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What basic cooking skills should a beginner know?

I'm a beginner cook. I can make pasta, any egg-based dish, and quiche. Maybe a few more dishes, but my cooking knowledge is very limited. I'm trying to become a more advanced cook, so I no longer fear people coming over to dinner or the dreaded work potluck. Ive bought a Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything snd Chez Panisse Vegetables to help in my quest. What basic cooking skills should a beginner master? I'm very limited in my meat cooking skills especially.

I apologize in advance: chowhound will probably be inundated with newbie cooking questions from me. Pardon my ignorance.

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  1. Definately the braising technique.

    1. I learned how to cook with the cookbook "Fine Art of Italian Cooking" by Giulino Bugialli. I must have made 50-60 recipes from that book.


      I suggest picking one cookbook and going through everything you like. I'd pick one that emphasizes the cooking style you'd like to learn.

      I think the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook could be a hard one because it emphasizes quality of ingredients more than cooking technique (which isn't bad at all, but not the best if you're trying to learn technique).

      In terms of cooking meat, it might be better to watch videos than look at cookbooks. Sometimes you have to see what the meat looks like to understand when something is ready.

      One thing about meat to understand early on is the difference between tender cuts of meat and tough cuts -- and make sure you cook each type differently and correctly. Braising tough cuts of meat is very easy to learn, while preparing tender cuts like filet could take more practice.

      2 Replies
      1. re: calumin

        I'm definitely going to look up the differences between cuts of meat. That's a very helpful suggestion.

        1. re: calumin

          Calumin: I feel exactly the same way about Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. I bought it years ago at the Strand in NYC. It also has wonderful photos of the food.

          I don't know if it's even in print these days, but if you come across it, grab it and run to the check out counter.

        2. I find Bittman infuriatingly smug and I don't actually like his recipes. I learned to cook by reading Joy of Cooking straight through, starting at page one.

          Basic knife skills are important. Being able to dice or mince an onion, or mince herbs, for example. Figuring out the timing of starting with high heat and reducing to medium or low to finish something.

          19 Replies
          1. re: Violatp

            How did you learn knife skills?

            1. re: kdlalib

              You might want to try this link by Sue Riedl, she has other technique videos as well.

                1. re: kdlalib

                  Within the same link lower down, basic knife skills and how to buy a knife. Glad to be of help!

              1. re: kdlalib

                I took a class at a kitchen supply store in Chicago, it was a locally owned store, but Sur LaTable has classes too http://www.surlatable.com/category/We... Also most larger cities have "cooking schools" that are meant for the home cook, where you can pick and choose classes to take, usually they're just a one time class for a few hours.

                1. re: kdlalib

                  I thought I had read that Jacques Pepin's latest release of (?) Techniques included videos of what he was doing, but when I checked on Amazon, I couldn't tell if that was true.

                  1. re: sr44

                    As far as I know, his techniques book doesn't come with a dvd. Essential Pepin does.

                      1. re: sherrib

                        Also, Netflix has a lengthy, detailed Pepin techniques video from maybe 25 yrs ago.

                        1. re: greygarious

                          Don't have netflix anymore so I went to amazon to see if I could find what you're referring to. I didn't find his techniques video but as a prime member I see that I can stream MANY of his videos right now at no charge.

                    1. re: kdlalib

                      My knife skills aren't chef-level, by any means, but I did learn a lot about how to use a knife safely and correctly from the old Frugal Gourmet episodes on PBS back in the day.

                      Perhaps I overstated. :-) I just meant being able to use a knife comfortably and know the difference between a mince, dice, julienne, etc. Being able to peel things without a peeler. Slice a loaf of bread evenly. Cut beef into cubes for stew. Slice chicken breasts for a stir fry. Etc.

                    2. re: Violatp

                      Many a good home cook has had mediocre knife skills but yeah I'm a knife guy and to me it's one of the skills that should be learned early on.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        I think sometimes the term "knife skills" gets used inappropriately.

                        There is the skill of properly using a knife to slice and dice without mixing in a finger or two, or how to take off the silverskin from a loin without making it look like the skin of a pineapple. Yes, those knife skills are important.

                        Then, sometimes I think people speak of knife skills in terms of how fast or deftly (or even aesthetically pleasing) one can perform the above mentioned tasks -- a la Martin Yan. Those types of skills are nice for cooking show demonstrations, but not so critical for the home cook -- be they beginner or seasoned vet.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Agreed but what I really meant was in many parts of the world it's not uncommon for the home cook to stand with a paring knife and cut items in hand for meal prep using a cutting board more for meat/protein prep and turn out incredible food

                            1. re: scubadoo97

                              That's what I do in my "part" of the world to this day.

                          2. re: scubadoo97

                            I just ordered a stainless steel finger guard to teach my 7 year old grand daughter how to use a knife.

                          3. re: Violatp

                            "I find Bittman infuriatingly smug and I don't actually like his recipes."


                          4. Martha Stewart has a cooking school cookbook and videos on PBS that are really helpful. She covers basic things like roasting, braising and stock making. Everyday Cooking, a Martha Stewart prequel, has a lot of very simple but basic stuff to make with techniques entwined.

                            Julia Child is still available on various channels. The episodes with Jacques Pepin are more useful since he tends to disagree with her on many points. His later, solitary, episodes are equally useful.

                            There is a lot (LOT) of useful information on Youtube.

                            Keep the questions coming.

                            P.S. I like Bittman. What may seem like smugness is (I think) a consequence of self-discovery. Most of his recipes are simple and good.

                            21 Replies
                            1. re: sr44

                              Martha Stewart is a wonderful suggestion. I have not seen her cooking school cookbook, but I bet it is thorough and marvelous. She has a lovely baking book as well. If OP wanted to venture that way, it would be a fine choice.

                              Once you get some confidence, head to the library, check out some ethnic cooking books, find a recipe that does not look overly daunting and with ingredients maybe a little unfamiliar, but available and give it a go. Invite a few friends over and have them taste. It is more fun if you have victims... er... guinea pigs... er.... friends to share your fine abilities with!

                              Once you find a book or a cuisine you want to really explore, you can buy a book that pleases you.

                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                Martha Stewart's Cooking School is currently running on PBS and PBS Create - several times a week on the latter.
                                It's geared toward the novice cook. I could take exception with her on some minor things, like suggesting discarding the fat skimmed from the chicken and beef stocks. Her Mom fried potatoes and onions in that fat, she surely does (or has), and I'm sure I'm in the majority of Chowhound home cooks when I save and use it. But the basic info is solid.

                                Jacques Pepin's shows are on the same stations and he, too, is a born teacher. It pays to study how he holds and wields his knives.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  I wonder if she tells people to do that because the powers that be frown on the eating of animal fat.

                                  OP- save and use the yummy animal fat. Food tastes better with some fat. SOME. I skim fat from stock and freeze it. Awesome matzo balls!

                                  1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                    I recently watched Martha's Cooking School. I'm a fairly experienced cook so I didn't glean a lot of useful info from it, but it took me a lot longer to learn all that stuff than if I'd had the show available when I was just starting. Highly recommended.

                                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                      Do you just put it in a freezable container, like tupperware? Does bacon fat count? We love bacon in our house, so that would be most readily available.

                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                        I usually put it nto a tupperware container and if there is a lot of headspace, I put a piece of cling wrap over the fat. It probably isn't necessary but I do it because I cannot stand the thought of tasting freezer smell.

                                        Bacon fat can be put in the freezer no problem. It can also be stored for months in the fridge. Some people filter it to get the bits out, I cook mine in the oven usually so the bits are really minute (or I would fish them out and toss them down the gullet) - so I don't strain.

                                        We stand united in the love of all things bacon.

                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                          I leave some on top of stock I'm going to freeze to slow down freezer burn.

                                      2. re: greygarious

                                        +1 for Jacques. Even though i feel like i am a pretty good cook, i always enjoy watching him, and often pick up something.

