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Signs that someone is a GOOD cook

We've hashed and rehashed what things may make you think a cook is not very good, but what makes you have faith in their cooking skills or at least the tastiness of the food they'll churn out?

For me, it would probably be:

Lots of fresh produce and a freezer full of "from scratch" items, like beef stock, pasta sauces, enchilada sauce, etc.

This is obviously problematic, but not too many "single tasker" gadgets that could otherwise have their job done by something else.

Well-used items, like stained silpats and heavily scoured stainless pans.

Fresh lemons and garlic in the pantry, not for decoration.

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  1. Besides great smells and a quiet dining table, most good cooks seem to like to talk about food.

    2 Replies
      1. re: KayceeK

        Especially while you're eating! At a nice restaurant for dinner talking about another........

    1. For me it would be watching them cook and tasting their food.

      Casual observation isn't adequate (how do you know that beef stock and pasta sauce is any good?), though I would be on the lookout for fundamental hygiene.

      1. Generally, I'm more likely to trust their cooking if the equipment looks used but not abused. I trust people whose tools look like they see regular use.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Nocturnalbill

          Cookware that is not battle-scarred is always suspect.

          1. re: law_doc89

            Yeah, never trust the food made by a chef with a pristine fryin' pan.

        2. Minimally processed ingredients. Is that an actual chicken, or a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store? Are you actually mixing rosemary and thyme, or is it just Italian seasoning mix?

          3 Replies
          1. re: gilintx

            They like to cook and want to learn.

            They grow or buy local, fresh ingredients. Hunt or raise poultry, etc. if they are so inclined. Ditto gilintx minimally processed comment. There's no attribution on this (we have it in our kitchen)

            food

            1. Buy it with thought

            2. Cook it with care

            3. Serve just enough

            4. Serve what will keep

            5. Eat what would spoil

            6. Home-grown is best

            don't waste it

            Based on my experiences, people who enjoy food and are good cooks seem to have a certain spirit about them . . .the need to create . . .a respect for the ingredients, etc.

            James Beard's "Simple Foods" first chapter is Good Cooking is in Your Hands . . . "Hands were the earliest of all implements for preparing food, and they are still the most versatile, efficient and sensitive."

            1. re: financialdistrictresident

              I think that list is from (at least part of it, anyway!) WWII propaganda leaflets, btw. I have a reproduction postcard from the Imperial War Museum (in Britain) which lists the first three statements. I love it because it's not really 'austere' advice, just advice that stands the test of time.

            2. re: gilintx

              dammit, they made blends for a reason. some of the spices work best in blends. That, and I can buy a blend in bulk ,a nd spend the rest on fresh produce.

            3. The ability to open up the fridge, root around to see what's in there, and produce a tasty meal out of what they find, without opening a cook-book.

              1. friends look forward to their dinner parties and show up when invited.

                1. A decently-ordered relatively tidy kitchen is the first tipoff for me that the person spends time there and wants it to be workable. The next sign? Good Food. :)
                  Cheers

                  1. - Sharp knives and knife skills that indicate both practice and adaptation. Lots of comments were made on the other thread about how knife skills are not necessary to good cooking, but knife work is such a big part of the process, and practice, i.e., experience, shows. And the knives don't have to be expensive but sharp. I wonder about a cook's ability to observe and adapt when they're sawing through food time and time again with a dull blade, and they don't do something about it.

                    - To echo your comment, fresh ingredients that look like they get some use.

                    - Also to echo your comment, absence of goofy gadgets such as, if you can believe this, a banana slicer.

                    - How they imagine food and flavor combinations when they speak of it.

                    So glad you started this thread, Laurel. Looking forward to reading all the comments!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: inaplasticcup

                      I agree on knifework. Like I said in the other thread, shoddy knives and poor knife skills aren't necessarily a guaranty that one is a bad cook, but good knife skills and sharp-but-not-unused knives are almost always a sign of a good cook.

                      1. re: inaplasticcup

                        agree that someone who owns and maintains and understands good kitchen knives is much likely to be someone who understands food than someone who is still using the serrated knife from college to do everything.

                      2. Thinking about this reminds me of my grandmother's kitchen.
                        When things are clean and tidy, but not "put away," I look forward to the meal. For example, if someone has a few onions and garlic bulbs stacked on the counter, maybe a bowl of fruit that is missing a few pieces, a flour cannister that is left out...

                        22 Replies
                        1. re: rusty_s

                          Love it. I'm right there with ya on that one.

                          1. re: rusty_s

                            Some notorious non-cooks I know kept their oven mitts in a drawer. Yes, I hang them up and wash them regularly, but I like oven mitts and potholders to be visible, on a hook.

                            1. re: lagatta

                              I consider myself to be a cook and I keep my oven mitts in a drawer. There is no room in my small kitchen to hang things from a hook.

                              I figure I'm lucky to have drawers. Some of the best cooks in the world survive without them.

                              1. re: 512window

                                I would love to have more drawers! Mine are carefully edited and organized to fit everything in!

                              2. re: lagatta

                                I see absolutely no correlation to where oven mitts are kept and cooking skills.
                                Isn't just having a well worn set enough??

