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Nov 12, 2009 01:59 PM

Ok, big question...How do you cook? :)

I've been reading here for awhile and thought I'd jump in with my first post.

I 'm one of those cooks who see a recipe and make it but it doesn't go any further for me and even those recipes tend to be pretty basic.

I grew up in one of those homes where both parents worked. As kids we'd come home and brown the meat and throw it in a pot and my mother would make alittle stove top or mashed potatoes and canned corn. My desire is to be alittle more creative than that and just "know", ok, maybe not just know, but minimally be more comfortable.

To narrow down my question; because of what I had read here, I picked up my first Le Creusent 5.5 qt Dutch oven. (pretty cheaply at Marshalls) I cooked french onion soup last week, so now what? Is there a great book you could recommend?

I don't know about meats and what and how to cook them best. What works well in the oven vs the stove. I really haven't cooked many roasts, pork or beef and I'm feeling alittle lost.

I know this is a very broad request, but just where do I start?


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  1. I first started cooking right after I graduated from college. I was a big fan of the Food Network (back when it was still a credable source), and I just watched a lot of it. I may get some flack for this, but I got a lot of ideas from Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals. You have to admit, she is pretty creative some times. From there, I went to the Internet. I cooked a lot of recipes before I started creating my own. I learned what worked well together, and what didn't. I learned how to make a cream sauce for casseroles from scratch, instead of using canned soup. I learned how to roast a chicken properly, things like that. And if I had different vegetables than called for for a recipe, I used those instead. After a while, you'll get the hang of it. I have not read this book, but I hear from a lot of people who reccommend "The Joy of Cooking". I have the "Fannie Farmer Cookbook" for some more traditional recipes like bread and Shepard's Pie. Oh, and for baking, I ALWAYS need a recipe. Good Luck!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Oboegal

      I just bought the Joy of Cooking to have a general purpose cookbook containing all the basics and for all those recipes that you seldom make but that will come up once in awhile. (My focus is on Asian cooking, so the majority of my cookbook collection reflects that, but I do need to make cookies or stuffing or what have you once in awhile, which is where the Joy of Cooking comes in.)

      Having tried about 10-15 recipes from it, I must say that it is excellent: not only are the results great, but the way that the recipes are written, with ingredients written in bold and intermingled with steps, make them incredibly easy to follow and greatly reduces any risk of accidents like omitting an ingredient by mistake. I used to use Betty Crocker for this purpose in the past, but found that most of the recipes were sub-par and disappointing; it is such a pleasure to replace the Crocker cookbook of culinary catastrophes with this book instead. I can't recommend it highly enough.

      1. re: vorpal

        I agree with owning the Joy of Cooking. So much knowledge in just one book!

    2. I really think getting a good basic cookbook would be your first step. We use Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything and the original Joy of Cooking. Both are really great-- I'm guessing Bittman is better on meat. Try out a beef stew in your new pot :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: Procrastibaker

        Agree with both of your cookbook recs. They will show you basics, step by step, and if you want a little fancy, they can do that too.

        And you couldn't have bought a better dutch oven, I've had mine for almost 15 years and love them. Stews, soups, braises, roast chickens, chilis, all kinds of things can be made in them. Really really versatile. And you have some thing we did not, while cutting our teeth - the internet! Now all you have to do is type in a magazine's name, or food network, or some other show, or .... recipe, and the whole world opens up for you. Take advantage of that, you will learn so much. And reading here has helped me become a better cook, even after cooking for 30+ years. Best of luck, and enjoy yourself, it's really a great hobby!!

      2. With that new dutch oven, and this time of year (Howling N'Easter outside) learning stews, soups and braising would be ideal.

        I like classic cookbooks, so would say, Julia, Jacques and Beard are can't go wrong authors, they have great basic techniques books.

        1. Kathy, I think you've gotten good advice here.

          First, re the cookbooks--I think if you're first learning, it's really important to get a good, proven, general American cookbooks (um, I'm presuming from your S/N that you are here in the U.S.?). The first book I would recommend to you would be The Joy of Cooking. If you prefer not to spend a lot of money on cookbooks that you haven't seen, then be aware that you can used editions that are in pretty good shape (e.g., some of them were library books and fairly well maintained) via Amazon. I have bought a few by that means, and have been pleased with their condition, for a fraction of the retail cost.

          Anyway, a book like Joy of Cooking is great because it gives you chapters describing the qualities and use of fundamental ingredients, how they behave, information like cuts of meat and the methods that work for each time, info on the proper cookware and equipment to use, cooking time charts, and things like how to select, store and preserve food. Plus, a book like Joy of Cooking will show you one key recipe and then all sorts of easy variations, so you expand your repertoire quickly and not get bored. I personally do not have Bittman's book, which Procastibaker recommended, but so many people here have commended it that it is on my wish list.