                                    2. re: sr44

                                      BTW all the episodes of Child's The French Chef are available on Amazon Instant Video, and they are free if you have a Prime account. I watch a couple almost every day :)

                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                        Does her chicken handling ever so slightly freak you? She slings them all around the kitchen. My mom is Julia jr. with the poultry. When she is not looking I sanitize her knives, cutting board, cabinets, counters and fridge.

                                        Yep. Off topic. Keep it clean OP. Hey and also since people are talking knife skills - start your knife collection by getting a decent knife. Research it and then go talk and get a feel for them. I like a good 8" Wusthof chefs. Hubs a 10" not sure of the brand. But that can be a thread all its own. Honing each time and sharpening regularly.

                                        1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                          her shows were filmed (for the most part - not the later episodes with Jacques Pepin) before industrial chicken farming and production had really become prevalent....and to a degree, before there was really a deep understanding of foodborne illness...

                                          So it was fine by the standards of the day, but is unnerving given the knowledge (and the risks of our food production system) that we have today.

                                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                            Ha, yes. Or the other day I was watching her do a leg of lamb. She trimmed up the leg on a board, then moved the leg over to a pan, and then started setting all kinds of other stuff on the board where she had been trimming, and of course no hand washing was going on, just a quick wipe on the towel. But knowing it was filmed 40 years ago helped calm me a bit haha.

                                            But yes, I agree, keep it clean. I have separate plastic boards for cutting meat, and am freakish about washing my hands. My mom is a microbiologist so I was taught at an early age.

                                            And another agreement on the knife. I use my 10" Global chefs knife for 90% of my kitchen tasks, and a Global paring knife for the rest. No need for "sets". I took a beginners knife class at a cooking store in Chicago, and we got to test out a bunch of different kinds, which is how I landed on the Global. It was around $100 but well worth the investment.

                                            1. re: juliejulez

                                              Are those the knives with the little indentation pocks on the handle?

                                              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                Yup. http://www.amazon.com/Global-G-2-inch...

                                                I have small hands and these are nice and light so they work out well for me. The big Wusthofs etc made my hand very tired even after a short time, probably because the handles were large and heavy so I had to grip harder.

                                            2. re: Sal Vanilla

                                              We got what seems like a nice Henckels knife set for our wedding 7 years ago. That's worked for us, so far.

                                              What do you use to sanitize your kitchen equipment? Just soap and water?

                                              1. re: kdlalib

                                                Not Sal, but I use a few things. Dishsoap and hot water for dishes, knives, etc. For counters and my stove (I have smooth top electric, blech) I usually spray with 409 and wipe with a cloth. I keep tons of dishcloths around for easy cleanup. I like the "flour sack" kind, or these kind from Ikea http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/pro... I also keep those Clorox wipes around to clean up stuff like spilled chicken "juice" that I wouldn't really want sitting on a cloth. And of course hand soap for your hands :) I use a Softsoap one that's antibacterial for kitchen, it smells like lemons.

                                                1. re: kdlalib

                                                  Keep it sharp and it should work for you for a long time. Still happily using the Henckels chef knife I got thirty years ago.

                                                  1. re: ellabee

                                                    How often do you recommend sharpening your knives?

                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                      I'd suggest anytime they don't perform they way you want them to

                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                        The knife enthusiasts on this forum may disagree, but my advice for the ordinary home cook is to get a honing steel (a metal one), and use it before any prep session involving more than one item. What honing does is re-straighten the thin edge on your knife, which gets curled over from repeated chopping and rocking.

                                                        Actual sharpening (with whetstones that remove metal and create an edge) I leave to a professional, and I get it done once every year or two. In our small town, the owner of a cookware store does it well and cheaply. Regular honing can help prolong the time between sharpenings -- I can always detect the improvement from honing.

                                                2. re: juliejulez

                                                  Thank you! I didn't realize that. Awesome!

                                              2. Cooking is always more interesting when you're making something you love to eat. Use whatever cookbook you find fascinating, or find a recipe online for something you've always wanted to make - and follow each recipe to the letter.

                                                Read the recipe all the way through before beginning.
                                                Get your ingredients together & prepped before starting cooking (i.e. make sure onions are chopped, garlic minced, etc.)
                                                Make sure the pan/oven is preheated if that is specified.
                                                Don't skip steps or take short cuts as you're trying a new recipe for the first time.

                                                After you've made something a few times, you'll start to get a feel for ways the recipe can be adapted according to your tastes, or what is (or isn't) in the fridge or pantry.

                                                Be patient with yourself - when you learn a new language, you start with short sentences and simple vocabulary, and you expect to make mistakes. You learn from your mistakes, and with practice, your fluency increases. Cooking is a new language - you've got the basic vocab - keep using the support you need and you will be awesome!!

                                                Oh, and put on some awesome music, and pour yourself a glass of wine, and have a great time!!!!

                                                5 Replies
                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                      Just don't have too much before doing your chopping or playing with hot oil!!!
                                                      For me, cooking is one of my favourite ways to spend a day off or to help me relax after a long day. Wine (in moderation!) is definitely one part of that...

                                                      1. re: hungryjoanne

                                                        i agree with hungryjoanne. learn to make what you love to eat!
                                                        every thing you learn to make will help you to learn a cooking technique or two.
                                                        i would recommend the following:
                                                        1. roast a chicken
                                                        2. roast a beef roast
                                                        3. make a beef stew.
                                                        you won't need any special equipment to make these.

                                                        your chef's knife is your best friend.

                                                      2. What do you want to learn to cook? I would start there and use that as an inspiration.

                                                        Basic skill would be learning to saute, pan-fry and stir-fry. It's all about controlling heat and covers a majority of your home cooking.

                                                        For practice, I would cook breakfast - fry eggs over easy or scrambled, make omelets, bacon, hash browns or pancakes.

                                                        For meat cookery, learn about tender cuts of beef and less tender cuts of beef. In the US, online there's councils (Beef or pork) that provide consumer information.

                                                        1. I am reminded of Michael Ruhlman, quoting Thomas Keller in The Elements of Cooking:

                                                          Ruhlman: "What's the most important thing for a cook to know in your kitchen?"

                                                          Keller: "Seasoning. ... Salt and pepper. ... Salt, really."

                                                          1. Never apologize about wanting to learn!

                                                            Do you know someone whose cooking you love who could perhaps be a mentor? If you do, don't be shy about asking for tips/a hands on demonstration (with offer to help prep, etc). I think most people who are serious about good cooking would be flattered and delighted to help a newbie.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: Chatsworth

                                                              Anyone who loves to cook, will also love to talk about their cooking. I have never EVER not given a recipe when asked or given a bunch of pointers to someone who wants to know. Honestly, when a newbie is in my kitchen, looking on and asking questions, I get offended when they seem shy or intimidated. I was once new too! Do they think I don't know what it's like?? Or, do I appear snobbish about it??? The funny thing is, the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. We're all here because we live for this stuff and even the most experienced will have questions. Please don't let anyone make you feel silly!

                                                            2. Not to worry.that's partly why we are here.

                                                              To cook well, two things:
                                                              1.Be able to read and follow instructions
                                                              2. Timing

                                                              Beyond that, the creativity and imagination will come...then #1 becomes less important.

                                                              The biggest sin is when stuff doesn't come together at the same..or near..time

                                                              The Joy of Cooking will get you thru 99% of the "stuff"..or watch someone else for the first time as to how to flip an omelette, stir-fry, etc.

                                                              Cooking is an ongoing learning process......some you win..some you lose.....some get rained out. Just keep trying.and enjoying

                                                              3 Replies
                                                              1. re: FriedClamFanatic

                                                                These two points were on my mind as I read through the thread.

                                                                Patience and accuracy when following recipes can make a world of difference when understanding what you are accomplishing as a cook.

                                                                I've benefited from applying these points more often.

