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Best online resources to improve my cooking?

MarbleFallsParadise Oct 20, 2007 12:41 PM

My first post here is a plea for help, of the free variety. I've been cooking all my life but honestly, nothing I cook tastes that great. I would love to learn more about techniques (sauces, ways of cooking meat, seasonings) and simply learn how to make my food taste better. I love to bake and can bake a good loaf of bread, and am willing to apply myself and try new things, now I just need some guidance.

I read the thread on here that referenced some good books to work through, and they are sitting in my Amazon shopping cart, but my budget is limited for the moment, and the library is closed until Monday, and I'm ANTSY!

Are there any good websites you can point me towards where I can start improving my skills? We lean towards home cooking at my house vs haute cuisine, but I would dearly love to understand sauces in all their wondrous variety.

PS - the two books in my Amazon cart (waiting til November, probably) are "Food Science" and "How to Cook Everything". I'm open to any other suggestions on books worth buying (on a limited budget).

Thanks much!

  1. f
    foiegras Nov 13, 2007 08:48 AM

    Hi, Lucy, I'm a home cooking kinda girl myself :) I would suggest that you pick a dish you like and focus on how to make that one thing better. After you've perfected it, move on to the next one. You've probably see the meatloaf thread here ...

    I don't really do recipes myself, but what I do do is taste and season and taste until I've got it right. I started cooking out of self defense when I was still at home when my mother went on a permanent diet and it was eat what she was eating (invariably "Egg Foo Yung") or fend for ourselves. So after all these years I have a stash of favorite ingredients, spices, herbs, etc. that deepen flavor, or offer the delicate flavor I'm looking for in other dishes.

    Some handy things:

    a really good grocery store
    soy sauce
    Knorr's beef essence
    thyme, dried
    garlic powder (and fresh--I usually have minced garlic in the fridge, often use both in the same dish, but fresh can be overpowering)
    canned jalapenos and more importantly their juice
    San Marzano tomatoes
    Madagascar vanilla
    de Cecco (imported Italian) pasta
    good shredded Parmesan
    brown sugar
    good balsamic vinegar

    Another good thing to do is buy organics. There is no comparison between organic and conventional strawberries, for example (and the same goes for their nutritional value too). One is grown at Mother Nature's pace; the other is artificially ballooned.

    I would look at recipes with an eye to finding new or improved ingredients to enhance what you're doing now ...

    1. l
      link_930 Nov 13, 2007 07:50 AM

      If you get the chance, James Peterson's _Cooking_ is also a fantastic resource. It's solid both as a technical reference and recipe/dish inspiration -- how to truss a bird, or shuck an oyster, make sauces, evenly roast a chicken, etc. They're basics, but I don't make the same dishes often to have memorized every detail in their preparation.

      1. m
        MarbleFallsParadise Nov 13, 2007 05:24 AM

        Many thanks to all of you for taking the time to post guidance for me. In the meantime, since I posted my plea, I was able to get to Half Price Books and bought a basic cook book that has gotten me nicely started, along with many of the links and tips y'all have posted.

        Of course now, I have the strangest compulsion to start upgrading my cookware, utensils, and cooktop. What on earth could that be from? :)


        1. m
          MaggieRSN Nov 13, 2007 05:14 AM

          Lucy, BY FAR, the best "how to cook" online resource I know is the chef2chef.net portal.

          There you will find, in addition to recipes, fun blogs about food, philosophical discussions and general educational material about all things cooking. But the highlight for me are the discussion fora in which professional executive chefs, sous-chefs, caterers, etc., are generously willing to help out mere mortal cooks like you and me ;-).

          It's amazing to me, knowing how busy professional chefs are, how much time and knowledge they are willing to share on this site with those of us who don't do this for a living. You can ask them about technique, ingredients, equipment, presentation, cuisines...whatever you like. I haven't visited it often lately, due to my own time constraints, but I used to, and they were always incredibly kind and helpful. On several occasions, the chefs and serious homecooks there would give me a basic answer on line, but then make the effort to send me via email additional, detailed assistance. I guess they just appreciate knowing that we're interested in what they've made their lives' work. They have incomparable knowledge of both the science and art of cooking...and they're fun people, too.

          Do take some time to search a topic first before posting a question, because as here on chowhound, many subjects have been discussed previously in the fora. Then, if you have follow-up questions, or don't find your topic discussed, feel free to post. They will welcome you.

