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Help Me Teach My Cousin How to Cook

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  • LanaD Apr 15, 2012 11:08 AM
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My cousin has never been much of a cook and has recently moved to Reno. I've forwarded some recipes that are easy with cooking tips, but it's not working. I realize that Reno is a higher altitude than Chicago (where I'm from) and I think this might be a contributing factor. I have educated myself on how altitude affects cooking, but it's difficult offering guidance from a distance. I've suggested she watch cooking shows for some basic techniques too. She's gotten disgusted with her progress after wasting alot of food. She can't afford to enroll in a cooking class either. Does anyone have a good source for (free) on-line instructions or good beginner recipe books? I'd like to help instead of just nominating her for Worst Cooks in America. Thanks!

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  1. May I suggest Youtube? Type in what you want to cook and get videos on how to make it.

    1. This is a great beginner's book with step by step photos:

      http://www.amazon.com/What-Cook-How-J...

      1. I've cooked at altitude and it was only in baking that there were any major differences. What dishes is she having problems with?

        Also, I recommend she go to the local library. There are many beginners level cookbooks that will get her started.

        8 Replies
        1. re: JMF

          From the sound of it, she's having problems with many things. Since I have no experience with high altitudes, I wondered if it was causing additional problems. Good to know the major differences are mostly just baking related. I read this article and it sounded way more complicated.

          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culi...

          1. re: LanaD

            Reno is 4500 ft above sea level that means water boils at apx. 204F, while that is high enough to mess around with baking a bit, it isn't really high enough to screw up other cooking. I lived at 10,000-11,000 ft for awhile and that was much different.

            This sounds more like she needs to read some QUALITY cookbooks, ones that have been written with TESTED recipes, rather than many big name cookbooks that are ghost written. Then practice making the recipes EXACTLY how they are written.

          2. re: JMF

            and beans... You have to use a pressure cooker at that altitude for beans.

            1. re: Hank Hanover

              hmmm, your experience is wildly different from mine. I lived at about 7200' and never had a pressure cooker but always had great beans. What happens when you cook beans at altitude without a pressure cooker?

              1. re: miss louella

                When I was a kid, I lived in Farmington, New Mexico which is about 5000 ft (very similar to Reno). Unfortunately, my knowledge isn't first hand. My parents did the cooking but they always swore that the beans would take twice as long to soften at altitude and that they never seemed break down which at least for us was an important part of beans. As an adult, I still don't want a bowl of soft individual beans. I want a lot of those beans to break down and form a creamy thick broth. I will sometimes take 3/4 of a cup of beans out and whir them with an immersion blender to assure that effect.

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  It could also have been the dry air. Older, drier beans have tougher skins and take longer to cook.

                  1. re: sandylc

                    Water hardness (does the cousin use city or well water?) also affects the cooking rate of beans, as does the amount of salting of the cooking water.

                    1. re: kcender

                      Yes to the water, no to the salt....Alton Brown and many others have dispelled the "don't salt" myth for cooking dried beans.

          3. America's Test Kitchen cookbooks have recipes that work and have precise directions as well as a lot of cooking tips and techniques. I don't know which cookbook to recommend however. I'm sure Amazon can help. (I won't recommend going to their website, there are people on this board that might do me verbal harm if I do ; )

            (ATK has a reputation for squeezing every last nickel out of their subscribers and it is annoying to some).

            1 Reply
            1. re: John E.

              +1 for ATK. Although, they can a bit light on the basics...they assume you've got proper knife skills and know how to saute or simmer. But as a rule, I like their approach. They don't profess to be the BEST recipes...but they sure know how to improve on them.

            2. Tell her to keep at it and don't give up, great cooking technique evolves from practice and support (and a steady stream of supplies)! I don't know how many horrid-tasting batches of white sauce I had to go through before I got the rhythm down, but now I can make it in my sleep. Does she know anyone near her that she can cook with? I find that watching a person cook right in front of you can be insanely helpful, especially if you can get them to cook in your own kitchen. Youtube is a fantastic teaching tool as well.

              1. This is useful:
                http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/H...

                And this is really specific:

                http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foo...

                1. First of all, put the high altitude issue aside. The difference in the boiling temperature of water at 4000 feet (about the altitude of Reno Nv) is a mere seven degrees less (rounding up) than it is at sea level. If altitude were a factor at all it would most probably affect baking more than any other type of cooking. Most recipes don't even factor in altitude differences below 6000 feet (pity Coloradans) so, for instructional purposes, I wouldn't even raise the issue. It may take a few minutes longer to boil a lobster but not that much longer.
                  If she simply must achieve higher temperatures, I'd advise her to learn to use a pressure cooker.
                  These are two books that I often recommend for the novice cook.
                  http://www.amazon.com/Im-Just-Here-Fo...
                  http://www.amazon.com/What-Einstein-T...
                  Both are easy light reading without a lot of fluff ...
                  My second point; you can't teach her to cook in Reno from your vantage point in Chicago, regardless of how hard you try. Cooking is as much "feel" (technique) as it is process (planning) - it is, no matter how you package if, science.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: todao

                    "...you can't teach her to cook in Reno from your vantage point in Chicago"

                    I've already learned a lot in this thread. Educating me (sitting at sea level) is helping. I need that perspective so I don't give her the wrong advice because of my ignorance. I'd love to fly to Reno, but not until the price drops. She may starve by then. :)

                    1. re: LanaD

                      I'd suggest things that barely need to be cooked. For example, pasta with halved (raw) grape tomatoes, a little butter, and grated parmesan is something I like to make myself that couldn't be easier. If she can just learn to make pasta and/or rice, there's a lot she can then do with things she can buy. Put on your Sandra Lee hat ;) I know someone in her 70s who's been cooking this way all her life. Lots of corn and sliced tomatoes with London broil her husband grills at her house in the summer. Hey, it's a great meal.

                    2. re: todao

                      Don't pity the Coloradoans. I lived at 7,000 feet for 16 years and adapted everything so that cakes and bread came out great. I was annoyed at the increased pasta cooking time and it could come out slightly gummy, but aside from that, no problem.