                                1. re: monavano

                                  My potholders are downright ugly. I must be a cooking genius!!!

                                  1. re: monavano

                                    careful with the wear ... I wore one of mine thru on the inside & one fine day received a nasty surprise ;)

                                    1. re: foiegras

                                      Oh, yeah, you are so right....done that.

                                      1. re: foiegras

                                        My nasty surprise was one day, putting on wet oven mitts and getting something out of the oven. Yeah, heat transfers quite a bit through wet materials!!
                                        Yowza!

                                        1. re: monavano

                                          That's why I switched to mostly silicone. I know some people hate it, but you can wash your mitts or pot holders and use them again while they're wet.

                                          1. re: Isolda

                                            I tried using those silicone mitts. My hands would not fit into them. Of course, my hands don't fit into regular oven mitts either. I just use them like potholders.

                                            1. re: John E.

                                              I don't like oven mitts. I use potholders.

                                              1. re: sandylc

                                                We keep the oven mitts in a shallow drawer next to the stove. I think it might be time to toss them and by some new, not grody oven mitts or thick potholders. The worst potholders are those that are crocheted.

                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                    Sorry about that. I sometimes save interesting wildlife images I run across on the web. I put that image up a couple weeks ago on a thread about cooking rabbits hoping I might get a response. Had I remembered where it came from, I would not have uploaded it to this site. Is that your lab?

                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                      That is I, thanks for the respect ;~)

                                                      1. re: law_doc89

                                                        That picture has been all over.
                                                        http://tinyurl.com/cvguhc9

                                                        Not everyone can get this link but it is a google image search and shows everywhere that has this image.

                                                        1. re: wekick

                                                          I'm fairly certain I got that image from a forwarded e-mail from my father (that's why I asked the question about the lab). I would never take another Chowhound's avatar and use it as my own.

                                          2. re: monavano

                                            I learned this lesson as well...ouch!

                                      2. re: lagatta

                                        Mine are in a drawer... the drawer right next to the stove. I do have a potholder on a hook that hangs on the drawer... but otherwise I have nowhere to hang stuff like that.

                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                          I'm sorry! Put them where you want to! This was just a joke among a group of friends, about a couple who were very much NOT cooks while most of us were very proud to be so!

                                    2. To paraphrase Robert Duvall's character (Col. Kilgore) in "Apocalypse Now" - "You smell that? Do you smell that? Garlic, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of garlic in the air..."

                                      And when I smell garlic I know I'm going to like whatever is being prepared...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Servorg

                                        Agreed, as long as it smells like fresh garlic and not that skunky smelling ersatz fresh garlic, that smells completely different to me.

                                      2. -The kitchen's clean and they are organized when they cook.
                                        -They don't keep peering into a recipe book while cooking.
                                        -The way they handle the ingredients with their hands/knives. From experienced grandmas to
                                        badass chefs you can tell if someone knows his ishhh by the way they peel an onion or cut up a chicken.

                                        1. "This is obviously problematic, but not too many "single tasker" gadgets that could otherwise have their job done by something else."

                                          This one makes me laugh because I have a lot of these...but most I didn't buy myself!! I get them as gifts(mostly from my mom). I don't say anything but sometimes I want to because I have a small apartment and have a lot of stuff in boxes because there is no storage for it.

                                          11 Replies
                                          1. re: Fromageball

                                            i have some "single tasker" items that do such a superior to the other alternatives that i look at them as essential.
                                            such as:
                                            a hand held blender
                                            a mango cutter--slices and pits the mango in ONE move. when i first saw the produce guy at Whole Foods using this gizmo to pit ALL the pitted mangos that they sold in the store i knew that i HAD to have one.
                                            we make a lot of mango smoothies in my house. this gizmo is a lifesaver.

                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                              westsidegal, I'd call an immersible blender an extremely versatile gadget (I have a small kitchen in a small flat, and no standing blender). It is extremely useful.

                                              I don't eat smoothies, and rarely mangos, so no mango-pitter...

                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                Agree on the versatility of the immersion blender, it's not a unitasker. If it's an ingredient-specific tool like the aforementioned mango pitter, or something like a nutmeg grater or garlic press, that's a unitasker. You might find one other use for it (e.g. putting ginger in the garlic press), but that's about it.

                                                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                  oh good!
                                                  this means that i only have one unitasker!

                                            2. re: Fromageball

                                              I write a food blog and I go to a lot of conferences, and the gift bags are always FULL of these unitasking kitchen tools. As a result, I happen to own (along with many of the greatest cooks I know): a strawberry huller, a corn zipper, an avocado slicer/pitter

                                              I bought the cherry pitter myself, though, and every time I make a fruit salad with cherries in it, or a clafoutis (I don't like the pits in clafoutis) I congratulate myself.

                                              1. re: Savour

                                                Yep, my cherry putter is a prized possession. I probably pit close to 10 lbs when they're in season, for pies, freezing and canning.

                                                1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                  I use mine to make a cherry, port sauce for goose or duck.

