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Noob Cook: Where do I start?

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
I recently decided that I'm going to be cooking for myself a lot more. The problem is I've eaten out 9/10 meals for the last few years, and am struggling to reach a level of cooking that I can be happy to eat instead of at a restaurant.

I just got the ad hoc cookbook, and am learning a lot about the basics of cooking, but a lot of the recipes in the book seem way over my head. I know a lot of you on this subforum are professional chefs so I was wondering if anyone had some books they could recommend or had some tips on things I can work on that will help me make food that I can consider edible.
post #2 of 15
I'm not a professional chef, but I am an enthusiastic foodie that cooks every night of the week for myself and my wife. Before you start worrying about recipes, I'd advise you to learn and practice how to do the following things:

Cook different types/cuts of meat to your desired level, while keeping it as tender as possible
Cooking vegetables so they are appealing to eat - not undercooked and not soggy and nutrient deficient
Read up and learn what herbs and spices go with what meats
What flavours combine well with each other (eg tomato and basil, lemon and rosemary)

Seriously, those 4 things, for my mind are the foundation of cooking skills. If you can't do the first two, recipes are pointless. Start simple - like cooking a steak with some mash potato and blanched vegetables, and move up to more complicated things that involve a greater understanding of cooking techniques and flavours.

Hope that helps

Oh, and make sure you have a good set of knives
post #3 of 15
^ Really? I just follow directions and everything seems to come out alright. If the recipe says cook for 5 minutes, I cook for 5 minutes.

Now, if you wanna get pro-chef and Alton Brown science on your ass, sure, but cant most guys just cooking for themselves or a girl follow directions learn from that?
post #4 of 15
GQGeek embraced cooking a few years back and captured his experience in a thread. Most of the folks offered advice on skills, equipment and books. GQGeek wrote up his impressions of many of the items especially the books. A search for that thread should serve you well.

In general, I would agree with the earlier advice - don't be afraid to make mistakes in the kitchen. Over time, certain flavor combinations will start to make sense and you'll feel much more free to ad lib in the kitchen as you'll know what tastes good together.

There are so many wonderful resources out there today. Books, online and video's. So many you tube clips on how to make stuff.

Here's a more complex recipe for your skill level with a pretty good how to video:

I'd be willing to bet that you could do a pretty good job with that one, no matter what you think of your own skill.
post #5 of 15
i've been looking at different cookbooks along this line ... not sure how old you are, but the food networks' "How to Boil Water" was surprisingly good. kitchen basics are solid, presented in a manner that i think would make sense for a 20-30 year old. if you've got some skills and you want to try to move up a bit, michael ruhlman's new "ruhlman's 20" is good. but you ought to be fairly comfortable around the kitchen before you jump into it.
post #6 of 15
^^^ I would second this rec for Twenty. Ruhlman is good.
post #7 of 15
My advice is to learn how to prep. At 15, I spent a summer as a prep cook, basically cutting vegetables 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. It was difficult, exhausting work, but I am a much better cook for it. I see many a budding cook get frustrated because they see a recipe that includes chopped onion, but it takes 20 minutes for them to chop the onion and they screw it up anyway. They end up eating at 10pm with weird shards of onion.

Following recipes is fine, but a lot of recipes don't tell you why you're doing what you're doing. Once you understand that part, you can start to apply concepts to other dishes and voila, you're a cook.

The best advice here, though, is don't be afraid. You don't need to be Jacques Pepin. (Having said that, his book La Technique will show you how to do just about anything.)
post #8 of 15
it all depends on what your goals are. do you want to have enough skills that you can throw a dinner party for friends? or do you want to be the next iammatt? if all you want is dinner party with friends (which, really, is all that anybody sane should want), that Food Network "How to Boil Water" book is really good. My wife, who has not cooked dinner in 30 years, just retired and wants to learn a little. She cooked dinner from it last night and it was good. they must be brilliant!
If, for some unfortunate reason, you've been really bitten by the cooking bug, join the club. and get ready to spend the next 20 years learning and getting better. You can shortstop about 2 or 3 of those years with ruhlman's book.
post #9 of 15
Originally Posted by foodguy View Post

She cooked dinner from it last night and it was good. they must be brilliant!

post #10 of 15
I just started cooking regularly a couple years ago (in my 20's). Speed, cost, and healthiness were my priorities as a full-time grad student. I found a few websites to learn how to cook stir-fry and everything else opened up to me from there. I would definitely second everyone else in saying that learning some basic techniques is the best starting point. I've found the following site to be infinitely helpful. I think you can get a lot of information similar to Ruhlman's 20 and How to Boil Water in online/free format:

Definitely check out some of the videos for cooking techniques. My recommendation is to start with sauteing but that's a personal preference. After you're comfortable with a couple techniques, I'd start looking into complimentary flavors and pretty soon you'll just be buying ingredients instead of looking up recipes.

