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Learning to Cook – Need help

  • k

Will someone please post the best materials and devices out there for cooking or to learn how to cook. Below is some information that I have gathered that might help.

On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals by Sarah R. Labensky (latest edition is the 4th, will probably save money on the 2nd)

Alton Browns “Good Eats”;
Chef Carol at www.thesizzleworks.com (extremely GOOD prices – *Best Buy);
CIA at www.ciachef.edu (extremely high prices = EXPENSIVE);
Jacques Pepin www.jacquespepin.com (more of a cooking show instead of Culinary fundamentals);

Falk, Bourgeat, and Mauviel tin lined 2.5 mm solid copper pans.;
Le Creuset enameled cast iron French Oven (the Wide Round is more like a casserole);
All-Clad stainless Steel;

Cook’s Illustrated www.cooksillustrated.com
Cooks Country www.cookscountry.com
The Food Network www.foodnetwork.com

The Food Network www.foodnetwork.com

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  1. Jacques Pepin's "La Technique" PERIOD

    12 Replies
    1. re: KTinNYC

      He is good but a little difficult to understand. After while you get used to to way he speaks. I could not find "Le Technique PERIOD".

      1. re: krbtv

        It's just "La Technique"

        It might help if you could explain a little about who you are and what you want to learn to cook, why? Like are you interested in maybe becoming a professional chef, or are you a college student trying to figure out how to make good dinners? A guy just starting to cook in his 40s?

        And by the way what are the kinds of things you like to eat?

        A lot of people may say the same fundamentals go into each, but it's easier to recommend something with a little context. Nice array of choices that you posted though.

        I know cooking basics and a couple of fancier things but my 'learning to cook' these days is all about Southeast Asian food because I love it.

        1. re: Cinnamon

          I'm just interested in cooking good meals for my family but I would like them to be on a professional level. I want to be able to cook like the Chefs on Iron Chef America (or at least half that good). I'm female, mid 40s, and I eat the same old same old - time to break that pattern and eat foods on a different level.

          My posting is more so for other new readers who want or need this information. BTW, the book "La Technique" sounds very interesting. Do you have a copy of this book? I'd love to have one if it is really good. Of course I don't want to waste my money if it is not that great.

          1. re: krbtv

            Subscribe to Cooks Illustrated. Buy the book - there is no such thing as "wasted money" when it comes to recipe/technique books.
            Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here For The Food" is a bible of cooking techniques with master recipes.

            Wanting to cook like Iron Chefs doesn't tell us much. Are you interested in ethnic cuisine? If so, which ones. Mexican/Latin? Spanish? French? German? Eastern European? Generic American? We can point you towards resources for those cuisines.

            If you're tired of the same old, stop cooking the same old! Go to the library, find a cookbook that interests you. Flip randomly to a page; and go buy everything necessary to make that recipe. Repeat until you find some recipes that you like.

            1. re: krbtv

              Well, I don't have any particular books to recommend but a couple thoughts. I do like the idea of a comprehensive book that will take you from 'what knives?' to how to make sauces and cook meats and develop techniques so that whatever you make is tastier, perfectly done and saves the flavor. That puts you in better stead to wing it without recipes. Hopefully the other folks here can recommend a few books like that, with ideal techniques but still compact enough to not be a three-year endeavor.

              Jumping in with a cookbook and actually making the recipes can be kind of daunting. And one downside is it doesn't give you a lot of foundation in techniques, so you may be able to make a roast using the recipe, but the book doesn't then tell you what else you could do with the roast, or why you're doing at that temperature in that way, etc. There are a some books out now that explain the science and physics of cooking, like when a cake fails and gets gooey, why did that happen with the proteins (or whatever) and what ingredients prevent it? I'd love something like that.

              There are two other beefs I have about cookbooks and recipes in general. One is vetting - there are so many out there and it can be tough to tell which ones will actually taste good to your palate. Star ratings help, but still. The other beef is not really a beef I guess - but sometimes I find myself torn between the lovely-sounding recipe with a billion ingredients that is going to take till the end of time to prepare and the very simple ones that I worry may have started on the side of a noodle box and not be very good.

