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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. Sorry.....one 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.

                          1. These are great questions! The fact that you can come up with these means that you are already on the right path!1. Does using different brands of spices make much difference?

                            1. Does using different brands of spices make much difference?
                            Not so much, BUT, you want to buy all your dried spices from someplace that has great turnover. Generally, I buy my dried herbs at a specialty store or Penzey's, which has a large online presence. If you buy in bulk, keep the "extra" in the freezer in a ziplock bag. Whenever possible [if you have a grinder] buy things whole instead of already ground.

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

                            3. What kind of pans should a beginner use?
                            Start with different shapes- a frypan, a sautée pan, perhaps a cast iron pot depending on WHAT you want to cook. Buy cheap to start. See what you actually use then upgrade. Marshalls, TJMaxx and IKEA have decent cookware at very reasonable prices.

                            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.
                            Totally different animals! While you are learning to cook, it is generally a good idea to stick to your recipe until you understand your flavor profiles. Then you can freelance all you want.

                            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?
                            Buy two pepper grinders! One for black and one for white. You might not like white pepper; many people don't. See above re: buying whole.

                            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?
                            I am not qualified to answer this one.

                            Good luck!

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

                              Not really, the key to spices is freshness. All spices and dried herbs lose their flavor over time. Whenever possible, try to keep whole spices and grind them in small amounts as you need them. Pre-ground spices don't have the same aroma and the flavor that fresh ground spices do.

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

                              Focus on mastering basic cooking techniques. Things like how to make an omelette, sear a piece of meat, and seasoning your food properly. There's no shortage of recipes on the Internet but IMO, you need to have a good grasp of certain techniques in order to use them successfully.

                              For formal instruction, the online cooking school Rouxbe.com is probably the best thing out there next to having someone teach you to cook. It will teach you the fundamentals of cooking which will not only help you to execute recipes successfully, but also cook without being reliant on recipes. The downside of Rouxbe is it's a paid site so you gotta pay to play. They do have some free lessons posted on Youtube if you're interested in checking out.

                              Speaking of Youtube, if you're a visual person like me it can be a goldmine of cooking instructional videos. There are a lot of good videos by people demonstrating the basics and I find the recipes are more accessible to the beginner. Of course you do have to sift through a lot of videos to find those that are truly useful.

                              > 3. What kind of pans should a beginner use?

                              Any decent heavy bottomed stainless steel pans that feel comfortable in your hands will do for the vast majority of cooking. A cast iron skillet and non-stick saute pan are also nice to have.

                              > 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.

                              Dijon tends to be a bit milder than spicy brown mustard. In a salad dressing it may overwhelm the flavors of the oil and vinegar. Also, different brands of mustards have distinctive flavors. I used to use Whole Foods brand dijon mustard which was very acidic and ruined my vinaigrettes. Switched to Organicville brand dijon recently and the difference is night and day. Much more balanced flavor and doesn't leave that sharp acidic aftertaste in my dressing.

                              I wouldn't worry too much about how it looks in the fridge. Oil and vinegar eventually separate and it will harden a bit sitting in the fridge. Just bring it to room temperature and whisk it again to emulsify. It should still taste the same.

                              > 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?

                              White pepper is typically used more for appearance than taste....like creamy sauces where you wouldn't want to see black flecks. I use black pepper in all my cooking and I really don't notice any difference in flavor when I substitute it for white.

                              > 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?

                              You don't have to go to culinary school...there are many professional cooks who've done well without any formal instruction. Though it's not a bad option if you don't have any prior cooking experience.

                              1. 1) No, but freshness does. Spices, like everything in your pantry, have a shelf life. Resist buying an econo-size gallon of cayenne pepper for a buck if you are not going to use it often.

                                2)I really like this site ;-) (obv) and allrecipes.com. The latter has a neat thing via its "advanced search" feature, by which you can type in the ingredients you have on hand, the type of meal (dinner? dessert? breakfast?) and the type of cooking method, and it will give you recipes. For example, last night I typed in bananas as an ingredient, dessert as the course, and slowcooker as the method!

                                3) Use the best pans you can buy. When I was first starting out, I went to Salvation Army stores to look for old dutch ovens, cast iron or Calphalon pans. These can also be found, as another poster said, in stores like TJ Maxx. Also, I love my crockpot, and use it all year round. Really great for folks who work all day.

