How do I start cooking?
I'm 16 years old, and I would like to learn how to cook. My family eats out most of the time, and when we don't, we just order pizza. I'm wondering how to start cooking. My cooking skill/experience is close to none, the best thing I can make is toast (and I burn it often.) I'm just seeking your advice on how I could start cooking at home. Thank you for your input.
Hi Masterphill99- glad you've made a successful foray into the world of cooking.
The internet is indeed a great resource for recipes (and of course chowhound is a great one for advice). Even so, I'd recommend that you get yourself a cookbook or two, so you can just sit down and read through them to get a general overview of many foods and techniques. Browsing the Web is one thing; browsing through a book in one's hands is quite another.
Two encyclopedic ones that are highly esteemed are The Joy Of Cooking and Marc Bittman's How To Cook Everything. Eventually you might choose to move on to some of the more advanced ones but it's good to have a solid foundation to build on.
By now you will have become comfortable making basic dishes like scrambled eggs, grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and doubtless will have tried a few more complicated ones. Congratulations on your successes, and as others have wisely said, don't feel too bad about the ones that may have fallen short or failed altogether. We're all in the same boat with you on that!
I'm a big believer in "gateway" dishes, that open paths to new areas of the culinary universe.
A basic white sauce, Bechamel, as someone recommended upstream, opens the door not just to creamed vegetables and mac & cheese and chipped beef on toast, but to Alfredo and sherried crab and the world of souffles.
Roasting a simple chicken with potatoes can lead you to a level of comfort with roasting in general, so easy in most cases, and so rewarding, from pork roast or roast beef to glazed Cornish hens and beyond.
Easy soups lead to more complex ones, and a basic goulash or pot roast opens the way to a whole host of more ambitious braised dishes like bourguignon or osso bucco.
Frying is a whole universe, or better yet many of them, Asian stir-frying and Southern deep-frying, and classic pan-frying which in turn brings you to deglazing and the marvelous world of savory pan sauces, which might at first have seemed to be remote gourmet territory, and suddenly lies open before you, right there within easy reach...
When I first began cooking, broccoli was considered an exotic foreign vegetable here in the US. Can you imagine? Today I googled broccoli recipes and there were over two million hits.
I envy you the endless variety of spices and herbs and vegetables, and the countless international cuisines that are now so easily accessible. And the joy that comes when one simple technique opens the way to whole new worlds.
Wishing you many wonderful meals and much pleasure in your journey.
"Mangia bene, vive bene." - To eat well is to live well.
I have had a lot of foreign students living in my home, and many don't know how to cook because it cost less to buy street food, or their husband cooked, or their mother kept them at the books while she did the cooking.
So I started with boiling water and hard boiling eggs with one girl.
However, a girl from Thailand used Skype set next to the stove, and her mother or grandmother told her what to do. This worked fine.
Sometimes a student would ask me how to make some particular American food, then we would
cook together. At the end, when the dish was complete, I would take pictures and we would post them to her home.
With one guy from Singapore we all got into a ferocious reading of the ingredients on the backs of packages and convinced him to start eating fresh food.
I have many food stories, the absolute bottom line is to respect what the person wants to cook and eat. So you should go right ahead and cook what you want to eat! My goal for students who didn't know how to cook, was to show them how to cook the absolute minimum number of foods to survive anywhere in the world.
I could be wrong, but I missed it if anyone mentioned the main reason kids are sometimes not encouraged to cook for themselves, and that is the danger of injury. In a way that is ironic, because adults with decades of experience seem just as likely to cut/burn/injure themselves. There's a reason Alton Brown discourages cooking bacon in the nude!
So don't forget that things are HOT! Oil is maybe the worst, but boiling water can hurt you, too, and I almost never have a time when there's not a slowly healing scar somewhere on my arms, from brushing against the oven door, forgetting to put on a mitt before removing the probe from a roast, picking up a potato I just liberated from the pot....I've also just about amputated a finger opening a can of cat food.
Some useful precautions:
You should have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
A splatter shield (I got a really cheap one at a Chinese grocery store--its original purpose may have been something different) that keeps popping oil/grease from landing on you
Really good oven mitts
Silicon handle covers for cast-iron skillets (I once melted the inside of an oven mit by using it to protect people who were going to serve themselves spoon bread that had been baked)
Train yourself to keep pot handles from sticking out beyond the front of the stovetop where they can easily be tipped over by passing children/garments.
Also, if you wear glasses, remember to take them off before you open the oven door!
Learn how to cut and chop without sticking your fingers under the knife. Ironically, a sharper knife can be less dangerous than a dull one, as it's less likely to slip. If your cutting board is slippery, a damp paper towel or two can anchor it a bit.
I'm sure others have more ideas.
The only way to learn is to try, find some recipes and start cooking!! That's how I started. I've had my mother there to watch but she never let us do any cooking because we had things like studying to do but it got to a point where I forced myself in the kitchen and when she stayed in the hospital for a few weeks due to surgery I took the opportunity and she wasn't able to get me out of the kitchen since then.
I used to search for recipes (on allrecipes.com ) at the time and follow them, I learned skills through cooking, I could make pie dough at 14 just fine, Don't underestimate yourself, just go for it!
Oh and if you have the chance watch PBS classic cooking shows on saturday, that's what I grew up with and it's great to learn things from Julia Child, and the like.
There's a little too much advice here for a sixteen-year-old, even one as smart as you. I recommend you keep it simple. Like when I moved away from home my mother gave me a book of recipes for my favorites and for cherry pie, she wrote "always buy frozen pie dough." And one other thing...
I do all my cooking in a Teflon skillet... the kind with the smooth black surface.
Sorry for not checking back for a while, but I've been very busy with school, SATs, and football. My cooking skills have improved, but I still wish I had more time to cook. Thanks for all of this advice. I've been giving some of your tips to my older brother (who just moved into his first apartment) and even got my little brother wanting to cook with me. Also on a side note, I've been to many internet forums/message boards and I must say that Chowhound has the absolute best member base I've ever seen. I've recommended it to everybody who I talk to about cooking. Thanks a whole lot!
I think it's great that you are interested in starting to cook! And you are starting at an age younger than most people so plenty of time to practice :)
As most people have already said, it is best to start simple. And never be intimidated by cooking! Yes, there are lots of posh cookbooks and pretentious chefs out there, but when you strip cooking to its basics its something we can all do given some practice and a willingness to have a go.
I'm just repeating here what everyone else has said but find some simple recipes and make them if you think it sounds like something you'll actually want to eat. Soups, omelettes and things like brownies/cookies are always a good start.
