Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Cooking Class 4: A Matter of Taste

In this class I will be tackling the issue of flavors. Understanding how flavors work together will go a long way toward feeling confident when experimenting with cooking.

There are five main flavors that the tongue can discern: Sour, sweet, bitter, savory and salty. There are a ton of tongue "maps" out there claiming that sections of the tongue only taste certain flavors, but that is not true. There are receptors all over the tongue (taste buds) and they appear to be randomly placed, mixing different abilities all over the tongue, rather than "just sweet" or "just salty".

Each of these flavors affect the others in different ways.  When I was a little girl, I would watch my Grandmother make applesauce when there were apples in season. She would simmer the peeled apples until they were soft, then squish them through a cone shaped strainer. When the bowl was filled with the light colored fruit, she would add a pinch of salt. When I said "ewww!" because my four year old brain didn't understand how salt and sweet could ever go together, she would give me a spoonful of the unseasoned applesauce, and then another with a bit of salt in it. It was amazing how that teeny bit of sodium would bring out the sweetness and flavor of the apples. They actually tasted more like apples with that little pinch of salt. I suppose that was my very first revelation about how flavors work with each other to make a better one together.
Try it yourself. If you don't have unsweetened applesauce on hand, try a little salt on your cantaloupe  or other melon. This is one of the reasons salted caramel has become so popular, because the salty and sweet play off of each other so well.
Salt is also good at combating bitter flavors. A bitter flavor is not sour. Bitter is the flavor found in many greens and also in things like citrus pith (the white part between the peel and the fruit). Bitter flavors are believed to be distasteful to us as protection against poisonous plants in the wild, as many poisonous fruits and vegetation will have a bitter taste to it. Salt will trick your taste buds by attaching to the receptors that sense bitter.

Some cooking styles require a balance of all of the flavors, and I think that is always a good place to start when you are wondering what seasoning a dish needs. Is your red sauce too acidic? Adding a little sweet (I use carrots in the mirapoix) and a bit of savory (the anchovy paste) brings all of the flavors in line to create a full flavored dish.
One of the most important pieces of advice I have ever been given is to taste your food as you go. There are some recipes that I have done so many times that I omit that step, but even then, it is always a good plan to give it a try before serving it.
Your assignment, should you chose to accept it, is to experiment combining these basic flavor components. Take out some sugar, vinegar, soy (a good savory condiment), salt and something bitter, like endive or other bitter green. Try different combos with the bitter, or try them with a slice of sweet melon to experiment further. Really try to get a feel for how the flavors play with (or against) one another.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Cooking Class: Introduction

I love Julia Child. Even in the present tense as I seek out old clips from her original PBS series. She made me love to cook.  In the late 60's and early 70's she helped women see beyond what they grew up eating and beyond the frozen tv trays and be bold! Her techniques inspired people who may have never otherwise attempted cooking.
Still, I felt something was missing. Maybe when I was a child, there was a large population who were titillated by French Cuisine. Judging from the numerous articles and recipes from the era, I feel pretty confident in that statement. 
Unfortunately French cooking often conjures images of Haute' Cuisine, with each vegetable cut in a tedious and specific way, and careful arrangement on the plate with various components carefully inter-weaved. While lovely, no one has time for that. So, while I will always love Julia Child and her cooking shows, the ones she meant to be an introduction to cooking fall short today in so far as inspiring people to feel confident in the kitchen.
This series is hoping to break down that barrier and make cooking very simple and step by step. First there will be some articles on basic equipment and a few techniques. As the skills build I will start making extremely basic recipes with ideas on how to change the recipe using the skills learned so far, and in some cases teaching a new skill. 
I welcome any and all questions about this series. The only way to learn is to understand, and by answering your questions well, I am helping you to understand. This contributes to learning, and in the end, gaining the confidence you need to to be able to whip something up out of a few on hand ingredients or fix an internet recipe that looked interesting but fell flat.
I really hope that this series inspires you, with regards,


Start Class Now!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Cook Once, Eat All Week: Red Sauce

This is the first in a series of posts that I will be making documenting ways to reduce your time in the kitchen and reduce waste and save money while you are at it. 

These are the things you can do with the sauce once it is complete:

Ziti with sauce and meat
Italian sausage subs
Meatball subs
Chicken Parmesan
Eggs in marinara

The main recipe will take a good portion of the day to cook, but the good news is that it is mostly hands off time as the sauce simmers away.

