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Learned from experience?

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I'd be interested to hear some stories about how accumulated experience taught people to do particular little things or to take certain measures that only experience and knowledge taught you to do. How aware are you of the little choices you make on the spot, from experience?

Here's why I ask: In teaching my teenage son about cooking (i'm 50), it's brought me back to the memory that, for at least the first year or two, EVERY cooking experience for me was a lesson on what NOT to do next time.

Now today, I brought home frozen coconut-coated shrimps from Walgreens (internationally, read generic, low-rent drug store with all kinds of other things like snacks and batteries and photo shop; not a gourmet spot). The ingredients were all natural, and it was on sale, so I went for it.

Instructions indicated putting the shrimps in a non-stick pan at 450 Fahrenheit for 14 minutes. I thought: "I don't think nonstick pans should be at 450F for that time--that's too close to the danger zone for that material." So I semi-warmed and oiled a cast-iron pan on stovetop and then used that in the oven, with great success. I knew the combination of some heat and oil would approximate whatever those folks wanted from nonstick surfaces.

And in fact, my son asked for that to be his snack for the rest of the Summer. We'll see.

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  1. I think new cooks seem to start cooking things on the stove top on HIGH. This burns the outside and leaves the center under-cooked. Go low and slow.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Antilope

      This is probably the most notable thing experience taught me. I burn things on the stove much less than I use to. More generally: be patient.

      1. re: lamb_da_calculus

        Even though I know this I inevitably forget about 30% of the time or I am too low and then end up getting impatient and cranking up. I need to learn to do it the right way every time!

    2. Experience has taught that in cooking (and maybe even in life) there is no such thing as failure, only evidence of an intrepid and innovative spirit.

      8 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        ipse, I LOVE that :) Julia C would be proud of you.

        1. re: ipsedixit

          Some things are caramelized, some over caramelized. . .

          As for the rest, have a good fire extinguisher and life is good

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I've read this expressed as "there are no failures, only results".

            1. re: nofunlatte

              Well, I did once make a birthday cake from scratch that I think has to count as a failure as well as a result. In retrospect, I think I erred in using warm, summer-countertop butter in the creaming stage. In any case, it was so inedible that even my then-wife and I were laughing at the spectacle of the worst cake we'd ever encountered.

              It's one of those things to that made me mindful of the difference between baking and most other forms of cookery. Baking is closer to a being chemistry project.

            2. re: ipsedixit

              I don't how intrepid my soul is.

              Ben Franklin is quoted as saying "Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."

              This quote describes me better. In fact it seems I always learn more from my failures than my successes. If only I could learn more from others mistakes.

              1. re: Hank Hanover

                Someone near to me does not learn from his mistakes. It is a terrible thing.

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  While I don't disagree with you Hank, I like to think that my successes (as few and far between as they may be) are the culmination of the lessons learned.

                  I really dislike the notion of characterizing cooking results as "failures" because when a person has not made exactly what was intended, the effort in and of itself did produce a result. And the mere ability to undertake that effort - regardless of result -is enough to warrant it exempt from "failure" status. For me, anyway.

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    I have a friend who regularly ruins whatever she serves us by telling us all the mistakes she made and all the ingredient substitutions because of not not reading the recipe ahead. What she serves is usually just fine and we'd never know it was a "failure" if she didn't tell us.

              2. I've learned not to be afraid to experiment. A chef friend once told me, "Cook by ear, but bake by the book." For most every day cooking, truer words were never spoken.

                By, "Cook by ear." my friend meant not to be a slave to recipes. Most recipes are guidelines, not cut and dried rules. And as you gain experience you will learn which rules can be bent, which can be broken, and which ones can't. The recipe called for red pepper flakes and you (or your significant other) don't like them, leave them out. No chicken breasts available, but you have pork or shrimp, use that instead.

                My most successful example is what I call my "Sommer Pasta," so-called because you can use sommer this and sommer that. It starts with boiling up the pasta of your choice. Penne works really well for me, but spaghetti, fettuccine, even elbows work fine. While it is boiling, I sauté up some onions, garlic, and (usually) mushrooms and whatever else I happen to have on hand. Usually it contains a protein. Chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, scallops, other seafood, have all been used. While I normally only use a single protein I have occasionally "mixed and matched" to use up leftovers.

                The same goes for the veggie component. Broccoli, summer squash, zucchini, shredded carrots, etc. Corn and peas don't work especially well because they tend to sink to the bottom of the bowl but many other vegetables have worked out just fine. I usually add grape tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise, but I learned to prevent them from overcooking I just put them in the bottom of the colander before I drain the pasta into it.

                Toss them all together in a big bowl to mix.

                Sometimes I fancy it up with toasted pine nuts and grated cheese is a must. Sometimes the olive oil used to sauté the veggies is enough, sometimes I mix in pesto, sometimes (home made) Italian salad dressing.

                The possibilities are nearly endless.

                I look at cooking as a learning experience. Sometimes I learn, "I won't do that again." but I have had more pleasant surprises than failures from my experimentation.

                1. 1. Make sure you start out with a pot or a pan that's big enough to let the food have space to cook.

                  2. Start the water boiling early for pasta/noodles/vegetables because when you are using a big pot it takes ages to boil.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Frizzle

                    I recall Lynne Rossetto Kasper of the Splendid Table Public Radio show herself extolling the practical advice of a cook she admired. To this effect: "First thing to do when entering the kitchen to make a meal is put a pot of water on to boil. Why? Not sure yet, but it's bound to come in handy for something."

                    1. re: Bada Bing

                      Well that's just odd. I don't have the need to boil water very often.

                      1. re: rasputina

                        Her comment was sort of with a wink. She just thought it was interestingly "practical." And maybe the cooking in question was Italian, where pasta, rice, or some broth or boil-able veggie are likely to come up.

                      2. re: Bada Bing

                        I've often thought this would be a good rule of thumb while competing on Chopped.

                    2. I learned how to just open the cabinets and create something.

                      I used to follow recipes when I first started cooking. That was good for helping me to know what I liked and didn't like, AND what things worked and what didn't.

                      Then I started adding/subtracting ingredients from recipes. I'd read a recipe that sounded good, but would add something else because I thought it might make it better. Often it did; sometimes it didn't. (Yeah, ok - adding a large wooden spoonful of red wine to a hamburger stroganoff made it slightly purplish in color. Looked gross, but it tasted much better! And since I'm only making it for myself, who cares what it looks like? LOL)

                      Now I'll most often use recipes as a guideline. But I can also just open the cabinets and pantry and create a pretty decent (or great!) dinner.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        In the era of readily accessible knowledge, the importance of its retention is diminishing. It is the power of imagination that will be the way we separate the men from the boys.

