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At the end of my rope -- please help

Dearest Chowhounders,

I have often referenced this discussion for cooking assistance, but I finally decided to join and ask for help after my nth failure in the kitchen last night. I am at the end of my rope.

Let me preface this by saying that I grew up under a single mother working outside of the home full time. Dinner preparation was a drive-through. Gourmet was brand name jar sauce over angel hair pasta steeped in water so long the pasta fell apart. Every day we ate Taco Bell or McDonalds, or, after a tax refund, shit on a shingle. My mother, panicking to check for doneness, would cut into a pork chop so many times that it dried out in the five minutes it was in the skillet. I grew up on tofu masquerading as meat and meat burnt to charcoal.

Thankfully I was introduced to good food in college after forming friendships with professors. Their dinner parties revealed that they were part time master chefs, I guess made possible by their research agendas abroad. This is how I met my husband who was no different. After many year-long stays in the foodie giants, nations with deep and ancient cultures, he too became a phenomenal cook with a very sophisticated palate. And when we got engaged, I knew I was in trouble. So I hit the books and websites and have been in the kitchen ever since, nearly three years now, and still I plate horrible food five times a week, feeling that I have learned nothing.

I started at the bottom with Rachel Ray and quickly moved on to other network stars: Flay, Garten, Giada. When they proved inconsistent, I took a giant leap to Gordon Ramsay and more adventurous, niche cookbooks but quickly fell back to FineCooking and LeitesCulinaria. Recently I returned to the classics: Mastering French Cooking, Marcella Hazan's collections, and Test Kitchen, and still I disappoint nearly every night at 6pm. We have on average two decent meals a week, my pan seared rib eye steak with lemon pecorino risotto and herbs de Provence chicken with hollandaise and roasted carrots, two dishes I have perfected through trial and error for well over a year. You might think that someone who could cook those things would be a great cook, but last night I made the worst meal, and I cried at the table. I made Julia Child's hamburger with red wine pan sauce and French bistro salad. Both were awful. The tasteless burgers fell apart in the skillet, and the vinaigrette was so potently overpowering that one bite sent it to the garbage pale. My husband, in his admirable charity, never complains, only encourages. But I know I fail him when he gets in the fridge after dinner, eating the cured meets I stock as a back-up plan to my cooking, even though he tries to hide it from me to save my feelings.

I married a king whom I love and adore, and all I want is to serve him good, simple food. I dropped all of my hobbies to be a great cook for him, but I still cannot make an edible hamburger. I want to live out those feast films together, and I want the dinner table to be the hearth of our family. I have the patience and the will to learn and will try anything. I enjoy being in the kitchen. I make time even with a colicky newborn. I keep going, despite my countless failures, despite the tone of hopelessness in this post. Please help me. Any suggestions on consistent cookbooks or chefs, any tips on spotting a bad recipe will help me so very much. Anything at all. Please help.

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  1. I find when I try TOO hard, I usually fail. Are you making things YOU like to eat? Do you ever cook WITH your husband? Mine only knew two things when I met him, his uncle taught him how to make great grilled cheese, and great frittatas. I sort of started there myself. Then you'll learn as you go along, as with all things.

    But you've got to get your mojo going first! Find a couple of easy things that you can do very well, besides your two proven ones, rather than fancy cookbook recipes. Hamburger is a good place to start, tell us how you are doing it right now. Recipes should be guides, they are not always written in stone......

    4 Replies
    1. re: coll

      Yes! As I stated in my other post, I tried way too hard last night. I was also in a hurry because my young children need to eat by 6:30.

      1. re: rudeboy

        Fellow parent of young children here - we frequently have separate meals - I feed the kids early and then we eat late. It takes some of the rush off.

      2. re: coll

        When you're feeling bummed finding a place where you can see success can be so important. If you can make one good risotto - then why not try another risotto recipe? You make a good hollandaise - find another recipe that uses a hollandaise. Lots of people can't make a decent risotto or hollandaise. The fact that you can do those well should be items to feel good about.

        I think another thing to keep in mind that if you're cooking ~5 meals a week and trying lots of new recipes, then having a dubious success rate isn't really that bad. New recipes can require repetition and at times tweaking to get right.

        I would also avoid cook books specifically for the moment and instead focus on food websites that have recipes where people comment heavily on recipes. I really like Food52, and the most popular recipes often will have lots of comments - either asking for verification on a confusing step or tested modifications. This can also be helpful in just searching something like 'hollandaise' or 'risotto' and getting loads of recipes that can potentially help push your boundaries while still utilizing what you're good at.

        Basically, set yourself up for some slam dunks and understand that trying lots of new recipes with many new techniques will increase the difficulty level. You're not necessarily failing because you're a bad cook, but because the difficulty level has been placed really high.

      3. Nothing beats learning techniques first and meals second. Stop trying to be fancy and trying to impress and just learn the basics first. A simple, well executed meal outshines a fancy failure any day. Also, learn about the ingredients (tasteless burgers that fall apart= fat content too low.)

        1 Reply
        1. re: weezieduzzit

          This. Start with the basics. Master them. Then and only then venture into more complex stuff.

          Consider taking a beginners cooking course. If you have someone there, teaching you and guiding you every step of the way, you might just have an easier time of learning things.

        2. First of all, take it easier on yourself. Some dishes just fail. That's ok. It's a failed dish, not a failure of you as a human being or even as a cook.

          My suggestion to you is to go simple. Really good food doesn't have to be fancy or hard. Pick something you enjoy making and enjoy eating and play with it. Stay away from recipes. Even the classics, including Julia Child.

          Maybe it's chicken breasts that you season simply with salt and pepper and then saute (with or without a little flour coating) in some olive oil or butter. Get a little color on it. Add things as they appeal to you. Some fresh mushrooms. Or tomatoes. A splash of white wine. A squeeze of lemon juice. Maybe some capers.

          Serve with a little white rice cooked in broth and simple steamed broccoli.

          Keep it simple. Get comfortable with what you are doing, then branch out a little. Use pasta instead of rice; spinach instead of broccoli.

          Don't try to make every meal gourmet or restaurant quality.

          Nothing wrong with a little linguine with a simple white clam sauce. It only a takes a few minutes. Saute a little garlic in olive oil (don't let it get brown). Add chopped parsley and thyme or rosemary. Dried is fine. Add a few tablespoons of flour and let it cook for a minute or two, then add the drained juice from your can of clams (whole or chopped). Let it thicken up. Add the clams at the last minute when you linguine is cooked.

          Oh, and the best advice I ever got about salads from a friend was to make dressing 3 parts oil (and/or mayo) to 1 part acid (vinegar or lemon juice). It's never failed me and I rarely buy salad dressings

          It's the technique that you will gain in practice that you can apply later to the fancier stuff.

          Good luck.

          1. I would encourage you to take a cooking class or invite a good cook (friend) over and make hamburgers or something simple.

            I say this because of your statement about not being to make an "edible hamburger". At it's most tasty basic, a hamburger is quality ground beef, salt, pepper, pan fry until done to your liking. If you are having a hard time with that, then maybe someone cooking *with* you can point out your errors. I suspect you cannot see your errors occurring -so you continue to make the same mistakes with a variety of recipes. It is not the recipe :(

            Learn with someone to fry, sauté, taste and make basic adjustments (like adding a little water to a vinaigrette that is too strong) instead of throwing it all away. Once you have the basics, your recipes will work....it sounds like you are choosing decent recipes from vetted cooks.

            3 Replies
              1. re: LaLa

                Me too, and it's really FUN this way!

              2. re: sedimental

                Yes, a class is what you need. You could be interpreting the recipes incorrectly if you don't know the correct techniques. Take a basic cooking class at a local adult education facility. Once you've mastered the basics branch out and try something more challenging that interests you.

              3. I wonder about your burger last night. Looking at the recipe, I see it calls for lfinely minced onion. I know back in the day when my family put onion in burger (I don't anymore) they were nowhere *near* finely minced; and yes, those burgers had a tendency to fall apart.

                Have you taken a knife skills class? That certainly might help. I also wonder how often you are being interrupted while cooking. Having a colicky baby is something outside of my experience, but even experienced, confident home cooks can have their kitchen efforts thrown off when interrupted.

                I think coll has a good idea about cooking with your husband. There is no substitute for learning things one-on-one.

                Having flown through the cooking stratosphere and then wound up in tears at your own dinner table, you might want to consider falling back to regroup. Go back to basics, and climb up again gradually. I offer this link in all kindness; it has basic, step-by-step instructions, recipes, and videos illustrating the how's and whys.

                Glad you joined us; you can learn a lot here. Good luck.

                1. I agree with the other posters. Keep it simple. If your husband is a phenomenal cook, watch him when he cooks. And stick to the basics. Fresh, multi-ingredient simply dressed salads can be topped with a fried egg, sliced chicken, meats, olives. Simple roast chicken is a lovely meal. Eggplant parmigiana is a thing of beauty. I'd eat frittata 24/7 if I could. Food doesn't have to be complicated---start with what you do well.

                  1. I second all of these suggestions. My only addition is--a cooking class doesn't have to be some fancy, drawn-out, expensive affair. Look to your local library and even your local hospital for community classes. They might focus on one thing--soups, for example--and be a one night only commitment for usually the cost of the food ($10-$15). Then master what you learn and take another class. If you have a Viking store in your area, that's another place to look for a cooking and/or knife skill class.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: gourmanda

                      The grocery stores in my area offer cooking lessons. Perhaps yours do too.

                    2. I love this post. I had an epic failure last night by trying to do too many things at once. Had the charcoal grill going and wanted to use the fire for a couple of night's meals. Everything turned out sub par to me, even though my wife said that everything was great. I had the grill stuffed with asparagus, chicken, ribeyes, and potatoes, all of which needed to be timed properly (I was trying to avoid dirtying pots and messing up the kitchen. Scorched one side of the chicken black. Everything was edible, but I would have been extremely embarrassed if I had served that to guests.

                      The point is, I was extremely bummed because, as is typical, I start thinking about what I'm going to do very early in the day and have excitingly high expectations.. Anyhow, what works best for me considering all of this is to focus on the winners and build upon that. When I make mistakes, I try to evaluate what went wrong. I should have boiled the potatoes early so I could man the grill continuously. Process, rather than recipes, works, as it has to come from within (for me). Maybe you would respond better to a CIA type book than given recipes.

                      Anyhow, if you have a colicky baby (or any baby), it's going to be tough just to keep your sanity. Then you go through a stage where you need to get dinner done quickly because of scheduling. Then there's the "dumbing down" of dinner that many parents have to go through based on their children's palate. It's a tough process. I had to learn how to meander my way through it.

                      1. You're getting good advice here. I'll add another thought. Let's use M. Hazan's recipes for instance cause I cook from her Essentials a good bit. I find if I follow her recipes EXACTLY they turn out fine. I have to wonder if almost everything you cook "sucks" if you're following recipes to a T. Many CHs don't but I do and I have few failures. In case you don't have it, here M. Hazan's pasta carbonara:


                        I give you permission :) to use bacon instead of pancetta. I do cause 1) I'm cheap and 2) I almost always have bacon on hand. But please don't change or omit anything else. If this doesn't turn out well, then I'm going to be completely confused. It is one of the most perfect things I cook and it's completely reproduceable.

                        The other thing is that there's no shame in turning the main cooking over to your husband. There are many CHs here who are male and are the cooks in the family. If you've given up your hobbies to do something that doesn't please you, then that's a shame and something you can change. Please report back.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: c oliver

                          c oliver - as usual, good advice from you. I'm in tune with your last paragraph. I do all the cooking because I can never stop thinking about it. I was considering to tell the OP to "just do something else." But it sounds like he or she can't stop thinking about it either. With all that thought and effort, there's a great cook in there.

                          1. re: rudeboy

                            And as usual, yours is an excellent point also that I hadn't considered.

                        2. Seriously, invest in some basic cooking classes. It will be the best thing you ever did. Basic cooking classes will focus on the very basics of cooking: knife skills, how to saute, roast, make stocks and soups, how to make basic starches like pasta and rice. All the essentials. Every big city has at least one cooking school for home cooks (not necessarily professional cooks/chefs). If you don't have one, see if you can hire a professional cook for a few private lessons. I'm a professional cook, and I've provided this service to my newlywed friends and any neighbors who ask as gifts.

                          To really great instructional books: Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything."

                          and: Pam Anderson's "How to Cook Without a Book."

                          Both of these teach you all the essential cooking skills while preparing simple, yet tasty and seemingly elegant, meals without all the high-end fancy work that require fancy skills that you cannot master until you've learned the basics.

                          Learning to cook well is easy, you just have to stop focusing on the fancy chefs and get down to the basics.

                          Good Luck.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: rokzane

                            +1 for mark bittman's book, his recipes list lots of substitutions as well as explain the idea and technique in straightforward language.

                            1. re: rokzane

                              I also strongly recommend Bittman's book. Don't try to do fancy, your family will appreciate good basic food that is done well. And don't beat up on yourself- it is HARD to get a good meal on the table every night, particularly when you have kids. You survived on not-great food, your family will survive your learning process.

                            2. Another thought: I find that if one season, flour and then pan fry a main item, sets it aside, tented, and then makes a gravy/sauce, returning the main item to the pan for finishing, all kinds of possibilities open. That's the single most important method that helped me.

                              I don't shy away from good quality prepared asian sauces, either.

                              1. Check out this wonderful thread which is compilation of everyone's favorite weeknight dinners from the COTM threads. I have it bookmarked and refer to it often at 4 pm when the 'what to cook tonight' panic sets in.


                                Lots of great ideas, links and comments to help you understand why people think these recipes are keepers.

                                Good luck to you and congrats on the baby!

                                1. There's no reason for anybody not to cook up a decent hamburger. The problem is clear. You are using the wrong cookbooks. Stay the hell away from Julia Child and classic cookbook authors like her. This is not any kind of a slight, it's just that they're not relevant for modern home cooks, and the recipes are incomplete and inapplicable - certainly for a novice cook. Get cookbooks by modern authors like Alton Brown and Michael Ruhlman. These people will teach you to cook, not just read a recipe. Get a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. Scour the internet for recipes. You should cross-reference and select tips from multiple sources.

                                  In my opinion, none of the other advice you've gotten here addresses the real issue, and may contribute to your feeling of failure and hopelessness (go to cooking school? come on). I can't hammer a nail into a wall, and I'm a perfectly good home cook, thanks to these authors. Authors like Julia Child are wonderful to read, but don't follow their recipes.

                                  Be a curious cook. Read a lot. That's the key to becoming good, IMHO.

                                  Finally, as others have said, heed the old adage: "Learn to fail, or fail to learn." Failure is an integral part of the learning process. Learn to laugh at yourself, and keep the phone number of your favorite take out place handy.

                                  26 Replies
                                  1. re: MarkC

                                    A very renowned former CH taught herself to cook using Child's The Way to Cook. But I agree that MTAoFC is confusing. I think Marcella Hazan is a perfect author for beginner to pro as she spells out EVERYTHING :) I wouldn't recommend a subscription to CI but their Best Recipes books are good. I think using the internet successfully takes some skill at cooking to start with. Being able to read a recipe and know that you'll like it and be able to prepare it well takes some experience.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      I have tried a few Hazan recipes because she's such a CH deity, despite the fact that when I read them, I was pretty sure they did not suit my tastes. There are no words to do justice to how much I loathed the results. So, a caveat to the OP is to start out with recipes you KNOW you will like because you've had the food, prepared according to the recipe, by your husband or someone else.

                                      I suspect the OP is having trouble with oven temperatures, preheating time/temps for pans, and is possibly using inappropriate pans. I second the advice that your husband watches you cook and provide unput.
                                      Hopefully it won't end in throwing pots and insults! It might also be a good investment, for the time being, to buy meats from a butcher shop rather than a supermarket. Tell the butcher what you want to make and take his advice as to the appropriate cuts and amounts.