                      Some people just cannot cook. I couldn't understand this as basic cooking is just following steps. Couldn't understand until I realized a friend of mine who couldn't was using lack of skill to cover lack of desire.

                      Teach her some great salads and some great slow-cooked stews that can't go wrong, unless you leave the fire too high or turn it off and let her buy the rest. Also how to make eggs. A great fried egg and a good omelette will get her through a lot of meals.

                      1. re: rccola

                        Don't you think eggs are one of the most challenging things to get right?

                        1. re: foiegras

                          No. I routinely make backyard-farmed sunnysides for my daughter even though I hate eggs with identifiable yolks myself. She says they are perfect and licks the plate. Whites cooked properly near the yolk, lacy browned-butter edges. Yolks nice and runny. Throw a little frisee on the plate and some baby arugula (picked out of the spring mix from Costco) and voila! A meal fit for a princess.

                          Omelets are easy, too, as are properly scrambled eggs. They're all quick and just require paying attention for less than 5 minutes. Anyone can do that. I even beat an egg with pepper/salt maybe cheese and put in my Pyrex 2-cup measuring cup and put a small plate atop and microwave for 1min and 20-30 seconds and have a butterless puffy little omelet for myself to pop into a toasted English muffin. (Yes, I know they make gadgets for that but I have enough junk in my kitchen.)

                          Hardboiled? They're actually the biggest pain especially if the eggs are fresh.

                          1. re: rccola

                            Just so--a perfect boiled egg is quite difficult to achieve.

                            I personally think that brown edges on a fried egg are wrong--that means the pan is too hot. I like my eggs over medium, white to the edge, but find it difficult to turn them without breaking the yolk.

                            Scrambled eggs I can get reliably perfect, I have my own method, but I've been cooking for 30 years and was never a bad cook.

                            Omelets I don't really like that much and don't even attempt at home. I might have one at a restaurant if my choices are limited.

                            1. re: foiegras

                              The edges are browned because I brown the butter without burning it. The eggs are to my daughter's taste. She likes the edges crispy.

                              I like making French style envelope omelets. I prefer to eat scrambled. The yolks in the boiled eggs are perfect; it's peeling the shell off that is difficult with very fresh eggs as they haven't pulled away from the shell. The rapid cooling needed for peeled hard boiled is a pain in the behind. Labor intensive.

                    3. http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/1933633...

                      This is a beautiful and helpful reference guide with many fundamental recipes. I use it, recommend it, and buy it for friends who are new to cooking.

                      1. We lived in Reno for 10 years on one of the highest altitude streets in town at 5300 feet, besides baking for high altitude and pasta taking longer to cook and some other foods taking longer to roast, what kinds of issues is your cousin having? For roasting or grilling, use a thermometer to get foods to the right temperature internally, ignore times, food will just take longer to cook up there. It would help to know what kinds of issues your cousin is having though. For the most part the altitude is not a big deal, but it can be a factor.

                        1. Your cousin needs to learn the basic cooking techniques. These techniques are the building blocks of cooking. Once she knows them, she can follow any recipe.
                          They are the following:
                          Wet Techniques

                          Braising
                          Boiling
                          Steaming
                          Poaching
                          Blanching

                          Dry Techniques

                          Frying
                          Roasting oven and pan
                          Sauteing
                          Grilling
                          Stir Frying
                          Sweating
                          Searing

                          Here are some links to articles about these techniques and one is for cooking at altitude.

                          http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/techn...

                          http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article...

                          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/dryh...

                          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culi...

                          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/mois...

                          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culi...

                          http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/cook...

                          Big impressive cookbooks are too intimidating for her at this stage. There are two that I would recommend.
                          Cooking Basics for Dummies and How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson. The dummies book is the only one I know of that actually has articles on those cooking techniques I mentioned earlier. Pam Anderson's book teaches how to throw things together to make a meal.. a very valuable skill.

                          Recommend she watch the following programs on TV.
                          America's Test Kitchen You can, also, rent their dvds on netflix
                          Good Eats with Alton Brown
                          30 minute meals with Rachel Ray
                          The Barefoot Contessa
                          How to cook like a Rockstar with Anne Burelle

                          Tell her to start with those articles at those links I have provided. Tell her to read them 2 or 3 times until she knows them. Once she knows those techniques, she can get all the recipes she needs online and she will be able to follow them.

                          One caveat: If she won't read, most of my advice will be useless. Trust me... about half the population hates to read so much that if they have read something to learn it, they will choose not to learn it. If she fits into that category, the long agonizing path of self discovery will be her only option.

                          There is another thread on chowhound about teaching yourself how to cook. Here is that link: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/452033

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                            My first degree was in Home Economics

                            I used a small paperback book-Home Economics Food Preparation for grades 7-8-9.
                            Many years ago in NYC. All girls had to take Home Economics classes in Junior High School.

                            I cannot find my copy right now but I would check online bookshops that stock food textbooks-
                            Cornell. Columbia University, or extension Services in different States including Nevada,Colorado for high altitude cooking.

                            1. re: jpr54_1

                              The book was "The Handbook of Food Preparation" by American Home Economics Association

                            2. re: Hank Hanover

                              Thanks, this is exactly what we needed.

                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                Excellent sources, thank you!

                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                  I like Hank's suggestions on the very basics, and I think Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (http://www.howtocookeverything.com/) is a good, gentle introduction with a lot of variety. While I consider myself a capable home cook, that book is cracked at the spine and sections of it are falling out, because if I'm cooking something that requires a recipe, it comes from that one. If really pressed to chose just one cookbook, that's the one I'd pick.

                                2. I moved from an (approx) sea level altitude to 2500 feet a few years ago and the only big cooking difference I noticed was rice. I don't have a rice cooker, just do plain rice (long-grain brown, usually) on my stovetop. For months I couldn't figure out why my rice wouldn't come out right as I was doing it the same way I always did and in the past that had yielded perfect rice every time. Then I finally realized it had to be the altitude. Rice takes about twice as long to be done where I live now. Everything else seems about the same (and I bake a lot, especially breads). Beyond that I agree with the person who said your cousin needs to learn basic techniques. They can be applied to many different recipes, but the main thing is to just start cooking, following recipes, and use one's powers of observation. Isn't that how everyone learns new stuff?

