While some cooks may say they have a favorite ingredient or dish to prepare, one could say that Amanda Nells has a favorite kitchen tool, her knives.
It's no surprise considering that she and husband, Dave, help others keep their knives sharp so they can do the job right, operating a mobile knife sharpening business. She adds some customers come to her a little embarrassed that their knives are so dull.
"I just tell them, 'oh no it's not dull. It's just well-loved,'" Nells said.
Learning to cook taking classes as part of the vocational program at the College of Lake County, Amanda said the biggest thing she learned was knife skills. Her family also recognized how having the right tools was important. Starting at age 14, her family gave her a knife as a gift for every holiday. Calling it now her "guilty pleasure," she now has close to 40 knives in her kitchen.
The Lindenhurst resident is known to put those tools to good use, too.
"I love chopping veggies up. I wish my family would eat more because I could sit there all day," she said.
Amanda keeps busy on the cutting board, combining carrots, onions, celery, celery root and parsnips to make 10 to 12 gallons of vegetable stock during farmers market season, which she will freeze to use all year.
"This stock is very versatile, I just used it for making egg drop soup, and I always use it to make chicken soup, always a hit on a cold day or nourishing on a hot summer day," she said.
Amanda grew up with a "champagne palette," enjoying scallops, escargot and loving anchovies atop a Caesar salad. While they may not yet be that adventurous yet, she uses her knife skills and creativity to serve an eclectic menu for her family, including daughter Malia, 10, and son Wynnsten, 5.
"I grill a lot of the time because it satisfies everyone's palette. But other favorites include gyros from scratch, meatloaf, roasted chicken, beef tips and gravy, pulled pork, skirt steak tacos, jambalaya and oven fried chicken to name a few …" she said. "I prefer cooking savory compared to cooking sweet. It's not so much a science as it is following a flavor palette."
Some meals, Amanda acknowledges as a mom can be a challenge.
"My daughter cried the other night when I served tilapia because she said I was killing Nemo," she said.
She also keeps the knives busy, chopping up tomatoes to make pasta sauce, cabbage for her homemade sauerkraut, apples for stewed apples and apple butter, and, strawberries to make Dave fresh jam for his peanut butter and jam sandwiches.
"I know what I make is so much less sugar and less preservatives than anything you can get in a grocery store and I'm helping my husband's health in that way," she said.
Amanda says it's important to sit and eat together, something she valued growing up in a blended family. Whether she was enjoying Jewish specialties such as beet borscht and lox and bagels or such Polish delicacies as pierogies, everyone sat together to eat.
"It didn't matter what side of the family I was enjoying a meal with. We sat at a dinner table. We didn't eat on a couch or eat on the run," she said. "Even if I were just scarfing down a sandwich, they would choose to wait until I got home and sat down with me."
As farmers market season approaches, Amanda and Dave will be keeping busy, helping home cooks to keep their knives working their best. Amanda says they work at 23 different markets from May to October, adding customers know her as "Mrs. Dave."
For our readers, she offers tips on what cooks should not do to help keep knives sharp, adding "a dull knife is a dangerous knife." First is don't put them in the dishwasher, explaining the hot water and detergent eat away at the metal and can dull it quicker. Using knives on a hard surface such as granite and glass also can dull the blade. Most customers who cook frequently will bring their workhorses every six months to a year for sharpening.
"If you're desperate and you can't find me, use the bottom of your coffee mug, and it can't be glass. It has to be ceramic," Amanda says.
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