Teaching myself how to cook - where to begin?
I have a reputation for being an atrocious cook. No one wants me to cook for them (I've had outright refusals), and my 'meals' have been the butt of jokes. Having had so many kitchen disasters I fear trying anything new or complicated. I try my best to follow a recipe, but things often start to derail and I don't know what I've done wrong. I have zero intuition then I can get into a spiral where things turn from bad to inedible.
Much I can attribute to how I grew up around food. The parent with the cooking duties didn't like to cook and didn't get to grips with it, but I didn't know any better. For most of my life, the dinner meal fit the same template: over-cooked (but not charred or burnt) plain meat, a carbohydrate (usually a root vegetable plain or mashed, but without any other ingredients), and over-boiled vegetables (soggy and tasteless). Table salt, pepper, and commercial tomato sauce were available for seasoning on plate - nothing was ever seasoned prior to being plated. We had no gravy, mayo/aoli, marinades, chutneys, dressings or the like, except for the Christmas day meal. Fresh herbs and whole spices did not exist in this reality, but some packet ground herbs and spices were kept and only to be used for the Christmas Day meal.
Needless to say, leaving home has been a bit of a revelation for me. I love flavorful food, and eating herbs and spices every day, but I struggle with cooking and don't have much confidence. I would like to learn how to cook, with an emphasis on health and nutrition. I know plenty about those topics, the problem is with the execution! I need to go back to the basics - learn techniques, experiment and fail, but still somehow improve over time. My primary motivation is to do this for myself, but it would be nice to one day be able to offer to cook for someone! I'm not very ambitious, I'd be happy with just doing a few things very competently and am patient and ready to work on this for the next few years.
I've hunted around on this site and found a discussion about the 'Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat' book/series, which I'm currently reading/watching and have learned a lot so far. I also found an old thread about culinary theory, but I think that's a bit over my head! (https://tild.es/6pc).
So, Tildes, has anyone taught themselves successfully as an adult? Any advice on how to start or any resources you can point me in the direction of? Ideally, I'd like to learn about the 'why' as well as the 'how', because I am just so clueless! Also, are there any food channels/blogs etc. that you follow that have an emphasis on healthy and fresh food? Very open to all cuisines. Thanks all!
I'll just give you one advice that makes cooking instantly easier and more relaxed.
it means prepare everything before you start.
cut everthing you need and put it in different bowls/plates. put all the utensils where you need them. select the seasonings you want to use. take out the pans, maybe already put oil. stuff like that makes the proces slower but a lot more relaxed.
I've pretty much done this all my life without thinking about it! I like being able to grab things instantly when I need them.
First, general advice that is good for everything: when appropriate, you should taste your food, adjusting for flavor and cooking point every step of the way.
You might say I'm an intuitive cook and a good one at that. That's my culture: we don't measure things in grams and minutes, we do as we feel and every time we do a dish is different and reflects how we feel while doing it, who's in the kitchen with us, who we're going to feed. So my advice will be in that direction.
Before you can even follow a recipe, you must have a basic understanding of what makes food taste good for you and those you wish to feed. You mentioned overcooked meat, so that's a good place to start. This image illustrates the classic stages of doneness of meat. Each graph is slightly different, so take it as a rough guideline. When you look at that image, which stage looks appetizing to you? That is entirely personal and there are no wrong answers.
Beef cuts are highly localized so I can't really tell you what cuts you should purchase in your country, but I'll tell you this: find a good butchery and trust your butcher. Ask them what meat is good for whatever you wanna do. I like my steak thick and fatty (lean cuts can be delicious as well, but a fatty steak is tasty as is), and I do it in the pan (don't use olive oil, it'll burn). For seasoning, cover it with a thin layer of salt (you can always add more later) and a generous layer of freshly ground black pepper. Both sides. When you do a nice steak, you devote your entire attention to it. You don't look at your phone and you don't leave the room. A completely rare steak has a big bounce -- which means that, when you press with your finger, it returns the pressure to your finger back like soft gum. A well-done steak is hard, has no bounce whatsoever, all the juices evaporated and you're left with tasteless fibers (it's not hard to guess the kind of meat I prefer, but again, that is just my personal preference). It's important that you test the steak with your finger all the way through, and make sure to turn it as many times as you need to give it a nice glaze.
You will learn by doing and you will mess up. Every stove is different, not every meat supply is the same. Don't be afraid to cut a steak in half if you're unsure of the point, but if you wish you can buy a meat thermometer -- each doneness has a precise temperature that you can easily lookup, it's no shame and many chefs use it.
Depending on your culinary culture, you may think that a steak must be prepared with many exquisite ingredients, but hear me out: a good piece of beef needs no masking, it shines on its own. Salt and pepper will take you a long way, my friend. I use nothing more. For a side dish, cook some potatoes and finish in the oven with some olive oil and parmesan. Again, simple, practical, and delicious.
Instead of following a bunch of recipes, you can get really confident with a small number of ingredients and preparations first, and proceed from there. Maybe that's not how your brain works, and that's fine. But that is my "school", so to speak.
