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Food & Wine Ground >> Learning to cook


3/21/08 1:08 PM
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Seul
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Edited: 21-Mar-08
Member Since: 09/18/2002
Posts: 1044
 
I'm interested in learning to prepare food that doesn't come frozen and pre-cooked using something other than a microwave. I have very rudimentary skills (i can cook meat, eggs, and make toast....) and I want to know more; not just how to open a ccokbook and follow directions, but how to season, how flavors go together, and how to make food that people will atually enjoy eating. I want get a good enough idea of how to cook that I be creative with what I make (without it tasting like shit because I'm an idiot who doesn't understand anything about what I'm doing). How should I proceed? How did those of you with some idea of how to cook learn? Thank you for any replies.
3/21/08 3:22 PM
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alxholic
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Edited: 21-Mar-08
Member Since: 01/01/2001
Posts: 53501
just jump in and do it ..  follow recipes to the "t" at first then later on you'll be able to just eyeball guestimate and eventually have a better idea of guessing what tastes goes together well..  that's what i did and now can pretty much invent something and have it taste decent.
3/22/08 1:04 AM
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Mit
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Edited: 22-Mar-08
Member Since: 01/01/2001
Posts: 10505
I worked in a group home for years and had some great cooks that also worked there. There was a Ukrainian lady....a gay Jewish guy and his sister....a friend of mine....brazilian neuro surgeon and an older lady married to an italian fellow. I credit these people with teaching me the basics and now I consider myself a least a passable cook. I didn't even really know the basics so I found starting out tough. A friend of mine goes to her friends house once a week to learn how to cook something. Lots of approaches but it's always fun.
3/22/08 2:19 PM
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rerox
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Edited: 22-Mar-08
Member Since: 01/01/2001
Posts: 976
There are alot ways to approach cooking. Alx and Mit pretty much gave you a few ways to learn. If you are pretty serious i would start off by investing in books....not the crappy "cook like martha" bullshit, but some solid books that teach you basics. Assuming you've never picked up knife before i would recommend Basic Knife Skills by James Patterson. This gives you a basic,yet important, skill to work on when dealing with food. After that i would tackle the fundamentals. There are plenty of great instructionals that will help you along the way. To better understand flavor you also have to understand how the flavor gets there. From the differences of eating a seared fish and a grilled fish, to the different flavors in olive oils. Your palate will develop and soon you will find what you like and what you don't like. A great book for basic flavor combinations is Culinary Artistry by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. There are also really technical books on cooking fundamentals like On Cooking or The Professional Chef. But browse through the bookstore and find a book that would best suit your personal learning style. Above all, practice, observe, and experiment. Just don't give yourself food poisoning during the process.:) Have fun and hope it works out for ya. Carlo
3/22/08 6:40 PM
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crescentwrench
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Edited: 22-Mar-08
Member Since: 01/01/2001
Posts: 21309
Yup.  That's about it.  I'll add a Step 1:  Buy a fire extinguisher.  As far as being creative and making new dishes, I don't really even do that.  Chefs create dishes, cooks just make them.  I'm a cook, I don't have the knowledge or desire to build something from the ground up.  All I really ever do is modify or combine things I've seen or add something that I think will be good.   Except for the cornili dog.  I'll do things with leftovers that might be pretty original but I think that's more practical than creative.  Even if I'm throwing God knows what into my chili it will still be chili-like. 

Oh, and when you do decide to brainstorm, make sure you're not baking a pastry. Desserts are less cooking and more chemistry. Always stick exactly to the recipes on that stuff.

3/23/08 6:34 PM
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cbgrappler
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Edited: 23-Mar-08
Member Since: 11/09/2005
Posts: 478
watch cooking shows, read blogs & this forum, talk about food, watch it being prepared, ask questions, and read. I watched my grandmother a lot, my parents as well ... I'm fortunate enough to have a few friends that are line cooks or chefs,  they fill in a lot of the blanks for me. Learn to use your knife well ...

Pick up a cooking textbook, I have 'on cooking' and its helped me a great deal.


3/23/08 10:34 PM
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alxholic
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Edited: 23-Mar-08
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yes read blogs and remember to click the ads. you don't have to buy, just click.

http://alejandrocooking.blogspot.com
3/25/08 11:36 AM
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alpo
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Edited: 25-Mar-08
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Posts: 33765
If you don't have someone to teach you up close, watch cooking shows, seriously. DVR them if you have to and replicate what they do. The best way to learn is from observation and emulation. Good Eats is probably the most popular true instructional show out there and it covers a good balance of recipes, techniques, equipment and science. You can only get good with repetition and experience, so try to cook every night or at least 5 times per week. Youtube is a decent resource for specific techniques. Don't worry about being creative yet. As the saying goes, you have to learn the rules before you can break them. Also, you are going to need the right tools. At a bare minimum, you are going to need a 10"+ chef knife of decent quality (Whusthof, Henckel, Global, Shun), a paring knife, a large cutting board made of wood or plastic, honing steel, a large cast iron pan, tongs, a large pot, whisk, spatula, a non-stick pan, a few wooden spoons, a couple 13x9 pans, a French rolling pin, grater, a couple sheet pans, a few large bowls and probably a food processor. These are bare minimum and you should be able to make almost anything with them.
4/29/08 10:58 PM
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Seul
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Edited: Apr 29 2008 12:00A
Member Since: 9/18/02
Posts: 1098
I wanted to tell you guys thank you for the advice and encouragement; I've been trying to cook (rather than microwave something pre-packaged) each time I eat.

It's pretty fun and quite a bit healthier than my previous eating habits. Recently I've been trying out a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, it's been enjoyable to learn how to cook vegetables.

Additionally, the food channel (and Good Eats in particular) is great, thanks for recommending it!
4/30/08 9:54 AM
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crescentwrench
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Edited: Apr 30 2008 12:00A
Member Since: 1/1/01
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 Vegetables are probably a pretty good jumping off point.  For starters they're comparitavely cheaper, even though they're getting out of hand now.  And if you mess up what did you really do?  Oh, I undercooked the broccoli a little.  So? 


Good Eats will not steer you wrong.  Neither will America's Test Kitchen on PBS as far as technique.  I think they tend towards underseasoning if you follow their recipes exactly but that's easily fixed by my heavy-handed application. 

5/1/08 1:35 AM
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Mullet @ Heart
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Edited: May 1 2008 12:00A
Member Since: 1/1/01
Posts: 45573
Great thread.

As alpo alluded to, don't be afraid of following recipes. IMO, there's no point in re-invented the wheel. When I create or (more often) modify something, it's not because I have a desire to be some creative guru (I'm definitely not). It's because I'm filling a void. If you find a recipe for something that you don't feel could possibly be better (Emeril's Kicked Up Four Cheese Pasta is mine), why fuck with it? Cook it, enjoy it, and learn something to take to another dish.

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