                        That aside, I'm a huge proponent of improvisational cooking. The space in front of the stove top is the home chef's dark, smoke-filled, club stage. Practice when nobody's looking, know your scales, but when the spot comes up, listen to the melody, keep the time, take hold of your instrument, and wail.

                        1. re: LindaWhit

                          So true, learning to cook off the cuff has been the greatest lesson for me. I gave up recipes soon after I developed an interest in cooking. I enjoy the process much more when its a creative endeavor inspired perhaps by ideas from recipes.

                        2. Every mistake teaches you something. True in cooking and pretty much everything else.

                          1. When I was a latchkey kid, I would come home from school and make cookies. We never bought cookies or had them in the house. I think I was 11 or so. I distinctly remember going through all the cookie recipes in Good Housekeeping to see what ingredients we had. I did this several times, but the only cookie we had all the ingredients for was the sugar cookie. So, I'd have to make them real quick and hide the evidence. Half the recipe.

                            One time they tasted really weird. I guess I'd forgotten to half the shortening or something. I'm not sure because they still looked like cookies. I remember the grease on the roof of my mouth.

                            Fast forward to last fall, I forgot to use one egg instead of two halving a choc chip recipe. So, I never learned anything... Funny, the cookies spread out a lot and were thin, and actually quite tasty!

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: rudeboy

                              >>>
                              Fast forward to last fall, I forgot to use one egg instead of two halving a choc chip recipe. So, I never learned anything... Funny, the cookies spread out a lot and were thin, and actually quite tasty!
                              <<<

                              The first time I ever made oatmeal cookies using Ny Mother's Secret Recipe (you know, the one printed on the side of the Quaker Oatmeal container) I carefully measured out all the ingredients before doing anything else. Not having a regular baking sheet, I used a 12 inch pizza pan in its place. I mixed all the ingredients together, made neat little cookie blobs on the pan, and popped it in the properly preheated oven.

                              At the end of the allotted time, I opened the door of the oven to find one giant 12 inch oatmeal cookie. As I took the pan out and put it on the cooling rack I noticed, there on the countertop, was my measuring cup containing the flour that should've been in the cookies. The resultant "cookie" was quite tasty, but, surprise surprise, they lacked that special "crunch" that Mom's cookies had.

                              1. re: rudeboy

                                Your cookie story's reminding me of a funny recent episode: my son wanted to make peanut butter cookies for the first time unobserved. Because a lot of ingredients were 1/2 cup (brown sugar, flour, PB), he managed also to introduce a half cup of BAKING POWDER! That's as against the 3/4 tsp called for in the recipe.

                                I tasted the uncooked batter after he said that something maybe wasn't right, and I told him I thought the batter did look oddly dry and clumpy. My head reeled for 45 minutes after!

                                Luckily we didn't cook it. There could have been an explosion.

                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                  that is pretty funny, made me laugh out loud. but i admire his determination to try. i hope he continues. how old is he?

                                  i just got my 5 year old nephew a knife though he isnt quite ready for it. i also ordered some plastic knives from amazon that i hope will be more appropriate.
                                  Curious Chef 3-Piece Nylon Knife Set
                                  by Curious Chef

                                  1. re: divadmas

                                    My son is 14 but might need ADD meds. Following detailed instructions is not his strong suit.

                              2. 1. Before you start actually cooking, pull together all of the ingredients, pots & pans, and other tools that you will need. This ensures that you actually have the ingredients on hand, as well as enabling you to move on to the next step without having to fumble to get something, midstream. (This advice needs to be tempered if you have limited counterspace for preparation.)

                                2. Especially when you are preparing multiple dishes (e.g., for dinner), think through the order that you will prepare everything -- in terms of what takes the longest to cook, what is the most time-consuming to prepare, and what can be prepared later, while other items are cooking unattended.

                                3. As others have said, learn how different flavors, condiments, seasonings complement each other so you can free-lance or modify recipes with ingredients on hand. An example: Earlier this week we were having grilled mahi, mahi. We had a firm avocado on hand -- not soft enough for guacamole, which is what I typically make with avocados. I decided to make an avocado & tomato relish as a topping to the fish -- no recipe used, just basically made a deconstructed guacamole, with diced avocado and tomatoes, some red onion, lime juice, salt and pepper. And, then added some rice wine vinegar, after tasting, as I decided it needed more astringency and did not have another lime.

                                4. Try to minimize the number of dirty prep tools you generate by thinking through the order in which you prepare items, so that you can use the same tool for multiple tasks, with minimal or no washing in between. For example, if you need to cut up multiple items, start with those that are dry and move to the wet, saving raw meats for last, so that you can use the same cutting board and knife for all (subject to rule no. 2, above, that you may want to get your meat cooking first, and then make salad, for example). Same thing if there are multiple uses that you have for your food processor.

                                33 Replies
                                1. re: masha

                                  YES! Your #4 is a must-learn.

                                  1. re: LindaWhit

                                    I've learned from my experience that my success with rule number four--about strategizing the order in which one uses tools--runs in inverse proportion to the amount of wine we've consumed prior to the main action. Odd, that....

                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                      Rule no 5: no imbibing until you've (mostly) finished cooking!

                                      1. re: masha

                                        Well, now THAT'S no fun. :-P

                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                          Your cooking skills and/ or ability to hold your liquor are clearly better than mine! When we entertain, I always plan a meal that involves minimal cooking once the guests arrive so this isn't an issue. If it's just hubby and me, we may have a bottle of wine with dinner but rarely preprandial drinks.

                                          1. re: masha

                                            Well, I have sliced off the tips of two of my fingernails on my left hand. So my "cooking skills and ability to hold liquor" can be called into question, although the worst was done at 10:00 a.m. in the morning while chopping herbs for the roast turkey during Thanksgiving 2011 - and I WASN'T drinking - so perhaps just my cooking skills can be questioned. :-) I just say it's part of the deal.

                                        2. re: masha

                                          I would starve to death.

                                    2. re: masha

                                      I like these points. When making cookies and quick breads where wet and dry items measure out, I had to learn from frustrated experience the utility of measuring the dry before the wet. (Who's gonna measure flour in a cup that just measured milk?)

                                      Also, about your avocado, I bet the world is pretty full of people who haven't learned to note ripeness level and what works for one thing but not another just then.

                                      It's amazing all the quick, little judgments one comes to make that seem like nothing but really are almost everything when it comes to a dish's success..

                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                        Except I've always had separate measuring cups for liquid and dry ingredients.