                                      In general, take notes. A little spiral notebook, or post-it notes in your cookbooks, whatever. Whether things turn out well or badly, write down what you did, including any deviations in amounts or techniques. You may THINK you'll remember for the next time, but you won't. Trust me on that!

                                      I don't have cable so can't comment on most cooking shows but I think Martha Stewart's current PBS shows, Martha Bakes and Martha Stewart's Cooking School, are good for beginners. They have occasional oversights but nothing critical (e.g. she says to discard fat skimmed from stock, which most good cooks regard as gold for frying onions and potatoes). The Everyday Food show, presented by her staffers, was also practical and clearly-demonstrated. ANY Jacques Pepin program is excellent, as are his video technique demos.

                                      1. re: greygarious

                                        "You may THINK you'll remember for the next time, but you won't. Trust me on that!:"

                                        Damn straight - my worst meals were prepared trying to recreate my best ones with no notes.

                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                            This is so true! If I make a recipe I enjoy now, I immediately write it down, with my own technique instructions included and notes and put it in my "official recipe box." Recipes I want to try go in another binder. This is something that has helped me the most in my learning to cook.

                                            1. re: hheath9h

                                              I can't help playing around or subbing different things, even with tried and true recipes; if it comes out good/better it is so important to remember to jot down a note or two. Lately I'm been rewriting some of my recipe cards because there are so many "notes" on them that I could hardly read them anymore.

                                              1. re: coll

                                                I have become the same way. I'm not as adventurous as most of you on here though. When I was first starting I would really stick to the recipe the first time, make my notes then adjust each time after. Now I have learned my personal prefs and the tastes we like and can taste an adjust from there. That also taught me how to read a recipe and see if I think it would work.

                                                1. re: hheath9h

                                                  I think learning to "read" a recipe is a key element. And it just comes with experience, trial and error. I'm still a lightweight in comparison to many of you but I'm pretty good at that reading component.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    and to realize that they can be wrong, like in one edition of the Joy of Cooking, the recipe for simple pasta dough (yeah I know if one is adept it's all about feel) is completely wrong - something like a 1/4 cup of flour? I don't think so.

                                                    1. re: hill food

                                                      excellent point! I've found some recipes that are just totally off, and I normally trust the recipe rather than my gut. Getting better about that though. But dag, what a let down.

                                                    2. re: c oliver

                                                      And preparation of the ingredients beforehand helps to follow the recipe and speed the dish along.

                                                      1. re: Ruthie789

                                                        Yes, indeed. Halfway through cooking is not the time to realize you're ½ cup short on X, or don't have any Y. Unless you're really confident you'll find yourself reaching for a cookbook or Google (that's me!) looking for a substitute.

                                            2. re: greygarious

                                              whenever i've sampled the Hazen recipes, i have been less than underwhelmed.

                                              1. re: westsidegal

                                                So, you're in favor of Hazan or not in favor of Hazan?


                                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                  I'd guess that's a 'not' - it's hard to be even less than underwhelmed without losing consciousness.

                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                    Maybe that's why she hasn't replied. :) Yeah, I think she's saying she's not a fan. Curious to know more about that. What she tried and if it was boring or what.


                                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                      I took it to mean even more underwhelmed than regular underwhelmed. I made the Bolognese from that book last week and we were all even more than whelmed. Not overwhelmed or uberwhelmed, but more than regular whelmed, approaching overwhelmed. We need a whelm scale.

                                                      When I first saw westsidegal's post, I said to myself "oh, no, here we go." Considering all of the Hazanites here.

                                                      What was this thread about? Oh yeah - HumbleFoodie, maybe take the Costanza approach and do everything the opposite of what you've been doing. Many great suggestions from nice people here.

                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                        I had finally tried the Hazan Bolognese many many years ago after the kudos here, and I have to say, I was more than underwhelmed. Not worth the time nor effort nor propane expenditure.

                                            3. re: MarkC

                                              MarkC: I'm not suggesting professional cooking schools. Those are insanely expensive and not worth the time for a home cook who isn't going into the profession. But there are many cooking schools for home cooks that provide a very valuable, life-long skill: how to cook for yourself. Very important, and it's worth it to provide healthy, fresh meals for yourself and your family. Nobody knows how to cook anymore. Too many kids and young adults do not how to cook. They didn't learn it from their parents. There's a lot of information to learn about basic cooking, and it can be confusing for many: They don't know how and where to get started. Cooking classes provide focus and immediate results that you really can't get just from reading cook books and experimenting in the kitchen. If you don't know what you're doing in the first place, you can't figure out your mistakes when something goes wrong.

                                              Yes, reading a variety of cookbooks and cooking publications is a really good idea, but focused instruction is needed for many people.

                                              Cooking classes for home cooks are generally not expensive. It's a good investment for yourself and your family.

                                              1. re: rokzane

                                                I would say really do your homework on the cooking class though. I once signed up for one with my mother and it was taught by a private chef also in the business of selling knives. So the majority of the class just focused on knife skills. While being able to do a "perfect" dice/julienne/chiffonade is nice, it really wasn't what I was looking for. My mother then signed up for another soup cooking class, and the teacher prided herself on being able to do 90% of the cooking in the microwave......

                                                Buyer beware. There are a LOT of bad local cooking classes out there.

                                                1. re: rokzane

                                                  I'll say it again, I received the CIA New professional chef in my early 20s, thank god, and read it cover to cover to learn the basic fundamentals (sic). I don't feel like chef's school is worth what they're charging. Local cooking classes are another matter - learned a recipe for potato salsa from one and I won't attend a potluck (hardly) without bringing it.

                                                  1. re: rudeboy

                                                    Can't find it...why the '(sic)'?

                                                    1. re: Niblet

                                                      Oh, my bad "basic fundamentals" is redundant. Should have just written "fundamentals."

                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                        Ah! Got it. Also: lovelove the Big Night segment, so much, but do you think now as I do that the 3 eggs must be overcooked? That flame is way too high.

                                                        1. re: Niblet

                                                          It is a high flame, i agree. Total cooking time was just couple of minutes......and Marc Anthony ate it, so it must be good ;-)

                                              2. I think you are trying too hard and over thinking it - that makes it not fun - cooking should be fun! and remember we learn as much from our mistakes as we do our successes - so don't count it as a failure but as a learning experience

                                                a few thoughts

                                                don't try to be too fancy - keep it simple - Julia and Marcella are not always the easiest to follow and assume a certain ability level - ie. master a regular hamburger - get a feel for what makes a good one, consistency, size, temp etc before you worry about Julia's pan sauce.

                                                (I own a copy of Larousse Gastronomique but I cook from Everyday Cooking w/Jacques Pepin)

                                                don't overreach with too many new techniques in one recipe that's where I always get overwhelmed and make mistakes/mess stuff up - ie pan sauce AND dressing maybe focus on the pan sauce (now that you mastered burgers :) ) and use a good bottle dressing then when you master burger with pan sauce - add the homemade dressing to your repertoire

                                                Recipes give you quantities and instructions but they don't give you feel - do you have a friend who is a good cook who could cook with you sometimes - the tactile part of cooking is something you learn interactively not from a book - nothing beats hands on learning - if not a friend maybe a class

                                                Your references are missing a link. In your OP you mention moving from the network "stars" to the gold standard goddesses Marcela and Julia - but I have found the not so glamorous basic classic cookbooks - Joy, Fannie, and BH&G New to be indispensable as they are truly instructive and geared for someone in just the situation you describe yourself in.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: JTPhilly

                                                  BOOM. The red-and-white gingham cookbook from BH&G was the first given to me by my mother. While I don't use it a lot now, it was incredibly helpful with giving me ideas and good, basic recipes to follow.

                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                    That book was a staple of my childhood - my mom,working full time and feeding an instant/blended family with 5 kids, had that book out a lot. Barely a passable cook at the start of that adventure now she is a truly excellent cook and much more adventurous but I remember many family dinners generated from that book.

                                                    I also like to use those basic books for times, temps and techniques even if I create my own flavors - because they are instructive and for baking which I really am terrible at.

                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                      That was my first cookbook, when I was in college. By now I can do Thomas Keller but certainly never would have gotten there without those red and white checks.

                                                      1. re: sweetpotater

                                                        I still use its pie crust recipe (from way back in 1975, I think). That page and a basic chili page were/are the most well used pages in my book.

                                                    2. re: JTPhilly

                                                      On the morning of my wedding, Mom handed me a brand new copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook. I rarely reference it anymore, but it served me well for over 20 years, especially during those busy Mom years, when I was working and raising my Dude and my son.

                                                      JTPhilly's advice is spot-on. Make something simple, like grilled or baked chicken breasts or that hamburger. Add it to your regular rotation. Master it. Use rubs, salsas, sauces, glazes and marinades to vary the flavor profile. Once you know how to make the basic version, with just salt & pepper, you'll be free to change it up while still concentrating on a new side dish or dessert.

                                                      Most of all, keep it simple, plan well, and relax. :-)

                                                    3. For hamburgers, you really need to have fat, and more than you would think. If that offends your sensibilities, don't make a burger at home. Save that for a meal out.

                                                      I'll tell you something, Rachael Ray has some really good food in her cookbooks, and they are tailor made for a new mom - you might want to give her another look.

                                                      Don't be so hard on yourself. It'll come. Keep at it. And your husband sounds like a great guy.

                                                      1. I may get flamed for recommending this, but Woman's Day magazine has a «Month of Menus» page where you can get LOTS of ideas. The ingredients are rarely difficult to source and rarely require sophisticated techniques.


                                                        2 Replies
                                                        1. re: RelishPDX

                                                          You won't get flamed from me, I've been reading that feature for many many years.

                                                          1. re: RelishPDX

                                                            I have gotten some amazing recipes from that magazine and it is still affordable in comparison to others.

                                                          2. Buy the book Ruhlman's 20!! Do it now!

                                                            It will help you. A lot!


                                                            1. Couple of things: dropping all your hobbies to be a great cook to please another is a red flag to me, foreshadowing larger challenges. But that wasn't your question.

                                                              To help with your real question, one trick is to have on hand a compound butter. A bit of this melted onto basic cooked chicken, steak, fish and vegetables will transform them. My favorite butter is roasted garlic, shallot and herb. Soften some butter on the counter for a few hours. Roast garlic by making a small foil pouch, put in a few garlic cloves, drizzle with olive oil & bake at any temp until soft and lightly browned, maybe 30 min or so. Then mix the softened cloves into the butter, minced shallot (or a bit of onion instead if that's on hand), and some minced herbs fresh or dried. Any combination of dill, rosemary, thyme, parsley are all great. Transfer the mixture to a small crock or roll like a log in plastic or parchment and you're all set.

                                                              1. I've got to agree with everyone else here who suggested taking a cooking class. You shouldn't be concentrating on recipes, you should be concentrating on technique, timing and tasting. In hindsight, if you would have cooked up a little "mini burger" first you would have discovered it was "tasteless" & needed more seasoning. Tasting the vinaigrette before dressing the salad would have avoided that trip to the garbage pail.

                                                                Good luck to you!

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Barbara76137

                                                                  Two words come to mind - tasting and improvisation.

                                                                  If the meat is tasteless, maybe it just needs more salt. If the vinaigrette is too strong, it needs to be added to taste. If the patties start to break up, make 'loose-meat' sandwiches instead of burgers.

                                                                  While some complain that FN has replace instructional show with competitions, I often find the competitions more informative. On Chopped I see experienced chefs improvise, and often fail. Comments from the judges also give ideas of what makes a good dish - things like balance of flavors, texture contrasts, and presentation.

                                                                2. How about cooking with your husband on the weekends? He can help you learn techniques, timing, etc. Plus the enjoyment you'll get from cooking with him will help you RELAX. I think you're looking for perfection in the kitchen every single time, and it's very rare that it happens. Even world-class chefs screw up - so why wouldn't we in our home kitchens?

                                                                  As for foods? Stick with basics. A perfect roasted chicken is, IMO, one of the best dinners. Creamy mashed potatoes (heavy on the butter and heavy cream!), steamed green beans, a nice pan gravy, and that is heaven on a plate.

                                                                  Steak. Pan-sear, into the oven to finish, a pat of herbed compound butter on top. Baked potato alongside, and a simple iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese dressing would also be heaven.

                                                                  And from that roast chicken, you can make chicken pot pie or chicken tetrazzini a few days later. Learn to repurpose leftovers. Food doesn't have to be "gourmet" to be amazingly good.

                                                                  I cook for myself all the time. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's scrambled eggs with cream cheese and a toasted English muffin for dinner. Sometimes it's a perfectly medium-rare duck breast with red wine blackberry sauce (which I made this past weekend); sometimes it's a slightly overcooked chicken breast.

                                                                  Enjoy the process, and don't stress about perfection. Food is love. And your husband loves that you want to cook for him. Relax, and enjoy cooking together.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                    Love the idea of cooking with hubs! And, yes, to doing the basics. I never made a good roast chicken until I did the Zuni one. If OP thinks of something she wants to cook, there's almost a probability that it's been discussed (perhaps to death!) here on CH.

                                                                    As for cooking school, I think it's completely unnecessary. How many of us here have ever done a basics one? I did an Asian dumpling class last year but it was definitely not for a beginner.

                                                                    For the OP, here's the Zuni roast chicken. It's super easy and delicious.


                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                      I really agree about cooking together!!! Great way to have fun and take the pressure off.

                                                                      I have two good friends who wanted learn to cook more things and get better ideas so they asked me to help out so we started me meeting every couple of months. They told me what their families liked and I came up with recipes and we would spend a morning together. It was fun for all us. The recipes were simple- like roast chicken, ginger sesame salmon, fruit glazed pork loin, the kind of thing you can serve to family or at a dinner party.

                                                                      Another friend and I meet to "feed the freezer" and I swear the food I make with her just plain tastes better!

                                                                      1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                        I totally agree with cooking with your husband. It's fun and you can learn from him just by discussing what he's doing and watching. Same if you have a friend who likes to cook.

                                                                        I've learned the most by watching and cooking with my Mom, Grandmother and friends - and loved it so started at a very early age. Yes, their were failures!

                                                                        Ditto on the keep it simple and go from there. When you feel comfortable with what you've learned then you can go to more detailed cooking!

                                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                          I absolutely agree with the repurposing! roast chicken to the pot pie and soup, beef or lamb stew to shepherd's pie. Dinner DOES NOT have to be fancy in order to be successful.

                                                                          And HumbleFoodie - from your posts, I've taken that you're a young woman with very young children, and you're still nursing one of them. It's perhaps a little unrealistic to prepare a gourmet meal every blessed night.

                                                                          With your busy life, sitting down during some quiet time <is there any?> so you can plan to use your time as efficiently as possible can have a lot of payoffs.

                                                                          ALL of the cuisines in the world actually work at squeezing the most of what they have. As an Italian-American, my grandmother told me that ravioli [completely luscious no matter what] were actually ways to use the last little bits of veggies and meat! I'm still really amused that they've become these precious little morsels!

                                                                          The key, as others have mentioned, is learning to season, and learning some basic techniques. But planning also comes in so that you don't make yourself completely crazy doing a gourmet meal every night!

                                                                        2. My dear friends,

                                                                          Thank you so much for the wealth of information you have kindly given me. Thank you for your encouragement and especially to those who, somewhat heartlessly, suggested that I just give up. I ask God every day to humble me, and He will find a way, whether in the kitchen or in this discussion or somewhere else.

                                                                          I wish I could reply to all of you individually.

                                                                          I will read the books and websites you all have recommended. I really will. Your efforts to help me will not be in vain. I particularly look forward to scouring the CH thread regarding best weeknight meals. I agree with you all that perhaps I went too big too fast and need to return to the basics. I'm not too proud for Cooking for Dummies and will enjoy looking into that. I should not have implied that the recipes are what fail, rather solely myself. I always follow recipes to a T, save that I usually sub bacon for pancetta and use whatever wine I have on hand rather than fuss over a specific age or varietal. Perhaps the flaw is simply in my technique and lack of fundamental knowledge like fat content for burgers. A cooking class or two was another thoughtful suggestion, but such a delight is not possible for a nursing mother.

