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Brand New Cook: Recommended baby steps?

So my roomate and I no longer live together, although I still feed him. If left to his own devices he would live on pizza and burritos and cheeseburgers. The extent of his cooking repertoire is a ground beef fried rice type deal, deep frying (without batters or breading or marinades), or frying strips of meat until jerky-like in texture. Bleh. Oh, he can grill stuff that I prepare for him pretty well.

I'm trying to help him learn to shop for groceries and make sense of those groceries for himself. Grocery shopping is especially frustrating for him. I remember learning to cook by watching my mom and cooking shows and lots of trial and error. But his laptop recently broke and he has no TV. Are there any books you can recommend? Any other ways to inspire him?

He's also trying to go a healthier, less meat-centric route, now that he's been living off of my fresh, unprocessed cooking. Willing but unaccustomed to eating vegetables. Likes ethnic foods.

I can't imagine going through life without being able to feed myself, so it's hard for me to help him out besides giving the man a fish instead of teaching him to fish... I'm hoping someone here has been through a similar ordeal and can offer some sound advice!

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  1. Does he like stir fries? These are very easy if you buy pre-cut veggies at the grocery store.

    You say that he can grill well, maybe you could give him a few marinade recipes?

    3 Replies
    1. re: hala

      I think stir-fries are a great option - ironically, it's something I've never made. He will need a big pan for that right?

      1. re: esquimeaux

        Some CHs have stopped using a wok and use a cast iron skillet for stir frying. Makes sense.

        1. re: esquimeaux

          yep, just a big pan. Nothing special.

      2. how about slow cooker or crockpot recipes? if you're feeling generous, you could buy him one of the mini ones and a cookbook to go with it. he won't have to be too active in the process, but will learn about flavors from recipes. and if the pot is big enough, he might get two meals out of it :)

        also, why not, if you are so inclined, have him over once a week or every two weeks, and spend the night making something he likes, something he'd like to know how to make?

        in the process, maybe you can cover knife skills and whatnot.

        a man, a can, a plan... 50 recipes for guys http://www.amazon.com/Man-Can-Plan-Gr...
        the real man's cookbook? http://www.conservativebookstore.com/...

        this ehow article has a few ideas: http://www.ehow.com/how_2124211_teach...
        lidia bastianich talks: http://bigthink.com/ideas/4604 (interesting point about relaxing and confidence)

        1 Reply
        1. re: Emme

          I love those cookbook rec's! Yes, he watches me cook and tries to help, but I think I show him everything from Step 3 and on..... it's difficult for me to explain Steps 1 and 2 (buying groceries, coming up with meals) to him. Also, I don't have a whole lot of patience for it, haha.

        2. Two words: Mark Bittman. I cracked open "How to Cook Everything" for a recipe for popcorn the other night, because I'd thrown out the bag. HTCE taught me how to boil a true medium-boiled egg -- as well as a bunch more complicated stuff, like making an entire Thanksgiving dinner on my own. Bittman's "Minimalist" column in the NYTimes was also really great. I haven't tried any of the books that came out of the column, but they're recent and readily available, and if you search nytimes.com you can probably find the lists of 3-4 ingredient recipes he published from time to time.

          Also, if he'd be open to this (as it's a recipe book aimed at parents of 2- and 3-year-olds...), "The Baby Bistro Cookbook" is an awesome collection of highly simplified yet tasty recipes that are really, really easy to follow.

          2 Replies
          1. re: bgbc

            Meant to add -- see if he can figure out a recipe he'd like to try on his own that he can really work at mastering. I don't mean anything insanely complicated, but if he picks a tasty recipe that he can share with others and works on mastering it, he's going to feel proud that he "owns" it and will get a lot more confidence and perhaps interest in cooking.

            1. re: bgbc

              Ahahaha I would love to hand him a book for 2 and 3 year olds. But that's good advice - thinking back on it, I remember starting out by following recipes to the letter and then expanding and taking risks. Super basic books should help him a lot, thanks!

            2. First, here is a link to another thread on the same basic subject. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/759656

              There are several books. I like 'How to cook without a book" by Pam Anderson. It's focus is how to throw something together out of your pantry and fridge quickly and easily.

              I suggest showing him how to make pasta and show him a couple of sauces. Stress that he can throw almost any vegetable in it he has. Also tell him you won't laugh too hard if he sometimes uses jarred sauce.

              Next show him a rice pilaf and stress how many variations he could do and how quick it is. Afterwards, show him a risotto and how similar it is to a pilaf.

              If I had to teach a kid how to cook, the first two things I would cover is pasta and pilaf.

              Then tell him to put some progresso soups in the pantry for something easy and quick.

              Again, lots of ideas on other threads..

              Because it is you here asking and not him, I won't be too surprised if it doesn't take too well. It doesn't sound like he is motivated very much.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Hank Hanover

                Thanks for the book rec! It sounds like it covers exactly what he needs. And I could use a little help in that department too. His motivation comes from the ultimatum to learn how to cook for himself or starve. I refuse to be a grown man's source of daily sustenance any longer. :) But I need him fit for work, since we're partners, so it's sorta up to unqualified me to guide him.

              2. Show him by example. Invite him over for dinner and ask him to help you out. Doesn't have to be in a demanding way- more like "hey, can you toss that chicken in the pan and stir it around till it's not pink."

                Another helpful thing for him would be to take him shopping. Instead of demanding that he go with you, tell him you're going grocery shopping and would love some company. How to pick ripe fruit, how to choose an appealing stalk of broccoli, which brand of soy sauce to buy... things like that can be so overwhelming to a newbie.

                Another tip- he's going to get sooo overwhelmed if *everything* seems like it has to be cooked from scratch for every meal. Point out some quick/ convinience items that he might like- steam in a bag rice or veggies, frozen fruit chunks, spice blends, a marinade or two, good jarred pasta sauce. Things that *can* be done at home with time, but are ok to buy occasionally, especially for someone who's new at the cooking game.

                Introduce him to a fish monger, butcher, and a good health food store or supermarket with lots of health food items. It'll make him feel more confident if someone introduces him to Joe the fish guy or Jane the cheese gal. Knowledgeable staff can make all the difference when shopping- they can even offer recipes or prep tips.

                1. introduce him to the "Chinese menu" school of cooking -- one starch (pasta, rice, couscous, etc., etc.,) one vegetable (or mix thereof), one protein (animal, eggs, tofu, fish), and the spices that turn your crank today.

                  Teach him to cook pasta and rice and couscous...then show him how to stir fry them. They're not authentic to any particular heritage, but it's fresh, fast, and healthy...and hopefully tasty!

                  1. We've been visiting our grown daughter for a few days. She was going to make us a couple of Thai dishes for dinner a couple of nights ago. I was her sous chef. She'd hand me something and tell me how to slice or chop or peel. Whatever. I'm not a new cook but it would be just as easy for anyone. Baby steps. AND it reduced her work considerably. Win win.

                    1. As far as reducing meat intake, I suggest a book called Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons.
                      Although some of the recipes are more complex, it is a great resource for salsas, bean dishes, soups, chilis and stew/curries.

                      A good fresh salsa can make simply cooked foods like steamed fish or chicken taste good.