Cooking Basics

It happens to everyone — there’s information you’re dying to know but were afraid to ask. If you have that problem with cooking, and you won’t ask because you fear the questions are too basic, look no further! This section will help you out. I’ll continue updating this page based on readers’ inquiries.

Be sure to add your burning question in the comments section below and check back often for new info.

First, a few techniques and terms:

chiffonade To cut fresh herbs or other leafy vegetables into thin strips by stacking leaves tightly, rolling, and slicing with a sharp knife.

chop* Using quick, heavy blows of a knife or cleaver to cut food into bite-size (or smaller) pieces. A food processor may also be used to “chop” food. Chopped food is more coarsely cut than minced food.

dice* To cut food into tiny (about 1/8- to 1/4-inch) cubes.

fold * A technique used to gently combine a light, airy mixture (such as beaten egg whites) with a heavier mixture (such as whipped cream or custard). The lighter mixture is placed on top of the heavier one in a large bowl. Starting at the back of the bowl, a rubber spatula is used to cut down vertically through the two mixtures, across the bottom of the bowl and up the nearest side. The bowl is rotated a quarter turn with each series of strokes. This down-across-up-and-over motion gently turns the mixtures over on top of each other, combining them in the process.

mince* To cut food into very small pieces. Minced food is in smaller pieces than chopped food.

saucepan A small- to medium-sized cooking pot with high sides. These usually come with a fitted lid, though high-end companies often sell their pans and lids separately.

saute To cook food over medium to high heat, stirring or agitating often.

simmer* To cook food gently in liquid at a temperature (about 185°F) low enough that tiny bubbles just begin to break the surface.

skillet (frying pan) A wide, shallow pan used for sauteing, making pancakes or French toast, or frying in small amounts of oil.

*These definitions from‘s lovely food dictionary.

And now onto quantities you may have wondered about, with some of their known aliases.

Click here for my helpful little table!

Have you been mystified by other terms or quantities? Leave a comment and I’ll look into it for you!


7 thoughts on “Cooking Basics

  1. Great site, thanks for the info, basic and otherwise! Speaking of which, what is the difference between whipping and whisking something? Besides the kinky overtones….

  2. Good question. Keeping it strictly to cooking for now, here’s the difference: whipping is a method intended to incorporate air into something like heavy cream or egg whites, making it expand and become fluffy. Whisking is any action that mixes ingredients with a whisk. Sometimes it’s done just to, say, combine dry ingredients for pancake batter. Other times it’s done with the firm intention of beating air into a poor, unsuspecting ingredient.

    To put it in left-brain terms, whisking is to whipping as a parallelogram is to a square.

    Fun fact: you cannot make fat-free whipped cream by whipping skim milk (believe it or not, someone I know once tried this!)

  3. Thanks! This section is a real gift — both to those who have a small gap in their knowledge, and (sigh) to those of us who could fit what they know about cooking into that saucepan of boiled water they nearly burned. I’m printing up the “techniques and terms” and your “helpful little table”, and plan to put them up in the kitchen. Maybe they’ll embolden me to try a recipe a little more often — you know, to actually cook and (gulp) maybe even bake!

  4. How do I mince basil quickly? Must I really get a food processor? How do I choose a small one that’ll do herbs and other leafy stuff? The basil in my garden is screaming “pesto me!” but I don’t wanna mess with my roomate’s monster VITAMIX…

  5. BTW, I wanted to add that this summer is the first time I’ve ever grown anything in a garden. I used to think I had a black thumb.

  6. <p><p><p><p>Sara-</p><br /><br /><br />
    <p>First let me say hurray for you for growing things. Not everyone can. And very good choice in selecting basil as one of your crops!</p>
    <p>Now onto your question. Before I answer, I must ask any basil leaves reading this comment to leave the room. </p><br /><br /><br />
    <p>Basil gone? Ok. So the thing is, when you make pesto, you aren’t mincing the basil; you are downright pulverizing it. To do that, I highly recommend a food processor, and the more brutal the better. You are likely to make large amounts of pesto at once, so it’s worth it to use a large machine. So Cuisinart, Vitamix, Robot Coupe… whatever you have, fire it up. Cleaning the many parts is also worth it.</p><br /><br /><br />
    <p>Now if you often make small batches of pulverized or pureed stuff and don’t want to clean all of the parts of a food processor every time, you might want a Magic Bullet (, but don’t buy it at their website. It’s cheaper elsewhere). That’s on my kitchen wish list.</p><br /><br /><br />
    <p>An alternative is using a mortar and pestle, which some cooks swear by for pesto, salsa, gomasio (Japanese sesame seed seasoning), and other ground concoctions. If you’ve ever had guacomole made tableside at Rosa Mexicano, you will understand.</p><br /><br /><br />
    <p>On the other hand, if I’ve misunderstood you and simply want to mince leafy things, check out my definition of chiffonade that I just added above.</p></p></p></p>

  7. your local asian food market is your best friend 🙂 on of those magic knock offs are seen at the korean store i showed u other day for just 25 dollars!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s