Plus, there are lots of Italian pastas that are quite basic using only a few ingredients so have a look at some traditional Italian recipes on the net. You can look up recipes for 'sauces' (e.g. tomato/pomodori) which you can then simply combine with pasta.
In terms of baking, cornbread or sodabread are usually straighfrorward as they don't involve any kneading or rising.
Good luck and keep us posted!!
First decide what you want to eat!
Yes, I know that might sound silly, but it really is the key question. If it's something you know you're going to enjoy, then knowing *you've* cooked it is going to feel great when you take that first bite.
Now, make sure it's something easy. Not too many bits and pieces to worry about.
Now go find a recipe. Check online. Read it all the way through. Read it again! Make sure you follow what the process is going to be. Then get everything lined up ready to go. And I mean everything. Then just follow the recipe. Enjoy.
In my country, there are cookbooks written for younger folks like yourself. Easy meals designed for students going to live away from home at university and who havnt really had to cook before. There's probably similar where you are.
Phil, I can't help but repeat some of what's come before and put my own spin on it, but that's what cooking is all about, right?
1. I'm from the school that says recipes are written for people who already know how to cook. If you have good luck with them then great, but don't get frustrated if you have trouble following them. Stick to the ones with the fewest ingredients at first.
2. Start simple and build. If you like Italian, you can make a serviceable red sauce with canned tomatoes, garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Yes I said canned - you're looking for consistency. Once you get a base sauce, change one thing at a time. Try it with onion. Try it with oregano. Try it with sausage. Try it with peanut butter. That way when it goes wrong, you know the problem is with the peanut butter and not some other variable.
3. One new thing at a time. If you're learning red sauce, it's perfectly ok to buy frozen ravioli and garlic bread to go along with it. If you're learning mashed potatoes, gravy from a jar or packet is fine. When you're ready for the next step you'll know it.
4. Cook what you can see. Boiling, frying, simmering are good for starting out. Ovens and slow cookers are of course great, but don't give one a sense of what's happening to the food. Make your toast in a skillet, and it won't burn nearly as bad as it does in the magic toaster box (unless you let it).
5. Have fun. Fry cheese. Boil lemons. Put chili powder on oatmeal. Cooking is not rocket science. Baking is rocket science.
I have a sixteen year old daughter who is learning to cook. She has a good teacher, me! lol... But since you obviously have a computer, use it. My one recommendation that I haven't seen mentioned is ThePioneerWoman.Com she takes each recipe step by step and explains it in great detail. Color photos of each phase and all the ingredients. She has taught me several things and I think you'll find some things that you'll just love. Her favorite fan is her husband, so alot of the meals cater to the male stomach. Good luck and stick with it. People, male and female appreciate a good cook no matter what.
I don't know if you are doing any cooking or checking this thread. However, I thought of you when I came across this site
Easy French Food
There really are some very easy recipes with good instructions like the baked apple recipe in the above link. The rice pudding, basque chicken and mashed potato casserole recipes are simple as well. Haven't looked at much more, but you might check it out.
Love that they use simple English names for the recipes such as mashed potato casserole instead of Hachis Parmentier. Not all are simple recipes, but they are the easiest path to some of these dishes.
Dear Master Phil; I found that reading a couple of different cookbooks gave me a broad view of what was possible in the kitchen one of my favs: Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard; another"The Silver Palate (more fun to read than to cook from...enjoy! And, once you feel comfortable with a couple of recipes, don't be afraid to share them with family and friends; in fact many churches have frequent pot luck dinners that are fun to sample a wide variety of staples. ie sometimes 5 different kinds of baked beans! you'll become the host with the most!
Let me join the other Chowhounds who have congratulated you on your good sense in learning to cook. It's an invaluable thing to know how to do: for your enjoyment, your health and your pocketbook.
I was in a Joann's Craft store yesterday and noticed a Better Homes and Garden book called "Anyone Can Cook." It was shrink-wrapped in plastic so I couldn't take a peek inside but I've always found the Better Homes and Gardens publications very reliable.
Here's a link to amazon.com where you can read more about the book and the reviews it got from customers. I notice that it comes in a DVD version, which might sound tempting. But I'd go for the ring-bound version. You want instructions that you can have right in front of you as you work and with a ring-bound version you can take out the one or two pages you need for the task at hand.
One reviewer recommended that you look for this on sale. BHG books are easy to find so don't go with the amazon price without doing some shopping around.
how exciting! an eager young cook!! there's been tons of great advice already on cooks & books (+1 for mark bittman, who also has videos on the nytimes webpage), pantry prep etc., and the really important advice: not to be afraid to mess up!! that's so key. don't be too hard on yourself, you're already ahead of the game and have tons of time to enjoy it. i've been cooking for a long time & still make bad food now and then. :)
maybe i missed this somewhere in the replies, but one thing to remember is to TASTE your food (while you're cooking, or near the end). getting a hang of heat takes a long time & varies according to cookware & what you're making, but seasoning, texture (of pasta, for instance), these are learned by doing and tasting (and eating, and eating). the more you do it, the more instinctive things like timing and quantity will get. you knew, after all, that your chili popcorn was terrible. best of luck to you!!
Get a kitchen timer or use the alarm function on your phone. Even if it's only 2 minutes it's easy to get distracted.
Since you said you like Italian food start there. At first you can buy jarred sauce (Newman's Own is a good brand) and boil your own pasta. Chop fresh basil or parsley and grate your own parmesan cheese. Get a bag of salad greens and add cut up tomatos and cucumbers and use bottled dressing. When you get comfortable with that you can make your own salad dressing and red sauce.
This was how I learned to cook and while now it doesn't take me any longer to make marinara from scratch the first few times I managed to dirty every dish in the kitchen. Have fun with it and don't feel like your food needs to look like a tv show or magazine (or be that complicated).
Kitchen timer is an excellent recommendation. You may not need to buy one however, as many ovens & microwaves have them built in. Using a timer will help you in at lest 2 ways. First some things -- like vegetables & pastas -- are very time sensitive and you don't want to overcook them by even 30 seconds. Second, if you are cooking multiple items for a meal and are trying to coordinate them so they are all ready at the same time, the easiest way to do this is by starting a timer when you begin cooking whatever will take the longest, and then referring to the timer to assist you in determining when to start the next items.
Nothing impresses a members of the opposite sex (or even the same) as much as a guy who can can cook. The benefits of combining cooking with romance include:
* Saves Money
* No audience
Some things are simple but time-consuming. Cottage pie is an example. Somethings look easy and aren't. Poached eggs spring to mind here. Some meals are very forgiving. Soups are an example. Some require skill and immaculate timing. Souffles are like this.
