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Learning how to cook

Discussion in 'Social Life, Food & Drink, Travel' started by esquire., Jun 30, 2004.

  1. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

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    I'm sick of eating peanutbutter and jam sandwiches all the time, so I'd like to learn how to cook. Does anyone havve suggestions or sources they learned from. I've already read the Dummy books for cooking. The problem with all the books I've seen is that they just have recipes. I would like to understand why you would add this ingredient and stuff like that, not just following the recipes. I also watch Iron Chef, which is quite entertaining and informative but beyond my reach.
     
  2. jharrison

    jharrison Senior member

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    I like Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." Besides having hundreds of useful, achievable recipes, it explains why ingredients act the way they do and how they interact. You might also take a look at Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking." I haven't used it, but if it's anything like his show, you'll like it. And Julia Child's "The Way to Cook" should be helpful.
     
  3. quill

    quill Senior member

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    Esquire, I'm like you as far as cooking skill goes (except that I never tire of PB & J. [​IMG] ). I have at home a great book, The Encyclopedia of Cooking Skills & Techniques (amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/exec....s=books), which I use from time to time. It's a great reference for simple-minded folks like myself who like to take things in easy-to-digest, understandable bites (pun fully intended). Hope it helps, and happy cooking.
     
  4. Kai

    Kai Senior member

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    Probably the single most useful book I have is called, The Best Recipe: http://www.amazon.com/exec....2694317 The book has lots of basic and not so basic recipes in it. The best thing about this book, however, which is different than others, is that with most of the recipes, there is also explanation of how various changes affect the recipe's outcome. I love to experiment, and having some "theory" included in the recipe helps me to determine which aspects of a recipe I can play with, and which aspects are better left alone. This is a great foundational book for someone who wants to kick their cooking skills up a notch or two. Kai
     
  5. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

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    Another thing I've noticed with recipes are how complicated they are. I'll look at the picture, and think that I want to try making that dish sometime. Then, I look at the 20 ingredients, and I kinda back off. All I have at home are salt, sugar, and black pepper. I don't know if its worth the trobule of going out and buying all those things just to make one dish.
     
  6. quill

    quill Senior member

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    esquire, just like a good "basic" toolbox (i.e., hammer, screws, nails, wrench, screwdrivers, bandaids), a good "basic" cabinet of ingredients can take you a long way. Any of the books mentioned above will give you a list of basics that are indispensible (baking powder, baking soda, flour, cooking oil, etc.). These will take you FAR beyond just one recipe; you'll be able to make tens upon tens of breakfast, lunch, and some dinner recipes. One thing's certain: without 'em, you've got salty PB & J's to look forward to. Start with basic foods, and build up from there. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you can do. With a signature like esquire, you owe it to yourself to master the gentlemanly art of basic cooking. [​IMG]
     
  7. Kai

    Kai Senior member

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    Unfortunately, going out and buying stuff is unavoidable if you're going to eat well.

    The first rule of making something good is to start with good ingredients. On your shopping trips, start buying some things that perhaps you might otherwise not purchase, like really good artisan cheese, good olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and some spices. Buy fresh fruit, really good chocolate, rice that isn't "minute rice." Don't be afraid to bring your recipe book with you to the grocery store. If you see that rack of lamb is on sale, look up a good lamb recipe, and buy everything you need right then. I've done this on more than one occasion.

    Buy good knives. Get yourself a quality chef's knife and a quality paring knife. Wustoff, Henkels, and Sabatier are all good knife brands. Make sure you buy their top-end forged knives, and not their cheaper lower quality knives. Once you begin using a good knife, you will throw out all your crap knives.

    Begin to collect some decent pans. They tend to be expensive, but having good pans is worth it.

    Take the energy and time required to cook something really well. If you've used good ingredients, it will likely taste good, even if you don't get it exactly right.
    Last time I was experimenting with a chocolate cake with a melted chocolate center. It stuck to the pan badly, "fell" a bit, and the final cake looked a bit ugly. Nobody really cared, however, because it tasted great. That's because I was using lots of good ingredients like Valharona chocolate, real cream, butter, fresh raspberries, etc. It's hard to screw something up too bad with ingredients like that.

