Novice cooks, listen up. The Chopping Block in Chicago offers hands-on cooking classes where you can learn tips and tricks from their talented chefs and whip up a meal you never thought you could. The small, intimate classes make for a great date or special occasion celebration, and you can even book private cooking parties to chop, cook, eat and enjoy with friends. The shop is quaint and inviting and the staff makes you feel right at home. Spoon spoke with executive chef Janet Kirker, who was nice enough to share her knowledge and answer a few of our burning kitchen questions.

How can I cut onions without crying?

There are so many suggestions about how to cut an onion without crying.  Some people say to hang a piece of bread out of your mouth while cutting.  Others say to rinse the peeled onion in very cold water before cutting.  Then others say use a very sharp knife.  Using a sharp knife is very logical, as is wearing a pair of onion goggles!  While not entirely fashionable, they block the fumes from entering the eyes.  (You can buy these at The Chopping Block!)

How do I know if my eggs are bad?

If you crack the egg open and it smells the least bit off, then don’t take any chances.  The egg is bad.  If you want to test the egg before cracking, Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking suggests: “…a way to know a good egg, is to put the egg into a pan of cold water; the fresher the egg, the sooner is will fall to the bottom; if rotten, it will swim at the top.”

How long do fruits and vegetables typically last after you buy them?

The shelf life of fruits and vegetables varies depending on what the item is.  Fruits like apples, pears, peaches, nectarines, and apricots will ripen more as you let them sit on your counter, so it could be helpful to buy them in varying degrees of firmness depending on how soon you will use them.  Bananas also continue to ripen, but if you want to slow down the process, you can put them in the refrigerator.  The peel will turn blacker, but the inside will be fine.

What should I have stocked in my pantry all the time?

You should have a neutral oil, like canola or grapeseed oil to use for high-heat cooking, like sautéing vegetables.  These oils have high smoke points, which means they can be heated to very high temperatures before they begin to smoke. A good quality olive oil is great to have on hand. This can be used to dress salads and vegetables, and you can actually enjoy the flavor of the oil. A selection of vinegars is fun to have too. Balsamic is a pretty basic choice that a lot of people enjoy. Sherry vinegar is another interesting vinegar that has been aged in oak.  Rice wine vinegar is a bit lighter in flavor and color and can be quite versatile.  Sea salt is a great item to have in the pantry. You would surely use that each and every day. A selection of dried pastas, legumes, and grains will add to the versatility of your meals, and you can store them in airtight containers for easy access. Dried spices of any variety would add to a well-stocked pantry.

What’s the difference between olive oil and extra virgin olive oil?

Extra virgin olive oil has been processed the least amount of all types of olive oil. It is from the first pressing of the olive and is the purest form. There are varying degrees of quality of olive oils, depending on how much they are processed in order to extract the oil.

What are the differences between olive oil, vegetable oil, and canola oil?

Olive oil is squeezed from olives, vegetable oil from soybeans, and canola oil comes from the crushed seeds of the canola plant.

What does tenderizing meat do?

Tenderizing meats breaks down the collagens of the meat structure to make them easier to eat.