          It's a wonderful opportunity, for novice and not-so-novice amateur cooks to be able to consult directly with professionally educated and credentialed chefs.

          Otherwise, like many people here, when I'm looking specifically for *recipes*, I really like epicurious.com.

          1. krissywats Oct 21, 2007 05:07 PM

            ochef.com is great for those questions like 'How many sticks of butter equal 1 pound?' or 'What can I use as a substitution for cake flour?'

            1. chowser Oct 21, 2007 04:57 PM

              One more suggestion is to try the library. There are shelves of great cookbooks at ours. It gives you a chance to try out books before buying them.

              1. d
                drgreg Oct 21, 2007 04:18 PM

                I've got a membership at Rouxbe (http://www.rouxbe.com). The videos there are very clear and focus totally on technique - you never see anything but the cooks hands. Because it's video they can show exactly the degree of "doneness" with cooking, something I've never been able to get from a recipe book.

                1 Reply
                1. re: drgreg
                  sogi Nov 13, 2007 08:14 AM

                  I second the Rouxbe website. They offer a 30-day trial or something for free, and the videos are excellent. The drill-down videos on techniques are especially helpful. It's nice to be able to see the written recipe first, then see how it's executed step by step.

                2. meatn3 Oct 20, 2007 10:07 PM

                  eGullet has a number of tutorials. The ones I've looked at seem good- instruction wise & visually. I have not tried their recipes though.
                  I second the Cooks Illustrated suggestion. They give you the tools to understand "why" so that you can get to the point of being able to judge a recipe better or make up your own.

                  1. m
                    MarbleFallsParadise Oct 20, 2007 03:51 PM

                    Oh my goodness! Thanks to all of you for getting me started so quickly. I am a happy girl. If anyone else has anything to add, I'll gladly check it all out.

                    Hopefully my family will benefit from this research, after we get through some scary experimenting. :)


                    2 Replies
                    1. re: MarbleFallsParadise
                      mrbunsrocks Oct 20, 2007 04:28 PM

                      I just want to add that How to Cook Everything is great, but there are a TON of recipes availalbe online that are free and taste fabulous.

                      www.epicurious.com - my go-to recipe site for slightly snazzier food. there are reviews and tips from people who've already made recipes, and they incorporate numerous articles and videos on technique

                      www.myrecipes.com - a newcomer (from my knowledge) - has recipes from a number of popular cooking magazines (including Cooking Light) - lots of easier recipes, lots of tasty ones

                      I think what's most important is not being scared to experiment with new spices and seasonings and sauces....that's what takes food that is okay and a bit bland and transforms it into something new and exciting.

                      Garlic and onions are your friends and will likely form the basis of most things you cook (dinner-wise, at least). Fresh herbs pack a bigger punch than dried ones - as long as you add them at the end of the cooking time!

                      :) Happy cooking!

                      1. re: MarbleFallsParadise
                        Tay Oct 20, 2007 04:28 PM

                        Relish the "Thrill of Victory" and just ignore the,Agony of Defeat," part

                      2. Bramble Oct 20, 2007 03:40 PM

                        http://www.taunton.com/finecooking/ has a new subscription for their website, $9.95 for magazine subscribers. I've been a subscriber to the magazine for years and like it a lot, in addition to Cook's Illustrated. I also like Epicurious, and, of course, CH!

                        1. n
                          Nancy Berry Oct 20, 2007 02:54 PM




















                          1. chowser Oct 20, 2007 01:51 PM

                            Is there something specific you want to know about? There's a wealth of knowledge here (I can't tell you how much I've learned from posters here) and I'm sure some have the books you want and can give you information on them. Or, do a search and you'll find threads on about anything.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: chowser
                              Tay Oct 20, 2007 02:42 PM

                              I think girlwonder88 has made an excellent suggestion. I also happen to like Epicurious.com. I think you'll get a lot of great suggestions from fellow CH'ers.
                              You shouldn't hesitate to check out Bob Appetit, Good Housekeeping, etc.

                            2. g
                              girlwonder88 Oct 20, 2007 01:27 PM

                              If I were you, I'd subscribe to the Cooks Illustrated website: http://www.americastestkitchen.com/

                              I think they do a fabulous job of demonstrating techniques. Their recipes are clear and they explain why things work or don't work, which is a great way of learning enough so you can branch out and experiment on your own. I have almost never made a recipe of theirs' that hasn't been great.

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