                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                          I have separate measuring cups for liquid and dry but even then there may be situations where you are measuring "wet" items in the dry measure, such as cut up fruit. Or measuring spoons used for both, when you need 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp vanilla extract, for example. In fact, I have multiple sets of both measuring cups and spoons so it's not much of an issue -- they are DW washable and don't take up much space, so no biggie if I use 2. I'm more fastidious about this when it's an item that needs to be hand-washed (like cutting boards and knives) or occupies a lot of space in the DW.

                                          1. re: masha

                                            Good point on the measuring wet items in dry measuring cups.

                                            And like you, masha, I have two sets of dry measuring cups and two sets of measuring spoons as well.

                                            1. re: LindaWhit

                                              Only two?!?!? :)

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                LOL! Well, I'm only cooking for myself. Anything more would be excessive, don't you think? ;-)

                                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                                  Lordie no :)

                                        2. re: Bada Bing

                                          I would also teach to use a balance (weight) instead of relying on volume for nearly everything especially things like flour which is very inaccurate.

                                          1. re: honkman

                                            But only if the recipe gives you the weight measurement, right?

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              It would still help to teach that for future recipes that you have converted the volume to weight and so will have better and more consistent results.

                                              1. re: honkman

                                                Yes, I like to weigh a first-time recipe that only gives volume measurements and write it down. Then I can have consistent results in the future.

                                                I don't want to totally reject volume measurements, however, because I'm afraid I'll end up at someone's house where there isn't a scale and be helpless.

                                              2. re: c oliver

                                                It's easy to convert, I do it everyday. It's sort of second nature now.

                                                1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                  But if something calls for two CUPS of an ingredient, why would one doubt that? I weigh when it's called for but not routinely.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Because my scale is already out. It's just habit to me. I don't doubt it I just weigh it.

                                                    1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                      I'd like to use weight more as a basis, and I have a scale. If a recipe calls for two cups of something, and then you weight it, what do you do with that information?

                                                      1. re: rudeboy

                                                        I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Do you have an example of a food? My approach varies slightly depending on what it is.

                                                        1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                          I'm thinking of something like "2C of chopped onions." That a volume rather then weight thing, isn't it?

                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                            Well I don't generally follow recipes but if I was and it called for 2 C of chopped from my experience I know that a cup of onions is roughly 150 grams so I'd just chop up onions and toss them into the bowl on the scale to total 300 grams. Tare, and work on the next ingredient. I often just plop the saute pan on the scale. I know how much better I'm using rather than guessing. Over time you learn that products are categorized into consistent groups (e.g. butter and oils always 14 g, sauces and dressings usually 28 g, meats 112 g). Not that it matters that much but after a decade of fitness training it's sort of the way I operate and it's become second nature. I don't have to fiddle with measuring cups and fewer dishes to wash.

                                                            1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                              I get what you're saying. But if something calls for 3T of butter I can cut off that from a stick without measuring. I can eyeball most chopped thing and rarely does it matter if I'm off. Different strokes :)

                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                Yea, it doesn't work for everyone or probably most people. But as a serious weightlifter eyeballing doesn't always work so well to meet your goals. I used to measure certain things with spoons and cups but eventually decided to just weigh it all and save myself a few dishes. Also for items which aren't premarked it especially useful. A cup of cereal as listed on the box is generally way (no pun intended) more than the actual grams listed, same with simple things like a T of peanut butter, variables which are important to some people who are attempting to keep track of such things.

                                                              2. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                If you don't use recipes, I guess the weighing of this and that is to track your caloric and fat intake?

                                                                1. re: rudeboy

                                                                  Calories, fat, protein and carbs but when I use recipes because I do sometimes I still weigh and write my own ideas/recipes with weights. It requires one tool vs multiple tools which for me is easier.

                                                                  1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                    I normally don't measure anything at all, except for baking. It takes too much time to weigh things for daily cooking, and then one ends up with a bunch of useless data to manage. That one tool turns into a bunch of data that has to be written down, managed, entered, and then conferred with. Much easier to not worry about it for the home cook. Intuition is a much better friend to me.

                                                                    1. re: rudeboy

                                                                      It works for me, it might not work for you. However, I'm pretty sure my intuition is still intact. I can be friends with many parts of my brain.

                                                                      1. re: fldhkybnva

                                                                        It works for you, and I think that is great.

                                                                        After 20 years of living stateside, I still measure in metric. Hilarious trying to convert grams to ounces for individual servings.

                                                                        I may not remember what a pint of water weighs, but I have a quarter liter to the milligram!!

                                                2. re: honkman

                                                  I weigh everything in the kitchen, dry, liquid, everything. It makes it so much easier.

                                            2. If you are using a recipe, read through it twice, and assemble the ingredients and tools. That way you won't miss some instruction on first glance, and be frantically trying to do whatever it was that you overlooked.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: arashall

                                                In same vein, I actually have different areas on the counter where I (a) assemble ingredients in anticipation of using them and (b) place the container for that ingredient after I've used it. So, if I am baking a cake for example, I line up the flour, sugar, cinnamon, etc on one place on our island near where I am preparing the cake and then, put the flour & sugar canisters, cinnamon container, etc. on a different spot on the island further from my work space, once I've added it. That way, I can glance over at the area where I've assembled ingredients for inclusion in the recipe to be sure they've all been included before I turn the batter into the pan & pop it in the oven.

                                                This is not foolproof. About a month ago I was making a cake that had a lot of ingredients -- a 1/4 cup of this, 1/8 cup of that, 1/2 tsp of this, etc. I thought that I'd faithfully followed the recipe, scraped the batter into the pan and put it in the oven. Only then did I turn around to discover that there was still a 1/8 cup of orange juice that I'd forgot to add. Decided just to leave the cake in the oven and wing it. Turned out fine. (The recipe was a mess as it was marked up with my handwritten computations for making a 1/3 and 1/2 version -- I was following the 1/2 version and the oj was one of about 6 ingredients that should have been added in 1 step.)

                                              2. One of the most important things to teach is the quality of ingredients and avoiding highly processed food. To be honest picking something from the frozen section of Walgreens is in my opinion a very bad start as you teach him making processed food. Why not picking a few shrimps and teach him what to do ( different variations) with them.

                                                32 Replies
                                                1. re: honkman

                                                  I'm with you in substance, but I do slightly resent your prejudicial and hasty reading. As I noted, the product had entirely natural ingredients. No unpronounceable stuff, no preserving additives, nothing that wouldn't be on a coconut shrimp made at home. The only iffy thing is the sourcing of the shrimp. (I don't generally buy farmed Asian shrimp; the package did not indicate origins.)

                                                  Also, I'm starting to think I might have got it at my favorite supermarket, rather than Walgreens, but that is a moot issue. It was a somewhat pricey item marked down, in the way that sometimes happens when a product line is being discontinued.