Beef is incredibly easy.
If you blend a bunch of tomatoes, garlic, a few onions, and water, then cook for an hour (or more if you want it thicker) with salt, olive oil, and black pepper, suddenly you have homemade tomato sauce. Just saying. (I can't give you the quantities because, as I say, I don't measure stuff. But it's probably way more garlic than you think and way fewer onions too. And the tomatoes have to be ripe. You should try!). Again, simple. You don't need twelve ingredients.
And watch Adam Ragusea.
Tasting more is something I definitely need to do more, but I often struggle with knowing what would improve flavour. Sometimes it's easy, since with non-spicy food you can taste that it needs more kick, but the tricky part for me is how to offset taste (e.g. what to do if the flavour is too sweet). Thinking I'll try to find some kind of chart/cheatsheet I can print out and commit to memory over time. The other thing is adding nuance and other enhancements, I find it hard to gauge which direction to go in (guessing this just takes experience and time).
The other thing with tasting is that I see cooks can just taste things on the fly even when they are hot. Maybe I'm just more sensitive but my tongue burns so easily and I have to wait a good while for it to cool down. Is there a technique to this that I'm missing?
Luckily I already know where I stand on the doneness scale - medium rare or medium! My parent had what I think was a phobia of uncooked meat and couldn't handle the slightest bit of pink. Thanks for the hints. I realised I've been buying meat this whole time just looking at what is on special with zero regard for the cut.
When frying steaks, I can never seem to get it to cook medium rare or medium. I know I need a reasonably high temperature, and but the steak turns from rare to brown so quickly that I miss out. Thinking I need to reduce temps or take it off earlier in anticipation that the residual heat will cook it further. Good point on the meat thermometer - this would help immensely. What oil do you use? I have been avoiding olive oil for that reason, and using avocado oil for the higher smoke point, even though it's expensive (I don't fry much though).
Will have to give the tomato sauce a go :) Thanks for all your advice!
I'd disagree. I generally cooks steaks at a medium, at most. If you want to sear the exterior without cooking the interior (eg, for a steak actually cooked by sous vide, or for searing on a pan and cooking in an oven), then a very high heat can make sense, but not if you're cooking a steak on a pan.
When cooking an a pan, the surface of the pan is hot, and transmitting heat to the food. The heat moves through the food, from the surface, and that takes time. If you're cooking a steak on a very hot pan, then the bottom surface is going to burn before the center warms up.
Get a good thermometer, and it will help immensely. Modern load cells in scales are good enough that, I would argue they don't have as much to distinguish them at this point—a €30 digital scale can be adequate for most cooking—but thermometers do have significant differences in accuracy and speed that matter not just for how helpful they are when used, but how quickly you'll choose to use them. I have a Thermapen One and it has been great: it's fast and convenient enough that simply putting it in anything can be informative, even something like seeing how far water is from boiling. I don't know how I'd cook a steak without an accurate fast-reading digital thermometer: the difference between a rare steak and a well-done steak can be a few dozen seconds, something that requires skill and talent without a good thermometer, and is trivial with one.
I'd argue that if you're having problems with olive oil, your pan is far too hot. There should be no problem cooking a steak with olive oil.
Disagree. Olive oil (at least anything unrefined) has a relatively low smoke point.
Generally I’ve found the “sear, then finish on high in the oven” to get me to a perfect medium rare
I do reverse sear personally as sear-the-oven gives the crust time to soften. Perfectly cooked every time. The one thing I change from the usual reverse sear method is the oven, I do not preheat. Steaks go from fridge to pan to oven, cold. The longer time spent bringing the steaks to the desired temp the longer time they have to tenderize. I also cut down on dishes by just putting the steaks in the skillet and into the oven instead of using a sheet pan.
Makes perfect sense. Showing my ignorance here - I had this idea that all fried food had to be high temperature. Thanks for the tips re thermometers. I'm so excited to try one now!
My avoidance is more out of caution than having issues in the past. I have smoked olive oil a few times accidentally. The hob in my flat isn't great and I like to have room for error.
Most of the time you're tasting for salt. That's the main seasoning that you gotta get right, but it's the same with the others. It's a bit subjective, some people like more salt than others. Trust your palate. When you correct it, you don't need to use a lot at once. Experiment. Put a little and see if it makes a difference. If you like the result, maybe add a little more. Go with the flow, you're seasoning during the whole preparation. That goes for things you can do that, generally liquidy things like sauces, soups, etc.
Chefs don't have iron tongues (lol), they put just a little bit on a large spoon so it cools faster. Also, they blow on the food. That's the "trick".
Phobia of rare meat is largely due to the fact that, historically, meat was not as safe to eat as it is today. Find a butchery, and get to know your butcher. Become friends with them if you can! That's a relationship that will bring a lot of joy, I guarantee!
Meat doneness is hard, everyone will over or under-cook from time to time. I should probably get a thermometer myself, but I'm just lazy and arrogant. I use soybean oil because I'm basic, you can probably get something better if you do some research. But soybean oil works fine.
