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Mar 28, 2007 11:45 AM

Learning to Cook..What are your favorite recipes?

SOOO...I am 20 years old, have taken some great cooking classes and experimented in the kitchen a little bit, but I really need some inspiration! I want to start cooking for my boyfriend and I a few times a week.

He just moved into a new apartment and I would like to be able to make him really nice meals for when he comes home from work after a long day or on weekends when we have more time to cook together. He likes simple, but good food (we usually order in pasta, pizza, salads, sandwiches, things like that) but is a little bit picky (doesn't like brussel sprouts, cauliflower, blue cheese, sprouts in general). He is a great cook-he makes amazing chicken and we will throw together salads to go with it. I experiment with baking cookies, cakes, brownies, etc. at home and bring them to him, but I haven't really cooked anything substantial for him.

I love gourmet food BUT want to start with the basics because I pretty much have no idea what I am doing in the kitchen yet and he seems to like simple, un-fussy food. Since neither of us have a ton of time (he works late and I am still in school) any recipes with simple ingredients and good flavors would be wonderful. Breakfast, lunch or dinner...I would be very grateful for any recipes or cooking suggestions you could share with me! As a beginner, any details or tips would be very helpful! Thank you soo much!

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  1. I suggest a good all-purpose cookbook that covers many cuisines, a good start would be Mark Bittman's, "How to Cook Almost Anything". A very good cooking magazine which goes into good detail as far as ingredients and preparation would be Cooks Illustrated (Fine Cooking magazine also does a good job) available at most major Book Stores. If you like Italian, look at Marcella Hazan's, Classic Italian Cooking. Good Luck.

    1 Reply
    1. re: paulgardner

      I agree - Get a subscription to Fine Cooking and vow to make at least two things a month. When I started cooking, I found it exciting when my magazine(s) arrived to immediately plan which few recipes I was going to make, and I always followed through. I love love love cookbooks, but in the beginning they were too easy to put aside. The magazine(s) arriving every month was sort of in-your-face

    2. hm...favorites that I make often: veggie or ground chicken chili of which i turn leftovers into enchilladas...stir fry, tuscan chickpea soup, pasta sauce with chicken sausage (leftovers turned into a pasta bake), spinach lasagne. I can pass along my "recipes" for them (really it's just trial and error). I also cook via recipes, but since i cook just for myself I usually use my standbys since they are easy and the leftovers are good the next day for lunch at work or dinner. If you want any of the recipes, I'll post.

      And as much as I dislike her, Rachel Ray has good recipes for beginners. you should check those out on foodtv or check one of her books out of the library. She's WAY more tolerable in print.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Jeserf

        I would love your recipe for spinach lasagne! Thank you for the great ideas!

        1. re: gourmetgal1

          This is how I make it, and I measure nothing and really just made it up and realized it was good.
          - lasagne noodles
          - pasta sauce, homemade or jarred if you dont want to make your own. I sometimes just use a can of miur glen roasted chopped tomatoes that i simmer with a bay leaf and pepper flakes
          - fresh parsley, chopped (probably 2-3 tbsp)
          - fresh basil, chopped (probably 5-6 leaves)
          - 1 box/bag frozen spinached thawed and drained
          - 1 tub of light ricotta (i always use light ricotta)
          - Zest of 1 lemon
          - salt and pepper
          - grated mozzerella and parmasean (divide parm)
          -preheat oven to 375
          -boil lasagne noodles (some dont bother, but I do)
          -In a large bowl, mix ricotta, spinach (you may have to break it up with your hands), lemon zest, parsley and basil a little grated parmesean cheese, and salt and pepper to taste
          - in either a baking dish or loaf pan (i use a loaf pan because it's for 1 person), put a little tomato sauce in the bottom, cover with a layer of noodles, then spoon cheese and spinach mixture over noodles. Sauce on top of that. Another layer of noodles. Repeat process so you have 2-3 (i do 3) layers of cheese and there is a layer of noodles on top. Pour rest of tomato sauce on top and top that with shredded mozerella and a little parm to cover.
          -bake for 15-20 minutes, or until center is warm and the cheese is bubbling. if you like crispier cheese, pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes.

      2. Cook's Illustrated also has a cookbook (it's pretty substantial), which I like because I know the recipes have been tested a lot. I don't like that a lot of their baking recipes end up using an extra egg yolk or and odd measurement because "that gave the best result". I prefer more practical measurements. But it is reliable. I'd also recommend Bittman's book, Joy of Cooking, or the Better Homes & Gardens' red checkerboard cookbook to cover all your basics.

