And she tasted

Today we’re going to keep things simple around here. Instead of taking a deeper look at my childhood escapades, the novels I’ve authored over the years, or the love I had for my now trashed blue Eddie Bauer sweat pants (though all fascinating topics, I know), today I’m making a special appearance to share the one thing I’ve learned about cooking. Because I’ve only learned one thing. That’s right. And it is:


(Thanks Christy–I snagged this photo from facebook.)

Taste your ingredients raw if possible, taste them in combinations, taste them halfway through cooking, and taste them before serving.

By the way, that picture up yonder was taken during the notorious Pioneer Woman weekend trip of yesteryear. Yes, I am licking the Pioneer Woman’s bowl. And you can’t make me say I’m sorry.

As I was scrolling through past blog posts, I realized I have been trying to convey the importance of tasting for a while now. Just look at the pictorial proof:

A little freshly ground chili powder that I used for my seared salmon recipe . . .

Sugar encrusted batter from those delectable mini pumpkin muffins . . .

Cranberry sauce with bourbon that my sister Erica made for Thanksgiving . . .

Raw meat for the Tuscan Soup . . .

Okay, maybe not the raw meat.

But let’s proceed.

Black peppercorns from the Pasta Fresca . . .

Creamy tomato sauce from a half-finished pot of Penne Rosa . . .

Biltong seasoning freshly arrived from South Africa . . .

A torn-off hunk of bread and parmesan sneaked away during the making of a creamy and perfect garlic soup . . .

And that’s all I’ll subject you to for today. I think we’ve just seen enough pictures of my fingers to last a lifetime.

But I figured I’d bring all these pictures together just to drive the point home. Now I’m no creative culinary genius–in fact just weeks ago I actually had to throw away a horribly failed attempt at homemade ravioli (think slimy; think greasy; think vomitous)–but tasting spices, vegetables, and herbs has given me a better sense of how to combine them. It gives me insight into what their ‘true nature’ is. And the best cooking is based on an understanding of the essence of an ingredient, and how to highlight and preserve it in the final dish.

Plus, on the level of personal motivation, getting up close and personal with my food is a 100% stimulating experience. It makes me excited to hop on over to the cutting board and thrilled to turn on my gas range. If I know I can nibble at the hunk of parmesan, I will be that much more enthusiastic about starting dinner. Get to know the food you are cooking–and get to know it in all its stages. And of course, always taste your finished dish before serving it; this will allow you to adjust seasonings and add a little more of this or that, which can be the difference between a mediocre dish and a stellar dish.

And just in case you think I’m a freak of nature and this is totally ill advised, look!

Erica does it too.

And Heidi! Whaddya know. It’s like we all came from the same family. And were sired by the same . . . um, loins. Forgive me, my son, for I have sinned. I didn’t mean to say the word ‘loins’ in connection with my parents.

Deleting word from short term memory–deletingdeleting–deleting.

Phew! Deleted.

And because I’m not ready to stop talking yet, let me go ahead and share Culinary Lesson #2. Just a couple more minutes on the soap box and my need to preach it should be satiated for at least the next 2 weeks . . . or 2 days. Whatever.

It’s called the ‘blogging high horse,’ and it’s the next best thing to being here:

On an actual horse, living the dream.

Culinary lesson #2 is: use sharp knives.

I can’t emphasize the importance of this enough, folks, friends, and frenemies.

By the way, what the heck is a ‘frenemy’?

First of all, dull knives are more dangerous–you have to push on the knife harder and sometimes even saw back and forth to get it to cut through. This only creates further opportunity for a finger to get in the way. Plus, if you do cut yourself, a very sharp knife will leave a nice clean cut, but a dull knife will leave an ugly, jagged cut. Ugly and jagged = not a doctor’s dream.

Second, it just ain’t no fun to cut things with dull knives. It makes me lazy even thinking of chopping up an onion with a serrated old piece of crap–it takes too long! With a sharp knife, dicing and mincing and chopping is fun, easy, and quick. Drop the money and buy a nice knife. That was the voice of your conscience speaking.


Okay, Conscience! You can take it down a notch–I think they got the point the first time.