Some can be easy and spectacular, but only certain people will like them. Ceviche or gaspacho for example.
RwOrange's advice and links are sound.
Me? I'd recommend a chicken vegetable soup as a starter. And you don't have to make you own stock. At least, not as this stage.
These people have given you some good advice. Eggs and pasta are a great place to start. they are easy and inexpensive.
Let me give some advice that they haven't. Your parents will have to buy in to this somewhat. If they don't buy any groceries, you are out of luck. Have one of them take you to the store and get a few things like the things people are talking about here.
Here are some things that will keep you going even if you can't cook.
Ramen noodles, Marie Callendars Pot Pies, Progresso canned soup, Kraft macaroni and cheese, Vienna sausages, rice, spaghetti noodles.
All a pot pie takes is 10 minutes in the microwave. Boxed max & cheese takes 8 minutes and some boiling water. Rice only takes rice salt and some boiling water and about 30 minutes. Pasta only takes 5-7 minutes and some boiling water.
Guess what, you can combine stuff on this list. Mac and cheese and those vienna sausages make a meal. That soup poured over rice is a meal. Eggs and spaghetti noodles is a meal. Hard boiled eggs takes about 10 minutes.
Enough of that. The internet has a lot of videos and articles
http://freeculinaryschool.com/ Here is a link to a site that teaches you how to cook.
Even though your mother doesn't cook, she may well have a cookbook in the cabinets somewhere. maybe an old copy of " The joy of Cooking".
One more piece of advice. A buddy of mine lived with his dad when he was a kid and his dad only knew how to cook eggs. My buddy enrolled in Home Economics in high school every year. He made sure his class was just before lunch. Ed enjoyed several advantages to this arrangement. He ate very well at lunch because he cooked it. He met lots of girls when there wasn't any competition! So enroll in Home Economics!
re: Hank Hanover
Oh well. That is a shame.
A few more suggestions for Phil.
Shop the frozen foods section for foods that cook in the microwave first.
Make a few batches of toast until you get the hang of that toaster... by the way there is an knob on it to control how brown the toast gets.
Making the family something even with the microwave will get your parents more interested in you learning.
Once your comfortable with the microwave, start buying some of that frozen food that will cook in the oven. A lot of that frozen food can be cooked in either the microwave or the oven. Sometimes the oven is a lot better. The oven will do a pretty good job with fish sticks, TV dinners, etc.
Fish sticks and TV dinners aren't exactly the fare chowhounders like to discuss but you need to eat. Besides, these foods will get you more comfortable with the kitchen.
One more word, Phill---"things could be worse". When I started cooking at your age (this was in the 1940's) we were living in South America with a kitchen that was primitive in the extreme. Our small stove had no way to control the heat in the oven. Our refrigerator was barely bigger that the ones people now use in college dorms.No way to freeze anything but about six ice cubes. We had a stone sink and a marble-topped table and that was IT. No electric appliances at all. Ingredients: the local sugar was coarse and gray and came with pieces of rope in it, and much that American recipes called for simply didn't exist where we were. My mother's interest in cooking was occasional and the maid didn't have a clue when it came to the American treats I longed for. So on summer afternoons when the maid had her siesta I would shut myself up in the kitchen with The Joy of Cooking and Just. Follow. Directions. Believe me, it works; the first thing I ever made was a yeast coffeecake and it came out fine. In a well-equipped Stateside kitchen and with access to Chowhound and the public library, you should have no problems.
LOL! Those situations are definitely a challenge, I think everyone should have that sort of experience at least once. Campfire cooking, dorm room cooking, and some kitchenettes (if your efficiency apartment is really crappy) come to mind. And my parents' ancient gas stove, where the oven temperature is either high or low.
Oh boy, with so many answers you will hardly get to the kitchen! ;)
Let me line out what helped me, some mentioned before ...
1.) Mise en place: before you cook, put tools and ingredients in place. Saves you from a lot of trouble when you overlooked something was missing or anything went wrong. It also means to read a recipe in full ALWAYS before you start.
2.) Learn some basics: when a recipe says "stew" you have to know stewing means with lid on. There are like 28742873427 techniques, and the amount of knowledge is just overwhelming, thus start by looking up the technique if you encounter it in a recipe. For example: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Cooking_techniques
3.) Write a journal: I started to write down the dish, date and what went wrong / was good each time i cooked. I am VERY forgetful and kept doing the same mistakes again and again.
4.) Sign up for the chow daily recipe newsletter! :D
5.) Last but not least check http://freeculinaryschool.com/video-t...
Good luck and never forget: practice makes perfect! ;)
Phill---About 40 years ago my son's best friend's mother moved out, leaving her husband and teen-age son, neither of whom knew how to cook. Among other bits of advice, I counseled them to become acquainted with the kind of red spaghetti sauce that comes in a jar (Ragu and many other brands) because it is easy, quick, and versatile. For example: 1) Cook any pasta, drain pasta, add sauce---with or without frozen pre-cooked meatballs, sauteed onions or peppers or mushrooms, sauteed Italian sausage etc). 2) Saute ground beef, add the sauce, spice it to taste, and it's Sloppy Joe to eat on hamburger buns. 3) Pour it over bought fried chicken, put cheese on top, and bake until everything is hot and bubbling. And more.
Food Network's website has quite a few chef videos that will show how to prepare a certain dishes start to end. I really recommend anything by Alton Brown or Ina Garten. A few of their recipes maybe a bit advanced, but they have a lot very basic, simple but excellent dishes. Chow's YouTube channel has several very useful "how to" videos. Making perfect rice, crack an egg, make salsa, ect. They're short and informative. If you have an iPhone, I know a lot of teens do, you can get the "How to Cook Anything" app. It's cheap and very useful. Good luck and let us know your progress!
It's been repeated a bunch of times here, but it bears saying again: don't be afraid of messing things up. As long as you don't leave the kitchen unattended with things on the stovetop or under the broiler, you probably won't damage anything terribly, and if your family already eats out a lot or order pizza (as mine did growing up), then the wrost-case scenario if you make a bad meal is that you just go out or order pizza. No harm, no foul. :D
When you're first starting out, it's perfectly sensible to look for cookbooks that cater to beginners - ones that explicitly explain terms and things like that. I'd recommend a trip to your local bookstore or the library to look through the introductory cookbooks until you find one that clicks with you and where you really understand the instructions it gives. Then take it home and give some of the stuff in it a try.