        There are many discussions and debates on crockpots, but I work all day (and like to spend weekends doing something other than staying inside) so I love it. Stick a few cups of black beans in there in the morning and you can have black beans with dinner, plus have plenty extra to make meals the rest of the week (bean cakes, beans and Spanich rice, black bean soup, make a taco salad, etc). Same with roasts - a pork shoulder in the crockpot always comes out pull-apart tender and you can use it in so many recipes. Shredded pork also freezes well.

        A good roast chicken with roasted veggies can be perfectly gourmet! I keep chicken breasts in the freezer and my go-to preparation involves pounding them flat and pan frying in some butter or olive oil. Add some orange juice, dijon mustard, broth and cornstarch and you've got a nice sauce. Or, add sage and cream and simmer until thickened. I do the same thing with thin pork chops. Serve on a bed of wild rice with some steamed veggies and you're done.

        I think you'll find the more you cook, the more you'll start naturally experimenting.

        1. first thing is to scope out your local grocery stores/markets to see where you can get good produce and fish from.

          if he likes fish then learn how to pan sear or blacken fish, that is pretty simple. try making your own salad dressings. you can braise chops of any sort, that's a good thing to learn. also you can poach chicken breasts and shred the meat to make good chicken tacos.

          my way is to buy something that is on sale and look up a good way to cook it. or to try and emulate something i recently had at a restaurant. both ways i usually end up learning something.

          just have fun with it. cooking dinner is usually the highlight of my day, but i don't worry about screwing up or throw it out if it doesn't taste great.

          1. I agree with previous posters, get one general cookbook like The Joy of Cooking for research and getting to know your ingredients. Then start from what you decide you want to learn. I know some of the things I wanted to master at first were roasts with gravy, mashed potatoes, cooking fish and risotto. ( I say at first as though I am not still trying to master them... sigh.)

            I also find cooking shows great for that kind of inspiration, Rachel Ray is great for simplicity and quick meals. Plus watching cooking shows can be helpful to see just how easy something that might seem hard is.

            I would try a couple of different techniques, maybe roast a chicken, some sort of stew or braise and a grill method? Also, eggs are a basic, an omelette, scrambled and easy over\sunny side up?

            If your goal is to cook a big meal for your boyfriend you may want to start with a pasta dish and salad. One of the hardest things I find to do when making a meal is timing everything and with pasta and salad you can avoid that problem straight away. The first thing I learned how to cook was a basic spaghetti sauce with ground beef and roma tomatoes, nothing from a can.

            Are you looking for actual recipes or more ideas?


            5 Replies
            1. re: daily_unadventures

              Thank you so much, those are great tips!! I am looking more for actual recipes, but definetaly need the tips. If you have any recipes that you use for easy chicken, steak, etc, or what you would serve with them that would be amazing!

              1. re: gourmetgal1

                For actual recipes, a very good website is; every recipe is rated by people who have tried them and you can read their comments; I have used many very good recipes from there: bruschetta, pasta with sausage, cream and tomatoes, garlic bread, etc.

                1. re: gourmetgal1

                  Roast Chicken is great because it is dead easy and you have leftovers which are always fun. You may want to invest in a meat thermometer though. I just tried Ina Garten's recipe this past weekend and it turned out great. I served it with roast veggies (included in the recipe, but don't be shy to add other root vegetables cut in the same size such as sweet potatoes and parsnips) and a simple green salad. If you want to try gravy you can check out my link below, although it is just how I made gravy I liked.. I am learning too.



                  As for sides things you can do ahead are always nice like this with asparagus:
                  or a greek salad, any salad really can be made ahead if you don't dress it.

                  I will try and keep thinking about it... It's love learning new things and that feeling you get when it turns out how wanted it to.


                  1. re: gourmetgal1

                    Other good websites for recipes are and And I agree about Rachel Ray, she is annoying but makes nice meals for a beginner with limited time. I think you will enjoy browsing for recipes on these two sites. I think it's nice that you are so into doing this.

                    1. re: gourmetgal1

                      I recently subscribed to the Cook's Illustrated online edition. It's only $25 or so a year, and a big plus is getting access to their archives.

                      Here's a very easy recipe for pan-roasted (bone-in) chicken breast. Fry it skin side down in a greased skillet for 5 mins., invert and fry for 3 mins., invert again and put in a 450 degreee oven for 15 to 18 nins, depending on size. Then make a reduction sauce with white wine, butter and herbs of your choice. Also good for sandwiches the next day.

                      And here's a recipe for a quick bouillabaise I recently concocted. Heat up a mixture of chicken broth, tomato paste, onion powder, garlic powder and fennel or anise (I use Chinese five-spice). Then just simmer your seafood till done. Some conoisseurs would be aghast, scoff but I found it very tasty.

                      Grilled fish is also a great idea. You probably know the rule -- fry 10 mins. per inch thickness, so filet of sole, for instance, takes only 5 mins. Have fun!