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Update on my cooking progress

Thanks so everyone who gave me so many good suggestions on how to begin cooking. I'm learning so much for all of you and I truly appreciate it.

Here's what I've been up to: I've been doing a lot of pasta dishes primarily. I'm planning on moving to meats (which is my true scary area) this weekend. So far I've made: pasta w lemon and parmesan, fettucine w asparagus and salmon, pot roast, croque monsieurs, spaghetti carbonara (again), a warm swiss chard salad, pasta with gorgonzola sauce, arugula and tomatoes.

My biggest issue thus far has been the timing of food and trying to figure out the sometimes fine line between undercooked and overcooked. Our broiler cooked a lot faster than I expected. I feel like I'm burning and overcooking a lot, but I'm always so nervous to undercook anything.

This weekend I'm going to try Ina Garten's macaroni and cheese recipe with tomatoes on top. I'm also going to branch out into meats with a chicken milanese. Does anyone have any recommendations for good vegetables and sides for the chicken milanese?

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  1. Traditional Milanese is served with a salad on top. You could go that route. Just a simply dressed arugula with lemon and good extra virgin olive oil tossed with some grated parm reggiano would be fine. Or sauteed broccoli rabe with garlic and red pepper flakes. Heres a good recipe:

    Congrats on your progress!

    4 Replies
    1. re: ttoommyy

      That sounds great! I was going to top it with arugula and tomatoes. My husband is also requesting some kind of grain or carb. What kind of potatos would go with it?

      1. re: kdlalib

        I make this probably once a week. Soooo easy and sooooo good!


          1. re: ttoommyy

            i loooooove olive oil mashed potatoes. good if the potatoes are left with somewhat chunky pieces in with the mashed. it always tastes like an elegant, simple dish.

      2. How about roasted vegetables? You can even do radishes and watch them transform!
        Or a slaw?

        6 Replies
        1. re: pinehurst

          I do have to try roasted vegetables. I haven't cooked that. I haven't roasted anything yet. It must be the next thing I check off my list.

          1. re: kdlalib

            My newest roasted veggie love is green beans. I toss fresh green beans in olive oil, sea salt and pepper then put in the oven at 425 for about 10-15 minutes, or until they begin to brown on the bottom. I could eat the whole pan. My hubby (Mr. Anti-Veggie) now loves roasted carrots tossed in a little melted butter, brown sugar and salt & pepper.

            1. re: mrsfury

              Yes! They're almost like french fries this way. So addictive.

            2. re: kdlalib

              I like roasted asparagus with a sprinkle of balsamic and some olive oil.

              1. re: Ruthie789

                +1 eat it up like candy. I have a few favorite variations of roasted asparagus - simple salt and pepper +/- garlic, Old Bay, sprinkle of balsamic or Parmesan or blue cheese. I have to admit though that the simple salt and pepper is a favorite. The roasted vegetables have so much flavor on their own. I also enjoy roasted mushrooms as well.

              2. re: kdlalib

                Try roasted cauliflower with pasta. Break the cauliflower into small pieces, toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and a little red pepper flakes (personal preference) and roast at 450 for about 15 minutes (basically until it's as done as you want it to be...i like it nice and brown, the taste is amazing), then toss with cooked pasta, adding a little pasta water and some grated pecorno (or parmiggiano, whatever you like). Plenty of black pepper on top. Perfect!

            3. Rice or pasta are both good choices. Since you seem to have pasta down good, try this: http://foodforthoughtblog.wordpress.c...

              But any good greens or a nice salad would be a great compliment. Good luck

              1 Reply
              1. Good for you! Keep going!


                1 Reply
                1. I'm curious. What did you use the broiler for? I use my oven for very high heat cooking but have never used my broiler IIRC.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: c oliver

                    The Joy of Cooking told me to use my broiler for the Croque Monsieurs.

