The basic skills needed to succeed in the kitchen

Meal Making Begins with Basic Skills

by The Dinner Diva, Leanne Ely

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A lot of people start fad diets but give up before long and go back to old habits. One healthy practice that will make a big difference is cooking your own food. To do that, you need to cook and in order to cook, you need some basic skills.

Basic skills translate into meal making, which is also a crucial component to running a home. Now before you start to panic, rest assured knowing that you don't need a degree from Cordon Bleu in order to make dinner for your family! You need skills and that is all. That and a good recipe or two. (I can help you with that!)

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 of the knife and start using the heat) can be a little tricky, but mostly it's because the cook doesn't know the stove. Getting to know your own stovetop is essential, as is 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 in which they chop. I once had someone email me saying that my recipes took too long to prepare. After corresponding with this gal a few times, I had her break down how long it took her to do everything. When I found out it took her a full five minutes to chop one onion, I knew what the problem was. She had no knife skills.

This is 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 hand should be used for holding whatever it is that you're cutting (that will be the opposite hand 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. Why a claw? Glad you asked. Because 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! 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. The idea is to "rock" the blade slightly as you chop. This will build a rhythm and, eventually, your speed. Next time you're watching the Food Network, pay attention as Emeril chops effortlessly. He's got his claw going; he's a-rockin' and a-choppin'. The whole thing is an art form. Remember though, you're not Emeril. Go easy and slow and be careful. These are sharp knives we're working with here, not rubber spatulas.

If you need a visual of what this all looks like, I have a sketch of it all in my Saving Dinner Basics book. If you want to see me do it, you can see my DVD, Saving Dinner Basics, The How-To Part.

I want to see you succeed in the kitchen. Developing skills and using them is your key to making that happen.

Leanne Ely is a New York Times best selling author of Body Clutter and the popular Saving Dinner cookbook series. According to Woman's Day Magazine, she is the expert on family cooking.

Leanne's syndicated newspaper column, The Dinner Diva can be found in 250 newspapers nationwide and in Canada. Her vast broadcast experience includes media satellite tours, QVC several times as well as guesting on several national television shows, including HGTV's Simple Solutions, ABC Family's Living the Life, Ivanhoe's Smart Woman, Small Talk for Parents and Talk of the Town. She has guest chef-ed on the cooking show, Carolina Cooks and has taught cooking classes all over the country for Bloomingdale's.

In addition, she is a seasoned radio personality. Leanne's own radio show, Heart of A Woman aired during drive time in two major California markets, Los Angeles and San Diego. Her current show, The Dinner Diva is one of the top Blog Talk Radio shows on the Internet.

On the Internet, she pens the Food for Thought column for the immensely popular,, with over half a million readers weekly. She has been featured in Woman's Day magazine, the Chicago Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Orange County Register - to name a few. Additionally, she is a sought after speaker and has spoken all over the country, with keynote addresses to corporate and non-profit entities. Visit Leanne Ely on Google+.

Take the Next Step

  • Get to know your stove. Practice makes perfect.
  • Get your "claw" and knife ready and get rockin' and choppin'!
  • Please check out Leanne's Website at

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