                                                  1. re: Bada Bing

                                                    I think anyone who "knows" you here would already know that you committed no errors.

                                                    1. re: c oliver

                                                      Sweet of you to say!

                                                      By the way, I'm a he (looking to your next response). Single Dad, for the time being.

                                                      1. re: Bada Bing

                                                        HA! Evil stepmother here :)

                                                    2. re: Bada Bing

                                                      I looked on the Walgreens page for the coconut shrimp to see see the ingredients list and I could only find other types of shrimps. "Natural ingredients" on any packages have no meaning as there is no law which regulates what is a "natural" ingredients and what I saw on the other shrimps was just processed food.

                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                        Bada didn't say that the package said "natural" but that she read the ingredients and they were natural. Or at least that's how I understood it.

                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                          You're devoted to your high horse, I see. I don't think I got this at Walgreen's, after all, but my post was really about cooking technique, anyway. Here is the company in question. I think they're going out of business, because many of their links don't work.

                                                          http://www.aquastar.com

                                                          I am not cavalier about ingredients, and it seems churlish that you would presume otherwise. The only "chemical-ish ingredients in the item were ones that appeared to me to be sodium variants (bicarbonate, pyrophosphate) used in supermarket seasoning mixes, and xanthan gum in the sauce. But maybe I did a bad, bad thing. You can out me.

                                                          1. re: Bada Bing

                                                            Sorry buy you asked for opinions and I don't think the ingredient list looks good (I assume we are talking about these shrimps):

                                                            http://www.walmart.com/ip/Aqua-Star-B...

                                                            This is for me nothing which I would call natural but highly processed food including "artificial flavors", STPP to firm up your shrimps, yeast (which is often another way to describe MSG with these kinds of food)

                                                            1. re: honkman

                                                              You got me. My son is off to a bad start. And it's my fault.

                                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                Bad Dad :)

                                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                                  That's right. I'm bad. I'm bad. You know it.

                                                                2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                  I never said something like this but you seem to prefer "discussions" which just repeat your preferred own opinion. And yes I think the quality of ingredients and how to explore it is one of the most fundamental and important teachings/experiences to any kid. A lot of other stuff mentioned here is "just" relative easy technique which your kid will pick up anyway if he is interested in cooking.

                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                    Not to prolong the worthless, and I have no animosity really, but the words "a very bad start" are in your initial statement.

                                                                    1. re: honkman

                                                                      Part of being interested in cooking or that matter *getting* interested in cooking is enjoying the food one eats.

                                                                      You may not approve of the food but thats not your call.

                                                                      My son got interested in making pizza from scratch was after eating frozen french bread pizza at a friends. We made it ourselves with the bread I had in the freezer, which he then started doing himself, which lead to him helping me make french bread, which lead him to making pizza dough and so on and so on….

                                                                  2. re: honkman

                                                                    Let it go dude. This thread is about entirely another topic.

                                                            2. re: honkman

                                                              Awful advice. And just myopically silly.

                                                              Some of the best things I've made were from Sriracha, Hoisin sauce, ketchup (Heinz, no less!), cereal of all types, oatmeal, sausages, tater tots, Ritz crackers, Fig newtons, and the list goes on and on.

                                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                We know from many discussions that we have very different approaches and thoughts about food - it's great that you liked your food with these ingredients

                                                                1. re: honkman

                                                                  You two......instead of exploring your differences, find where your minds are in harmony. Here are my thoughts:

                                                                  My wife often comments that I am a hypocrite. I refuse to allow my kids to eat things out of shiny boxes and want them to learn how to make whole foods, pick vegetables, make a starter culture, practice their knife skills, and do things the right way. However, I was raised in the late 70s and 80s, so I can be a junk food junkie. I'll scarf down top ramen (the secret is to eat the noodles and not drink the juice), eat gobs of skittles, cook up a steak at 11:30 PM, etc. My rationale is that I am already a walking corpse.

                                                                  We went fishing and shrimping and crabbing a lot when I was a kid, and we'd take the boat *downstream* of DuPont, Polysar, BF Goodrich, etc, to catch. I saw the outfalls - I'm soylent already. We caught lots of shrimps from those waters. But my kids are pure, and I want to keep them that way.

                                                                  I can actually taste HFCS, but people don't believe me. I remember when our TX beloved TX Ice Cream, Blue Bell, started tasting funny. Took my a few cartons to finally look at the ingredients. Gasp. Only the natural vanilla bean is unsullied. And it isn't just the HFCS (I'm not on some hippie bandwagon - it tastes weird), but other fillers and such. Before, it was milk, cream, sugar, eggs, whatever flavor it was supposed to be, and guar gum.

                                                                  Heinz ketchup will never enter my home because it's funny somehow and living up to some standard that was set when it was actually a good ketchup. But it is up to ipsedixit to decide for her or his home. Central Market is the best, though, for me, but ipsedixit might scoff at the jujubees that I am staring at right now. There not really that good, they stick to my teeth, but I think that they might survive the nest great extinction.

                                                                  I ate Captain Crunch with Crunch Berries every day of my life from age 5 to 12. I have four distinct methods for approaching the dish and three methods for consuming skittles. I tried to watergate some crunch berries into the house for my midnite treat, but my 6 year old saw them, and pandemonium ensued. I almost had to take her to rehab. I tapered her down from that box and she's been clean ever since. Or so she tells me.

                                                                  I've actually been to a cocktail party and encountered a pHD food scientist, and you would not believe the dollars that are spent to manipulate our palates. A product development and rollout can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars to low millions with testing and all. I never knew that it was so complicated.

                                                                  So, I agree with both of you. We have to be pure. I think that there's a market for properly made junk food and food board etiquette.

                                                                  1. re: rudeboy

                                                                    If a person cannot make chicken cacciatore from frozen prepackaged chicken nuggets, then experience has taught them nothing.

                                                                    There is no such thing as a poor quality ingredient -- processed or otherwise. There are only poor ways to use those ingredients.

                                                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                      "There is no such thing as a poor quality ingredient" - I think you perfectly named the main differences in our cooking philosophies. (That doesn't mean you shouldn't be able technically to cook up even low quality ingredients but it will never ever taste (independently how good you cook) as good as the same dish with high quality ingredients. You will always taste the low quality product in the final dish)

                                                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                        "There is no such thing as a poor quality ingredient "

                                                                        ??????????????????????????????????????