                                4) If you don't mind the taste of a good Dijon mustard, it's lots more versatile than Guldens. I currently have three mustards in my fridge. A robust whole grain mustard, my Grey Poupon dijon (my mom loved this brand) and French's yellow. All three are gettable at your supermarket. Dijon mustard is creamier in texture and taste than, say, Gulden's. Gulden's would be closer in use to the French's.

                                5) Peppers aren't interchangeable in terms of quantity. You might want to invest in red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper, which are super versatile, too.

                                6) Not sure about this last one. I imagine it'd depend on who's hiring you, what you want to cook, and where you want to cook. At the outset, a culinary school on your resume might open more doors than experience, just like some law firms won't look at a new lawyer unless s/he went to an Ivy League school for his/her JD.

                                1. Dear Rather: Don't fuss so much over details. Here is what cooking is for: making yourself happy and making other people happy. Making a cozy home for yourself and others. Taking care of yourself and others. Kind of pan, brand of spice, type of mustard, ennhh, who cares. Think of something you like to eat. Make it. If you don't know how, ask us or consult a good general cookbook. Personally I favor "The Joy of Cooking" which taught me to cook 65 years ago and upon which I still rely. Welcome to the kitchen.

                                  1. Just a couple of things to add.

                                    White pepper and black pepper do not taste the same. I agree with the suggestions to keep both, as well as red pepper flakes and cayenne. I use all of these regularly.

                                    As far as dried vs. fresh herbs, you can generally substitute about half as much dried as fresh. Just know that there are some herbs that do not dry well - basil, for example, is not very good dried.

                                    1. On the subject of comparing brands of herbs and spices I don't notice much difference between store brand and the others if they are still fresh, but anything that is a mix, like rubs, curry powders, herbes de Provence, etc. can vary tremendously from brand to brand, not because the basic ingredients are different but because the mixtures are different. Finding a couple of "go to" rubs and an Herbes Provence you like will give you a lot of confidence because they'll make mat anything taste good. Also, using wine and juices in your cooking will help redeem even an overlooked chicken breast or pork chop.

                                      As regards epicenter, go the cookware board. It can be a little polarized with clad stainless fans, copper junkies, cast iron addicts, etc. I probably fall into a few of the camps, but I am pretty emphatically not a fan of nonstick. It wears out quickly. It is hard to get things to brown in it. There is that whole safety debate. Most importantly to me, fat is good.

                                      If you are interested in a career in cooking I'd say you will absolutely need to be nimble, able to plan and execute multiple tasks with a game plan that makes them all appear on the plate at once, all done and presented well, and, frankly, strong. Being short on any of these will be an obstacle to working in a kitchen. Also you'll need to be able to communicate with others in the kitchen in very clear terms. All the rest can be learned. We have a couple of grocery stores in our town that offer classes on individual meals, dishes, or techniques, not a full blown cooking school experience but a nice sampler. I'd try something like that.

                                      I have a bottle of white pepper and may have used it once. I go through black peppercorns and red pepper flakes fast enough that I buy them in bulk. I don't think people are offended by a sauce with flecks of pepper in it the way Escoffier might have been.

                                      I'd think of a dish you love, and search boards like this. Try to reproduce it, or better still, improve upon it. The natural rhythm of seasonal cooking will lead you through a solid array of techniques. Grill and sauté in the summer. Bake when the fruit is good. Braise and roast as the days get shorter and cooler. Check out In the Green Kitchen, compiled by Alice Waters.

                                      1. 8. I just thought of another question for the board. What is your opinion of garlic that you can buy in small jars that usually comes cut different ways such as chopped or crushed? Does it have good refrigerator shelf life and does it taste as good as when you cut it up?

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                          Use fresh garlic that you peel and chop/crush/slice depending on the recipe. It will always taste better than stuff in the jar. (And that holds true for so many ingredients.)

                                          1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                            I don't think the garlic in the jar tastes anything like fresh garlic. When I go visit my parents, they have the jarred stuff and that what I have to use. Not even close, but they always disagree.

                                            1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                              Never use that pre-cut jarred garlic. This is a shortcut that should never be. The flavor, consistency, everything about it is not as good as fresh garlic. Honestly, I would rather use garlic powder than the jarred stuff.

                                              1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                I use the stuff in the jar all the time. I don't have the strength or the manual dexterity anymore to do much with fresh garlic. I'm not strong enough to use a garlic press anymore.