                      1. re: kdlalib

                        is the broiler to brown the bread? I find a small lid on top of the sandwich sufficient to get a nice crust on the bread. Not a heavy lid which might squish the sandwich but even a light lid improves the browning. You could try that and if not satisfactory pop them under the broiler to brown.

                        1. re: ChrisOfStumptown

                          I think it's to brown the bread and melt the gruyere.

                          1. re: kdlalib

                            Better to do Croque Monsieurs in a frying pan on medium heat, weighing the sandwich down. Nice buttery crispness to the crust.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              The traditional croque Monsieur is a ham, cheese and cheesy bechamel sandwich. You use the bechamel inside sandwich as you would mayo then you top off the sandwich with more bechamel and grated gruyere. Then you broil it. Daniel bouloud makes a delicious one where he weighs the sandwich down overnight. Chad Robertson at tartine makes a killer open faced oneas does the barefoot contessa. It is by far my favorite sandwich but without the bechamel it is just a grilled cheese with ham!

                    1. Sounds like you're doing great! Ina Garten's mac and cheese is one of the first "fancy" recipes I ever made :)

                      Remember with under cooking, you can always put it back in the oven, on the stove, or even the microwave to get it right, but you can't undo something that's overcooked. For stuff like pasta, take a little bit out, blow on it to cool it off, and taste it to decide if it's done to your liking. And, my broiler gives me trouble too... completely obliterated the marshmallows on the sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving... in less than 2 minutes!

                      22 Replies
                      1. re: juliejulez

                        Re pasta tasting/testing, I use my toast tongs!

                        1. re: juliejulez

                          Oh and for your potatoes, this is my go-to recipe for roasted ones... in fact I just put them in the oven :) I often add in fresh chopped up herbs when you add the oil, tonight I'm using rosemary. I also skip the bowl part, I just put the potatoes back in the cooking pot after draining, one less thing to wash. http://www.thekitchn.com/side-dish-re...

                          If you haven't already, thekitchn.com is a great blog to read, especially their "how-to" posts.

                          1. re: juliejulez

                            jj, those potatoes sound fantastic! i've parboiled for fried potatoes, never thought of it for roasted. thanks for the link.

                            ETA, i'm finding lots of great ideas on that blog, thanks again!

                            1. re: mariacarmen

                              You're welcome, I love TheKitchn, it was probably the first blog I started reading when I first started learning to cook. They have a good balance of easy recipes and more complicated ones and lots of how-tos.

                            2. re: juliejulez

                              I've been on a vegetable roasting binge for some months now. Last night I had one good sized Yukon gold that I cut in maybe 3/4" chunks, same for two small gold beets, some chopped red onion. S&P, fennel seed (any and all herbs and spices are great here), a clove of sliced garlic and tossed with a goodly amount of oo. Note: I didn't precook anything. In a CI skillet, covered with foil, into a 425 oven. After 25 minutes, I uncovered, stir and cook another 20 minutes. I fix some version of this a couple of times a week. I was surprised that precooking is totally unnecessary. Sometimes at the end, I'll add in some roughly chopped kale and recover the skillet.

                            3. re: juliejulez

                              I have to keep that in mind. Pasta I can cook fine, but anything in the oven, I have a tendency to overcook.

                              1. re: kdlalib

                                Definitely get a meat thermometer, it will become your new best friend. You don't have to use it just for meat either.

                                1. re: juliejulez

                                  I sincerely think my meat thermometer is my most valuable kitchen 'tool.'

                                  1. re: juliejulez

                                    Just bought one! It's a cheap instant read from Food Network. I kinda wish I had gone for a thermapen or thermoworks.

                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                      The cheap one will be fine, mine cost $10 from Target and it works great!

                                      1. re: kdlalib

                                        Meat thermometers and instant read thermometers are 2 different things. Which are we discussing here? I can live without a meat thermometer, but an instant read thermometer is a must have.

                                        1. re: ttoommyy

                                          My "meat thermometer" is instant read. What's the diff please?