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: SharaMcG

                                    Ah ha! This explains the rice cooker she just bought! I'm now trying to help her troubleshoot what went wrong. I agree that's where the learning comes in and the distance is a disadvantage. Watching her cook would certainly provide clues too.

                                    1. re: LanaD

                                      Soooo true! I had a friend once who couldn't get one of my recipes to turn out. I tried coaching on the phone , asking a billion questions etc. All to no avail.This went on for 4 years. Eventually I was visiting her and saw right away what the problem was - she thought the orange zest in the recipe included the pith! Nothing beats being there.

                                    2. re: SharaMcG

                                      Huh, we never had an issue with rice, it took a few minutes longer, more like 25-30 minutes than 20. Pasta definitely took longer, about 50% more time than at lower elevations. Everything takes longer to get to a boil, actually, it boils at a slightly lower temp so it took longer to get to boil, but then to really get to the right temp would take longer still. We had a convection oven so roasting took about the same amount of time as it did for me at lower altitude. I never tried a rice cooker up there, but I gave up on my bread maker. It was just easier to try bread from scratch or have our visiting relatives/friends bring us sourdough when they would come up. Pies work great, cakes are also an issue.

                                    3. One more idea (there are some great ones here) would be to ask what her very favorite dishes are and then choose the easiest one. With this choice, type out a VERY detailed but simply stated LIST of specific instructions for her to follow along with while making it. Include, if necessary, a detailed shopping list at the beginning, as well as notes about how the dish will look along the way. When she makes this dish, offer to be on the phone with her at various times during the preparation to answer questions and squash doubts.

                                      The idea here is to produce ONE SUCCESS for her to build upon and gain self-confidence with. Once she has eaten something yummy that she made successfully, she will gain a lot of momentum.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: sandylc

                                        +1 sandylc, agree early success can feed a desire to want to learn. Do something easy first. Maybe perfect a recipe until get the ONE SUCCESS. Then try another idea. Baby steps before run.

                                        LanaD, possibly your cooking ideas tried so far did not have enough detail for her to understand. Maybe needed specifics are getting lost in translation somehow so possibly not as much about altitude. Realize it has to be frustrating on both sides and seems you have already started to try to help. Could be time to try a third party cooking teacher, in person class, or online training course. And hope your post here on CH helps.

                                        Set expectations will take three times making a recipe to get right unless lucky. Move on to the NEXT favorite recipe idea when need to keep it interesting. But always take the time to understand recipe mistakes. Problems are opportunities to learn. The need to learn needs to come from them. Sometimes watching an expert is an easy way to learn hard stuff. Another way of saying some things are hard to get out of books. Possibly you can discover to make a YouTube movie of you to better show her how because communicating the way you are now isn't making it even though with good intentions. Or maybe you need to walk her through it on the phone or both discover how to Webcam or share digital pictures of key recipe moments. Cooking can be fun, informative, and rewarding. Don't want a willing student frustrated (or teacher). We are what we eat and cooking it helps us know what goes in. Hope any new student in the kitchen gains momentum before looses interest.

                                        Spaghetti?
                                        Pizza?
                                        Taco Salad?
                                        Enchiladas?
                                        Chili?
                                        Cookies?
                                        Stir Fry?
                                        Stroginoff?
                                        Beef Burgundy?
                                        A favorite soup?
                                        Stew?

                                        Let them pick recipe ideas or make an idea wish list. If means more to the student will speed their learning. It takes a desire to learn and explore - students often have to bring a desire to the table or it can be a waste of time. One can look around online including here to perfect each recipe and improve every ingredient. The tools to learn are at our fingertips in a modern world. How we use them is a choice. Confident it is possible to find online basic 'general' cooking courses for anything. While watching can be boring. Doing online research accessing websites and places like YouTube, Food Network, Americas Test Kitchen, etc can be amazingly useful. Online resources help when driven by a goal (like to perfect a recipe). Or have another self-driven reason to look around like a local sale. Maybe a food gift about to rot or harvest. Can get good cookbooks from a used book store or check out for free at local libraries. Only buy one if like and use often - not used cook books are clutter. Some of the best food has less that five fresh basic fresh quality ingredients. Show the new cook how to focus on a few or even one inexpensive fresh healthy available affordable local ingredient(s).

                                        Possibly pick a meal where can focus on each part one at a time around the plate as mini meals. Maybe drink associated beverages when make an appropriate meal. Understand the history. Many food dishes come from somewhere so have details if known may help enjoy. Cesar Salad is an example of a dish with unique history and tastes good topped with grilled chicken or shrimp to make a meal.

                                        Here is a meal idea to work up to that would teach all kinds of things ... how about a steak dinner with the side dishes. Optional sauce or gravy made in the pan with the bits where the steak cooked is tasty. Such as a "steak au poivre" pepper corn steak sauce made with fine alcohol, butter, and cream (I would add soft green peppercorns with sirloin steak kinda like this: http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/pepp... ). With red potato baked in foil or otherwise steamed topped by fresh garlic in melted real butter, sour cream (made of only cultured cream like Daisy or ...), fresh bacon bits, & fresh fine chopped chives. Also would work is garlic potatoes-rough massed with skin or twice-baked potatoes. Steamed about 7 minutes chopped broccoli with stems pealed also chopped mixed in topped by nothing (sometimes a bit of grated Pecorino Romano cheese that will melt quickly when hot out of the steamer). Salad with mixed leafy greens and sliced vegetable topped by a nice home made dressing, sesame seeds, chopped nuts, and toasted bread sliced into cubes (can top with sliced shrimp, salad shrimp, sliced grilled meat, fancy cheese, ... ). Garlic cheese bread can be very tasty some ways taste better than others. Fresh mushrooms, onion, & garlic quickly cooked in butter optionally finished with a splash of white wine is great as a side or on top of the steak. A couple kinds of home made pickles, black olives, and green olives on the side to nibble. In time maybe a soup and favorite dessert. A meal like this with a bunch of small courses a person can learn from, build on, and nibble for days every time attempted. A yummy way to make the same basic things perfect even when changes slightly every time you make it for variety - can do the same basic meal changing to or adding: fish like halibut, chicken, lamb, pork, lobster, shrimp, elk, shark, venison, ...