                                                2. re: Savour

                                                  Depending on the model you might be able to use it for olives - you can give yourself a nice pat on the back for tapenade as well. ;)

                                                  1. re: Savour

                                                    We used to pit with a bobby pin when I was a little kid. Works pretty well as I recall ...

                                                    1. re: foiegras

                                                      It is also possible to pit with a drinking straw. It's just a pain.

                                                    2. re: Savour

                                                      Do not ask me to love doing the dishes ...

                                                  2. I've read all the posts with great interest, and although I agree with many of the things...fresh produce is best, homemade stock is best, well worn pans, silpats, etc...none of these are either sufficient or necessary to convince me someone is a good cook. I've had terrific meals in which the cook used good commercial stock, and I've been served awful food using homemade stock. Indeed one of the very best home cooks I know uses many products purchased at Trader Joe's and Costco. She's masterful at picking out their best ingredients and preparing wonderful food. For me, the only sign that someone is a good cook is not what I see in the kitchen, but what is served at the table.

                                                    7 Replies
                                                    1. re: josephnl

                                                      I really agree with this and like a good cheat sometimes. The best cooks also cook what the people they are cooking for like.

                                                      1. re: wekick

                                                        also, lots of prepared foods in the freezer is a warning sign to me of a person who doesn't know:
                                                        a) garlic changes flavor when it has been frozen (despite the fact that there is an israeli frozen chopped garlic product is being sold now)
                                                        b) meats and even more so poultry changes texture when it has been frozen (as a matter of fact wolfgang puck testified to congress about this very topic)
                                                        c) vegetables are, more often than not, degraded by freezing.
                                                        d) a freezer can turn a perfectly acceptable pasta dish to total YUCK.

                                                          1. re: wekick

                                                            it was in response to this being suggested as a sign of a good cook:
                                                            << a freezer full of "from scratch" items, like beef stock, pasta sauces, enchilada sauce, etc.>>

                                                            to me, a full freezer doesn't necessarily indicate that the owner is a good cook.

                                                            1. re: westsidegal

                                                              Depends upon what it is filled with. If it's scratch stuff, chances are good someone really cares about food.

                                                          2. re: westsidegal

                                                            However a freezer is a great tool to someone on a tight budget and who doesn't have the time to shop frequently for fresh. This doesn't mean they aren't a good cook.

                                                            1. re: Musie

                                                              I would be lost without my freezer. I store nuts, whole grains and whole grain flours, homemade stocks and soup bases, tortillas, leftovers...and that's just off the top of my head.

                                                      2. Experience. I watched my grandfather pull roasting pans from the oven with bare hand. And he never used measuring tools. He cupped his hand to measure salt and counted to measure oil. He and my dad caught squirrel and my grandfather would butcher and cooked them. We ate other odd stuff like fish sac too. We benefited from a lifetime of experience.

                                                          1. re: redfish62

                                                            I used to go to a dentist that had a sign in the waiting room that proclaimed

                                                            No Shoes
                                                            No Teeth
                                                            No Service

                                                          2. They're tasting their food as they cook. With a caveat that they should also have decent/good taste.

                                                            18 Replies
                                                            1. re: chocomel

                                                              That's a good one. It seems like brand new cooks or chronically incompetent ones seem to subscribe to some kind of magical thinking that if they follow directions and are pure of heart, the food will taste good in the end. Once someone learns to perfect a dish as it's cooking by actually testing it (at least when possible), they've taken a major step in their cooking evolution.

                                                              1. re: cowboyardee

                                                                I think experienced home cooks can look at the amount of salt being put into a recipe and know right away whether they're going to adhere or not.
                                                                Anne Burrel comes to mind. I've cooked her recipes, but do not season as heavily. She does have a talent for relating solid techniques though.

                                                              2. re: chocomel

                                                                If you have to taste the food as you cook, that could mean that you are not as good of a cook as you believe. If you are following directions or know a recipe by heart, then tasting the food is not needed. Besides that, are you using the same utensil to continue cooking or do you clean or get a clean one to finish cooking?

                                                                1. re: interest

                                                                  When I watched Chopped with the judges competing, the biggest difference, beside their far calmer demeanors, was that they tasted and tasted and tasted. And tasted.
                                                                  The judging judges commented that this was the biggest difference between the "Masters" and other competing chefs.
                                                                  You'll also find my nose in a recipe quite often, because my cooking spans so many cuisines. I don't know all flavor profiles and techniqes by heart, but I know enough to see around corners and improvise when I can, but give myself over to trust an expert when needed.

                                                                  Does anyone really think that most kitchens never dip a finger or a reused spoon into your food?
                                                                  I don't.

                                                                  1. re: monavano

                                                                    in the restaurant kitchens in which i worked, more often than not, a straw was used, NOT a finger nor a reused spoon.
                                                                    the straw gets inserted into the food, a finger is used to "stop up" the top hole in the straw, thereby creating a vacuum to hold the food in the straw as it is withdrawn from the food, the straw is inserted into the cook's/chef's mouth, the finger is removed from the top and the food drips/falls into the chef's mouth. the straw is discarded.

