Originally Posted by iammatt
Julia Childs Mastering the Art is, IMO, far overrated.
Of course, the scope of my knowledge is still fairly limited at this point, but I really don't think that Mastering is overrated. I've been cooking from it for a couple of weeks now and while i'll admit it's perhaps not the best cookbook for people with slow metabolisms, the recipes are simple and delicious. What's most important to me is not even the recipes, but the invaluable explanations you get when following any of the main recipes. I think it forms a good base upon which your cooking skills can improve.
For example, even just the little things like making sure your mushrooms or veal are dry before tossing them in the saute pan are very useful for someone that's starting from scratch. I think that's what makes the book valuable.
My experience in the kitchen was close to nil when I began (I've eaten out every day for the last 2-3 years), but i'm becoming competant quite quickly. I'm sure I'll eventually move on to more healthy forms of cooking for my day to day meals, but this has definitely provided a quick road to competancy.
For the OP: What I've been doing is going through each section and doing all the recipes in it. So I started off with beef week and I'm now on to veal week. The repetition really helps because it's the tiny things that make the difference between an ok meal and a great one. By cooking the same thing for a week, you learn the ideal settings on your stove, exactly how long to cook things for, etc. If you go a week or two between cooking any particular thing, the chances of you forgetting the exact settings, cooking times, or other little pearls of wisdom increases. This is particularly important for people with electric stoves, as they are slow to respond to changes in temperature. Getting to know your equipment in a systematic way is perhaps one of the most important things you can do when learning how to cook.