Chef Jon Ashton Offers Kitchen Tips

Cooking How-To, How-To
on January 1, 2010

Chef Jon Ashton’s Kitchen Tips

Mis en Place: Gather all the ingredients for a dish and do all the prep work, like peeling and chopping, before you start to cook the recipe.

Peeling Potatoes:  Use a vegetable peeler for potatoes rather than a knife—it takes less time and wastes less of the potato. Garlic:

Fresh or Bottled? For the best flavor, use fresh garlic. It’s world’s better than the peeled variety available in a jar.

Slicing Potatoes: Use an inexpensive mandolin for slicing potatoes. We like the one from Oxo that’s available at Target stores.

Salt: Use kosher salt instead of table salt—it’s easier to handle and control.

Salad Dressings: Make your own salad dressings. It’s a cinch and economical too.

Serving Salads: Dress your salad at the last minute, using just enough dressing to lightly coat the leaves, and toss it with your hands. There should be no dressing at the bottom of the bowl. Also season the salad with salt and pepper.

Kitchen Dilemmas

Here are some of the questions Kentucky New Era readers submitted in the “Help Me, Jon” contest.

Reader Emily Parrino wants to know how to create healthful, ethnic meals her whole family can enjoy without spending a ton of time preparing a special version for 11-month-old son Stephen.

Jon says: You’re right on track Emily. We don’t believe it’s necessary to cook “down” to your kids. Sometimes you may need to hold back on spicy seasonings for kids, but, in general, the more ingredients, flavors and foods they’re exposed to, the more adventurous their palates will be and in turn their diet. While Stephen may be a bit too young to join you in the kitchen, if children spend time in the kitchen, they have ownership in the product-so get him in there as soon as you can. Here are a couple kid-friendly ethnic recipes the whole family will love. Try these recipes from Relish:

  • Spanish Rice
  • Thai Peanut Sauce
  • Mango Lassi Reader


Reader Kay Noel wants to fix healthy meals for her husband, who is just coming out of chemotherapy for lung cancer. And they love Southern seasonings.

Jon says: The first thing we suggest is using smoked turkey bacon. Also liquid smoke can give you the smoky taste of bacon without the fat. Fresh herbs will add fat-free flavor, and, of course, garlic is our best friend-we add it to everything. Here are a few of our favorite healthier Southern recipes:

  • Lady Pea Salad
  • Garlicky Grilled Pattypan Squash
  • Curried Fish and Watermelon Kabobs


Reader Karen Lamb cannot cook without specific amounts and would like some guidelines for trying new meals.

Jon says: Keep it simple-basic “formula” recipes that are versatile and don’t need recipes. The most important thing is learning techniques-shallow frying, roasting, braising sautéing, etc. Once you learn the methods, recipes will just become a list of ingredients and you’ll soon you will be writing your own recipes. The Joy of Cooking is a great beginner’s book. Here, too, are a couple of easy chicken recipes from Relish:

  • Roasted Chicken Salad with Basil
  • Lemony Asparagus and Chicken Pasta Toss


Reader Amanda Conrad needs dairy-free recipe as her husband is allergic to dairy. Also he likes spicy food and she does not.

Jon says: Great alternatives for dairy are almond milk, rice milk or blended tofu. When you see a recipe with dairy, substitute one of these. It will be a little trail and error, but you will get the hang of it. Here are a few of our favorite dairy-free recipes:

  • Tofu Orange-Glazed Tofu
  • Sesame Noodles with Tofu
  • Hearty Miso Cabbage Stew
  • Chilequiles Verde


Reader Edward Higgins needs some variety in his menu-foods that are quick, easy and flavorful at the same time.

Jon says: Add fresh herbs to your favorite recipes. Also try new ingredients that are quick, such as bulgur (the primary ingredient in tabouleh), barley, and different canned beans. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes that will nudge you to some new ingredients.

  • Shrimp, Sausage and Quinoa Jambalaya
  • Quinoa, Spinach and Walnut Stir-Fry
  • Cilantro Lime Rice
  • Linguine with Cilantro Pesto
  • Thai Turkey Burgers
  • Tabbouleh with Edamame and Feta