I'm also seconding PeterMetro. Start practicing "mise en place" (i.e. preparing your ingredients). My worst habit before I started really learning how to cook was trying to multi-task to save time. Multi-tasking meals takes some serious skill and experience. Noobs (like myself) will usually end up ruining their food or hurting themselves. I still prepare 1-dish meals 90% of the time.

On a personal note, I hate recipes. They're great for getting an idea for a dish, but all the measuring and methodology really takes the fun/creativity out of it for me (and I'm an engineer). Make mistakes, burn some food (not your house), and worst case scenario you have to throw something out.

Good luck and have fun!
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks for all the tips guys! In regards to equipment, what is the bare minimum I should have for relatively efficient prep? I have a le creuset that was gifted to me, some old non stick skillets and a few cruddy stainless steel pots. I also have one good quality chef's knife.

Also, as I was preparing dinner yesterday, I noticed that I never had a place to keep ingredients that I had prepped (chopped onions, garlic, etc) so I just put them on some paper plates...How do you guys handle this? Do you have little ingredient bowls or what?
post #12 of 15
you've got a pretty good kit to start out. don't get obsessed on equipment. you do need a good paring knife.
make a run to a restaurant supply store. pick up a cutting board (the soft plastic ones are probably the best qpr). Also, pick up a whole raft of stainless steel mixing bowls. i've got 4 of them and there are dinners when i'll use them all. i've had them for about 20 years at least. pick up some small cereal-type bowls. these are great for things you've already chopped and measured. pick up a couple of silicon spatulas, a flat spatula and a pair of spring tongs. all that should set you back about $30 and you'll be in great shape to get started. you can fill in with other pieces as you move along.
post #13 of 15
My favorite blog is this one:

Easy stuff with passion. Actually I'm building a pasta Chitarra because of this blog.
post #14 of 15

my recs are as follows...

1. Learn how to use a single ingredient in many different ways. Eg start with eggs. Try fried, scrambled, omelets, boiled, then go to -> fritadas, quiches, batters, crepes, hollaindaise, fresh pasta, etc...
So find some very versatile ingredients and google recipes ( and see what you can do. The idea is to not buy one thing for one recipe and then have no idea what else to do with it.

2. Start paying attention... read every food label at the supermarket. When I make something from scratch, I first go read the ingredients on the ready made version and see what's in there. I also constantly watch the food network and have found some shows very educational. avoid 'entertaining' shows. watch top chef, iron chef, good eats, etc. ***lookup a show called "cook like a chef", it was fantastic and I learned a ton from it. sparked my passion for this stuff.

3. Look for flavor profiles, understand the basic combinations. So whenever you're cooking, read like 5-10 recipes and see what are the core ingredients, and what are the sort of variations on it. Also pay attention to the general proportions and combinations of ingredients. This it really how I learned to cook because I got a good basic sense for what things go together, in what proportions. It's the rules, and then the little interesting twists.

4. Whenever you're cooking, think through the following aspects - flavor balance (salt, sweet, sour, bitter), texture (soft, crunch, mushy, chewy), color (have green, red, yellow instead of just beige and brown), hell even the way you cut the ingredients changes the way they cook and taste. Also consider the size relative to each other and how it will affect the eating.

5. Learn some types of recipes that are used as 'fridge cleanup's. I believe that ever ethnic culture has these, you learn the base and then throw in whatever's available. Eg a Quiche or Omelet, stir fry, etc

6. taste taste taste, constantly pick at what you're doing raw, partly cooked, done, overcooked, just keep tasting and see how it changes. Added some salt? taste it again. protip, if you're adding something to the whole dish taht will drastically change the flavor, take a bit out and add it to that to test.
post #15 of 15
Originally Posted by Master-Classter View Post

1. Learn how to use a single ingredient in many different ways. Eg start with omelets


My favorite is a sushi omelette (Tamago-yaki) with the white and the yellow of the eggs in different layers.
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