                                                                          As a side note, I do not regret giving up my hobbies to become a good cook. I wanted to do it out of a deep love for my husband, which was implicitly and unfortunately criticized by some. In my spare time I search endlessly for new recipes to try, but maybe I will go back to ones that didn't work and try again, or from now on use the keyword "basic" in my searches and, as cresyd warmly mentioned, build on what I already have mastered.

                                                                          Thank you all so very much. I couldn't believe the amount of responses I got within such a short amount of time. You have inspired me to keep going. God bless you all.

                                                                          20 Replies
                                                                          1. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                            If you learn visually spend some time on youtube- there are videos for everything and that's probably a lot easier to fit into your schedule right now.

                                                                              1. re: weezieduzzit

                                                                                Oh my goodness, yes! I learned a few things about Turkish cooking from watching Youtube vids. Definitely worth the time. :)

                                                                                1. re: weezieduzzit

                                                                                  You tube is an awesome resource for quick technique videos!

                                                                                2. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                  Anytime I cook something good, and people like it, I will say "God did 99 percent of the work." And I'm not even religious. I'm happy that the other hounds have helped you.

                                                                                  1. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                    I really don't believe anyone was actually criticizing your giving up your hobbies. You're new to us here and we don't have a sense of you and your family. Yet :) So we just chime in with any possibility that could help.

                                                                                    ETA: I forgot to ask - what is your absolute favorite thing to eat??? Maybe try to make it. When it's something we love and flat out KNOW what it's supposed to taste like it may be easier to make.

                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                      That was probably me, advocating for a strong woman not losing oneself in the pursuit of pleasing another. But I did throw in the compound butter.

                                                                                    2. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                      All the best - and if you've figured out risotto you're ahead of some of us! (sigh.....)

                                                                                      For whatever reason, risotto remains my white whale, that every now and then I buy a bunch of Arborio rice and use various ultra basic risotto recipes to practice. I'm getting better, but definitely not at the point where I'd make it for others or invest in pricey ingredients for a "fancy" version. But like you, cooking is a hobby of mine and I'm happy to work on it. However if I had to eat a weeks worth of my risotto alone, that would be so frustrating. Setting yourself up to feel good about some results while still pushing your skills is so important!

                                                                                      1. re: cresyd

                                                                                        Take two minutes to watch this clip about risotto. Funny, while searching for this, I ran across a recipe for "hot dog risotto." I refuse to share it.


                                                                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                            I gave up on Risotto long ago. I've spent the time mastering the hot dog instead. It's almost there. You can't just throw them on a grill and expect heaven on a bun, you know. ;-)

                                                                                          2. re: cresyd

                                                                                            Hey cresyd, I never had any luck with risotto till I switched to Carnaroli. Comes out perfectly every time, and I prefer it. Just a thought from a former fellow Ahab...

                                                                                            To the OP, the two (difficult) techniques you've mastered show you are on the right path. Keep the faith.

                                                                                            1. re: cresyd

                                                                                              I'm 60 years old and just recently (within the last year) mastered risotto! So don't give up. And I still have not mastered Hollandaise sauce, but I'm gonna keep trying.

                                                                                              Practice makes perfect, so keep at it. Suddenly, you'll just surprise yourself. And as others have said, don't worry about the plating yet. Once you get your basics together, the rest will come. Good luck!

                                                                                            2. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                              I have not read the entire thead. Please do not let any negative posts keep you from cooking. Please do not let the negative posts keep you from being a CH regular. I promise you that you will learn from participating on CH. (I know I have.) the sicial interection about food and cooking qlao helps my attitude in the times when I am not feeling good about my cooking efforts.

                                                                                              1. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                                I don't necessarily think your love for your husband was being criticized (and most people didn't even mention that componant). But he's not a king. He's a dude, albeit one you love. Just reading that made me feel stressed and pressured.

                                                                                                More on-topic, is your husband displeased with the meals five days a week? If not, is it possible you're getting a tasting fatigue thing going on? I love big cooking projects but often if I'm working on something for an hour or more, I've tasted it enough times that my appetite is reduced and the flavors are no longer novel or exciting.

                                                                                                And I strongly second the idea to build on what you know. You know how to make risotto, which means you know how to make risotto with something stirred in at the end. Tomato-basil, lemon-chive, blue cheese, whatever. And you don't always have to make the same menu. Risotto can be a side, but make a salad and a roasted veg or bread, and now you have a significantly different but still complete meal. It doesn't have to be basic, but learning the simpler stuff first is really good. Very few things (for me) are more satisfying then a really well-cooked steak, nicely roasted chicken, or most roasted vegetables. You can learn these pretty quickly because there are only a few variables-salt, cooking time, and cooking temp if you're going for the least complicated option. Once you're happy with those, you can start adding spices, and then gravy/aioli/vinegar/pesto/vinaigrette.

                                                                                                If you know how to make hollandaise you know the only tricky part of eggs Benedict, which makes a great dinner. Once you feel comfortable with that, you're really close to having smoked salmon eggs Benedict. You can probably learn to steam or roast asparagus (you really just need to manipulate the cook time there) and then you have another perfect meal.

                                                                                                1. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                                  You have a ton of good advice. I'll just add one more thing:

                                                                                                  You don't have to cook everything in the meal from scratch. It's okay to take short cuts, as long as you're using good products (ones that use real ingredients and aren't loaded with added sugars and preservatives).

                                                                                                  While you master the basics of cooking meats, pastas, grains and veggies properly, you can serve them with good quality prepared sauces, condiments, etc. Hamburgers with red wine reduction on a Tuesday night with a newborn? Even Julia would find that a challenge!

                                                                                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                                                                    Great advice. Here's a recent recipe that (the renowned!) Will Owen posted recently. Everything can come from TJs:


                                                                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                      I was going to say that Mae Ploy and Mesri curry pastes are as good as anyone can make, all natural, and very quick and easy. Protein, curry, a little coconut milk, and vegetables can get a lot of love.

                                                                                                  2. re: HumbleFoodie

                                                                                                    Please do check out the COTM recipes that you've made 3 times or more thread. It is all about things we've tried, loved, and that were easy enough that they can make it into heavy rotation even with kids/etc. around. I have been cooking a lot for over 15 years now, but with an 8 year old around I find that sometimes I just want something delicious *and* easy. And the recipes on that thread really do fit the bill, for the most part. I've been using it to plan meals for the past few weeks with wonderful results. Good luck, and please, be gentle with yourself.

                                                                                                    1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                      Hi HumbleFoodie--I feel your pain. I see your problem as two pronged. 1) You want to reliably get delicious meals on the table right now and 2) you need to build confidence and a foundation.

                                                                                                      As for #1, please, HumbleFoodie, come join us in this thread "Cookbook of the Month* Weeknight Favorites" mentioned here by LulusMom and upthread by Gretchen. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9749...

                                                                                                      Basically it's a thread where we all list our favorite, reliable weeknight favorites from past Cookbooks of the Month*. These dishes are reliably delicious and fast. And here's the best part--so many of us in the thread are so familiar with these recipes that if you have a question, you can post it in the thread and someone will surely know the answer. If a recipe fails you, post about it in the thread and someone will surely have some advice for you about what may have gone wrong and how to avoid it in the future.

                                                                                                      Lots of us who post in that thread are moms of young children. It's a wonderful, super supportive group of people, as are home-cooking hounds in general and COTM* participants in particular.

                                                                                                      You don't even have to own all of the books because there's a point where I've posted the links to about 70% of the recipes that people have listed that are available somewhere online. More recipes have been added to the thread since I made that post with all of the links, but it's a good starting point anyway: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9700...

                                                                                                      Go easy on yourself. This is a time of great transition in your life. The greatest gift your can give your child is to teach him or her how to love, forgive and respect him or herself and you can teach it best by example.

                                                                                                      Also, I really like that cookbook Gourmet Today ("the green book"). It is a former cookbook of the month. It was published right before Gourmet magazine folded. The recipes are super well-written, thoroughly tested and reliable and there are lots of very informative side-bars. When I first got it I read every single sidebar like it was a novel--lots of great info in there. It's really well indexed so you can find whatever you need in there. And I've never had a recipe that flopped from that book.

                                                                                                      As for #2, I also recommend eventually taking a cooking class or two when you have time, but this COTM weeknight favorites thread will help you eat deliciously in the meantime.

                                                                                                      Also, I mentioned some Jamie Oliver stuff elsewhere in this thread, which might be helpful to you. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9749...

                                                                                                      Also, I though Alice Waters, "In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart" was really helpful, gentle and modern in its approach to teaching some of the basics.

                                                                                                      As far as having your husband teach you how to cook as suggested at a few points throughout this thread, it sounds sweet, but if your husband is cooking a couple of nights a week so that you can tend to your newborn, or more importantly, to give you a little break while your newborn is sleeping, that may not really work. And I've found the "divide and conquer" approach to parenting duties only becomes more essential as your child gets older. On the other hand, if it's something you enjoying doing as "together time" that might could be lovely.


                                                                                                      (* COTM by the way stands for Cookbook of the Month, which is a bunch of chowhounds on this home cooking board who choose a cookbook they all try to cook from each month, then report back on their experiences. For instance, this month's book is "My Paris Kitchen.")

                                                                                                  3. I'm also a beginning cook, teaching myself as I go along, so I can only share what has worked for me.

                                                                                                    1. I make sure I have all the ingredients you need for the dish before I start--which means reading it from start to finish.
                                                                                                    2. I set out all the ingredients on the countertop before I start cooking.
                                                                                                    3. As each item is used, I put it away so I don't accidentally add it twice (it may have happened to me before).
                                                                                                    4. I taste frequently so I can adjust the seasoning and make sure it is going the right direction.
                                                                                                    5. When things go sideways, I try to be creative to fix it. So your burgers were bland and didn't hold together? Sounds like a good time to crush them up and toss them with something flavorful, like peppers or your favorite spice blend and make a hash--maybe with eggs, maybe over pasta?
                                                                                                    6. If a recipe doesn't work well, I try to determine if there was something I could have done better or if it was an issue with the recipe is there something that might make it better. That way I learn from my mistakes.

                                                                                                    I made a big mistake on Sunday--I was making a stuffed zucchini recipe and used uncooked instead of cooked rice (in my defense the recipe did not specify if it was supposed to be cooked!). After the 45 minutes of cooking time and the rice was hard as a rock, I took it out of each of the painstakingly cored squash and added it to the sauce and cooked that whole mess of food until that rice was just right. Now the veggies were a little mushy, but it still turned out tasting pretty good, though the end results were not what I wanted.

                                                                                                    For you, I think you have a lot of other constraints to experimenting like that--so you may want to focus on getting some basic weekday meals under your belt and use time when you have someone to help with the kids to try more fancy techniques. My sister has two little kids and works an insane amount of hours as a lawyer and they'll have basics like mac and cheese (homemade cause that's how she rolls), grilled cheese, and tacos during the week, and branch out on the weekends with fancier meals

                                                                                                    1. You've got two recipes mastered, right? That's a great start. I'd start filling in my repertoire with simple recipes - We eat salad with bacon and poached eggs frequently - roast chicken. Sausages are a pretty good, fail-safe dinner.
                                                                                                      I do think cooking out of cookbooks is a good way to teach yourself to cook, but Julia, God love her, is not for the faint of heart or the kitchen novice. ESPECIALLY one with a colicky newborn. Her recipes are complicated as hell and take forever. (I make hamburger patties with beef and salt. You can even buy the pre-formed patties. They're still pretty darn tasty.)

                                                                                                      I'd recommend acquiring a copy of the Zuni Cafe Cookbook - the techniques are detailed, the recipes not overly complicated. She offers a lot of reasoning and explanation. The recipes are simple, but great. (Start with the roast chicken. Her omelets are great, too.)

                                                                                                      Another good author for the novice is Pam Anderson - she used to work for ATK, but her cookbooks have simple, delicious food. How to Cook Without a Book is especially enlightening. You need technique more than recipes at this point.

                                                                                                      1. I'd encourage you to keep trying, but perhaps with a different method than you are currently attempting.

                                                                                                        I've found that I learn - and cook - best by using technique based cooking methods rather than result or recipe based methods. This isn't to say that if I set out to make beef bourguignon that I don't end up with beef bourguignon; simply that I don't find recipes helpful or even all that useful for learning to cook.

                                                                                                        Following recipes often leads to "cooking blind," which is to say that you are attempting to do things without necessarily knowing how to navigate yourself. Imagine putting on a blindfold and headphones, and then navigating through a maze based on directions from an Ipod. It would be very difficult, and easy to get lost without knowing that you were--make one mistake and everything thereafter will be sequentially out of step. The same goes for cooking--if you don't know the "why" and "how" of cooking, then when you make a mistake (which everyone does) it snowballs over the remainder of your cooking process.

                                                                                                        Learn some basic cooking techniques: searing, roasting, braising, sauteing. Each of these techniques can be applied to the same ingredient with different results; different ingredients are better suited for a particular technique. A chuck roast would be tender if braised or roasted, but would be tough and chewy if seared or sauteed.

                                                                                                        Learn some basic flavor combinations like mirepoix (and how that is useful) and you will start to see how similar it is to the cajun/creole trinity or the Italian soffritto. The knife techniques to make a mirepoix, trinity, or soffritto is also the same.

                                                                                                        Learn to taste as you cook, and also to adjust taste for the end product. If a sauce seems just right by itself, it may in fact be underwhelming or weak when combined with the rest of the dish. If you are using stocks/broths that are salted, be sure to keep in mind that as they reduce, the salt flavor will become more concentrated.

                                                                                                        Above all else, though, you should learn to love cooking as an end in itself. I can tell from what you are writing that your end is in making a dish that your husband will enjoy, but that will mean that your cooking process will be fraught with worry and apprehension. Your husband clearly loves you and encourages you to continue cooking--I hope that you can learn to love cooking in itself. When you do, I think that you will find that your dishes will improve enormously.

                                                                                                        10 Replies
                                                                                                        1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                          I hate to reply with a one word answer, but this advice is: awesome.

                                                                                                          1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                            Thanks. I hope I don't come across as too "preachy." I'm here to learn just like everyone else.

                                                                                                            1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                              Your post reminded me of my time in college algebra and statistics. I would use the rules and theoroms. At the end of the problem, I would have no idea if my answer was correct, close, or way off the mark. My roommate laughed at my poor skills with numbers. Of course he could not string more than two sentences together either.

                                                                                                              (Writing has been a big part of my career, but is not always evident on CH.)

                                                                                                              1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                The most recent example being your 'theoroms"...:)

                                                                                                                1. re: Veggo

                                                                                                                  That was an iPhone typo. I even looked up the spelling on theorems and could not get it correct. Another example of my attempt at algebra and statistics.

                                                                                                                  1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                    Hey, we get by with a little help from our friends.

                                                                                                          2. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                            Yes, yes, yes! The last paragraph, especially. Don't give up your other hobbies to be a better cook. Eventually, you'll resent all the time spent cooking when you could be doing something you enjoy. You won't enjoy it if you have to sacrifice so much.

                                                                                                            Something that helped me - when I was trying to figure out how to make Indian food (Indian, but didn't learn to cook growing up), I made one dish over and over again until I thought it was really good. I did this so that I could get an idea of how different components of the dish (how much of the various spices to use, canned versus fresh tomatoes, how much to reduce onions) affected the final product. I ate a lot of channa masala that year, but it really helped me get a better understanding of how cooking works.