                                                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                          And your comment is also a slap in the face of every farmer who tries to produce better quality meat or produce - in your wrong logic they shouldn't even try since there is no low quality ingredients (we should people like Bill Niman or farms like Chino, Suzie's that they should stop producing the same crap as everybody else)

                                                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                            <<There is no such thing as a poor quality ingredient -- processed or otherwise>>

                                                                            I am sorry but I don't really get this mentality. Are you honestly saying that chicken cacciatore made with frozen processed chicken nuggets, dried garlic and basil instead of fresh, etc will taste the same as one made with fresh chicken, fresh spices, etc? That you truly wouldn't taste the difference? That a grilled cheese made with wonder bread and processed cheese food will be as good as one made with homemade bread and fontina?

                                                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                              I've known and profited from ipsedixit's comments for some years. I'm sure that his/her point isn't that spoiled ingredients are as good as unspoiled nor that there is no difference between, say, natural chicken thighs and chicken nuggets in a cacciatore.

                                                                              The context of the thread makes me suppose that the question being posed is something more like: "To what degree do you subscribe to a concept of natural, whole-food 'purity' as the criterion concerning what is or is not worthy cooking/eating"?"

                                                                              In addition, as countless internet sites can clarify, there is no clear line between what counts as "processed" and "natural." Sodium Bicarbonate is okay (have you used baking soda?), but eating something with Sodium Tripolyphosphate means you've gone to the dark side?

                                                                              1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                Yup, what Bada Bing said.

                                                                                It's also that the context in which the comments I am responding to is that somehow one should only cook or use "quality" ingredients -- whatever "quality" may or may not mean.

                                                                                If a person cannot, or is unwilling, to make chicken sandwich out of chicken shit, then it really is a "you" problem, and not an ingredient issue.

                                                                                For example, of course I am going to prefer using peaches from my backyard tree to make a pie, but if I am given, or if all I have, is canned peaches, then I'm not going to throw up my hands and say, "ah, fooey, no peach pie." Fuck that; I'm going to take that can of Del Monte's finest and make the best of the situation. Maybe the peach pie I make won't be as good as ones made with fresh peaches, but it certainly isn't gong to stop me from trying -- in fact, it might make me try harder and in doing so make me a better cook (or baker in this instance).

                                                                                The kind or qualitative value of the ingredients should not be an impediment to cooking gumption.

                                                                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                                                                  But that's exactly the point if you don't have good peaches why trying to make peach pie with low quality ingredients instead of looking around what good quality ingredients you have and trying to make an excellent pie out of them. What you cook/bake should be driven by what good ingredients you have. And also if you have only chicken shit available you bought the wrong stuff in the first place which I think is inportant to teach your kids. Teaching your kids how to shop in supermarket is the very first critical step in becoming a good cook

                                                                                2. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                  Does it always have to be organic chicken thighs - no and a lot of people can't afford it. But is it acceptable to use some chicken nuggets (made out of chicken scraps pressed to look like "real" pieces of chicken already prebreaded) and I think here people have different philosophies about food quality as for us this wouldn't be acceptable - there are many better quality sources for chicken than those chicken nuggets but still not necessarily as expansive as organic chicken. It comes down if you set a minimum criteria for quality of ingredients (myself) or do you think everything is acceptable (ipse).
                                                                                  And yes there is no official definition of processed vs natural but many accepted like the one from Pollan (no more than five ingredients and no ingredient which was unknown to your grandparents) which clearly shows in which direction the distinction should go. And I find it a bit odd to mix ingredients like baking soda and STPP - baking soda is used increase the pH (e.g. help with browning or tenderizing) whereas STPP is an artifical way to retain moisture in seafood. And coming back to the original post, this is exact the reason why I think teaching kids (but also yourself) on a continuous basis what all these ingredients on the packaging mean and how do I identify high quality tomatoes, chicken, seafood etc. etc is at least for us as important if not more important than teaching our daughter how to cook.

                                                                                  1. re: honkman

                                                                                    You say "I find it a bit odd...." That's disingenuous. Clearly, you are more worked up and judgmental than that. I "find it a bit odd" that one of my neighbors is obsessed about lawn care. I don't tell him he's a social problem. (He puts lots of chemicals in his lawn. I don't.)

                                                                                    Is baking soda an "artificial" ingredient? And is using a chemical to increase pH to help with browning or tenderizing a wholesome world apart from using a chemical to help retain moisture in seafood? (Think: brining.)

                                                                                    All you might do, IMO, is make a claim that one device is more unhealthy--and CH doesn't get into health debates. Nor without knowing your qualifications would I trust your judgment in any case.

                                                                                    It puzzles me what motivates people to make generalizing critical judgments about someone's practices whom they do not know.

                                                                                    1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                      " And is using a chemical to increase pH to help with browning or tenderizing a wholesome world apart from using a chemical to help retain moisture in seafood? " - In my opinion it is a world apart. Based on your argument you would never be able to differentiate between any ingredients and if they are "artificial". It is interesting that one of the many points the book "Salt Sugar Fat" brings up about the giant food corporations is there goal to blur the line between natural and artificial ingredients and their perception with the consumer.

                                                                                      1. re: honkman

                                                                                        Well, I appreciate seriousness where I find it. I think you're dickering, though, with someone more on your side than you realize.

                                                                                        The world needs and can use many types of personalities.

                                                                                        edit: p.s. I do think that the term "artificial," like "authentic," is a rabbit hole. One needs to work from specifics and evidence.

                                                                                        further edit: p.s. I note that your reference to salt, sugar and fat indicates three of the items that loom large in some interpretations of what gets introduced into foods to make them count as "highly processed." I share the sense that packing that stuff into foods beyond their native state is often unwholesome.

                                                                                        1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                          " I do think that the term "artificial," like "authentic," is a rabbit hole." - I think that's the point where we agree to disagree

                                                                        2. re: honkman

                                                                          Oh, about shrimps. Last Fall we deep-fried fresh whole head-on shrimps tossed with cornstarch, where they crisp up and you eat the head and legs and everything. The shells get to be like potato chips--crispy--and the head has flavors all its own. So he's not losing out on shrimpy styles.

                                                                        3. About 2 years ago, my then 13 year old turned on the oven only to smell burning plastic after a few minutes. She hadn't checked inside and found a loaf of bread whose wrap was melting away. Needless to say, she's been careful ever since.

                                                                          Of course prior to this experience, I had always told her to check the oven before turning on.

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: ceekskat

                                                                            Um......don't talk, chop & drink wine at the same time.......

                                                                            1. re: chloebell

                                                                              YES. Pay attention while chopping. Important! Your life can be disrupted for weeks after.

                                                                              1. re: chloebell

                                                                                Indeed, the talking and chopping can always wait.

                                                                                1. re: Bada Bing

                                                                                  Yes, the wine is most important. LOL!

