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So I want to learn to cook!

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
Hi folks,

Well I'm new here, it looks like there's a lot of information to digest - I swear no pun intended.

Anyway my experience is very little(i'm a 1st year student living at home) - I make a lot of scrambled eggs with various fillings, have made chilli by following a recipe to the dime but thats about it.

I want to learn to cook a variety of dishes as I'm planning on moving out with my girlfriend next year.

Anyway as I know very little where would you advise I start. I was hoping for a online lesson plan I could follow or a list of basics I should learn first.

My summer holidays start in a few days so i'll have time to experiment.

Many Thanks
post #2 of 26
The only online cooking lessons that I know and trust is the eGullet Culinary Institute. But it's been a long time since I looked much at what they have there.

They have a very broad range of skills and tend towards special topics. Some might be too advanced for someone starting out, but there are several "101" courses as well.

If you want a couple of book suggestions, have a look at The New Cook by Mary Berry and Marlena Spieler (Note: I'm guessing you're in the UK?). It's just great for learning what things should look like and how you do things. Another good one is No More Takeout by Stephen Hartigan (who is Irish) and Jerry Boak (an American). That one is an American book, but I think you would understand what they're about.

Welcome to cooking!! :D
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #3 of 26
If your girlfriend is also interested in cooking this might be something you could explore together. Even something as simple as watching some food network shows can expand your knowledge. My recommendation for a cookbook would be the "Better Homes & Garden Cookbook". It has your basic no-frills instructions, and photo tutorials.
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
"The pressure's on...let's cook something!"
post #4 of 26
Following recipes is the basic starting point. Learn some food safety and taste as you go (when safe) so you learn how food tastes at different points in cooking and with different levels of seasoning.

This teaches you how different seasonings work over time in the dish and how they taste when cooked just a little or cooked a lot. And how they work in combination.

This also applies to the main ingredients, not just seasonings. You'll learn which are complementary, which offer desirable contrasts and so on.

With that knowledge, you can start to improvise and change things on the fly to suit your tastes or just what you happen to have on hand.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #5 of 26
I know this will annoy some readers, but I'd advise you to go to a video library and watch some Jacques Pepin videos. It's not that what he does is so unusual -- far from it, in terms of what he cooks -- but he is an extraordinarily good teacher. What's more, he will get you focused very early on technique. This is important. Once you start thinking in techniques rather than recipes, suddenly it becomes obvious how to cook a vast range of your favorite things. You do it once or twice from a recipe, and you think, "hey, I get it, I just do this and this and this," and you're in business to do it without assistance.

Once you've got the hang of that, which won't take all that long if you don't get crazy about it, set aside one day a week for "fridge cleanout." The rule is, dinner is made from what you've already got. No cheating unless you actually have nothing, like literally nothing. If you can consistently make dinner from random odds and ends, every recipe, however intricate, is within your grasp. Besides, you'll save lots of money and get a warm "I'm so clever" feeling each time you do it.

I agree with the notion that you should explore cooking with your girlfriend. BUT you should both pay close attention to what's going on. For example, my wife likes to bake and she likes to make desserts. I don't mind baking so long as it's bread, and I've never really learned to make desserts. Our unstated rule is that I don't go there: I'm much more serious about cooking than she is, and so I leave a space where she can rule when she feels like it and I'm stuck plodding along with recipes when I have to do it at all. Pepin remarks on this in his memoir, how he and his wife found ways so that she could enjoy being in the kitchen and cooking, which she liked, when her husband was after all a top-notch French apprentice-trained chef. You don't want this to be competition. You want it to be fun together or something you trade off (I cook monday, wednesday, friday, you cook tuesday and thursday, weekends we find other avenues). Both can be great, but it depends on your personal dynamics, and those should have absolute priority. A word to the wise.
post #6 of 26
Why would this annoy readers? This guy could do a lot worse than watch the incredible Jacques Pepin in action.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #7 of 26
Great! Cooking is awesome!