I distinctly remember–back in our college days–the emotional pain of watching our friend Tyler cut up bell peppers with a serrated dinner table knife. He patiently sawed off piece after piece of those peppers in an immeeeeeeensely long process as I watched, desperate and starving. See, in college I was very hungry–all the time. And very desirous for those bell peppers to be off the cutting board and on my plate. Tyler, I hope that you now have a sharp blade to aid you in making your famous fajitas. By the way, do you still have the recipe for that Spicy Macaroni? Because the world needs it. But more importantly, I need it.

So are you guys tasters? Choppers? Tasters and choppers? Anti-tasters? Proponents of the dull knife for some mysterious but enlightened reason? Tell me everything. I want to know.

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33 Responses to And she tasted

  1. I can’t agree more! I preach this all the time with the in-laws. My sister in-law and her new husband are teaching themselves to cook and these two tips I tell them all the time. I always taste everything as I am cooking, which sometimes ruins my appetite. Another tip I always use is “don’t walk away from food you are cooking” I know a few people who do this regularly. They put the grill on high, adds whatever They are cooking and walk away for 15-20 minutes. Sure enough they pretty much burn everything. Sorry I rambled here.

  2. Circe says:

    I taste everything! everything. mostly because I’m too impatient to wait for it to be finished. Also, I use dull knives, but in my defense I just realized how dull they are, and I will replace them before I lose a finger. :D

    • Wusthof has a great sharpening tool, I found it at Crate & Barrel for $20. It put all my knifes in perfect condition! It has two options for both coarse and fine.

      • Jenna says:

        Nice! I have a pretty good sharpener, but I am tempted by the Wusthof santoku knife–I’ve just heard so many good things about it. In your opinion, what’s the best knife for cutting through chicken bones?

      • foongfest says:

        To keep your knifes sharp, try using a honing steel. It really helps the knife stay sharper longer. In basic knife skills in culinary school, students are taught to hone their knifes before every usage.
        As for actual sharpening, I personally have a pro sharpening dude sharpen my knives every 3-6 months, depending on how lazy I am.

        By cutting chicken bones, you mean like cutting straight through a chicken bone or just separating the joints?

        If the latter, the Forschner boning knife is hard to beat for both function and price. It’s not a pretty looking knife but it does the job so well.

        If the former, I’d recommend getting a cleaver from an Asian market or if it’s lighter use, use the heel of your chef’s knife.

      • Jenna says:

        The honing steel is the steel rod, right? I try to hone before every use . . . but sometimes forget. =) I’ll have to get better with that.
        And yes, I mean cutting all the way through a bone, not just the joint–I’ll have to check out the cleaver option.

      • Jenna, I happen to have a professional grade knife that I got when I owned Duffy’s, its big and scary to some people, but for a professional like yourself it would be no problem. I have had it for 10 years now And it has never let me down. For chicken bones I would always use a chef knife, you really need something with good leverage. Buy the Wusthof…you will have it forever!!

      • Jenna says:

        Thanks Paul! Your insight as a professional in the culinary industry is so helpful!

      • @ foongfest I agree a honing steel works great. When I was at culinary school they had us buy both a steel and a sharpening stone. They also taught us that the only knife you need in a kitchen is a chef knife.

      • foongfest says:

        @paul jenette absolutely agreed on the chef’s knife. Great for chopping veggies, fileting a fish, crushing nuts, pitting olives, opening a can, fencing etc.

        Outside of a chef’s knife, I do find a boning knife kind of useful when trying to skin a pig’s face though. Then again, not many people skin and de-bone animals’ face.

        And I need to have a cleaver cos I’m Asian. It’s a requirement.

      • Jenna says:

        Your culinary ventures never cease to amaze me–skinning a pig’s face!? Wow. My respect for your prowess is sky-high.

      • foongfest says:

        Haa… yeah, the pig’s face (really it’s the jowl) was used to make some guanciale. But no, it’s not an everyday thing. At least not at this point. Maybe someday… :)

    • @ foongfest LOL I think you might be right about skinning a Pigs face, I have never had the pleasure. I’ve never had a cleaver, it’s a little scary even for me. A boning is a great tool, its goes where the chef/cleaver knife can’t.

  3. Wendi says:

    Jenna, I’m a believer in tasting as you go. It makes a world of difference.

  4. skippymom says:

    I have to be honest, and please don’t be offended – but you lost me by the third or fourth picture.

    You are RIGHT about tasting – but to do so with your fingers, continuously – is just gross.

