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Jul 7, 2012 12:47 PM

Brand new to cooking.

I am new to home cooking and have many questions, so I thought I'd ask them here. I appologize if some have been covered before.

1. Does using different brands of spices make much difference?

2. Can you recomend any websites or forums that are helpful to someone who has never cooked or is brand new to cooking?

3. What kind of pans should a beginner use?

4. Is there a big difference between Guldens spicy brown mustard and "dijon mustard"? I made a salad dressing calling for dijon mustard and I used Guldens spicy brown mustard and it seems glumpy and unattractive after keeping it in the refrigerator.

5. Some recipes suggest using white pepper instead of black. I bought some "ground white pepper" from the spice section of the store and it seems very fine and hotter then black pepper. Is there a proportion of white pepper that is equal to black, or are they equal in the same measurement?

6. Do professional chefs and cooks have to go to culinary school? Is there a lot of discrimination against older people who want to cook professionally?

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  1. more question (It probably won't be the last ; )

    7. Can a dry spice usually be used in a recipe as a substitute for a fresh spice or herb?

    9 Replies
    1. re: RatherBeFishing

      Usually. If it's a cooked dish, then I would say yes, but no way would I use dried basil in a caprese salad. That needs fresh basil.

      A general rule is to use 1/3 to 1/2 the amount of dried, since dried herbs have more concentrated flavor. I did not say better flavor, or even the exact same flavor. And for the most part, dried parsley is useless.

      I personally like Penzey's spices. If you live near a store, they are absolutely worth the trip. Fresher and less expensive than your supermarket. They also offer mail order, so when you are ready to stock up, you can have it all sent to you.

      1. re: iluvcookies

        "And for the most part, dried parsley is useless." -iluvcookies

        Probably mostly just looks nice garnishing food?

        1. re: RatherBeFishing

          Don't use it to garnish, it's dried and will mess up texture. If you use any dried herb, it should be in a cooked dish when the herb gets some cooking time.
          I occasionally use it it a sauce that can use a little color (like when I make chicken francese or picatta) and I don't have any fresh parsley on hand.

          1. re: RatherBeFishing

            No, if I may jump in....dried parsley should just not exist! It is both tasteless and ugly.

            Fresh parsley, OTOH, both curly and flat, is valuable for both its flavor as an ingredient, and if you wish, its garnishing ability.

            1. re: sandylc

              FYI: if you have little ones and want to get them involved in the kitchen keeping around a small shaker filled with dried parsley and letting them sprinkle it on and into things is a great way to start.

              1. re: Iowaboy3

                Wow, it is a miracle - you truly have found a use for dried parsley - and some say it couldn't be done....

                Seriously, that's a really good idea :-)

        2. re: RatherBeFishing

          Don't apologize for asking questions! Goodness! That's what we're here for!

          The Home Cooking board is, in my opinion, an absolute treasure trove for the beginning home cook. There are dozens of threads started by people who are new to cooking for one reason or another, with hundreds of great responses from experienced home cooks. Do a bit of searching and read whatever you can that doesn't overwhelm you. There are also... golly, many thousands of threads on various topics from the best way to cook oatmeal to the perfect ten-course dinner and everything in between.

          Best of luck!

          1. re: RatherBeFishing

            Yes unless you are a food purist! It is always better to use fresh, but it is perfectly fine to use dry spices as well. Cooking is supposed to be fun, just start cooking using the ingredients that you have. As you progress you can go forward and use more expensive items. I use simple ingredients during the week and on the weekends experiment more.

            1. re: RatherBeFishing

              That depends on the recipe. If the herb in question is going into a stew, then substituting dry for fresh won't been too bad. Just make sure to add dry at the beginning. Usually fresh herbs are thrown in at the end and a bright flavor. But for something like a salad or pesto where it's not just the flavor but the texture of tender leaves. It's only fresh.

            2. I suggest you pick up a copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." He answers most of your questions and many others you'll have later, and his recipes are truly fool-proof. It's also available as a Kindle or Nook ebook if you prefer the less bulky format.