                                        Just hope she has fun and wish you luck in better communications when try to share. Hope the student quickly sees results worth the effort or will loose interest in moving forward. Maybe shy away from hard things in the oven like altitude dependent baked goods. Skip for now: cupcakes, cakes, souffles, cookies, ... Cooking is work. Baking can be a pain, is a specialty and you can be a great cook without having to bake. Can create better food way beyond what is possible to buy. In time they will see savings, pride, and the ability to capitalize on food opportunities. Builds on itself in time when re-use skills and knowledge. All new cooks need to realize it is important to be safe around a knife, hot water, stove, oven, hot pan, kitchen power equipment, etc.

                                        Some of the people I like how they cook so look at their books, watch TV shows, try recipes, seek out online video include: Jacques Pepin, Ming Tsai, Steven Raichlen, James Beard, & Alton Brown. When looking to make something maybe try something new often look to them for an inspirational start. Sometimes use a favorite go-to cook book and my files of family recipes including my own as well as cooking ideas from parents, grand parents, and great grandparents. When all else fails I do a quick online search and read several highly rated recipes to make your own educated guess or identify something to try next. In time you will have your own favorite places for cooking inspirations. Favorite recipes and cooking tips if you can find them quickly can be useful to your cooking future.

                                        Buy an inexpensive spiral notebook. Keep a cooking notebook of all your notes, things you learn, ideas, recipes you perfect, even mistakes, so you can look at it later to learn from to get better. Keep paper files and a directory on your computer so all your cooking ideas are organized and in one place. Down the road use a computer Recipe program to help you perfect repeat then share your cooking with others, but that is later down the road if ever go there so a spiral notebook will work for now.

                                      2. I'm loving Michael Ruhlman's Twenty. It covers all the basics of cooking in twenty fundamental ideas - each chapter covers an idea and has recipes to demonstrate the idea. He also discusses cooking temps, so if your cousin invests in a meat thermometer and a candy/frying thermometer (both fairly inexpensive) she should be able to adjust for altitude issues.
                                        The actual recipes in the book are a bit butter laden, but as a guide to learn basics it's the best I've seen.

                                        1. What kind of food does your cousin like and how many is she cooking for? Maybe we can come up with some really easy stuff to cook while she is learning.

                                          1. This truly not meant to sound flip....but might she consider joining Chowhound so that she can get a range of advice from experienced folks besides you?

                                            I'm sure I can't be the only one who has grown to be a better, more experienced cook by actively participating on boards! And we love fresh mea....um...I mean, new members! ;)

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: 4Snisl

                                              Yes, I've sent her a link to the thread. I get lots of great ideas, advice and recipes from this site and consider it a tool in the cooking arsenal myself. Chow also has a basics section with a recipe I forwarded her, so I'm guiding her here. Bwhaahaaaa. :)

                                            2. As others have said, the best bet may be a cookbook that really spells things out - not just the ingredients list but the procedures and estimated times for each step of the process. The cookbook writer who is best about giving all the details and leaving nothing to chance, and who focuses on practical home cooking rather than imitating restaurant cuisine, is Mark Bittman, in his massive "How to Cook Everything." If that's too much for your cousin, there's the brand new "How to Cook Everything: The Basics," which really is basic as well as shorter - 175 recipes with 1,000 photographs in about 500 pages. It may not be the only cookbook she ever needs, but if she goes on to more, you'll have succeeded.

                                              http://content.markbittman.com/node/71

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: John Francis

                                                I can get behind the basics book of Bittman's. I think that tome of his "How to cook everything" is just too intimidating for a new cook. The same with Joy of Cooking. They are just too big for a newbie to use without getting exasperated. The Betty Crocker cookbook in the spiral notebook wouldn't be too bad.

                                              2. Hello! I agree with much that has been said so far, so I won't repeat. May I suggest that she get The Joy of Cooking? A wonderful book; not only for its recipes but for its informative sections. And Barbara Kafka's book The Microwave Gourmet might just get her going in the right direction - also because of its informative bits.

                                                1. Ask her to try roasting chicken leg quarters. They are cheap. There are numerous recipes but all you have to do is put salt and pepper on them. Sprinkle on some chili powder and smoked paprika which is optional and roast in a 350°F oven for 60 - 75 minutes. That's it. Have her make a Zatarain's yellow rice (yep the boxed stuff) and a salad. Dinner is served.

                                                  You can buy leg quarters all day long for $1 per pound.

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                    Great idea, thanks. She frequently cooks with chicken breasts and I don't know how she's tried them except for boiling (blech!). I recommended baking if she needs them shredded for another recipe. I think chicken breasts and pork chops are in her freezer now. She also likes fish but I fail at that one too, unless it's a thick filet to cook on the grill. She's cooking for 1 but probably doesn't mind leftovers. She doesn't do beef but will do a hamburger.

                                                    1. re: LanaD

                                                      I've had very good luck baking whole, skin-on breasts smeared with butter. You then clear everything off, bone, and it's quite delicious. Chicken braised with tomatoes, onion, and chiles is fantastic and so easy.

                                                      1. re: LanaD

                                                        I oven fry skinned breasts, defrosted, patted dry and pressed into bread crumbs mixed with salt and pepper and paprika (optional if that's too gourmet) then put on parchment paper sheet on cookie sheet and drizzled lightly with olive oil or melted butter. They're always tender if allowed to rest a minute or two after cooking about an hour. They're good for about 3 days afterwards, too, plain or cut up and put on salad or in past with jarred sauce.

                                                    2. Hello Everyone, my cousin started this thread. I am the one who can't cook! I have a lot of spices but, I don't know what spices go with what foods? I appreciate everyone's input.

                                                      9 Replies
                                                      1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                        Thyme goes with everything. Sage goes particularly well with chicken but it can be strong so go easy. Rosemary is very strong but goes well with Italian dishes and very well with lamb. Italian herbs is a mix of herbs including rosemary, thyme, sage and others probably fennel seeds and oregano. Chili powder and Mexican oregano go in, you guessed it, Mexican food and a whole lot more. There are few dishes I haven't put chili powder in.