                                                                1. re: Toucan67

                                                                  For a beginner, yes, follow the recipe. Don't "eyeball" the amounts -- be very careful, and get a scale for measuring the things that need a scale. Make sure your oven temperature is accurate.
                                                                  I've made successful loaves of bread on the 1st attempt due to obeying intructions!
                                                                  I would also say be patient when browning meats before you braise or stew or roast them. The flavor really is improved by browning meat.

                                                                  1. re: Toucan67

                                                                    My first souffle was a success BECAUSE I FOLLOWED THE INSTRUCTIONS.

                                                                2. always remember to taste as you go along, and adjust seasonings as needed

                                                                  1. Learn to use a kitchen scale. It's a real weakness in volume based North American recipes, but cooking by weight improves more than just baking.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Toucan67

                                                                      Adding that to my list! Thanks!

                                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                                        Cook's Illustrated rated the OXO Food Scale as the best. I got it for Christmas and I love it!


                                                                        Also, I use the scale in ways I never thought about. On the page linked above, scroll down and watch the video one guy made as part of his review of the scale. By knowing the weights of each ingredient, you can put your bowl on the scale, add each ingredient and zero out the scale after each ingredient and never use a measuring cup or spoon! The first time I made a recipe using the scale, I recorded the weight next to the item on my recipe. I'm sure this is old news to people who use scales, but to me it was a revelation!

                                                                    2. Here's what I think are two of the most important skills to begin with. 1) Knife skills. To properly cut an onion, or break down a chicken, is the foundation of everything. 2) COURAGE. Don't be timid. Don't be timid with salt. You'll know when it's too much, but often you don't realize that too little is making the food just meh. Don't be timid with heat. If it says to sear it or brown it, then crank up that burner and put some color on that meat. Don't be timid about cooking temperatures. Chicken and pork do not need to reach 170 degrees, or whatever the guidelines say, to be edible. Unless you like hockey pucks. And above all, don't be timid about just giving it a try.

                                                                      1. I'm in the beginning of culinary school and currently learning all of the foundational techniques. I think knife skills are one of the most important skills in order to gain confidence in the kitchen. Since starting school and having to practice my knife skills often, I am more efficient in the kitchen and I love the assurance of knowing that I am prepping the ingredients correctly for the recipe.

                                                                        Also, you may want to check out America's Test Kitchen Cooking School. The videos and lessons are thorough and engaging. Not quite like going to culinary school but it's a pretty good alternative!!


                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. Dry methods

                                                                          Wet Methods

                                                                          General skills
                                                                          Mise en place

                                                                          Knife skills
                                                                          dicing an onion
                                                                          Slicing a potato

                                                                          This web site will help you with these techniques. Study these techniques, vigorously, until you know them. Once you have this info down, you will know about as much as anyone and more than most.

                                                                          I don't like to recommend a lot of books for people because I have found that they will get far more cookbooks than they need. I have too many, also. There is a book that will be helpful for you. It is "How to cook without a book" by Pam Anderson


                                                                          i would point out that you can buy it for $2 - 3 used. I highly recommend doing so.

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                            That list is so, so helpful! Thank you! I've read a few people on different websites recommending "How to Cook Without a Book" so I'm definitely going to get that.

                                                                            1. re: kdlalib

                                                                              That is a nice list, most of which I would recommend. Keep your knives sharp and learn that lower heat can always be raised, cooking can always continue, but what is burned or cooked to long cannot be fixed. Practice cooking times and practice patience.

                                                                              1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                And a corollary: salt/pepper/spices/herbs can always be upped, if needed, but mighty hard to disguise if too much is added in haste.

                                                                          2. If you wanna learn to cook meat and fish, start slow.

                                                                            Learn to grill. Buy a thermometer. Get yourself some salt and pepper.

                                                                            Then learn to pan fry. Buy a skillet and some decent fat.

                                                                            Then learn to bake and get some herbs and spices, some tomatoes, milk, eggs and flour.

                                                                            You can read all the aforementioned referenced books you want, but, ultimately, you just gotta get out there and cook up some meat and fish. Use the thermometer to learn when you get it to your preferred temperature. Use the salt and pepper to properly season the meat/fish so you can figure which you like the best without adornments. Then, learn to make sauces that will accentuate the meat/fish to your liking.

                                                                            Finally, putting it all together is a breeze. Actually cooking the meat/fish is all the same - whether it is grilling, baking, pan frying or broiling - it is the simple application of heat until your meat/fish reaches the desired temperature.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: MonMauler

                                                                              What fat do you suggest using for pan frying?

                                                                              1. re: MonMauler

                                                                                I totally agree with the thermometer...so many uses...from meat doneness to temp of water for yeast and even baked goods.

                                                                              2. take a look in your local area -- many places (from county extension to supermarkets) offer basic cooking classes for surprisingly little money.

                                                                                I agree with learning good knife skills (there are classes for that, too)

                                                                                But Joy is still my all-time favorite book, and the first one I reach for if I have a question or if I am making something for the first time. Their basics are explained clearly and succinctly.

                                                                                Ask away -- we're all happy to help someone expand their know-how and enjoy cooking.

                                                                                5 Replies
                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                  I DEFINITELY need knife skill help. I feel so uncoordinated when cutting up food. Great advice!

                                                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                    I learned how to hold and use a chef's knife from reading Jacques Pepin's La Technique. You don't have to get to the point where you can cut with blinding speed like JP, but using the correct grip and method will allow you to be much more efficient in the long run.

                                                                                    It will feel a little awkward at first, but you get smoother and smoother with practice.

                                                                                    There are some good knife skills videos online, but I'm afraid I have no links for you. Maybe someone will chime in.

                                                                                    1. re: ellabee

                                                                                      I've always held a knife with my pointer finger on the top for balance and grip, which I recently read was wrong. It feels so natural, though. I have to start practicing the right way.

                                                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                        I still catch myself with the finger on top sometimes and still don't know why that is not ok.

                                                                                        In my opinion, learning the appropriate cutting styles (chopped, diced, minced, etc) is more important than how you hold the knife, safety concerns aside.

                                                                                        1. re: THoey1963

                                                                                          because keeping your finger on the side improves the mobility of your wrist and eliminates pressure on the connective tissues of your finger (something you'll appreciate as you age...)

                                                                                          it makes the knife an extension of your arm -- which is what a tool is supposed to be.

                                                                                2. If you have access to BBC America, take a look at Gordon Ramsay's Ultimate Cookery Course. I've watched a few episodes and they pack a lot of info into each one. Each episode has a theme --one episode I watched was on eggs--and Ramsay wants to instill basic knowledge and techniques and arm you with foundational skills to allow you cook without a recipe. I imagine this series would be a great help to a new cook. Here are links to a teaser about the show on youtube, the book on amazon, and the schedule on BBC America.


                                                                                  Read cookbooks, watch good cooking shows, and experiment. Don't allow yourself to get overwhelmed with expert advice. Choose a "teacher" and stick with that teacher until you've developed confidence in your skills.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: janniecooks

                                                                                    I saw one video on Gordon Ramsay cooking steak on YouTube and it was super helpful. I do have BBC America and will definitely check out that show. Thanks for the great suggestions.

                                                                                  2. Fear not, there are plenty of us here with lots of newbie questions :) I've been cooking about 5 years but I still have tons of silly questions that I ask here!

                                                                                    When I was starting out though, I bought an Ina Garten cookbook (At Home) and a Tyler Florence cookbook (The Ultimates), and that's how I learned, along with watching the Food Network on Saturday mornings (that's when more of the instructional shows were on, many of them are now on Cooking Channel). I found Joy of Cooking and Bittman's book to be way too overwhelming and could never decide what to make from them, and I really like having pictures of what the food is supposed to look like.

                                                                                    Another site I will suggest is budgetbytes.blogspot.com. It's geared towards cooking on a budget, but the recipes have always turned out delicious, are relatively simple, and her instructions are clear, with step by step pictures. The Pioneer Woman also has very clear instructions and TONS of pictures (almost too many).