    I have worked in plenty of restaurants and good chefs [great chefs] have disposable spoons handy to continually taste their work. At home you can have one spoon and just wash it off in hot water between tastes.

    I cook all the time for my family – and although I figure we share the same germs – there is no excuse for sticking my fingers in the food I am serving them. To do it in a group setting or for friends is beyond pale.

    Sorry, just my opinion.

    • Jenna says:

      Aaw, of course I’m not offended! Sorry to gross you out on this lovely morning . . . =) Obviously my finger-method wouldn’t work in a commercial kitchen, but I’ve done it in my own kitchen for so many years (since I could first lick the bowl as a young tot) that it would be a hard, hard habit to break. Hope you have a great day!

      • As a person who has worked in the restaurant business for over 25 years, I will tell you I have seen both methods many times, the good old finger and the disposable spoons. In a pinch every chef I have ever worked for used his finger. Sorry to gross everyone out.

      • foongfest says:

        A chef (Marco Pierre White) once responded to complaints that he was tasting his food with his fingers by saying that he had 10 fingers and had 10 chances to taste before he double dipped. Haa!

  5. Lyndsey says:

    You are so right! Good knives and taste everything, and season from start to finish. If you skip seasoning at the start sometimes you can’t get it back…or right! I might sound wierd…but I enjoyed your photos of the up close and personal fingers! :D

  6. foongfest says:

    I’m a big taster and a chopper here!

    I’ve been teaching two of my buddies cooking lately. They’ve always asked for specifics as to how much stuff to add in a recipe etc. I may give a rough guide but my usual response, is taste taste taste!

    And a good knife, that’s definitely important. Can’t afford a 100 dollar Henkels or Global? Get at least a Forschner for like 25 bucks. You’ll be spending more in bandages if you bought a lousy one.

  7. vesselina says:

    Hey cutie. Frenemies – I love that word. Did you know that This American Life dedicated an entire show to the concept? One of their best episodes of all time. I highly recommend.

  8. Great tips. By the time I finished my soup yesterday, I’d tasted enough of it not to be hungry any longer. Ha! Blessings to you…

  9. Erin says:

    I’m embarrassed to admit how long I’d let some of my knives go without sharpening. Seriously, the basic Henkels we got when we got married hadn’t been sharpened ever. EVER. I finally just got that Wustof sharpener last week and remedied the situation. Whew! Part of the reason I hadn’t gotten around to it though was because Josh’s sister had hooked me up with the Wustof santoku, and I had just been using that over and over. *sigh* It’s so lovely to use. I say go for it!

    • Jenna says:

      So this is totally random, but I need to make those brownies of yours soon . . . the ones with the Dove chocolates. Mmmmmm. I have such fond memories of brownies and coffee at your place for Bible study or Lost-watching. =) We love you guys!

  10. First of all, I rarely taste with my fingers.

    I class it up and taste with a spoon or spatula, and then proceed to quadruple dip with the same utensil. No washing. The way I see it, I have an iron-clad immune system and must spread my immunity to all who eat my food. Really, it’s a selfless act.

    Second, sharpening my knives is such a relaxing task. With every stroke I think about someone who has irritated me recently… not in a “I want to slice your fingers off” sort of way, but a “my knife will be sharper than your knife, and I will therefore win any cooking competition against you.”

    I use Wustof knives and I agree– plop down the dough for quality knives. They’ll outlive your next pair of shoes- promise!

  11. I taste EVERYTHING I make! Not only taste, but eat as I go along. My muffin pans are always missing a muffin because I eat so much batter!

  12. Nicole says:

    Ha, ha. loved this post! I’m definitely a taster!!

  13. Weighting For 50 says:

    Jenna, your blog is so fun. Great tips presented in a lighthearted way. Love the photos too. Have a great rest of the week.

  14. Veronica says:

    I have been enlightened, seen the light, repented of my evil ways. I think I even had an “aha moment.” I never taste while I’m cooking. I try to choose a recipe that sounds good and then I just follow it and hope the end result will be tasty. I’m not the greatest cook, and I think this may be why. I need to start tasting as I go. Ironically, I do taste my baked goods while I’m making them and I’m a great baker. Go figure.

  15. Sarah says:

    haha love it! i totally taste everything. sometimes with a finger, sometimes with a spoon. it depends on the sitch. :)

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