                                                                            2. One big thing I've learned over the years is to compare several recipes for a dish. This lets me separate the essential components and cooking techniques from the personal preferences. Example: cooking paella. The most authentic ones say to cook the dish in a wide, flat pan in a certain way - with saffron and other spices. That's the most important part. After that, it's completely your preference about what you put in it.

                                                                              Also, biscotti. There are recipes with and without butter, and you can see the basic proportions - about 1 to 1-1/2 c flour for each egg. The rest, again, is add-ins, like chocolate chips, nuts, lemon peel, whatever. A caveat - be careful when you're using cocoa - you'll have to reduce the amount of flour.

                                                                              beef stew - you can cook it in wine, stock, water mixed with either, whatever, you can finish it off with sour cream or a roux. It really doesn't matter, as long as you get the flavor you want [and i do that by marinating the meat for at least a day in red wine, a couple of cloves, a stick of cinnamon, a little mirepoix, and peppercorns - but that's just me - my mom made lousy stew, and this is what i came up with]

                                                                              These are just a couple of examples - it's made my life easier because I can use what's on hand once I have an idea of the essentials of the dish.

                                                                              1. The biggest "thing" for me was learning how to build the flavor base of a dish up from a base of aromatics and to deglaze rather than just dump wine into my food willy nilly.

                                                                                and how/when to use marinades and rubs and make them on the fly from whatever

                                                                                both of these things lead to pan sauces and gravies and more flavorful meals

                                                                                Also

                                                                                some basic things leaned from disasters

                                                                                check the salt in seasoning mixes BEFORE incorporating - mmmm salty chili YUM

                                                                                wait... the pan really WILL release the sear - or if you don't wait half you chicken will end up stuck and you will end up prying it off later with a knife

                                                                                Check the oil temp BEFORE you throw food in a pan - soggy is bad - burned is worse

                                                                                unless you are using a wok - high is probably the WRONG setting for your burner - see above

                                                                                when baking - those measurements really do mean something and usually every ingredient is in there for a reason

                                                                                1. If I had been taught proper technique for cooking, rather than just working from recipes, I would have become a better cook earlier in my life. Knowing how to cook a chicken breast -- what pan, how high a flame, when to turn, how to know when it is done -- would have allowed me to then work with many different recipes knowing the main ingredient would be done properly. With baking, being aware of the general proportions of standard ingredients and how they go together (such as the importance of creaming butter/sugar or sugar/egg) would allow me to make fewer mistakes and choose recipes that are likely to work. Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef" is a great book in that it teaches techniques and then gives recipes from simple to complicated based upon those techniques. Really great beginner book.

                                                                                  1. Garlic cooks more quickly than onion.

                                                                                    It's a little thing, but in my experience too many recipes call for dumping the onion and garlic in the pan to soften at the same time.

                                                                                    5 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                      I think you may be reading the wrong recipes :) Almost everything I read makes a REAL point to add the garlic after the onion is translucent, cook for a minute max and then add other ingredients.

                                                                                      1. re: c oliver

                                                                                        Does a New Cook use those trusted sources though?

                                                                                        As a new cook I was often just pulling stuff off of websites and out of magazines.

                                                                                        1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                          I hope so.

                                                                                          1. re: c oliver

                                                                                            This is definitely part of the problem. A lot of new cooks follow bad recipes because they don't know how to tell good from bad. There are plenty of sources out there that seem like they should be trustworthy but aren't, too (Saveur magazine, much?).

                                                                                        2. re: c oliver

                                                                                          That is, of course, the right way to do it but TV cooks (chefs included) often add both at the same time. Makes me wonder...

                                                                                      2. My biggest learning, that I didn't really know I "learned" until I was out on my own was meal planning and the joy of a well stocked pantry.

                                                                                        I was one of 5 kids and we all ate together most nights of the week and my folks never seemed to fall into the OMG what's for dinner routine when we were young. That was a luxury they couldn't afford. Plus take out was not an option, literally.

                                                                                        They had a general meal plan each week that changed based on what was on sale, what looked good and what the budget could afford. The pantry and freezer always had the basics, flour, sugar, rice, dried pasta, assorted meats, veggies etc. Being the youngest I was always home to watch dinner being put together and it rarely was high stress time other than timing. I learned a lot just being in the kitchen.

                                                                                        Having only one kid and easy access to take out I am not as good as my folks but I shop with a meal plan in mind and without fail I can whip together a meal without a mad dash to the store.

                                                                                        3 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: foodieX2

                                                                                          You are so correct. But I think that a concomitant skill to being able to get dinner on the table with minimal stress and delay every night is what others have mentioned about knowing how to combine ingredients, improvise, and make substitutions. If the cook is highly dependent on recipes for preparing everything, then the best stocked pantry is not enough, if the cook still needs to pull out cookbooks every time he/ she cooks.

                                                                                          1. re: masha

                                                                                            Agreed but I still feel this what *I* learned from the experience. For these nightly dinners my parents didn't use recipes nor did they cook 5 star meals. They were basic meals-meatloaf, lasagna, roasted chicken, pasta, etc. Many of the meals were repeated more than once a month. Not fancy but home cooked and nutritional. Better was the time at the table.

                                                                                            I think kids learn so much by what is modeled in the home. Both good and bad! LOL

                                                                                            Now on the weekends they went crazy-my dad became an amazing Sichuan chef, my mom accomplished at Indian food. Both started cooking from cookbooks written in Italian.

                                                                                            1. re: foodieX2

                                                                                              Foodiex, my husband and I still eat that way on weeknights. Sure, there are things like fish tacos or chicken curry that are part of our regular weeknight rotation that would have been considered exotic by our parents and were never on our dinner tables growing up but an awful lot of what we make during the week are foods that we grew up with -- homemade burgers, pasta with red sauce, grilled fish, beef stew, etc.

                                                                                        2. Homemade vinaigrettes and dressings are way better than bottled, and dead easy, too.
                                                                                          For homemade tomato sauce I add finely grated carrot instead of sugar. It melts into the sauce and gives a better flavor than sugar.
                                                                                          The rasp has become my favorite kitchen tool. I especially love using it for grating onions into marinades.
                                                                                          Learn about cooking oils and smoking points to avoid the free radicals given off. Plus certain dishes really are better suited to certain oils.
                                                                                          http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar...

                                                                                          1. I learned to remember the rule of KISS---Keep it simple, Stupid. I don't get myself into the crazy situations I did in days of yore. And I see others subscribing to that philosophy too. I remember a CH query a while back from a young woman who was planning a brunch for thirty people and was going to serve waffles, but she had only one waffle iron. The rest of us jumped on her like a cat on liver, pointing out that it would take something like five hours for each person to get a waffle. Away from CH, I knew a woman who designed to make the pasta for the lasagna for her own wedding reception for 100 people. Years ago I might have done something like that. Now I would just ask, why?