2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped or shredded
6 cloves minced garlic (or more, to taste)
1 tablespoon anchovy paste (or a couple whole anchovies)
1 small can of tomato paste
6 ounces of wine (or one single serve bottle) Use the wine you like to have with red sauce. I often use a white wine because that is what I have. I have also used Merlot with a good outcome. This is an optional ingredient, you can use the broth to deglaze the pan too if desired)
2 cups chicken broth or homemade stock. (you can substitute veggie stock here if you wish)
3 28 ounce cans of whole or crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons dry Italian seasoning

Heat the oil in a good sized dutch oven or other heavy bottomed pan. This can also be done in a slow cooker if yours gets hot enough to saute in.
Add the onions and carrots and a good pinch of salt, saute for about 5 minutes, stirring often. The onions should get less opaque and even a bit browned. Add in the garlic and stir until you get a good whiff of cooked garlic smell.

Add the anchovies or anchovy paste and cook and stir until fully incorporated with the vegetables.
Add the tomato paste, stir and cook until incorporated. The bottom of the pan should have a thick coating on it, but not burned.
Deglaze the pan with the wine by adding it to the pan and scraping the bottom to loosen all the bits. Allow to boil down until good and thick. 
Stir in the chicken broth. Mix well and add the 3 cans of tomatoes. If they are whole tomatoes, chop them up first. Don't forget to add the liquid the tomatoes were canned in. Stir in the seasonings and another big pinch of salt.
Bring it all to a simmer, put on the lid off center (I prop it with a wooden spoon) and lower the heat to a low simmer. Allow to simmer for four hours or more, stirring occasionally. It will need more attention towards the end of the simmering.
When done cooking, adjust for salt and seasoning by tasting it.
Blend the whole thing with an immersion blender. If you do not have an immersion blender (a stick blender) you can do this in a regular blender, but be careful as blending hot things in a stand blender can be messy and hot.

While that is simmering, you will want to get started on the meatballs, which are super easy.


2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (this can be omitted, but will make up for the texture that ground veal would normally add) Mix with 1/4 cup of cold water and let sit for a few minutes before adding.
1 finely chopped onion (about 1/2 to 3/4 a cup)
4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs, I prefer to use panko, but regular plain will do.
1 egg
2 big pinches of salt
1 small bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Mix together the bread crumbs and egg and let sit for 5 minutes.
Add in the rest of the ingredient and mix gently with your hands until fully incorporated. Over mixing can make the meatballs tough, so you want everything mixed, but with a gentle touch so that the meat doesn't get warmed up.
Roll 2 inch meatballs. To do so, first, dampen your hands with water and place some of the meat mixture in the palm of your hand. Roll until a ball forms. I like to use a cookie scooper that holds about 2 tablespoons to keep everything uniform.  Keep your hands slightly wet to avoid having everything stick to your hands.
Place on a baking sheet and put in the oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. You want them cooked through, but they can be slightly underdone as the rest of the cooking will happen in the sauce.
Put the meatballs in the sauce and allow to simmer for 20 minutes or so.

One more thing to do is to cut the Italian sausages in half (sweet or hot, whatever your preference, but hot ones will add heat to your sauce). Brown them nicely in a hot pan and add to the sauce to cook with the meatballs.

Meal 1

Ziti with Red Sauce and Meat
Bread, preferable a nice crusty bread. You can make the dough in advance and freeze it in quantities, or just go ahead and buy a loaf.

Side salad would be ideal, but lets get real. The sauce is full of veggies anyway.

