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As I am moving out as a student for the first time I want to get more serious about cooking!

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

Hello everyone,

This is my first post. I live in France now but I spent many years studying in the UK and now my English is better than my French ever was, I even think in English and only read English books now, which means I also own English cookbooks, I just can't read the French books, I just can't. Anyway, I'm 20 years old and for the first time I am moving into a place of my own. Since I was fed up with eating the same boring stuff that people make every week I wanted to learn how to cook. People around me always boast about how their food is home made but really they have no clue, Spaghetti always tastes better in a restaurant and when people make soup it usually tastes of nothing but water. I don't want to be like them, I want to learn how to do some real cooking, when I was little my grandmother would take me to the finest restaurants and to events where we were able to eat the finest food there is. So here I am, trying to teach myself how to cook. I know the basic stuff which Mr and Ms Everyone know but I know nothing of what lies beyond the realm of the uninterested amateur.


Please don't hesitate to advise or voice any opinions if you think that I am on the wrong path.


The first thing I learned is that to cook you need tools that are well made and last a lifetime but you don't need a ton of stuff like advertisers try to make us buy. Well that's good because I am very OCD and I only like buying things once so they better last a lifetime indeed. I was told that one only needs one cooking knife so that is what I bought, a Zwilling Henckels Twin Select Chef Knife mainly because it seemed to have good reviews and was the only reviewed knife that I could find with a 100% metal handle, I don't want the grip to come off in ten years... To that I added a Twin Select Sharpener because I was told it was easier to use than a stone and it was a lot cheaper too (Did I make the right choice?). I have not purchased anything else yet because I was given a 'basic set' when I moved out, nothing special, just IKEA pans and such which I will replace when I can afford it.


Book wise I was told that the best ones in English were 'Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking' by Marcella Hazan and 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking I & II' by Julia Child. I must say however that I am very confused as the books seem to be written in cups, ounces and pounds which I do not understand... Any advice on that?


I was also looking for two more books, maybe someone can help, a book on wine and a book on cooking, maybe not a cookbook but something that explains the best way to use your tools, clean them etc... Basically all the cooking related stuff that doesn't directly involve cooking, preparation perhaps.


Thanks for reading my thread, any advice and other things I should try and do would be very much appreciated.



- Le Francais


PS: How many Fryingpans and Saucepans does one need? What sizes are best? What do you think of de Buyer? They seem cheaper than the competition.

post #2 of 9
Thread Starter 

No one?

post #3 of 9
There are any number of sites which will help you convert English measurements to their metric equivalents. You have only but to Google. Keep in mind that "close" is good enough. For instance, if the conversion for "1/2 lb" is 227g (which it is), 230g or even 250g will usually do just fine. Moral of the story: Don't sweat tenths.

Your cook's knife is okay. It's by no means the best knife in the world, but will serve you until you develop some skills -- including sharpening -- and are ready to choose something which will work better for you. Whoever recommended one knife as the entire arsenal doesn't care much about efficiency or convenience. A single knife is [ahem] cutting it very fine. The modern, basic de minimis for handling every kitchen knife challenge well includes four knives: Cook's knife; Slicer; Bread; and "Petty" (a long paring knife/short slicer). If you're going to hold off on one let that be the slicer.

To be blunt, the Zwilling pull through sharpener sucks. It will sharpen your knife only with lots of effort, very slowly, not very well, and will damage the profile after not very long -- "notching" near the handle, and flattening the belly.

if money's an issue, and you're getting along okay with the single knife, there's no hurry to add to it. But you will enjoy cooking significantly more once you can sharpen. You should also acquire a good (wooden) cutting board.

Wish I could have been more positive about the cutlery.

I'm not the best person to ask about books, especially for people who want to learn to cook, and especially books for people who want to learn to cook in England using books employing metric units. Mastering and Hazan are both very good. Italian and French cuisines have advanced over the past few decades, so even though Child and Hazan were ahead of their times, they've become old-hat. If that matters, there are newer books teaching a more modern, ingredient-driven approach to both cuisines.

If you're bilingual, don't fight it. French cookbooks work.

Don't be afraid to use beginners books. You'll learn a tremendous amount by handling, prepping, just doing the various sorts of cooking, and getting the simplest and most basic advice. You don't need complicated, sophisticated recipes. Indeed they tend to get in the way and teach you to be a recipe follower rather than develop the skills, creativity and palate which make cooking such a rewarding pleasure.

If I were your age and living in the UK, I might look at some of Jamie Oliver's books. Nigella Lawson's could also work for you as well. Oliver's approach is more contemporary; Lawson wants to help you learn to cook familiar food competently. Both approaches are useful, and both authors' books should be available second hand. There's a lot of stuff online -- in both English and French -- a great deal of it connected to televised cooking shows (so check the network sites). You'll learn a tremendous amount just reading through them. Recipe research is its own education -- and when you do it online, it's free. Watching the shows is free as well.

I speak a few languages well enough; French is decidedly not one of them. I can barely wade through an online recipe, looking words up, moving my lips and sweating profusely. Still, it's well worth the effort and I won't tell you again. Verstanden?

Should I say, "Best of British?" "Bon chance?"

Buena suerte,
Edited by boar_d_laze - 9/11/11 at 5:52pm
post #4 of 9

My reply must not have gotten through.  I wanted to ask if you're French, because it seems you implied French is not your first language, but maybe you were just saying how well you learned english. 


