Al denté: this is an Italian term used to describe the doneness of pasta, and literally means “to the tooth.” Pasta that is cooked al denté is cooked enough that it is not crunchy, but not so much that it is mushy; it is cooked just enough to be firm to the bite.
Beat: the opposite of fold, beating is to blend ingredients until they are smooth at a very vigorous speed, either by hand or with the help of an electric mixer.
Blend: a technique for combining ingredients that can be done by hand, with a mixer, or with a blender. Recipes often describe to what degree something should be blended, such as “until smooth,” until “just combined,” etc.
Boil: when liquids boil, large bubble break the surface and the entire volume seems to move and churn. Boiling is often described as gentle or hard, and this refers to how vigorously the bubbles are moving.
Box Grater: usually a metal box with a handle at the top, a hollow bottom, and the plane of each side equipped with a different type of roughly-edged hole for grating. Large rough-edged holes are perfect for grating softer cheeses, like cheddar or mozzarella. The very small roughly-edged holes are perfect for grating hard cheeses, such as Parmesan, or for zesting citrus fruits. Long, beveled holes are used to create slices, like planks of zucchini.
Braise: a cooking technique that applies both a dry and a wet heat. Food is often seared at a high heat until browned, and then added to a liquid, such as broth or wine, and cooked at a lower temperature inside the oven.
Chiffonade: vegetable leaves, such as basil or kale, are layered, rolled up, and then sliced through, leaving behind long, thin ribbons of vegetables.
Chop: use a knife to cut food into bite-sized pieces; a bit smaller than bite sized is described as finely chopped, and pieces that are a bit larger are described as roughly chopped. Pieces should be cut to roughly the same size for even cooking, but generally chopping is less precise or uniform than other cutting types, like mince or julienne.
Colander: a bowl-shaped tool with holes punched in it; used to drain things, such as pasta.
Dutch Oven: a heavy pot with a tight fitting lid that can be used in the oven, on the stove top, or even with a campfire; usually cast iron or ceramic-coated cast iron.
Fold: a gentle form of mixing where ingredients are blended with minimal, large sweeps of a whisk or spatula. Folding is often seen in recipes that require “airy” mixtures, like a soufflés or mousse.
Julienne: cutting food into uniform thin strips that resemble match sticks.
Mince: even finer than finely chopped, mincing means to use a sharp knife to cut food into tiny and uniformly cut pieces.
Microplane: this cooking tool takes the small roughly-edged side of most box graters, stretches it out long, and it on a handle. This design makes it simple to zest or grate directly onto a dish or while cooking. Perfect for zesting citrus, grating Parmesan, or even grating spices, like whole nutmeg.
Purée: Often describes taking blending to the next level; blended ingredients are often pushed through sieves or food mills to produce the creamiest of results.
Sauté: cooking foods in a light coating of fat (butter, olive oil, etc.) at a relatively high heat. Skillets and frying pans are often good vessels to sauté in, and the food is often stirred around a great deal to prevent sticking or burning. This is a quick style of cooking.
Sear: Food is cooked at a high temperature until the outside becomes browned, caramelized, or crusted.
Sieve: like a colander, but with much finer holes. Foods, like cooked potatoes or apples, are often pushed through the fine holes to create a silkier and fine texture. Can also be used to sift dry ingredients.
Sift: breaking up clumps in dry ingredients by shaking them through a sieve, or sifter.
Simmer: liquids are set to simmer when they are held just below the boiling point; the liquid will produce steam and some slight bubble, but will not “roll” and bubble as boiling liquids do.
Steep: infusing a liquid with flavor by soaking dry ingredients in it. Using a tea bag, for example.
Sweat: a gentle cooking process where vegetables are cooked on low heat in little fat (butter, olive oil, etc.) to slowly evaporate out the liquids they contain, usually producing a translucent, not browned, end result. Vegetables should be stirred and turned often to ensure even cooking. Think of sweating as the gentle cousin of sauté.
Whisk: a cooking utensil that often has a long handle with several loops of wire on the end. It is used to blend ingredients until they are smooth and airy, or whipped.
Zest: zest adds flavor to foods and is obtained by scraping or grating the colorful peel of citrus fruits, such as lemons, limes, and oranges. Avoid zesting fruits that have been treated with wax coatings or zesting into the white pith below the colorful peel; the pith is bitter and could impart unpleasant flavors to your dish.