                                                There are only a few places where it makes any difference. Give it a try and see what YOU think - in a sauce, in a curry, you're unlikely to find much of a difference. If you're making something that calls for sliced garlic, it's not appropriate.

                                                And there is nothing I will use powdered garlic for. Ever.

                                                Peeling garlic is easy - I have a chinese cleaver, I just whack the clove once with the flat of the blade and the skin slips right off. Wish that worked with shallots! You could also use the flat side of a meat tenderizer, just don't hit it TOO hard or you'll have smashed garlic!

                                                If you have the strength for it it's not hard to mince it using a garlic press. It's tough to find a good one these days though. Even some of the really pricey ones are fairly flimsy.

                                                I have nothing against fresh garlic, but I've nothing against the stuff in the jars, either. I will say the stuff from Christopher Ranch (which is almost all I ever see in the "regular" grocery stores these days) is pretty weak stuff and should be avoided - I get mine at either Costco or Asian/Indian markets. It's much better quality, and at least 3 times as strong as the CR stuff.

                                                1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                  I keep it on hand in case I run out of fresh garlic. It contains salt and usually oil and I think it has lost its complexity in storage. It is a substitute for when you are stuck and as far as I am concerned its OK to use it!

                                                  1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                    I don't care for the jarred stuff myself, not just because it tastes different than fresh because of the other things added to it, but it's already chopped to a specific consistency and I like to be able to control the texture myself. I use a rasp to get nicely grated garlic that is like a smooth wet paste, perfect for adding to say, mashed potatoes without worrying if there's going to be a chunk of raw garlic mixed in there.

                                                    1. re: Jjjr

                                                      Ah, but there is more than one way to smoosh up garlic! you can get it minced (which is about all I ever see in the regular "grocery" stores) or you can get it much more finely smooshed, to a paste-like consistency, which is how I buy it at the local Indian grocery.

                                                      To each their own - and if I could still use a garlic press I probably wouldn't bother much with the minced version - but I've actually found the thoroughly smooshed to paste stuff from my local Indian grocers to be pretty good.

                                                      I don't buy at "regular" grocery stores, as around here the CR stuff is ubiquitous, and really really weak.

                                                      1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                                                        I love Trader Joe's jarred crushed garlic. Truer flavor than the minced stuff in the squat jars the supermarkets sell. I find fresh garlic too pungent for a lot of my cooking - just personal preference. I also use garlic powder, though it tastes considerably different than either fresh or jarred.

                                                    2. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                      Here is tip for using garlic. If you are making a red tomato pasta sauce, remove the skin from the garlic and throw it into your sauce will it is boling down. Don't even bother to chop it. After boiling down for an hour or so, give your sauce a stir, find the garlic chunks and smash them down. Easy got this tip from an Italian chef, Stefano Faitino.,,,on Canadian CBC.

                                                      1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                        Hey RatherBeFishing,
                                                        My two cents, if you can use fresh garlic, do it! It's always available fresh, year round, so I tend to always have fresh garlic on hand. I keep dried herbs/spices of the stuff I don't always have on hand....for me, fresh nutmeg pods are tough to come by, and since I don't use a ton of it, I keep the smallest jar of nutmeg powder on hand.

                                                      2. 1. Not brand so much, but freshness of herbs and spices matters.
                                                        2. There are many recipe websites. A few big ones are AllRecipes.com, Cooking.com, and Epicurious.com. I suggest not starting with a website, but with a dish. Google the dish and you will get hits from a number of sites, and many recipes from the large sites. Pick one that seems not too complicated as a start.
                                                        3. Depends on what you are going to cook. Don't go out and buy a lot of pans first. Decide what you want to make, then get what you need. If you are sure you want to make omelets, get a pan which is suitable for that purpose. You will be able to use it for other things as well.
                                                        4. There are scores of prepared mustards. Guldens is a coarser type which is suitable for a bratwurst. You should probably keep some inexpensive Dijon-style mustard on hand for dressings, whatever you like on your hotdog, because a lot of recipes will call for that.
                                                        5. Don't worry too much about details of seasonings in a recipe. They are often not critical to the success of a recipe. I like to use white pepper and keep it on hand, but James Beard, to name one authority, didn't like it. Use black pepper or no pepper if you like. Experimentation with seasoning is good practice even for a beginner.
                                                        6. I'll pass.