I do a batch of 6 liters of tomato sauce every month. Everyone in the house loves it, it's practical and so much better than store-bought. Let me know if you have any questions!
Meat doneness was hard a few decades ago. It is hard now only for people who don't use good modern thermometers.
Try cooking a steak with a fast-reading thermometer, watching the rate that the core temperature moves when it is close to your desired doneness. It's quite illustrative of how hard reliably cooking to a particular doneness without one would be, and how easy cooking with one is.
Here, though, I'd agree. So much of caring about doneness is caring about safety, and the worry that, even if something tastes appetizing, it might be dangerous; this causes a tendency to overcook. When you don't need to be so concerned, it makes everything much easier.
Edit: Re butcher's, that will have to wait but I already have one in mind. I'd have to drive quite far and currently am restricting driving due to illness.
Will do, thanks again :)
Makes perfect sense - will give this a try :) Thanks
Yeah... by "inappropriate" I mean things you can't really taste, like cake :P
Raw cookie dough is yummy though...
My mother is a pretty good intuitive cook (all of my friends loved to eat here when I was a kid) but she's completely incapable of explaining anything properly. It's actually impressive how bad she is at teaching! So I largely "taught myself" I suppose, and I'm assuming I'm not terrible because people have second helpings when they come over and some have insisted that I cook instead of order out... (That's more work for me damnit!)
In some ways I'm @lou' s opposite. I'm a bit scientific with how I cook. I cook mainly though not exclusively simple foods. Here are some of the principles behind my cooking, in random order for maximum confusion:
A friend once told me cooking is all about moisture management regardless of the dish. It was great advice! Regardless of what you're doing, any ingredient substitutions that upset the moisture balance of a recipe will fuck it up. During most types of cooking you are removing water. Water boils at 100 degrees Celsius, so liquid water will not get hotter than roughly that (accounting for impurities) because it's physically impossible. Lower temperatures do not boil water, which is good if you don't want to remove water. Food with no water in it, on the other hand, can and often should reach higher temperatures, although certain oils will burn or change taste past certain temperatures, which you want to prevent. Keeping stuff like this in mind will help you regardless of what you're doing.
Baking is a science. Don't fuck with baking recipes unless you're ready and willing to ruin the meal (which sometimes you are!) or you really know what you're doing. Baking is way, way harder than anything else I do in the kitchen. For maximum precision, when I bake a cake I weigh the eggs first and then proportion every other ingredient to the weight of the eggs to make sure there are no unknown variables.
When I need a new recipe I go online and find a version of what I want to cook. Then another. Then another. A lot of online recipes kind of suck, so find multiple recipes for the thing you want and see what they all have in common. The extras are probably optional, always keeping moisture management in mind though. I keep a dossier with my hybrid recipes and take notes. Not enough salt? Crumbling apart? Too much liquid? I write it down and adjust the recipe for the next attempt, until I get it right.
Use technology! Technology is awesome! You can maximize the juiciness of meat, for example, by using a food probe and baking it to a precise core temperature that's both safe for consumption and not excessively hot (and therefore dry). My oven has a probe and stops automatically when it reaches the desired temperature. This yields good meat and fish every single time. Consider getting a sous vide maker. Sous vide is also good every time. Get a slow cooker. Get a kitchen robot if you can afford it. Make sure you own precise scales. Everything will be easier and it will be easier to cook scientifically as well.
Always keep as many dried herbs and spices as you can (and bay leaves, those last forever!), but remember that (as you've realized) fresh herbs and dried herbs have different flavor profiles. If a recipe calls for fresh cilantro or fresh basil, the dried versions won't cut it. And the fresh versions have a very short shelf life. Ginger loses its bite very quickly too. I like lou's advice about not overseasoning steak (absolutely correct) but for certain dishes (curry is a well known example) you can certainly get incredible flavors by combining multiple spices and herbs with the appropriate freshness.
If you mix water or water-based liquids with scalding oil there will be scalding oil explosion near your soft fleshy parts that might result in serious burns. Always be very careful with oil at high temperatures.
Highly controversial because the garlic lover illuminati are powerful, but as someone who can't stomach garlic: You can make anything taste good without garlic. Some people like to put garlic in literally everything, which is fine if you like it, but you don't have to.
Good mayonnaise is awesome.
So is good mustard (dijon or english).
And hot sauces.
But ketchup is gross, make your own tomato sauce! I like to cook everything from scratch, generally speaking. The results are just strictly better than if you take shortcuts.
There really is no substitute for experience so if you're already cooking the only thing you need is to keep an open mind, be objective about the quality of the meals you're making and try to understand where you went wrong so you can do better next time.
What's very weird for me is that I'm actually a reasonable baker. I dished out a lemon tart recently and everyone was quite shocked by it. Samin Nosrat mentioned that non-baking recipes are more like guidelines than actual recipes, maybe that's why I can't seem to get them right.
Your principles are very useful, thank you for sharing them. I'd never heard of a sous vide maker, looks useful but I'd have to look into plastic substitutes.
Do you make your own mayonnaise?