Look up the cookbook "joy of cooking"

also "mastering the art of french cooking volume one and two"

u might like learning about french style omelets by the way.

i would try and cook with someone else who is good at it.

the way to learn is by doing it, and asking questions, and reading about it.

my other favorite cookbooks are "the real taste of jamaica" (i think its one of the best jamican cookbooks...)

"classics of indian cooking" (sanhi)

the ethnic vegetarian

the frugal gourmet: china greece and rome

sweet hands (Trinidad and tobago)

next on my cookbook wishlist is a good haitian, and colombian one.

and thai!

there are many blogs and recipe indexes online...

Guyana Outpost: Wayne's Guyana Page

Simply Trini Cooking

Jamaica Travel and Culture .com

El Boricua, Recipes, Carmen Santos Curran, The Rican Chef

Welcome to The Congo Cookbook - The Congo Cookbook (African recipes) -

complete chinese cookbook

complete middle eastern cookbook

complete caribbean cookbook

(i think these three are from the same publishing company, nice, big hardcover with pictures)

silver palate cookbook (this one is awesome)

and this website is the best i have found for super knowledgeable advice and quick good help.
post #8 of 26
You could do worse than look at Delia Smith's books... Simply written, well-flavoured dishes with the method written simply and concisely. It's the set of books I sent my kids off to Uni with so they would at least sometimes cook a 'real' meal, rather than potnoodles!
post #9 of 26
Here's my best suggestion for you at this young and tender time in your life. Tell us what your favorite flavors are. Are you a meat eater, love vegetables, like sweet sour hot salty, hate certain things? What will you have in your kitchen to cook with? Pots and pans, crock pot, stove oven microwave?
I know I will be more than willing to send you a few recipes that are easy, delicious and attemptable, if that's a word. I'll read what you write and go from there. Hope that helps.
Oh and cooking is either a passion or can become one the more you get into it, it really is very theraputic..........
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
post #10 of 26
I'm curious if you're speaking of Jeff Smith the Frugal Gourmet cookbook writer or if you speaking of something else.
I have cleared my house of all and anything Jeff Smith/The Frugal Gourmet. I used to be an avid viewer of his TV shows, not anymore, sure most know of his story.........
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
post #11 of 26
gee wiz what is his story??????

yes that is what im talking about!!!
post #12 of 26
Too bad, lots of good content regardless.

Nothing proved only alleged. No criminal charges, it was a civil action only. The settlment was tiny, reported at 2.1 million divided among 7 people. 300,000 per BEFORE attorney's fees. They probably got less than 150,000. That's not much to settle for on claims of rape and molestation.

To me that looks like a shake down, and probably less than he'd have paid in costs to defend himself.
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #13 of 26
ah well

the bible clearly states man is fallen and in need of salvation. thats the whole philosophical point of christianity and islam. humans are evil.

so is he worse than me? i dont know.

he could cook though
post #14 of 26
You're not one of the readers in question. :)
post #15 of 26
As to Jeff Smith, I have never much liked his stuff, but I also don't really see what his alleged morals have to do with it. A friend of mine used to work for Daniel Boulud, says he's the most impressive raving s**t she's ever encountered, but nevertheless he's a pretty darn good chef. I know a brilliant kaiseki chef in Kyoto whose behavior toward his cooks makes Gordon Ramsay -- the way he's portrayed on TV, I mean, the exaggerated Gordon -- this guy makes Ramsay look like a pussycat. I don't approve of his behavior, but that doesn't make his cooking lesser.

Anyway, this has drifted off-topic. Back to the topic...

I think that at your stage in cooking, it's essential not to get caught in what I think of as the "recipe trap." The extreme here would be America's Test Kitchen and their works. The idea is that if you have a perfect, super-tested recipe, you get perfect results every time. Translation: a recipe does the work, not you, so you don't need to know anything. This is an exceptionally bad way to learn how to cook, though you might get some decent recipes out of it.