              Because of that last point, if you want to start making really good food right away, I'd be looking for two things - one, a guide to basic techniques that you can go over over time (do any have an accompanying video series I wonder - what about Julia Child?). Two, browse some of the 'popular chefs' books at a bookstore with titles like so-and-so's quick meals, and pick up what looks good to you.

              One I browsed through was Tyler Florence's "Tyler's Ultimate: Brilliant Simple Food To Make Anytime."

              So if it were me, I'd alternate between a really serious learn-the-techniques approach and making some fresh recipes that weren't incredibly complicated but delivered better than the same-old.

              1. re: Cinnamon

                This is an excellent write up with good advice!

                1. re: Cinnamon

                  mark bittman's books,
                  cookwise, by s. coriher
                  vegetarian cooking for everyone, by d. madison (even if you aren't vegetarian)
                  are good books along the lines Cinnamon is talking about

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    For understanding the how's and why's, Cookwise and McGee's On Food and Cooking can't be beat. While sometimes a tad complicated, I've never made a Deborah Madison recipe that wasn't awesome.

                    As for making food like Iron Chef's, that takes passion, preparation time (you will not be able to produce what they do in an hour), and a lot of cooking (remember that most of the chef's have been cooking full time for 20+ years). They also rely on excellent ingredients. Look for inspiration in your store, vegetable, meat or fish markets - buy something you've never seen before or cooked with. Use it to jump into new techniques, cuisines, and flavors. Search the library and web for recipes and videos (on youtube there are thousands of videos demo'ing the same technique) for recipes and inspiration. Or find a meal you like at a restaurant and try to replicate it.

                    Excellent beginning to cook books are Child's Way to Cook and Peterson's Cooking. Good compendiums are Joy and Gourmet. But find the one that makes you want to get in the kitchen.

                2. re: krbtv

                  Sounds to me like you just need your enthusiasm re-sparking a little. Rather than any of the technical masterworks available, or blowing a fortune in a cookshop, try anything written by Nigella Lawson. She's wonderful in print, but tries too hard on the screen I think (poor direction?).

                3. re: Cinnamon

                  Below is the information that I found about “La Technique”. It appears that the book to buy is Jacques Pepin’s Complete Techniques.

                  Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques (Paperback)
                  ISBN: 1579121659; Cost: $16.47
                  This book contains material from La Technique ©1976 and material from La Methode © 1979. I searched inside the book and it does appear to have old black and white photos in it.


                  La Technique: An Illustrated Guide to the Fundamental Techniques of Cooking (Paperback)
                  ISBN: 978-0671790202; Cost $4.88 and up. If you find this book it will probably be used as this book was published in 1978…


                  La Methode: An Illustrated Guide to the Fundamental Techniques of Cooking (Hardcover)
                  ISBN: 978-0812908367; Cost $27.95 and up

                  1. re: Cinnamon

                    La Technique and La Methode have been combined into one 830-page paperback, "Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques" (Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2001, $19.95). It is full of B/W photos illustrating the motions and equipment used in each task. Worth its weight in gold!.

                    1. re: greygarious

                      at Amazon for 16.something! Would this help me with my baking/fear of flour?

              2. i have a 1976 copy of "la technique." it was autographed and inscribed by Pepin in 1985--- but not to me! LOL ;-P i agree it is a great book for *any* cook to look at & learn from, if you can find a copy, or just get the complete techniques book by Pepin which might be a very nice update.

                i would first get a new, good, sharp knife that you've tried out and like (chef's or equivalent) and work on knife skills extensively before going on to cook complex dishes. visit your farmer's market or asian produce market, get vegetables of all descriptions, and take them home and chop them. . . make a lot of veggie soup! give it away if you have to! :)
                knife skills are an important basic cooking skill that too many people try to skip over-- then they become limited later on.

                when you have chopped a lot of veggies, get a used copy of a culinary textbook like "on cooking" and explore the sections that appeal. the sections are laid out well for learning foundation techniques. note that older copies of these textbooks will be very french cuisine-oriented, and that newer editions will have more world cuisine. you will want to be reading other cookbooks, from the library, perhaps, to get a broader spectrum of styles.

                there are other threads on chowhound about great books and great recipes to try. good luck, have fun, try to remember that simply prepared foods can be just as good as complex ones if you work with good ingredients, so start simple and master the techniques you can use to build on.