Baking recipes are exact protocols because they need to be. Cooking doesn't need to be, but that doesn't mean it can't be. Modern scales and thermometers are both very accurate and very fast and convenient. When used to using them, they're arguably faster than the 'intuitive' traditional methods.
For your over-cooking, what kind of hob are you using? There's a tendency on many hobs to have poor lower settings, leading one to tend toward higher ones. As much as gas is often fêted, I've had a number of experiences where the minimum easily-obtainable setting that's stable is rather annoyingly high. With a good induction hob, and the ability to actually set a true and consistent medium, medium-low, and low, it's easier to avoid overcooking.
I should point out for the sake of clarity that I learned to cook on induction (and eventually I knew exactly what each power setting was appropriate for). I'm on gas right now though because the power where I moved to is too finnicky for an induction cooktop, unfortunately.
The hob I use is electric, but it's old and doesn't function well. Only 1/4 of the elements work normally and it's a small one. There is one other semi-functional element but it only works for low temps. This means for moderate and high temps I have to use the small element even for pans and pots that are twice the size. As a consequence I have issues with heat diffusion and inconsistent cooking for the bigger cookware. I'm only cooking for one so try to use only the small pans/pots to avoid this. It also takes a very long time to heat up and change temps, so this makes it harder to be precise when following timing guidance.
There's nothing I can do about this right now, the landlord refuses to replace the hob. I've tried and failed to commission repairs because it's an extremely obscure model. I'll be moving out in the next 1-2 years though and will pay close attention to the hob and oven.
Why not buy yourself a portable induction, coil, or infrared cooktop/hot plate? You can get them for $100+/- nowadays, and can take it with you when you leave. Induction is best, IMO, but only certain pots/pans will work with it.
True, I hadn't thought of that, I'll look into it :)
I confess I normally use Calve because I just don't have the time for everything. Much like often I use canned mushrooms (but if the mushrooms are important to the dish I buy fresh), soy cream instead of regular cream (but not in desserts) or frozen onions instead of fresh ones (which are just better). Regarding mayonnaise, I like that Calve uses all the ingredients I like to see in a proper Mayo. Some brands just don't. (I don't work for Unilever ;) )
If I really care about the ingredient for a specific dish I try to line up with a grocery order so I can have the fresh ingredient/base ingredients when I need to use them without wasting too much extra time. I plan a few days in advance.
I'm sure refining your own recipes over time can help with the vagueness of most online recipes. You've already been advised to use mass rather than volume, that's very good advice. I'd add that (if you want to cook with precision) you should disregard anything with vague ingredients like "cake mix" and "curry powder" and "cooking spray" if possible because those can vary a lot. Aim for primary ingredients so you know exactly what you can count on, or look up a recipe for the high level ingredient and substitute so you can tune that too if necessary (this ties into the "make your own tomato sauce" and "make your own mayo" philosophy I guess).
Hmm, I don't think I've seen that mayo in New Zealand. I tend to prefer aoli anyway though! And great advice. I will start to keep a logbook of sorts so that I can track how to refine online recipes :)
I read through the above comments. There's a lot of good advice here, so I'll try to add a few novel tidbits:
All cuisines have universal principles and techniques. You'll see them a lot.
Anyway, this is all basic technique. I recommend learning about other basic techniques and the principles behind them, then everything in cooking will make sense.
I only started liking cooking as an adult as well, and I would say I'm a pretty good home cook at this point! One thing that inspired me was watching a lot of cooking contest shows - while most of them are frankly ridiculous (the 'reality' of the show often an invention of creative editing), I found that watching the things that experienced contestants would improvise to work around setbacks or limitations would teach me a bit about the underlying theory of cooking. The commentary of the judges was also useful for building up my vocabulary to describe flavour, which I internalized - so I was able to think about the dishes I had made from recipes, and speculate what was missing from the dish or consider how I could improve it in a more articulate way.
I also tried watching more typical cooking shows, but found many of them too boring to pay attention to, or I would see their brightly-lit, huge kitchens and not be able to relate. Notable exception of Alton Brown, love that guy.
YouTube has some good resources as well. I like Adam Raguesa, How To Cook That (Ann Reardon, mostly baking), and The Babish Culinary Universe (Basics with Babish is great). I'm sure there are tons of other great ones out there. Not sure about emphasizing health, unfortunately, but I do learn from them!
EDIT: And, of course, practice practice practice! Stuff like cutting ingredients uniformly or getting an intuition for when to apply more or less heat or knowing how much to mix things (don't want to under/over mix in many cases) just come from doing it a bunch. You'll get to know the look, smell, sound, taste, and feel of things when they're going right and when they're going wrong.
Do you have a favourite cooking contest show? Thanks for all those resources. Yes, practice is something I need to do but in a much more mindful way. In the past it's just been chaos and I haven't taken a step back to use all my senses to figure out what went wrong and try to learn from my mistakes.
For entertainment factor alone, Cutthroat Kitchen is great, although most of the limitations imposed on the contestants are physical rather than directly to do with flavours, etc.