                                                                                    1. http://www.chow.com/videos

                                                                                      So many wonderful suggestions to help you push through! Dive in! If you like visuals, the CHOW video library demonstrates dozens of beginner recipes step by step in about 3 mins or less. Rather than spend too much $$ on books and tapes, get familiar with free resources, takes some notes and try a few recipes to practice skill. Before you know it you'll have learned the building blocks to approaching written recipes that once seemed overwhelming.

                                                                                      Have fun!!

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: HillJ

                                                                                        That's amazing!! No idea the videos were here! So, so helpful! Thanks!

                                                                                      2. As you define yourself as a beginner cook reading up on how to safely handle food is important for your health and safety.(what temperature to cook chicken for example) As well how to store food at proper holding temperatures and learning to safely chop and slice foods without harming yourself are a definite skills in the kitchen. Washing your fruits and vegetables before consuming. Little details for food safety are the starting point for all meals and can make a difference in the quality of your food. I would start out to try and conquer one category at a time, that's my approach to learning, its less overwhelming. Cook what you like and enjoy it! I love the Joy of Cooking its a good book used in my food lab at school.

                                                                                        1. Lots of good advice already, but let me add one more.

                                                                                          Learn what things taste like unadorned.

                                                                                          Cook up a piece of steak and just taste it, no salt, no nothing.
                                                                                          Do the same thing with a piece of fish.
                                                                                          And the same with a vegetable, like a tomato or celery.

                                                                                          You'd be surprised what common foods taste like without any dressing, seasoning, or sauces.

                                                                                          Once you've grasped what things taste like, then you have built your base. You can then start combining and pairing not only foods -- e.g. a tomato chutney for a roast pork -- but also seasoning -- e.g., a nice spice rub for a flank steak.

                                                                                          Without understanding what things taste like, you'll never be able to really fashion a dish out of raw ingredients, and you'll be beholden to recipes for the rest of your life.

                                                                                          And you do not want to be beholden to recipes for the rest of your life ...

                                                                                          8 Replies
                                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                            and as a corollary, learn how to choose good ingredients (note I did NOT say expensive!)

                                                                                            Good ingredients make good food -- your abilities expand from that base.

                                                                                            (see "garbage in, garbage out" and "you are what you eat")

                                                                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                              How can you tell good ingredients if not by expense? Do you mean organic produce? Are there things I should look for?

                                                                                              1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                Price is almost never an indicator of quality -- and organic only means that it was raised without industrial chemicals (they use natural chemicals...!) Organic doesn't affect flavor, either.

                                                                                                Fresh, local ingredients (give the square pink tomatos a pass....) You-picks, CSAs, farmer's markets -- try to stay with what's local and in season, and you'll probably be in good shape.

                                                                                                What to look for depends on what you're buying. Even stuff that's shipped in from far away can be good...but the selling points of each item vary.

                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                  I live in the land of Farmer's Markets and CSAs, but they're only really around in the summer. Maybe my local co-op is a better source than my regular grocery store.

                                                                                                2. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                  How can you tell good ingredients if not by expense? Do you mean organic produce? Are there things I should look for?

                                                                                                  Taste it.

                                                                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                "Learn what things taste like unadorned."

                                                                                                That's a good tip. And especially useful when applied to fruits/veggies. Then you would have a baseline that allows you to see how their flavor changes at various stages and methods of cooking. Some things go through such magical transformations! Onion, I'm looking at you.

                                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                                  I absolutely agree with the advice ipsedixit gives here. Don't be afraid to experiment - take a chicken breast and cut it in half - poach one half and saute the other in butter. (for example).

                                                                                                  One early food memory I have is sitting at my mother's spice cabinet (which was in easy reach in our small apartment) and opening each jar and tasting everything. Of course, a pinch of dried tarragon straight out of the jar tastes very different from some that's been soaked in a vinegar/oil mixture - or a tongue-tip of "curry powder" as opposed to some Indian spices warmed in butter to bring out their flavors - but that really stuck with me, all the flavors right there at my fingertips.

                                                                                                  I also would say besides reading "How to Cook Without a Book," read recipes and cookbooks for fun. Getting familiar with the differences between a dish with onions sauteed until they're soft but still translucent, one with onions that are soft and brown, and one that calls for a long caramelization - that's a good basic familiarity to acquire (in my opinion).

                                                                                                  I lurk here more than I post, reading and soaking up what people are doing, and sometimes giving things a try. It was here that I learned about the value of keeping a dish simple and letting the ingredients shine - even without using a single herb.

                                                                                                  1. re: eepi

                                                                                                    I agree with this advice to learn what various spices taste like. Herbs and spices can enable you to take pretty much any basic protein/vegetable/legume/grain and turn it into something special.

                                                                                                2. Let the pan preheat
                                                                                                  Don't mess with the food in the pan more than is necessary (especially meat!)
                                                                                                  Skip the half & half, use heavy cream
                                                                                                  Salt & pepper your salad before tossing
                                                                                                  Invest in a cast iron skillet, a sturdy dutch oven, and a solid sauté pan
                                                                                                  Subscribe to Cook's Illustrated

                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: initialfriend

                                                                                                    I just made the mistake of using half & half instead of heavy cream with a pasta gorgonzola recipe. Recipe said I could use 2%, half and half, or heavy cream. I tried half and half and it just didn't taste as good as I think it might otherwise.

                                                                                                    My mother bought me a dutch oven from TJ Maxx, but I'm not sure it's great quality.

                                                                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                      That's not a mistake, the recipe said you could do it. Heavy cream always tastes the best :) I often sub out things like milk or yogurt for heavy cream in favor of keeping the calories lower, but the taste is ALWAYS better with the cream.

                                                                                                      1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                        It just didn't taste as good as I expected with the half and half. Unfortunately, everything I'm good at cooking or want to cook tends to be very dairy/cream heavy. I don't want to end up like Paula Deen in my cooking, and I fear I'm getting close.

                                                                                                      2. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                        don't dismiss TJ Maxx too quickly - a lot of us have bought very high-quality cookware there for a song. What brand is your dutch oven?

                                                                                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                          Use the dutch oven I am sure if it is heavy and large enough that it will be of use to you.

                                                                                                      3. steak
                                                                                                        salad dressing
                                                                                                        roast chicken
                                                                                                        chicken soup
                                                                                                        grilled cheese
                                                                                                        white sauce

                                                                                                        1. Lots of advise here it's easy to get confused (although it's good advise)

                                                                                                          I learned (and still learn) to cook, by watching lots of public television and the the Food Network. and cooking with my friends.

                                                                                                          I think the internet is a very valuable re-source. Often if you want a recipe - click videos and you can find some one making the dish you're looking for.

                                                                                                          even after being a pretty serious cook for many years - I still screw things up.... and likely you will too. I think of cooking as a creative process (and it relaxes me).

                                                                                                          My advice:

                                                                                                          Get yourself a good knife, watch a few shows and see who you like - and buy one of their cook books (note: I find thrift store a great place to pick up great cookbooks on the cheap - but I don't own that many - the internet is far easier for me). Also, I learned a bit later on the value of " Misenplace" - preping all your items up front it make things much easier and cleaner and you concentrate on your cooking.

                                                                                                          My favorites are Jaque Pepin, Lydia Bastianich, Anne Burrel, Hubert Keller and alton Brown.

                                                                                                          Have fun, don't be afraid to ask questions and don't be afraid to make mistakes. .


                                                                                                          1. Try to buy essential kitchen supplies-
                                                                                                            meat thermometer
                                                                                                            measuring spoons, cups
                                                                                                            pyrex measuring cups
                                                                                                            roasting pans
                                                                                                            cast iron skillet
                                                                                                            slow cooker
                                                                                                            icecream maker

                                                                                                            muffin tins
                                                                                                            mixing bowls
                                                                                                            ball canning jars
                                                                                                            lemon squeezer
                                                                                                            garlic press
                                                                                                            jar opener
                                                                                                            aluminum foil
                                                                                                            parchment paper
                                                                                                            peeling knife
                                                                                                            vegetable peeler
                                                                                                            manual can opener

                                                                                                            13 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: jpr54_1

                                                                                                              How fancy/expensive does a meat thermometer have to be? Will a cheap one work well?

