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Apr 19, 2008 12:48 PM

How to become a better cook?

Hi everyone,
I started cooking about 3 years ago and now I can cook a good number of dishes, ranging from yummy homestyle Indian dishes (my husband is Indian), to subtle flavored recipes, including a number of classic French desserts (I am French). I would like to expand my repertoire and become "a better cook". Mostly I would like to have more variation in what we eat every day. I have tried cooking vegetables that we don't usually eat, or trying recipes from cookbooks such as "The art of Indian vegetarian cooking" by Yamuna Devi and "Pure Dessert" by Alice Medrich. They correspond to the style of dishes we like to eat but only a small proportion of recipes really stuck and made it into our list of regularly made recipes. The best source of recipes so far has been food blogs. I wonder if I'm just picky or overly accustomed to what you are used to eating, and therefore conservative, or just expecting to much from cookbooks. Anyway, I turn to you for advice on how to improve. Also I would love to hear your personal story of how you became a good cook. Thank you.

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  1. Just keep trying and practicing. You might pick one new recipe a week, from a book or cuisine you have not read or tried before. I have been cooking and trying new things for about 40 years. Your public library is a good source to try out cookbooks you might like to own and explore more in depth. This past winter I began to learn more about Middle Eastern cooking. I had not had much experience with it until some trips to London. It turned out that two of my friends were adept at Lebanese cooking. The first weekend in December we made about 22-23 dishes over a Friday and Saturday for a dinner for 11 people. I did a lot of the kitchen clean up but learned a lot too.

    BTW, I had that Very Raspberry Tart from the Medrich book a week ago. Oh my! That was beautiful and very delicious. Give it a try.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Candy

      Did you make that tart with fresh or frozen raspberries? I was thinking about making this for guests on Friday, with frozen.

      1. re: mirage

        Use fresh. Frozen will not work well. I think it would change the texture of the filling completely and of course you have got to have fresh to pie on top.

        1. re: Candy

          Oh, well. I was hoping! Guess it's a change of plans - fresh not available here this time of year!

    2. Practice, practice, practice. I agree with everything Candy said, but would also like to recommend trying Epicurious. You can read reviews, and some people give some pretty thoughtful ideas about making a recipe better, or easier. I like Candy's idea of trying one new recipe a week - that way you don't start to feel discouraged if, for some reason, that recipe doesn't work out well for you. Best of luck.

      1. I grew up on the farm and our food was very basic. My mother loved to bake, but her cooking wasn't so hot. We also had a lot of wild game and fish. And I was very health conscious so I 'ate to live'. I took home ec at university but was more interested in clothing. Still, my food tastes were basic but I studied nutrition and food science and that helped with technique.

        My first job was teaching high school in an affluent school. My students knew way more than I did about exotic foods because they had travelled so much. So I learned a lot from them because I had to.

        Then I started a dinner club with 4 other couples and the rule was 'we could experiment as much as we liked and didn't have to practice the meal before serving it'. That is when I really started to love cooking. The fear factor was lower because I was with like minded friends. We continued that dinner club for more than 15 years. It really is responsible for leading me more into cooking.

        I have taken a lot of little classes over the years. I pay attention when I eat out and make note of flavour combinations. I like to try local specialties when I travel. I always visit food stores when I travel and I often buy things to bring home.

        So, somehow over the years my 'eat to live' attitude has changed to 'live to cook'.

        1. Stop being a slave to recipes.

          Trust your instincts and cook by them.

          2 Replies
          1. re: ipsedixit

            Taste as you go--see how adding each component changes the flavor of the dish you are creating. Smell everything before you add it. Eventually you will be able to transfer the knowledge you gain from using all your senses when cooking to begin improvising yourself. Above all else, cook with love for those your food will both please and nourish.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              FWIW, for me, being able to trust my instincts has come from years of cooking from recipes. Only over the past few years have I become comfortable with playing around more with recipes, altering things, and "winging it". I agree with the poster who says to taste that you go - particularly with respect to adding salt.

            2. watching food television has made me five times the cook i once was. it's inspired me to try tons of different cuisine and has essentially served as free basic cooking school over the years.

              i also recommend jamie oliver's new cookbook, which has the main convenient main conceit of trying to make the reader a better cook. it also helps that it's a finely crafted cookbook that's a fun read.