                1. epicurious.com saveur.com finecooking.com

                  southernliving.com love cooksillustrated.com gourmet.com

                  emerils.com marthastewart.com myrecipes.com

                  1. I'd also like to broaden my culinary horizons. I'm a good cook but I only know the basic 'home-cooking' stuff... every time I go to the library I borrow one or two cookbooks, preferably the ones that have information in them as well as recipes, and then I take them home and read them. What I really need to start doing is actually MAKING some of the recipes... lol I almost never cook from cookbooks - I look up recipes online and print them out as needed but that can be hit and miss.
                    I'm going to start making at least one 'cookbook recipe' per week.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Kajikit

                      K - I've been doing that for years (25+), usually 2 per week. I'm not saying there haven't been some duds in there, but for the most part very successful keeper recipes. And it cuts down on the boredom of everyday meals; it's fun. Let me know how it works out for you.

                      1. re: Kajikit

                        It's also helpful to keep a small notebook and make notes of the recipes you like and where to find them. I've printed out so many recipes that I have about 15 notebooks full of recipes I love at hand, in binders or just school notebooks, plus I still keep the little notebook of things to try.

                      2. Check out the Cookbook of the Month links on the Home Cooking board. You'll find good discussions of many cookbooks, along with recipes and comments.

                        1. Hi everyone,
                          I found a very interesting free book called “Boston School Kitchen Text-Book, Lessons in Cooking,” printed in 1914. The book is located at http://books.google.com/books?id=iAAq... . You can download the pdf version of the file or read it online.

                          This book makes you appreciate modern technology. There are some recipes in the book, a lot of outdated material like how to make a coal fire, and some basic culinary concepts.

                          Here is an example of what is on pdf page 167, Lesson XII – “First Lesson in Batters.”
                          [Batters are thin mixtures of flour and liquid made in the proportion of one scant measure of liquid to one full measure of flour. If merely mixed and cooked slowly they would be hard and compact. But they are made light by the admixture of air or gas and by quick cooking before the air has a chance to escape. …..].

                          A plain cake recipe is on pdf page 243. Lesson XX, “Laying the Table” is on pdf page 250. This might be a very interesting read to many of you.

                          1. Two foundational cookbooks you didn't mention are The Joy of Cooking and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Granted, they may not be as "gourmet" but they include good good basic information on techniques and they are designed for beginning cooks.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Diane in Bexley

                              The original Fannie Farmer cookbook can be found free at http://books.google.com/books?id=-noC....

                              It is called "The Boston cooking-school cook book " By Fannie Merritt Farmer in 1911.

                              1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                Speaking of foundational cookbooks, don't forget "The Betty Crocker Cookbook" and "The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook." I still use these to find basic recipes and cooking times (although the old editions that I use tend to recommend cooking the heck out meat), but otherwise, they are very helpful and I am sure that the new editions have adjusted the cooking times to suit modern tastes.

                              2. Books I'd recommend for learning to cook: "The Way to Cook," by Julia Child will tell you just about everything you'd ever want to know. It's really geared for the home cook, and it is SO American.

                                La Technique by Jacques Pepin. already been talked about. Jacques also has a wonderful series of dvd's available that are super. Like being in an actual class with him. If you don't find them on line, contact the International Culinary Institute (fka the French Culinary Institute) where he is a Dean.

                                "La Varenne Pratique," by Anne Willan. She's the founder of La Varenne cooking school, and this book is very easy to follow.