                                                                                                            Also, there is a great website called The Six O'Clock Scramble. The recipes are pretty simple, varied and for the most part tasty. THey can be made generally in under 30 minutes. Cooking for a family can't be a production every night. Too much stress! I try to go for healthy, functional meals 75% of the time, and one or two nights for an experiment or something fancier. If you want to make a side dish, get a rotisserie chicken and have the interesting side dish be the only thing you make from scratch.

                                                                                                            If your kids see cooking as a stressful chore, they won't want to do it. You owe it to yourself and your family to take some of the pressure off of yourself. (My mother is an excellent cook, but never seemed to enjoy it - it was just a chore. Cooking was never appeaing to me.)

                                                                                                            1. re: pamelak52

                                                                                                              <If your kids see cooking as a stressful chore, they won't want to do it. >

                                                                                                              This. My sister rapsodizes over the mucho-time-consuming baking she did every holiday season "so my son will have wonderful memories." The son says "I never bake 'cause Mom got so crazy doing that. It was a nightmare."

                                                                                                            2. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                              Many terrific responses but this one is
                                                                                                              so on-point.
                                                                                                              cynic - wrong name - you are generous and smart.

                                                                                                              1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                So true! I like that you mention finding the method that works for you. I'm not a letter-of-the-law recipe follower but my mom is and so are some people on here and I think that's great. Anything that lets you produce food you are happy with and doesn't make you feel bitter, anxious, or resentful is fantastic to me, and if what works for you doesn't work for everyone it's no big deal.

                                                                                                              2. When I was a teenager I was very interested in food and I thought I was a great cook. Turns out, I was just lucky in picking a few great exotic recipes. I had no technique and a lot of luck. Failures were always blamed on bad recipes- never the fact that I had no clue what I was doing. I just assumed that because I'd put so many hours into cooking that I automatically had great technique. I had great knife skills- what else did I need? Sure, I could grind 15 different spices for a curry but when I got a job working for a caterer and she asked me to brown some meatballs boy did I brown them all right- crispy black shriveled bleck! It wasn't pretty. I kept wanting her to give me a recipe to follow but she'd always say "well, what does it smell like?" and "does it look right" and I just didn't get it- who cares what it smells like I did everything just the way recipe said to!

                                                                                                                I adore cookbooks and I read them for entertainment and inspiration. However, it's rare that book recipes are successes in my kitchen without some research and tweaking. When I find a recipe in a book I want to try, the first thing I do is look at it and think about other things I've made and whether or not I've had success with similar techniques. Then I'll google the recipe and search my favorite boards for tips, tricks, and trouble spots. Recipes are just templates-they can't tell you everything you need to know. You can think you're following instructions to a T but if you don't know what to look for, what to taste for, and how things should smell during the process then who knows what you'll end up with. As boring as it sounds you need to master some very basic things. Repetition repetition repetition. You need consistency. That way you'll be able to tell if a failure was due to a crummy recipe, your technique, the weather, or god knows what else. You can also find some great videos online if you don't have time/money for cooking classes. Here's one of my favorites- Jacques Pepin makes an omelet. Something about these videos is just so soothing. Pour yourself a glass of wine and enjoy!


                                                                                                                Also, here's something that's been very helpful for me:

                                                                                                                Every time I make something new or follow a recipe I write it down and put a date on it. If I made any changes to ingredients or used certain brands I note it. I also make notes about what worked and what didn't as well as what I actually liked and what I didn't like. Everything gets a rating from 1 (bad) to 5 (great). I make notes about things I should try next time and occasions I think the recipe would be good for. If I make it again I update my notes. It only takes 5 minutes (or less) after dinner and now I have a notebook full of recipes I personally KNOW are winners plus I've been able to identify and fix my mistakes.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: PinkLynx

                                                                                                                  Another omelet video (five minutes) and another of my favorite Big Night scenes.


                                                                                                                2. You have already received some great advice. While other CHer's might not agree with this, I really like the book "How to Cook Without a Book" for people just learning to cook. I often give it to nieces and nephews who are just starting out on their own, along with herbs and spices to help stock their pantry.

                                                                                                                  The book contains simple techniques with a few recipes to practice each technique on.

                                                                                                                  Good luck and keep trying!

                                                                                                                  1. This is very much how I feel about gardening. I hate doing it and I'm bad at it. I don't understand what to look for in the soil. I don't understand how to tell when a plant's healthy and when it's not. I don't have a clue how to manipulate conditions so that a tomato is sweeter or a chile is hotter. I find nothing but frustration in the garden. It turns out, however, that my boyfriend loves to garden and is great at it. He grows sweet tomatoes and hot chiles with seemingly no effort at all. I, on the other hand, love to cook, and am happy to find time for it, even though I'm the one working a full time job. So we've come up with a system. I work full time and do pretty much all of the cooking. He grows the food and cleans the ridiculous messes I make in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                    Cooking is a lot like gardening (which is why I thought I'd like it in the first place). You need to understand how all of the ingredients interact. You have to understand how flavours and textures go together, how things should look, how things should feel. So much of it is intuitive and only comes through practice. My advice is to put less pressure on yourself. It sounds like you have a lot to deal with already, especially with a newborn. If your husband is such a good cook, let him do most of the cooking. If he honestly likes to cook, he'll be happy to do it and you can find other ways to contribute to your family that are better suited to your skills and interests. Maybe you're an excellent gardener, for example. I'm no expert, but in my experience, good relationships are built on balance. Everyone contributes what they're best at. Any time you're giving up the things you love (ie. your hobbies) to do something that frustrates you, it's only going to make everyone miserable (most of all you).

                                                                                                                    And maybe once you aren't so stressed about it, cooking will come a lot easier. Start by helping your husband with the prep. Learning basic knife skills, stirring techniques etc. can help a lot. Get the mise en place ready on your own, then watch what he does with everything. Pay attention to the food, not just the act of cooking. How does it change as it cooks? How does it taste? How does it look? What is done to manipulate these things? Whether you're learning from your husband, a friend or a teacher, it's important to understand what's happening to the food as well as what's being done to it, if that makes any sense.

                                                                                                                    Finally, this one technique had the biggest effect on my cooking. Taste your food throughout the cooking process and think of the basic flavours: salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Which are present? Which are balanced? Which are missing? When something doesn't taste right to me, I literally go through these flavours one by one in my head to determine which ones are out of balance. And you know what? Sometimes it still just doesn't work out. C'est la vie. Mistakes are how you learn. You turn off the oven, put out the fire, dump whatever it is in the garbage and order Chinese.

                                                                                                                    1. First and foremost, I have a feeling you are being way, way too hard on yourself, and I suspect your husband has no idea how stressful it is for you to try and put what you think is a decent meal on the table.

                                                                                                                      Second, let's rethink the division of labor here a little. You say you're coping with a colicky newborn. Do you also have a job? Dealing with an infant is a fulltime job in itself, and a stressful one at that, especially if the baby is fussy. Add to that the demands of a job (if you have one), and just plain ordinary living, and something that should be a joy and a pleasure -- sharing a wonderful meal -- can, as you've discovered, quickly become just one more chore, and a frustrating one at that. Could you ask your husband to assume more of the cooking duties? That would take some of the pressure off of you, and if you wanted perhaps he could also show you how he prepares some of his favorite recipes.

                                                                                                                      Third, if you're really determined to be a great cook, I agree with those on this thread who urge you to put techniques before recipes -- sort of in the vein of teaching a person to fish, etc. Trust me, this isn't rocket science. Think about subscribing to some cooking magazines like Bon Appetit, which almost always has a section in the back on how to prepare certain types of foods. I also find Mark Bittman's articles in the N.Y. Times magazine very helpful, and he has a very good app called "How to Cook Everything" that is available in free and paid versions.

                                                                                                                      Above all, if it ain't fun, don't do it. Master a few simple, basic recipes so you have something to fall back on, but don't torture yourself trying to do something you hate, or resent, just because you think that's what your husband wants. Concentrate on doing the stuff you love and leave the fancy cooking to him. Resume some of those hobbies you said you've sacrificed in this quest. I'm a decent (not stellar) cook, but I draw like a 3-year-old and only do so under extreme duress. Most people are better at some things than others -- don't beat yourself up if you can't cook like Thomas Keller. Life is too short, sweetheart.

                                                                                                                      1. And don't beat yourself up...if you have perfected steak, chicken, risotto AND Hollandaise you have accomplished a lot so far. These four can take you in many directions by changing the seasoning; hollandaise can become bearnaise; roasted carrots can be roasted any vegetable. Sounds like you have a supportive husband--you'll get there!

                                                                                                                        1. Everything takes practice, like the dishes you perfected.

                                                                                                                          Stick to simple tried and true recipes. Lots of website just repost a recipe that may or may not be tested. Recipes out of the Joy of Cooking are usually a good starting point until you get to know flavours and temperatures like when to add things to a pan and when to flip can have big effects on the final product. Even things like using the right type of frying pan or cutting things with which knife and size things should be cut. A lot of people take this for granted that people will just know. Teaching my other half how to cook a omelette I realize even things like how hot to cook something dosnt come naturally.

                                                                                                                          Things also usually taste better to others then to our selves I find. I am my worst critic.

                                                                                                                          Also maybe the recipes where just awful. Just because they are from a famous cook dosnt mean it will be something you are going to like.

                                                                                                                          I also find a good gas bbq can make some awesome steaks and burgers and is the only way they should be done. Grilled veggies and fish are amazing. Not sure if you have the space but usually can elevate any meal. Again patience is the key.

                                                                                                                          1. Just a bit more on Ruhman's book (which I reread on my Kindle at lunch today)...

                                                                                                                            "In order to better understand these hows and whys, Ruhlman has introduced 20 fundamental techniques for today's kitchen in his latest volume—Think, Salt, Water, Onion, Acid, Egg, Butter, Dough, Batter, Sugar, Sauce, Vinaigrette, Soup, Sauté, Roast, Braise, Poach, Grill, Fry, Chill—all of which are not only tackled in typical Ruhlman straight-talk, everyman science but illustrated with a set of recipes that puts each technique into action. "

                                                                                                                            A bit of simple science, explained simply. Discussion of technique and ingredients. (Mostly) pretty simple recipes that illustrate his points. Anecdotes here and there.

                                                                                                                            Why things work and why they don't.

                                                                                                                            Understanding this stuff is what will make you a better, more confident cook. A cook that can spot a sketchy recipe (there are a million of them out there), choose to cook a challenging one and BEST YET create your own recipes.

                                                                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                                                                            1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                                                              That sounds like a pretty good book. If I were a beginner, I'd probably get that, read it cover to cover, then work my way through the whole thing.

                                                                                                                              1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                I went to culinary school long ago (dropped out!) and am a pretty accomplished home cook and I read it cover to cover and learned things.

                                                                                                                                I obsessively read cookbooks and technique books and it's truly a gem, especially for someone like the OP

                                                                                                                                1. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                                                                  Huh. So still potentially useful for old cooks. Alright, I'll see if I can get a copy. Thanks! :)

                                                                                                                              2. re: C. Hamster

                                                                                                                                A vote for this book. It's a great way to learn the basics. I use it as a refresher course often.

                                                                                                                              3. I don't have the time right now to read all of the posts, so forgive me if I'm replicating the answers of others.

                                                                                                                                Relax. Breathe. Stop trying to make gourmet masterpieces and go with simple. You are running before learning to walk. You can't jump over the learning parts - you have to learn them.

                                                                                                                                Is there a basic techniques cooking class you can take in your area?

                                                                                                                                Maybe you should focus on two or three things to learn very well; learn a very simple, basic vinaigrette, for example.

                                                                                                                                A simple braised chuck roast would be a great thing to learn - the leftovers can be used in many ways.

                                                                                                                                Do some reading on Serious Eats for things like Kenji's Smashburger.

                                                                                                                                Cookwise by Shirley Corriher has a lot of info about how things work.

                                                                                                                                Learning flavor combinations takes time - lots of it. I am just feeling comfortable with blending a wider variety of flavors and I've been cooking for quite a few decades.

                                                                                                                                1. Another thought. It sounds like you are over-thinking normal week night meals. While I love to cook and am pretty good at it, I certainly do not cook fancy meals every night of the week. Work on learning a few good balanced meals. Simple food that just tastes good and is nutritious.

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. re: Springhaze2

                                                                                                                                    cacio de pepe, a salad, and bread with some decent salami or prosciutto is a wonderful, quick meal to have during the week.

                                                                                                                                  2. Lots of good advice here. My 2 cents: From Julia Child's Kitchen and The Way to Cook are absolutely written for the home cook. Simple cooking done well. I recommend them both highly.

                                                                                                                                    As for the meat patties (my term for ground beef not served with a bun). I make them often from Julia's recipe. I nuke the minced onion with a bit of butter and then add to the meat mixture. This counts as a sauté, though technically it is not. If the pan is hot enough to make a good crust, the meat has less chance of breaking apart when you flip it over. Also, if the pan is really hot at the end, after the wine reduction, you might find it works better if the butter you stir in is really cold. If the pan is not so hot, room temp butter works fine.

                                                                                                                                    This demonstrates that there are a lot of variables in cooking. With trial and error you will figure out what works for you. Take it easy on yourself and cook the things you like. The fact that you care means that you are going to be just fine in the kitchen.

                                                                                                                                    1. My wife swears by Jamie Oliver for simple, fresh, healthy and easy meals that are hard to mess up. He has a number of great introductory books on amazon.

                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                      1. re: tkrynski

                                                                                                                                        Jamie Oliver's 15 minute meals is currently airing on CBS on Saturday mornings. DVR it! It's incredibly inspiring, though I will say, pretty gimmicky. Still, it might help you get some delicious meals on the table quickly, though I'd say 30 minutes is more like it.

                                                                                                                                        They tell me there are working to put the recipes online here: http://cbsdreamteam.com/15-minute-meals/ and past episode recipes are here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/ca...

                                                                                                                                        The only problem with Jamie's 15 Minute Meals is that only the UK version is available. So you have to translate some of quantities from Metric to Standard and acquaint yourself with some of the terms. I bought the book and sat down one evening with a pen and just did all of the recipe conversions at once and marked them in the book. If you need help with any of the conversions, ask here on home cooking. We'll help.

                                                                                                                                        Another good Jamie book for beginners, is "Jamie's Food Revolution" (which is the US release of his UK book Jamie's Food Ministry). Step by step photos. Down to the basics for each recipe. Here's a listing of the recipes that are in the book so you can get a sense:


                                                                                                                                        Plenty of globally inspired recipes.

                                                                                                                                        He also has an older book that he considers to be his "cooking class" called "Cook with Jamie."


                                                                                                                                      2. tl;dr, but if no one's recommended Jacques Pepin yet, I will. He explains things clearly and I think his recipes are fairly tasty. Start simple - don't try to do a fancy main with 2 fancy sides - just make one dish in the meal something kind of special, and let the rest be supporting actors.

                                                                                                                                        1. Sheeks you are being really hard on yourself. Why not try paring your meals down to basics and stop making fancy meals for awhile? A nice salad, a protein like a good steak, grilled salmon, baked potato, use herbs, lemon to boast flavor. I really like Laura Calder's type of cooking, it is simple and fresh.
                                                                                                                                          keep the special meals for the weekend when you would have more time....

                                                                                                                                          1. KISS. That should be your motto right now. It sounds like you are trying to master a unicycle without knowing how to ride a tricycle.

                                                                                                                                            Start with basic foods. Pasta, casserole, baked chicken, meatloaf, that sort of thing. Don't find a complicated recipe -- find a simple one. Hamburger with red wine sauce and roast chicken with hollandaise is not my idea of a beginner's meal for a new mom pressed for time. Start with a regular hamburger -- good ground meat, salt and pepper. Don't try to move or flip them too soon or they will break. Again, KISS. Get that down pat, then doctor the burger by adding your pan sauce or mix-ins or whatever. But you need to get the basic method down first. Make a simple pasta with chicken and veggies. Then go for the lasagna. Casseroles are great when you're pressed for time -- you can even make them and freeze them to reheat another day. Don't discount them because they aren't "fancy" enough.