                                                                                                              Also is a lemon reamer the same things as a lemon squeezer?

                                                                                                              1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                I prefer instant-read, because it leaves a smaller hole for juices to escape....but I bought mine for less than $10.

                                                                                                                A lemon reamer is basically the cone from a juicer fitted on a handle. A lemon squeezer looks an oddly-shaped nutcracker.

                                                                                                                1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                  I too got a cheap digital instant read thermometer, at Target, for around $10. Works just fine. At some point it would be nice to have the probe style but I've gotten along just fine without one.

                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                    Which is better and/or easier to use: the lemon reamer or lemon squeezer? Which is less messy?

                                                                                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                      Me personally, I like a reamer. Lets me apply pressure where it's needed as I squeeze it around and around.

                                                                                                                      Though, if I have neither, I can always just stick a fork into a lemon half and squeeze with one hand while manipulating the fork with the other.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                                        I just use my bare hands -- if I'm really going for every drop, I use Violatp's technique, but with a teaspoon instead of a fork. If I need a lot of juice, I use my citrus juicer.

                                                                                                                      2. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                        I have two old-fashioned glass dishes that are shaped like a small, shallow pitcher with a reamer stuck into the top. Those are so easy and no mess at all. Sometimes you can find them at Goodwill or a thrift store for next to nothing. They seem to make them still - a quick Google search turned up a source right away.

                                                                                                                    2. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                      Another vote for the $10-ish meat thermometer. You really need one when doing a roast, and there are handy applications if making yogurt, heating up oil but not over-heating to infuse herbs, etc.

                                                                                                                      I love my Thermapen (treated myself to one when they were on a sale), but got along for the previous fifteen years just fine with the inexpensive one.

                                                                                                                    3. re: jpr54_1

                                                                                                                      An icecream maker is essential? Not on my planet.

                                                                                                                      1. re: Chatsworth

                                                                                                                        I would love to have one and some are quite affordable these days but its a real estate issue, no more room on my shelves. Not really essential though.

                                                                                                                        1. re: Chatsworth

                                                                                                                          That's what I was thinking... maybe if someone gave it to me as a gift but I have never had the inclination to go out and buy an ice cream maker, nor would I consider it an "essential".

                                                                                                                          1. re: Chatsworth

                                                                                                                            I don't really like ice cream that much :|

                                                                                                                          2. re: jpr54_1

                                                                                                                            And you can pick up glass pans, loaf pans, pots etc at yard sales if you do not mind using second hand items.

                                                                                                                          3. I think the most important skills are the following:

                                                                                                                            1. If you see flames leaping from your frying pan you should turn down the heat on the burner

                                                                                                                            2. Do not leave the house to go to the movies while a cake is cooking in the oven, unless it is a very short movie and the theater is within 2 blocks of your home.

                                                                                                                            3. If you're cooking expensive steaks, do not put them in the oven and then turn on the broiler.

                                                                                                                            4. Crisco is NOT an acceptable substitute for butter when making frosting. The same can be said of congealed pork fat.

                                                                                                                            5. Do not pay any attention to this post.

                                                                                                                            Following these simple rules will make you a MUCH better cook. Good luck!

                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                            1. re: oakjoan

                                                                                                                              Hahaha! That gave me a big laugh!! I once left the cardboard bottom on a frozen pizza. The pizza melded into the cardboard. It was bad.

                                                                                                                            2. if following a recipe of any kind, meatloaf, roasted chicken, chocolate cake, mashed potatoes, peanut brittle....have all ingredients needed/called for at the ready and out on the counter counter, plus any measuring cups or spoons.

                                                                                                                              1. The only problem with trying to get this info on Chowhound is that there are so many people trying to be helpful that you go into sensory overload.

                                                                                                                                The fact is cooking is not rocket science. Read a little. Watch some of the food shows on foodnetwork and the pbs shows on Saturday. Have your favorites recorded. America's test kitchen on PBS and Good eats and The Barefoot Contessa on Foodnetwork will be great.

                                                                                                                                Pick something you want to learn and try it. If you cook something and it turns out lousy, well.... it wasn't the 1st $10 or the last $10 that you ever threw away. there are a lot of very specific videos on youtube. Heck, that's how I learned to pan flip. I watched it a few times then I got a skillet and practiced with dry rice. Sometimes with toast until I could flip. Not that that is such a sought after skill. A spatula does fine.

                                                                                                                                This is only going to take a few weeks until you see measured improvement.

                                                                                                                                1. Invest in a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. Each issue has a lot of great recipes, and they tell you the best method to use. They also go into some of the science as to how and why such methods are the best. They also do food and product reviews as well with are helpful. There is a big thick Cooks Illustrated cookbook on the market, I would definately pick that up and use it as a resource in addition to Joy of Cooking.

                                                                                                                                  Watch as many public TV cooking shows as you can. Good shows are Cooks Country and America's Test Kitchen (produced by the editors of Cooks Illustrated). Lidia Bastianich is also very good and informative.
                                                                                                                                  Stay away from Food Network. It has become the MTV of cookling. All it is now are reality shows and cooking competitions. Their "instructional" shows are heavily edited and focus more on appearance rather than actual instruction.

                                                                                                                                  Finally, after amassing all of this knowledge from books and TV, I recommend taking a cooking class, one with several sessions that start from the basics and go into detail on specific techniques in each class (ex: Day one- knife skills, Day 2- Grilling, etc.). Taking a class and actually DOING IT will give you a great deal of confidence to experiment and try different things and recipes.

                                                                                                                                  Speaking of recipes, make sure you have everything purchases and prepared (mise en place, you'll learn that in cooking class>) before starting to cook. Also, VERY IMPORTANT, you must read the recipe completely before starting. Some recipes don't always follow the best order to do things, or you may find your own shortcuts or ways to multi-task.

                                                                                                                                  Good luck. Coming from someone who could barely boiling an egg to making fabulous dinners for myself and others, you will get a great deal out of it!

                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                  1. re: Dinermite

                                                                                                                                    My in-laws gave me a series of cooking classes for my bday. I'm worried that they'll be a little too advanced though. Still excited, though.

                                                                                                                                  2. One thing I've noticed with a lot of beginners is that they don't understand how to use ingredients properly. For example, they might decide to braise or slow cook a pork chop, and end up with a shoe leathery mess. Or they might decide that they can speed up the cooking by turning up the oven from 300 to 400 so something cooks faster. It's important to match the cooking process properly to the food you have.

                                                                                                                                    I'll give you one example. I always used to hate boneless chicken breasts, because I'd read recipes that use them for things like stews and curries and such. That wet cooking process turns boneless white meat chicken into a tough stringy mess. I've learned to use chicken thigh meat and it's a different thing entirely.

                                                                                                                                    Another example...I always used to make beef stew with top round beef stew chunks, figuring it was "healthier". And, I always ended up with tough chunks of dry, chewy meat. Then one day, I "discovered" short ribs and Oxtails and learned to make the stew a day ahead to de fat and let the flavors meld. Makes a huge difference.

                                                                                                                                    I don't know if it's still in print, but my cooking "Bible", that my mom gave me as a housewarming present for my first apartment, is "The New Doubleday Cookbook". I have a worn, dog eared copy, but darn if that book doesn't have a recipe or cooking method for EVERYTHING I've ever wanted to cook. If it's still in print, it's fantastic. It has detailed instuctions and charts for cooking and baking anything you can imagine.

                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                    1. re: mwk

                                                                                                                                      IF I can't get The New DoubleDay Cookbook, is there a source that will tell me which types of meat to use with which techniques?