Meal 2

Italian Sausage Subs with Peppers and Onions
Sweet Potato Fries

Meal 3

Meatball Subs with sauce and mozzarella

Meal 4

Chicken Parmesan: Fry up some breaded chicken breasts Recipe:
Butterfly and pound one pound of boneless chicken breasts
Put some dry bread crumbs in a bag and season with salt, pepper and italian seasonings.
In a dish, beat an egg with a little milk or water
Put 1/2 cup of flour in a dish and season well with salt and pepper
put a chicken piece in the flour and lightly cover it, shaking off all the excess. Then put it in the egg wash and place the cutlet in the bag of crumbs. Shake the bag to cover the cutlets well.
Heat 2 tablespoons of butter and a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. When hot and the butter is no longer foamy, add the cutlets and cook on medium high until browned and crispy. Turn and finish cooking. 2 minutes per side (approximately) Remove to towel lined plate (paper towels, torn up paper bags or just a cake rack will do) After draining, place in a baking dish. If doing this ahead of time, pop them in the freezer until ready to use. You can also use pre-made cutlets if efficiency is more important than saving money, so it depends on your needs.
Place the cutlets in a baking dish and top with some grated Parmesan and mozzarella over the top. Melt in a hot oven (425 for hot, fresh made cutlets. Follow package instructions for frozen)
Serve on a bed of pasta and top with sauce. 
Serve with a vegetable, a nice salad or some green beans that have been tossed with olive oil, garlic and some toasted bread crumbs.

Meal 5

Eggs in marinara: Put about 2 inches worth of sauce in a skillet and heat to a simmer. Break some eggs into it, 2 per person. Cover and let cook 5 minutes, or more until the eggs are done to your liking. Top with a touch of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt if desired.
Serve with crusty bread and a vegetable of your choice.

Meal 6

Pizza: Use some of that frozen dough we talked about, or pick up some ready made stuff. Pillsbury puts out one that is pretty passable. Another option is if you have some of that crusty bread left, slice it in half lengthwise and lightly oil the cut sides. Use this as the base for some french bread pizza. Heat the oven to 425 to bake. A regular type of pizza will take about 15 minutes tops in a heated oven. The bread type varies in time, so keep an eye on it. Top the pizzas anyway you wish before baking. Left over meats from the sauce? Some veggies or canned things you would like to get rid of? Put them on the pizza with a good amount of mozzarella cheese (and a touch of cheddar or Swiss if you have it) and you have a delicious meal.

If you are keeping the sauce for more than four days (which is probable as there are at least five meals in there), measure out some of the sauce for the freezer in meal sized portions, for safety sake. Don't forget to freeze any meatballs or sausages that won't get used quickly. 

Grocery List:


2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 pounds Italian sausage, hot or mild or a mix.
1 pound chicken breasts


2 lbs onions
3 heads garlic (or more)
1 lb carrots
1/2 pound green beans
flat leaf parsley
Salad fixings: lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, whatever you like)
Bell peppers (red, green, orange and/or yellow)
2 large sweet potatoes (also marketed as "yams")


3- 28 ounce cans crushed or whole tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
Anchovy paste
32 ounces chicken broth
6 ounces of wine (do NOT use cooking wine)
Panko bread crumbs
Italian seasoning
Unflavored gelatin (optional)
Salad dressing if you don't make your own
Crusty bread
8 Sub rolls
Dough for pizza if not making yourself


Parmesan cheese
16 ounces mozzarella cheese
1 dozen eggs
Additional cheddar or Swiss as desired for the pizza

Ingredients assumed in pantry: salt, pepper, cooking oil, olive oil (preferably extra virgin, good quality, but that is optional)

Cook Once, Eat All Week: Chuck Roast

As part of the series on cooking once and eating for the week, I will share my plan for using a large chuck roast (with video!). The first meal will be a pot roast dinner. Minimizing your time in the kitchen will help you to save money on those last minute "let's just order out" days when you are exhausted or simply do not have the time to start a meal from scratch.


Meal 1: Pot Roast and Vegetables
Pot Roast Dinner
Pot Roast Dinner

Meal 2: BBQ Beef on bulky rolls, Sweet Potato Fries
Meal 3: Taco Salad
Taco Salad, no cheese
Taco Salad without Cheese

Meal 4: Beef and Barley Soup
Beef and Barley Soup
Beef and Barley Soup

Meal 5: Cheesy Potatoes with chopped broccoli
(this uses no roast beef, but does use up left over potatoes)
Cheesy Potatoes with Bacon
Cheese Potatoes and Bacon (this one has no broccoli)


Pot Roast with Veggies

1 large chuck roast
1 carrot, chopped fine 
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 red potatoes
8 ounces baby carrots
(optional: Turnips, cut up into bite sized chunks)
Cooking directions below video
I apologize for the bad subtitles. Practice, practice practice

Heat up a large dutch oven (I prefer enameled cast iron for this application). Add a tablespoon of oil. Salt and pepper both sides of the beef and add to the pan once the oil is shimmering. Leave in the pan on high heat for several minutes. When very browned, turned meat over and allow to brown on the other side. If your pot roast is not flat, you will want to brown the other sides too.
Remove meat from the pan. Add a bit more oil if necessary, and add the onions and carrots to the pan. Cook for several minutes until you see the onions starting to lose their opaqueness. Lower the heat slightly and add in the garlic. Stir and cook until you really smell the garlic cooking.