Iron Chef is of course the classic, but that's more high-end and experimental gourmet food prepared by a team, so perhaps not super relatable.
Chopped is a pretty happy medium, IMO. And Beat Bobby Flay isn't bad in the sense of it's single chefs cooking one thing at a time and then being judged, but I find Bobby Flay himself a bit annoying. That's a personal preference though.
Oh, I get that before - practice makes perfect is one thing, but "perfect practice makes perfect" - if you aren't mindful about it, improvement will be slow, so good call on mindfulness! If you feel like you're in 'chaos' a lot, maybe go simpler and do one thing at a time - like roast the chicken yourself, but the sides can come out of a bag (or vice-versa: make the sides yourself and buy a cheap rotisserie chicken). And a lot of cooking is preparing in advance so you're not pressured too much by time when you have competing priorities doing multiple things at once, so a focus on prep might help too. Best of luck. :)
Since you mentioned wanting to know the Why and not just the How, I have a few recommendations that helped me:
Also good for general, simple cooking skills:
Hope that helps!
Thank you so much - will definitely check all of these out.
I second the Adam Ragusea as a recommendation. He has a clear style thanks to his prior journalist experience.
East Asian Youtube channel I like:
Try to learn how to stir-fry (you don't need a wok). It's really more of a technique than a dish, and it's very versatile. I grew up with <random protein> and <random vegetable + onion / garlic> stir-fried with <oyster / fish / chili sauce> and it's one of the first proper dish I learned to cook.
(not putting Vietnamese channels because er... I call my mom in that case)
Get a good knife. It doesn't have to be fancy (although some looks damn sexy), but it has to be sharp. Prepping food with dull knife is both a miserable and dangerous experience (you'll put more force into the blade, making it easier to slip and accidentally cut yourself).
Buy a knife sharpener and sharpen you knife periodically (or whenever you feel like it's dull -- alternatively, a sharpening stone is a good investment but you need to learn an additional skill; it's not rocket science but it's not trivial either).
As another one said, it's one of those thing that remove a lot of guesswork from cooking meat. Poking meat is fine when you're at your 500th steak and have developed your intuition, but when you've just started and have no idea it's really nice to be able to rely on a concrete number. I have this cheap Chinese wired one that I also use to monitor to temperature of the oil while deep frying, and my wife use this for some specific pastry application (caramel I think). I also have this equally cheap IR thermometer to measure the temp of the oil on the pan (on a pinch I'd use the "wait 'till there's bubble around the chopstick / tiny piece of vegetable" technique), and as a surprisingly decent cat toy (... it has a built-in laser pointer).
I love Asian cuisine, so thank you for all of this. Luckily I have access to reasonable knives at my flat, and they are all sharpened occasionally by our local knife sharpener.
My birthday is coming up soon, so I'll ask for a meat thermometer!
Also a big fan of the 'clean as you go ' cleanup method :)
I'm work-n-progress, my wife helping out, and I'll share what I've learned. I have a decent pallet, and knowledge of how to adjust flavors, but my physical cooking skills are weak.
The biggest problem I've encountered is that most recipies presume knowledge that you may be missing. Specifically when it comes with doing things with pans.
All good points here, thank you! I don't live in the US, so already default to grams :) I mentioned in a comment above that I can bake acceptably, and have been able to bake chewy soft chocolate chip cookies without too much trouble. I have heard good things though about the Tollhouse recipe. I think Samin Nosrat mentioned that she removes 50% of the white sugar amount and replaces that with an additional 50% of the brown sugar amount.
I'm a bit of an oddball in that I like eggs only when the yolk is separated from the whites - do you recommend trying frying or poaching?
I get it. I'm more of an over-easy type myself, love a good runny yolk. Don't really care for the whites outside of not wanting to waste them. You can easily do a fried egg for the same general idea though. I also love a good omlette, which can be a great crowdpleaser even if you don't like them yourself.
Soft boiling and poaching do make for great eggs, though I've not cooked them myself.
Edit: For chocolate chip cookies I use Maple extract instead of vanilla. Way more interesting flavor profile.
I'm sorry your cooking has been made fun of. Good on ya for wanting to perfect a few simple recipes.
There are a number of meals that are very easy to perfect and mostly involve either prep time or cleaning.
What do you like to eat?
All of these appeal to me to be honest, but right now I have the flu so the chicken soup appeals the most, haha! I am also a salad nut.
Ahhhh, the chicken soup is the most delicious, but the most difficult, as you need a pressure cooker, and it involves a lot of prep work. It is hands down one of the most delicious things I make, and it is impossible to screw up, as long as you operate the pressure cooker correctly (close the pressure valve before cooking, open it once it is done)... I particularly like adding cilantro/coriander and sour cream and grated cheese on top. Here is the recipe. The most difficult part is peeling and cutting and measuring all the ingredients. https://www.feastingathome.com/instant-pot-chicken-tortilla-soup/
Pasta in a red sauce is the easiest, you just boil the pasta per instructions (use a timer) and buy a nice Marinara sauce in a jar, and once you cooked and strained the pasta, heat the pasta and Marinara Sauce in the pan. Anyone can cook it. Bonus points for adding red wine and pre-sliced kalamata olives along with the red sauce. Double bonus points if you grate parmesan cheese and crack pepper over the finished plated result. Triple bonus points if you buy a pre-made salad, or even learn to make your own. Quadruple bonus points if you buy a pre-made garlic bread to throw in the oven.