                                                        I will add one recommendation: Get The Elements of Cooking by Michael Ruhlman.

                                                        1. I know this is long but this is the info you need.

                                                          Web pages & Blogs
                                                          I do not recommend 1000 page tomes for the new cook as I think they intimidate. You will eventually want some of them. I recommend 2 or 3 of the following:
                                                          Cooking Basics for Dummies http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Basics-...
                                                          Betty Crocker’s Cooking Basics http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crockers-...
                                                          Better Homes and Garden’s Anyone Can Cook http://www.amazon.com/Anyone-Can-Cook...
                                                          Pam Anderson’s How to Cook Without a Book http://www.amazon.com/How-Cook-Withou...
                                                          America’s Test Kitchen Season 1 – 12 Don’t get them all. In fact you can rent them from Netflix. You can watch the program on TV on Saturdays. Pay for a premium membership at americastestkitchen.com. After a year you can drop it if you like.
                                                          The Complete Pepin: Techniques and Recipes http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Pepin-...
                                                          TV Programs
                                                          Watch food network on TV especially Alton Brown’s Good Eats and Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa. Rachel Rae’s 30 minute meals is also instructive but not as much as the first two.
                                                          Self Study
                                                          The Cook’s Thesaurus has several tutorials and reference work’s http://www.foodsubs.com/
                                                          Study the definitions of the basic cooking techniques here http://www.reluctantgourmet.com/techn...
                                                          And here
                                                          Study the info at the last 3 links and you will probably know more than 80% of the cooks out there. I can not stress this enough.
                                                          A 5.5 – 7 quart enamel coated cast iron dutch oven like this http://www.walmart.com/ip/Tramontina-...
                                                          An 8, 10 and 12 inch non stick frypan primarily for eggs similar to this http://www.walmart.com/ip/Farberware-...
                                                          Some Tri-ply stainless Steel cookware including the following:
                                                          1 10 inch frypan
                                                          1 12 inch frypan
                                                          1 12 inch Saute pan with lid
                                                          1 1 quart saucepan with lid
                                                          1 2 quart saucepan with lid
                                                          1 3 quart saucepan with lid
                                                          All-Clad is the best and most expensive Cuisinart and Calphalon are very good and a lot less expensive. Amazon has some here http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&...
                                                          1 8 – 10 inch chef’s knife made of high Carbon Steel like this http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-4752...
                                                          1 3 – 4 inch pairing knife made of carbon steel like this http://www.amazon.com/Victorinox-4750...

                                                          One other thing I want to address. Culinary school is very expensive (about $50,000). This education enables you to get the same $10/hour job you can get with just a little experience. Only 1 or 2 % of cooks attain well paid career type job and most of them had to intern for almost nothing for 2 years with a well known chef. It is a hot and demanding job that requires you to stand all the time...something that you may well not be able to do once you pass 55 years old.

                                                          In short... this is a wonderful hobby and indeed is a vital life skill that everyone needs to learn. It is not a career I recommend people pursue. If you pursue it, be certain you have the passion to live with all the problems that go with it.

                                                          1. 1. Cooks are buying organic spices or sourcing spices from high end suppliers. It is best to buy spices in small quantities, as over time they loose their flavor, this will have more of an effect on your recipe than buying an expensive spice. You have to factor in cost to making a recipe, and today food is getting more and more expensive.

                                                            2.What do you want to learn to cook? There are so many blogs, and websites out there..Cooking is fun so try to find a blog with similar interests to you. I like the Pioneer Woman, and love the Smitten kitchen blogs. The second blog is more complex but lots of pictures and explanations.

                                                            3. Try to buy pans that will hold heat. The bottom should be thick and I also like to have pots with glass covers so I can see what I am cooking! I would buy a moderate priced complete set and would add to my collection based on needs. A cast iron frying pan is always good to have and a Dutch oven can do the job of many pots.

                                                            4. Yes, The Guldens is a yellow mustard that has been seasoned, the Dijon is completely different in taste from the yellow mustard.

                                                            5. I believe the white pepper is supposed to be used in sauces and foods that you do not want to see the specs in. For example a white sauce is not so pretty with black specs and I use white pepper in egg salad sandwiches.

                                                            6. A chef does go to culinary school, a cook not necessarily.Not sure about the second part of your question, if you want to do it follow your dream! There are many ways to work in the field, catering for example.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Ruthie789

                                                              "A chef does go to culinary school, a cook not necessarily."
                                                              No offense, but that's not true.