Deglaze the pan by adding the broth to the pan and scraping the bits off the bottom. Raise the heat a bit if necessary.

Once the pan is deglazed and the liquid starts to boil, add the meat back in the pan. Turn off the heat, cover the pot and put into a 275 degree oven. Let cook for at least three hours. 

Add the vegetables to the pan after three or four hours, cover the pan again and let cook in the oven for another 30 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are soft enough to easily pierce with a fork.

Remove the meat and vegetables from the pan. Pass the liquid through a sieve to remove the bulky vegetables and skim the fat if necessary.

In the now empty pan, heat 2 tablespoons of fat (oil, butter, even schmaltz or bacon fat will do). Stir in 2 tablespoons of flour and mix together while cooking over medium heat. As soon as the flour starts to smell a bit nutty and maybe getting slightly browned a bit, slowly add in the now clarified liquids while whisking. You want the gravy to be slightly thinner than you plan to serve it as it will thicken as it cools. If the gravy isn't dark enough for you, add a small touch of gravy master until it is the shade you prefer. You don't need a lot of this stuff.

While you are cooking the roast, now would be a great time to boil a bunch of red potatoes. I usually get a 5 lb bag, use some for the pot roast and boil the rest for the week.

Shred any left over beef to refrigerate for the rest of the week.

Meal 2: BBQ sandwiches with Sweet Potato Fries

Shred enough left over pot roast for the number of sandwiches you are making. Top with BBQ sauce of your choice and slowly reheat over a low flame until hot.
Toast the rolls. Top with the beef mix and any other sandwich fixings you like. 
Sweet potato "fries": Scrub and peel two large sweet potatoes (sometimes marketed as "yams"). Cut in half lengthwise, then cut slices about the size of fries, as you like them. Toss the slices in a bit of oil, place in a baking sheet, sprinkle with salt and bake in an oven at 475 for 10 minutes, flip the slices and bake until they start to brown and are cooked through.

Meal 3: Taco Salad

Shred iceberg or romaine lettuce. Cut some tomatoes into chunks, or use a can of diced tomatoes. If you have the time, toss them with a little oil and roast in the oven at 475 until they shrivel and brown a bit, but this is completely optional. Slice a small can of olives. Crush some tortillas and lay at the bottom of the bowl, top with a mix of the vegetables and olives.
Cook up some of the shredded beef with some taco seasoning using the directions on the back from the point after you brown the beef. Alternatively, use the recipe below to make your own seasoning, then add 3/4 cup of water and simmer with the beef until heated through.

Top the bowls with the meat mixture and shredded cheddar if desired, when ready to serve. 

Meal 4: Beef and Barley Soup

Shredded beef (or small chop)
1 onion, chopped
2 large carrots, chopped
garlic, as much as you like. Or none. Up to you.
6 cups broth 
assorted chopped vegetables: potatoes, turnips, parsnips, broccoli, whatever you have on hand
1/2 cup of pearled barley
1/2 - 1 cup frozen peas
I can petite dice tomatoes
few dashes of Worcestershire sauce (use soy if you don't have this, or just leave it out. It will be a bit different, but still good)

heat some oil in a soup pot. Saute onions and carrots. When cooked, add in garlic if using. When you start to smell the garlic cooking, add in the broth. Bring to a boil. If using fresh vegetables, add them now, then add the barley, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and peas and heat through taste and season as desired (salt, pepper) and a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce. 

Meal 5: Cheesy Potatoes with Chopped Broccoli

2 or more cups of boiled potatoes, cut into small bite sized pieces. Finely chop cooked broccoli to make about a cup.
Heat a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Add some very finely chopped onion to taste. Cook onion until it starts to brown. Add the potatoes and a bit more fat if necessary. Heat potatoes through and let them brown. Mix in bacon bits if desired, mix in broccoli. When heated through, top with cheddar cheese and cover until cheese melts.