                                                        There is some easy stuff you can cook until you develop more skill. If you can boil water, you can cook pasta. Use a big pot and put a lot of water in it. Once you heat it up, add salt to it until you can taste the salt, sorta like making soup. If you can't taste much salt, there isn't enough in it. If it has too much salt, you'll know it. Bring it to a boil and add the pasta. Let it come back to a boil and set your timer according to the package but at your altitude add another 50% onto the timer. Before you take it out take a noodle out and bite into it. If it is tough, it's probably underdone. Give it another minute and try again. Use bottled pasta sauce. If you like, you can brown some ground beef and some chopped onion and add it to the jarred pasta sauce.

                                                        Progresso soup, french bread and a salad make a fine meal. Your favorite canned soup poured over rice or pasta is quick and easy.

                                                        Keep any left over rice. It's good for adding to a thin soup to fortify it. It's good for stirfrys and you will be able to do those soon.

                                                        Take about a half pound of sausage (about 7 inch piece in the casing) and cut it in half lengthwise and then cut those two halves in half lengthwise then chop those into 1/4 inch pieces. Add that to Zatarain's red beans and rice mix. Follow the instructions on the box but add 5-6 minutes to the cooking time. Add french bread and a salad. It's dinner. You can add meat to most of the Zatarain's rice mixes, sausage, chicken, even crawfish.

                                                        You can add the same sausage to boxed mac and cheese or Ramen noodles or rice while it is cooking. It can fortify a canned soup, too.

                                                        Learn how to cook an egg. Scrambled is the easiest. Use a teflon coated non stick pan. Heat it on medium low heat with a pat of butter. Crack 2 eggs in a small bowl or even a coffee mug. Add about a tablespoon of milk and beat it together with a fork. Put the egg mixture in the pan and add salt and pepper. Start stirring with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of the pan until almost all of the liquid is gone. Turn the heat off while the eggs are still runny. Keep stirring until they firm up and serve. Keep practicing this until it turns out right. Eggs are only about 12 cents each so if you have to throw your first batch out, the lesson only cost you a quarter.

                                                        An easy way to cook chicken breast is wrap it in foil with a pat of butter, salt, pepper maybe a little sage and or thyme. Put the foil packet in a 350°F oven for about 30 - 40 minutes. Serve.

                                                        I think that will do for now.

                                                        1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                          Hello, cousin Hungry, and welcome to Chowhound!

                                                          Spices are so personal ... I can tell you what works for me.

                                                          Of course it all starts with salt and pepper. I buy the big cartons of iodized salt--very handy for salting the pasta water, ground beef as I'm cooking it, etc. I have kosher salt for recipes. And fleur de sel (which is heaven) for the table.

                                                          Pepper--like I said, this is personal. I buy ground black pepper, and white peppercorns for my grinder. Then I also add cayenne to many things, including cream gravy and white sauces. It's in the spaghetti sauce I worked on tonight (started it last night).

                                                          Secret ingredients--soy sauce. Fabulous for adding umami--deep, meaty flavor--to many savory dishes. It's always handy to the stove.

                                                          Blackstrap molasses. Great for removing any acidic edge. Also in my spaghetti sauce. If I were making vegetable soup with a tomato base, I'd use it there too. You can sub brown sugar, but molasses is better and has nutritional value too.

                                                          Thyme--great with Italian food, also in cream sauces and vegetable dishes. Lovely.

                                                          Basil--I consider it a necessity to grow this fresh. I have 3 varieties growing on my porch as we speak. Be sure to try Thai basil. Great in Italian dishes and for mozzarella a la caprese (now there's a great no-cook dish--all you need is tomato buying ability).

                                                          I am not a fan of spice blends (and have a horror of Mrs Dash, Lawry's, etc.), but I do buy an Italian blend and a taco seasoning blend.

                                                          Coriander is a necessity if you boil your own shrimp--but you can buy those, so never mind ;)

                                                          I keep cumin for Mexican flavors, and clove is great for ham.

                                                          I also keep celery salt and either garlic salt or garlic powder. I'm sure that horrifies a lot of people, but I like to combine with fresh garlic and celery for deeper flavor. You can take a girl out of middle America ;)

                                                          Best of luck. Cooking is so much fun.

                                                          1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                            What everyone mentioned below is great.

                                                            My advice is to bring a little notebook and pen when you go out to eat. Write down flavor combinations, side dishes, anything about the meal that seems interesting. Also, if there's a whole foods near you, take a look at their salad bar and takeout sections. A lot of good ideas for meals.

                                                            A great meal that's hard to screw up is a stir fry. Strips of chicken, vegetables and a bit of sauce can make you a greAt meal.

                                                            1. re: cheesecake17

                                                              good thought! Especially if you buy bottled sauces and prepared taco seasoning and etc. You can satisfy cravings for foods of any ethnicity that way.

                                                              Mexican seasoning: chili powder, taco seasoning or, if you want brighter, fresher: a little orange juice maybe and thyme, marjoram and oregano (Mexican oregano optional--just go light on the Italian kind.) Canned chilis, mild, drained tossed in.

                                                              Chinese: soy sauce, ginger, garlic, chili garlic paste if you can stand heat, 5-spice powder. star anise if you like licorice-flavor.

                                                              Thai: lemon grass, fish sauce (need more than you think but cook it out so it doesn't smell bad), garlic, ginger (galangal if you want to be more authentic), keffir lime leaf and thai basil (can use regular basil but not dried)

                                                              You by no means need all the things at once. Try one or two and then go wild from there. Tossing peanuts or cashews into a Chinese or Thai stir fry adds flavor and crunch. Good way to use up nuts that have a slightly stale taste, too. Sauteing them freshens them up.

                                                              I make little bits of coleslaw for my husband--cabbage keeps in fridge long time--with celery seed or celery salt, onion finely chopped, pepper, salt if no celery salt, prepared mayo. Potato salad too--buy those little blue potatoes, cut in quarters, steam til fork goes through but not soft, and add the same things +/- celery finely chopped. Homemade sides turn a sandwich into a more satisfying meal.