The biggest thing I recommend to my friends who are trying to learn how to cook is to learn a few basic recipes or concepts that can be easily adapted into more complex stuff or that can be varied in a number of different ways so that you don't get bored even if you're not feeling inspired. Suggestions along that line include: learning how to scramble eggs (you can add so much stuff to them or eat them with just salt and some pepper); how to make a basic tomato sauce, with or without meat; how to cook a versatile cut of beef like flank steak (good in tacos, on a salad, or with a side of potatoes); how to bake chicken breasts; and so on...
I would suggest deciding what you would like to have for your meal. Do a search and find a recipe that sounds good for what you want. Gather the ingredients and prepare the meal, following the recipe(s) EXACTLY. When you sit down to enjoy the meal that you have prepared, analyse what you are eating. What do you like? Could something have been done better? What would I have done differently to obtain a result that I would like better? Over time you will build a knowledge of what you like and how to prepare it. You will be able to walk into a kitchen, see what is available, and prepare a meal that everyone will enjoy. Above all, DO NOT BE AFRAID OF MAKING A MISTAKE.. A mistake that my family still laughs about after 30 years is that I once used grown cloves instead of chili powder. Nastiest chili ever, but we ate it and I've never made that mistake again. The main thing is to enjoy the learning curve.
Start watching a lot of food tv and america's test kitchen and cooks country.
Concentrate on learning methods and ideas, rather than recipes.
Start simple and then play around.
Anthony bourdain just did a show on a few things everyone should know how to make:
Start with that, and then branch out.
I started cooking when I was your age and for similar reasons so, Onward! First, regarding the burned toast, turn down the power on the toaster. There's a button. Just because your family is anti-cooking, that doesn't mean you have to follow suit. Second, cook something you like to eat---that's how you make sure you have a supply. Is it desserts you're longing for? Or a full meal? If you can be more specific I will be glad to send suggestions. Being able to cook will make your whole life better, forever. Suppose you were a machine, it's like being portable and battery-powered instead of having to plug in to a power source: you always have what you need, and it goes where you go. Please get back to me---and, meanwhile, read cookbooks for general background.
Here's the basic Chicken parmesan recipe I wrote out for my son last year, when he was getting started with his own apt:
Sauteed chicken breasts, coated in Italian seasoned bread crumbs (recipe follows)
red sauce (homemade or good quality jarred, such as Newman's Own or Barilla)
mozzarella cheese, shredded
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Arrange sautéed chicken breasts in single layer in oven-proof baking dish.
3. Ladle red sauce over chicken.
4. Generously top with shredded cheese.
5. Cook about 15-20 minutes until cheese is melted and red sauce is bubbling.
Sauteed Boneless Chicken Breasts
Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
egg (one per 4 one-half breasts)
Italian seasoned bread crumbs (such as Contadina brand)
olive or canola oil (about 2 tbs.)
1. Rinse and dry chicken.
2. Place chicken breast half flat on cutting board. Slice in half horizontally – i.e,. moving knife through breast parallel to cutting board. Use a sharp knife and place other hand flat on top of breast to keep it from moving. Don’t worry if one “half” is thinner than the other.
3. Season chicken with salt & pepper.
4. Beat egg in soup dish or similar wide, shallow bowl. You can add about 1 tbs. of olive oil or milk, if you want to egg.
5. Scatter bread crumbs on dinner plate.
6. Add olive or canola oil to heavy pan and heat. You should be able to feel the heat with your hand held about 3 inches above the pan surface.
7. Dredge (i.e., dip) chicken breasts, one at a time, first in egg, then bread crumbs, so that thoroughly coated. Place each chicken breast in pan and cook about 4 minutes per side, until golden brown. Don’t over crowd pan.
8. Remove chicken onto platter and set aside.
Note – By cutting the breast in half to make it thinner, it will be more tender and cook faster than if you leave the breasts intact.
This is not the most sophisticate recipe, but it's the basics.
I guess for now, I'd be cooking just to satisfy myself. So that could mean anything from meals, to snacks, to desserts, etc. But for starting off, I would prefer things that take less time to make since I know i'll take a long time (it took me 2 hours to make that chili popcorn.) Concerning which foods I like, ever since I went to Italy, I have been IN LOVE with Italian foods, especially chicken parmesan (which I surprisingly never saw in Italy.)
For meals, I recommend you buy Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. It's a board favorite Italian cookbook. Many of the recipes are very simple and remarkably delicious. She does a good job of explaining fundamental techniques that not everyone knows. Her chapter on pasta is particularly outstanding.
For snacks and desserts, try cooking stuff out of Joy of Cooking, which has an easy-to-follow recipe for everything you can think of.
For things that take less time to make (and are less intimidating for a beginner), you could start experimenting with ways to embellish instant foods like ramen, boxed mac & cheese, 15-minute seasoned rice packets, etc.
Just chop up and saute some onion, a couple of different types of vegetable, and/or some meat, prepare your instant food according to package instructions, then mix it all together. It's a good way to start getting the hang of cooking, even when you're feeling too lazy or intimidated to tackle real cuisine.
Hi Phill---Re your question about access to ingredients, the answer is "a little of both". As you get in the habit of cooking, you will accumulate a backlog of items that you always have on hand, like onions and cinnamon and bottled lemon juice. But before you start actually cooking something, eyeball your kitchen to see if you have what's needed and, if you don't, go shopping. Professional chefs use a technique called "mise en place" (put in place) which means getting everything out on the counter before you start, sometimes even measured into the correct quantity and sitting there in a little dish, just to be sure. Regarding chicken Parmesan, you can always find a recipe for ANYTHING online just by googling for it. If you line (with aluminum foil) the pan you bake the chicken on, cleanup will go quickly. Follow instructions carefully. If you don't understand the instructions, come to Chowhound and somebody will for sure leap to assist you. My guess is that your non-cooking family will soon make you its official chef. "Once the world finds out that you can fiddle,/ Then, fiddle you must, for all your life.". One more thing: see if your public library has a copy of "The Joy of Cooking" by Irma Rombauer. It's old but a very sound educational tool that gives basic instructions for everything from frying an egg to roasting a guinea fowl.