Advanced cooking tips:

Boil potatoes when making pot roast
An alternative to cooked, chopped broccoli would be to pick up a bag of frozen chopped broccoli and let thaw before using.
Chop up onions, garlic and carrots in advance all at once for use during the week.
Mix up a batch of taco seasoning in advance
I buy a bag of bacon bits from Costco. Easily add that delicious flavor to anything without the mess.
Freeze any portions of beef that you will not be using in the next 3 or 4 days, to avoid spoilage.

Shopping List


5 pounds chuck roast


2 lbs carrots
16 oz bag baby carrots
1 pound of broccoli OR 16 oz frozen chopped broccoli
2 lbs onions
3 heads of garlic
5 lbs red, white or yellow potatoes
Iceberg or Romaine lettuce
1 pound or more tomatoes (or, a can of petite diced)
2 large sweet potatoes (also marketed as "yams")


Black olives
Taco Seasoning
3-32 ounces containers chicken broth
Gravy master (optional)
Good quality bacon bits (optional)
Bulky rolls
Tortilla chips
pearled barley
BBQ sauce
14 ounces petite diced tomatoes if not using fresh


16 ounces peas
16 ounces chopped broccoli (if not using fresh)


8 ounces shredded cheddar
8 ounces sour cream 

Make your own taco seasoning mix! 

2 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Put all ingredients in a jar and shake to combine
Taco seasoning recipe courtesy of Alton Brown

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Cooking Class 3: Slicing and Dicing

There is a reason professional chef's and caterers have sous chefs. While some chopping and other prep work can be fun, having to do it all the time can be something that keeps us from cooking altogether. I fix this problem by chopping up all my aromatics at one time and keeping them in the fridge for use through the week.
For the purposes of this blog class, I will refer to the aromatics that are sauteed before most dishes as "mirepoix" (chopped carrots, celery and onions). Mirepoix is actually the French combination of aromotics, but I will be using it for all the different mixes of aromatics, regardless of the nation of origin, for the sake of keeping things simple. The Spanish use a "sofrito" which is a combination of onions, tomatoes and garlic. Germans use a "Suppengrün " which is a mix of celeriac, carrot and leeks. Then there is the "holy trinity" in Cajun cooking which consists of onion, celery and green bell pepper. There are many possibilities and you don't have to be tied down to one or the other. You may find yourself putting together your own blend using any number of the herbs, in roughly equal quantities. 

The typical aromatics that you will find in a United States grocery are: carrots and tomatoes (neither are particularly highly scented, but they are used with aromatics), onion, garlic, peppers (bell or hot), and celery.  There are others, but these are the ones that will be easy to find. In some mixes, like another type of Sofrito, herbs are used, such as cilantro or flat leaf (Italian) parsley.

Cooking Class 2: Knives

For me, these are the most basic knives you will need. Do not get a block set of knives. They are never that good. It is better to have one excellent knife than to have 10 crappy ones. There are many brands out there, some expensive, some pretty reasonably priced. These ones are middle of the road Henckels that I started getting over 20 years ago and they are still working excellently and hold a lovely edge which will help keep accidents from happening. Victorinox makes some pretty inexpensive blades that, while I have not used them personally, were well rated at Cook's Illustrated. In the best of all worlds, you will be able to hold the knife before purchasing. This will help you to feel the balance and the heft of the blade. I like a heavy blade, but as I get older I am seeing how a lighter blade would be handy, so choose a quality knife that you feel comfortable with and has a grip that won't be too slippery.

The very first tool you need for your knives is a sharpening steel. Despite the name, this item does not sharpen knives. This tool will help to hone the blade as it bends from use. The edge is still there, but hidden by a slight roll that will happen as you use the blade against the surface of the cutting board. A few passes over the steel will make it as good as new in between getting it sharpened properly.
Sharpening Steet
Sharpening Steel

A sharpening steel does not have to break the bank, and it doesn't have to be the same brand as the knives you use it with, but do get a good quality one.