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            A meat thermometer is a big old thing that you stick in a roast from the beginning of cooking until it is done and stays in the meat in the oven. The temperature slowly goes up as the roast cooks. An instant read thermometer is used to test the temp of something...instantly... and can be used to take the temp of other foods and liquids as well. :)

                                            1. re: ttoommyy

                                              Thanks. It's been so many years since I've even seen the former, I totally forgot about it. I'm trying to remember if I've ever used mine for anything other than meat. Can't think of anything.

                                          2. re: ttoommyy

                                            I meant the instant read variety, and that appears to be the kind that kdlalib purchased.

                                            1. re: juliejulez

                                              I thought you may have. Because you really can't use the other kind for much else. I LOVE my instant read thermometer.

                                        2. re: juliejulez

                                          Absolutely agree - an instant-read thermometer is a MUST HAVE. You can take the roasting meat out about 5-10° before it's supposed to be done, and while it rests, it continues to cook and reabsorbs the juices, so it's perfectly done and moist when you cut into it.

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            I never realized how useful it would be. I use it for many things other than meat as well or even meat dishes not the size of a roast and love it. So handy, set it and forget it as some informercial I can't remember right now shouts.

                                          2. re: juliejulez

                                            I can never get the thermometer to work. I just made a steak on the bbq and it said it was 165 degrees. Waaayy over done. But in actuality it was perfectly medium rare. This happens ALL THE TIME. Found out neither of these can be left in the meat permanently on a BBQ which gets way too hot and will break the units. So I really do need the instant in "instant."
                                            I have a probe- the kind on a wire, and a simple stick one with a digital display on top.
                                            Both work fine for other things like making ice cream or even taking the temperature of my dishwasher I just wish I could figure out how to take the temperature of meat.

                                            1. re: blackpippi

                                              This is the one I have and it works great: http://www.target.com/p/compact-insta...

                                              You can't leave it in the meat, you just stick it in, take the temp, then pull it out.

                                              1. re: juliejulez

                                                And mine is non-digital. Takes about 5-10 seconds after you stick it in to show the internal temp.


                                      2. Cooks illustrated has the best brussels sprouts recipe. Here's the recipe. I was a huge fan of Ina Garten's recipe until I found this one.
                                        I just use a 2 lb bag from Costco.
                                        I use a mini food chopper for garlic and Parmesan.
                                        I do find their instructions for garlic oil to be a fright. Hot oil and garlic =burned garlic. I cook it over lowish heat and watch it like a hawk.


                                        1 Reply
                                        1. Congrats on the diversity I am a *seasoned* cook (no pun intended) and I have yet to summon up the nerve to attempt spaghetti carbonara. Just might try it next week end.

                                          22 Replies
                                          1. re: Lillipop

                                            Nerve???? Ya kiddin' me? It's my favesie last minute recipe>


                                            I use bacon instead of pancetta.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              I used Marcella Hazan’s Carbonara Recipe Saturday night. It really is easy. I also used bacon since I couldn't find pancetta anywhere! It was soooooo good!

                                              1. re: boyzoma

                                                I actually freeze bacon in three or four slice portions so it can be a last minute meal. We travel a good bit and it's nice to be able to put together something really good with so little effort. I especially like the browning of the garlic in the oil rather than slicing or chopping it into the actual sauce.

                                                1. re: boyzoma

                                                  Deli counter usually has pancetta. I ask for it in one piece if I want to cube it.

                                                  1. re: melpy

                                                    melpy: I've asked at the deli counter. None! Very disappointing. I've even called around to several different stores near me and no luck. How dumb is that!

                                                    c oliver: I do the same thing with my bacon. Some packs get 4 slices, some get 8. I usually try to buy in bulk and then use my foodsaver to break it down. So handy. And I hear you on the garlic. I have a lot of whole garlic cloves in the freezer and I use my microplane on them. The garlic just melts right in!