                                                                                            1. There was a great article in F&W, probably around 25 years ago that had a major influence on my self-taught cooking adventures. I think it was called something like "the only ten recipes you will ever need". Or maybe it was five. Anyway, there was one for perfect pot roast. It was six simple ingredients: meat, olive oil, onions, salt and pepper and white wine. Browned and then covered and braised in the oven. Over the course of a year or so, I was shocked at the raves I got when I prepared it. I had one very marginal "dutch oven" type pan, that I think I picked up in the "free" section of a yard sale. It more than did the job for this delicious basic braise. I still make it all the time and serve it with homestyle dutch noodles. It was the light bulb moment for me that simple methods and simple ingredients are the way to go, especially when starting out. It was cheap, easy, fancy and could be prepared ahead. The ultimate novice cook recipe! I wish I could share it, but I have looked for it online and can't find it! Let me know if you want my memory of it!

                                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                                              1. re: nrthshr

                                                                                                Sweet. One important thing learned from experience is that simple can rock.

                                                                                              2. I was fortunate to grow up with a mother and grandmother who were very good cooks, and saw no problem having a male watch what was happening.

                                                                                                1. Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance. Whether you shop multiple times a week or once a month, have some idea what is in season and what would be enjoyable. Have a loose menu plan. First read the recipe, check the pantry, go shopping.

                                                                                                2. If your herbs and spices smell like tea, they are dead. Learn to use fresh herbs. Replace all dried herbs and spices twice a year. Hopefully 6 months apart. One gallon growing pots of oregano, rosemary, and chives take up little room, freshen the air, and do wonderful things to food.

                                                                                                3. I learned to cook when a wok was something you did from place to place, rather than a piece of cookware. So high heat did not solve my lack of timeliness. Things take longer than they seem. When entertaining, do not serve time sensitive courses to a crowd. Do not serve a soufflé to any more than 4 people.

                                                                                                4. There is always time to hone a knife. Spills are immediately wiped up. Crystal is polished the day before. Every day dinnerware should be the best in the house. If you are not worth it, why have it? Sterling flatware begs to be used at every meal. Do not lose it when things break, burn, or get lost. Life happens.

                                                                                                5."Life is too short to drink cheap wine." This philosophy has been attributed to many.

                                                                                                6. Do not be afraid to experiment. Somebody had to eat the first oyster, quail, frog, mammoth. When ordering in a new restaurant, ask questions and order the special or a dish you have never had before. Or a dish you are researching. Over 5 years, I ate hundreds of escargot 6 at a time in France prepared dozens of ways. Most pleasurably memorable was in Chinon cooked with red wine during Christmas week.

                                                                                                7. Study chemistry in school. It will improve your cooking.

                                                                                                1. Damn. There's a lot of really good advice here. I've come to many of the same conclusions over the years and still have the scars to prove it.

                                                                                                  That being said, I'll add one that I've pointed out before: Never wash the good wine glasses after you've spent the evening keeping them filled.

                                                                                                  1. I just thought of this. The first thing I ever impressed my friends with when I first started to get into cooking was "real" whipped cream on chocolate mousse. The mousse was the old "Chocolate Elephant" recipe from the Frugal Gourmet, and I'd seen Emeril do the whipped cream on TV. Everyone was amazed by the real whipped cream and thought it must be magic. I'm still surprised by how many people have never had anything but Cool Whip and are so easily impressed. This is an easy trick to learn :-)

                                                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: arashall

                                                                                                      There are a lot of "real" foods that are pretty easy to make but there are many people who only use the convenience version - e.g.:

                                                                                                      1. Mac & Cheese
                                                                                                      2. cranberry sauce
                                                                                                      3. pancake batter
                                                                                                      4. creamed spinach
                                                                                                      5. salad dressing (as EM23 has already noted upthread)

                                                                                                      For a beginner cook, I think it would be a great idea to identify a particular food that you are fond of but that you never make yourself and decide to master that dish. Start with something relatively simple -- i.e., not too many ingredients, complicated techniques, or steps. It's extraordinarily gratifying to make it yourself, and it will help you gain confidence to move onto more complicated dishes.

                                                                                                      1. re: arashall

                                                                                                        I am glad you put the word "real" in quotation marks.

                                                                                                        A local food critic here was gushing last week about a restaurant that uses "real whipped cream" on their pie.

                                                                                                        If I was her boss, she'd have been fired on the spot for being too lacking in basic knowledge to do her job.

                                                                                                        Whipped cream is whipped cream. If it isn't "real", then it's another thing entirely, and DON'T call it whipped cream.

                                                                                                      2. I learned a lot about cooking when I was a kid watching cooking shows (back when they were REAL cooking shows, not stupid reality TV). I also watched a lot of Great Chefs when I was in college.

                                                                                                        My grandma taught me a lot, but her cooking was a little unorthodox. She is Irish, so she boils everything. But I did learn how to substitute ingredients from her (there were many Thanksgivings where orange juice and ginger ale ended up in the sweet potatoes). She isn't much of a baker, but she is a damn good cook.

                                                                                                        My advice is to learn one thing and cook it well, then move on to the next thing.

                                                                                                        I think everyone needs to know how to cook their favorites. Like for me, roasting a chicken, making a good beef stew or beef burgundy, cooking a good piece of fish (which I still suck at) are important. I wouldn't really focus on things that you won't eat that often or things just meant to impress people. I think for the most part people really appreciate classics that are cooked well.

                                                                                                        FYI I LOVE coconut shrimp! Next time squirt a little lime juice over it!

                                                                                                        1. everything I know and do regarding all facets of a kitchen is from past experiences learned. entire life has been centered around cooking but not only cooking, grocery shopping, food prep, party planning, tips on appliances, how long to prepare a this/that, single one person cooking for crowds, when to release a waffle iron. endless list. all brought together from incredible people sharing with me all my life. (horse back riding didn't hurt either, gave me alone time to organize the plan while enjoying quiet moments).

                                                                                                          when you mention "what NOT to do next time." < I completely relate to that phrase.
                                                                                                          don't cut that protein yet-let rest before carving
                                                                                                          quicker method instead of the waiting game-steam those sunny side up medium eggs with a lid
                                                                                                          different recipe for chewy cookies?-under bake (just a bit)
                                                                                                          recipes are not always perfect with given information-remember residual cooking
                                                                                                          go ahead&leave just made pudding or hot cocoa out (skin forms)-cling wrap=no skin
                                                                                                          etc

                                                                                                          1. When buying/using natural nut-butters "flip" them from time to time after they are opened and stored in the fridge.

                                                                                                            This this will make stirring them much easier.