Most cooks will likely say that the most important knife to get would be a Chef's style knife.
Chef's Knife
Chef's Knife
Chef's knives come in several different lengths. You want to use the type you are comfortable with. The shape of the blade helps particularly with having to chop or mince finely, and the width makes a good surface for squishing garlic cloves to remove the skins. More on that when we get to the actual prepping of foods. Of all the knives you want to hold in your hands before purchasing, this is the one and the one you will use the most, especially when just starting out with a good knife set.
Paring Knife
Paring Knife
Honestly, if the only thing you plan to do is peel vegetables, a good vegetable peeler would suffice. If you want to do fine cuts or peel items with a heavy skin, you will want a good paring knife that fits well in your hand. I use it all the time, but I do understand the concept of not being able to afford everything at once. This one can wait, but I would still pick it up as soon as you can manage. Victoronix has some well rated, inexpensive ones that are (as previously mentioned) well rated with Cook's Illustrated. From the reviews, their paring knife is quite light weight, but is sturdy enough to last a long time.
Bread Knife
Bread Knife
This knife is not a "necessity" exactly. The reason I consider it indispensable is because the serrated edge is perfect for getting those super thin slices of tomato or homemade sandwich bread.  Never use a sharpening steel on a bread knife or any serrated or scalloped edged knife. I hope that the video below will assist with a visual of how to use the steel.

Even when you hone the blade regularly it will eventually get dull and form small nicks in the edge that will need sharpening. I never do this myself. I simply do not feel confident in the craft, so I bring them to a professional who has never failed me.  I have a grand total of 7 knifes and it costs under 30.00, though the bread knife needs to be done in a special way that could cost significantly more. Fortunately, the bread knife very rarely needs sharpening.

A final word on caring for your knives: store them properly. Do NOT throw them in a drawer, as you will risk cutting yourself and dulling your knives prematurely. Also, never ever put them in the dishwasher. Just don't do it. Besides the jostling dulling the blade, the detergents used in dishwashers is pretty harsh and will leave your blade pitted over time.  I use a dish brush to wash my knives. It has a long handle which keeps my fingers away from the blade while handling a knife that is slippery from soap and water.

Here are some photos of where I keep my knives at the ready:

Knife Block attached to kitchen island, down position
Knife Block in "down" position
Knife Block attached to kitchen island, up position
Knife Block in "up" position
Magnetic Knife Rack with knives and utensils
And this is where I keep the knives that don't fit in my block, a magnetic knife strip which is also handy for storing other things like my rasp and lid wand.

Cooking Class 1: Let's Start at the Very Beginning

Of the course of the decades I have been cooking regularly, I have learned that the most important factor in having a recipe turn out right is understanding some basic techniques and tools use in order to make the most of every new recipe you try.

There are many techniques in cooking, but I will start with the most basic and include how to use them in a variety of dishes. If you know what a rue is, and how to incorporate liquids, you will always be able to make a sauce, even if your recipe is vague about it or omits this step entirely. Learning how to properly sear meat without steaming it and inhibiting the Maillard reaction, which is the lovely deep browning that adds so much flavor to foods and will perk up any dish that you already make regularly but just can't get "right".

The very first part of this series will focus on preparation. Proper preparation will make your meals much easier to make and proper techniques combined with good instruments will make the job so much easier, and safer.

You may think that the first thing you need are knives, but cutting boards should be at the top of your list too.  You will need three good cutting surfaces. One is for raw vegetables and fruits, the other for raw meats and one more for cooked foods. Some people also prefer to have different ones for poultry, but if you care for and disinfect your boards, it isn't really necessary in my opinion.

In this house, one of my surfaces is the kitchen island with a butcher block top that is not sealed. It must be disinfected after each use, though I only use that surface for raw vegetables and fruits. The other two are two different surfaces, bamboo and a poly board which is basically a type of plastic that isn't too hard on knives.
Bamboo Cutting Board
The top board is made of Bamboo
Poly Cutting Board
Poly Board

You never want to use a hard surface such as marble or other counter top surfaces. If the surface you are cutting on is unyielding, the blade will dull much faster, causing accidents while prepping foods. I am not a fan of those flexible boards either. They are not thick enough to use on their own to keep the impact to the blade down, but if you really love them, put them on a cutting board or other surface to keep the blade damage to a minimum. 

Cleaning the boards is imperative to prevent cross contamination, which is when one foods bacteria is transferred to another food. If there was a harmful agent on your chicken, for example, and that got on the fruits and vegetables, it could cause illness because you cannot cook these items enough to kill the bacteria without making them disgusting. When I am dealing with raw meats, the board is washed with soap and hot water, then wipe it down with a bleach solution of  3/4 cups of bleach to a gallon of water. This mix does mess up standard spray bottles though.  Vinegar solutions are far less of a problem with spray bottles. A 50/50 solution of white vinegar to water is all you need. Just allow it to sit on the item for a few minutes before rinsing.