                                                                    the professional chefs i know don't innoculate their food with their saliva in order to taste it.
                                                                    if a spoon HAS to be used, it is tossed into the dish bin immediately afterward.
                                                                    this was true in mom and pop places as well as upscale places.

                                                                  2. re: interest

                                                                    Very much disagree. Regardless of how many times I make a recipe, I always taste repeatedly when I'm cooking. If you sit at a chef's table/counter at any decent restaurant, you will see that the professional chefs never stop tasting!

                                                                    1. re: josephnl

                                                                      Yes, and I think the more experienced home cook can use their seasoning judgement throughout the preparation, noting how much salt will be rendered from additions such as cheese rinds, to reduction and concentration increasing salinity.
                                                                      So, I'd put tasting throughout and seasoning in layers in my top 5.

                                                                      1. re: josephnl

                                                                        Agree. I cook exclusively by taste and don't measure much of anything, except for something like a meatloaf where I'm not tasting it because it's raw. It really irritates me when people say, 'I used xyz recipe and it didn't turn out.' To me that means you gave up. There are so many variables ... I can't imagine making a dish without tasting it. That is how you get true depth and complexity and balance of flavor.

                                                                        1. re: foiegras

                                                                          Even with something like meatloaf, you can fry up a tiny patty in no time and have a taste.

                                                                        2. re: josephnl

                                                                          Agreed. When I started tasting repeatedly, the quality of my food went way, way up.

                                                                          1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                            Agreed. Though I would have to say that part of what I think makes me at least a decent cook is my ability to cook and season things for my DH and step daughter without tasting them - I often cook them things that I am allergic to, so I can't taste it. I rely on knowledge of what works together, and often, smell, to figure out what something needs.

                                                                            1. re: jw615

                                                                              I also do very little tasting. I suppose it's vanity, but I pride myself on intuitively knowing how much salt, or whatever, to put in a dish. That said, I also cook almost exclusively from recipes and I adhere closely to them. If I cook a new dish, and it's good but not great, I will revise that recipe--thus making it my own--and cook it again.

                                                                        3. re: interest

                                                                          I strongly disagree. Ingredients vary. For example, one onion may be strong, another mild. If you are using canned tomatoes, one brand may be saltier than another. Tasting is essential to achieving excellent results!

                                                                          1. re: interest

                                                                            If you have to taste the food as you cook, that could mean that you are not as good of a cook as you believe.
                                                                            ~~~~~~~~
                                                                            Actually, any good cook knows that the only way to be sure the dish is turning out the way they want is to taste as they go. Ingredients don't always taste the exact same way every time you use them. Different batches of herbs & spices may vary in strength & taste, and fruits & vegetables have differences in flavor depending on where, when & how they're grown & harvested. The organic flat leaf parsley you buy at the farmers market in June isn't likely to taste *exactly* the same as the conventional hothouse-grown bunch you get at the supermarket in the middle of winter. Even better, think about chile peppers - there's really no way to know the heat level of each pepper unless you taste it.

                                                                            I usually improvise instead of following recipes, so that's even more of a reason for me to taste as the dish is coming together.

                                                                            1. re: interest

                                                                              I keep several teaspoons next to the pan and use each once.
                                                                              I will agree with previous posters that if you use various fresh ingredients and different brands of things, tasting is critical as you go along. There might be an exception to this. If you have a recipe that calls for assembling a package of ____ and a can/jar of ____ and you always use the same brand, you might not need to taste. Manufacturers of these types of items will generally go to great lengths to maintain a certain flavor profile. I used to work in a food lab that blind tested raw ingredients with a standard to maintain the flavor profile. They have done the tasting for you. Even using this method of "cooking" though, consider that you eventually may have to taste. For instance, soup salted correctly, left to simmer can become unbelievably salty.

                                                                              1. re: wekick

                                                                                Most professional chefs that I've observed keep a handful of disposable plastic spoons in the pocket of their chef jacket.

                                                                                1. re: wekick

                                                                                  I keep several teaspoons next to the pan and use each once.
                                                                                  ~~~~~~~
                                                                                  I do this too if I'm cooking for anyone other than my immediate family. Mom & Sis don't mind if I taste directly off the cooking utensil & then give it a quick rinse before proceeding.

                                                                            2. I would say someone's knife skills would be the first sign for me.

                                                                              I would also pay attention to what ingredients they use in specific dishes - are they putting cream cheese, half & half, and a packet of ranch dressing mix in their home made alfredo sauce? not so good, lol.

                                                                              Gordon Ramsay mentioned he uses scrambled eggs as a test to see if someone can cook.

                                                                              7 Replies
                                                                              1. re: Atomic76

                                                                                The omelette seems to be used as the benchmark for many chefs.

                                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                                  Definitely a benchmark for beginners. Eggs are always the first class you take at cooking school.

                                                                                  1. re: Atomic76

                                                                                    See, I think I'm a decent cook, but I suck at eggs. I don't eat them so I never bothered to learn to make them.

                                                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                      Same here. I never make scrambled eggs or omelettes.