                                                                                                                                            Good food doesn't mean complicated food. Good food means food cooked well. I'm sure your husband and kids would rather eat a well cooked meatloaf over a not-so-good Beef Wellington. Start small, with burgers and casseroles, and work your way up instead of aiming for the risottos and hollandaise.

                                                                                                                                            1. Calm down. It's food, not rocket science. Open a bottle of wine and find what you do well, like a risotto. Then pair something basic that you like. Reverse searing eliminates a ton of the error in cooking proteins.

                                                                                                                                              1. http://ruhlman.com/2012/10/easy-chick...

                                                                                                                                                This gives you some great, easy go-to technique...not just for curry, read the notes at the bottom to adapt this for multiple uses.

                                                                                                                                                1. My favorite roasted chicken recipe (so easy) is from Marcella Hazan. It calls for 2 small lemons; I usually just use one large one, quarter it and stick it in:


                                                                                                                                                  Her bolognese recipe is not hard but it takes time; start it in the morning. It's better to quadruple the amount and freeze what you don't use right away.


                                                                                                                                                  Always read over a recipe to make sure you have all the ingredients. Practice really does make perfect. Baby steps.

                                                                                                                                                  1. Try Jacques Pepin - Fast Food my Way. It's simple, very tasty and quick meals.

                                                                                                                                                    1. First, deep breath and pour some wine. Take a slow sip and enjoy it.

                                                                                                                                                      And go back to Rachael Ray. Seriously, her 30 minute meal shows were what got me interested in cooking from scratch. She gets a lot of flak around "foodie" places, but her concept of a little help from the store, mostly home made you can do this I feel is great for time pressed families who need to put food on the table. Yet want that food to be something healthy they want to eat. Ina Garten is also a great starting place.

                                                                                                                                                      I get the urge to make restaurant style meals at home. I have an almost 3 year old, so once a week, usually Saturday, Mr Autumn's job is occupy her so I can "play" in the kitchen. That's when the elaborate cooking happens. Rest of the week, simples yet tasty. Tonight was broiled salmon with a mustard miso glaze, with roasted potatoes and asparagus (steamed in the microwave). Tomorrow will be leftover italian beef for sandwiches with salad

                                                                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                      1. re: autumm

                                                                                                                                                        Seconding RR's 30 Minute Meals. I watched that show every night, back to back, just for entertainment. Then I moved out of the dorms and got my own apartment and tried what I had learned from watching her. I love how she "eyeballs" everything, and never really measures. That's how I learned to improvise when cooking.

                                                                                                                                                      2. Relax and go easy. It is tough with a newborn. You've perfected two dishes, you can do it again. The key with a newborn around is to go simple. Maybe pick a third dish you'd like to master and we can guide you to a great recipe and help you troubleshoot the outcome. I would suggest either pasta with tomato sauce or a frittata as a good place to start, do either of those suggestions appeal?

                                                                                                                                                        1. As in all trades you are always learning. Yea you cooked some bad meals. Who hasn't ? I see no problem.

                                                                                                                                                          1. Humblefoodie;

                                                                                                                                                            What are 3-5 of your favorite foods and maybe 3-5 of your hubby's favorite foods. Or what is your favorite genre of food?

                                                                                                                                                            Just because your husband has lots of knowledge about cooking doesn't have to make you feel insecure or "less" of a cook than he is.

                                                                                                                                                            For example if you like Asian, maybe learn to do a basic stir-fry - or try baking some teriyaki chicken with homemade marinade.

                                                                                                                                                            If your favorite is italian, maybe learn to make a homemade spaghetti sauce, boil some noodles like fettichini or rotini and serve with a nice green salad and wine.

                                                                                                                                                            As you learn the basics from doing those, you can "expand" your knowledge to do even more dishes.

                                                                                                                                                            Rome wasn't built in a day. You have a lifetime to learn to cook, if that is what you wish to do.

                                                                                                                                                            1. Dear HumbleFoodie.
                                                                                                                                                              Congratulations on your new baby. I recall reading that you are a nursing mother. In this period of high energy output and possibly low sleep, please allow yourself some leeway in cooking. Yes, life does get better.
                                                                                                                                                              The dinner table can be the hearth of your family, even when the meal is sometimes boxed mac and cheese, and salad out of a bag. What your child(ren) will learn is that you are making time to sit and eat together, if that is what is important to you.
                                                                                                                                                              One of my favorite books has been Canadian Living Step-by-Step. Each recipe includes photos and a break-out of technique. Also, Chef Michael Smith has authored Fast Flavours, of quick meals.

                                                                                                                                                              It may help, especially when trying a new recipe, to assemble all of the ingredients well in advance. Babies' schedules can be "delightfully unpredictable" and so incremental preparation can be a meal-saver.
                                                                                                                                                              Best of luck on your quests.

                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                              1. re: KarenDW

                                                                                                                                                                When one of our daughters had her first baby I asked what she'd like me to cook. "Hazan's Bolognese please." I made a huge batch and froze in two cup portions. Boil some pasta, make a salad and she had dinner. Maybe some friends could help or she and her mate could make up some on a weekend.

                                                                                                                                                              2. Sleep more. Your time in the kitchen will be more productive if you are well-rested.

                                                                                                                                                                Use measuring cups & spoons. Many shows encourage "a handful" or "a pinch" or "a splash" estimated measurements. That doesn't work for everyone, and is especially bad for gaining the balance of flavors you're seeking.

                                                                                                                                                                Use a timer for each cooked dish, each step. I'm easily distracted so I have (and use) 3- 4 timers as I prep most meals (meat, starch, veggies) Eg., if the potatoes need to boil for 20 minutes or until done, set the timer for 20 minutes, then for increments of 5 minutes so you remember to check on them again.

                                                                                                                                                                Get and use an instant-read thermometer. It can help you make sure your warm water for bread isn't so hot it will kill the yeast, and that the chicken breast you're baking isn't so cold it could sicken your family.

                                                                                                                                                                1. I usually just skim these types of threads because I don't consider myself a good enough cook to contribute anything wortwhile. However, I MAY have come up with something I don't recall seeing before..... and it may not be as crazy as it first sounds.

                                                                                                                                                                  Perhaps, instead of taking a class somewhere and/or buying books....or having your husband involved, maybe you could hire a personal chef.

                                                                                                                                                                  Before I get slammed, my thought process was....
                                                                                                                                                                  a) You (and eventually perhaps your child) could learn in the comfort of your own home for probably not much more than taking a class.
                                                                                                                                                                  b) While perhaps not the norm in the business, it wouldn't surprise me to discover that there are some personal chefs that don't mind being hired on an infrequent basis.
                                                                                                                                                                  c) You would probably have more of a say as to what gets cooked than in a classroom situation
                                                                                                                                                                  d) It's a lot easier to take notes while watching rather than doing.
                                                                                                                                                                  As with anything , I'm sure there's a downside to this idea, but just thought I'd mention it.

                                                                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                                                                    So not exactly the same, but...

                                                                                                                                                                    After I moved to Sri Lanka and married a Sri Lankan, we moved in to his parent's house (it's the cultural norm there, plus it was a huge house). The deal was that I would do the cooking, my mother in law would do the cleaning. But since I didn't know how to cook Sri Lankan (I'm Canadian and have otherwise been cooking since I was five), she taught me how to cook her recipes. I'd do all the prep work, then she'd cook. Her English wasn't great (but miles ahead of my Sinhalese and Tamil), so it was basically me watching while she threw in some of this, some of that. She'd hold the spices out before throwing them in so I could guesstimate how much went in.

                                                                                                                                                                    It turned out pretty good. My Sri Lankan cooking isn't always as good as hers, but it's close enough that they don't mind eating my version.

                                                                                                                                                                    And it was fun. :)

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                        I admire when someone has an adventure like yours with someone you love.

                                                                                                                                                                        My experience with that sort of cooking goes back about 40 years. My father was an avid gardener in rural Minnesota. He entered his vegetables at the county fair to be judged. He had several unusual peppers entered. His eggplants were also the only ones to be entered. (This was whitebread rural Minnesota in the '70s.)

                                                                                                                                                                        Anyway, on the last day of the county fair, my father was approached by an Indian couple (Sri Lankan) who wished to purchase his now five day old limp vegetables.

                                                                                                                                                                        My father refused and made them follow him to our house where he gave them all the vegetables they wanted, and for the rest of the summer/fall too. My parents made some friends. The lady came and taught my mother some Indian cooking recipes. My mother was a good cook, but Indian cooking in rural Minnesota in the '70s was an adventure for her.)

                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                                                                        Count me as one of those personal chefs who don't mind being hired on an infrequent basis. I don't know what region in which you live, but there are "hire a chef" websites, via US and Canadian Personal Chef Associations. Some of us are very comfortable delivering one-on-one instruction, and others are not. Each chef's profile will include some description of his or her particular offerings.
                                                                                                                                                                        As an example, I have taught a home canning lesson to a bride-to-be, so that she could make preserves for her guests as wedding favors.
                                                                                                                                                                        Best to you.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                                                                          I used to do a bit of personal chef work. Somehow word got out that I enjoyed teaching. After that most of my P.C. work was with widowers trying to learn how to feed themselves with variety and nutrition and with folks having to change their cooking for health reasons. I loved being able to work one on one and help them gain the skills they needed.

                                                                                                                                                                          OP, if you want to pursue this just bring it up in the interview process. Look for someone who is good at communicating and who you feel comfortable with. There are so many aspects of cooking where once you understand a key point everything else comes together. A good teacher can help you recognize those points and give you suggestions on how to take it further.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. I get where you're coming from, and I too used to think I was a terrible cook because I couldn't tell the difference between a julienne and a chiffonade. But then I realized cooking isn't about impressing with fancy techniques, expensive ingredients, and French words. These days i find the simplest things the most delightful: a roasted root vegetable with nothing but olive oil and sea salt, a pasta with a simple sauce of melted brie, things like that.

                                                                                                                                                                          I highly recommend Alice Waters' approach to cooking - use the freshest ingredients you can find, and simplify it down to the basics so the ingredients can really shine. The book to get is called "The Art of Simple Food." Also Tamar Adler's book "The Everlasting Meal" is a beautifully poetic treatise on the art of cooking. You'll find not so much advanced techniques and fancy recipes, but a gentle and flexible philosophy towards how to approach the tools and materials in your kitchen. You'll find after reading that book that you can really just forget about all those glitzy Food Network stars. :)

                                                                                                                                                                          IMHO, I think our culture these days is far too saturated with these "food celebrities" who make us think that if our dinner doesn't look like something that came out of a Michelin-starred restaurant then we don't deserve to be in the kitchen. That's nonsense. Home cooking is meant to nourish first, and impress second. I have strong feelings about shows like Top Chef for this exact reason. Cooking is not a reality show competition, it's just you and your family and the very basic, human need to get nutrients in your body while experiencing a bit of sensorial delight.

                                                                                                                                                                          Don't give up, have confidence, and keep cooking!

                                                                                                                                                                          1. So many good suggestions here. I would add James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking to your list as well. The photos are incredibly clear and the recipes are really about the techniques. How to cut an onion properly and saute in butter, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                            I might also buy some condiments that you like and have them on the table to adjust flavors if you don't think something came out right. I'm a good cook but I don't always like the way things come out in the end and add a little hot sauce or extra salt or vinegar to adjust the flavor. There's no need for every dish to be perfect and none of us cooks without failing. I would make make your end goal to have a family that enjoys cooking and eating together, rather than a family that only eats perfect food. Congrats on the baby and enjoy your cooking!

                                                                                                                                                                            1. Concentrate on simple comfort foods for the weekday meals.

                                                                                                                                                                              Break down your tastes - here is an example:
                                                                                                                                                                              Do both of you like chicken?
                                                                                                                                                                              Which part of the chicken is a favorite?

                                                                                                                                                                              Perhaps it is chicken breasts. Search for the perfect way to cook a breast of chicken. I believe Ina Garten has a great recipe for roasting a chicken breast. Or you could google "recipes using chicken breast" to get other ideas besides roasting the breast.

                                                                                                                                                                              Back to the roasted chicken breast.
                                                                                                                                                                              The possibilities are endless. Chicken salads, chicken enchilada soup, chicken tossed in pasta, chicken pot pie with frozen veggies & a purchased pie crust. As the others say, "season as you go, adding herbs & spices, using a fresh herb if possible".

                                                                                                                                                                              Break down pork the same way. Pork roast, pork chops, pork loin, pork ribs. Pick your favorite cut & search for recipes using that choice of meat.

                                                                                                                                                                              Continue the same routine for the other proteins. Always look at several recipes for the same dish so you have something to compare to & select the one that most fits your taste buds.

                                                                                                                                                                              A sautéed fresh veggie with some olive oil & butter or roasted in the oven along side your protein rounds out the meal.

                                                                                                                                                                              Don't hesitate to use frozen breads, bought canned rolls & any other purchased item. The frozen food section has tons of things that can add to the meal. Once you feel you've mastered a few main dishes, you can always branch off & get into making those items from scratch. Oh yes, the "no knead" Artisan breads on the internet is something that you will want to learn to do - it will boost your confidence greatly. You can try that right away.

                                                                                                                                                                              Once you find a "simple" recipe, read the instructions carefully & look for key words such as "sauté, braise, broil, poach, etc. Then search for that technique to get a clear picture of what it is you are required to do.

                                                                                                                                                                              On week ends you & hubby can perhaps cook a special meal together - no need to go to cooking classes, sounds like you have a great teacher right at home.

                                                                                                                                                                              Explain to your husband your plans for simple meals to help you get a feel for the cooking process & your desire for his help to introduce you to some advanced techniques as you go along. He does not have to cook with you during the week, but ask for suggestions as you are eating your meal.

                                                                                                                                                                              Good luck & ease into the cooking process, the fancy dishes will come, but get a good background first by making those simple dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: cstout

                                                                                                                                                                                I don't anyone has mentioned this yet so here goes, sorry if it's redundant.

                                                                                                                                                                                Plan some time on the weekends when you and your husband can cook together and prepare a couple of dishes that can be refrigerated or frozen and served later in the week. Soups, stews, pasta sauce, some casseroles all reheat well. That way you don't have to start from scratch everyday. You can just round out the main course with salad, veg, bread, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                It also might be helpful to also work with your husband to plan the menus for the week in advance, so you can shop and prep ahead.

                                                                                                                                                                              2. I honestly don't know why I read your whole post, normally long drawn out posts like that lose my interest. I'm also not sure why I'm replying when you already have 100+ responses, but something about your post drew me in, who know's at this point if you will even read it. I should also say I only read about the first 5 responses, so if what I'm about to say has been said already, my apologies in advance.

                                                                                                                                                                                I think you need to STOP everything you are doing and turn everything you have done this far upside down. If you were to ask me my opinion, I don't think you are a recipe follower, probably didn't like school to much either. I myself am not a recipe follower, I learned to cook by taste. Fortunately my family owned restaurants when I grew up and I spent countless hours playing in the kitchen mixing different things, finding what I liked vs. what I didn't. It was and still is all about the flavors for me.

                                                                                                                                                                                I say throw away all your cook books, take the money('s) you are going to spend on future books or lessons towards ingredients. Buy things you like....buy things that interest you. Then just let things fly........you must know the basics of cooking by now......I would suggest making dishes that are stand alone at first, with sauces on the side, so if the sauce fails, the meal isn't a complete failure. Make roasts.....with different sauces......and some a jus' as a stand by. Make grilled or pan fried proteins, chicken, pork, fish......with sauces on the side. It's hard to make a "bad" grilled chicken or fish.......if the sauce fails it's just a bland-ish meal but nothing to cry over.

                                                                                                                                                                                Once you start getting sauce making down you can then work on sauteed meals. Then you can start to experiment with the more difficult or exotic dishes it seems your heart is yearning to make. From reading your post I think your two problems are you are trying too hard, and you are following recipes when you should be following your heart.