    I've found that the more I cook, the more I enjoy it. Although my wife cooks most of our regular family meals, I do almost all of the cooking for guests.

    Kai
     
  8. jjrobi

    jjrobi Member

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    Jamie Oliver's recipes do not have many ingredients, are pretty simple and taste great. You can find them over at Foodtv.com and check his shows Oliver's Twists and The Naked Chef.
     
  9. jharrison

    jharrison Senior member

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    Jamie also just revamped his website. It now includes several recipes that are changed out every so often. His food is fantastic, but a little time-consuming. Jamie's Website
     
  10. T4phage

    T4phage Senior member

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    Originally posted by kai:
    As the Fonz would say: "Exactamundo." I use Zwilling J.A. Henckels 5 star knives Pans, I use Iittala/Hackman, some Siggs, and for the ultimate non-stick pans I use Scanpan - they don't use a teflon layer, rather the pan is partially composed of ceramic/titanium over a base aluminium. edited for spelling errors [​IMG]
     
  11. VMan

    VMan Senior member

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    I agree with purchasing quality utensils and pans. You'll keep these things for a long time, so buy items that will last.

    I am getting my own place next fall and have been purchasing many things for my kitchen. Wusthoff knives are great; a bit more expensive but definitely worth it. Shop around for sales and at outlets. I picked up a set of three Wusthoff paring knives at TJ Maxx for $13. Marshall Fields sells the exact same knives for $52 a piece.

    Your local Barnes & Noble will have a wide selection of books. Be sure to check out their 'Bargian Books' section, as they have some great deals. Last week, I picked up 5 cook books (some with basic recepies, some with more advanced; one was specifically on different kinds of pasta, one was for quick and easy recepies, one featured all vegetarian meals, one was on Italian food, and one was about different kinds of Pizzas) for $30; quite a steal. Several of the books were hardcover as well.

    On a side topic, I think we should, either in this thread or in a new one, start a topic on your favorite recipes and techniques.
     
  12. PeterMetro

    PeterMetro Senior member

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    Kai, et al bring up some very good points, especially regarding knives. A qualty 6 or 8 inch chefs knife is indepensable.

    Regarding cook books, I'n surprised nobody has brought up The Joy of Cooking. It reads a bit like an encyclopedia, but it provides recipes for virtually anything you can think of. I will say that the recipes themselves are not wonderful - they should be used as a base and retooled according to your taste. But they provide background and technique (what's the difference between cooking something for 30 mins at 350 and cooking something for 45 mins at 300? What's a roll cut? Why would I add the carrots before the onions?), which you can use on other recipes as well.

    Much like anything else, becoming a good cook takes a lot of practice. You'll retool recipes, find tastes you like, dishes that complement each other. If you love it like I do, you'll become good in no time. And girls love it.
     
  13. Will

    Will Senior member Dubiously Honored

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    In addition to the great advice here about keeping ingredients and getting good tools, buy a source like the original Julia Child cookbooks.

    Leanr first how to make a simple tomato sauce and a basic veal stock. Freeze the veal stock into ice cubes.

    During the week, in little more time than it takes to make pb&j, you can sautee a chicken breast (chop, piece of fish, etc.) and a green veg, glaze it with a cube of veal stock or tomato sauce, add some french bread or pasta and eat better than you can in most restaurants.

    A reputation for this technique also tends to have candidates lining up to have dinner with you. :)

    Will
     
  14. SwaG

    SwaG Well-Known Member

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    One of my favorite shows on the food Network is Alton Brown's "Good Eats." His shows are based on themes, and he goes into detail about the best way to cook the days theme, the best equipment to use, and the science behind it all. His tips are indispensible, and many times, it's the little things that you will end up remembering. He also has a website, but unfortunately it is not as complete as his shows (tip wise), maybe you can download the shows on Kazaa or record them when they come on.