                                                              Basically don't sweat it--add a modest amount, taste. Remember dry spices flavor will intensify as it rehydrates in what you make.

                                                              1. re: rccola

                                                                Bottled sauces are great for two reasons. One, the convenience for a newbie. Someone cooking for one may even find it simpler to buy some vegetables precut and a single chicken cutlet. It all comes together relatively quickly, and hey, it's semi homemade. Two, it helps the cook get a sense of how the dish should taste. Eventually, the cook can create his or her own version.

                                                                Another thought came to me.
                                                                Buy some restaurant fixings to start a simple homemade meal. Many pizza shops will sell their dough or sauce. Chinese restaurants will sell an order of rice. Several restaurants I know will sell containers of salas dressings, sauces, and marinades.

                                                                1. re: cheesecake17

                                                                  If you happen to get rice with an Asian meal and don't eat it, save to make fried rice later. Very easy and tasty. I probably wouldn't buy rice since I can make it but sometimes We don't eat all the rice we get.

                                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                                    I've made breakfast fried rice with leftover rice. I also make my own, but for a beginning cook buying part of the meal leaves more attention to the main attraction.

                                                            2. re: Hungryfor1

                                                              Hopefully your spices r not too old-
                                                              experiment with small sizes of spices.
                                                              Companiesi buy from include-
                                                              http://www.penzeys.com/
                                                              www.savoryspiceshop.com

                                                              I also read Herb Companion magazine

                                                              I also have a smaill but growing herb container garden

                                                              1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                hopefully the spices u have r not old
                                                                i usually purchase sample sizes of spices

                                                                www.savoryspiceshop.com
                                                                and penzys spiceshop

                                                                I also read herb companion
                                                                and have a small but growing herb container garden

                                                              2. I wanted to give a plug for James Peterson's books because he focuses more on technique than on recipes (although the ones he has are good) AND he has very clear pictures.

                                                                Of course I am referring to 'Cooking' or his older and one I learned a lot from when I was a young cook 'Essentials of Cooking' http://tinyurl.com/6pmv8q4

                                                                1. I recommend Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food." It approaches cooking as the application of heat to food. Each chapter is divided into a particular cooking technique: boiling, steaming, frying, baking, etc. It is more of a techniques book than a cookbook but each technique has accompanying recipes. It is very good for a beginner because the beginner can read the theory of a particular cooking technique and then apply that theory to the very good recipes that Mr. Brown applies. Obviously, the reader need only read one chapter, rather than the whole book, to launch into the recipes in that section. It is funny, too, definitely an added benefit.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: gfr1111

                                                                    Where is walnut? This books sounds like it could help with some of the technique questions being asked!

                                                                  2. Most video and pro chefs use gas stoves, and if the cousin is trying to replicate stovetop results on electric without understanding how the heating characteristics differ, there may be more problems (and even worse on smoothtop stoves than on coils).

                                                                    1. Alright, I am "DOING THE HAPPY DANCE"!!!! Success!!! Crock Pot....Pork Stew...EXCELLENT!!!
                                                                      Recipe from Slow Cooker, FIX IT AND FORGET IT!

                                                                      8 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                        I had to go back through the thread to be sure who you are. Congrats. The crock pot is excellent for soups, stews and stocks and chili which is really just a stew. It is really good for pulled pork, too.
                                                                        For pulled pork, put some rub on a boston butt or a pork shoulder roast or if they have them in your store something called carnitas. That is just big pieces of boston butt. Put some sliced or wedged onions on the bottom of the crock pot then put the pork on top. You need to put some liquid in with the pork. You could use water but why not use something that would add flavor. Add a combo of beer and cheap bbq sauce.. a 12 ounce bottle of each would be fine. Cover and set on low for 6 to 10 hours. Pull the meat out and let it cool a little then shred the meat. You should get rid of some but not all of the fat while shredding. Now you have pulled pork. It will be great on a sandwich like that but most people will want to add some bbq sauce to it. Some people add cole slaw to the sandwich. I put it on hamburger buns with a raw onion ring, a spoonful of pickle relish and a little bbq sauce.

                                                                        If you are tempted to use the sauce left in the crockpot, be sure to defat it by skimming the top layer with a spoon. Filter out the onions and chunks of pork and fat and then cook it some. Be sure to bring it up to a boil for a short time. That will insure that any bacteria is dead.

                                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                          this sounds really good too. Now, what happened to my cupcakes? They are falling apart while I am eating them. I cooked them 23 minutes

                                                                          1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                            Glad your pork stew worked out :) Did you let the cupcakes cool?

                                                                            1. re: foiegras

                                                                              Yes, I did let them cool. I am thrilled my pork stew turned out :-)

                                                                            2. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                              I rechecked that article I gave you a link to about high altitude cooking. http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/culi...

                                                                              In regards to baking the article said:

                                                                              "Another difference caused by the lower atmospheric pressure is that leavening agents such as yeast, baking powder or baking soda will have more rising power. That's because the thinner air offers less resistance to the gases created by the leavening agent. Therefore, you should use less leavening (about 20 percent less at 5,000 feet) as your elevation increases.

                                                                              And because of the faster evaporation described earlier, you may need to increase the amount of liquid in batters and doughs. You can do this by adding an extra egg, or using extra-large eggs in place of large."

                                                                              So... did you use extra large eggs instead of large eggs and did you cut back on the baking powder or soda by 20%? Too much leavening would certainly cause the crumbling.

                                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                I used large eggs and box cake mix by Betty Crocker Super Moist.

                                                                                1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                  Not sure... the only thing I can think of is try adding 2 tablespoons flour and 1 egg. That would lesson the effect of the leavener and the egg would bind it more.

                                                                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                    All the boxed mixes have high altitude adjustments specifically for each mix. But your altitude is not so high--the box will also say if adjustment is necessary. I baked successfully at 7,000 feet in Colorado. Once you get it down, it will work every time. Try it again. No biggy to get a fail.

