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Learning how to cook

I'm still basically learning to cook. I thought maybe you all could answer a couple questions.

I used a new cast iron Lodge griddle for the first time tonight to make hamburgers. I put down some vegetable oil on the surface when the griddle was heated - Is it normal that the oil smoked a bit? The hamburgers came out really good. When I was done, I let the griddle cool down and cleaned it off with some water and a paper towel I noticed that a brownish substance came off on the paper towel when I was drying it. What is that? I then put vegetable oil on it and heated it up a bit again till it smoked so I can store it till next use.

I also made some hummus. One of the ingrediants is tahini (sesame seed oil). It was hard to measure out the portion of it because it's kind of like natural peanut butter with the oil on top, but harder to mix together. Is there any easy way to work with tahini? Unfortunately, the grocery store only had a huge $7. container of it - I would have preferred to purchase a smaller container. I put the lid on the can when I was done and threw it in an air-tight plastic bag and put it in the refrigerator till next time. I really wasn't thrilled with working with tahini.

I've bought a couple of cook books to try to learn more. Believe it or not, the one I've used the most is the William Sonoma Kids cooking book. I bought another kids book by Paula Deen that I took a couple of things from and I bought that huge book "How to Cook Everything" by Bittman - it seems a bit intimidating - it's a huge book with little hand-drawn pictures in it. I also picked up the book "One Dish at a Time" by Valarie Bertinelli which looks interesting. Aside from that, I've taken recipes from allrecipes.com and tried a couple recipes that relatives have given me.

Thanks for reading my post, and if any of you have answers and advice, I'm always trying to learn.

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  1. Take the How to Cook book and read it. Not just the recipes, really read the text, the side notes, and substitutions he suggests. His book (s) taught me not just to follow a recipe but how to also start making one my own.

    And like they say, practice, practice, practice :)

    The tahini just needs some elbow grease to mix together. Its good that it seperates since that means its all natural. Tons of uses for tahini too- great added to chinese style noodles and stirfries, thinned in a salad dressing, or drizzled on roasted veggies

    1 Reply
    1. re: Ttrockwood

      Ttrock has good words - Bittman writes big tomes, but remember you don't have to read it like a novel, there's no continuous narrative, consider the topic/area you're interested in and hit the index (but do take a few moments to hit the sidebars). tahini? yeah just shove a knife into it and stir before using each time - peril of the ingredient.

      a little smoke is ok when frying, and there are TONS of threads and opinions on treating/seasoning cast-iron here on CH.

    2. Treat tahini like you would natural peanut butter. Close the lid tightly and turn it upside down, the oil with work it's way to the "top" and make it much easier to stir. Putting it in the fridge will make it extremely difficult to deal with.

      1. It sounds like your cast iron griddle needs to be seasoned before using. I think you heated your pan too high and the oil reached the smoking point. Next time try heating your pan on a moderate temperature before adding the oil. Increase your temperature once the pan has sufficient time to heat, add oil at last minute and start the frying. It takes some practise to heating oils and butter to prevent from reaching the smoking point.

        1. the brown in the bottom of your skillet was the little bits of burger that stuck a little to your skillet.

          Completely normal -- and when you work your way up to roasts and things, completely desirable, as it adds tons of flavor to your dish. Emeril Lagasse called it "the love" -- the French call it the "fond" (the base) -- it's good stuff. With burgers, though, it's just browned stuff.

          1. A little smoke is a good thing. It means you took the pan up to the highest temperature your oil could tolerate then you added cold hamburger patties that immediately cooled the pan to just under your oils smoke point.

            I don't recommend huge tomes like Bittman's for the first cookbook because it is so intimidating. You look at a 5 pound cookbook and say... "oh never mind!"

            Here are 6 cookbooks that are excellent for the beginner. Check them out at a bookstore . Discover your favorite 1 or 2 and then buy them used online f r $2 - 3 each.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Hank Hanover

              Hank! Did you forget to include the list of 6 cookbooks?

              ~TDQ

            2. One good book for the novice cook is entitled "How To Cook Without A Book by Pam Anderson (not of Baywatch), a culinary consultant and cookbook author. There are several variations on a theme for a given recipe.

              1. The good thing about Bittman's book is that it's organized by category.
                Want to make rice? Flip to the grains section and look at rice recipes.

                What do you like to cook?
                What do you like to eat?
                Are you feeding yourself or a group?
                How much time to do have? (To shop, prep, cook, clean up)
                Thinking about these things before you stay really makes a difference. (That way you don't end up with Mac n cheese for 12 when you're 2)

                With regard to the tahini-
                If its in a metal can, pour it into a plastic container or glass jar and refrigerate.
                Like others said, it just has to be stirred before you use it. Helps to bring it to room temperature

                1. Cast iron gets better the more often it is used. It takes time. As stated above, there are numerous threads about seasoning CI.

                  Great job on the cook books. While we all have our favorites, it is what you find comfortable that matters in your kitchen. I would only advise that you start out simple and work your way up. Having mastered the burger on cast iron, you are doing much better than some I know of.

                  Have fun on your journey of exploration. After 45 plus years, I am still learning. And enjoying it.

                  1. When I was first learning to cook, I found a book in a used bookstore called "Dads own cookbook". I'm sure you can find it on Amazon. It helped me with so many things, I highly recommend it! The brown on your skillet was probably just the darkened oil- or drippings from your hamburgers. Was your cast iron griddle pre-seasoned? If not, you will want to season it (just you tube that). And yeah...I am not a fan of tahini. I love hummus, but found that making it yourself is neither better nor more economical than just buying it. An impressive alternative to making hummus is making a white bean puree with sun-dried tomatoes, herbs, and truffle oil.