If you want to learn to cook, you have to work with books and shows and whatnot that focus on what happens between the action plan (recipe) and eating the food. Pepin is the greatest of these visually and in person; he is less good on paper. Julia Child was the best on paper, if (like me) you're the sort of person who likes to read a lot of text and think about it. (I think her failing, if she had one, was that she wrote cookbooks like Mastering the Art that could be used to learn how to cook -- you read all the text, learn it, then execute the dish using the writeup as a sort of shorthand -- but that could also simply provide rather verbose recipes. My mother, for example, has used that cookbook probably more than any other in her life, and she likes to cook, but she frankly doesn't know what she's doing or why, because she insists on following the recipes.) In his very early shows, Emeril was quite good, but soon he became just an entertainer with food. Alfred Portale is fabulous on paper, but he's aiming at people who already know their way around pretty well. Joy of Cooking and the like should be treated primarily as reference works: if you basically know what you're doing but aren't sure about a particular recipe or ingredient, you look it up.

Some people these days, including many of my students, think of themselves as "goal-oriented." They like to have a concrete goal to strive toward. If you're like this, go get Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, by Louis Saulnier; there's a translation available, and it's inexpensive. Skim the book a little. See how all you've got is shorthand descriptions, no actual explanations of almost anything? Okay, your goal is to be able to look at these little bits and say, "I see, so that means I have to do X, Y, and Z, and I should time it more or less like A, B, C, and probably it's going to look like G, H, I and should be plated accordingly." That's a LONG way off -- that's a seasoned cook with a good memory and a powerful technical range -- but that's a great way to set yourself a goal.
post #16 of 26
Been around enough on these forums to know better than to go off topic so for that mistake I apologize. But that's all I apologize for regarding PIQ
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
...All anyone ever does is complain....stop griping and start being appreciative...
post #17 of 26

Beginning to cook

When I started out cooking 5 years ago I was at home on summer break from college. Luckily I had my stepmother there for any advice I needed but I just started out by finding recipes that I thought I would like and following them. I'm not a professional but starting out this way allowed me to learn the basics. Now years later I am able to throw some ingredients together and come out with a delicious meal. However it took time. I still have moments where I'm unsure if specific ingredients will go together, but I have learned by trying. I have had far less dishes that come out bad than good. And by following a recipe its harder to mess up.
My advice is to find a bunch of recipes that you like or think you will like and just start trying them out. Once you start preparing yummy dishes it will give you more confidence in your cooking!
Good luck!
post #18 of 26
Exactly how I started cooking- they even publish this book in a waterproof three-ring version. Still have it and occasionally use it.

Not sure about worrying about the "recipe trap"... I don't, anyway.
post #19 of 26

Some Recommendations

I agree with others who have recommended Jacques Pepin videos for a start--short of doing it yourself, watching a master in action is the second-best way to learn how to do something well.

As far as books are concerned, I HIGHLY recommend James Peterson's Cooking. The written instructions are very clear, and photo illustrations show you exactly how to do whatever it is--whether it's tying a stuffed flank steak or chopping zucchini. The whole idea of the book is teaching people without a ton of experience how to prepare good food, master proper technique, and wean themselves from recipes eventually. I think the book sort of misses the mark in this last regard, BUT I also think that just making a few recipes is necessary to learn how food actually works as it's cooking. And you seem like you know what you're doing--the fact that you've made eggs with various fillings, presumably not dictated by a cookbook, shows that you're able to improvise when you have a foundation. That's a great start.

And, I actually am surprised that another commenter suggested staying away from America's Test Kitchen stuff. Of course, don't buy their cookbooks; all you'll get is the recipes. But Cook's Illustrated (the magazine) is incredibly useful so long as you treat it like your girlfriend thinks you do Playboy: read it for the articles ;). The descriptions the cooks write about how they produced the recipe are invaluable for learning such info as how ingredients work together, the science of heat and food, the utility of various cooking/baking techniques, which kitchen equipment works best and why, and the ways in which various ingredients and the time they are added to a dish contribute to the final product's flavor. Yes, their recipes are solid, and you can make those too. But when you're learning how to cook, even if you don't make a single dish featured in a Cook's magazine, it's still worth it if you read the articles.