Italian is a GREAT cuisine to start on because a lot of it is about the basics and letting the ingredients shine. As a first thing to make trying spaghetti and tomato sauce. Homemade tomato sauce is VERY forgiving and you can adjust the flavors to your liking. Basic tomato sauce is sauteeing one small diced onion and one clove of garlic minced in about two tablespoons of olive oil. Add a can of crushed tomatoes (not diced or whole and not tomato sauce) and simmer. Add a bit of salt and pepper to taste. If you think it taste too tomatey, add like a pinch of sugar (like half a teaspoon). If you think it needs to taste a bit more savory, add a bit of chicken broth. You can add some torn up basil and oregano to give it a little freshness and some crushed red pepper to give it more spice. To cook spaghetti, make sure the water has a few tablespoons of salt in it and you have A LOT of water in proportion to your spaghetti. Also make sure the water is vigorously boiling. To make sure it's done, take a noddle out one or two minutes before the box says and taste it. If it taste hard in the middle let it go about another minute but if it's firm and not gooey, take the pasta out and drain it. And add shredded or freshly grated parmesan on top.
One thing that I've been telling new cooks is to go on youtube. There are tons and tons of cooking demonstrations and you can SEE how big a diced onion should be or what mincing means.
Good for you! You live in a city with a great food heritage. I'm not sure how "basic" you want to get since you say chicken parmisan is your "go to" party dish, but the best way to learn to cook is to cook. So here are some suggestions that may help, or they may be too basic. You decide and welcome!
Obviously you have a computer. So just for openers, there are tons of "how to" videos on the web, including here on Chow. So watch them. But for immediate practical stuff to start out with, eggs are a really great beginning.
For example, French toast. For French toast you need a non-stick frying pan, a bowl (a big wide soup bowl, aka "soup plate"), a fork, and a spatula, plus a warm plate. You can make French toast with any kind of bread, from gummy white bread (Wonder bread, etc.) to thick hand sliced French bread, or just about any other kind of bread you can think of. Start with two eggs. You can increase the number of eggs when you're cooking for other people too. So crack two eggs into the soup bowl. Beat the eggs with a fork until they're all the same color. This is an important step before you add more liquid because the egg yolk and egg white (albumen) will mix better. Next add two tablespoons of milk (or water), a pinch of salt and a pinch of sugar. The sugar helps the French toast brown. Whip again until it is a smooth liquid. Now heat your frying pan or skillet to medium or medium high. If you like your French toast firm all the way through, then use medium heat. If you like it sort of soft in the middle -- you might call it "custardy," but the French call it "baverse" -- then you want the pan a little hotter so the outside will brown and cook while the middle turns to pudding. Dip the bread in the egg mixture and turn to coat both sides well. Put some butter (and do use butter instead of margarine) in the pan, tilt the pan to spread the butter evenly, and add your egg dipped bread. If the pan is big enough to hold two slices, go for it! Otherwise cook one slice at a time. After a bit, lift the edge with a spatula and peek under to see if it's brown. When it's brown, flip it and cook the other side, then remove to a warm plate. If you have more egg mixture, repeat until the egg is all used up. If you’re using thick cut French bread and like the pudding middle, you can soak the bread in the egg mixture longer and lift it out with a large spatula and slide into the pan. This will use a lot more egg than just dipping normal store bought sandwich bread. There are several ways of serving French toast. My mother loved it drenched in melted butter with salt and pepper on top. Many serve it with a sprinkling of powdered sugar on top. And then there are the more traditional syrups and jams are really good too.
Now that you know how to make French toast, that opens the door to other things. You can make a sandwich -- ham and Swiss cheese is a classic - then dip the sandwich in the egg mixture and fry in the usual way but over medium heat to allow the cheese to melt. This is called a "Croque Monsieur," and is often served with strawberry jam, but I'm not a huge fan of strawberry jam on my ham sandwiches. But maple syrup is good, then eat it with a fork.
From this procedure, you can build up to other things. For example, take a boneless pork chop, place it between two pieces of plastic wrap, then using a heavy object like a large flat mallet or the bottom of a heavy pot smash the pork thin, but try not to pound any holes in it. This is sometimes called a “cutlet,” or if you’re German or Austrian, it’s a schnitzel, and the French would probably call it a paillarde. A rose by any other name... You’ll need one or two per serving. For cooking equipment you’ll need a frying pan, a spatula, three soup bowls, a fork, and serving plates. The “ingredients” are the thin pork as above, a soup plate with flour for dredging, another with the egg mixture as in the French toast recipe, but without the sugar), and the final one with bread crumbs. To make your own bread crumbs, add dried out bread (or pita crisps or croutons) to a zip lock bag and smash it to bits. You want crumbs, no chunks. Or you can buy bread crumbs or panko (larger Japanese bread crumbs that crisp really well). So now you’re ready to cook! Heat between 1/8 and 1/4 inch of oil (peanut oil is good) in the frying pan until fairly hot. Dredge (coat) the pork chops in flour, pressing to cover well. Shake off the excess and dip into the egg mixture. Finally coat well with the bread crumbs and slide into the hot oil. If your pan is large enough, you can cook several at a time but do not crowd them. There should be some space around each one so the coating stays intact when turning. Brown the first side, then turn and brown other side. They are thin so they will cook quickly. Transfer to a warm plate, two pieces per serving and top with a sprinkling of fresh parsley (if you have it) and top each piece with a thin center slice of lemon. VOILA! You have the classic Austrian dish called Weiner Schnitzel! Top it with a fried egg instead of the lemon and you have the classic Holstein Schnitzel! Chopped anchovies and capers are traditional with Holstein Schnitzel, but you can skate without them. And here you didn't even know you are a chef! ‘-) Apple sauce and potatoes, mashed or fried, are good accompaniments.
Omelets are classic. People often THINK they're difficult to make, but they're easy! You will need an 8 inch non-stick frying pan and a rubber scraper/spatula. If you don't have a non-stick frying pan in the house, Walmart sells a great 8" Farberware non-stick pan for about ten bucks, and they have rubber scrapers too (heat proof). Once you have the pan, you will need 3 eggs per omelet, some butter and a filling for the omelet. Grated cheese works fine as a filling, or even a slice of American cheese like they use at McDonald's. Crack the eggs in a deeper bowl (I use a "chili" bowl, but a soup plate will work too) mix well with a fork, then fill the largest half egg shell you have from cracking the eggs with cold water and pour it into the mixed eggs. Now add a pinch of salt and I use about three dashes of green Tobasco sauce, but just the salt will do fine if you don't have Tobasco. Now add a "nob" of butter to the hot frying pan. A generous tablespoon is about a "nob." Swirl it around and when it stops foaming (butter stops foaming when all of the water content has been boiled off and you're left with butter fat, which is what we're after) pour in the eggs all at once. Watch the eggs carefully and when you see them starting to set (they get opaque and you can just tell they're cooking) around the outside edges of the pan, using the rubber spatula push the cooked egg into the middle of the pan allowing the uncooked egg to swirl around it keeping the pan full to the edges. Continue doing this gently all the way around at a speed just fast enough that when you finally get back to where you started, there is more semi-solid egg to push into the middle. Keep doing this until there is no more runny egg to fill up the spot you just pushed clear. You do want the entire bottom of the pan covered. Now reduce the heat a bit and add the grated cheese down the center of the egg from one side to the other. Try to do it so the stripe of cheese makes a "T" with the handle of the pan. When the egg mixture looks fairly "set" on top, then gently push the sides of it all the way around but just enough to make sure it is not stuck to the bottom of the pan. Pick up the frying pan and hold it over a full size warm plate and BEGIN to slide it onto the plate. When it is half on, tilt the pan upward sharply so that the omelet fold over on itself. You should end up with a semi-circle with a gently browned but still yummy crust showing on top and the cheese in the middle. A classic chef's trick is to now give it a rub with a pat of butter so it is all shiny. Don’t' worry if the eggs were not set to firm when you tilted it out of the pan because the internal heat of the omelet will finish cooking them. And just so you know, this is NOT the Julia Child version of a French omelet that looks like a quivering tamale, but it is a classic French omelet that a French friend taught me to make eons ago. I strongly prefer it.