    As far as recipes go, i have books, but i prefer searching for them on the net, printing them out, and hanging them over my stove. You don't have to worry about spills and stains on your books, or how to keep the pages from turning.
     
  15. oDD_LotS

    oDD_LotS Senior member

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    I second the recommendation for Joy of Cooking. That book has taught me an amazing amount about cooking, and covers the basic classic recipes. Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver both have innovative newer recipes that tend to have either easy to prepare ideas (Oliver) or in-depth explanations of how and why the food works (Brown). For purely professional recipes, try The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. It's by no means a beginner's book, but it has many of the amazing dishes served at Kellar's restaurant, along with explanations of the theory and technique behind them. As far as learning the ropes, I've found that THE best resource are the videos and textbooks put out by the Culinary Institute of America. They're mostly designed for their students and culinary professionals, but for learning knife skills, cooking techniques, and true in-depth theory they're unsurpassed, in my humble opinion. You can probably find them either on their site (www.ciachef.edu I believe) or amazon.com. I hope those help. Also, Sam's Club often has good cookbooks for a great price, and if you want some fun new recipes check out the series of books put out by Williams-Sonoma. I have a special interest in pastry and vegetarian dishes, so many of my resources focus on those areas, but once I get off work today I'll try to find the titles of some of my favorite books at home (although some are very involved and geared for the professional chef, they're beautifully made and provide some tips that can be used by the novice or master alike).
     
  16. AAA

    AAA Senior member

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    Check out Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques. A lot of his techniques are fairly advanced, but it has some good stuff for beginners. Also check out his old PBS TV series of the same name....you can pick it up on ebay for 10-20 bucks. I highly recommend checking it out.
     
  17. RatPacker

    RatPacker Active Member

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    I've just started cooking about a year ago and I learned alot from Foodnetwork.com. They have alot of recipes and they grade most of them from easy to medium to hard. Stick with the easy until you get the hang of things. I've made some pretty bad mistakes trying. Also watch Food Network because you pick up little tips here and there. Good Eats with Elton Brown is a good beginning show. He does good recipes and gives you info about it and why the ingredients are needed. Food 911 is another good one.
     
  18. esquire.

    esquire. Senior member

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    Here's a quote I found from ALton Brown:

    " I was frustrated watching the cooking shows, because they weren't realy teaching me anything. A lot of the shows on PBS were just trying to sell cookbooks. It was all recipes.

    I remember watching a show by Ming Tsai that was about cooking monkfish liver, and I'm thinking, 'WHere am I supposed to find monkfish liver? What does this have to do with me.' A lot of chefs make shows to highlight thier restaurant. Well, I don' have a restaurant."
     
  19. jackpiner

    jackpiner New Member

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    Here's an easy way to get your feet wet without costing a lot of time and money. Try enrolling in a cooking class. They can be found at most community colleges or adult ed classes.
    When I was in college, I became tired of the crap I ate. So a buddy and I enrolled in community college beginning cooking class. Best thing we ever did. Not only did we eat well every Monday night, but all of our classmates were women. They even let us have all of the leftovers as all of them were watching their weight.
    I'm quite accomplished in the kitchen these days (wife won't cook so it's up to me), and I owe most of my sucess to that first class I took way back when. Check it out.
     
  20. smokinggun

    smokinggun Member

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    Check out Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking". Very very simple recipes that don't use too many ingrediants or techniques, the very essence of cucina italiana. Also, take a look at "The New Basics Cookbook" from the Silver Palate chicas. The illustrations are lame but they pack a lot of gourmet-type recipes & explanations in 1 tome. As a child of the 80's with a mom who loves to cook, I literally grew-up with Silver Palate recipes.... so i'm probably biased. If you want to dream BIG (or just add something unique to your coffee table), splurge on a copy of Adria's "El Bulli." [​IMG]
     

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