One of the things I love best about cooking is that you can never stop improving your skills in the kitchen. There are always new dishes to try, techniques to master and menus to plan. While I’ve never had any formal training, learning most of what I know from watching my parents at home and my culinary idols on the Food Network, I like to think I know my way around a kitchen, at least for the most part. But one thing I’ve never been super confident about, and a skill that is absolutely essential to be a serious cook, is knowing how to properly use a chef’s knife.
Embarrassingly, I have to admit that only recently have I started using an actual chef’s knife. For the longest time, I followed my mom’ s lead of using a small pairing knife to chop, dice and mince absolutely everything. Last year, I finally knew it was bad when I tried to saw through a butternut squash with a dull 4 inch blade. It took about an hour and a few close calls of almost chopping a finger off when I realized I need to get my act together and learn how to use a proper knife.
Last year, I faced my fears and asked for a good quality chef’s knife for Christmas. Over a few months, and more than a few Barefoot Contessa episodes, I became more comfortable using the larger blade, but I still wasn’t as confident as I thought I should be. I was envious at the way Ina so fluidly chopped up an onion, or the way the contestants on Top Chef magically minced a garlic clove in under 5 seconds. It seems like it’s second nature to them, half of the time not even looking down at their hands to see where they’re chopping. The obvious answer here was I needed some professional help – I needed to take a class on how to correctly use a knife.
Luckily, New York has a ton of classes available for the home cook. And even luckier for me, at the very time I was researching classes to take, the Natural Gourmet Institute based in New York City, reached out and offered me a complimentary cooking class in exchange for writing about it here on Cassie’s Kitchen! It couldn’t have been more perfect timing, and I couldn’t have been more excited. NGI has a ton of classes to take, focusing mostly on cooking healthy, vegetarian cuisines. They also offer a Kitchen Basics curriculum, which covers everything from menu planning, to knife skills to basic cooking techniques. I of course opted for the Knife Skills class, and couldn’t have been happier with my choice. Chef Jay Weinstein was our instructor, and he taught us everything from how to properly hold our knife, how to sharpen and hone it (there is a difference!), and how to chop, dice, mince and julienne all of your favorite veggie ingredients. The class was small, and our instructor was very hands on, correcting our techniques and offering advice and cooking tips as we chopped and diced. Perhaps the best part about the class was getting to eat a delicious vegetarian meal after all of our hard prep work!
If you are going to take one cooking class in your life, I highly encourage you to take a basic knife skills class. Knowing how to properly use a knife is imperative to success in the kitchen. Learning just a few basic techniques I already feel like a more confident cook. I learned that I had my holding my knife wrong all along, that the thumb and index finger should actually be lightly gripping the steel when you chop. I learned how to properly curl back the tips of my fingers of my left hand (I’m a righty), and touch the steel of my knife to my knuckles as I chop. It takes a little getting used to, but practice makes perfect, and the more confident you get with a knife, I’m absolutely certain the more comfortable you will be cooking. If you live in or near New York City and are interested in taking a cooking class, I encourage you to check out Natural Gourmet Institute. They have a wide variety of classes, and the small class sizes and knowledgeable instructors will make you feel more confident in the kitchen and inspire you to take your cooking to the next level.
This carrot soup was part of the menu that we devoured after our class. It was creamy, despite it being vegan, and absolutely delicious – perhaps one of the best carrot soups I have ever had. I’ve never made soup from scratch before, another step forward in the kitchen, and I was surprised to see how easy this recipe was. Just chop up a few carrots, onion and potato, and boil away. Allow to cool for a few minutes and blend in the blender until smooth, and voila, delicious, and healthy carrot soup! What hurdles have you overcome in the kitchen lately?
Creamy Carrot Soup with Potato
Adapted from Chef Jay Weinstein, Instructor at Natural Gourmet Institute
For the soup:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, cut into medium dice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch rounds
- 5 cups water
- 1/2 medium potato, peeled and cut into medium chunks
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 1/2 teaspoon ginger juice (see note)
For the potato garnish
- 1 cup potato small-diced potatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
For the soup:
1. In a medium pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook until onions are softened and translucent, (about 5-8 minutes).
2. Add the carrots, cover pot and cook over low heat for 5-6 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent browning.
3. Add water and potatoes to pot, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 25 minutes, covered, until carrots are very tender.
4. Allow the soup to cool slightly, and add to a blender. Blend until soup is smooth and creamy, adding additional water if necessary to desired consistency. (This can also be done with an immersion blender or in a food processor if you don’t have a blender).
5. Add lemon and ginger juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with potato garnish (see recipe below).
For the potato garnish:
1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
2. Combine potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper in a bowl. Transfer mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
3. Roast potatoes in the oven for approximately 30 minutes or until brown and crispy, stirring occasionally for even cookie.
Disclosure: The Natural Gourmet Institute offered me a complimentary class in exchange for writing about it on Cassie’s Kitchen – however the review and opinions are entirely my own.