                                                                                                                                                                                Good luck!!

                                                                                                                                                                                1. Folks, we removed a sub-thread that was debating whether there was something wrong with the relationship between the original poster and her husband based on how she described her wanting to learn to cook. Please focus on answering her questions about cooking, rather than analyzing her relationship. That's more personal than is really appropriate. Thanks.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: The Chowhound Team

                                                                                                                                                                                    Funny I copy pasted this post and emailed it to my wife with a {{hint hint}} in the subject line.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: jrvedivici

                                                                                                                                                                                      Jr, I think you should wear a helmet when your wife returns.

                                                                                                                                                                                  2. I think you've gotten some great advice and can only say this:

                                                                                                                                                                                    I've been cooking for well over 30+ years, most of it as a single parent (my son is now 27 and well out of the nest). When I was a stay-at-home mom for 2 years, I used to watch PBS for the cooking shows (on after Sesame Street!) and learned a bit about kitchen technique, but I had little chance to do anything complicated. I work for a catering company so have the opportunity to watch professionals do their thing in my "spare" time. At this point, I am a pretty good--not great--cook and have the basics down well enough that I can create easy, tasty meals using recipes that I've cooked many times. I can also modify some easy ones to tailor them to my taste and/or produce that I have. On the few occasions I entertain, it's always for 10+ people and my guests are always impressed, tho that may speak to their tastes and abilities rather than mine :)

                                                                                                                                                                                    That fact that you have mastered both risotto AND hollandaise is very impressive, as I have never tried, nor will I attempt to cook, either item. They both seem daunting to me but obviously not to you. Please, celebrate your successes, don't be so hard on yourself, and rejoice in the fact that you are taking care of life's most important need--that of food. Whether you are mastering Julie Child or Rachel Ray, you are doing it, and that is the most important thing of all.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. I think instead of jumping into recipes that involve pan sauces and composed plates you should get more experience with basic cooking such as roasted meats such as chicken, pork, and beef. A good bolognese is not too difficult, and soups and stews are good dishes to learn cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I remember when I first started to cook I was not too good at it but at least I was living alone at the time.

                                                                                                                                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                        John, I agree with you. I don't know where the whole pan sauce came from. I probably make one once a month. BTW is "qland" a typo?

                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                          It looks like a typo for 'bland' but it is 'and'. I don't know where the errant q and l came from, certainly not from my big digits on an iPhone.

                                                                                                                                                                                          One of my worst cooking disasters from my single days was when I attempted fried pork chops and gravy. I fried a couple of pork chops, burned them, and then added some oil to start a roux to make milk/country gravy. I did not have flour to make the gravy so I added Bisquik. I added the Bisquik and made a roux. I added mlk and made a gigantic, gray dumpling.

                                                                                                                                                                                          My cooking improved. My sister's never did. She was 15 years older than me and was a single mother. She was not a good cook. My mother was trying to help and suggested Bisquik oven 'fried' chicken. My sister did not look at the recipe on the box. She made biscuit dough and attempted to wrap it around the raw chicken pieces.

                                                                                                                                                                                          She died twenty years ago and I still miss her. In some ways she was like having a second mom.

                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Truly sorry for your loss.

                                                                                                                                                                                            I don't know why some people are so resistant to following recipes. I don't try to fool myself that I know more than the "big girls or boys' do :)

                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                                Touching story. I used to want to be good at everything and then I woke up and realized we all have our talents, interests. I think it's better to concentrate on what we're good at. I'm not good at painting walls or carpentry so I just hire people who are good at those jobs.

                                                                                                                                                                                          2. Tamara Adler's book The Everlasting Meal is a gentle, inspired, thoughtful book which has a few recipes and a lot of commonsense food philosophy. I think it is just the medicine for someone like you.

                                                                                                                                                                                            Please get it, read it, cook anything in it that appeals to you. And bless it for existing, it's a beautiful, beautiful book.

                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Put the cook books away for a couple of weeks. Turn the cooking shows off. And cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                              6 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                                                                                                I couldn't disagree more! I'm a recipe-follower.

                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sure you could. Go for it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A classically trained musician will eventually be told to put the music away, and just play from the heart and the mind and the soul. Same with cooking. And then return to the recipes and the shows and the blogs and the sheet music. Just take a sabbatical from trying so hard and breath and listen.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I actually agree with this. The thing about Adler's book is that it shows you ways to pay attention and enjoy cooking--not recipes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Bellachefa

                                                                                                                                                                                                      OP is clearly not a "classically trained musician," but rather a beginner. Use sheet music :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                                                                                                                                        My sister was a lousy cook because she had zero interest in cooking. She was however a classically trained musician. She could play almost every instrument in a band concentraining on the woodwind instruments, piano, and pipe organ. She composed and played original piano music at each of her three little brothers' weddings.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I love that. You're a lucky guy.

                                                                                                                                                                                                2. a little long but bear with me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Different POV here. We cooks read sensory cues: smell, appearance, sound. We do this almost without thinking and sometimes forget how hard-unfamiliar this is for other people.Very few people can learn these from a book/recipe. (as in nobody i've ever taught to cook).

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Great posts from so many. esp Cynic2701 and BananaBirk.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Right now you would be most helped by having a competent, warm-hearted, patient home cook stand right next to you while you make something very simple:
                                                                                                                                                                                                  hamburgers or pan-cooked chicken or anything.
                                                                                                                                                                                                  Could be your husband, maybe better if not - your call.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  My sense is that you need to learn to read the sensory cues for basic techniques and ingredients: how do I know if the pan is 'too hot'; if I need more salt in the water; what do onions look-smell-sound like when they are being sauteed, how much water for cooked rice?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  A good, basic home cook will say: "See this? here's how you know its cooking too fast'. "Smell that? its blending with the tomato" "Feel that, press lightly on the chicken with the fork - its getting done"

                                                                                                                                                                                                  'Make a ball about this big from the dough - pat it a little and put it in the pan - that's your biscuit. Now you make the rest"

                                                                                                                                                                                                  I have taught beginners and absolutely this is the biggest need. And other people skip over this when they recommend the books and web-sites. You can't translate those books right now I think.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  You did not grow up with this. No fault of either you or your family. This is the situation for thousands of people today - many young folks. Most people _cannot_ learn these cues from books and they are nearly invisible. Youtube helps a bit but not enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  There are people who can take you slowly through the actual hands-on steps for the simple things they do well and you will absolutely learn. Ask them, one by one. Make sure they do more than demonstrate - you must have your hands-on and use all your senses: how do things smell as they cook correctly? , how does something sound when the heat is too high? is the tomato supposed to look like that?

                                                                                                                                                                                                  You don't know what to do and i can sense your frustration. If I were there I would stand right next to you with encouragement, adjusting and letting you feel, smell and really see and understand whats happening.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  When I have done this with people I came to understand that beginning cooks did not have the experience to 'read/see/understand' what was happening in front of them. They really could not translate instructions because they had no frame of reference in their minds:
                                                                                                                                                                                                  I've taught many people to make biscuits, rice, pan gravy (roux-based), crisp-tender veggies, roast chicken and it is _me_ thats learned how hard it is for new folks to _read_ and evaluate what is happening in front of them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  there is nothing wrong with you. find people who are patient good cooks and who want you to succeed to stand next to you and help you change the way you smell, see, touch and listen. Simple basic techniques and ingredients that you will come to understand and trust because you've used your own eyes, nose, hands and judgement.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  Books and all the rest come later. I promise you can do this.

                                                                                                                                                                                                  14 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kariin

                                                                                                                                                                                                    Many of us CH's were lucky enough to learn how to cook from our family members.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    I was fortunate. My mother was an accomplished home cook. Although my father did not cook much other than Sunday breakfast and outdoor grilling. I later learned that he avoided the infantry in the Korean War because he knew how to cook. My grandmother worked from 5p to midnight. She would start the evening meals and my dad and his brothers were taught how to finish them. This was in the late '30s and '40s. I am glad my dad was an MP/cook in Alambama instead of an infantryman in Korea. He was a Master Sergeant and was teaching others who went into combat. He may not qualify to become a member of the VFW, but I don't care.

                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      My mum taught me to cook and mostly did a great job. The one thing that drove me bananas was when she'd say something like "you'll just know when it looks/feels/ smells right" -- to this day, I can't make short pie crust because she told me to mix in ice water till the mixture "felt right." Gah. I needed something more empirical, I guess. Different strokes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                                                        Interesting. I actually have had the opposite experience making all butter pie crusts. My Mom - and several recipes - said to use half a cup of cold water, but I could never get the dough to form properly even though I use the same kind of flour, bowl, spoon, butter, and pastry cutter she has.

                                                                                                                                                                                                        I'd need more testing, but I'm convinced that humidity differences have a noticeable effect on some baking recipes. Since I was able to see what it "should" look and feel like, I simply added more water (I now use 3/4 of a cup of cold water) and it comes out great. Now when I look at some of these recipes that call for water in a flour mixture, I use the mantra "it needs as much as it needs."

                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                                                                                                          I only learned pastry with shortening, and using hands to "feel" the correct texture, no pastry cutter allowed, which I clearly never got the hang of. To this day, mum puts ice cubes in the water! And she never really measures, so she'd be in the needs as much as it needs camp for sure. I'm too much of a slave to recipes when it comes to baking, which seems much more of a science to me than other types of cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                                                            we could make pastry together for a while...and I'll analyze your technique. Pastry is definitely about science, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Your mom does measure - using her sense of touch and eye - she already knows how the right pastry should look and feel - that's in her memory bank and she 'knows'
                                                                                                                                                                                                              about how much water/fat/flour will produce that look and feel. most of that assessment goes on unconsciously but its right there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              On a warm humid day she may add less water. with very dry flour she may add a few drops more - A good cook is seeking a certain feel and look and knows (usually without conscious thinking) how to adjust all the small details to get to that result.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Science also recognizes adjusting for existing conditions - thats what good cooks do.
                                                                                                                                                                                                              Have you read Harold McGee - the Science of food and cooking>. he's great.

                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Another thought re: the humidity issue -- I'm the only one on Mom's side of the family who can't consistently make phenomenal biscuits.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm also the one about whom the running, non-kitchen joke is that I'm always stunning people if I touch them because my hands are so cold.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              Once I decided that for me, there was a correlation, I stopped trying to make The Perfect Biscuit [pie crusts are of course also out!].

                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Kris in Beijing

                                                                                                                                                                                                                I've always read the colder the better Everything for when you're making pie crusts, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                Maybe have an expert watch you making them and try to figure out what goes wrong (or, not perfect).

                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                                                                                                                my grandma never measured her pie crusts' ingredients. instead she did the 'ad as you go' method. how much water needed? > depends on the day/the temp outside/the weather in Santa Monica that day/etc. her pie crusts were always stellar.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Absolutely. Humidity affects every recipe that uses flour.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. re: grayelf

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  can she make a batch in front of you? then touch, smell, look really intensly at it - commit that feel and look to memory. sometimes its as invisible as how warm your hands are - does she make it on a table in a cool room?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  on a marble slab?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  i bet your is pretty good too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: kariin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Hey all, just seeing this now! Thanks for the ideas/words of encouragement. I may have a bash at pastry again after all. My mum and I cooked together for years, and a lot of her talents rubbed off on me but not that one, alas. I really don't have the knack. But she can't make risotto or souffle so in some ways the student has surpassed the master, LOL.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              3. re: kariin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                This is interesting about getting your senses involved. I like listening to audiobooks and I went through a brief phase where I thought I would listen to them on my MP3 player while I cooked but I started burning everything. Turns out that I tell things are done cooking partly by the sound they're making. Now I stream Netflix instead-I'm okay as long as I don't have earbuds in.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: ErnieD

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  exactly. how it sounds can't be learned out of a cookbook - heck - most cookbooks skip over sound. you noticed something many people miss.

                                                                                                                                                                                                              4. somebody on this thread posted the advice of taking one dish that you don't know and repeating it (well not every dang night) until you get it right. I did that for months and months until I understood the differences and variations between white sauce/bechamel/roux/brown sauce/ gravy/etc, watching the timing when the elements come together, how long they can be held there and when I went too far and when or how I can screw with the ingredients. it was such a simple building block that opened so many possibilities and accept different flavors and ingredients to keep it from getting boring. you can already do a Hollandaise w/o it breaking and that is one heck of a trick - so relax. it's just a meal, keep an easy back up in the freezer if it fails (as nobody hits it out of the park every time). sometimes you just want a dumb sandwich.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                20 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Don't be down-hearted. The fact that you care about what you are preparing for your family is more than half the battle.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Have you ever driven with some one who makes constant 'over-corrections' with the steering wheel/gas/brakes? Who is easily distracted? I bet they do that in their kitchen too.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I used to give cooking classes. The most common mistakes were people 'over-seasoning'/under seasoning/getting distracted by their surroundings.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You may not have a sensitive palette like the 'super-tasters' do. Only you would know that. It's easy to find out how sensitive your palette is or isn't. You can Goggle the way/s to find out. Go from there. You need to know this.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  If you are following the basic cooking methods to make basic dishes and they aren't turning out the way you expect the problem is very likely how you are seasoning.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Sometimes the seemingly most simple dishes are actually quite tricky to get right.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Hamburgers are a good case in point. The meat has to be right. Using 'lean' or especially 'extra lean' meat is a recipe for disaster. Texture and taste-wise. If you can find a good local butcher. "Howdy. I want to make some really great hamburgers. I don't want them falling apart. I want great texture and flavour. When I serve them and my guests tell me what great burgers I've made I want to tell them I got the meat from your shop".
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  You may be surprised at how helpful the butcher will be.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  When I tell my butcher I'm making 'BB' he is always careful to give me the best end of the chuck. There is a difference. I've even seen him disregard the 'chuck' in the show case and go in the back and bring out the 'good stuff' for me.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  My long-winded point is you have to start with the best ingredients you can find, even for the lowly hamburger and then be very 'easy on the wheel'.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Here's wishing you the very best success.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    your example is right on target. And it took you months to sort out this roux-sauce thing. It is a huge help to have an experienced person standing beside you explaining what to notice and why, describing the progression of color and thickening, pointing out how the smell changes as the mixture browns.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Last thanksgiving I made all the gravy (most 2 days ahead). At my nephew's house a cousin asked if I would show how to make gravy: I had pan drippings, some turkey stock, a little flour = roux cooked to gold -brown, added hot stock slowly and whisked. No lumps, no 'raw' flavor, thinned to good consistency, great savory flavor. I had 4 watchers, all under 20, girls and boys all thought it was magic. So we did another batch and I had each of them take over all the steps. They had never done this before and most of the kids get shooed out of the kitchen to get them out of the way. They know how to microwave but not much else. Doing it instead of reading about it amkes the difference and builds confidence.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2 of them helped make gravy at christmas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: kariin

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Just curious, you add hot stock to a hot roux? I've been taught to use either cooler roux or hot roux and colder stock.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Regardless, this question is off topic. I think that it is great that you have taught 20 year olds how to make pan gravy. My dad taught me when I was 13.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Ha Ha! My grandmother taught me when I was ten. LOL
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        But I promptly forgot until I was about twenty.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                        'What do old Mennonite grannies having home birthed 13 kids know about anything? Right?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You beat me! I had a photo montage for my wedding, and there's a picture of me cooking at the stove when I was 6. I think I was just stirring stuff, but I had a little apron on and everything. Since my daughter is 6, I want to get that same shot of her and frame a diptych.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          "What do old Mennonite grannies having home birthed 13 kids know about anything? Right?" A hell of a lot. My very good photog friend made a book called "Mennonites in Texas." I have a copy - very interesting.