                                                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                        I'm not good at eggs either, but I actually like the way I make scrambled eggs--dry, dry, dry, with a little brown. I don't think I could bring myself to make them correctly. Fried eggs can have runny yolks as long as the whites are completely cooked.

                                                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                          This. My SO is allergic and I had an allergy as a child so I never learned to like them, cook them, or eat them. I just learned how to poach an egg in the past year (the only way I'll eat them).

                                                                                          But, other than eggs, I'd consider myself to be incredibly adept...

                                                                                      2. I'm not likely to play Sherlock Holmes, I just want to see/smell/taste the food. I think you'd be rather disappointed in my freezer ... and then rather surprised by my food.

                                                                                        Of course, if it smells of cigarettes (common when I was growing up), smelling is as far as I'm going to go ...

                                                                                        1. I tend to go with the fresh food thing too. Real butter is also important, as is the absence of cooking wine. Having good cheeses in the fridge doesn't hurt, nor does seeing tomatoes on the counter top instead of in the fridge. Also, like you, not a lot of gadgetry. Someone who has 50 different matching knives or a huge set of matching non-stick pans would worry me a bit. Their choices in cookbooks would be a tip off as well. Too many Pampered Chef cookbooks and not enough classic cookbooks, or cookbooks by respected chefs would have me wondering. I think that I would have some faith in a person who reads non-cookbook food books on topics like the history of cooking, etc...

                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                            Yes. Tomatoes on the counter and not in fridge. Huge.

                                                                                            Real garlic cloves and not (at least not exclusively) jarred minced garlic... tastes completely different!!

                                                                                            1. re: sisterfunkhaus

                                                                                              agree that the tomatoes on the countertop is a good predictive sign.

                                                                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                I wish someone would make a PSA about this. I have a big problem with people coming into my kitchen and popping my tomatoes into the fridge, thinking they are being helpful. GAH!

                                                                                                1. re: khh1138

                                                                                                  I remember learning that one the hard way.

                                                                                            2. Mastery of "al dente."

                                                                                              1. I think a good cook is someone who doesn't have a very full fridge/pantry. The fridge isn't very full because they only buy the fresh ingredients they need for the week... not a bunch of canned/packaged stuff. Condiments are OK :) Same for the pantry... has mostly "ingredients" (ie oils, vinegars, baking supplies etc) versus tons of canned and packaged foods.

                                                                                                19 Replies
                                                                                                1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                  hey, a standard under which I qualify ;) I don't keep much food around because I never know what I will want to eat in the future. There are people who really worry if they can't open the cabinets and see lots of food. Not completely sure why I don't feel that way at all, but I don't.

                                                                                                  1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                    Heh me too. I thought of this awhile back when I saw a friend's pantry. It was packed to the gills of TONS of processed snack foods, boxes, packages... Sort of shocking really. She doesn't really cook. She has 3 (almost 4 now) children, but still, there was enough food in there to last them at least 6 months. The only thing I keep a small supply of is a few boxes of pasta and a couple jars of sauce... that way if I'm sick or dinner doesn't turn out, we at least can eat that :) Otherwise, the only time my fridge is sorta full is right after I go grocery shopping. By the end of the week it's mostly empty other than my condiments and stuff like yogurt.

                                                                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                      I'm the same ... de Cecco in various shapes I know I will eat, and tomato products--paste, sauce, diced--I like to keep around as they are great for emergencies & I know I'll use them eventually.

                                                                                                  2. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                    Or, conversely, a fridge full of leftovers like ours! Between the jars and bottles of condiments, homemade jams and pickled things and the leftovers of this week's dinners, our fridge is always pretty packed.

                                                                                                    1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                      agree with this.
                                                                                                      if you are buying fresh produce from the farmers market, it will lose it'sbest qualities sitting in the refrigerator.

                                                                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                        Once, we went away to visit Mrs. Z's family for the Holidays. I asked my Dad to come by and check on the house and the cat. When we got home, there was a Sub and a six pack in the fridge and a Hundred dollar bill on the counter with a note - "There's nothing in you refrigerator besides hot sauce. Use this for groceries." We laughed our asses off and sat down to enjoy his sandwich and beer.

                                                                                                        1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                          except if you are 2 working parents with kids you only have a chance to shop once a week, so your fridge is full of fruits and veg and cheese, and your freezer has some meat in it. Frozen ground or chopped lamb is going to taste almost as good as fresh.

                                                                                                          1. re: fara

                                                                                                            Yeah and I also said above that the my fridge is full is after my weekly shopping trip. I don't have the time or desire to shop daily either, and I do not have children.

                                                                                                            I didn't say anything about the freezer. I have a pretty full freezer since I buy most of my meats in bulk.

                                                                                                            My point was a good cook doesn't have a fridge full of processed food.

                                                                                                            1. re: fara

                                                                                                              This really depends on where you live. I did the walkability test online and my neighbourhood is something like 97 or 98% - one of the highest in North America, what with the Jean-Talon market a few minutes away, many shops of different ethnicities and specialities, and three chain supermarkets (IGA/Sobeys, Metro and Loblaws) easily walkable. Most families will do a "big shopping" once a week or so, but it is easy to top it up with errands on foot or bicycle.