Roasting is a little more tricky, but there are very few variables involved. All you need for a good roast is a roasting pan, an oven, and a thermometer. I like the thermometers that have a long cord, as they will beep when the food is done. Buy an already thawed chicken, make sure you take out any of the innards, give it a rinse, sprinkle with salt-pepper-onion-garlic powder on top, shove the thermometer in the thickest part of the chicken, and roast it. 200 degrees C. Set the thermometer to beep at you once the inside reaches 73 degrees C. Get the little baby potatoes, boil them until partially done, chop them up, spring with salt-pepper-onion-garlic powder and maybe a little oil, and throw them in the oven when you think the chicken will be done in like 20 minutes or so. If you are lucky, you can find pre-made liquid gravy, which just needs heating up in a pan or the microwave. Because the oven will dry the chicken out, and making gravy is a difficult skill. If you can find a roast beef that is already marinated, then your life just got easier, as you don't have to worry about fully cooking the chicken to kill all the salmonella. I always poke the chicken in five different places to make sure the thermometer reads above 73, but with roast beef you are just using the thermometer to make sure it is cooked to your level of doneness (around 60-68c is good.)
Just pick something simple, and cook it each week until you perfect it. Just keep at it.
I'll point out that you don't need a pressure cooker to make chicken soup, it just speeds the process tremendously. Without one, it'll take most of a day to do it justice.
If you're at home and can check on it periodically, just cook in a large pot with a lid on the stove. We'll typically save leftover carcasses from roast chickens in the freezer, then make soup out of those.
Chicken Tortilla Soup isn't chicken soup. But you are right. A pressure cooker is probably not required. But it makes cooking one of my top five favorite foods as simple as pressing a few buttons.
I don't have a pressure cooker but am perfectly happy doing a long cook day since I am stuck at home all the time anyway!
Great idea, I think I will start with a couple of 'project' meals and keep working on them week by week until I'm ready to move on - this way I'll actually remember how to cook them too.
Everyone else has covered the general advice aspects fairly well, so I'm gonna take a slightly different tack.
Have you considered ordering from a meal kit service, if one is available where you live? I have used both HelloFresh (available Internationally) and GoodFood (Canada only) so far, and both have been great.
The reason I am suggesting them for you in particular is because, besides the convenience factor and being able to try lots of new dishes and styles of cuisine, the nicest thing about them is how easy they make learning how to cook their recipes. The instruction are clear, well laid out, very easy to follow, and provided on heavy stock glossy paper (so you can make a recipe book out of your favorites); The ingredients for each recipe arrive pre-portioned, sometimes pre-prepped, and with the seasoning (other than salt & pepper) typically being provided in pre-measured packets, so you can't accidentally add too much or too little of anything. And that's why, IMO, they're actually a great way to get started learning how to cook, since you won't end up making a bunch of mistakes and disastrous meals in the process... which can be incredibly discouraging, and costly.
And for dishes you particularly enjoyed, you can always just go buy the ingredients yourself whenever you want, so you don't have to wait for them to reappear on the service's weekly recipe rotations. And once you get more comfortable with cooking, you can also start adding twists of your own to their recipes, or even start mixing and matching elements.
It's interesting, I see all the ads for those things and sometimes I feel curious and wanna try, I can't and this makes a little sad. However, I just realized that I might be getting the best end of the bargain, because literally in front of my house there's a place that sells great ready meals that is not a corporation, it's just a local kitchen serving local dishes and there's a guy that brings it to my home by foot. The third world has its advantages, I suppose!
I'll second the recommendation for a meal kit service, with the caveat that it isn't for everyone. For me, cooking was a drain on my time and mental energy. I make enough, so paying a bit more to reduce that mental energy has been great. I also get to make a wider variety of food than before, and usually healthier options since many of my go-to meals lean more towards the comfort food side of things.
Take notes on how the recipe went, what you would do different next time, and how you liked it. You'll gain a bunch of experience, as well as finding several recipes that you like and can continue to make even if you cancel the meal kit service.
Yeah, their meals are definitely a lot healthier than what I normally cook too. Plus, the portion sizes are a lot more reasonable as well. Good advice about taking notes too.
But the other advice I would also add, @Eidolon, is that if you don't see any recipes you want to try that week, don't hesitate to skip that week, or even skip a full month ahead if nothing in that period piques your interest. On average, I only order meals kits once ever 2 weeks, and even juggle my HelloFresh and GoodFood subscriptions so I can get even more variety and recipe choices. And I'm even thinking of adding a third subscription to the mix and juggling all three. But I would only recommend doing that if you're good at making sure you don't forget to skip every week, otherwise you will get multiple kits delivered to your door at once. :P
I've never tried meal subscriptions before, and we have Hellofresh and plenty of other options. The main barrier for me is that I buy all my veges and fruits organic from my local farmers market and they are SUPERB - tasty, fresh and cheap. Organic is not just a food philosophy as I'm also committing to it for health reasons, but only for fruit/vege due to cost. I did find an organic produce meal kit, but sadly it's not affordable for me.
