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new to cooking

Hi all,

This summer I am determined to learn to cook, and I'm not sure where to start. I've been looking at different recipes (chicken, protk, beef, etc), and many sound easy enough, but I want to start with the basics. For example, one hamburger recipe uses cooked bacon, so I guess cooking bacon should be one of the first things I learn to cook.. Another recipe called for browning some ground beef, so that is probably something I should learn first as well. definitely want to learn to make potato soup, and one recipe calls for cooked ham, so that's another thing for my "larn first" list.

What are other things I should learn to make first that I may need to use in other recipes.

Thanks!

Al

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  1. When I wanted to learn "the basics," I enjoyed watching the Julia Child videos on poultry, beef, pork. But, I was also fortunate to be involved in 4H as a youth, so learned through a children's cookbook, at first.
    Bacon: I almost never cook it on top of the stove anymore. I now bake it on a rimmed cookie sheet (or jellyroll pan) Lay the slices out evenly, bake at about 325-350F, not sure how long, I check on it after about 10 minutes. It depends on how thickly it is sliced. I then put it on paper towels to drain and wrap in foil to keep warm. Or just cool. If you do a package, then you have bacon for the week to use as you want.
    Browning ground meat: I like to break it up in the pan, usually with a wooden spoon or strait-edged spatula (not the rubber, scraping kind). Depending on how quickly I want it to cook, or how much fat, I will sometimes add water to the pan, cover it, let it steam, then take the cover off and let the water boil away, the brown the meat. I drain it in a metal colander. Sometimes, to get rid of more fat (again, depending on what I want at the time), I may also rinse it. It depends... If I want to toss in some chopped onion, peppers, carrots, etc... I may leave some of the fat in. For ground pork sausage, I will leave some fat in, the add flour, coating all the meat, then pour in milk, add pepper and sage... voila! Gravy for biscuits (or toast!).
    Using the ground meat, flour "roux" method, one can change up the meats and use broth instead of milk and get a completely different gravy.
    If you have an oven, roasting meat is super simple. And roasting vegetables is not hard, either.
    Learning to cook eggs different ways is also a "basic."
    Learn knife skills, making mire poix: chopped onion, celery, carrots. Learn to cut them in the same size, from small to large. That combination of vegetables is used in tons and tons of recipes. As a base for soups, stews, roasting.
    Learn to cut potatoes in uniform sizes. You want things to cook evenly, so having things cut the same helps.
    If you use leeks, they need to be washed WELL. (I learned that from experience, you don't want to serve gritty leeks)
    Google is your friend, watch videos, and if you can get the opportunity to stand next to someone that cooks, do so!

    1. There have been quite a few discussions on the boards in the past year or two about the very best first cookbook to buy a college student/non cook for instruction on the basics... here's one: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8204... My own contribution to such threads is Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" because my own non cooking daughter had such success and enjoyment learning to be a confident cook when she moved out with it.

      Here's another link with a list of good candidate books: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/830765

      1. Watch the following programs: You can rent a lot of the DVD's on Netflix.

        America's Test Kitchen
        Good Eats with Alton Brown
        30 Minute Meals with Rachel Ray

        Research these "cooking techniques" on the web. Once you have learned about them, what they are and when they are used, you will know quite a bit.

        Wet Techniques

        Braising
        Boiling
        Steaming
        Poaching
        Blanching

        Dry Techniques

        Frying
        Roasting oven and pan
        Sauteing
        Grilling
        Stir Frying
        Sweating
        Searing
        Here are some books that might help you. I'm sure there are scores of books not on the list that would be helpful.
        Cooking Know-How by Bruce Weinstein, Mark Scarbrough
        How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson
        The New Best Recipes by Cook’s Illustrated
        The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
        I’m just here for the food 1 and 2 by Alton brown
        The Joy of Cooking
        Cooking Basics For Dummies

        Martha Stewart and America's Test kitchen both have web sites that have a lot of info including courses. Go ahead and become a premium member of America's Test Kitchen. While you are learning, they are invaluable.Once you have gained more skill, you can decide whether you want to continue or not.

        Plan of action:

        If you can, find someone to help teach you.

        Learn how to cook an egg. Scramble one. Fry one. Hard Boil one.
        Make mashed potatoes.
        Cut some potatoes in wedges and roast them. Steam some potatoes. Bake some potatoes. Cut some potatoes into slices and fry some. When you are through know that you can do that to any vegetable. Try it...experiment.
        Blanch and saute some vegetables.
        Fry/saute bacon and or sausage. Now you can make a breakfast!
        Learn how to chop vegetables. Start with onions, celery, carrots. This is called a mirepoix. Look it up. Sweat these vegetables in a skillet with some vegetable oil. You could use butter but you can burn the butter. Put these in a jar for later use.

        Fry a hamburger patty.
        Learn a few ways to cook chicken breasts. Poach some. Saute some. Roast/bake some. Do the same with some chicken thighs. Nothing is easier or cheaper than a meal consisting of roasted chicken leg quarters.
        Make a chicken stock then make soup with it.
        Pan fry a ham steak. Pan fry a beef steak.
        Learn to make rice. Steam some. Boil some. Make a rice pilaf. Make a risotto.
        Learn to make a gravy with roux.
        Make a meatloaf.
        Roast a whole chicken.
        At this point, you will have learned enough to follow most recipes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Hank Hanover

          This is so great and thorough. Thanks Hank!

        2. Just find some recipes that you are interested and go for it. That's how I did it. My now-husband didn't come home until 9 or 10pm every weeknight for several years so I had to find a way to keep myself busy each evening and cooking was what I decided to do.

          Pick out a recipe, read through it, and then go for it. (My first cookbook was the Bon Appetit cookbook with the orange cover which you can buy for like $15 on Amazon. I also love the recipes on www.epicurious.com) You don't have to master 100 different types of techniques before you attempt a full recipe. I'm still learning new things each week as I try new recipes. Keeps things interesting.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Njchicaa

            This is what I did too - just found some recipes that sounded good, weren't intimidating, and gave it a shot. Get yourself a basic cookbook (I started with How to Boil Water!) and pick a few things to try. Even better if you have a friend who's more comfortable in the kitchen to help out the first couple of times you make an attempt. There were some inedible disasters at times, but for the most part, things turned out well!

            If there are things in a recipe that aren't something you're familiar with (like cooking ham), try getting some of that stuff pre-made for a shortcut. There are lots of videos on YouTube and step by step recipes (with pictures) out there on the internet, so that's always a big help.

          2. If a recipe uses ham, that doesn't mean you have to cook one. You can get it in the deli department in a single piece if it needs to be cubed, slices if that works best. If you want to cook bacon, the microwave is the easiest way for small quantities and there are directions on the package. You can also go onto youtube and type in "how to cook _________" you fill in the blank and you will find videos on cooking almost anything--and many of them are quite helpful. That's where I'd start.