                                                2. re: c oliver

                                                  Has anyone tried spaghetti carbonara with dry white wine? It's an option in the recipe I used, but I haven't tried it because I never have any. Does it really add to the dish?

                                                  1. re: kdlalib

                                                    I do use a little white wine. Gives it a great flavor and yes, it does add to the dish.

                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                      Here's Marcella Hazan's recipe for carbonara and it DOES hae white wine in it. This is one of my fave dishes and so quick and easy.


                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                        I'll definitely try the white wine next time. I'm clueless about wine. What is considered a "dry" white wine?

                                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                                          Most wines are dry white wines... chardonnay, pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, viognier etc. The ones you want to stay away from are dessert/sweet wines... riesling, moscato, sauternes, gewurztraminer (unless the recipe calls for one of these in particular). I usually just have a less expensive (under $10) bottle of chardonnay on hand. I've also found I can sub in vermouth for white wine if I only need a little bit and don't want to open an entire bottle of wine (I don't drink much wine anymore). Vermouth keeps longer. I did it last week for a chicken dish that only needed a tablespoon of white wine.

                                                          One thing I also do sometimes if I have half a bottle or so left and know I won't be able to drink it in the next day or two, is I pour it in an ice cube tray and freeze it. The ice cubes are 2tbsp each so they're perfect for using with cooking, and they defrost very quickly since they never get totally frozen solid.

                                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                                            That's such a great tip! I'm definitely going to try that. Thanks!!

                                                            1. re: juliejulez

                                                              I was reading about how boxed wine has gotten so much better than in the past, so I bought a cab, merlot, and chardonnay of the Black Box brand.
                                                              Totally not something I would drink! Not rancid or anything, but lacking in any kind of depth or character.
                                                              But now I have cooking wines which honestly they are perfect for. They keep forever, they're always at room temperature, and they're cheap.

                                                      2. re: Lillipop

                                                        Me too, I got really pumped up to try it last weekend but backed away in fear and went with Fra Diavolo instead. I hear it's pretty simple so I probably just need to bite the bullet. Also, SO often argues against is as he says "there's nothing in it, could it possibly have much flavor" but given that people over centuries have probably enjoyed the dish I imagine he's wrong.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          It's so easy, you should definitely try it. Easy enough for a weeknight even.

                                                          1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                            As I said above, this is a snap. Maybe the easiest thing I cook. What about it makes you back away in fear?

                                                            ETA: Let's see. Off the top of my head, her Carbonara recipe has pancetta/bacon, olive oil, garlic, egg, one or two cheeses and parsley. Six ingredients. What doea a steak have? Sounds like SO needs to educate himself before piping up :)

                                                            1. re: c oliver

                                                              I think it's the idea of scrambled/curdled eggs. Don't worry, his "opinions" are often ignored...he has many random assertions :)

                                                              1. re: fldhkybnva


                                                                If the result includes "scrambled/curdled eggs" then it's been cooked incorrectly. Here's a whole bunch of Google Images:


                                                                The beaten eggs are mixed with the cheeses, then the drained pasta is added and finally the heated oil, wine, pancetta mixture and all quickly tossed. There are NO bits of egg. It's just a wonderful coating for the pasta. And I have NOW made myself hunger for it. Thanks a lot :)

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  Well, yes that's my point. I know that the goal is to not scrambled the eggs, so the fear which has prevented me from approaching carbonara is the inappropriate result of scrambled/curdled eggs but I'm willing to give it a shot. Also I'm not the biggest egg fan so I worried if I'd dislike it because of an eggy taste but from what I've heard they don't seem to make it too eggy.

                                                                  Yea, I too could go for some bacon and parmesan right now

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    From the very first time I made it til now (dozens of times certainly) I've never had that icky result. No reason to think you will. If you were to add the hot oil before the pasta, then I could see it. But you've already mixed with the cheese and then the pasta. IMO, it would be a stretch to have the unwanted result. And once you do it, it's going to stay in your repertoire probably forever. As far as an eggy taste, I think it's more the (unpopular word) mouthfeel. The taste to me is all the other ingredients. And the parsley really does make a diff. Yes, I've made it without when I didn't have it on hand, but it's better with. That other word - brightness.

