Overall TIPS before you start…


Okay, just to summarize what months of watching cooking shows has taught me, here are some TIPS and below them, a good basic TOOL LIST and GROCERY LIST to get you on your way, my lovely chefs!

Ah likes me a big knife, people! But seriously, the better and sharper your knife, the less likely you are to hurt yourself because the less you will actually have to WORK to cut things. Why slave over an onion, changing hands, changing angles, slipping the blade on tough skins and slitting your wrists, when you can just use the sharpness of the knife to do the work for you? Knives are not cheap, but do yourself a favor and make this your one big investment in your new chef career! You can skimp on the mixing bowls (dollar store), silverware (Target), cutting boards (charity thrift shop), and pans (re-used take-out containers), but DO NOT skimp on your big knife!

When you watch the cooking shows and you see Ina (my love) and Rachel and Lidia turning on the burners and throwing in the garlic, while simultaneously chopping the vegetables and chicken, it’s like fine art – a ballet for the eyes!  Ahh, how they multi-task!!  BUT, do not be fooled.  Until you can chop and prep QUICKLY, I suggest always doing all the chopping and peeling and prepping BEFORE you turn on the heat and start to cook.  Then you can breathe easily while you’re cooking, because everything’s ready when you need it!


  • CARROTS: Peel with your vegetable peeler.  (See BASIC TOOLS, below.)  Cut the carrot lengthwise, then cut each half in half to make 4 long pieces. Bunch them up and chop all together, keeping the knife in place with the tip firmly planted on your cutting board, and slowly “pushing” the stalks through its dance space.
  • ONIONS: Chop off the ends first, cut in half crosswise, then peel off the tough outer skin. Cut each half in half, and chop the quarters. This makes it all less intimidating to me. Remember – onion skins are those things so tough they BREAK garbage disposals. They are not to be taken lightly, people.
  • GARLIC: The best way to begin chopping a clove of garlic is to do what I like to call “Smash-n-Strip.”  Put your big knife down sideways on the clove and give it a good *SMACK*. This serves the dual purpose of getting out your aggressions on a helpless vegetable, and loosening the garlic “casing” so you can easily and cleanly pull the clove out. Then just chop off the flat end and toss it, and you’re ready to chop the rest!
  • ROMAINE: I eats me a lot of romaine.  I just love the color, the crunch, and the texture.  (Crunch and texture – is that redundant?  Anyway.)  Point is, I do a lot of salads with romaine lettuce and I thought I’d give you a quick tip on prepping and keeping it.  First, with your Big Knife, cut the hard bottom off the romaine – about 3 inches from the bottom.  Then hold all the lettuce together and chop thin “strips” all the way up to the dark green leafy ends.  Make two cuts lengthwise – doesn’t have to be exact, but just to break up the long horizontal strips a bit – and throw everything into your salad spinner basket.  Rinse and spin.  STORAGE: Lately I’ve been using a Gladware container (and yes, you can use them over and over again, and no, they’re not disposable the way Glad would have you believe.  I mean, sure, you might get ’em out of your sight, but they’ll still sit in some landfill until your great-grandchildren’s great-grandchildren are dead.  Oooh, it makes me shudder.)  Sorry – as I was saying, take a double piece of paper towel and get it wet, squeezing out carefully so you can unravel it, and then use it to line a Gladware or other plastic food tub.  Choose one slightly SMALLER than you would think you need, because we want as little air getting in there as possible, so we’ll be doing some smushing to get the romaine inside.  Place the chopped and rinsed romaine into the tub, and cover all up with the paper towel.  Close the lid tightly.  This should keep your romaine fresh and crunchy for about three to four days.  After that, you’re on your own, people.

This is a great tip from my current all-time cooking IDOL,
Ina Garten: when adding eggs to anything, always crack them into a separate bowl first – then if any bits of shell fall in by mistake, you don’t ruin the whole dish, or have to go fishing around in flour and goo with your finger to chase the bits out! Ahh, thank you Ina. I love you, Ina.

This is a Rachel Ray trick and all it involves is putting out a bowl for the food waste while you’re cooking. This avoids countless trips/turns/swivels/sashays to the garbage can, thus also avoiding dropping bits of onion skin, raw eggs, chicken fat, and broccoli stems on the floor. Just put all the waste in your garbage bowl on the counter right by you, and then when you’re all done, throw it out in one fell SWOOP!

A big part of eating is smelling and seeing also – make your meals a multi-sensory experience!  (Multi-sensory – is that even a word?  Hmm…)  Point is, I like to pay attention to what plates I use and how I place the food on them.  Even if it’s just me and husband George eating dinner together, it’s still fun and fancy to produce beautiful-looking plates.  Think about your colors – you made
grilled asparagus?  Place the green stalks on a bright blue plate like this:

Dishy dishy!

Dishy dishy!

Or, you did a simple stir-fry?  How about plopping the rice in the middle, and running the stir-fry around it in a ring, like this:

Rice scooped with teacup and plopped down like a sandcastle! (And note same blue plate in background. Well at least I'm consistent, eh?)

Rice scooped with teacup and plopped down like a sandcastle! (And note same blue plate in background. Well at least I'm consistent, eh?)

I got a little yellow on my white there, too.  So messy.  Well I guess that’s what being a Punky Chef is all about.  And of course there’s the rainbow star Grammy-winning Tricolore Salad with Walnut Crusted Goat Cheese:

Twinkle twinkle, baby.

Twinkle twinkle, baby.