                                                              Plenty of chefs haven't gone to culinary school. Including some of the greatest chefs in the world.

                                                              And honestly from talking to a decent number of professionals about it, I think culinary school is kind of a racket, sinking you far into debt for a job that won't pay well enough to pay the debt off, teaching you things you could easily learn on your own elsewhere, and making it no easier to get a job in most places than if you had spent the same time working or staging in a decent professional kitchen (or several). In fact, I've seen more than a few chefs express reluctance to hire recent culinary school grads because they are percieved as kids who have an unproven work ethic, unrealistic ideas about what their job will be, and an expectation that they will be given some creative and fulfilling job when really they're gonna be peeling carrots for 10 hours a day just like any other new hire.

                                                              Culinary school is not as bad of a deal if you can get a scholarship or a good deal on tuition or if money isn't a big concern in the first place and you just want to learn to cook as quickly as possible. But for others, caution is very advisable.

                                                            2. 1. Not to my taste, no. The only exception to that 'rule' might be when you buy any sort of spice blend. Italian Spice, Poultry Seasoning, Mesquite Seasoning, so on and so forth.

                                                              2. I've only just gotten here and i think this site seems to be pretty helpful to beginners. Stick around.

                                                              3. For me, you'd need two at least. I'd say one nice 8-10" cast iron that's about 1 1/2'" deep will do you well for alot of applications. Frying, some sauteing, you can even bake in them. Add to that, one nice 6-8" curved edge saute pan. It's really your preference as to whether to get non stick or not, though i would recommend non stick for beginners.

                                                              4. I'm not familiar with Guldens so i can't say on that topic.

                                                              5. White pepper, indeed, is hotter than black and the reason for suggesting it is to present a clean, clear and well seasoned item that doesnt have 'flecks' in it. Like a nice sauce that brought color to a plate, you would want it smooth and not dotted with black particles. My personal experience is that using half white to what you'd use of black is ok.

                                                              6. Sigh...the first part is a changing question. 20 years ago, that answer would be an absolute no. Now that the market and consumer landscape is changing, education is becoming more requested. You can get into a kitchen with no culinary education only at a cook level. If you want to lead a kitchen, you'd need the backing of a degree in an almost 70/30 ratio. PLUS experience at that level, certification from a state DOH or ServSafe, certification from the ACF or CIA, so on and so forth.

                                                              The second part? I'd say no. I'm 28, was an executive chef and led a kitchen where my best cook was probably twice my age (female) and two others i was beating out by about 4 years (males) in age. Age means very little in the kitchen. If you're 56 and can do the job better than a 24 year old, no problems there.

                                                              There is discrimination of a different sort, but i dont think i want to get into that.

                                                              7. Absolutely. A general rule of thumb is that if you're doing something that has very little cook time, use fresh. If you're doing something that has a long cook time, use dry.

                                                              8. I think that its a good way for those that like garlic but dont like how 'in your face' its flavor is to compromise. And in a kitchen on a budget, i'd reach for it.

                                                              1. When I first started cooking and had no idea how to do anything, somebody gave me a copy of the Food Network's How to Boil Water Cookbook (http://www.amazon.com/Boil-Water-Food...). It was very helpful as it contains step by step, easy instructions that weren't intimidating for someone new to the kitchen.

                                                                Once I got a bit more comfortable cooking some basic items, I started going to the library and borrowing cookbooks that looked interesting and expanding from there.

                                                                1. 9. Thank you for all the attention and good advice! One more (maybe one more) question - do you usually have to clean out the pan, or pot for each use, or can you use the same pan/pot (without cleaning) to cook the same thing/food a short while later? Example: Reuse the pan you used to make scrambled eggs to make them for someone else 15 minutes later without cleaning it out again?

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                    I always clean between uses. Imagine the dried remains of scrambled eggs batch 1 sprinkled through scrambled eggs batch no 2.

                                                                    1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                      For the specific application you mentioned I would probably wipe out the pan but not soap and water clean. Depends on the type of pan too.

                                                                      1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                        If you are cooking eggs with a non stick pan, just wipe it out with a paper towel and reuse it.

                                                                        For everything else, it would depend on how much food matter is stuck to the bottom of the pan. If it burns, it will ruin the taste of the food.