                                                                        2. Alright, today's effort was a half of chicken split in half. I followed a recipe in Good Housekeeping Illustrated cook book.
                                                                          Oven baked I cooked the chicken on 425 recipe calls for 400. Because, my oven is off 25 degree's I cooked it at 425. It cooked for 50 minutes and I checked the internal temp. It met the 165 degree's.
                                                                          My chicken DID NOT BROWN....WHY?

                                                                          21 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                            There are several ways to ensure the skin browns.
                                                                            1. Make sure the chicken is room temperature before putting it in the oven.
                                                                            2. Pat the skin dry with a paper towel.
                                                                            3. You could let the chicken half set in the refrigerator uncovered for an hour. It drys the skin out.
                                                                            4. Use a little oil on the skin . This really helps browning.

                                                                            Step 3 is optional. Steps 2 and 4 are mandatory.

                                                                            1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                              How long did you pre-heat your oven for?

                                                                              1. re: AAQjr

                                                                                20 minutes

                                                                              2. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                Was the chicken in a pan with high sides? High sided pans trap steam and will keep the meat from browning properly.

                                                                                1. re: biondanonima

                                                                                  I used a 13 x 9 inch temptation baking dish

                                                                                  1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                    It should have still worked with the pan you used but for roasting, I like to use a Jelly Roll half sheet pan and a cooling rack. It is also known as a cookie sheet with sides. It looks like this: http://www.amazon.com/Chicago-Metalli...

                                                                                    Mine is not teflon coated. Mine is just stainless steel. Anyway, elevating it allows the fat to drip away. If you want to keep your pan clean, you can put a layer of aluminum foil or parchment paper on the bottom of the pan. That way, you can just roll it up and throw it away.

                                                                                    You could use a broiling pan that usually comes with your oven. It looks like this: http://www.amazon.com/BP3600-Range-Po...

                                                                                    If you buy one, get the porcelain coated ones including the top. I don't like the ones with the chrome top.

                                                                                    You might keep an eye out for some kind of rack that would fit your baking 9 x 13 baking dish.
                                                                                    Something like this would work: http://www.amazon.com/Heavy-Duty-Cool...

                                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                      I have a Pampered Chef stone with the sides like the cookie sheet. I never know if I should cover the chicken with foil or not. The recipe didn't say to cover it. Thank you so much for sending the links as well. I was just sitting here trying to figure out what a jelly roll pan was...then I saw your link.

                                                                                      1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                        :-) Yeah I figured as much. That's why I provided a link. If you want something crispy, you don't want to cover it. Covering something traps the steam and makes a wet atmosphere. In fact, many recipes will have you cover something like a casserole and then take the cover off the last 10 minutes so it will brown. If they really want to make sure the top browns, they will tell you to remove the cover and put the oven on broil.

                                                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                          +1 Hank, agree if covered chicken would cook in steam and not brown. At least the mistake would be moist. Could brown under the broiler for a few minutes to salvage it (see more of what I wrote about that yesterday below).

                                                                                        2. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                          ma'am;

                                                                                          Feel free to contact at hank.hanover99@gmail.com I'll be happy to help you any way I can. I'm not a stalker. I'm just a 60 year old grampa. Why my wife will even let me talk to you! :-) (yes dear)

                                                                                          1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                            Lovely it was for Hank to give you a link but don't be shy about Googling things like "jelly roll pan." It may be on Amazon but a picture is sure to come up. Questions work, too, like, "Can I leave butter out of the refrigerator?" The search engines are pretty smart these days.

                                                                                            1. re: rccola

                                                                                              Yep... Google knows all. a little scary but probably true.

                                                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                If you are having a problem chances are good someone else has had the problem. When search online look for smart answers from a reliable source. The same answer from multiple places can build confidence.

                                                                                                Yes it is scary, Google knows more than we want them to about most of us. Started using other search engines with methods years ago also when learned Google keeps every search with our personal information forever. I find have great results with Bing, other ways, and with other online search engines. Even after delete a gmail (Google Mail) Google keeps our deleted e-mail messages forever and even after we have no access. Google created the Android OS behind the now #1 phone company Samsung who recently passed Nokia. And bought Motorola Mobility who make the DROID so Google also has all that GPS and personal info on many to build on. Sometimes is faster to seek first hand information other ways instead of relying on Google-Fu.

                                                                                                The internet is a big online rumor mill a this point, while more often than not the information is mostly accurate. Not everything you find on the internet is true. There is no internet police while here on CH we have moderators as a bit of a double check. Just like in the news paper not everything is true when they have editors. We assume the information is put online by someone with good intentions. Not always. There are lots of stupid people who do not know it. Know the world is driven by money not what is right. Am more likely to take the time to try a recipe myself when confirmed by others, so for that reason like websites with rating systems and go for the five star ones with hundreds of random ratings. Sometimes wrong information gets spread by those with good intentions because they read it on the internet, from the paper, or in a cook book.

                                                                                                In my kitchen online isn't always the best or fastest way to get a cooking answer. We are as smart as what we can find quickly. Often grab one of about 10 thick cookbooks on a handy rack in my kitchen many learned to cook from know well if think the information is there. Researching recipes ideas with ingredients I go to specific chef websites, televisions websites like FoodNetwork.com, ethnic sites depending on the food, sometimes is best to call another cook to be put on the right track, often can get the answer from my notebooks / files / with other books in a back room (or start a new research project when have extra time for my food hobby) .

                                                                                                1. re: smaki

                                                                                                  Joy of Cooking is my offline go-to resource for general information. Each section has an overview (like Poultry or Eggs) with lots of great info. It's also a good source for basic technique information. It does assume some experience, so you can always ask questions ...

