Knife skills

Salud Cooking School, Whole Foods Market

Photo by Suzanne Pacey
Chef Samantha Enzmann
Photo by Suzanne Pacey
Photo by Suzanne Pacey
Photo by Suzanne Pacey
Photo by Suzanne Pacey
Photo by Suzanne Pacey
From left to right: Shannon Marsh, Salud Specialist, Erika Zelman, Volunteer, Debbi Diaz, Volunteer, Marcia Allvine, Volunteer


Ideal for slicing through soft textures, like breads and cakes


Small knife that works well for small tasks, like removing stems from strawberries and peeling ginger


A knife with a thin, flexible blade used for filleting or skinning fish


This all-purpose kitchen knife is used for most types of chopping, slicing and dicing


A knife with a long, narrow blade to ease separating raw meat from the bone

When our Northside Woman Publisher, Suzanne Pacey, asked me to select a cooking class we could take together at Whole Foods, I doubt if she thought I would choose to learn about knife skills and kitchen basics.

The only class I’ve taken that remotely involved cooking instruction was a gingerbread house class I attended with two children I was fostering. Although I enjoyed it, the class was more about controlling how much icing we kept off ourselves and less about perfecting architectural details cast in confectionary delights.

So I was ready to hone my kitchen skills. As I scrolled through the list of cooking class options, I found myself looking forward to being in a well-equipped kitchen with a professional telling me exactly what to do. While cooking is something I find relaxing, I never seem to have the right skills and seldom the right equipment, particularly a good knife. Shopping for a chef’s knife – one that feels comfortable while slicing, dicing and julienning with ease – has always seemed overwhelming, so I basically kept hacking away at ingredients with blades I’d had forever. To illustrate just how challenged I was in the knife department, a friend felt sorry for me and mailed me a knife she purchased on Amazon, then she made a video that she texted me with directions on how to cut an onion.

In other words, when I saw the class on knife skills and kitchen basics, I knew that’s where I needed to begin. 

The class would be taught by chef Samantha Enzmann, who has a culinary arts degree from Western Culinary Institute Le Cordon Bleu in Portland, Oregon. She has worked in TV food productions, as a guest chef for CNN and continued her education at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California. Enzmann is co-owner and chef of The Mercantile, a take-away and prepared food store in the Emory/Candler Park area. I’d say she is well trained to work a knife!

Suzanne and I signed up and, at our first class, listened as Enzmann discussed knives in general and explained some of the pros and cons of personal kitchen knives several students had brought with them.

For our class, Enzmann focused on the chef’s knife, which she noted should always be kept sharp. After showing us three techniques, she gave us assignments. Mine was to cut peppers. I was reminded to “Slice, don’t chop!”

I learned that most knives work best by using a forward cutting motion rather than a straight up-and-down motion. The former lets the knife do the work; the latter makes your arm apply more force. This was a hard habit for me to break, because I am accustomed to chopping, not slicing. 

After we covered some safety tips, we got started. Suzanne and I particularly enjoyed the Latin edition of the knife skills class. The menu included:

■ Chips and salsa

■ Chicken tortilla soup

■ Vegetable fajitas and shrimp fajitas with rice

■ Sangria

While I still need lots of practice with my slicing – not chopping! –I’ve come a long way. 


Serves 6

6 ripe tomotatoes, cored and diced small juice reserved


Red onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 jalapeno, cored seeded and diced

¼ cup cilantro leaves, rough chopped

Juice of ½ lime

1t red wine vinegar

1t olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 bag of your favorite tortilla chips

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasonings — salsa is best when its has the opportunity to sit for at least 1 hour and let the flavors marry.


Chicken Tortilla Soup

Serves 6

Tortilla strips

8 corn tortillas (6”) cut into 1/2” strips

1T vegetable oil

Table salt


2 split bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 1.5lbs) or 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1.25lbs, skin removed and well-trimmed of excess fat.

8c low sodium chicken broth

1 large white onion, trimmed, quartered and peeled

4 med cloves of garlic peeled

Table salt

8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro

1 sprig fresh oregano

2 med tomatoes, cored and quartered

½ med jalapeno chile

1 chipotle chile en adobo, plus 1T adobo sauce

1T veg oil


1lime, cut into wedges

1 Has avocado, diced fine

fresh cilantro

To prepare Tortilla strips:

Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat to 425. Spread tortilla strips on rimmed baking sheet; drizzle with oil and toss until evenly coated. Bake until strips are deep golden brown and crisp, about 14 minutes rotating pan and shaking strips to redistribute halfway thru. Season strips lightly with salt; transfer to plate lined with paper towel.

To prepare soup:

Bring chicken, broth 2 onion quarters, 2 garlic cloves, cilantro and oregano, and 1/2t salt to boil over med-high heat in a large saucepan; reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 20min. Using tongs, transfer chicken to large plate. Pour broth through fine-mesh strainer; discard solids in strainer. When cool enough to handle, shred chicken into bite-sized pieces; discard bones.

Puree tomatoes, 2 remaining onion quarters, 2 remaining garlic cloves, jalapeno, chipotle chile, and 1t adobo sauce in food processor until smooth. Heat oil in Dutch oven over high until shimmering; add tomato/onion puree and 1/8t salt and cook; stirring frequently, until mixture has darkened in color, about 10min. Stir strained broth into tomato mixture, bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer to blend flavors, about 15 min. Taste soup, if desired, add more adobo sauce. Add shredded chicken and simmer until heated through, about 5 minutes. To serve, place portions of tortilla strips in bottom of individual bowls and ladle soup into bowls; pass garnishes separately.



Serves 6-8

1 bottle of red wine (Cab, Merlot, Rioja, Zin, Shiraz)


1 lemon cut into wedges

1 orange cut into wedges

1 line cut into wedges

2T sugar

Splash of orange juice

2oz triple sec (optional)

1 pineapple, diced & reserve juice

1qt ginger ale

1c strawberries quartered

1pt raspberries, rinsed

In a large pitcher pour wine then juice the lemon, orange, and lime wedges into the wine and put the wedges into the wine as well. Stir in the sugar, orange juice, triple sec, pineapple and juice. Allow to sit overnight (or at least 2 hours)


When ready to serve pour in the ginger ale and fresh berries. Fill glasses with plenty of ice and pour.

Shrimp Fajitas

1/3c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro


2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/2t chili powder

1/2t ground coriander

1/2t ground cumin

Juice of 1 med lime

2T olive oil or veg oil

1lb 20-25 count shrimp, PDV tail off

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1T neutral oil

1 green bell pepper, cored seeded and julienned

1 red bell pepper, cored seeded and julienned

Yellow onion, julienned

2 Roma tomatoes, cored and seeded, chopped into 8 pieces

8, 6” corn/flour tortillas

Serve with salsa, guacamole and or sour cream

Place the cilantro, garlic, chili powder, coriander, cumin, lime juice, and 2T oil in a shallow baking dish and whisk to combine. Add the shrimp and turn to coat with the marinade, set aside for at least 10min and not more than 20min.


Heat a grill pan or skillet to med. Once hot, add shrimp, season with salt and pepper, and cook undisturbed until beginning to curl and slightly brown on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Flip, season the 2nd side with salt and pepper, and cook undisturbed until curled and cooked through, about 2-3 minutes more. Remove the shrimp and let it rest while you prepare the remaining ingredients.


Place the bell pepper and onion in a medium bowl, drizzle with remaining 1T oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Place vegetables on the grill or skillet. Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender and slightly charred, about 10 minutes. Transfer vegetables to serving dish and serve with shrimp and warm tortillas.


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