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Unleash Your Inner Cook

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Leanne Ely, CNC: Basic kitchen skills translate into meal-making, a crucial component in running a home. Now, before you start to panic, please know that that doesn't mean you need a degree from the Cordon Bleu in order to make dinner for your family! You need skills, that is all. That, and a good recipe or two.

woman cooking
Cooking skills fall into two different categories: preparation and actual cooking. Preparation involves getting the food ready to be cooked, using skills such as chopping, dicing and other fun stuff with a knife. All of this translates into preparation, or "prep work," as we Dinner Divas like to call it.

The cooking part (this is where you dispense with the knife and start using the heat) can be a little tricky, but mostly that's because the cook doesn't know the stove. Getting to know your own stovetop is as essential as understanding concepts like preheating (don't put the food in until the oven is heated to the indicated temperature), broiling (food cooked under the heat source) and my favorite, grilling outdoors on a barbecue grill. I have noticed that inexperienced cooks either overcook or undercook the food when they make their cooking goofs, so following the advice above should help eliminate that problem.

Another problem for cooks is the speed with which they chop. If it takes you a full five minutes to chop one onion, it's going to take you way too long to get dinner on the table. This is a tough one to write about without showing you, but I will do my best.

Believe it or not, this is easy. When you're chopping, you need to use both hands -- one that's holding whatever it is that you're cutting (that will be the opposite hand from the one you will be cutting with) and the hand that you are going to cut with. The hand that holds the food we will be transforming temporarily into a claw. Yes, a claw. When you are holding the food in a claw-like fashion, if your knife accidentally gets too close to your fingers, the worst that will happen is your fingers will get too close a shave, but you won't be losing any fingers! An important safety precaution!

Now, as far as making the chopping go smoothly and quickly, like they do on Food TV, that just requires a rhythm, which will come as you get better at chopping. If you need a visual of what all this looks like, be sure to tune in to starting next month. I'll show you just how it's all supposed to work!

Here's a great recipe to get you using some basic skills with delicious results. Enjoy!

Asian Sesame Pork Chops
Serves 4

4 boneless pork loin chops (about 1 pound), butterflied
1 teaspoon sesame oil mixed with 1 teaspoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sesame seed
1 teaspoon dry ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 green onions and tops, sliced
1 teaspoon butter

Heat oils in a skillet over medium heat.
Add chops and brown, sprinkling with sesame seed and ginger.
When both sides are browned, add soy sauce and white wine to skillet, add mushrooms and onions; stir gently to saute, one to two minutes.
Remove chops to serving platter.
Add butter to pan, stir constantly to deglaze pan.
Pour mushroom-onion sauce over chops, then serve.

Per Serving: 232 Calories; 11g Fat; 24g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 69mg Cholesterol; 567mg Sodium. Exchanges: 0 Grain (Starch); 3 Lean Meat; 1 Vegetable; 1 Fat.

SERVING SUGGESTIONS: Sauteed spinach (use a little olive oil and garlic), steamed summer squash and a big salad.

Leanne Ely is the New York Times bestselling author of "Body Clutter" and the "Saving Dinner" series. Her "Dinner Diva" syndicated column appears in 250 newspapers nationwide. Learn how to cook great and save significant money with the Dinner Diva's menus, recipes and shopping lists at

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59 comments so far | Post a comment now
Sara Floor Miller November 1, 2010, 9:36 AM

Wow, great post on cooking basics. I find myself far more comfortable with the chopping, so I serve as my DH’s sous chef more often than not. I have improved my skills with the stove by searching “simple to prepare” recipes on

We’ve found that cooking together brings us closer as a couple, and the same holds true for families. Children as young as 3 or 4 can start helping prepare meals with mom or dad. Here are some great age-appropriate activities to try

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