                                                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                                                            1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                                              I ust shared this with our daughters who have toddlers. Great idea.

                                                                                                              1. re: pedalfaster

                                                                                                                I just stir, scrape and lick the knife.

                                                                                                              2. There are several moments that I can recall clearly; usually these are the "sudden revelation" moments but they are definitely part of the process of acquiring experience.

                                                                                                                1) Order matters. Custard is now one of my specialties. But I can remember the time and place, when I was 16, that I decided to make custard. I looked at the recipe which said to beat the eggs carefully with a bit of milk, heat the rest of the milk, then pour it gradually over the eggs, stirring all the time, before returning the lot to the double-boiler and stirring. Too much work, so I thought, and all of this is just getting the eggs into the milk. So I heated the milk and poured the eggs directly into the hot milk. Of course everything curdled instantly. Oh. OK, I've learned something important here...

                                                                                                                2) Quality isn't completely *different* from what you're used to, only better. I will never forget the time my father (I was fortunate, I had an expert chef as a dad) took me for the first time for a good ice cream. I was 4 at the time. I was so apprehensive, worried that what I'd get would be so different to what I was used to that I'd hate it. Of course the actuality was that it was just like what I was used to, only so much better that I couldn't believe I could ever have thought what I'd had before to be good. A fundamental lesson I never forgot.

                                                                                                                3) Observing the experts in action can give you important techniques you might never have thought of yourself. It was a long time before I felt inspired enough to try puff pastry. But a local takeaway which had absolutely definitive pastries got me motivated. Luckily they had a big window into the kitchen area where you could see their master pastry chef at work. His technique was flawless. But what I noticed right away is that he was almost obsessive in constantly flouring the work surface, with more flour than I'd though possible. And it works. For me puff pastry is now simple - and all because of one straightforward observation on technique.

                                                                                                                4) Recipe books don't always have it right, and you can extrapolate from similar things. Yorkshire pudding can be one of the most dreaded, quirky things to make. How many people have produced either hockey pucks , hot water bottles, or rice puffs? For some years my results oscillated wildly until I took a good look at recipes, and thought about the various proportions that produce a pancake, a custard, a choux pastry, or a soufflé. As I read through recipes it became abundantly clear what most of them suffered from: too much milk, or alternately too much flour. Extrapolating from the results I knew I'd get from various proportions, it was easy to compute what should work for a proper Yorkshire. Bang-on. First time. And they *always* work, without fail. It's not a question of mysterious, arcane technique (e.g. resting, hot ovens, preheating, pan types etc. etc. although these can help) - it's merely a matter of proportion. And the recipe books were just off.

                                                                                                                5) Simple proportions are almost always the way to get good results. I got this from making shortbreads. Lots of experimentation produced all sorts of outcomes, most quite good. But when the winner finally came the simplicity was shocking: 2 parts flour, 2 parts butter, 1 part sugar. And the more I experiment with different recipes for different things, I find that basic proportions that don't even need precise measurement (except for baking) - 2:1, 3:2, 1:1, almost always produce perfect results. If you see strange proportions like 8:5 or 7:3, that probably suggests someone has overthought things.

                                                                                                                1. Here's a small thing: experiment to find what you like and how you like to do things.

                                                                                                                  My mom was a great cook, but pretty opinionated about all things food. She had a few prejudices, the top two being she hated cucumbers (except in gazpacho), and all things avocado. I live on Greek salad and guacamole.

                                                                                                                  Mom also had a gadget for every imaginable cooking need, (whether there was actual 'need,' being very debatable).

                                                                                                                  In my tiny kitchen I don't have room for a zillion spoon rests. I just take out and use a plate on the counter next to the stove.

                                                                                                                  Moving bulk herbs from baggie to jar is accomplished most easily by snipping a corner of the baggie - instant funnel.

                                                                                                                  The internet is your friend. When looking to make my own vegetarian version of Lipton's Soup Mix, I found a zillion sites with different versions. I have a couple cups of "my" mix sitting in my freezer. This led me to making my own herb and spice mixtures - which is really fun and not very expensive. If a mix happens to stink, no biggie.

                                                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                                                  1. re: MplsM ary

                                                                                                                    Spoon rests: I always use a small flat plate, typically a saucer, after using that same plate for mise-en-place for the 1st or 2nd ingredient that goes into the dish -- typically minced onions or garlic. Goes with my "rules" upthread about strategizing to minimize dirty dishes.

                                                                                                                    1. re: masha

                                                                                                                      Ahhh, I have several white ironstone "bone dishes" that I use for my spoon rests. They're quarter-moon shaped, so they fit around/tuck in next to the container that holds my wooden spoons and takes up minimal counter space. They usually don't get that dirty, so I rotate them in and out of the dishwasher every couple of days (or after they get really dirty with something saucy/sticky).

                                                                                                                      https://img0.etsystatic.com/026/0/718...

                                                                                                                  2. 1) Hot pizza can burn the roof of your mouth - be careful.

                                                                                                                    2) If you live long enough, you'll end up liking something that you used to hate. I've lived long enough to have a few, but my first one was broccoli and it made me say to myself, "Hey, if I can change my mind about broccoli, what blacklisted items might I like now"

                                                                                                                    3) On the flip side of #2, always try to make/eat what you like now because your taste buds will change eventually.

                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                      Your first one reminded me of my father's advice when I was being introduced to woodworking and power tools: "Remember, the pink things are your fingers."

                                                                                                                      1. re: Bryan Pepperseed

                                                                                                                        2). "If you live long enough, you'll end up liking something you used to hate." My list is really long, mainly because I was a fairly picky eater -- cream cheese whipped cream, blue cheese, and the list goes on. About once every 2 years I try to eat an olive but still cannot abide them.

                                                                                                                        1. re: masha

                                                                                                                          I also grew up picky but now eat a lot of things. And I agree about olives.

                                                                                                                      2. I let my 8 year old grand daughter slice mushrooms with my $100 ultra-sharp chef knife this weekend for the first time.

                                                                                                                        Please note she had a stainless steel finger guard.

                                                                                                                        A trip to the hospital isn't happening on my watch!

                                                                                                                        1. With experience you learn how to evaluate a recipe before you commit to buying the ingredients.

                                                                                                                          With experience, you also learn how to manage leftovers, and when cooking for one, that anything leftover can be worked into a sandwich, stir-fry or soup. This frees you from the tyranny of only using ground meats, cutlets or chops. Whole roasts can be just as useful for a single or couple as they can be for a large family.