Since the holidays usually involve lots of onions, garlic and cooking in general (at our house anyway), I thought these three skills would come in handy.  Be sure to show this off to your house guests while sipping wine and chatting, with Ella and Frank's holiday albums playing in the background.

#1: Quickly chop an onion, all Iron Chef-like

There is something so satisfying about properly chopping an onion.  Before I learned this, I would painstakingly do it totally wrong, with tears streaming down my face.  

I can’t remember where I learned it - maybe it was Martha, maybe it was one of those 11-page articles in Cook’s Illustrated (now that you have kids, the idea of putting that much effort into cooking is laughable, right?).  

Anyway, here is how you do it:

  1. Make sure your knife is sharp - a dull knife increases the risk taking your finger to the ER on ice, and will also guarantee that your mascara will be ruined.  I’ve been using one of these diamond-coated sharpening steels for years, and I LOVE IT.

  2. Cut the top off the onion (leave root end intact).

  3. Cut onion in half vertically.

  4. Peel off skin/outer layer (still keeping the root intact).

  5. Lay one half of the onion on your cutting board, make vertical cuts from root end to top.  How closely you slice will determine how fine your chop is.

  6. Cut the onion horizontally, across the vertical cuts you just made.  Neat little cubes should appear.

  7. Discard root end.

  8. Repeat with other half.

  9. Look at you, Giada!

#2: Crush/peel garlic

If your recipe calls for anything other than whole, unpeeled garlic cloves, here is a quick, easy way to prep your garlic.

  1. Break clove(s) off from the head

  2. Lay clove on your cutting board

  3. Take a chef’s knife and lay the blade over the garlic

  4. Bang the blade with your fist (very satisfying and bad ass).  The garlic will crush and you should be able to easily pull off the peel.  F**k you, garlic peel.

  5. Chop the garlic or leave crushed according to whatever recipe you’re using.


Cookies, check.  Stockings, check.

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#3: Mise en place - a gift from the gods of order and the way things ought to be

Does a Real Simple organization issue elicit squeals of glee when you open your mailbox?  My friend, I have just the thing for you.  Mise en place (or literally, “put in place”) is, in my opinion, the only way to cook.  This means that before you actually start cooking or assembling your dish, you prepare everything in advance (chopping onions, slicing tomatoes, measuring out spices, etc.), and place the ingredients in small glass dishes within close reach of your cooking station.

I know people that have it tattooed on them. It really is a way of life ... it’s a way of concentrating your mind to only focus on the aspects that you need to be working on at that moment, to kind of rid yourself of distractions.
— Melissa Gray, Culinary Institute of America, as told to NPR

You’ve probably seen this several times on cooking shows and demonstrations. It’s especially helpful for recipes where the actual cooking goes really quickly.  Stopping to chop something or find that bottle of truffle oil that got shoved to the back of the cabinet could mean the difference between success and going down in flames (literally).  

The other part of mise en place is cleaning as you go.  By the time your ingredients are all en place, your station should be clean and clear of clutter.  All you should have in your workspace is your prepped ingredients and your cooking utensils.  This ensures that your kitchen doesn’t look like a bomb went off when you’re done cooking, and gives you more space to work.  

Before we finally renovated the kitchen in our 106-year-old house, I had to make do with nothing more than a small freestanding island and about 24 inches of counter space.  Enter mis en place and not waiting for the perfect kitchen before cracking open Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

As for a tattoo...I’m seriously considering it.

Happy cooking mama!

PS: Do you have any mad tips to share with us?  Hook us up in the comments.

PPS: If you like cooking and planning, you’d probably like this month’s bundle of free goodies, which includes a holiday planner for nerds like us.  More info right here.