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how do I become a better cook?

I can cook a few dishes quite well at the moment, nothing fancy. I am good at making creamy dishes; pasta with creamy sauce and prawns, steak with a creamy cider sauce, etc. and I make an alright thai green curry. But I am very competitive and I hate not being the best cook I know. I am quite good at following recipes but get a bit stuck for ideas when it comes to trying to come up with recipes myself.

please provide me with some tips to becoming a better cook.

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  1. Keep cooking. The more you cook, the better you are. Don't be afraid to fail, it's often your failures that will teach you about cooking. Don't be in too much of a rush when you're cooking, that's when you tend to miss steps and forget things. And keep following recipes for a while -- when you make a lot of food that turns out well, you'll figure out what goes well together and how to experiment. And use the best ingredients that you can.

    1. Just keep at it. Ain't no easy way.

      Read lotsa cookbooks - not just for recipe's (although that's always a good place to start) but to get ideas for things you ca ndo yourself. Some cookbooks are good at teaching why and how as well as just providing recipe's - I've listed some I like, below.

      Learn the basics - different methods of cooking and when and how to use them (bake/roast, broil, braise, fry/saute), knife skills (making mirapoix or similar standard veggie mixes ought to be completely second nature). Learn technique and process - prep ahead (mise en place). Cream is ok but as you have discovered, one-dimensional - learn about all kinds of master sauces (Ming Tsai is good at this), bechamel, hoisin, teriyaki, thickeners like roux's...

      My favorite learning cookbooks: Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji; Cookwise by Shirley Corriher; I'm Just Here For The Food, by Alton Brown; The Way To Cook by Julia Child; The Barbecue Bible by Steve Raichlin, The Encyclopedia of Fish Cookery by A.J. McClane. Plus you need one cookbook that has the basic info - temperature and times to cook different meats, lobster, etc., basic ratio for oil/vinegar dressings... stuff like that. Betty Crocker is good for that, as is ATK (America's Test Kitchen) - they have several including The Best Recipe.

      Have fun.

      1. If you want to be the best cook you know, good luck, you probably won't be then.

        If you really love to cook, however, and are anxious to learn more, I would follow JasmineG's excellent advice. To learn any skill requires the patience to fail often and still maintain a strong sense of **hope** to stick with it. If you can't tolerate being absolutely awful at something at least for a period of time, it's unlikely you will ever get that good at it. Of course it helps if you really like to do what you're trying to learn regardless of what anyone else thinks.

        I continue to learn how to cook the way I always have: I watch lots of tv cooking shows, buy lots of books to maintain a sizable library, keep up with 'Home Cooking' posts, and learn recipes by following each one the first time to the letter. Over time by rigorously following directions I started to 'get the idea' on how to compose various types of dishes in various types of cuisines as the best recipes have basic commonalities amongst them. And the recipes that turn out to be very good as opposed to the ones that don't are usually differentiated by small yet important and distinct differences.
        I realized I was starting to actually get somewhere with cooking when recipes I would follow for the first time didn't make sense and the second time through I decided to throw my own spin into them based on my overall experience and was able to improve dishes noticeably sometimes dramatically.

        Basic rule though is to just keep at it. Good luck!

        1. There is a lot of good info and suggestions on this thread.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/417985

          1 Reply
          1. re: yayadave

            Hi Zelu. I'm the recipe jockey that posted the topic that yayadave refers to. I did buy one of the books that was recommended - Culinary Artistry - and have been reading it for the past week or so. It's a great compendium of "tools" and knowledge on which to build. I've even been so bold as to have made a couple of dishes without a recipe recently...and they haven't been half bad!! Listen to the hounds here. They have great advice!

            Most of all - enjoy the learning process!

          2. When you read through cookbooks or cooking magazines, pay attention to the foods and flavors that get combined in a dish. Flavors that go together in a soup may also go together in a pasta sauce or salad.

            If there is any cooking school near you, even a small one, see if they have knife skills classes, or other basics such as saute, roast, braising, frying. This can help you get up to speed with a wider range of techniques, so you can avoid re-inventing the wheel.

            And keep cooking. I try a *lot* of new recipes, all the time, and very few go into regular rotation, with or without tweaks. If you need someone to dispose of the evidence, have some friends over and warn them they'll be guinea pigs.