                                                                        1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                          I like the depends on the pan answer. Cast iron, I'm wiping it out with a paper towel.

                                                                          1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                            I think a key to maintaining a good kitchen is to follow food safety rules to a high standard. Regarding your pots, if you want to keep them nice and sparkling I would clean after each use. I would not reuse a pot that egg was cooked in because eggs are such a simple and pure food, and you would not want to have bits of dried food in your scrambled egg. If you really scraped it clean and used new butter than it would be ok as long as no bits from last run are there. Always hold food at the correct temperature, cook food to the right temperature. Always make sure that raw food, even some fruits like cantelope do not contaminate your counters and cutting boards. Wash with hot soapy water, and wash hands as well. Food safety is very important in the kitchen.

                                                                            1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                              Clean it out, you won't be sorry you did.

                                                                              1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                When in doubt, clean it out.

                                                                                As you get a better feel for cooking, you'll start finding exceptions. Vegetables sauteed in a pan where you just cooked bacon might be a good idea. The whole concept of making a pan sauce is to use the cooked-on brown stuff left over by the last thing you cooked as a base flavoring for the sauce. There are plenty of these kinds of exceptions. You'll figure em out if you cook enough.

                                                                                1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                  For scrambled eggs, if it's a nonstick pan, and I can wipe out all the solid stuff with a paper towel while leaving a bit of the oil or fat, and I'll be using the same oil or fat again, that's all I do. When the cooking for the meal is done, I clean the pans and pots thoroughly. Hardly ever in the dishwasher, though, unless I want a higher water temperature and stronger detergent than in the sink.

                                                                                2. 10. I once heard someone who works in a deli say that they freeze all their Boar's Head soups and then heat them up in the microwave every time a customer orderes a bowl of soup. Is this possible? I've never had much luck with heating stuff in a microwave right out of the freezer - seems like parts of the soup would remain frozen and other portions would be boiling hot?

                                                                                  17 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                    What exactly is Boar's Head Soup? Is it a brand, I am Canadian...help me out on this one.

                                                                                    RBfishing, I personally hate the micorwave. To me even reheated food loses its texture and original quality. Most microrwaves leave hot spots and cold spots in food, so when reheating for me its the old fashioned way, oven or on top of stove. Also when you want to reheat food, like soup, I usually thaw it out first. Some say microwave is good for vegetables and it probably is, I just do not like the microwave.

                                                                                    1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                      Boars Head is a high-end brand of lunchmeats. They also make homemade style soups such as Italian Wedding and shrimp bisque. They are popular around here in New England Boar's Head meats are usually more expensive then the grocery store brand meats.

                                                                                      1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                        Actually, to me Boar's Head is a case of much better marketing than flavor. With just a bit of practice, you will be able to surpass ANY commercially prepared soup. They do freeze well [with some ingredient exceptions, like fresh pasta] but I have never considered using a microwave to defrost/reheat.

                                                                                    2. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                      I still have some 1 quart containers of soup that I bought from the store. They had been running a loss leader sale to introduce their new line of in store cooked soups. I bought about a dozen at $1 per quart. I pop one in the microwave and heat it at 80% power. Every minute or two I stop it and give it a stir to keep the heat even. It heats up fine if you don't mind giving it a stir a few times.

                                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                        Thanks Hank - that's good to know. How about lunch meats? Anyone know a good way to revive lunch meats that are kept frozen?

                                                                                        1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                          Buying the best and freshest ingredients will never do you wrong. My mom always told me that if you really enjoy/appreciate great food you can be a great cook. If you can taste it, you can cook it. If you have the taste buds to say OMG that was good, you will have the desire to find out why. Study up, experiment & enjoy.

                                                                                          1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                            I have found the best way to thaw is with a ziploc bag that has as little air as possible. Put it in a sink of warm water and put a weight on it. Actually the best way is with a Foodsaver bag that has had all the atmosphere sucked out of it.

                                                                                            Water has such a high thermal mass that it thaws very quickly. I like to put a grate on the bottom so that there is water flow on the bottom.

                                                                                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                              That sounds good - and I can keep it in the sink under the faucet slowly running water over it.

                                                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                I learned to do this with COLD water from Alton Brown. Put the item in a ziplock bag in a bowl in the sink, weight it down so it doesn't float, and run a tiny trickle of cold water over it so the water fills and runs over the bowl. The constant flow will defrost it very quickly and the cold water will keep it at a safer temperature.

