Hi as a food fan with a serious need to improve, how do I proceed? I'm frustrated with my own lack of skills. I have ruined good steaks and messed up some recipes. I don't think I want to go to a school and get in the business but I would never say never. I would like to learn how to make restaurant grade burgers like the ones that have a little rosemary and a crumbled blue cheese center. Would like to learn to make a great beef worcester shire stew, learn how to make steaks right, how to not mess up hash browns, Italian dishes, meatballs, bricoila, canoli, smoking pork etc etc. Should I turn to books or videos? what kind of cookware? Appreciate your help. Thanks
Complete Beginner At Cooking Looking For Advice
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Practice, practice, practice. Cook from good, basic cookbooks geared to success -- like Betty Crocker. Watch as much Food TV, and Cooking Channel as you can stand -- especially the most basic teachers like Giada, Sonny (Cooking for Real), and Roger Mooking (Everyday Exotic). Practice, practice, practice.
Subscribe to a food magazine.
Eat out at exotic restaurants a lot, in order to develop your palate.
Take occasional afternoon or evening cooking classes at your local "Free University," community college, or any other "adult education" provider.
When you cook, don't be afraid to fail. If you enjoy eating enough to understand what you're tasting, good cooking doesn't require much more than practice, practice, practice. When you entertain, cook things you know you can do well; don't overstress your skills. If you're cooking for a party and things don't come out, order pizza in or send someone out for KFC or whatever. You can always eat well, and you should.
You don't need the most expensive cookware, you only need cookware which won't fight you. It would help to know what pieces you need and what your budget is.
Get a decent knife and learn to sharpen it. Get a couple more knives, and keep them sharp. Get a good cutting board.
Learn to cook a steak and a chop. Learn to sear and saute. Learn to braise. Learn a couple of simple rice dishes, like arroz con pollo.
As a very amateur cook, I'd say that you should just keep cooking basic recipes like carbonara pasta, eggs in different ways, vegetables, etc.. By doing so, you'll acquire the skills on which you'll base your cuisine. From that you'll be able to start cooking more difficult recipes and develop a sense of taste that will allow you to create your own dishes.
As boar mentioned above practice, practice, practice. I consider myself a fairly decent at home cook but I didn't start out that way. You would be amazed at how much information you can pick up by just watching Food Network. Absorb as much information as you can on the subject. You don't need to study cookbooks of acclaimed chefs around the world. You can pick up alot of information from more entertainment driven shows such as Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.
I'm going to agree with everything BDL said. Maybe just realize that "arroz con pollo" is only "chicken w/ rice" with a easier name (I think).
I love watching DD&D, but I'm not all so sure it'll teach you how to cook. I recommend "Good Eats" and anything w/ Jacques Pépin, Jamie Oliver or Tyler Florence. I think those guys add a lot of "skill stuff".
Two(2) magazines that I like are Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country. They both can look really complicated, but they hold your hand, and help you make real food with ingredients you can easily find most of the time.
Don't spend a mortgage payment on expensive cooking stuff. Don't however, buy all "bargain basement" stuff either. Asking about stuff is free. I'm pretty sure you'll get an opinion here about any product you can name. LOL. We're good like that.
Anyway ... don't be afraid to cook. I'm not sayin' that you are afraid, I'm just sayin'.
This is a really nice pretty easy recipe:
thank you: Quick From Scratch Chicken
Arroz con Pollo
In a large, deep frying pan, heat the oil over moderately high heat. Season the chicken with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Cook the chicken, turning, until well browned, about 8 minutes in all. Remove. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the pan.
Reduce the heat to moderately low. Add the ham, onion, and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion starts to soften, about 2 minutes. Add the bell peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until they start to soften, about 3 minutes longer.
Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, and the remaining 1 3/4 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper and bring to a simmer. Stir in the rice and add the chicken in an even layer. Simmer, partially covered, over moderately low heat until the chicken and rice are just done, 20 to 25 minutes. Sprinkle with parsley.
Buy yourself a Fanny Farmer cookbook for basic recipes. It also explains methods and conversions, if you do not have exactly what is called for. Don't beat yourself up over mistakes. Move from there to books specializing in cuisines that interest you. Jeff Smith's "The Frugal Gourmet" has solid recipes from a variety of cuisines. Marcella Hazan's books were my bibles on Italian when teaching self.
All of those books also mention basic equipment, start there.
Look for cookbooks that explain how the dish will taste and that explain, with illustrations, even drawings, the procedure.