                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                      Yes, fresh parsley vs dried makes a huge difference. I am excited to give it a try at home. I can't remember exactly but I'm pretty sure I had a few plates of carbonara in Italy and loved them but my memory fails me. Quick, tasty dinners are always welcome.

                                                        2. Wow, you are making wonderful dishes!

                                                          As stated by others, a meat thermometer is essential. I also wanted to mention a book that i learned of here at Chowhound : "Timing is Everything".


                                                          Actually, I bought it after reading about it here but put it away and forgot about it. Thanks to you, it will be added to the current reading pile this week. :)
                                                          Check out the reviews and note that there are inexpensive used copies available.

                                                          Congratulations on your most impressive cooking progress!

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: bonoeuf

                                                            That's exactly what I need. Thanks so much for the recommendation!

                                                            1. re: bonoeuf

                                                              The meat thermometer as well as an in-oven thermometer with the out of oven display are key for me.

                                                            2. So, I changed my game plan from Ina Garten's Mac n' Cheese with tomatoes to her lobster Mac n' Cheese at my husband's request. It was DELICIOUS!!!! Everytime I make a Barefoot Contessa recipe, it comes out well and super yummy. And I'm FINALLY using my food processor I got for my birthday a few years ago. I never realized you could grate cheese in it. Silly me. That saves sooooo much time.

                                                              ETA: Tomorrow is Chicken Milanese with arugula, roasted cherry tomatoes and garlic roast potatos on the side. It'll be my first chicken dish.

                                                              10 Replies
                                                              1. re: kdlalib

                                                                That sounds delicious! Both, actually. Good luck with the milanese!

                                                                1. re: kdlalib

                                                                  You are really rolling along and becoming a kitchen goddess!

                                                                  1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                    Hahaha! Thank you! I do feel like I've made a lot of progress in 2 months. I still have a long way to go, especially when it comes to cooking meat. However, I've really enjoyed the process. It's very stress relieving.

                                                                    1. re: kdlalib

                                                                      I love to cook and try to channel that kitchen goddess as much as possible. Don't worry about the meat, it will come. Why don't you cook a meatloaf? Get some ground beef (not extra-lean) add the flavorings you want an egg, breadcrumbs, poultry seasoning and form into a loaf and into the oven. Don't overwork the meat. Put into oven at 350 cook away until done...

                                                                      1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                        That does sound a lot easier than cooking meat in a pan.

                                                                        1. re: kdlalib

                                                                          It definitely is, and it makes for yummy leftovers too. I do one w/ ground turkey and top w/ bacon and bbq sauce and my SO goes nuts for it.

                                                                          1. re: kdlalib

                                                                            It is and you don't have to worry about rare, medium, well done. It is my son's favorite meal.

                                                                            1. re: kdlalib

                                                                              As well you might try to cook some cutlets, chicken cutlets or veal or pork, they are fried in a couple of tablespoons of oil and are fully cooked. Chicken cutlets are great to have, economical if chicken is on sale and can be transformed to chicken parmesan for example.

                                                                              1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                I love chicken cutlets. Now I just have to practice cooking them.

                                                                                1. re: kdlalib

                                                                                  Very easy and can be economical if you get chicken breasts on sale. One chicken breast cut into cutlets can go a long way.

                                                                    2. Everything sound delicious! The best thing I can say about timing is just sample, sample, sample. Poke, prod, and sample it. Eventually you will really get the hang of knowing when something is done, and also how long it will take you to, say, whip together a quick sauce while the pasta is cooking. When I first started making breaded and fried chicken cutlets, I ALWAYS had to make a little cut in it to see if it was finished cooking, but now I can just tell by looking at it. You'll get there!