                                                                                            2. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                              I froze bacon and lunchmeat. Even if I just want a small amount I have to thaw a large amount. Is it bad to partially thaw, then re-freeze over and over bacon or lunch meat?

                                                                                              1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                                "They" say that this is a big no-no. I do think that the quality of the meat will be diminished, especially if it isn't thawed in the refrigerator.

                                                                                                When you buy your bacon and lunchmeat, why not try freezing it in smaller quantities? Divvy it up, wrap each serving in plastic wrap, then throw them into a zip freezer bag, label and date it, then just toss it in the freezer. The smaller quantities will thaw faster, too.

                                                                                                1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                                  For bacon:

                                                                                                  Unroll a large (4' long) sheet of parchment paper. Lay a slice of bacon across the short edge of the parchment paper. Fold paper and bacon over, like folding a letter, with the bacon flat inside the fold. Lay another slice across the short (now-folded-over) edge, then fold over again. Continue until bacon or parchment is used up. Pop into a gallon-sized ziplock bag and freeze. Then when you need bacon, you can get out exactly what you need and put the rest back in the freezer. Bonus: frozen bacon is much easier to chop than floppy fridge-temp bacon, and you can cook straight from frozen.

                                                                                                  1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                    That's better than my plastic wrap; however, I am very stingy with my parchment, as I go through a lot of it and it is very expensive!!!!

                                                                                                    1. re: sandylc

                                                                                                      I reuse the parchment I use for bacon -- even when it's used up, it stays in the freezer ready to be refilled. Parchment's the same price as foil at my grocery stores, how interesting!

                                                                                                      1. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                        But wax paper is even cheaper. I save parchment for baking.

                                                                                                    2. re: LauraGrace

                                                                                                      If you're going to go to that much trouble - separate each piece of bacon, roll it up (sort of like a bale of hay or a carpet), freeze them on a cookie sheet, then drop them in a freezer container or ziploc.

                                                                                                      Totally does away with the need for parchment paper, waxed paper, plastic wrap, or anything else. And it won't take much longer to defrost, either. In fact, if you're using it in something that you're going to chop it up anyway, it's not that hard to cut it in half along the axis, or in quarters - unless you want minced bacon (which is better done after cooking anyway, by crumbling it up) that's going to be small enough for all practical purposes.

                                                                                                      1. re: KitchenBarbarian

                                                                                                        I mean, it literally takes less than two minutes to do it -- it took me way longer to type out the instructions (and ten times longer to figure out how to describe the process) than to do the entire thing start to finish. I live alone, so it's the opposite of "trouble." :)

                                                                                                        Wax paper and parchment and foil and plastic wrap are all about the same price where I live. I'm talking pennies different. That is so interesting to me!

                                                                                              2. 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?
                                                                                                Professional chefs don't need to go to culinary school. I know several that started at the bottom and gained the skills to open their own restaurants. That being said, gird yourself for HARD REPETITIVE work if you are starting at the bottom. Restaurant kitchens want people who can work under pressure and do as they are told in an environment that requires almost a professional ballroom dance level of partnering and coordination. While I cant speak to age discrimination, as said before the long hours and difficult work don't necessarily favor older people.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                  Anthony Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" is an unvarnished and uncensored look into what it's like working in a restaurant kitchen. After reading it you might not want to eat in a restaurant, let alone work there, but at lest you'd know what you could be in for. Also from this episode of Bourdain's series "No Reservations":


                                                                                                  By the way, Bourdain graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, but not before his first kitchen jobs. He revisits CIA in this episode of "A Cook's Tour," and more:


                                                                                                2. Also some pot and pan advice, you can get great deals at yard and moving sales. I always manage to get a pot or bowl or kitchen appliance at these sales.

                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                  1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                                    I have 3 all-clad pans. I got all 3 off 3 separate Craigslist ads.

                                                                                                  2. Hi RBF, Can I ask you a question? I'm a little confused by your overall request. Are you planning to go from "never cooked" to working as a professional chef?

                                                                                                    Cooking is like many learning many things- but the #1 thing in all disciplines is that practice is the key. Sure, natural ability, taste, talent all play roles, but years of trial and error, education from books, practicing technique, playing with ingredients, understanding food chemistry, etc. Trying and failing is a great learning experience. I don't think I know any pros that haven't been at it in some capacity for years and years before being able to actually "cook" in a professional kitchen. I think that while culinary school isn't necessary, it's either that or apprenticeship to learn the skills you need. Books can only take you so far.