Julia Child, Betty Crocker (yes, i agree with bdl on this, but use the 1950s one that actually uses real ingredients and not mixes and no made from scratch cake made by one of their recipes ever failed me ). and others (I learned a lot with the time/life cooking of the world series and their other series that i only know the italian translation of. They all give detailed instructions)
I disagree with the idea of buying a technical book, explaining technique. Technique makes sense in context, not out of it. If you have to chop onions for a sauce, you will be seeing if the way you chopped is ok or not by the quality of the sauce. etc.
Above all COOK WHAT YOU LIKE TO EAT and you will be able to give yourself feedback. If you don;t like chinese or italian or french cooking, no point buying books on these cuisines . And make sure the books you buy explain things, first of all what the thing is supposed to taste like! and how to go about making it in detail, easy to read and follow.
Real chefs never burn food - they simply over carmelize ;-)
As others have said don't be afraid to take risks or try new recipes and ingredients. If what you fix doesn't end up just perfect, don't sweat it. If you are making a bearnaise sauce from scratch and don't do it right you end up with greasy scrambled eggs. But they are really TASTY greasy scrambled eggs. Of course some mistakes are not fit for human consumption.
Some things like steaks, hash browns, scrambled eggs are really simple, but not necessarily easy to do just right. Practice, practice and practice. Of course if you fix dinner every night that's a fair bit of practice, assuming it isn't all mac and cheese from a box ( one of my shameful addictions ) but actual cooking.
Have faith in your own tastes, play with your food and enjoy the experience.
BDL & siduri provided excellent answers, if I could add some thoughts..
Use the internet, google images will show you how a dish should look, Food TV shows you several versions of same or similar recipes (be sure to read the reader comments they give you a clue if you can make the recipe taste good at home). Youtube has many "how to" videos on cooking & recipes, unfortunately there are many who think they want to be a food hostess or video blogger but can't cook at all posting some of those videos. Take your time and plan in advance. Try serving a special meal to your spouse or a friend, one or two special dishes, then take notes for the future, with your corrections. Beware there are many recipe sites use sites where the recipe is rated.
Try to "own" dishes, master them, read about how to make that dish from a variety of sources and keep experimenting until you "own" it. Success breeds success, so start small until you have success then keep adding.
Just rem. time is on your side, this is a life time passion, and your learning will pay dividends when first your immediate family starts asking you to cook, then your extended family, and friends, years later when you throw a party people show up to eat your food.
Edited by deltadude - 1/27/12 at 11:28pm
I'm very sympathetic. Not long ago, I was barely scraping by with following certain recipes line-by-line. You CAN learn this, and it's not going to be painful. I promise.
Right from the start: Steaks are, to be honest, a B***H. It's learnable, to be sure, but let's not start with that. You'd be surprised.
How about you tell us one dish you like, something that doesn't seem to you outrageously complex, that you'd like to make well. And we will then give you advice about it, and you will try it, and so on.
What you will find is that there is very much a "hang" to this: once you get the "hang" of certain basic dishes, it all somehow becomes obvious. Like, I don't know, mashed potatoes. It seems easy, it's easy to screw up, but once you get the hang of it you are looking at a no-brainer.
There are a few VERY hard things, that are so simple they can defeat you brutally. I advise you to cook them when the mood strikes, but allow yourself to fail. Know that they are hard:
Whole roasted chicken
Seared and/or roasted fish
Fried almost anything
Bread of any kind
If you are open-minded, you might check out either of Jacques Pepin's "Fast Food, My Way" series. He is a wonderful teacher, and an extraordinarily technically-gifted French chef. He has a facility for explaining complex things so they appear very simple, and since you can watch the videos more than once, you can get the hang of what he's doing quite easily. He also, in these series, stresses things that you can do much more easily than you think. For example, he will make quite elaborate-seeming things that border on foolproof, instead of doing seeming simple things (like whole roasted chicken) that can defeat apparent experts. So he's got these amazing tarts and whatnot that will look like you're a genius but are a walk in the park by comparison to getting a perfect grilled steak.
Hope you're still with us: we're here to help!
we're not all such geniuses in the kitchen as you might imagine, either!....)
^^^^^ What they said!^^^^^
But always remember, have fun. We do this because we enjoy cooking. Pick a couple of recipes and learn to do them well, then expand to a few new recipes. Once you learn one recipe well, you have learned the technique and from there it is easier to expand to more recipes.