                                                                                                                                                                                                                          I guess this is way off topic now.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mennonites? What?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            My mother taught me when I was five. She was in bed with bronchitis for a half year or so and she yelled instructions to me in the kitchen while I cooked dinner for our family of six.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Mennonites are similar to the Amish in many aspects, but do differ on their interpretation of some things like electronics and motorized vehicles.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              They have a heck of a lot of "old world tradition" that is still running strong in their culture. The best apple strudels you will ever taste will likely be made by either an Amish or Mennonite grandma.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              How do I know? I grew up in some pretty rural parts of Pennsylvania.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Cynic2701

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                No, no, no, you misunderstand. I wasn't clear.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I'm Mennonite by ancestry - both parents were Mennonite. I'm *intimately* familiar with the culture, traditions, and cuisine of Mennonites in southern Manitoba. I'm just hugely surprised to see someone else mention them since most people have never heard of them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I used to work with two people who were from Goshen, Indiana. I think they were both wayward Mennonites. One of their fathers was a Mennonite preacher/bishop.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I wish I had asked them about the food traditions of their youth, but I was not into food and cooking back then as I am in recent years.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    well at least you're not descended from Dariusleut or Lehrerleut Hutterites - pfff. (kidding)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I know of Mennonites largely because of the "More With Less" cookbook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Mennonite family I came from was/is from around Didsbury Alberta.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Most of my aunts and uncles and some cousins attend the MVBS as did their families before them. http://gameo.org/index.php?title=Moun... my cousins and I were not only allowed in the kitchen but we were expected to help. That included us boys.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        As we boys got older more and more work was put on us outside though. Did I mention WORK! LOL

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Puffin3 - the link doesn't work!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Didsbury! I've been there. I used to live in Alberta many many moons ago.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Mine are from the Steinbach area.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            In our family, the chores were most definitely gender-based. Us girls did all the cooking and cleaning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I like this blog, although I do not have a Mennonite background. The recipes remind me of my German gandmother's farm-wife cooking. I've tried many, and they have all been keepers:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Interestingly enough, a number of Mennonites came over from the Ukraine, so there are recipes for my husband's side of the family, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: DebinIndiana

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I love that blog, too, and they've featured quite a few recipes I grew up on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Also, my ancestors came from what was then called South Russia and is now a part of the Ukraine to southern Manitoba in 1874 to 1876. Ukranian food was somewhat absorbed into my Mennonite cuisine. :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Puffin3

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        They know an awful lot about cooking, pure, fresh ingredients, many of the recipe origins from a European background.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Ruthie789

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          As long as we are this far off topic: Many Mennonites moved to northern Mexico (generations ago) and make the queso menonita (Chihuahua cheese) that is so famous. I sometimes see them in and around our central market when they come to sell cheese. The women still wear sunbonnets and long skirts, the men have beards. Rather a surprising sight in this day and age!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: MazDee

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I'm related to those Mennonites as well probably. A bunch of Mennonites from southern Manitoba moved to Mexico in the 1950s, I think. Then a bunch of them who didn't like it there moved to Belize. I'm related to the lot of them. The Mennonites in Paraguay and Uruguay are much more distant relatives, though - we don't have any contact with them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            I miss Mennonite farmer sausage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: LMAshton

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The Mennonite I has come across have been hard working and service oriented folks. I think a group nearhere has operated a cannery to help people preserve and save food.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              And singers! A Mennonite group once held a conference where I worked--a summer camp--and on Sunday morning we were greeted with wonderful four part harmony pouring through the woods. Astoundingly beautiful!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                2. OK, I've been thinking about your situation overnight, and I have some suggestions.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1) You keep cured meats for your husband to snack on if the meal doesn't turn out? Hey, come out of the closet! Make those cured meats the meal. Franks and sauerkraut. Corned beef on rye. A Reuben sandwich.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  What kind of potato salad to you like? Do you like the kind with mayo? With mayo and celery? Hardboiled eggs in it? French style potato salad with oil and vinegar? Try some till you can make one you like. Serve a dinner like this once a week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2) Find two other really easy dinner meals. Like--buy a rotisserie chicken. Roast some potatoes in the oven. Steam or stirfry a green vegetable. I don't know what else is easy for you--but the point is, it should be something that you know you can confidently do. This meal will not cause you any grief.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  OK, that's three super easy meals a week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Now, you can make the two meals you know how to make, varying them a little. (A different kind of risotto? Another vegetable with hollandaise? Bernaise sauce--very similar to hollandaise--with the steak?)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  OK, that's five dinners a week you don't have to worry or be anguished about. They will be okay.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  One meal a week, try something new. Something that sounds good. Maybe on the weekend, and maybe you and your husband can pick this out together and try cooking it together. You might have some failures and maybe some happy surprises. Maybe out of this one meal you'll find something else you can add to your repertoire of reliable meals you know how to cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  OK, that leaves you with one last dinner for the week.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Wild card! Go out to eat. Get pizza. Get take-out. Host a potluck. Get invited to someone's house. Go to a fair and happily eat street food. Stay home and make a curry with all the leftovers from the week.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  This way, most of the meals of every week will be reliable things that you know will turn out okay--not brilliant. One will keep you working at your cooking skills and expanding your horizon. And one will be an adventure--could be great, could be lousy, whatever. It will be fun and something new and you will be taking some chances.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Please try this out and let us know how it goes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Good luck.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. You said that you've made Test Kitchen recipes with no success? I am surprised by this. While I may not LOVE every one of their recipes, if I read through prior to starting, then follow directions and don't make substitutions, I've never made a single one of their recipes that hasn't been solid, and at the very least, a good jumping off point. While I wouldn't recommend an online subscription to CooksIllustrated.com anymore due to the ridiculous costs associated with it, either getting a magazine subscription or picking them up at the grocery store is a good plan.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Otherwise, I'd try epicurious. They have quality recipes oftentimes, and as long as you're making something with lots of reviews (that you've read), you should be safe.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I'd recommend just making simple stuff, like tacos with ground meat and a taco seasoning packet (grew up on this), then add or subtract toppings as you like (we always do cheese, sour cream, canned refried beans, avocado, and salsa). The more you make it, the quicker it gets, and you can start making small changes, maybe make your own taco seasoning, and adjust ("Seems like there's too much cumin in this. Scale it back next time.") and ask for honest input from your husband. You guys both benefit if he's honest with you about how he feels about the food.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: LaureltQ

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I have successes and failures with the test kitchen recipes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. First of all. I want to applaud you for being so brave as to write something like this and pour out your heart & soul onto a hard core cooking site full of critics like this one.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Second of all, I haven't read through the responses, but I've been here a little while, and I can imagine for the most part, most hounds have been supportive and encouraging. (I would hope!!)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Now you don't mention how old you are..... Just know that cooking is a skill and it doesn't come to anyone overnight. Even world class chefs started when they were quite young, like 10,12,13..... So don't beat yourself up for not achieving mastery in culinary arts, it takes a very long time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I started cooking when I was 10. Of course, I wasn't making full on dinners every night back then but I was extremely interested and really loved it. There were quite a few years between now and then when school got in the way, and then a lively social life in college and directly after, when it just wasn't important to me at the time. But pretty much since I was on my own, at the tender age of 20-21, I became interested and obsessed with it again.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It helps to have an appreciative audience, which it definitely sounds like you have. And it does take practice. Years and years of it. And supplementing with cooking classes even through places like cooking stores is totally worth it, if you are serious. I have taken many classes over many years, and I still feel like I certainly don't know everything yet.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I have been cooking for over thirty years and I still make mistakes. Even two nights ago, I made decisions on a pasta recipe that were wrong, and it came out awful. My kids, well one of them, and I still ate it, and I even ate it again the next night as I don't like wasting food, but it was overcooked, too tomatoey, etc... It was just poorly done. Not inedible, but not good at all.....

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Anyway, it takes patience. And determination, which it definitely sounds like you have. And you need to not be hard on yourself and cut yourself some slack. Some of the books you say you were cooking from I don't know if I would have started using as a newlywed, but hats off to you. With hard work and determination, you will get there and it will pay off. And be grateful for some of the good advice you will get here, I definitely didn't have an Internet forum to bounce ideas off of at the time, and you're lucky. Just don't give up, it will be worth it, and you will make your family proud. Best of luck, and feel free to ask for advice or vent anytime, I'd love to help you out with specifics anytime you need it. Honestly.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        My first step to being confident in the kitchen was taking a Saturday morning class in basic cooking, although they had other, more specialized curiculum too. It was through an agency here in NY called BOCES, which is connected with all our public schools to teach trades to students who aren't interested in normal academia. Luckily they also offer weekend schedules for adults who want to pay (a couple hundred bucks at the time I think, for at least 8 or 10 sessions).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        While I was in the midst of the classes I realized that cooking as a career was for me, even though it was just supposed to be to learn fancy home cooking. The teacher was an old school chef who loved to share, it was kismet. And my co-students ran the range of amateur housewives to semi-pros. Check your local colleges or see if you have something similar to BOCES, you never know. Maybe your husband can babysit for a few hours on a weekend morning and you'll get a well deserved break, doing something fun and interesting.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      2. i think you started to learn to cook at the wrong end. even i, after being married 31 years, can't do the dishes you mentioned. why don't you go back and start at the beginning, and stop trying to impress your husband so much and just start cooking for him? try just the regular betty crocker cookbook, my bible for 31+ years, or a better homes and garden, or any beginner book. then maybe you can move on to all that fancy stuff.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Well, I'm no expert myself, being a recent college graduate, but I've been teaching myself to cook for the past four years, and I know a few things that might help.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Start simple. I mean, REALLY simple. It's awesome that you want to try to match your husband's prowess in cooking, but understand that like most other hobbies, cooking is something that is best learned by starting small and working your way up. Don't feel pressure to try dramatic dishes you might fail at just because the flavors and ingredients look tasty - you'll get there someday! And I assure you your husband and children will be happier with simpler food done well than complicated food done badly.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          By starting simple, you'll build your confidence over time and will find it easier to not panic when things don't go all to plan. Dinner doesn't have to be perfect!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Start with simple recipes, with uncomplicated ingredients, and stick to them. I tend not to buy cookbooks unless I'm at a used bookstore; I use online recipes much more often, but I think a good strategy is to stick to a recipe as exactly as possible until you have it mastered and then improvise from there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Prep ahead as much as possible. I know your life is crazy busy with children and work concerns, but taking just an hour or two on a Saturday morning to prep ingredients in advance for that week's meals can really help.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          So with that in mind, I'll list some American dinner classics that I've learned to make that have been palate-expanding for me but also simple. I'm also assuming you might like to involve your children in the cooking - even a three year old can hand mama the whisk, push the button on the microwave, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Swedish meatballs in mushroom sauce over egg noodles. You can serve it with a simple steamed green vegetable or a salad and some crusty bread. Kids love meatballs!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Spaghetti bolognese. I make my own ragu using canned crushed tomatoes and various herbs and spices. You can even make the sauce in big batches and freeze it in dinner-sized portions for later - that way if you're in a hurry, all you have to do is boil the pasta and microwave the sauce. Served with caesar salad (can be bagged store bought) and garlic bread (ditto).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Breakfast for dinner is always fun. Kids love pancakes, eggs, and bacon. Variations could be breakfast bagel sandwiches, etc.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Pizza making night is easy as pie with store-bought dough. Not sure which part of the country you live in, but many grocery stores make their own dough you can buy from the deli. Invest in a pizza stone.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -When in doubt, exhausted, or any other excuse, kids love sandwiches cut into fun shapes with a pickle and chips. Or carrot sticks.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Some other random thoughts:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -The microwave is your friend. Use it often. You can steam vegetables in glass bowls with plastic wrap, steam asparagus wrapped in wet paper towels, boil water for broth, cook eggs, even. All sorts of things.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Mise en place is awesome. Especially when the newborn is screaming and the phone is ringing, it's a relief to know that you don't have to hunt for the beaten egg/seasoned salt/whatever - it's already sitting right there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -When in doubt, oven roast your vegetables. Almost no vegetable tastes bad after being tossed in olive oil and salt and roasted at 375F until done. After they're done you can use a little butter, Parmesan cheese, or whatever to jazz them up. Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrots, zucchini...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Online recipes, depending on the source, can rely on processed or premade ingredients (cream of __ soup, etc.). Don't feel pressure to use those if you don't want to - just do a quick Google on a way to substitute.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -If you are really into cookbooks, try kids' cookbooks. Seriously. They teach techniques you'll need to master. Julia Child is our spirit animal here at CH, but there's no way you can be at her skill level without starting small. The famous chefs all assume you have years of experience in the kitchen and have the basics mastered.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Ditto what other posters have said about learning techniques first and recipes second.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          -Slow cookers are your friend. When Mr. Speak and I are out and about during the day (which we usually are, both being college students), I make pot roast. Beef roast, carrots, onions, water or broth to cover, salt. Served with mashed potatoes or egg noodles, with gravy made from the cooking liquid. It's almost impossible to screw up in the crock pot. Soups are also great this way, as well as beans, chilis of all kinds, curries... the possibilities are endless. There are lots and lots of "recipes for busy moms" websites that extol the virtues of the crock pot. You can even roast a chicken in one!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Feel free to ask for more details or recipes. :)

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: speakhandsforme

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            When I was first learning to cook my brother gave me "The Flavor Principle Cookbook" by Elizabeth Rozin. It not only provided easy, delicious recipes that tasted just like my grandmother's (or someone's Thai or Greek or Italian or Korean et al grandmother's!) cooking, but it gave me courage to go on to experiment. There are some used copies on amazon - pricey, but could be the perfect belated mother's day gift for you. Whenever I've seen a copy I've grabbed it for aspiring cooks in my life (I wish I had one to send to you!).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            On another topic - one day the colic will be gone, hard to imagine and seemingly miraculous. You'll feel less frazzled and not so exhausted, making approaching cooking easier. You'll find that making baby food is a snap - and just one (organic) ingredient at a time is where you start.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Try to go easy on yourself - your husband sounds like he loves and appreciates you as much as you do him.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: janeh

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think you meant to reply to OP? Who is no longer posting but I bet there are lots of people who are benefiting from all these generous tips.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          2. I have been following this thread over the last few days and have responded here and there. Does are access to cooking magazines, shows, put pressure to excel all the time? Even great cooks and chefs have had their failures, how else do you get better if not by learning from your mistakes?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. Tip number one - KEEP IT SIMPLE! You are still working on your baby steps... all of those fancy recipe books are just going to lead to your doom and more failed meals. I'm sure your family would be happy to have the same five meals each week if they're tasty, and you can broaden your repertoire gradually. It doesn't have to be restaurant quality gourmet and different every night of the year...

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Oh, and there's nothing wrong with using good quality store-bought ingredients to help you along. Why do you think the supermarket is FULL of them? Try them once and if you don't like the taste (too chemically, too processed, too salty) cross them off your list and don't buy them again. Not everything has to be made entirely from scratch, especially when you have young mouths to feed. As you know more what the finished product is meant to be, you can learn to make them from scratch.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. Dear Humble Foodie: Where do you live? I want to invite you for a cooking class. I've been teaching cooking for 35 years, and I feel your pain. If you're anywhere near New York, I can have you happy and successful in your kitchen in notime. I promise. This is not a joke. You can reach me through my contact info on this site.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                In the meantime, the suggestion to make sure you follow a recipe to the letter is a good one. But you need to know you have a good recipe to start with. I don't know what books you've been cooking from, but I wouldn't recommend those by any of the tv chefs other than Ina Garten, Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich. Too many recipes don't work.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: ChefJune

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I would also recommend Jaime Oliver's books. His recipes are extemely easy, use lots of easy to find ingredients, and are easily adaptable.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: boogiebaby

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    And I love the way he tells you to throw in a handful of this or that. It brings cooking back to the simple and organic way our grandmothers taught our mothers to cook.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  2. re: ChefJune

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Jump at ChefJune's offer, if you are anywhere near New York!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3. I agree with the other posters who say technique may be where things are falling apart. If a cooking class is not feasible, try watching some "how to" videos on youtube, including ones produced by culinary schools. They are really helpful in fine tuning.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Also, I saw this series from Bon Appetit on "most common cooking mistakes" and immediately thought of this thread. There's even one on pork chops! http://www.bonappetit.com/tag/common-...