                                                                                                    You ask if it's hard for an older person to break into professional cooking, and I'd say that it's harder for a complete novice to break into professional cooking in a short amount of time. I've been in the business for years, and I learn something new every single day.

                                                                                                    My first kitchen job, I was a prep cook- I sliced, diced, washed shrimp, pinned fish, made dressings and sauces, cleaned lettuce.... each item had a different thickness/size a chef preferred, and there had to be uniformity. It wasn't glamorous or cool- it was exhausting and repetitive. Kitchens are hot and loud, and everything is in a hurry. I was on my feet for hours, and made $8/hour. And I had years of accumulated skills from cooking at various relative's sides from a very young age. It was a great learning experience, but the first of many experiences in the chorus, so to speak.

                                                                                                    I guess my point is that people go into food professionally because they love it, they cooked all their lives, they couldn't NOT cook. I can't imagine ever not having been cooking and exploring food. So, I can't imagine that if you've never, ever cooked, that you'd really want to do this professionally, because at the end of the day, the passion is what keeps you going through all the drudgery, and there is lots of that. Do you have that passion?

                                                                                                    I hope that you do! Find a mentor if you can, it will help.

                                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: caviar_and_chitlins

                                                                                                      I worked in restaurants many years ago as a young guy. I was a pizza maker in a very busy pizzeria in the NYC metro area. I haven't worked with food in years (except part-time briefly as a waiter in a hotel restaurant) and did very little cooking over the years. Over the past 5 or 6 years I've had an obsession/passion and love for dinning out at various types of restaurants - everything from roadside pit-beef shacks to French haute cuisine. I also particullarly like ethnic foods - Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Brazilian buffet, Peruvian chicken, Greek, Middle eastern - even Ethiopian. There is not much that I would not try ; )

                                                                                                      I work in a profession which requires a lot of use of my reflexes and has a high turn-over. I'm thinking of something I can fall back on if anything goes wrong with my job before I am able to retire. I have close friends who work in restaurants and deli's who I believe would be good sources to tap if I were ever looking for something full or part-time if necessary.

                                                                                                      1. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                                        Don't do it.... Keep enough money around to buy a $20,000 steam cleaning truck or something.

                                                                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                          I've thought about buying a nice fancy car like a mercury grand marquis or a Lincoln town car and starting a limo service - like I may have mentioned, I'm in the NYC area (lots of airports) and in Fairfield County - the home of the wealthy : )

                                                                                                        2. re: RatherBeFishing

                                                                                                          Thanks for the explanation RBF, makes a little more sense now. One thing you might consider is a "basics" class. I know that locally we have a cooking school aimed at the home cook/amateur looking for a better understanding that's quite good- basic techniques, ingredients, sauces, etc. It's not the commitment or the price of culinary school, but a friend who took this class really was able to move from following recipes to understanding cooking.

                                                                                                          Good luck to you!

                                                                                                      2. I second the vote for Bittman's How to Cook Everything - it's a great book to get you started.

                                                                                                        Regarding your question about mustard, Gulden's spicy brown is very different from Dijon. Dijon is made with white wine and has a very different taste than gulden's. I keep both in my fridge - Gulden's for sandwiches and hot dogs and such and Dijon for dressings, sauces, etc. Dijon comes in whole grain or fine (think Grey Poupon). Some recipes will specify one or the other...

                                                                                                        Regarding pans, if you're serious about learning to cook, get something good, but you don't have to go crazy. I use Calphalon Stainless. I'l recommend a couple of different size sauce pans, a stockpot (a pasta insert would come in handy), and a couple saute pans in different sizes as well. I use 8 and 12 inch most frequently. And go for one or 2 non-stick (I like Calphalon for these two.) These are the basics. If you want to add to it, I absolutely love my Dutch Oven. I have a Le Creuset, but there are less expensive brands available. These are great for braises or recipes that go from stove to oven.

                                                                                                        And as for dried versus fresh, I always use fresh parsley and cilantro and I think fresh basil is totally different than dried. But other herbs are good dried - like rosemary, thyme, marjoram... as you cook more, you'll see the difference too! If you can, plant a garden when the weather permits...

                                                                                                        Best of luck!