These are easy recipes that work well for beginning cooks but don’t tell any one they’re not really hard to make. They will be soooo impressed! So happy cooking to you, Phil, and bravo! Keep us posted on your progress!
Don't forget to add some bacon. This is a simple recipe that you could do to go with the French Toast or the Omelet. It can be baking while you are making the main course. It just involves heating the oven, placing the bacon on a foil lined cookie sheet and placing in the oven.
Baked Bacon (much less greasy)
First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a cookie sheet or baking pan with sides with heavy-duty foil. Arrange the bacon on the pan, side-by side, being sure not to overlap the pieces. In fact, leave a little space between the bacon slices so they have room to brown and crisp.
Bake the bacon for 10-17 minutes for thin-cut, or until desired doneness. I myself like my bacon very crisp, so I bake it 16-18 minutes. For thick bacon, add another 4-6 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven, drain on paper towels, and use.
Cook what you like to eat. Then you will know if the recipe makes sense and looks like a good one. If you love Italian pasta dishes but you have a recipe that calls for cumin and chilli powder you know it's not what you are looking for.
Remember if you can read, you can cook. Just follow the instructions - the rest will come.
My advice is to start with simple recipes. For example, if you like pasta, work on cooking spaghetti aglio e olio. See this recipe:
Though basic, this dish is difficult for a true beginner, and it will teach you a lot of very important cooking skills. Peeling, chopping/mincing, and sauteeing garlic are crucial skills in most cuisines. Removing and chopping parsley leaves is essential to Italian cuisine as well as Indian cuisine (where cilantro replaces the parsley). Boiling and tossing pasta are arts unto themselves. You can learn how to do all of these things by watching online videos and reading various internet sources or cookbooks.
If you won't find it too insulting, there are a lot of good "Children's Cook Books" that have simple, tasty introductory recipes, with plenty of illustrations and no assumptions that the new cook knows ANYTHING at all. ;-) My daughter--a fantastic cook, now, at age 18--she makes Japanese dishes, for pete's sake!--learned to cook with a few of these. She especially liked one called Kid's Cook: Fabulous Food for the Whole Family.
If a "Children's cookbook" seems a bit too juvenile, consider getting one that it is aimed at college students or other young adults who are on their own for the first time. Many moons ago, my husband learned to cook out of the Campus Survival Cookbook. It's a relic of the 70s and out of print, but used copies are available cheap on Amazon. None of the recipes are complex, and once you get the hang of cooking, you probably will not use it much (we still make some of the recipes, like roast chicken but once you've roasted a bird a few times, you don't need the cookbook), but it assumes that the reader knows virtually nothing about cooking. It really is a decent place to start if you have no one to guide you and no experience in the kitchen.
Find yourself a teacher.
Either a neighbor, relative, a friend's parent, etc. who you can watch cook and ask questions. If someone like that isn't available, maybe volunteer at a local food shelter, or maybe get a job as a short order cook at your local diner?
Doing and experience is the best way to learn how to cook.
Cookbooks make for nice place settings on coffee tables, little else.
I remember learning to cook in school.Simple things like applesauce and boiling eggs. A good basic cookbook would be the next thing. I find that watching TV cook does not help, and some of the recipes on the internet are not for beginners. So the best is getting a book like the Joy of Cooking.
There is some good advice already posted here. I too would suggest you find yourself a mentor that would show you some cooking skills. There must be someone in your family, an aunt, granmother, Mom's cousin, somebody that enjoys cooking and would be willing to help you out. Most people that enjoy cooking also enjoy sharing the cooking experience with others. Good for you and good luck to you in your quest.
p.s. Watching food/cooking shows on TV will also help you gain insight into what actually happens in the kitchen when you cook.
While the above items listed by greygarious would be nice, I know that most 16 year olds don't have a lot of money to toss around. To help with what pans are for what and the different materials and their characteristics are check out this page: http://www.vollrathknowledgeworks.com...
They(Vollrath) make restaurant grade cookware but the descriptions apply to any price range of cookware.
While many of the threads in the cookware forum concern higher end items, there are plenty concerning cookware at a lower cost. Plus reading some of them will help you find what are truly quality products and what is a lot of marketing.
Good for you! Get a cookbook and start out with some basics. Things my kids (10 and 13) make all the time include pancakes, cheese omelets, scrambled eggs, and pasta. I know this sounds like a lot of breakfast stuff, but my 13 year old also makes a tremendous roasted duck. And making a tasty roasted chicken is pretty darn easy.
Also learn to make easy side dishes like rice, baked or boiled potatoes, steamed vegetables, and salad.
Recipe for duck here: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ty...
Don't do the duck recipe unless you have an adult in the kitchen to help you out. And if you're going to cook any poultry you should buy a meat thermometer. They're available in most supermarkets.
Oh, I forgot to say in my above post, learn how to make a basic bechamel (cream sauce). It's nothing more than butter, flour, milk, S&P, and maybe freshly grated nutmeg if you like that (I do). This can be used as an ingredient in so many recipes that it's a good one to have up your sleeve. For example, if you add grated cheese to the bechamel and then dump in some cooked macaroni you have macaroni and cheese. Super simple and just delicious!
