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Novice cook in search of advice...help! :-)

I have been cooking for a while...really...I have...if you give me a recipe, and it's a good recipe, you'll be in a for a wonderful dinner. Here is the problem...I cannot cook without a recipe. And I cannot tell bad recipes from good recipes. I have no clue. No concept at all. I have the America's Test Kitchen cookbook from 2003 and another test kitchen book and the joy of cooking and from all those I've maybe made 20 recipes with varying success. I have them because I figured little could go wrong with recipes from good books like those. And that's true. Except some of them sucked. And when bf looked at them he said 'of course', obviously sucky!.... (clearly)...

So my question to you all is...I am looking to make simple, healthy, relatively inexpensive food though I try to buy as many local and fresh ingredients as possible - no cans, no processed stuff, etc... WHAT CAN I MAKE???? Dinner is always a toss up - do you want breaded chicken or lemon chicken....do you want chili, burgers, or meatsauce? None of that? Can't help you... Seriously, where can I find simple, healthy recipes for dinner/lunch that don't take forever and are GOOD - maybe if I have a whole selection of good ones and make them repeatedly I'll get the knack of cooking without a book and knowing what a good recipe might have in it's contents....

If you've read this far, thanks :-)

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    I think you're on the right track. Cooking is a process of elimination. You try things, and if they work and you like them you do them again. One of my pet peeves is a recipe that has more than 5 ingredients. I will make things that do, but they better be some real important additions. Keep things simple, maybe try new things a couple of times a week. Always remember that unless your baking which needs exact measurements, you're in control and go with what you like.

    1. don't feel bad. you'll find with most cookbooks, regardless of the reputation, that only a handful of recipes will work for/appeal to you.

      i'd suggest a subscription to cook's illustrated (hard copy or web site - you don't need both). it has it's detractors, and for good reason, but they do present recipes that work well & explain why so you'll get a better understanding of what's going on, which you will be able to apply to other recipes. they don't use many convenience foods in the main recipes, but often provide a quick version (for instance, reworking a recipe to use canned beans for a week night).

      1. CI is a great suggestion. and since you said you're looking for healthy recipes as well, i'd suggest "eating well" or "cooking light" magazine. both have consistently good recipes [and yes, the occasional clunker], and they also publish cookbooks...including books that are dedicated to quick & easy meals.

        1. don't focus on recipes, but on techniques. It's the difference between paint by numbers and being a painter. try to generalize from the recipes you do make and like. worry less about the amounts and look at the flavor combination you like. learn how to braise, saute, sear, etc. if you can make one stew you can make any stew. If you can braise some chicken you have a thousand dishes at hand, not only the one in the recipe. Use recipes as guidlines for techniques, not ends in and of themselves.

          2 Replies
            1. re: thew

              This is great advice -- once you know the techniques and you know how to do certain things, you'll start to recognize recipes that are good or not so good. Try to follow recipes exactly a few times, and then if they work, try to alter them a little, and see if your alteratiosn work. Also, the recipes that didn't work, pay attention to them, and then when you see other recipes like them, you'll know not to use them. In order to be a good cook, you have to fail a few times so that you know what not to do.

            2. Cooking with recipes isn't bad, as long as you enjoy cooking. I think you'll find that the more you cook, the more comfortable you'll be come with reading a recipe and being able to judge if you'll like it or not, or even better, what you need to change to make it better. The key is to keep cooking and be ready to have that bf of yours take you out when a new recipe doesn't go quite right :-)

              I 100% agree with Mark that cookbooks only have a handful of recipes you'll want to make again and again. I use my binders full of recipes from web sites and magazines more than most of my cookbooks.

              I have a full-time job and a family, so although I've been cooking for years and enjoy creating my own recipes, most of the time I want a quick path to a healthy dinner and that means following someoneelse's recipe. My current favorite site for easy, healthy recipes is MyRecipes.com. They have recipes from Cooking Light, Coastal Living, Southern Living, and a few other sources. Their interface is easy to use and their recipes are very accessible for new cooks. The readership is also great about leaving comments on the recipes, so before you try a recipe, read the comments to see what others have encountered.

              Regardless of what path you take, don't stop cooking!

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