                                                                                                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                        You can still get a copy on Amazon if you want, but you can generally find that information with any cookbook recipe for stew, etc.

                                                                                                                                        Just keep in mind, as you saw from your half and half experience, that low fat is not always best. When you braise or stew meats, the fat and the connective gelatin tissue is what keeps it moist and tender. Use chicken thighs for stewing/curries/cacciatore, etc. For beef stew, use chuck or short ribs or oxtails, and plan a day ahead to be able to skim off the fat and let the flavor meld.

                                                                                                                                        Also, the bone adds a lot of flavor to the cooking, so unless you are doing a stir fry or pan saute, I always cook meat on the bone. Even if I have to fish out the pieces and de bone them, I'll still do it. With the beef, the meat falls off the bone when it's cooked, so I'll pull the bones out as soon as I can, separate out the meat from the gravy and it makes it easier to get the fat off later.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: kdlalib



                                                                                                                                          992 pages and you can get it for about $5 including shipping. Now, I am not familiar with this book but for $5, what can you lose?

                                                                                                                                      2. Use your local library if you can. Test drive cookbooks before you buy them. They may also have DVDs of cooking shows to watch.

                                                                                                                                        4 Replies
                                                                                                                                        1. re: sr44

                                                                                                                                          Replying to my own message, find an author who speaks to you. I am continually surprised by people who don't resonate with my favorites. It's a personal journey.

                                                                                                                                          1. re: sr44

                                                                                                                                            +1 on using the library. As a retiree, I've saved a bundle, either because a book I "thought" I needed turned out to be a dud, or the book had 3-4 recipes that were great, which I just copied and returned the book.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                              Or purchase for very little at yard sales.

                                                                                                                                            2. re: sr44

                                                                                                                                              .I'm a librarian, so that's what I've been doing :) I think I'm going to buy Martha Stewart's Cooking School too. It's been super helpful w all the diagrams.

                                                                                                                                            3. My best advice to you is: don't be afraid to fail. Any good cook has turned out some clunkers here and there.

                                                                                                                                              Beyond that, invest in some decent quality cookware, and dive in. You have two of the better beginner-friendly cookbooks out there, so start with some recipes of things that you like. I'd suggest a couple of simpler things like roast chicken or pot roast, and a couple of easy pasta dishes or soups, but it's more important that you're cooking things that you're familiar with and like.

                                                                                                                                              If you're lucky enough to have good cooks in your friends or family, ask them questions. If there's something that they make that you like, ask them how they do it. When I headed off to grad school, my grandmother gave me some cooking lessons, and I was lucky enough to room with someone who was a very good cook. Between the two of them, I somehow survived my first few years of learning to cook. If you're not so lucky, cooking shows and youtube can help a lot.

                                                                                                                                              And if the advice in this thread is overwhelming, don't worry. I'm no chef, but I'm a pretty accomplished home cook, and I'm pretty sure I don't own half the cookware suggested in this thread AND I cut onions like a barbarian. I cook for friends and family regularly and haven't poisoned anyone yet! ;)

                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                              1. re: sidwich

                                                                                                                                                About not being afraid to fail: always keep some kind of frozen "emergency" dinner available in case the new recipe is a dud. For us, that means I'll cook a huge pot of chili (or bean soup, or double lasagne or whatever), then freeze 1/2 for those emergency days. And we ALL have those days!

                                                                                                                                                1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                  ha, no kidding! I had a disaster of a baked ziti last night. Unsalvageable. Dinner turned into tortilla chips & diet sprite.

                                                                                                                                                2. re: sidwich

                                                                                                                                                  Just did a pot roast tonight. It was in a slow cooker though, so I don't know if that really counts. It was super yummy though.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: dmjordan

                                                                                                                                                      I'm a great cook, and have been cooking since I stood on a chair in my grandmother's kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                      Pot roast is my nemesis -- I can't make a good one to save my life, so I give full props to those who can.

                                                                                                                                                    2. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                      Cooking is cooking, food is food, super yummy sounds like success to me.

                                                                                                                                                  1. All things mentioned above are fine, but one of the most essential things to learn/do is to CLEAN AS YOU GO!

                                                                                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                                                                                                                                        YES! Nothing worse than having to clean a pile of dishes and cook around a mess. Things seem to spiral out of control in a very messy kitchen.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                                                                                                                                          I hate to say it, because I rabidly clean as I go, but I don't think this is required to be a truly good cook. Some of the best I know, including my Bengali mother-in-law, are horribly messy in the kitchen. It drives me crazy until I taste the food. Having said that, CLEAN AS YOU GO.

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                                                                                                                                                            I'm SO bad at that. I have a tiny, miniscule apartment kitchen w no dishwasher. And I'm honestly not the most organized person to begin with.

                                                                                                                                                            1. I haven't read through this thread so I don't know what has been suggested but you can learn cooking techniques by cooking and by watching other people cook. If you could spend some time cooking with an experienced cook who would LIKE to help you learn to cook, that would be great. I would also suggest you watch some of the so-called 'stand and stir' cooking shows on TV. The Martha Stewart cooking shows will show you technique as will America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Country. Both are on PBS. On the Food Network/Cooking Channel, Ina Garten, Anne Burrell, Alton Brown and a few others actually teach viewers how to cook something. I'd skip Paula Deen and Sandra Lee.

                                                                                                                                                              3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                I've started watching Ina Garten and she's very helpful. Some Jamie Oliver videos on YouTube have been helpful too. Sandra Lee gives me anxiety.

                                                                                                                                                                1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                  Sandra Lee gives everyone anxiety.

                                                                                                                                                                  Rachel Ray's personality drives me bananas -- but she does a good job of cooking from real ingredients in a short period of time.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                    Sandra Lee gives everyone anxiety.
                                                                                                                                                                    That's why you should have one of the cocktails she features in every episode ;-D

                                                                                                                                                              2. Learning time management IMO is #1. How often have all of got ourselves 'in the weeds' b/c we didn't prep properly for instance. Make a 'flow chart' and stick to it. Walk yourself through the meal prep and delivery like you would if you were imagining what route to take to your grocery store and how long it will take there and back. That sort of thing. 'This has to be in the oven at 3:30. At five the veg must be in the steamer.' The table was set at 4:00 etc etc. Write it out. Once you learn time management your life in your kitchen will be a lot calmer and enjoyable.

                                                                                                                                                                3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                  I'm trying to work on that now. I have a hard time getting all elements of my meal ready at the same time. Advance planning is not my strength.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                    Sometimes just reading through a recipe and chopping and dicing, measuring ingredients beforehand is a big help. Making a grocery list is a good thing, as Martha would say!

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                      The professionals in the restaurant industry have a word for this...Mise en Place. It means "everything in place". Basically, you have everything you need for your recipe ready to go BEFORE you start cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                      Read through your entire recipe first, and gather all the ingredients on the counter. Whatever needs to be prepared before cooking, prepare it; if you need to chop an onion chop it and leave it in a little bowl. If you need to measure 5 different spices, measure them all into another dish (assuming they are are needed in the recipe at the same time). If you work this way, then the actual cooking process is mostly assembly and it goes quickly.

                                                                                                                                                                      Also, prepare ahead. Most recipes will have a notation as to what can be prepared 1 or 2 hours or even a day ahead of time, before you finish cooking. Do as much as possible ahead of time and you will find it MUCH easier to get everything on the table in a timely manner.

                                                                                                                                                                  2. Asking for help is not ignorance!...it is darn good to convey to someone some information you have learned and it helps them!

                                                                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                                                                                                                      Thank you! I feel so silly because I'm 32 and have such limited cooking skills, especially when my mother is such an incredible cook.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                        are you close enough she can teach you some of her secrets? That's still the best way to learn....from someone you love and whose food you love.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                          You should be proud of yourself for not quitting, and wanting to learn. If you like what you are doing you will only get better at it. Thirty-two is a number, don't limit yourself, you can do it!

