a Bell Pepper – diced bell pepper

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

We used strips of bell pepper (cutting tutorial here) in February for stir-fry (recipe here), but bell peppers are also perfect for adding a little extra sweetness and richness to tomato-based sauces.

Just like before, start chopping your bell pepper by cutting it in half. Steady your knife in one of the pepper’s grooves, and cut straight down.

Hand drawing of a red bell pepper with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

Cut each half in half again, and remove the pith and seeds.

Hand drawings of red bell pepper half and quarter with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cut each quarter into strips like before, but try to hold them together for now. Then, as you cut in the other direction, you’ll have diced bell pepper in no time!

Hand drawing of two chunks of red pepper showing cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Diced bell pepper can be fried in 15 minutes, or less if you like it crunchy. It’s great added to omelettes, but I like it best mixed with a load of other diced vegetables, whether cooked in a sauce or mixed into a salad.

Remember to use up peppers once you’ve cut them so they don’t go off!

How to Cook Rice

As well as being a staple food around the world, rice is one of my personal favourites! It’s also easy to cook, once you know how.

 

There are several different types of rice, but they all fall into short or long-grain, white or brown rice.

Short-grain rice is a short, fat, grain and tends to be stickier than long-grain rice. This is the kind of rice used for risotto, sushi, and rice pudding. It goes perfectly with all sorts of East Asian dishes.

Long-grain rice is longer and thinner, and (at least where I live) is more common than short-grain rice. It’s the perfect accompaniment to curries and chillis, and a ton of dishes from the Middle East and India.

White rice is rice that has been refined to make it easier to cook and digest. When most people think of rice, they think of white rice.

Brown rice is less refined than white rice, so it contains more fibre. Fibre is really good for you, and can help you to feel full for a long time after eating, but it does make the rice take a little longer to cook.

No matter what kind of rice you’re cooking, I find that a small cupful (200-250ml) of dry rice makes roughly three portions. Remember, it plumps up a lot during cooking!

 

Start by washing your rice. I always used to skip this step, and it’s not essential, but I find it makes the rice a little lighter and fluffier. There are a couple of different ways to wash rice. One way is to add equal parts rice and water to your saucepan, mix, and drain off the water. The method I prefer is to put my rice in a metal sieve, and rinse it under running water.

Put the rice in a saucepan and add cold water. For white rice, you need twice as much cold water as rice. You can use the same cup for rice and water, or use a measuring jug. (200ml of rice needs about 400ml of water, for example). Brown rice needs a little more water – about 20% or a quarter extra is fine. So for 200ml of brown rice, aim for a little less than 450ml of water.

Put the lid on your saucepan and bring to the boil. Once it’s reached boiling point, you can turn the pan down so that it’s just gently boiling. Rice has a tendency to want to boil over, so try and keep an eye (or an ear) on it.

Once white rice has been boiling for just 5 minutes, you can turn the saucepan off! The rice will continue to cook in the steam, and absorb all the water. (This takes about 20 minutes.) This stops you overcooking the rice, and it also saves energy!

Brown rice will need to go on gently boiling for about 20-30 minutes, or until all the water is gone. Don’t leave the pan on once it’s boiled dry though, that’s how you end up with burned rice!

 

I love rice with all sorts of dishes, especially stir-fry (link) and curry (link). It’s a really versatile grain that goes with a huge range of flavours, so it’s well worth learning to cook.

Finally, although rice is a great food, it can cause food poisoning. As I mentioned in my food safety post (link), it’s important to cool rice quickly once cooked, and only reheat it once. This is because there’s a rather special kind of microbe that can live in rice. Rather than being destroyed by cooking, it can actually be woken up from a dormant state called a spore. It can then grow if the rice is left in a warm environment. (You can find out more from the NHS here.)

How to Chop Cauliflower – into (mini) florets

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

Cauliflower is very similar in structure to (if a little denser than) broccoli, so the cutting method is almost the same. (You can find my broccoli chopping tutorial here.) And just like broccoli, cauliflower can trap a lot of water so try to avoid washing it if you can.

Hand drawing of a head of cauliflower with outer leaves attached

Cauliflower usually comes with some green outer leaves attached. You can eat these just like you can cabbage, but to get to the cauliflower itself you’ll need to remove them. You might be able to pull them off by hand, but the bigger ones tend to have rather strong stalks. To remove these, turn the cauliflower upside down and slice through the thick white stem at the base.

Hand drawing of a cauliflower leaf with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

 

You might also sometimes find small brown spots on your cauliflower. They’re usually only in very small patches on the surface, so you can just chop off that little bit of cauliflower.

Just like with broccoli, we start by chopping cauliflower into florets. Remember, work from the outside in, hold the cauliflower by the stalk, and chop downwards.

Hand drawing of a head of cauliflower with cutting guideline (grey dotted line)

To turn each floret into mini florets, it’s simply a matter of repeating this process on a smaller scale. Aim for mini florets about 1-2cm (½-1 inch) in size. It’s even easier to do this with the top of the cauliflower – it basically comes off in mini florets anyway!

Hand drawing of a cauliflower floret with cutting guidelines (grey dotted line)

You can also use the stalk of the cauliflower – just chop it into cubes about 1cm (¾ inch) square.

Hand drawing of a cauliflower floret with cutting guidelines (grey dotted lines)

Cauliflower has a mild, almost creamy, flavour, but it can also absorb a lot of flavour from herbs and spices. This makes it perfect for one-pot dishes with a rich sauce. It takes about 15 minutes to boil.

Cauliflower is also great roasted! If you chop it into full-size florets, you can add it to oven-cooked dishes like pot roast (link) or casserole (link). Just add it halfway through with the other soft vegetables like parsnip (link) and sweet potato (link).