              10 Replies
              1. re: John Francis

                This... Bittman's book is invaluable, at least it was for me. He goes over the basics thoroughly and addresses things such as what type of pan to use for what application, techniques, complementary flavors and suggestions on how to vary basic recipes.

                Often, recipes that you Google aren't always the best ones. After cooking for a while you will be able to weed out the good from the bad. Bittman's recipes are all tested, and I've made many myself so I know they work. That said, it is usually a good idea to follow a recipe from start to finish without variation the first time.

                1. re: iluvcookies

                  Alton Brown is the only "celebrity" chef worth bothering with, at least at this stage of the game. He explains what he is doing, he doesn't just pretend to cook for the camera. You can find nearly all his shows on Youtube, and his books are easily available from the library. You might check him out, in addition to the Bittman book, which I have never seen so can't comment on.

                  There are Julia Child episodes both on the PBS website as well as on youtube - these are WELL worth watching as well. Especially her older episodes. She was very unassuming and the opposite of arrogant. I remember one episode where she was trying to flip something in the pan and it flopped rather than flipped, dropping part of the contents on the stove. She just scooped it up and threw it back in the pan, saying something like, "There, no one need ever know if you don't tell them", LOL! An early TV demonstration of the 5 second rule! You can learn a lot from Julia, especially with regard to maintaining an even keel even when disaster looms!

                  I'd stay away from the rest of them - particularly America's Test Kitchen. The stuff they do these days I find to be only "meh" and they are MUCH too dogmatic, IMO, about the "perfection" of their recipes. Oddly enough, they've had at least 3 different iterations of the "perfect biscuit" (or a muffin, something like that, I've forgotten exactly) over the years. They've done this several times with different recipes over the years, for the same item. Whatever the current iteration is, it's "perfect" and not to be meddled with - 'til the next time they roll it out in a slightly modified version.

                  Lydia's Kitchen or whatever that's called (oh google it, you'll find her) isn't too bad either, for Italian cooking, but probably a little over your head just yet. Better to get a handle on the basics - what is caramelizing, how to caramelize without charring, why different types of flours behave differently, how to bone a chicken even - before you start branching out into unfamiliar territory.

                  1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                    For basic technique - knife skills, etc. - Jacques Pépin's various TV series are the best, and Alton Brown's "Good Eats" is good too. Watching and imitating them is good training. Follow Julia's example and you might cut your hand off. :-)

                    As for recipes, trying to cook from what you see on a TV show is doomed to fail. Not only do the TV cooks often fail to give quantities and other basic information, but the process is speeded up to fit into the allotted air time. Nowadays with the Internet, you may find some of the same recipes online, but otherwise it's best to get the cookbooks.

                    1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                      KitchenB - I love that you mentioned Julia Child! She was an inspiration to so many newbies to cooking. I definitely second your recommendation.

                      On the Italian side, I love Marcella Hazan's receipt book: The Essentials of Italian Cooking which is written in an explanatory, conversational style that I find friendly and informative. I personally always think of Marcella as the Italian version of Julia (whether or not that is a correct comparison)

                      1. re: Tehama

                        I've put in a request at the library for that book. It's a good thing there's interlibrary loan, else I could never afford my cookbook addiction, LOL!

                        1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                          Oh -- I hope you love it! I'm the same way; I renewed Thomas Keller's cookbook like 80 times, I think before I returned it. I did treat myself to Essentials 3 or 4 years ago. Do the Bolognese sauce and (pg 203) and the Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil (page 156) first. You will love, love, love them.

                          I can't wait for it to cool down so I can do Julia's coq au vin and boeuf bourguignon again; they are just a wee bit to heavy for me in this summer heat. Bon appétit!

                          1. re: Tehama

                            Yeah, my son just took "A Korean Mother's Cooking Notes" back to the university library a couple of days ago - turns out I'd had it since April of 2011!!! They wouldn't let him renew it again (max 3 renewals, grad students can have a book 3 months, so he actually must have snuck an extra renewal in there or it would have had to go back 3 months ago).