Say no more on that one!  Point is, think of your eyes and even your teeth, as well as your tastebuds and your nose.  Give it crunch or some cream or nuttiness.  Keep things popping.  If you have soft beans, maybe add some celery to liven-up the texture – whatever works for you.

It sucks to sit down to eat a wonderful, relaxing meal, and then have a bomb blast of a kitchen to clean-up after you’re done. That’s like getting a massage and then having to go right back to work afterwards. SO, if possible, I like to clean up after myself as I go. If something needs to simmer on the stove or bake in the oven for awhile, I start cleaning up while I’m waiting. If I use a knife or measuring spoon only a *little* bit, I rinse it out and put it in the dish drain right away. This way, after your meal you can keep relaxing and not have the burden of dishes hanging over you! (But be careful: I’m a Virgo, so I tend to get so carried away with the dish-doing, that I overcook the meal sometimes! I’m like, “Just one more dish, ugh, please just time for one more bowl!” and then BOOM, my stir fry is smokin’… Learn from my weaknesses, people.)


Here are some basic things you should have to get started:
1. Big Knife. ’nuff said.
2. Salad Spinner – I know these things are cumbersome and annoying, but more annoying is running your hands under freezing cold water and having to stand over the sink shaking out vegetables, but not dropping them back into the sink, for hours on end. Trust me, it’s worth the hassle to get, use, and clean a salad spinner. Especially with all the chopped romaine I’ll be telling you to use! Here’s a link to the one I got from
OXO – you can clip down the pushy lever thingy to make storage easier.
3. Carrot/vegetable peeler – unless you’re a caveman who likes to whittle with a knife, just get one of these things already.
4. Cutting Board
5. Large frying pan – for soups, stir-fry, chili… I pretty much make everything but omelets in this sucker!
6. Rectangular baking pan – got mine at the grocery store for like $7 and I use it for everything from citrus dessert bars to grilled asparagus. Great for nachos, too!
7. Collander – got a blue plastic one at the dollar store. You can also use the basket from your salad spinner but then you have to get a chair to reach the shelf where you store the damn thing and take it all apart, and how annoying is THAT?
8. Measuring cup – I got a plastic one at the dollar store and then just recently upgraded to the nifty set of stainless steel measuring cups that Ina Garten uses – because I’m in love with
Ina Garten. Did I mention that? I love you, Ina. No, I do. Thank you, Ina.

And that’s basically it. Everything else you can fake until you’re cooking enough to really earn the upgrade. It’s like I found with guitars – I started cheap and as I got better at it and knew what I wanted, I upgraded!


Here’s a list of stuff that’s always good to have around, broken into two groups: Grocery Store and Farmer’s Market. Of course many places don’t have farmer’s markets year ’round, and you can always get stuff in the grocery store for those months. (And be sure to visit localharvest.org to find the farmer’s markets in your area.)

1. Canned black beans
2. Canned diced fire roasted tomatoes
3. Canned regular diced tomatoes
4. Canned pinto/kidney beans
5. Vegetable bouillon cubes
6. Canned tuna (I like the small cans with the pull tops because my can opener sucks and also because it’s the perfect amt for me for one lunch. But they cost more, so I wait until they go on sale and then I buy up the lot!)
7. Fajita seasoning
8. Dried thyme
9. Spicy mustard
10. Olive Oil
11. Soy Sauce
12. salt/pepper (if you really want to get all
Ina Garten on yourself, spring for the box of kosher salt and then keep it in a little container on your counter or magnetized to your fridge. You will feel SO “chefy” pinchin’ that stuff out into your creations!)
13. Butter
14. Walnuts/pepito seeds/sunflower seeds/peanuts – these are all great ways to perk-up salads and stir-frys and look more impressive to your friends. And I can’t believe I just said “perk-up.”

FARMER’S MARKET: Each week at the farmer’s market, I get at least these things:
1. Bag o’ carrots
2. 6 free-range, grass-fed eggs
3. Cheese – some great smoky, spicy, or goaty variety
4. Onion
5. Dried fruit – my new obsession and so great for snacking!
6. Oranges – good quick breakfast
7. Strawberries

Sometimes, I also get these things if they’re looking good and I’m planning to make something specific:
1. Asparagus
2. Bread – corn rye, calamata olive, ciabatta – whatever tempts me from the bread man
3. Apples
4. Bell peppers – although I get there so late, the good ones are usually gone
5. Avocado – if I’m feeling special and worthy
6. Pita – the Greek guy has amazing pita, though he oversells, so you have to just hand him your 4 dollars and walk away quickly before he says anything!
7. Jalapenos – if they look good. They usually look better than the bell peppers, I can tell you that much.
8. Flat leaf parsley
9. Fresh basil

The great thing about the farmers market is that it’s mostly CHEAP. Admittedly I’ve found some things I can get cheaper and more easily in my grocery store (which is across the street from my apartment which, like, NEVER happens in Los Angeles… sigh.) But I can stock up on so much at the Farmer’s Market for less than $40 and it feeds us all week!


3 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Violet said,

    I’m a virgo too and I do the same thing sometimes with washing dishes and cooking something hehe. :]

  2. 2

    Sonya said,


    I’m so impressed with your website – the Rachel Ray trick is genius; I will definitely use this trick in future!

    I am going to try your beer can chillie (sp?) – where is the recipe?!

    Loads of love,
    Sonya xo

  3. 3

    punkychef said,

    Yay! Just type “chili” or “beer” into the little Search box on the homepage – you can do the turkey or the bean version! (I like the bean version better actually.) So happy you like the site!

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