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Just learning to cook... where do I start?

I'm a sophomore in uni and I've recently just moved into an apartment with a couple of people. Now that I get a stove and everything, I've really become interested in learning to cook as the majority of my meals are take-out or Ramen :P

My question is where do I even begin learning to cook? I can stick chicken in the oven and that's as complex as I've gotten so far. Can anyone recommend some cook books? Cooking supplies? (I have a large skillet, some knives, and a small cutting board right now). I'm also interested in subscribing to some cooking mags.

Thanks in advance.

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  1. You will be sure to get some good advice here.

    I'll start with telling you about two magazine's that you can get some simple recipes out of. One is Everyday Living, and they even give you a list of ingredients to go shopping for each week and other tips.

    The other magazine is the Food Network Magazine.

    I would start with a large dutch oven (5 quart), a medium sauce pan along with your skillet. I shop TJMaxx, Homegoods for anything kitchen related. You may not find everything in one shopping trip, but you can't beat the prices.

    One of the earliest and easiest things I started making was spaghetti sauce/gravy. It's just a bit time consuming to watch over the pot for a couple of hours. And Marcella Hazen's recipe is pretty basic and delicious.

    A couple of tools that I use all the time are, microplane, wooden spoon, plastic spactular, wire wisk and some nice sharp knives.

    I wouldn't go crazy buying all kinds of gadgets, just things like a can opener and hand held mixer should suffice for now.

    You can get all kinds of recipes of the internet now, so you don't even have to purchase a cookbook yet. Google can be an amazing tool, as can Epicurious, Tastespotting and Foodgawker as well. Although I love Ina Garten's way of cooking and ease of style.

    Good luck and have fun. And if you need anything specific, ask here. Lot's of great people and cooks/chefs to help guide a novice. ;)

    1 Reply
    1. re: mcel215

      Several hours to make a sauce is a lot for student. I have been known to say that jarred spaghetti sauce is a crime against humanity, having been raised on the good stuff, so for a student with limited time and probably money, my suggestion is to learn how to make a quick and inexpensive tomato sauce out of a 28 ounce can of tomato sauce using simple seasonings that you can keep in your apartment pantry, such as dried garlic powder, dried basil, dried oregano. There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting this way, which will be much cheaper than buying a $6 jar of pre-seasoned spaghetti sauce. You can always use fresh garlic, onions and basil if you have them on hand, and they improve this greatly. This only takes fifteen or twenty minutes, and by varying the amount of basil, garlic and oregano (more for pizza sauce), you can replicate a jarred tomato sauce for about 1/4 the price wtihout watching a pot for hours. No shame in taking short cuts, and it is still better than opening a jar. You You can add browned ground beef or browned Italian sausage for a meat sauce. Adding mushrooms gives you another variation.

      No criticism intended here please, but they all don't need several hours. My family never cooked it for more than an hour, and we regard the long cooked sauce as something "Sicilian" versus the Neopolitan that we are more used to. Tomato sauce only needs to cook for a short time to be delicious. If you prefer the all day version, knock yourself out, but the long simmering of a dark red sauce is something someone's Sicilian Grandma used to do on Sunday. This is a busy college student, after all.

      I'd avoid magazine subscriptions, but would buy from a newstand whenever you see a recipe that catches your eye. Cook's has a lot of techniques, and I agree with the Food Network recommendation.

      mcel's recommendations are spot on for equipment and Ina Garten's books. For the Dutch Oven, if you are a scrupulous pot scrubber (and so are your housemates), enameled covered Dutch Ovens are great, -- but they can rust. You can't leave them in the sink or leave them wet. If you are going to do that, go for Stainless Steel. Get one with a cover that can go into the oven and get a metal cover, not glass.

      Good luck.

    2. Pick up a copy of "James Beard's Theory and Practice Of Good Cooking". Each chapter is devoted to a specific method of cooking (Frying, Roasting, Braising, Baking, etc.) He fully explains the cooking method & and its variations and then gives recipes using that cooking method. He even has a chapter devoted to what pans, utensils, knives, etc. that a good kitchen should contain. This was my "Cooking 101" and I still have my beat up hardcover purchased many years ago.

      Did a search for this book on Amazon.com & found new & used copies for $3.75 to $8.74. I think this is the best investment you'll ever make.

      1 Reply
      1. re: cavandre

        I would also add 'The James Beard Cookbook'. Lots of good basic recipes across the board. Beard writes knowledgeably and lovingly of food.

      2. ok, this reminds me of myself 5 years ago,
        get good quality olive oil, kosher salt , pepper grinder, and try some other stuff like paprika, curry, chef pauls poultry magic , red peper flakes. get wood cooking utensils. during the summer try to take some cooking lessons somewhere. watch food network and buy gourmet and other magazines. whats your favorite kind of food. do you cook on the stove the most or try the grill? get some good butter to kerrygold or lupak. oh.. basil, cilantro, onions, garlic, oregano, potatoes and rice. not all together but essential on the kitchen.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Aochoa

          Oh, I totally forgot about this. It's wierd in the beginning, you have to kind of brace yourself to spend a lot shopping initially. There is sometimes stuff you might not have like balsamic, olive oil, spices etc. You'll build up a stock eventually, from which you can eventually invent your own recipes, but a bare kitchen is the most daunting thing. I feel safe in the company of the contents of my cupboard.

          But I'd agree with pretty much everything Aochoa said.

        2. Great advice so far...remember: cook what YOU like to eat...very good place to start.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Val

            Totally agree there. If a recipe has a major ingredient or flavouring you just can't stand or can't get (either at all or at a reasonable price), just try substituting and see what happens. No cream? See what whole milk will do (usually you are just affecting the richness and creaminess of the dish), or if pears are out of season? try apples, and see what happens. You'll flop sometimes, but if you pay attention to what went wrong, you'll soon figure out what you can and can't "get away with".

          2. "The Joy of Cooking" is my bible. It's a great book to have whether you're beginner or advanced. The book lists how to cook almost *everything,* and it's easy reading.

            1 Reply
            1. re: shaogo

              I agree. This book was a HUGE help to me when I first started cooking, and I still use it all the time.