Thank you though for your suggestions as this is still very sound advice.
Farmer's markets are the bomb, so I totally understand. And yeah, unfortunately most meal kit services don't do organic produce. :(
You've got some great stuff here, so I'll just a few youtubers that I didn't see - usually more on the science side of food stuff:
I'll also add that the "Know Thyself" maxim applies to the kitchen. Figure out what you don't like or what is causing friction or a bottleneck. For me, I really don't like doing dishes. I've tried different strategies to force myself to do dishes, but the reality is that there are nights where I'm going to look at those dishes and decide to order delivery. So I slowly swapped out 95% of my kitchen with dishwasher safe things. Not everything can be swapped out (cast iron, good knives, crock pot, rice cooker pot, etc) - but I've reduced it down as much as possible.
And then some random notes:
It's a sound argument but between a Victorinox and a ceramic knife, I'd still chose the Victorinox. I know because I have both (a gift from the in-laws) ! After getting the knife I really wanted, I could repurpose the Victorinox as discount cleaver (so its the preferred tool to cut chicken bones, pumpkins, etc), I'm too afraid to do the same with the ceramic ones... And they're gathering dust.
Amazing, thanks for the resources and your tips. Currently using stainless steel cookware. One day when my living situation is more settled I will definitely get a carbon steel or cast iron. Also, these are very good points to know about knives, I'm definitely at an entry level stage.
I don't recommend this. Using towels for handling hot stuff is a bad practice; you might not cover your hands as completely as you think you are, the ends of the towel might meet the heating elements and catch fire, or the towel may be wet and you'll burn your hands anyways. A good pair of oven mits is a good investment.
Well that's a horse of a different color.
I don't want to say you're being overly cautious to recommend that safety tip, but I haven't had that problem with any of my modern pots and pans that all have handles that are either far enough away from the heat source or are otherwise insulated. Cast iron is the major exception, though I've mitigated them by getting silicon handle covers (like these).
That being said I do have a mismatched Wolfgang Puck branded saucepan where the handle can actually get fairly warm, and I'm sure the people who make them are not the worst offenders.
I wish. I’ve been using cheap electric coil ovens for my whole life, and the range I am using now is the oldest and jankiest of them all.
I can’t speak to your personal experience but I would imagine that it’s a bit different from your average home cook since you are used to professional kitchens. A lot of restaurants tend to buy cheap (but not crap) tools and vessels because they see so much use it makes sense to buy stuff that can be easily replaced. And in your stock example I wouldn’t use a pot on the stove, I would use a slow cooker, which is safer, more energy efficient, less error-prone and frees up space I could use if I need to cook something else.
Cooking is just a bunch of small related skills that, once learned, can be combined in fun and novel ways.
Definitely use recipes at first, and don't pick recipes that require you to do more than 1 or 2 major things that are new to you. Vegetable stir fry served over rice is a great ‘learn to cook’ recipe in my opinion. With a good recipe and a few repetitions you'll learn:
These skills then translate to other recipes, and so on. So don’t worry about starting large and feeling lost, everyone else learned to walk before they ran too – just start small and continue to get better, slowly. ;)
there's a lot of good advice here. For your salt, track down a box of Diamond Kosher Sea Salt. Its more forgiving than other salts, which is handy when you first get going.
Get some good cooking shows like some Jamie Oliver. He does a lot of really simple recipes that are quick but give you a good idea for timing. Don't shy away from taking some classes, too. For some reason I turned out to be a skilled cook, where the rest of my family is... awful. I credit a lot of this to the desire to learn, I guess.
Best of luck!
i kind of forgot about shakers. i’ve always got a little black pepper that i toasted sitting in the mortar and pestle. salt is in a squat mason jar.
I have a pepper mill (handheld grinder) filled with whole peppercorns, because pre-ground pepper loses all its aroma/taste over a short time, but I'm also too lazy and impatient to use a mortar & pestle every time I want pepper (which is often). :P
preground is gross. No joke, toast up some peppercorns and crush 'em in the mortar and pestle -- its like night and day for pepperiness. It isn't for everything, but its definitely worth the hassle.
I want to get a peugeot -- but I have another motorized mill for now... and it has a light, which is absolutely useless and the thing is super loud.
I have a Peugeot 23485 Paris u'Select 9-Inch, purchased 5 years ago after researching and seeing all of the rave reviews like The Wirecutter. Like you said, not cheap. I probably wouldn’t buy it again.