                                                                                                                                                                      2. KD...

                                                                                                                                                                        Cooking skills cover many areas, but generally we accept that it is the preparation of food.

                                                                                                                                                                        About 15 years ago I took a hands on class in Florence , Italy, for 5 days...

                                                                                                                                                                        The first part of each day was dedicated to planning and picking out the necessary items to prepare the food. We went to local markets early each morning.

                                                                                                                                                                        Therefore, learn how to pick the ingredients! What ever level of cook you are, you must obtain or shop for the parts of the meal.

                                                                                                                                                                        Develope a plan for staple items, in your pantry; spices, grains, fresh veggies, protiens, dairy, etc. Learn how to pick them, within your budget and so as not to waste them ,buy the proper amount.

                                                                                                                                                                        Go to any fruit store, butcher cheese shop and ask questions; why is this good?, or if you do not have local shops you might find a person in a stupidmarket who has some knowledge.

                                                                                                                                                                        Then do exactly as you have done....ask for help!

                                                                                                                                                                        The rest is easy, because , you will have a lifetime to enjoy your time preparing and sharing your food!

                                                                                                                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: PHREDDY

                                                                                                                                                                          That cooking course sounds like a dream! Cooking and using good ingredients when you're on a budget is so challenging for me. Do you have any tips?

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                            Here are some of my tips for budget:

                                                                                                                                                                            1. The closer your food is to its natural state, the cheaper it will be per serving. For example: Buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself. Buy full sized carrots, peel them and cut them into smaller "baby" sizes. Convenience is costly. A friend of mine has a rule: "If the food has an advertisement on TV or Radio, don't buy it"

                                                                                                                                                                            2. Buy food in season. Now, it is coming into season for Asparagus and Artichokes. I eat lots of that during March/April, when they are in season and on sale. Eat Strawberries in the late Spring and Peaches in the late summer.

                                                                                                                                                                            3. Stock up when something is on sale. When Thanksgiving comes around, and frozen turkeys are 49 cents a pound on sale, I buy three or four and keep them. I can get a full week's worth of meals out of one 20 pound turkey costing me $10, including lunch AND dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. OP mentioned improving her meat skills. I was always confused by the various names for the same cuts of meats and which cuts could be substituted for others. I love this site; it is very helpful. It covers all types of meats, fruits and vegetables and has nice pictures of everything.


                                                                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: dmjordan

                                                                                                                                                                            That's awesome! I'm with you on being confused about the cuts of meat. I go into the meat section of a grocery store and I'm completely overwhelmed.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                              Or, I have a specific cut from a recipe that I need and the store has nothing with that name, so I don't know what's an acceptable substitute. Tried asking the guys in the white jackets behind the meat counter, and they seemed to know as much as me.

                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: dmjordan

                                                                                                                                                                              If you really want to have some fun with learning about meat cuts check this out


                                                                                                                                                                            3. khlalib

                                                                                                                                                                              I started a new thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/889902

                                                                                                                                                                              I would love to know your opinion on the 20 foods everyone should know how to cook. In fact, I would love to hear from any fairly new cooks on it.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. I agree with Calumin that watching someone cook especially for meat is very helpful. Jamie Oliver's YouTube channel has so many great how to's, like how to cut an onion, how to cook the perfect beef steak, etc. The second link is Laura Vitale's cooking show on YT. She's fab!



                                                                                                                                                                                I learned so much by watching Food Network cooking shows, OK, most everything about cooking I learned from FN. But now YouTube's taken over!

                                                                                                                                                                                1. Lots of good advice here! I'll echo and emphasize some of the advice that helped me the most- this is from my Kitchen Tips file, compiled from various sources on the Web:

                                                                                                                                                                                  "Cook by ear and bake by the book."

                                                                                                                                                                                  Aroma is flavor. Do not take it lightly

                                                                                                                                                                                  Buy good knives. If you can afford it, buy very good knives. If you can afford it later, trade up. If you can't afford it, buy the best you can afford, and just keep cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Keep your knives sharp and hone before using.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Mise en place, in order of use. And clean up as you go.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Textural contrast is usually a good thing. Color and texture and temperature balance make a huge difference in a meal/menu.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Use butter and eggs at room temperature.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Taste taste taste, and season as you go- not just at the end, will result in a dish with more warmth and depth of flavor."Season in layers:" add some at the beginning, some while simmering, and some (especially fresh herbs) near the very end for brightness.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Scott Conant: "The last thing you add will be the first thing you taste"

                                                                                                                                                                                  When you eat out, and you try something you loved, don't be afraid to ask how it was made. Don't be surprised if you get a long heartfelt happy explanation, or an invitation to learn from them

                                                                                                                                                                                  Preheat that oven thoroughly.

                                                                                                                                                                                  First heat the pan, then add the oil.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Dry meats before searing.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Don't crowd the pan when you're browning meats.
                                                                                                                                                                                  Let roast meats rest before carving.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Keep a garbage bowl on the counter and a dish of kosher salt beside the stove.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Warm your plates, especially in the winter. Cold plates can ruin a nice hot meal .... and so many people don't think of this very important step. Most plates heat well in the microwave. White plates are like a blank canvas; they can make any food look like a masterpiece.

                                                                                                                                                                                  How you describe a dish matters just as much as presentation. The same dish can register wildly different reactions when called by different names.

                                                                                                                                                                                  Making your own salad dressing wows the masses. Learn a couple that you enjoy and stick with them.

                                                                                                                                                                                  A very good "general tips" post on an earlier thread, compiled from that thread courtesy of Hank Hanover: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8382...


                                                                                                                                                                                  And my own best advice on technique:

                                                                                                                                                                                  The one thing I always recommend to newer cooks is learning to sear meat or vegetables and deglaze a pan. This is a threshold skill to fine cooking in the truest sense. It's much easier than you think, nearly foolproof, applicable to just about any situation, and offers an immensely versatile palette to work with. Whether you're deglazing with broth, vinegar, juice, or wine, and with or without cream or herbs, a good pan sauce can elevate even the simplest fare to the level of a gourmet treat in just minutes.

                                                                                                                                                                                  In my opinion this is the easiest entree into great cooking that reflects your own personality. The quantum leap in quality does wonders for confidence in the kitchen and encourages evolving a unique style.

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                                                                                                                                                                                  1. The oven is a beginner cook's good friend. With so many things, all you have to do is put them in the oven and wait an hour or so. Hundreds of baked chicken dishes, scalloped potatoes or baked beans with ham or bacon on top, meatloaf, an oven potroast, pork chops and sauerkraut, baked pasta casseroles, pork chops baked on a bed of stuffing---the list is infinite. I would advise you to read cookbooks a lot and gradually the techniques will just seem natural. If you put in (350* oven) a meat (quarters of a frying chicken), a whole potato or sweet potato per person (pricked with a fork so they don't explode), and a vegetable casserole (like corn pudding) everything cooks at the same time. Use foil in the pan under the chicken quarters to make an easy cleanup. (Corn pudding: put a bag of frozen corn in the food processor and just pulse it on and off 1-2 times not to puree the corn but just break up the kernels. Add 2 beaten eggs, 1 cup milk, and a whole bag of shredded cheddar cheese. Put in buttered casserole. Bake at 350* 45-60 minutes until brown. It may not need salt as the cheese is salty.)

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                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                                      I've made numerous baked pasta dishes. I'm going to start baked meat dishes next.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. With respect: Knife skills? Microplaning? Weighing all ingredients on a scale? I get nervous when I hear this lingo slung at beginning cooks who may already feel intimidated. New cooks need to know that they don't have to compete on The Iron Chef and that producing a palatable (and even delicious) meal in ten minutes while juggling a crying baby is daily work for millions of home cooks (so how hard can it be?) Home cooking is just about providing food and comfort for yourself and the people you love.

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                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                                        Yes, knife skills: not show-off speed, but being able to produce the desired cuts safely and efficiently -- with a good knife kept sharp.