                                As for magazines, I think they are great for recipes and ideas, but I don't think of them for basic instruction. I am not a fan of Cooks Illustrated, either the magazine or the tv show.

                                If you REALLY want to learn to cook, I don't recommend the Food Network.8( You will get far more real information from the PBS shows.

                                1. krbtv,

                                  As far as TV shows, look at your local PBS station. The shows on there are better for learning to cook. I watch on Sat. mornings, and they have a great line-up (Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, ATK, Everyday Food, etc.) Also on Create TV, which is also PBS, they have cooking shows on the weekend and during the week . Another hint is to go to a Half Price Bookstore and browse the cookbook section. You can get a lot of the cookbooks mentioned and some that haven't been, for a fraction of the original cost, and they are usually in good shape. Some are brand new. I got one there, a Better Homes and Gardens Simple Secrets to Better Everyday Cooking, for my daughter. Great photos, full of tips, easy but good recipes with variations and a perfect introduction for a new cook. I think it was under $10. Sign up for the mailing list and they will send you discount coupons too. Have fun!


                                  1. i've learned the most in terms of cooking technique from sunday suppers at lucques. all the recipes i've made from that book and deborah madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone, have been fantastic.

                                    1. From what I've seen, DVDs, magazines, and television are not particularly helpful for general cooking lessons. If you want make a particular dish, sure. But if you really want to ***learn how to cook*** you have to start with the basics. Which means getting some technique-oriented books. I'd recommend Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" and Jaques Pepin's "Complete Techniques" without any reservations.

                                      If you're the analytical type - interested in the "why" of cooking - Shirley Corriher's "CookWise" and Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" are indispensable. Alton Brown digests some of these concepts into a more entertaining format in "I'm Just Here for the Food."

                                      If you already have some basic skills, you'll also want some cookbooks that provide a whole bunch of recipes. The Joy of Cooking is the classic tome for that. Then maybe mix and match some cookbooks for cuisines other than traditional Euro/American: Diana Kennedy's "The Essential Cuisines of Mexico," "Foolproof Indian Cooking" by Madhur Jaffrey, Irene Kuo's "The Key to Chinese Cooking," "Into the Vietnamese Kitchen" by Andrea Nguyen, etc. (Note: these are just possibilities, not hard recommendations. You might go with, say, Rick Bayless instead of Diana Kennedy. The idea is to open your eyes to the possibilities of new ingredients and techniques.)

                                      As for cookware, if you have plenty of money and want to impress the neighbors, you've got a good list (although I'd go with steel over tin for lining copper pans). On the other hand, you can cook just as well for far, far, far less money. If you sit at the chef's counter at a Michelin-starred restaurant, you're unlikely to see the gleam of copper or the All-Clad logo. What you will see are heavy steel and aluminum pots and pans that were purchased at the local restaurant supply. They aren't as pretty, but the food doesn't care.

                                      One thing you've omitted to mention are knives. A really good 8-10" Japanese chef's knife (MAC, Global, Shun, Misono, and Nenohi all make good blades; I personally use a Togiharu G-1) and a parer (I like the Victorinox / Forschner) are a good place to start.

                                      The most important thing to realize is that great cooking has a long learning curve. You can shorten it by having good tools and a solid knowledge base. But the only way you can learn to cook is by cooking. Get in the kitchen and get started. If you observe basic safety rules, the worst that's likely to happen is that you call for take-out. And learn something in the process.

                                      1. I bought the "Oh, Oranges" DVD at thesizzleworks.com and really liked it. This video has instruction for making a citrus-based dessert and salad. It is a wonderful video and well put together. I have not had a chance to make the dishes yet but I am really looking forward to making the salad.

                                        Good voice/diction
                                        Two recipes in the video
                                        Ease of making and simple ingredients
                                        Looks appetizing
                                        Recipe clearly printed in the video

                                        No printable written instructions. No problems in this case because but recommended for more complex dishes.