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Apr 27, 2008 04:44 PM

home cooking basics everyone should know

I have a younger relative, just graduating from college and moving into his own place for the first time. He hasn't done much cooking up to this point -- just ramen, burnt grilled cheese, scrambled eggs, the usual. But he's gotten pretty money- and health-conscious lately, and wants to start.

I'm trying to compile a list of cooking basics to help him out. I'm not looking for recipes so much as instructions on basic techniques everyone should know, or foods he should always have in the fridge, freezer, or pantry.

Any suggestions or instructions? I'm looking for ideas that are
1. very basic
2. not too expensive
3. pretty healthy (what? no more meals composed entirely of pasta and grated cheese?)

To give you an idea of what I'm thinking about, here are the first few things I thought of:

How to steam and serve broccoli

How to make a hard-boiled or soft-boiled egg

Something to always have in the pantry: a tin of tomato paste

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  1. If he's getting money-and-health-conscious (good for him!), I'd suggest he learn how to cook dried beans and lentils--he can do soups, veggie chilis, etc. He can toss them with pasta and veggies (I do this frequently for quickie weeknight meals--lentils cook up in about 1/2 an hour and I often make a big batch to get several meals worth). In fact, a favorite of mine is barbequed lentils (really just cooked lentils seasoned with a tasty BBQ sauce) over a sweet potato.

    Another tip--if he's able to, he could grow a few herbs in pots. Herbs in those little plastic tubs at the supermarket are awfully expensive! Sometimes you just need a little bit of parsley or basil to tart something up, but buying the tub often means that the leftover herb goes bad before it gets used. If he's not able to grow his own herbs, he might want to learn how to prolong the life of any purchased herbs (e.g. wrapping leftover cilantro in damp paper towels and then placing in a ziploc bag with the air squeezed out keeps it pretty good for a while).

    1. First step is to stock your pantry & fridge -

      olive oil
      black pepper
      crushed chiles
      curry powder
      PAM spray for sauteing and frying
      nuts of choice
      a decent balsamic vinegar
      all purpose flour or whole wheat flour
      brown sugar
      some pasta, rice or couscous
      cans blackbeans, chick peas, stewed tomatoes
      healthy snack crackers
      fresh garlic, onions
      chicken, beef broth or bouillion

      1. I'd get him a 10 inch cast iron skillet, tell him how to keep it seasoned, and teach him how to make a kicka** steak (for his special occasion dish, everyone needs one!) or Deborah Madison's amazing cornbread in it. He should learn how to caramelize both veggies and meat (mmm that crust!) in it.

        If I'd had a crockpot in college, I would have been the queen of cheap & healthy chili dinners, I think.

        How about teaching him to roast veggies? Like roast asparagus, rosemary potatoes, winter squash gratin with lots of garlic and parsley and EVOO...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Vetter

          When I graduated from college in the early 1990's, an aunt gave me a copy of a cook book that was published in the late 1970's -- Pierre Franey's 'The 60 Minute Gourmet'.

          She told me that the recipes were easy, tasted good and they really took less than 60 minutes to make.

          It quickly became the book I went to time and time again to try to cook something more ambitious than scrambled eggs because my aunt was right -- even for a beginning cook the recipes were easy, tasted good and did not take long to make.

          Now I am a working parent with little time to cook and I still use recipes from 60 Minute Gourmet.

          1. re: Vetter

            Ah, Vetter, you took my suggestion with the roasted vegis. Roasted asparagus to me is just like candy and all I put on it is EVOO, s & p. I also do roasted cauliflower and broccoli (alone or together) but toss it first in a bag with EVOO, thinly sliced garlic, s & p. Sometimes I will just make a big cookie sheet full and my husband and I will nibble off of it for dinner!

          2. He should learn how to make a basic white sauce, so he can make his own mac & cheese and replacement for those canned soups--plus he can make gravy for his biscuits (teach him how to make those, too; WAY better than those things in the can). And he should learn how to braise, because then he can make delicious meals out of cheap, tough meat.

            1 Reply
            1. re: revsharkie

              I second and third this one !! White sauce is basic to soooo many dishes, and was one of the first things i learned how to made it into one of my first tries, cod au gratin. I use it in that dish, scalloped potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and it's helpful in technique when doing stuff like bechamel or other thickened sauces.

            2. How to stretch a whole roasting chicken for the week.
              How to make a proper stock.
              How to make gravy and bechamel.
              How to make biscuits.
              How to saute.
              How to properly sear meat.
              But above all, if he is just starting out it is imperative that he knows how to put out a kitchen fire.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Lenox637

                That is an excellent response. Stock, gravy and bechamel will take you far. And people underestimate biscuits - the technique for biscuit dough will also give you, beyond biscuits: dumplings for soup, cobbler topping, scones, and a nice top crust for chicken pot pie.

                I would add the basic stewing/braising technique. (Brown meat/poultry. Remove. Cook aromatics in fat. Add meat and liquid and simmer on low). Also, basic knife technique - how to chop an onion or mince garlic. Finally, baked custard. Easy but impressive desserts, quiche (buy the crust for now), strata, bread pudding are all yours once you've learned a simple custard. Also, a couple very basic glaze or sauce recipes can be very helpful for a beginner to snazz up grilled or roasted meat. I'm thinking of stuff like the Epicurious dill-mustard sauce for fish - just fresh herb, mustard, a little oil, a little cream, but it's delicious and will make a beginner feel like he's able to produce very good food right away.

                I knew one beginner cook who really liked making salads. At first, I couldn't see the appeal, but gradually I came to understand. There was limited cooking involved (which is to say, limited application of heat), but he was improving his knife skills and learning about flavors. Mixing salad dressings was easy, and that gave him a sense of accomplishment. As he grew more comfortable, he started making salads with grilled meat or fish, roasted vegetables and so on, which opened up a range of techniques. It was a pretty good approach.