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: ChristinaMason

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      It's really easy to dry out pork chops. I have a SIL who has never met a pork loin that did she not cook until it was at least 160°. Of course she likes her steak and chicken breast well-done too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Many women are thrilled to marry a good cook and leave it all to him ;)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I've been cooking almost all my life ... I enjoy it, and I get good results virtually every time. I cook every day, but even with unlimited $$$, I would still want to do it sometimes, for the experience, and the things that no one else can cook like me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      You say that you have a newborn, you've dropped all of your hobbies ... my question is, is cooking really for you? It's frustrating and upsetting ... you're getting some good results, but my feeling is that with another good cook already in the house, isn't life too short? Do you really need to be fighting this uphill battle? Isn't what you've already achieved enough?

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: foiegras

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Oh isn't that the truth! I envy women, like my two sisters, who found men who love to cook and are damn good at it! Much as I love to cook, there's nothing sexier, to me, than a man that loves to cook....

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          What's the height of sexiness (to me) is a man who likes to clean up the kitchen after dinner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: walker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            But who 'likes' to clean up? Although my dad did so every night after us kids left the roost.... But mainly because my mom couldn't wash dishes as she had a soap allergy to the dish soap.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Weird confession: I like hand-washing dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I often prefer to just hand wash and get them done, then rinse/clean load dish washer, unload dish washer and put away.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Years ago we were at a cousin's new house for the first time. As we were touring the kitchen, I pointed out the ideal place for a dishwasher in the future. My cousin's wife disagreed and said they were not getting a dishwasher. (She apparently had OCD issues about 'dirty' dishes sitting unwashed in the dishwasher.) After they had their first child, they got a dishwasher.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: John E.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I (as you probably guessed by my name) have a child. Still like the sort of zen moment of looking out our back window over our sink with my hands in warm soapy water. And yes, I probably do have some of the OCD issues mentioned above. Hand-washed dishes are always cleaner than what comes out of our (fancy-pants) d/w. But I'd hand-wash them anyway ... I just enjoy it. Crazy me.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      eta: No, wait ... no problem with dirty dishes sitting in the d/w - my husband puts whatever he can get away with in there and I'm fine with that. But I do think I do a better job with my hands.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: LulusMom

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I highly doubt you can hand wash dishes in water hot enough to sanitize them. Dishwashers do.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Dirtywextraolives

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Good point. But they also bake any little bits of food that haven't somehow been rinsed off onto the dishes.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          But the main point remains the same: I like doing it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            2. HumbleFoodie

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I have much compassion for you in your ordeals of the daily chore of cooking or preparing the meals for your family. I think we've all (well I'll say that differently since I've been scolded before for including us all).
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              "I've" had moments where I think to myself, why am I so confused with flavors, why did I include that in this recipe, why did I overcook that, I know better, why did I not think forward because had I, I would have realized what the outcome would have been (the disaster it is now).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I don't know, I felt your pain and frustration reading through this again.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I think you're being too hard on yourself, and I am giving you permission to let go a little and enjoy the journey more.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              I'm also asking you to realize what an amazing person you are for going to the ultra limits you do go to to prepare good and plentiful meals for your family, I for one, am very proud of you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              Keep up the good work and don't get down, there's always tomorrow.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              best foot forward is best you can do.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: iL Divo

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Ditto - I am known for criticizing my own food at the dinner table (man, I should have done this, the noodles are slightly overcooked, the meat is a bit overdone). People say, "what's wrong, it's great!" Of course unless there's a major screw-up. I've learned to internalize it, wrap it up into a little ball, and keep it inside. You are not alone!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                "Just squeeze your rage into a bitter little ball and release it at an appropriate time. Like that day I hit the referee with a whiskey bottle. Remember that, when daddy hit the referee?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Homer Simpson

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. re: rudeboy

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  "remember that? remember that?"

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Lisa: "(sniff) yeah" such a sweet father-daughter bonding moment.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  I used to do the self-deprecating thing but realized some might think I'm fishing for compliments. really I'm just looking for constructive criticism, but than not everyone approaches cooking as always a work in progress.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: hill food

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I did that too, and my husband pointed out that I was teaching our daughter to think things she did were never good enough. That was all it took to make me stop and think about criticizing my cooking!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. First, I applaud your valiant efforts. Hang in there.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                You may want to step back a couple of notches and try the jar spahetti sauce with properly cooked pasta, or in a casserole. Go for a simple salad and enjoy a class of wine with it. there is no disgrace in this level of cooking and you can cover a lot of nutritional bases with it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Try looking up all the Alton Brown episodes you can find on YouTube and anywhere else. At least he will help you to relax. He's funny, too.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                You might want to get a copy of a cute little cookbook set by Mark Bittman, The Mini Minimalist. It has simple recipes for very good stuff and a great self-contained menu planner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Use the internet for cooking videos and discussions. There is so very much available.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Be patient and you will make it through. The best thing about cooking is that three meals a day will give you lots of practice. How's your oatmeal?

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. I too am unhappy with many salad dressing recipes. Often they produce huge amounts when you only need a dab. And the vinegar you use can make a big difference. You just need to be aware of that. Store bought dressing have strange ingredients but some are quite good and last a long time.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. You have already received more than 200 replies so you really don't need my advice. However, I'll toss my hat in the ring, anyway.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    I grew up exactly the same way you did with equally limited culinary horizons. Now, many years later, I am considered an excellent and versatile cook. In whose estimation? Mine and my family's. So first you have to cook dishes that you like using ingredients that you like. Don't bother cooking something that you don't know if you like it or not. Second, learn what things smell like and taste like and how they blend with other ingredients in a dish. Every time you go to use a spice put some in your hand and smell it carefully. Then taste it carefully. Then add it to your dish and taste the dish. That way you will build the skill of knowing how much of which spice you like in that dish (remember, that YOU like!).As you practice this you will get to the point where you can say to yourself, "You know, I think this dish needs a little ground cloves." or something. Then you will knw that you are gaining mastery. Lastly, focus on one cuisine at a time. I set myself a goal of preparing one complete meal (appetizers, entree and dessert) from each ethnic group that I liked. A Mexican meal, an Indian meal, a Japanese meal, etc. I would cook Mexican (for example) over and over again until I was satisfied with it. The tamales were the hardest-- getting the texture of the dough right was a challenge. Then when I had the Mexican nailed pretty good I would go on to another cuisine. The advantage of this was that most dishes within one used pretty much the same spices, same vegetables, same cooking methods, etc. The consistency and repetition were very helpful to a new learner.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    It took a couple of years but I can now cook many delicious and nutritious meals that my family likes. This is in addition to "standard American fare" like hamburgers, spaghetti and meatballs, roast beef with mashed potatoes, fried chicken, etc. Those meals are no-brainers for me and are easy. I only make the unusual or ethnic meal once or twice a week.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: Chrysalisgirl

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Excellent advice; too bad we never heard back from HumbleFoodie .. wonder if she has even read all these great comments. Oh well, I, at least, have gained a few tips.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: walker

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Actually, we did hear back, walker, and humblefoodie was overwhelmed with the huge response. One of the nice things about a thread like this is that it grows beyond the original question and replies and lets all have a glimpse into some very good ideas. Thanks to all.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. I am more critical than my husband ever will be as he is not a picky eater and would be happy eating Hamburger Helper. To be honest I had to learn on that type of food though. Simple things can be hard when you don't even know how to make pasta. I received a cookbook when I went to college that was a 4 ingredient or less book that I would make things out of. Some were good, some were bad. My roommates in college would have Casserole Night, most things were made of canned items. When I got married most things were semi homemade with jarred pasta sauce and packaged mashed potatoes. I scoured the internet for recipes and if I was looking up a particular one I would look at dozens of the same one and learn the TECHNIQUE behind it. Over time, I slowly learned how to cook. I still make plenty of mistakes and there are nights when it's a fail, but each one is a learning experience and I make notes. If a recipe is a success I immediately write it down with the specific technique that I followed, what to look for ect. I also follow recipes for the first time to a T, then make notes. Now I know what flavors go together and what I can substitute. Ina Garten taught me a lot, but her style of cooking and flavors are what I like. I definitely can't cook like most of those on here, but most of what I make now is successful (to my husband and I ) and homemade. I also recommend Cooks Illustrated, because they explain what to look for, and at what point to do things. The cookbooks are great, don't do their website. I still pull out my recipes each time that remind me of the technique I used. I'm with others, I may read Julia's recipes, and have now completed a few successfully, she is not for a beginner in my books. Also if your husband is like mine, he gets hungry often, and would probably hunt down those cured meats even if he had eaten 2 servings of dinner. :) Also, if he's the excellent cook with a great palate, cooking together may be a great way to learn and learn his tastes! I would immediately write down the technique and process after so that you can reference it later.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. HumbleFoodie - anyone who has bothered to read my posts knows I am NOT sentimental, yet, for some reason I feel compelled to offer this link:


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Start with simple meals until you get the hang of it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          You never know, maybe he'd enjoy something NON-GOURMET for a change. Ask his mom what he loved as a child, and ask her to show you how to do it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Let him cook the "chef stuffs."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. Some of the best meals are the simpliest in terms of ingredients. Your ribeye steak and chicken dish sound delicious but you spent a year perfecting them. I am sure your other meals are very good, it sounds like you are being really hard on yourself.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            1. I think it's been talked about on the thread, but I thought I'd say this explicitly. Trying cooking something where you can adjust the flavors as you go along. Marcella Hazan's bolognese is perfect for that. I'd go against the grain and tell you NOT to start with a roast chicken because you can't taste as you go along. My key tool in my kitchen are my tastebuds. As others have said, learning how to course correct is not only a great joy, but will make you much saner. There are four different flavor correcters I use - salt, lemon juice, Vietnamese fish sauce and honey. For example, the vinaigrette you made that you had to throw out? If it was way to sour, adding honey balances it out. The key to flavor correcting is just adding a little at a time until you get it to how YOU like it. My cousin made a brisket stew one time that just tasted flat and a bit salty. I put in a tablespoon of Vietnamese fish sauce and it tasted how she wanted it. That slow-cooked hearty flavor. Salt = rounder, fuller flavor. Lemon juice = brighter flavor. Fish sauce = deeper flavor (that flavor that tastes like the edge of a lasagna). Honey = sweeter but also mellower flavor. I'd actually also try the hamburger again using the technique suggested earlier. Make a little meatball out of the hamburger meat and taste. Then make the correction you need.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              1. re: Dcfoodblog

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                I think this post is very helpful. Options I use when adjusting flavor include jalapeno brine, molasses (does change the color as well), and soy sauce.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              2. food, like art, needs to be fun or it's garbage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                vite brevis, ars ludus

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                1. Hey there, keep your head up. I know it can be hard, I'm moving in with my fiancee in a few months and am starting to feel the pressure of having to learn how to cook better and vary up the type of dishes I make so I'm not serving the same things over and over. It seems like you're a great cook though! My advice is 1. Get over the fear of failure, it happens, embrace it! Cooking is a constant learning process. 2. Try different recipes for burgers, namely ones with fewer ingredients then once you perfect it add what you think would be good. I say this b/c IMO more ingredients/steps= more room for error. Hope that helps!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  1. You're being way too hard on yourself. As others have said, start with a beginner's cookbook, like BH&Gs. Just like any other craft, learn to do a few things well, and then add your own enhancements. Taste everything that is safe to taste as you go, and adjust to what you like.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Once you have a few things down, then try to get more sophisticated, but don't be intimidated. I grew up with a mom who was a pretty good cook, but she never did anything very innovative, and now I do pretty much all the cooking for family gatherings. I think my sister-in-law could have written your posting, and I know she feels intimidated when she cooks with me because she doesn't just *know* why I'm thinking about doing what I'm going to do next. I tell her, "you can't just *know*, you gotta learn by doing." Just like I tell her, learn how to do a few simple things, and then branch out. You can do it! I learned how to cook in a way scaled-back apartment-sized urban kitchen with a few knives, a cutting board, two bowls, and two feet of counter space.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Try to pay attention to everything that is going on, (hard with a baby, I know), and just stick with it! PM me if you want any more specific advice--you can do it!

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: diva360

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      There's no PM feature on Chowhound. :) But, I think we'd all welcome an update from humblefoodie and would be thrilled to field any and all questions from her!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Humblefoodie, how's it going?


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        TDQ, the OP actually gave a status update a few days ago in responding to this separate thread. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9820...
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        (Hoping that the link takes you directly to her post but not sure if it will as the new format eliminated the "link" button for individual comments on a thread.).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: masha

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Hi Masha! That link worked perfectly, thank you.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          What a wonderful update. That was so not MY advice that ended up working for her, but how exciting that advice given in this thread turned things around for her so dramatically! WOW!


                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            That's what makes CH, especially HC, so great. There's such a diversity of experiences and perspective but virtually everyone is supportive and constructive. I just reread your advice and it seemed good to me. But there is almost always than one way to achieve any particular goal.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    2. Have you considered going to a cooking school? I mean something modest where you do not enroll in a program, just take a single course. Here, in Florida, the Publix grocery chain offers single individual classes or up to six classes on the same topic. There are also three or four competitors in addition to the Publix classes in places such as cookware shops, local community colleges, restaurants, etc. Surely, whereever you live, there must be something like the classes which I have described.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      I am thinking of hands-on classes, where you actually make the item in the course description. "Demo" classes are of less value because you do not get any feedback as to what you are doing wrong.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1. I don't have much else to contribute than to reiterate to keep things very simple and not over think it.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I love cooking and do mess up quite a bit. And I do not cook a full meal every night, that't too much work, lol.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I do try to cook in batches and freeze some items as building blocks for future meals. Recently I started freezing uncooked hamburgers or vietnamese pork patties that we can just throw on the bbq for a quick meal and serve with a salad or steamed broccoli and rice noodles. It is not gourmet or fancy, but it sure beats take-out or delivery.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I really enjoy three UK sources:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        - BBC Good Food magazine (available on iPad at a fraction of the print magazine),
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        - delicious.magazine (also available on iPad for much less than in print)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        - Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        All three have both simple everyday recipes and more involved ones for special meals. The ingredients are generally easy to find in Canadian supermarkets (I'm not sure where you are located, but think it should be no problem in the States either).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        I hope all the ideas in this thread will have helped you in the cooking department. All the best and do let us know who you make out! :)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        1. Oh you dear, dear lady. What a treasure you are. I wasn't much of a cook when I started out with my honey years ago. I was a single city girl who could cook a decent pasta and order lots of take-out. I think some of your recipes may be too complex for a weeknight. Remember that not every recipe is a winner. Learn some easy short cuts and have fun with the cooking.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          A good book is Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. I tend to have a good feel for what pleases my palate when reading a recipe. For instance, neither of us like licorice flavor, so I avoid recipes with anise and fennel. What types of foods do you enjoy when you and your husband go out? I would look for recipes that mimic that. Also, I've found that I have to adjust recipes to our tastes. Too sour? I add a little sweetness. Too sweet? I'll add a little savory or salt. And when in doubt my honey has an amazing palate and helps me season and make adjustments. It's fun and it becomes a team effort. Not every dish has been saved and we sometimes end up ordering pizza but we have lots of fun along the way and many funny stories to tell.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          My husband and I still giggle about the horrible chicken I cooked when we first started dating and how he had to force himself to eat it without making a face. Trust me, you'll find your groove. I'm a great cook now and even then I still mess up from time to time. I have a blog that might interest you. It's sorely out of date but has some easy recipe that have gotten my husband's approval and he's not easy to please. ellebeaugrease.blogspot.com

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Bon appetit!