None of this good advice will help much if you don't have a kitchen with the basic equipment. At the BARE minimum you will need a 10" frying pan (a regular plus a nonstick would be better), a 4 qt. saucepan, 6" chef's knife, paring knife, rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons, a large mixing bowl, a wooden spoon, and a cutting board. This can get expensive but if you sign up for Cook's Illustrated's online membership (there's a free 2-week trial) they have equipment testing reports that usually offer a very affordable, decently-performing alternative to the high end pieces. I would not rely much on the Chowhound cookware board because often people get hung up on wanting top-of-the-line equipment that looks pretty. You can score good bargains at stores like Marshall's and Home Goods, or thrift shops and tag sales, IF you have a shopping companion with cooking experience.
Just gently reminding everyone...our OP is 16...and perhaps dependent on what mom and/or dad provide?...so how can he make sure he's got a well-stocked kitchen??? I mean, come on...seems to me, a frying pan and a stove would be bare minimum...and then of course the food. GG, all those additional items may not be attainable for masterphill, ya know?
I agree...this teen is just starting out and is probably without a job to buy all those things she don't need right away. I started using a real knife when I was about 10; my mom didn't own a chef's knife but she did have other knives and was able to cook meals for 5 every day. While it helps to have all those other things, they are not necessary to be able to cook a dish.
The OP needs a good cookbook...go to the library & ask the librarian to assist you in finding a beginner's cookbook. Don't bother subscribing to a magazine when there are tons of books you can borrow free. Later, when you become more skilled and you feel you can afford and are interested in subscribing to a food related magazine, go for it. While you're learning the basics, the only other things you have to have is a cooking vessel & a source of heat. Most other things can be imporvised. Good luck & have fun!
It is precisely because the OP is a teenager, and says no one in the family cooks, that I raised the subject of equipment - which may or may not be present in the home - and suggested inexpensive sources. No point in recipes and ingredient shopping if you don't have the necessary kitchen tools available. And the OP is apparently a he, not a she.
You don't need to worry about equipment. Even though we never use it, we have a full variety of knives, pots, pans and all that good stuff. We have so much stuff that what takes a lot of the time is actually sorting through and finding all the equipment that I need. And if I don't have something I need, I'll easily be able to go out and find it. So basically, equipment is not that much of an issue, just ingredients.
A good tip is make sure you have everything out you need before you start. And prep anything that needs to be done too. For example if you need to have a chopped onion, don't try to chop it right before it needs to go into the pan because it will take a few minutes and you could have missed the correct timing. It's called mise en place, but that's extra info you don't really need to know.
Thank you for all the advice. I was so motivated that I decided to look at a Kid's cookbook and make an item immediately. It was this strange kind of popcorn with butter, chili powder, and garlic powder. And I'm just wondering, do you decide what you are going to make beforehand, and then go to the store to get what you need?, or do you just have a whole lot of common recipe items in your house, and then look in the cookbook to see what fits?
It depends. When you have a specific dish you want to learn and make properly, then of course, you have to plan ahead and get all the ingredients. However, as you get more comfortable with your skill and the ingredients, you will just cook based on what are in your refrigerator. Let's look at the corn recipe I send you in the previous post. There are 5 ingredients there and they are all pretty important, but some are more important than others. For example, corn is the most important, so you cannot skip that. On the other, let's say you don't have fresh clinatro leaves or serrano chiles, guess what? You can still make the dish. It may not taste as nice, but it will work. You will also learn to subsitute. Ok, maybe you won't have cilantro leaves, but maybe you have parsley at hand, that will work. Maybe you don't have serrano chiles, but you have jalapeno pepper, so maybe you don't need to drive out 30 min to get serrano chiles.
I think you do need some basics: extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, shallots, garlic - fresh and/or granulated, onions, potatoes, shallots, paprika, dried oregano, rosemary, chili powder, thyme, ketchup, mustard, vinegar, cinnamon, vanilla, nutmeg, flour, granulated sugar, brown sugar, Worcestershire, soy sauce, hot sauce, boxed chicken broth (until you learn to make your own stock), canned chopped tomatoes . . . I live near a lot of hispanic markets and dried herbs are sold in small packets, instead of having to buy them in jars (larger quantity, more expensive), which may be not be as good for a fledgling cook. i'm sure others will chime in here with their indispensables!
When I first started cooking for myself I would just go to the store and buy lots of random stuff that I thought I might wind up using--or ingredients that seemed cool or interesting and that I wanted to learn to use. Then stuff would wind up sitting un-used in my cupboard for months, or rotting in the fridge, because I never got around to figuring out what to do with it.
The way I do things now makes much more sense: Use the internet a lot. Find a recipe or two that sound yummy. Read them all the way through so there are no scary surprises. Then make your shopping list--Just what you need for the dishes that you are definitely about to make within a day or two.
You'll eventually accumulate a pantry/fridge-full of basic oils, spices, and condiments just from what is left over from these recipes--and you can use these accumulated items up haphazardly, or use Google to look up other recipes to use them up in if they're about to expire.
It's kind of a back and forth thing-- Shop for a particular recipe, then you have leftover ingredients, so you have to look up recipes that use that ingredient. And that winds up broadening your horizons and inspiring you to try new dishes.
Eventually you will have developed a list of items that you just constantly keep stocked, because you tend to cook with them a lot. For example, we've always got onions, garlic, eggs, butter, olive oil, hot sauce, canned tomatoes, and canned beans. For fresh veggies and other perishable goods, though, you definitely want to just buy when you have a definite plan in mind.
A good tip is to only think 2-3 days ahead when you're meal-planning.
Also-- Use Google whenever a recipe confuses you with vague instructions or unfamiliar terms. There are in-depth articles about every basic (or complicated) cooking technique or ingredient, and there are how-to videos on youtube and elsewhere that can really help to clarify things when you're feeling inexperienced.
re: sonia darrow
"Also-- Use Google whenever a recipe confuses you with vague instructions or unfamiliar terms. There are in-depth articles about every basic (or complicated) cooking technique or ingredient, and there are how-to videos on youtube and elsewhere that can really help to clarify things when you're feeling inexperienced."
See, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aDjNl5... (how I learned to chop an onion).
re: sonia darrow
"Find a recipe or two that sound yummy. Read them all the way through so there are no scary surprises. "
This is VERY key - READ THE ENTIRE RECIPE first. Several times. Make sure you understand what size "small dice" is if it calls for small diced potatoes, peppers, or carrots, or any other instruction you're unfamiliar with.
Learn that prepping ingredients BEFORE you start to cook is key. (That's called "mise en place" - meaning everything in its place and ready to use.) Having the chopped onions, minced garlic, and measured salt and pepper and dried oregano all at hand in little dishes, and the canned tomatoes opened up so you can just dump them into whatever you're cooking is what we all do (or should be doing! LOL). When onions are sauteing, you won't have time to mince the garlic - do it beforehand and have it all ready to go when the recipe says "after two minutes of sauteing onions, add the minced garlic to the pan and saute for 30 seconds. Then add canned tomatoes."