In a nutshell, I would say buy James Peterson's Cooking (it's only 30-something bucks on Amazon, but 50-ish in the bookstore), watch some Pepin, and pick up a Cook's Illustrated--providing you read the articles and not the recipes. If you develop an affinity for a certain type of cuisine or a certain ingredient, there are all kinds of cookbooks on the market that have a more narrow focus. Peterson, though, is the best first stop I've ever found.
post #20 of 26
Well, lots of good advice here and just to add my 2 cents worth....

With the reference to [I]summer holidays[I] I'd guess you are in UK as well. If that's the case you may not have access to Julia Child or Jaques Pepin and some of the other US references. But you do have Delia as Ishbel says and that's good. Get one of her books and start with the simple stuff till you get a bit more comfortable.

Be patient. you are not going to be a master chef in 6 weeks. Just being proficient can take years and especially if you are cooking only evenings and weekends. But the journey is worth every culinary step so stick with it.

You will start out with some basic tools, like a frying pan and a pot or two, a chef's knife, a spatula, etc. You will add to these over time with more peices you will buy one at a time so it doesn't break the bank. If you buy quality stuff it will last a long time and before too long you will have quite a collection.

But, the main thing is not to be discouraged by meals that don't turn out quite as you expect them to. Flops are part of the learning process so you should try and learn from them.

Good luck.
post #21 of 26
Julia Child has shows on DVD, worth watching.


Wander farmer's markets, bakeries, fish mongers, grocery stores.....spend time poking around. Ask questions.

Do side by side tastings of different tomatoes: large beefsteak, small sungold, zebras, roma, tiny sweet 100's, the rubber ball commercial variety....with each you'll discover different acidity/sweetness/texture-juiciness.

Lettuces...bibb, romain, red leaf, escarole, spring mix, iceberg.....each is different.

Peaches....white, freestone, cling, donut, etc.....

Berries...yellow, pink, red, black raspberries....each has a different flavor profile.

When I teach new students, we'll go through what turns them on....are they into pies, or muffins or different ethnic cuisines....whatever they enjoy eating is a starting point. Self determination/motivation are the strongest ingredients to learning anything (including cooking).

Know that you learn from mistakes. Some of our greatest discoveries are made when we play. :smiles:

Remember, the worst that can happen is dinner is inedible and you open a can of soup or bake a pizza. ;)
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #22 of 26
Looks like you have mastered Scrambled eggs. Find a recipe that you like and get in the kitchen and try it. This isn't rocket science, start off with a Baked Chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti and meat sauce, BBQ a steak, make a hamburger. These are the things people eat at home. Who cares how a Chef makes it, your not opening up a 5 star restaurant. Watch some food demos on YOUTUBE, keyword any recipe and it comes up in seconds. Never buy a cook book without pictures. Marry a girl who cooks, I don't want my girlfriend hitting on someone at the gym while i'm home making meatloaf.............Be Happy, Drink good wine, and travel, life is to short........Good luck
post #23 of 26
I'd wager that my favorite cookbooks have no pictures. Some drawn diagrams now and again, but no pictures. Joy of Cooking, Frugal Gourmet, Kenneth Lo, Barbara Tropp, Helen Witty

I like pictures, don't get me wrong. But its a dangerous way to buy a cookbook unless you're looking for presentation tips.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #24 of 26
Its a lot easier to see a picture of the finished recipe. You see it, you make it, you eat it.........most people can't see the finished product in their head...........A Cookbook with pictures is the best guide you could have for a beginner cook.
post #25 of 26
check out cookbooks at the library....see which ones work best for you.
cooking with all your senses.....
cooking with all your senses.....
post #26 of 26
There are a ton of tutorials on youtube as well, with pretty much anything you can think of
Upload your cooking videos and win prizes!
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