                                                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                Heh my neighborhood has a walkscore of 0.

                                                                                                                1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                  I do a lot of walking. My neighborhood is walkable, and most of the local stores will deliver if you're local and spend a certain amount. I like to shop for certain things once a week and others as I need them

                                                                                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                    Our neighborhood might be a 1. There is a gas station/convenience store and a small stip mall about a mile away.

                                                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                      We have a truck stop about a mile away... yee haw.

                                                                                                                      1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                        The difference is in expectations and lifestyle. I grew up on the shore of a lake in a small town in Minnesota. The closest store to our house was a combination meat market/grocery with an attached drive-in restaurant that closed in the winter months. I was in high school before I realized people actually bought milk at the grocery store (we had a milkman). I spend time (with my brothers, nephews, and father) at our farm in northerm Minnesota where we have no electricity or running water, but the truck stop is also about a mile away. I would not mind trying urban living sometime, but that would be far in the future.

                                                                                                                        1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                          Eh, I've lived in Chicago and loved it, but I don't mind it out here now either... I have a panoramic view of the Rocky Mountains out my back door and from my living room, and it's quiet. I work in a more populous area so I still have access to all the stores there. They built a very large nice supermarket about 10 minutes away from my house last summer, so that's good, and there's some more stores up in town about 15 minutes away too... just nothing within walking distance. There's a handful of farm stores around here that open up at the end of May. Most of the greens and vegetables like green beans that are sold in the big supermarkets here are grown right around me.

                                                                                                                  2. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                    I have a ton of condiments in my fridge, many of which will never be used again because they suck and I feel guilty throwing them out. Does my refusal to use crappy condiments make me a good cook? I like to think it does! ;)

                                                                                                                    1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                      I recently got some fish sauce I'm not happy with ... currently using it in the dogs' scrambled eggs ;) There have been no complaints to date.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                        Teehee, disqualified on almost every point ;) I have a pepper mill with white pepper by the range, but I also have a range shaker with ground black pepper. I think they both have their place. I have a round blue box of iodized salt, I really go through it ... mostly for the pasta water, but also for seasoning at the range. Also have kosher salt (for recipes), and fleur de sel on the table. I have fresh garlic (but not bulbs), also Miracle Whip in the fridge. I grew up with it, have converted myself to Hellman's, but I bought it for some particular purpose, now forgotten.

                                                                                                                    2. A good cook is for me somebody for whom I have no hesitation in saying "YES" when invited to a meal.

                                                                                                                      1. For me it would be the ability to produce tasty food in a sustained way, day after day, no matter what else is going on, and not just when cooking is a fun social thing to do on a special occasion.

                                                                                                                        1. This is an interesting question that you have got me thinking about. I have been cooking for 65 years and am known as a good cook, but I know that the best cook I ever was was in the early years when my husband was a student. My equipment was crap, my kitchens were hell-holes, we had less than no money, and I was encumbered with two babies, but I have never in my life cooked better than I did then and I can't say why. It doesn't make sense. I have never produced flakier Danishes, dewier lemon meringue pies, more intense soups, or sweeter bread (which I baked twice a week). Good food helped get us through those difficult years.

                                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                            Sounds like great cooking (and eating) helped you mentally escape your straitened conditions.

                                                                                                                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                                                                                              After fifty odd years cooking every day at home and in commercial kitchens let me add my two cents. When I visit my Chef sons commercial kitchen this is what I see:
                                                                                                                              You can eat off the floors. The 'walk-ins' are spotless. Everything is spotless. If a line cook spills on him/her self they immediately go change. No music. No yelling.
                                                                                                                              What tips me off to someone who has not been trained properly is when I see the first thing they do is sprinkle a bit of salt on what they are making. Then another ingredient then more salt then another ingredient then more salt. Someone a long time ago ought to have taught them that their pallet does not necessarily equate to the customers.
                                                                                                                              I 'taste' as I go but I do not add salt to adjust the dish. There are many many ingredients that are far more 'nuanced' to bring out the best flavor in a dish than salt. When I see a chef or line cook using salt every couple of minutes IMO they are not "good cooks". For me when I see someone using salt I think "why not just throw in some more MSG?"

                                                                                                                              1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                A line cook leaves the line to change? During service? That's the first I ever heard that. Cigarette breaks, yep, okay. But spillage? Wow.

                                                                                                                            2. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                              Stressful times for me always produced great items from the kitchen.

                                                                                                                              1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                How interesting! It wouldn't be your hormones influencing your sense of taste that would make you perceive pastry as flakier ... perhaps it's a Like Water for Chocolate thing ;)

                                                                                                                                The ability to produce really tasty food for very little money, and the ability to produce results that others can't replicate are other good markers. My grandmother made the most amazing cloverleaf rolls with no recipe. Others in the family make them too, people watched her & measured trying to get a recipe, but I really think the secret was in her hands. No one's are ever quite like hers.

