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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.



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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


        Dry Techniques

        Roasting oven and pan
        Stir Frying
        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.

            1. Al, if you need a little ham to put into a recipe (potato soup, scrambled eggs, scalloped potatoes) you don't have to bake a ham. Look at the supermarket meat department for convenient little bags of cooked ham already cut into little cubes for your use.

              1. thanks for all the great replies/suggestions. I am really looking forward to getting started. I will definitely be posting here with questions and all.

                1. Everyone has given you great suggestions! I'd take a few foods you really enjoy and try to replicate them. So if you like a hamburger, disect different recipes to find the hamburger you like the best. Knife skills, cooking techniques all just come with practice. I'd try to use inexpensive ingredients so if you mess up, and it WILL happen, you can just start over again and your entire week's food budget doesn't end up in the trash.

                  Prep (knife skills) and cook a mire poix for a simple soup, and learn how to control heat on either a gas (easier) or electric (not so easy) stove for an omelet.

                  Just keep asking questions here!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Barbara76137

                    Your suggestion reminds me of my husband's brother learning to cook for the first time when they shared an apt. It was his night to make dinner, so he chose to do something easy, hamburgers. After a while he called out from the kitchen, "something is wrong with these burgers, they're not getting brown on top!" Seriously. :-) So, OP, the lesson is, flip them over to cook both sides.

                    1. re: Barbara76137

                      ...Maybe she should know what a "mire poix" (meer-pwah) is for starters! Mire Poix is a fancy word for diced carrot, onion and celery. It is used as a flavor base for many soups and stews and sauces. ;-)

                    2. You can also go to your local Williams Sonoma (assuming you are in the US or Canada) on any given Sunday, and they have free technique classes where you can learn how to do certain things like roast, or steam, or saute, and you can try samples of the recipes they make to see if you like it or not. You can also ask questions of the instructor as the recipe is being made.

                      1. I will definitely be looking around at different recipes, trying different things, etc. I would love a cooking class, but would have to look for one that accomodates visually impaired people (I am legally blind, so I amy be better off having a family member or friend show my things one on one).

                        I definitely want to learn to use a slow cooker as well, espeically for something like chili.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: Aticineto

                          Al, I LOVE LOVE LOVE my slow cooker. I use it in the summer because it doesn't heat the house up...it's great for making all sorts of things, the chili you mention, baked beans for a picnic, and in the winter, all kinds of stuff can be made it in...even desserts. Super good for cheaper cuts of meat, too, to tender them. TOTALLY recommend a slow cooker cookbook OR recipes on the net. Good luck cooking--you'll be fine!

                          1. re: Aticineto

                            Check with agencies in your town that serve visually impaired people---Lighthouse, Second Sense, whatever is there. I know that in Chicago, cooking classes and workshops are offered all the time and I hope they are in other places.

                          2. Just about every beginning cook makes the mistake of rushing both the preheating of pans, and the sauteeing/frying of food, by using too high a heat setting. This mistake is compounded if you have low-end cookware. Thin pans heat up fast but don't retain heat well, making it nearly impossible to maintain an even heat. There's no instant way to learn your own stove and pots, so expect to have some scorched food until you develop a feel for your equipment.

                            I'd suggest learning to prep and saute onions. They are widely used in every cuisine. And they are cheap, so when you burn a pan of them you're not out much money. You'll learn how thinly to slice or chop, and what the various stages of cooking mean. Many times a recipe calls for "sweating" them before adding other ingredients. This means they are becoming translucent
                            but not yet developing golden color, or browning. Sweating is at one end of the cooked onion spectrum; caramelized is at the other. Most of us wind up burning some before we master caramelization.

                            Since you are visually impaired, you may already rely a good deal on your senses of hearing and smell. This is something that the rest of us don't automatically do until we are more experienced.
                            I'd been baking cakes and cookies for decades before I realized that correct baking time usually corresponds to when the aroma permeates the kitchen. This is more reliable than the time given in many a recipe. The sound of sizzling when frying means there is water cooking out of the food. When it stops, the food needs attention - depending on the recipe, that can mean turning, adding other ingredients, that it's finished, etc.

                            Never assume that your oven dial corresponds to the actual temp of your oven. Get an oven thermometer. The ones that stay inside the oven may be too hard for you to read. Look for the kind that have a probe which stays in the oven or food, with a wire leading to a read-out that sticks to the exterior of the oven, or lies on the kitchen counter.

                            I agree with the baking of bacon, though I'd suggest 375, and removing before the rashers are quite as crisp as you want, because residual heat will finish browning it. Remove the bacon from the pan after a few minutes, letting it drain on paper towels. If it cools too long in the pan, the rendered fat will stick to the rashers. In that case, return to a warm oven for a few minutes to re-melt. Allow the grease in the pan to cool until it is getting cloudy, then use a rubber spatula to move it into a container and keep that in your fridge or freezer to use when sauteeing other foods, baking cornbread, and making breadcrumb toppings. Same with rendered chicken fat once you start cooking chicken and making chicken stock. Chicken fat is great for frying potatoes, onions, and other meats.

                            1. You'll never starve as long as you know how to cook eggs. You could spend years learning different recipes. I'd start with frying an egg, boiling an egg, and making egg salad. Then you could learn to make an omelet and quiche.

                              You should learn how to prepare and cook a few vegetables.

                              You should indeed learn how to fry a hamburger and bacon.

                              These are my recs.

                              But if there is something you really, really want to learn to cook, then you should learn that too. Get a good teacher if you can. You'll do better, especially at first.

                              1. When I'm introducing someone to the wonderful experience of cooking, I always recommend two basic books to get them started. They've never failed:
                                I'm Just Here for the Good (Alton Brown)
                                What Einstein Told His Cook (Robert Wolke)
                                I'm not a big fan of Alton Brown's TV material but his books are, IMO, pretty good primers.

                                1. Hey there! I know this is an older thread, but curious how you learned to cook? How'd it go? What challenges/obstacles did you face? I'm re- learning and re-trying cooking techniques and recipes b/c I'm preparing to move in w/ my fiancee and would love to hear how your journey went and what worked/didn't work for you...

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: kr103185

                                    Hey, thanks for the question. Basically I just jumped right in, mostly with recipes online (and flowing tips others posted who made the same recipes). To learn techniques I wasn't too sure of, I looked them up on You Tube (they have videos on how to do everything imaginable). One thing that helped me is that I live with my mom, and my sister and brother in law live upstairs, and they all give me advice as well.

                                    I'm still learning, but I think I make a pretty good meatloaf, roast chicken, and pork chops. One obstacle I do have is not knowing when something is browned enough (I am visually impaired, so that gets tricky). I'm inpatient sometimes as well, so I probably turn things sooner than I should.

                                    One thing that holds me back sometimes is when I gain a few pounds - then I just have salads for a while to get those extra pounds off (I lost a lot of weight two years ago, and its a battle not to gain it all back).

                                    Good luck - I'm sure you will do just fine in re-learning to cook.