                            Well nobody else has requested it - if they do they recall it - and it was back on the shelf, so I requested it again, LOL!

                            1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                              Ohhh! A new one for me to look for! Thanks so much for the tip!

                  2. re: John Francis

                    How to Cook Everything is also available as an iphone app for 4.99 I think. Very handy to have when shopping.

                    1. re: John Francis

                      I would also recommend the Joy of Cooking which is used in Home Economic courses in University. An extensive food list, pictures, explanations and simple.

                    2. 1. I don't think it makes a whole lot of difference.
                      2. If you want to learn how to cook a particular thing, go to Google and type it in. Example:How to Scramble Eggs. You will get dozens of videos showing different techniques and then you can try some and see what works for you.
                      3. You might want to go to Cookware posts; lots of discussion already there.
                      4. The flavor/texture of dijon is different from Gulden's. But sometimes dressings clump up in the frig because the oil coagulates as it gets cold.
                      5. I'm not a big fan of white pepper. It is usually used in "white" dishes so there aren't flecks of black. Be careful of using it in mashed potatoes, too much creates a vile flavor.
                      6. Most pros have training. I think is is harder for older people to start out cooking as a pro. Aside from the same age discrimination people face in other fields, the pace, environment, hours, physical labor involved in restaurant cooking does tend to favor the young.

                      1. Good for you to be interested in cooking. I'm not a "chef" by any means, but can whip up some pretty tastey stuff.

                        On spices: Know that you use less dry than fresh in recipes... proportions?? I think when "they" say you need to replace dried stuff every 6 months or so... propoganda from spice people?!? As long as I still get a nice smell when dried stuff is rubbed in my palm... no WAY I'm tossing it... and have no complaints from dollar store stuff.

                        As for pans... I'm a sucker for cast iron. Have a growing collection that has ALL come from thrift stores and yard sales... Lodge, Griswold... NOT made in C. Even if kinda crusty, can be revived in several ways. Quick & dirty way... cheap-o $ store spray oven cleaner. Or self-cleaning cycle on oven... NOT something to do now... well into a week of 90+ temps. Then generous slather of bacon grease (that's what my grandmother did) or oil... and USE USE USE! A well seasoned and frequently used cast iron skillet becomes pretty darned non-stick... and almost indestructible.

                        For non-stick... I have to recommend Calphalon. It's not high end but not bargaiin basement either... BUT their return/replace policy is FANTASTIC!! Heard/read that they were very generous in replacing pieces, so took them up on that offer a few months ago. Sent back 2 skillets & favorite sauce pan... they had become a little non-non-stick, never used metal tools on them, rrely (if ever) put in dishwasher. Cost a few $ to send them off, but got BRAND NEW replacements a week or so later.

                        Some kind BIG soup/stock pot is a good thing. Soup, chili, pasta, seafood (crabs, mussels, clams, lobsters)... ya need something BIG!

                        Mustard... but did the dressing TASTE good?!? If "glumpy" (good term)... maybe a little more vinegar and/or oil and a whisk??

                        As for where to go for advice?? Ya came to the right place!! Even if ya think you're asking a "dumb" question (no such thing), somebody here will surely give you tips and suggestions.

                        Know that you don't have to try to immediately go haute cuisine... just figure out the basics. Have a 30+ yo niece who is very intimidated in the kitchen... unfortunately didn't get a lot of guidance in that area. She was totally floored when I told/showed her that a whole chicken or parts only needs basic salt & pepper and a time in the oven to be tastey!
                        Would probably shop for a few "decent" knives... something you can sharpen... don't have to cost arm&leg unless ya want to.

                        1. 1. No, not much

                          3. The best you can afford

                          5. Pretty much equal. Recipres usually specify white when it's a presentation issue, that black might spoil.

                          6. No - but it can be a good way to learn the classics. And, yes, but then there's discrimination against older people in the workplace generally (likely to be a particular issue for someone wanting to just start out in the industry.