                                                                                        3. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                          To cook chicken in my home oven I set the oven temperature dial on about 350 degrees F then put the other oven dial on BROIL instead of BAKE (with the door closed to limit maximum temperature and am happier with the browning from the top before gets overdone). With the one oven knob set to BROIL (instead of to BAKE) the heat comes from the top elements instead of from the bottom. Bet that is it. Give a try next time. Do not put chicken on the top shelf right under the broiler element - start with it in the middle of the oven. The closer to the element the browner it will get - can move closer later if need more brown. And if too brown move to bottom of the oven or you can put foil over meat protecting it from top heat element to continue to cook inside without browning it outside more. Your browning results will improve with more heat from the top instead of it all from the bottom. Common sense not in all cook books confirmed with your under-brown results this time. Remember a recipe is just a guide and usually takes three times to get it perfect if paying attention to the little details. If ever go to BAKE from BROIL the top elements will turn off and the bottom elements will turn on and eventually heat up from not being used. Tune recipes to improve results then you will soon know how to do it in your kitchen every time.

                                                                                          Do not ever over-cook chicken (pork, beef, most all meat, ...). Because If over heat internally will be tough instead of tender and juicy. Better not brown than over done. While has to be done as eating raw chicken is dangerous. Internal temperature with a reliable thermometer in a thick part of the meat is the best way to know. After a while just poking it with your finger you will know if done from density and experience. I don't eat the chicken skin just the meat. While do use the skin and bones in my stock for soup, gravy, etc so often cook two chicken halves in the oven at once, I split then cook a whole chicken when get on sale sometimes more, to have enough for stock (if have time otherwise skin with bones toss then buy stock). Be careful not to eat any little chicken bones - chew your food carefully before swallow. If in doubt spit it out. Turn off oven when done cooking ... you will forget try not to. Spiting a whole chicken in half to cook flat and removing bones after cooked is something one gets better at with practice.

                                                                                          A trick to brown anything is to put under the broiler for a few minutes. Open door if want broiler element to stay on while watch. Is best to do on tin foil so don't have to clean if browns or burns juice into cooking vessel. STAND there to WATCH CLOSELY when BROIL. If walk away for a moment oven can get so hot will quickly burn or even start a fire. With oven door closed you will see BROIL top heat element goes off when temperature is reached. With door open can not tell you how many times browning a pizza or buttered garlic toast walked away for just seconds to come back to smoke even sometimes fire. BROIL is not a beginner in the kitchen move but can save the day so wanted you to know about it. Is good to have a plan how to deal with a fire ahead of time in case there is one. Please be very careful and watch food close if ever use BROIL.

                                                                                          Hungryfor1, please let us know what you are planning to cook ahead of time. You will gain ideas and helpful feedback. Start small and pick easy things at first. What is your next food craving for a project in the kitchen while you continue to perfect baked half chicken? You want to make good chicken because is a basic protein you can make so many other great things with or eat alone. Recent favorites include chicken barley vegetable soup, chicken soft tacos, chicken salad, and chicken enchiladas.

                                                                                          1. re: smaki

                                                                                            I need to cook 6 chicken legs. They are thawing as I type this.

                                                                                            1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                              You could bake them with BBQ sauce ...

                                                                                              1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                                I'm late to this but the question I would have is are they just the drum sticks or do they include the thighs? I guess my answer could be the same for both. I would season them with salt and pepper and cook them on the grill this time of year. If you don't wish to do that you can make oven fried chicken using Bisquik.

                                                                                                http://www.cooks.com/rec/view/0,1727,...

                                                                                                Don't worry that the recipe says to use chicken breasts. Somebody changed it from the original on the box which said to use chicken pieces as in bone-in and skin-on.

                                                                                                1. re: John E.

                                                                                                  Hello, they are just the drumsticks. I have an electric table top grill. Would that be alright?

                                                                                                  1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                                    Sure that would work great. At the end of cooking you could do what foiegras suggests and put some BBQ sauce on them. You can also just season them and put them on a sheet pan and roast them in an oven at 375 for 45 minutes or so. If nobody has yet suggested it an instant read thermometer is helpful when cooking meat. Chicken should be about 165 degrees.

                                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                                      If you don't have a thermometer, you can also just cut into the thickest part of the biggest piece and make sure the juices run clear. Pink is not what you want.

                                                                                                      I generally season with salt and pepper. You could also use garlic salt or lemon pepper or a little cayenne pepper, something like that.

                                                                                                      If you have any onions, potatoes, carrots, leeks, that kind of thing, you could cut up and roast along with the chicken.

                                                                                      2. I once lived with 3 mamas boys in University and none of them knew how to even boil water. One of them asked me, "how do I know when water is boiling?" For serious. Every time I would go in the kitchen to cook dinner for myself, they would stand around and silently observe. One of the boys got engaged a few weeks ago and his fiancee talked about what wonderful pork chops he made. He later told me that was my recipe.

                                                                                        You have to want to learn. Depends on what kind of learner your cousin is too - I am a visual learner so I need to observe. Maybe some DVDs from the library on basic cooking would be a good place to start too. YouTube is also a great resource, also mentioned by another poster.

                                                                                        5 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: ladooShoppe

                                                                                          HELLO, I haven't been on for a while. I HAVE A QUESTION how do you clean hard anodized cookware...specifically the bottoms?

                                                                                          1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                            Use a 3M Scotchbrite pad (available at any grocery store) and Bar Keeper's Friend scouring powder (also available at any grocery store) and scrub. What you should never do with anodized pots and pans is to put them into your dishwasher.

                                                                                            http://www.scotch-brite.com/wps/porta...

                                                                                            http://www.barkeepersfriend.com/

                                                                                            Others may have a different suggestion, but this is what I use.

                                                                                            1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                              If this is for the outside of the pan where burned grease tends to accumulate and get baked on, I would suggest using oven cleaner. Make a shallow pan out of aluminum foil that is bigger than the pot. Put the pan or pot upside down on the foil in the oven and bake at 200°F for 20 -30 minutes then turn off the oven. Spray the outside of the pan with oven cleaner and let it sit for 10 minutes. Wipe the pan as best you can and then rinse it off under the sink. That should have loosened that built on grease. A Mr Clean magic eraser would speed things along at this point.

                                                                                              1. re: Hungryfor1

                                                                                                You could always do what I do, and accept the bottoms of your pans exactly the way they are ...

                                                                                                1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                  I gave a reply about how to clean the bottoms of the pans, but the technique I described was actually how I clean the INSIDE of SS pots and pans. I mostly don't worry about the bottom. I do clean up the sides however.