          I liked Oboegal's idea re watching the Food Network and in particular, since you're first starting out, I think that Rachel Ray, Giada de Laurentiis, Robin Miller and Ina Garten might be especially helpful to watch. They tend to cook recipes that aren't too complex, but that emphasize fresh ingredients (or frozen produce, when that's necessary, and that's perfectly healthful when the fresh stuff is out of season, too expensive, etc.). The camera work on those shows is good, and you'll be able to see close-up scenes of how the ladies slice and dice, bread things, place things in pans, etc., so that will help you with technique. They also tend to repeat basic information regarding ingredients from show to show, so that will help the information "sink-in", until you've had a chance to work with some of these things mulitiple times.

          With no ill will toward *anybody*, I would recommend that if you're watching Paula Deen or Sandra Lee for general interest, that's fine, but their choice of ingredients are NOT as healthful as some of the other ladies--too much saturated fat, sodium, processed food stuffs. Those things are fine once in a while, but it's not the way to learn how to cook fresh, healthful, interesting, varied food.

          Also, if you don't happen to be home when their shows are broadcast, but you do have cable, you can find some of the shows "on demand" to play at a time when it's convenient for you. And my cable system also has a set of shorter cooking instructional videos I can play at any time--not big-name chefs, but professional chefs. Look for that on your cable system if you have a menu heading that says something like, "Life and Home".

          I fully concur with Quine, that if you want something beyond a basic home cookbook, then I would go to Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and James Beard (their books and DVDs) to learn about food the right way.

          Get to know your produce and meats managers at the store you shop at. Ask the produce manager when you see him/her to help you pick out the best produce, and ask your meats manager what the best way to cook a particular cut is. Often, these folks will have good info to share with you, too.

          You just have to practice and don't be afraid to make mistakes or have "disasters". You may not have any at all (though most of us do, even after decades of cooking), but if you do, they will lessen with time the more you cook.

          Do you have friends that cook that might agree to teach you how to make one of their special dishes? (I have a friend who makes killer pies, so she gives our little group of friends dough and fillings "clinics" once a year.) Does your municipality or county offer low-cost cooking classes in the evening through its adult education program? Anything "hands on" will help you. And you can always come here to ask for advice or help. I can't tell you how many people have helped me here, and expanded my knowledge, and I was an experienced cook when I found this site.

          To start, look for recipes that don't have too many ingredients to prep, so that you can feel "in control". And for a while, try to introduce new recipes at a reasonable pace--e.g., one new recipe per meal, that sort of thing, rather than taking on five challenging things you've never cooked before, for one dinner.

          I'm excited for you, that you have this goal, and I know you'll be successful at it if you're patient with yourself and remain interested in new dishes and new ingredients. Good luck.

          1. I second "the Joy of Cooking" and "How to Cook Everything", as well as keep watching the Food Channel, ESPECIALLY "Good Eats", since Alton Brown tells you not only How but Why.
            Also subscribe to the internet "Cooks Illustrated" for 3.95/yr. That way if you have any questions, no matter how basic, you can get them answered.
            And, of course, you can ask us Chowhounds! We're always happy to share food info :)!

            4 Replies
            1. re: Michelly

              I love both books, but when my daughter moved out, I bought her Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." She loves it, still uses it often, and has become a weekly farmer's market shopper, making everything she eats from scratch. Since then, I've bought her other books, by Alice Waters, Julia Childs, but she's never stopped loving to cook from Bittman.

              In addition, I really recommend The Barefoot Contessa on the food network, Ina Garten. She is very soothing, takes the fuss and itimidation out of everything, and I love the recipes of hers that I've used.

              1. re: mcf

                I love Ina Garten, too, and she has some wonderful recipes!

                1. re: Phurstluv

                  I also love How to Cook Everything. Three or so years ago, I bought it because I started subscribing to a produce box from a local farm. At the time, I didn't know how to cook much of anything, and I was unfamiliar with a lot of the produce I got. How to Cook Everything was a lifesaver. It taught me how to wash a leek, how to core a cabbage, and how to make stock. The recipes are simple and use good ingredients that you should have on hand - olive oil, garlic, onions, salt, pepper, etc. The recipes for the most part aren't time consuming and there is a good mix of meat, almost-meat free, and vegetarian. Three years after I bought it, I am so much more comfortable cooking and I still consult it weekly for recipes.

              2. re: Michelly

                Great advice! You can't go wrong with those suggestions, and like Michelly said: ask us.