Grinder is on the bottom and there’s no cap, so ground pepper leaks out whenever it’s put back down. The knob that holds the top on and keeps tension on the grinder is really fiddly; changing grind settings requires knob tweaks or it’s too loose/tight, and it loosens on its own regularly, and so I avoid changing grind size. It’s not easy to clean (and as result, I’ve never cleaned it). It’s opaque, and the inside cavity narrow, long, and dark, so you have to rely on feel and guess at how much is left inside (ran out in the middle of cooking more than once). The only things I like about it are the ceramic burr and its handsome appearance.
Not worth the premium price tag in my opinion.
haha this is my kind of review! It seems similar to other mills I've had of that same style
I genuinely don't understand how people eat preground pepper, especially from shakers, or worse from those paper packets at fast food/casual restaurants. It's like sprinkling sawdust on your food... so bland!
I toast peppercorns (and other spices) when I'm making sauces, stews, curries, soups, etc, so I've had them before, and wholeheartedly recommend it for that application too. But like I said, I'm far too lazy to do that every time I want pepper, especially since I actually do put it on damn near everything (even ice cream). It's my favorite spice. :)
p.s. I'd never heard of a peugeot pepper mill before. Goddamn those are expensive! Mine is wooden too and manual as well. However mine is no name (AFAIK), I'm pretty sure I bought it for like $20, and I've had it for decades. :P
Fast food pepper is a desperation move to fix chronically unpeppered fast food French fries.
Also Oxo makes a truly excellent pepper mill.
Not surprising. Oxo makes excellent everything, in my experience. They're the gold standard for kitchen tools and utensils, IMO. I have a bunch of their stuff; measuring cups+spoons, bowls, peelers, graters, etc.
the peugeot is supposed to be the best of the best. but who knows — it’s not like coffee where consistent grind size has a dramatic improvement on the final product. i still want one, though.
tell me more about pepper on ice cream!
i got into toasting pepper all the time because of that Bradley Cooper chef movie. i was like, ‘gimme a break. how much could it really matter?!’ then gave it a swing and was surprised. it’s just.. better.
we should develop a mill that toasts on the fly. we’ll be rich!
It's pretty simple. You grind some black pepper on top of your ice cream, mix it in, then eat it. It's works best with vanilla, but with fruity flavors like strawberry or cherry ice cream it tastes good too. And I even occasionally throw in a pinch of pepper in my morning yogurt cup as well, to liven it up a bit. Give it a try for yourself some time, and let me know what you think. :)
alright, I'm in. PEPPER PALS
Others have given wonderful advice. I’d like to make a specific recommendation which is to get the cookbook The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt. Others in this thread have mentioned him as well, but this cookbook by him is simply wonderful for the beginning cook. It has tons and tons of recipes so you are sure to find at least a few that you like, but beyond that it hs very detailed step by step instructions for more basic things, like how to chop an onion, what tools are must haves, and importantly why each recipe works which equips you to modify it if you want. When I was learning to cook I got this cookbook, and would pick random recipes that look good and make them. Now Kenji has a youtube channel as well and sometimes he cooks recipes from his book and so you can watch ahead of time and build up your confidence that you know what to do before even entering the kitchen. Really cannot recommend this enough – if you have a question about cooking there’s a good chance the answer is in here. And it is written to be very approachable.
My only other piece of advice, as others have given better advice than I could, is to build the habit early on of keeping your work area clean as you cook. This is such a great habit to have and makes the whole process much more enjoyable. Even little things like having a rag nearby to wipe up splatters as they happen, or having a countertop compost bin to toss scraps in without moving from your station.
Finally, I’ve learned to not trust the estimated times of recipes as I almost always take longer to cook. That’s fine and don’t feel like you’re somehow too slow if it’s true for you as well.
I want to reinforce what you said about estimates. When you're new to cooking it's often not intuitive how freaking long some things take to cook. It's normal and appropriate. As a rule of thumb, slower cooking at lower temperatures yields better results than putting the ingredients in a blast furnace. *
* Does not apply to frying steak.
I think some recipes are trying to appeal to people without much time by pretending to be a little faster than they really are, but it's usually a bad tradeoff.
Just to emphasize why (for other beginners), because high heat for a short time lets you get the outer layer up to temp quickly to kill germs while minimizing cooking on the inside. Typically a good tactic for things you don't want cooked much on the inside, like beef and tuna steaks, and some specialty items...but generally bad for anything else you want cooked all the way through. In baking its often 'start at high temp to get a crust, then lower temp to finish bake'.
My wife cooks prime rib by getting the oven as hot as it will go for a short while (math for duration/kg), then switch off the oven and let it coast down...gets it perfect every time.
I agree. Often it's seems they time assuming everything is out if the pantry.
Tangentially related: the cooking time (bake for x minutes, fry for y seconds, knead for z) is also an estimate. Often you have a description of the result (bake until no dough sticks wyrn plunging a knife, fry until the vegetables are tender, knead until the dough is not sticky): they're super helpful !
I've learned this from Claire Saffitz, who has a nice baking channel; you can probably add this yo your list.
Fab, I will check it out, thank you.
Re timing, it's definitely true for me, I take WAY longer than what the recipes say, but I don't mind :)