                                                                                                                                I had someone get upset with me when my snickerdoodle recipe didn't turn out for her like it did for me ... of course I am not one of 'those' people who pass on an inaccurate recipe--extremely bad kitchen karma! I think that might have been my hands too.

                                                                                                                                1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                  the best cook i ever was when i was working my first job as a personal chef.
                                                                                                                                  i started out knowing practically nothing and i KNEW that i knew practically nothing.
                                                                                                                                  i was cooking for people night after night and they expected VARIETY
                                                                                                                                  and, most importantly, i NEEDED the job desperately.

                                                                                                                                  the fire was lit under me.
                                                                                                                                  i read and practiced everything in order to CMA.
                                                                                                                                  sometimes desperation breeds competence.

                                                                                                                                  1. re: njmarshall55

                                                                                                                                    I don't quite agree. Cleanliness is a matter of hygiene, and order is essential in professional kitchens, but some very messy boho types are excellent cooks, and some orderly people utterly lacking in creativity.

                                                                                                                                    1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                      Let's agree to disagree! I think BOTH traits are still essential. Hygiene in the kitchen IS important, and I, personally, equate "messy" with unclean. True, orderliness is not a sign of creativity, but I take it as a sign of discipline and planning. What one DOES by using those traits CAN be creative, but I don't equate creativity with turning out perfect toast..or eggs...Creativity in coming up with an interesting twist on an old standby may be pleasing to some, but I stand by my original post...two important traits IMHO.

                                                                                                                                  2. I hate designer kitchens stocked with expensive cookware that look completely unused. Not a good sign.

                                                                                                                                    I detest fancy gadgets that the owner doesn't use/know what they're for, but they "match" and look cool and were expensive.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see some flour on the kitchenaid.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see broken-in sheet pans.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see a freezer with homemade soups, stocks, and baked goods.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see unsalted butter.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see herbs growing.

                                                                                                                                    I like to see lots of fresh produce.

                                                                                                                                    Someone who loves to talk about food and ideas related to food and has some food knowledge will always be interesting to me.

                                                                                                                                    11 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                      I think it's ironic that cooking shows feature cookware that looks never used. What the hell is wrong with stains on pots and pans? It means they are loved.

                                                                                                                                      1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                        Because then they get folks either commenting on the Internet or writing in to the television P's-t-B excoriating them for presenting a "less than clean" environment where "human" food is being prepared, and how could they be so uncaring and cavalier in their approach.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                          If they aren't selling these pans themselves with their name on them, then it's likely product placement, intended to market the pans more discreetly. Either way, they have to look nice.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: monavano

                                                                                                                                            One of the reasons I love "French Food at Home" is the shows star Laura Caulder digs in drawers, rinses pans and has occasional errors. She cooks like the rest of us and her food is delicious.

                                                                                                                                          2. re: sandylc

                                                                                                                                            I think of this every time I look at the pictures in the Mansion section of the Wall Street Journal or certain shelter magazines. No one ever uses the kitchens in those places, or else they have a "real" kitchen and the one in the photo is just for show.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: Isolda

                                                                                                                                              I'm always amused by Nigella cooking in her cashmere pullovers and in long, flowing hair.

                                                                                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                I too, always chuckle at things like that...or when Ina Garten just pops out of her kitchen into her amazing garden to cut a few herbs. And when she gets flour all over the place, I wonder who cleans up later...surely not the "Barefoot Contessa"! They don't cook in the real world!!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: josephnl

                                                                                                                                                  I cut herbs from a pot on my porch and I get flour all over the place too. I clean it up when I'm done. Does that mean I don't live in the real world? :)

                                                                                                                                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                                                    Of course you live in the real world! I'm sure that you, like I, clean up after yourself. I don't (and I assume you don't) have a Food Network crew of 10 doing your cleanup. Not only does the "Contessa" not do her own cleanup, her mis-en-place is totally prepped for her!

                                                                                                                                                  2. re: josephnl

                                                                                                                                                    Well, I do the herb garden thing myself. Winter and early spring have been hard this year in Montréal (and in London, where Nigella lives) but I've put in the balcony herbs that don't winter over, and put the ones that were inside out in the sunshine.

                                                                                                                                                    I do tie my hair back and try to think to wear a bandana while I cook. I have as much hair as Nigella, and it was the same colour, though I've let it go grey - think we are the same age, bit of snark there...

                                                                                                                                                    Nobody wants a hair in their food.

                                                                                                                                                  3. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                    Ahem, my response is somewhat different from amusement.

                                                                                                                                              2. A good cook generally has a supply of ingredients in their most basic state...fresh vegetables and meats, plain rice and pasta. Baking ingredients rather than packaged mixes. A decent assortment of herbs and spices.
                                                                                                                                                And an ability to sling a few of those things together without a recipe and come up with a delicious dinner.

                                                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                                                                                                                  <<A decent assortment of herbs and spices>>
                                                                                                                                                  add to that, the spices should not have been sitting in the pantry since 2005.

                                                                                                                                                2. none of the things you mentioned would indicate to me that the person is a good cook.

                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: westsidegal

                                                                                                                                                    WSG:
                                                                                                                                                    Not even "the ability to sling a few of those things together without a recipe and come up with a delicious dinner"?