The basic ingredients as others have listed are always good to have in the house. Buy whatever else you need for your recipe when you decide to make it.
And as others have said - you will make mistakes. Things will burn. Things will be over-seasoned (or under-seasoned). Things will come out undercooked or overcooked. As you begin to figure out what a "medium-hot frypan" is for starting a stir-fry or "full rolling boil" is for pasta, you'll eventually get the hang of it.
Lots of good links and ideas for basic recipes have been included. Start off small, learn what you can, and slowly expand your repertoire as you begin to get comfortable.
I suggest that you decide what you're going to make beforehand and go to the store to get what you need. In deciding what you're going to make, lean on the side of dishes that require fewer ingredients, ingredients that you'll use up immediately, and ingredients that you already have. As you become more experienced and committed to cooking, your internal logic will tell you what things you should buy and keep on hand even when you don't have any specific recipe in mind for them.
Did you like the chili popcorn you made?
In your OP you mention burning toast sometimes. In that case, I'd suggest recipes to start that don't require careful watching or patience such as soup or microwave recipes.
See what you have in your home and then try cooking that instead of buying ingredients to match a recipe. Google on the items and the word 'Recipe" ... such as corn easy recipe.
I don't think you need to get a cookbook if you have the internet. Here's some recipes geared to teens and students
Find someone who likes to cook and ask to help. If there is no one in your family, maybe one of your friends has parents who will let you help.
See if there are any free cooking courses at community colleges or elsewhere.
SInce it sounds like you don't have much being that nobody really cooks at your house. I would start acquiring a pantry based on the ingredients in your recipe. Pick one recipe each time you cook and get the ingredients.
Now that I have been on my own and cooking for 4 years, I still kind of like to do it that way. I don't keep a lot of junk in my house that can go bad. I look at the circular each week and decide what to cook based on what's on sale (or what else I have to use up). Then I pick recipes that use those ingredients. When I was first starting I would have to buy staples like oil, vinegar, salt , pepper, sugar, flour etc. as I got to a recipe that needed it. Now I have those things on hand.
I can open the the cabinets and if there is somthing there usually turn it into something but I like to plan my meals as much as possible because it cuts down on the complaints, whining, deciding what to make and uncertainty of it. Even if it's something that doesn't need a recipe (ie: grilled chicken with salad) I still write downt that I'm going to make it and make sure I have what I need.
Not economical, but for this particular situation, the McCormick spice packet cards would be good. I have never looked at them carefully but it's the size of a large postcard, with a recipe on one side and the spices for that dish in plastic casings on the other side. Stuff like stews and roasts. They are meant for the occasional cook and would be handy to take on vacations involving cooking some of your own dinners.
Just with something easy and something you like. You don't want to start with something too difficult or something you don't care for. For example, omelettes are not too difficult, basic gumbo is good too, this Indian corn dish is very simpe and fairly tasty:
Just look for recipe with limited ingredients and minimal steps. Then you can expand from there. Best.
If you have a local library it can be a valuable resource for books and dvds on cooking. A great book for beginners is Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer (it's out of print but many used copies are floating around) Any dvd featuring Jacques Pepin will provide you with proper techniques and reasons for doing things along with great recipes.
As you watch a chef prepare a dish, if everything is already cut up, look for another show where they cut and prepare the ingredients that will be used. Don't worry about the speed that they can do things, that comes with practice.
Turning the stove to HI on a regular basis generally means that things will end up burnt on a regular basis.
Some things that are relatively cheap to practice with are eggs and onions. Eggs are great for learning about the heat that your stove produces and onions are great for learning basic knife skills.
Have patience and try the same recipe a few times within a week or two. This will allow you to see where you may have gone wrong and how your pots, pans and ingredients interact and make adjustments as necessary.
Good luck and remember that it is really a lifelong journey. With practice it will become more enjoyable and you may find your family asking you to cook versus going out to eat or ordering a pizza.
Two words. Alton Brown. Watch all his "Good Eats" episodes from the Food Network. They are on YouTube. Get his book "I"m Only Here for the Food" from the library. He not only explains how to cook in a humorous and entertaining way, he explains what's happening to the food while it cooks.
I think the best thing to do is find someone who does cook and ask to help them in the kitchen sometime. Check with family members and friends, and ask to help with something not-too-complex to start with. I'd suggest you try cooking things you'll want to eat for lunch or dinner on a somewhat regular basis. I'm not an expert in the kitchen by any stretch of the imagination, but the things I cook well (read: the things I've done many times) are things I learned to make so that I could have a satisfying meal whenever I wanted.
Second, a good cookbook can help. Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" has a ton of recipes (as the name suggests) and most don't involve too many ingredients. Start with the basics (marinating and cooking a steak, making an omelet, sautéeing vegetables, making a fresh pasta sauce). Once you've learned some simple main course options, you can tweak them by adding new spices, new vegetables, new sauces, and in the course of doing that you can learn new and fancier techniques.
Finally, expect to screw up a bunch at the beginning. It takes a while to get a feel for how hot the burner should be, how to chop a tomato without spilling the seeds everywhere, how to flip a pancake, etc. Practice doesn't necessarily make perfect, but the day will eventually come when you feel like you can actually navigate a stove top without tripping all over yourself, I promise!
I hope this helps. Good luck!
tz gave good advice...and, I would start with what you LIKE TO EAT! Keep it simple for now...then you can blossom into more involved, I guess that would be what I would add to tz's words. Oh, and GOOD FOR YOU...cooking for yourself is one of the best things you can do, ever! It's nice to go out and eat occasionally, but to be self-reliant in the kitchen is a worthy LIFE SKILL...we all need to know how to cook!!! Good on you, phil!
I'm with Val. I just want to commend you on wanting to get started. You will be so happy with yourself later on. And I agree with the other posters. Just start simple and initially start with recipes. Once you get those down, you can branch out. Heck - I am making things now that I have never made before and I have been cooking a long time. Keep us posted on how you are progressing. And don't forget to enjoy the experience.
I'd say to just start doing it. Start with something very simple, pasta? scrambled eggs? etc. Remember 2 rules as you are a beginner.
1. Follow a recipe (you won't need to once you learn the basics, but for now, always have a recipe written down in front of you)
2. NEVER walk away from the kitchen while you have the stove on.
Expect to make some mistakes, but just start cooking. Everyone starts somewhere. :)