Anyway, apart from looking up the equivalents of measures of ingredients online a lot of places sell measuring cups here in europe that have both grams and cups (the grams side will have several lines all of which are for different ingredients (sugar, flour, water (and liquids in general), because, of course, they all have a different mass, a cup of flour weighs less than a cup of sugar.  I THINK ikea has one of these actually, but am not sure.


I think a very sharp paring knife is essential, and between a chef's knife and a paring knife i could survive. 


How many pots and pans? this will depend on how you cook and how you wash and how much you cook at any one meal.  For me, you can never have enough.  But i don't wash pots as i'm cooking - it's more efficient (though messier) to wash them all together at the end.  So say you're cooking a traditional italian dinner.  You'd need a pot for the sauce, a huge pot for the pasta, a pot to boil the vegetables (also large, if you're doing broccoletti or bieta or spinach and blanching them since you need to cook a large volume of these greens to end up with a single serving) and a large frying pan where you would sautee the garlic in oil and then sautee the drained vegetables to get some flavor, and another pan, maybe, to cook the meat, or make some croquettes, or do whatever else. 

That's sort of a minimum - one huge pot, one very big pot, a sauce pan, and two frying pans.  But i've used many more in a simple supper for my family. 


Also, i always wash everything possible in the dishwasher, and so all the pots will go in there.  Sometimes there are some pots from earlier in the day (maybe soemone fried eggs for lunch or breakfast, or heated some milk for breakfast, or something, and these are already dirty in the dishwasher.  So i like doubles of everything. and triples.  But it seems you would not leave dirty dishes in the dishwasher and probably wash up right away (you say you're obsessive compulsivesmile.gif while i'm the opposite)  so you might not need quite so many.  But what if you make a big party or dinner, and have many courses.  Or for a holiday dinner with the family or something.  And just to give an idea of how the traditional meal can be expanded, say you cook steaks as your main dish and want to make a sauce for them - then another pot or pan (or, depending on how elaborate a sauce, maybe both) and maybe you;ll have two vegetables, or ... or... or...

not all your pots need be high quality.  I have a couple that are good only for boiling water.  If i have to blanch or boil a vegetable or hard boil eggs, these are perfectly fine. 


Not sure if you have flea markets or stores for used things, but you can get good pans cheap in these places (some of my best pots were bought used) and there is also freecycle which is all over the world apparently, and you can look there for free things that others want to give away, and you can give away stuff that someone will come and pick up (my daughter got a brand new bosch dishwasher that way! the guy even brought it to her house - he bought a new house he was remodeling and didn;t like the dishwasher) - all is completely free.  I believe it's a yahoo group.  You can put a request for something and also put in a notice for something you want to give away. 


I learned to cook from julia child who teaches technique and is very clear.   

If you lived in the UK you might prefer to buy some good british cookbooks, but I'm not familiar with them. 


good luck and happy cooking. 





"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
"Siduri said, 'Gilgamesh, where are you roaming? You will never find the eternal life that you seek...Savour your food, make each of your days a delight, ... let music and dancing fill your house, love the child who holds you by the hand and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.'"
post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thank you both. Does the sharpener really suck? I don't know how to use one of those sticks or stones, maybe you could tell me which is better?


I have been looking for one of those measuring glass that have both cups and european measurements but haven't found one yet. Maybe I'll look on Amazon.


I am indeed French but not comfortable with reading in French because I went to School in the UK. :)

Edited by Le Francais - 9/12/11 at 6:55am
post #6 of 9

Salut Le Francais, cooking is not just about the hardware you use. Your new knife and your Ikea pot and pans are fine. When people ask what hardware to buy in a general kind of way, I'm always tempted to answer "none", meaning it's probably not the right time to spend your money. Just use the stuff you already have, the future will dictate what to buy at the time you need it.

Since you live in France, maybe now is a good moment to use your french too? Let's be honest, a frenchman buying cookbooks written by foreigners? It will look like cursing in church to a "standard" français and I'm not going to elaborate on this lol.gif like for instance using the word "chauvin" when it comes to french people,... oops, sorry!


Being obviously a novice in the kitchen and wanting a good start, I might dare suggest you buy the french foodmagazine "Cuisine et Vins de France". It's for the general public, nothing too fancy, but it's as french as you can get! No stocks to be made, just bouillon cubes like 99% of the French and many Europeans use. Even I have a subscription on that magazine, it's fantastic. Why a magazine and not a cookbook? They always propose seasonal recipes with stuff that is in season at the moment they have a new issue, many recipes are based on traditional cooking, most recipes can also be made by people equipped with only two left hands, there's a wine section etc. Just see for yourself;



post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks Chris, I don't really have the space for magazines. My place is really really small. But maybe you can recommend some French Books that are not written in complicated old French with words I'll never understand? lol.gif


By the way, is it true that cooking with aluminium can make you sterile or even give you cancer?

post #8 of 9

Jacques Pepin's books on technique are available in English and have lots of pictures.  There's also plenty of cooking video online.


Don't obsess about the best book and the best gear.  My first batterie de cuisine came from yard sales and second-hand stores.  You can always upgrade as needed.


Re books, I started with Julia Child's little paperback, _The French Chef Cookbook_, which is very accessible -- it was years before I was ready for _Mastering_.  BDL's advice is spot on: find an entry-level book that works for you, and just start cooking.

post #9 of 9

Honestly, the two knives that I use most in a kitchen are the chef's knife and the paring knife.  The knives that we got in our kits, when we started school were a chef's knife, a paring knife, a slicer, and a semi-flexible boning/fillet knife.  Personally, I generally use the chef's knife and the paring knife in combination a lot, transferring stuff that I have just cut up into a container.  It works well for me.

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