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                                                                                                                                      my response was directed at the OP. i had no idea that the response would show up so distant from the OP.
                                                                                                                                                      had i known, i would have referred to the OP by name before starting to type.

                                                                                                                                                      obviously any "demonstrated ability" to come up with a delicious dinner is the ultimate test. it wouldn't even matter to me if they came up with a delicious dinner by slinging a few things together or they came up with the dinner by following an involved, highly planned process. lots of good cooks use lots of different approaches, and any approach that results in a delicious meal is fine by me.
                                                                                                                                                      personally, i cook some dishes that turn out well even if they are just slung together, while others are not nearly as forgiving. . .. .

                                                                                                                                                  2. My sister once told my mother that she would be a better cook if she had better pots and pans. My mother's reply was that if she were a better cook she would have better pots and pans.

                                                                                                                                                    I think an indicator of someone who is interested in cooking and is a decent cook is the quality of their kitchen utensils. I know good food can be prepared with crappy equipment, and crappy food can be made with good equipment....I think I just talked myself out of that particular sign that someone is a good cook.

                                                                                                                                                    I will agree about the freezer thing. If a home freezer is full of processed food, that might be a sign there is not a decent cook in the house.

                                                                                                                                                    I am proud to say that our freezer has mostly meat, prepared foods such as chili, pasta sauce, soup, and other food that we have made. There also is a lot of homemade stock of various kinds. It's really easy to make a good kettle of soup in little time if the stock is already made.

                                                                                                                                                    1. I'm going to say. Someone who shops for the food. Cooks it. Does the dishes. And loves it.

                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                      1. A good cook, to me, is someone who can create something that tastes good using whatever they have, be it plenty of fresh produce and decent equipment or the scraps of food they have in the fridge, freezer or cupboards and a pot.

                                                                                                                                                        It's all in the taste and the consistent standard of the food. Appearances can be deceiving.

                                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Musie

                                                                                                                                                          Yes, and much as I love gadgets, a good cook is one who can do well with a pot and a campfire if necessary.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Musie

                                                                                                                                                            You are so right! If you haven't read Tamar Adler's "An Everlasting Meal", you must do so. She's the all-time expert of using all leftover scraps, bits, and pieces. A wonderful book...and creating something wonderful out of things that others might throw away is smart on so many levels...cost consciousness, avoiding waste, reducing landfills, etc.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: josephnl

                                                                                                                                                              One thing I hate to do to DH is to make a killer dinner out of odds and ends, including repurposing some leftovers, and then when he raves about how good it is, I have to tell him he can never have that dish again because I'll never have that same combination of leftovers in the fridge again.

                                                                                                                                                              1. re: kitchengardengal

                                                                                                                                                                Ha! Like when I totally fudge and substitute and tweak something and it turns out well and then I am at a loss to ever repeat it.

                                                                                                                                                          2. Funny how half the posts are more of "We've hashed and rehashed what things may make you think a cook is not very good". A good is one who doesn't have the marks of the bad cook.

                                                                                                                                                            1. Well, I'd love to hang out and chat some more with you folks, but I think I need to go sharpen my knives and get rid of some old spices.

                                                                                                                                                              1. Personally, I think effective time management is a factor or at least an indicator.
                                                                                                                                                                It's not on the top of my list of things to look for (or strive for when I'm the one cooking) but it is on the list
                                                                                                                                                                Maybe it's just me, but I get a little embarassed/upset when the scheduled time arrives and my timing is so far off that I have to say, "not quite ready yet".

                                                                                                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                                                                  Maybe it's just me, but I get a little embarassed/upset when the scheduled time arrives and my timing is so far off that I have to say, "not quite ready yet".
                                                                                                                                                                  ~~~~~~~~
                                                                                                                                                                  That would stress me out completely. I'm really good at multitasking and getting the timing right so everything is ready when it should be, and I hate the idea of making my guests wait. But I know my hang-up is more about *my* neurosis than anything else, and my guests really wouldn't mind if it wasn't all timed perfectly. I don't think time management is really indicative of cooking skill/technique if the final dish tastes & looks good...as long as the delay or inconsistent timing isn't a matter of having had to re-make everything 2 or 3 times because you kept screwing up ;)

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                                                                                                                                    I like to make a little more apps than I need, just in case there's a bit of a delay.
                                                                                                                                                                    Good conversation, some drinks and nibbles smooth out any bumps on the entree road.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                                                                    This reminds me of "The Office" when Michael and Jan have a dinner party and Jan puts the osso bucco in the oven when the guests arrive.

                                                                                                                                                                  3. I've read all the posts, often thinking to myself "I guess I'm not a good cookj"

                                                                                                                                                                    to me the sign of a good cook is a pepper mill by the range, (no can of McCormick ground pepper), good coarse salt (no round blue box of Iodized salt in sight), real butter in the fridge, along with some good dijon, some red wine vinegar in the pantry and fresh garlic bulbs. No Miracle Whip or Cool Whip or Hidden Valley in the fridge or freezer.