                                                                                                                                                                                        Yes, using a microplane; it's just a good grater, a pretty basic piece of kitchen equipment. Do you have a better tool for zesting a lemon or grating hard cheese?

                                                                                                                                                                                        Agreed that beginning cooks don't need to weigh ingredients, and that a scale is a second-tier piece of equipment.

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: ellabee

                                                                                                                                                                                          I have the basic, general microplane, not a rasp grater. Is a rasp grater really needed to effectively zest lemon, or is a general microplane enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                                            A scale is only a second tier piece of equipment in North America. In Europe and Australia recipes are much more often printed with weights and I think cooks can and should learn to be comfortable with a scale.

                                                                                                                                                                                            However if you are learning from recipes that are volume based you can safely just go with measuring cups and spoons.

                                                                                                                                                                                        2. re: Querencia

                                                                                                                                                                                          Well, every new endeavor has vocabulary that one must learn to understand, and equipment that must be learned to use.

                                                                                                                                                                                          If you're learning, say, tennis, it does you no good to be told to throw the ball over the stringy thing with the stick with the stringy round thing. There's a net and a court and a racquet..ha! and there is a judge (aka people who will eat your food!)

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. I'd say patience and willingness to fail. You'll learn much more from breaking a sauce or overcooking a steak than you will when you nail it accidentally in a beginners luck moment.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Get the failures out of the way in low pressure situations. Make sure you're really good at a technique before trying it 'when it counts'... cooking for parents, date, SO, that work potluck etc... IOW, don't try to nail a beurre blanc for the first time cooking Valentine's dinner for your sweetie. It will break, guaranteed. Some dishes can smell fear.

                                                                                                                                                                                            For meat cooking I'd start with braising: It's easy, you can do it with cheap cuts, it lets you practise and think about two seperate skills (browning and then slow cooking), and the results are often incredible. Zuni Cafe Cookbook has a good segment on braising that really breaks down what you're trying to do and how to go about it.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Good luck... have fun!

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                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Along with the tips already mentioned above, I think just being observant helps a lot.

                                                                                                                                                                                              Early on in my attempts to become a better cook, I found that I was concentrating too much on smelling and tasting and forgetting that I have other tools at my disposal.
                                                                                                                                                                                              I discovered that after I made a conscious effort to allow sight, hearing, and touch play a role in my efforts the results were greatly improved.

                                                                                                                                                                                              For example, without too much practice at all, it's now second nature for me to just listen to what's going on in skillet when I begin to saute something or to know that when I see a little "blood" starting to come out of the top of my seared steak that it's time for a little further checking via the "touch test" or a thermometer.

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. Progress report, what have you been cooking lately?

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                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Pot roast, a warm swiss chard salad, and various pasta dishes. It's been hard for me to cook a lot during the week because of a busy work schedule. I'm saving my weekends for new challenges. The learning curve has been incredible.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I like the idea of a warm swiss chard salad. I have been cooking for years but make simple things during the week and always cook a big meal on Saturday and Sunday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. Today I cooked pasta with mushrooms and parsley. A recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It was definitely yummy.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Keep going, yummy is a good thing!

                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. When breading...one hand for the wet dipping, one hand for the dry breading.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. Well........with all the suggestions here, including mine, I guess I'd just sum up with ................"Get on with it" We all have had BIG mistakes! We all slice,dice,weigh, measure differently....but a lot of us seemed to have found things that work and taste good to us and others.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Starting out...don't worry about the failures...unless you are getting VERY adventurous, it still will be "good".....think about how to make it "better"

                                                                                                                                                                                                      Some follow recipes EXACTLY and cringe when they don't have shallots but do have Green onions in the fridge....or Gawd forbid fat-free milk when the recipe calls for whole milk. Other just go hawg-crazy and substitute/make-up as they go along ( I'm sort of in this class)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      you win some.....you lose some.......some get rained out...the main thing is to try, learn as you do, and try and modify/better as you go along........you get it right.....WRITE it down! Then you can duplicate it......although many of us continue to play around

                                                                                                                                                                                                      It's a journey.it's fun....keep thinking that way. no one "skill" is needed...you'll pick them up as you go along and/or see/ask/watch

                                                                                                                                                                                                      By now you must be overwhelmed with all the well meaning "advice" Even if your meat turns out into shoe leather..........like the other Ad says.................."Just do it"

                                                                                                                                                                                                      A particular recipe you wanna try.....ask about that. Otherwise.enjoy

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. I just saw an article on Lifehacker.com, "5 Kitchen Skills That Will make Your Life Easier". http://lifehacker.com/5985216/the-fiv...

                                                                                                                                                                                                        It was, basically, the following:

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Learn how to cook pasta
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Learn how to cook garlic
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Learn how to chop an onion
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Learn how to make a salad dressing from scratch
                                                                                                                                                                                                        Develop 2 signature dishes you can serve to guests.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Those sound like a decent start especially if you include mayo based dressings to the salad dressing step. I'm not talking about making your own mayo. I'm talking about adding things to mayo to make a salad dressing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Hey there, fellow newbie as well and it helped me to pick a few recipes of foods that I've had at restaurants and really like. I had some success and it felt really good to replicate a dish I usually order when I'm out.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          Curious to see how things are going on your end? What helped you? What were your biggest challenges in learning over the past few months?

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. IMO the number one most important skill to have in any kitchen. At home or professionally is...............time management.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            People who can organize their time efficiently in any endeavour........from NHL hockey players who must 'manage' their time by the split second to cooks making chinese food and must have their ingredients/ducks in a row at all times are the winners.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ever watch a frantic soccer mom come skidding into the parking lot? Always 15 minutes late.....for everything?
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Always frantic. Always behind schedule. Time management.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ever watch GR scream at cooks who are always in the weeds?
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Time management.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Ever watch the couple relaxing in the stands enjoying a hot dog and drink and a relaxing chat with friends? They managed their time so they could get the kid to the field so the kid had enough time to relax and change and listen to her coach.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Time management.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Do not bite off more than you can chew in your kitchen.
                                                                                                                                                                                                            Give yourself extra time to do everything and you'll be half way there.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Speaking of time management, I question your use of time to post such a universal statement. No doubt about it, time management is very useful in everything. You could make this same post on every forum in the world no matter what they are discussing. Good luck on that.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              You could also post that a very important aspect in learning to cook is breathing.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think you can learn to cook even if you are as scatter brained as Archie Bunkers wife, Edith.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Granted it will take longer for Edith and she would make more mistakes and even repeat a lot of mistakes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm sorry to be combative but I don't see the usefulness in your post.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Actually, I'm on the Puffin side.....I've seen and had to endure too many so/so meals that could have been great if ppl planned. Mise en place was for a very specific reason...Make sure your stuff is cut up ahead of time, you know where the spices are, and have the pots/pans.plates etc out well ahead of time makes for a much more relaxing and often better meal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Had too many burgers that were charred remains while folks searched for the rolls to toast.....or brittle cold cakes until all the onions, tomatoes, etc were sliced.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. i think knife skills are very important.
                                                                                                                                                                                                              also, when you attempt a recipe, i suggest you cook what you know. perfect what you like to eat. go to restaurants and eat variations of what you want to cook. don't try anything cold turkey.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. Definitely need to know how to pick out a good cut of meat from your grocer or butcher first. That is half the battle! For example a chuck roast should have lots of marbeling (fat) to make sure it has a lot of flavor when roasting. also a lower oven 350 degrees depending on the size 2 to 3 hours. add beef broth, chopped onion, salt, pepper and a sprig of Rosemary. When you can cut it with a fork you know you did well!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Get your self a really accurate egg timer.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: law_doc89

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    really? I've never owned one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (that's not being a smartass -- I don't know that I've ever known anyone who relied on an egg time)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: sunshine842

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I use the timer on my microwave as my main kitchen timer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: jbsiegel

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I have the microwave, the timer on the oven, the timer on my phone, and a digital timer.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Can't imagine what I'd do with an egg timer!