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Old 08-14-2012, 12:27 PM   #11
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Get yourself a beginners cookbook and just start practicing. Short of burning your apartment down, there isn't much damage you can do if you just learn a few basics. And if it's inedible, toss it and eat out.

Learning by observation is helpful, at least for me. It might be helpful to take a few cooking classes through community ed. Cooking supply stores sometimes offer classes, too. You could also watch cooking shows.

Book suggestions:
Amazon.com: The "I Don't Know How to Cook" Book: 300 Great Recipes You Can't Mess Up! (9781598697032): Mary-Lane Kamberg: Books

Amazon.com: Cooking Basics For Dummies (9780470913888): Bryan Miller, Marie Rama, Eve Adamson: Books

Amazon.com: Betty Crocker Cooking Basics: Recipes and Tips to Cook with Confidence (Betty Crocker Books) (9780470111352): Betty Crocker Editors: Books

Amazon.com: How to Boil Water (9780696226861): Food Network Kitchens: Books

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Old 08-14-2012, 12:43 PM   #12
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I learned the basics from Mom and Grandmas. However, I also learned a lot from the cooking class we had to take in junior high school. Start with something simple like spaghetti. Boiling water, add noodles, boil for 10 mins and drain. Spaghetti sauce can be simple by opening a jar of Prego or Ragu and heating it. Or you can start with fresh tomatoes and cook them down to a sauce. Steve's suggestion of beginner books is wonderful. They usually will have you make a recipe and walk you through all the steps explaining what each step involves and why you do that. Once you get some the basic techniques down, you'll be ready to branch out to other recipes and cookbooks with no problems.

One other tip, don't invite friends or family to eat your stuff until you are satisfied with the results and replicate them fairly consistently. That way you save all the mistakes for yourself and everyone will be amazed at your cooking skills!

I could give up chocolate but I'm no quitter!
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Old 08-14-2012, 02:41 PM   #13
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Welcome to DC! Leanring to cook is an adventure, enjoy it!
I've got OCD--Obsessive Chicken Disorder!
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Old 08-14-2012, 02:51 PM   #14
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You will need some basic equipment. Here's a rundown of some basics that I'd try to stock my kitchen with if I were starting from scratch.

Pans: Cast iron skillet, check eBay for a "Griswold" and buy one used. A 10" anodized nonstick saute and a 10" regular saute pan, a 3 quart sauce pan w/ lid, a cookie sheet, a rice cooker, and a 5 quart ceramic coated dutch oven.

A chef's knife, yeah you're going to have to spend around $100 for a good one, though they can get a lot more pricey! This is one area where investing more money will (usually) have the most benefit. A cheap knife will dull, make food prep obnoxious, and be very unsafe to use. A dull knife needs pressure to cut and slips, causing accidents. I feel like a good knife that will hold an edge--and knowing how to use it--is a major difference between enjoying cooking and "having to cook" since it's so integral for practically all of your food prep. I'd recommend an 8" classic chef knife for general utility. Also get a knife steel and use it religiously on your nice knife... or else!

A pepper grinder is a must! Pre-ground pepper has no place in cooking IMO. Try and find one with a ceramic grinding mechanism for the best grind, Amazon has a bamboo one for like ~$15 and it's great. I'd also recommend a salt boat--a fancy term for a small bowl that holds salt for easy access.

Random tools: Cutting board, don't go too small! Get the largest you can wash in your sink, and smaller one for quick prep. Silicone spatula, regular spatula, tongs, probe thermometer, 2 cup measuring cup, measuring spoons, A few different whisks, prep bowls, pasta strainer, wooden spoons, pasta fork, some earthenware

There's probably a lot more I'm missing, that's just what I could come up with off the top of my head. You also need to work up pantry staples like various spices and herbs. I'd say do that over time and get the spices as you need them. Most lose their zest after like 6 months anyway so buying a full pantry's worth is wasteful.
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Old 08-14-2012, 03:30 PM   #15
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I would argue that a beginning cook doesn't need a $100 chef's knife or a cast iron pan. Before buying the knives I have now, I went close to 45 years using a Chicago Cutlery chef's knife that did the job and held up well. And I still have all my fingers. You can buy one for less than $20. For that price, you don't have to worry about dinging it up.

And while a cast iron pan is a nice tool to have, it also takes some knowledge to understand how to properly use and care for it. I would suggest an inexpensive non-stick saute pan for now. It will be easier to scrape away all those beginner burnt meals.
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Old 08-14-2012, 03:56 PM   #16
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Heh. When I was in college, I started out with a couple of old steak knives, the crappiest, most beat up aluminum pans you could imagine, and a beat-up, elderly cooktop. Oh, and a toaster. And it all worked!

A whole lot of good advice here!
She who dies with the most toys, wins.
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Old 08-14-2012, 04:09 PM   #17
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Welcome to DC Thunder
All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt
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Old 08-14-2012, 05:09 PM   #18
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Welcome to DC! Regarding knives, depending on where you live, some bait and tackle shops sell reground Forshner/ Victoronics fillet knives for under $10.00. I originally bought them for cleaning my spearfishing catch, but found they work great in the kitchen as well.
If you're gonna make a Key Lime pie, you have to use real Key Limes!
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Old 08-14-2012, 06:23 PM   #19
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You had a couple of specific questions. About knives. Don't go out and spend $100 on a knife. That's crazy at your level. It's crazy at any level, if you can't say just why it's worth $100. There's a lot of buying expensive toys among serious cooks, and it's not necessary, even if most of us do it. You can do very well with very modest brands, like Chef Style and OXO. But do buy a sharpener and learn to hone a blade. You'll discover something of why some knives are expensive, but holding an edge for an extra long time isn't your real big concern right now. You need the practice. An 8-inch chef's knife will do you. Keep it sharp, all the time. Sharpen it before you know it needs it. The wisdom that dull knives are dangerous and frustrating was dead right.

Yes, there's a notion that "serious" cooks like gas. But that's not entirely accurate. Gas has some good points, like fine and instant control of heat. But among home ranges, electrics will usually boil water faster than gas, because of the way residential gas ranges are designed. Commercial ranges are entirely different. A commercial gas range is vastly more powerful than the home version. Your home doesn't even have the gas supply lines to run one.

Just get to know your own range. Test the accuracy of the oven with a reliable thermometer. Discover which low settings on the different burners will "simmer," keep a pot of water in a state of just barely generating tiny bubbles. The labels LOW, MED. and HIGH on the knobs mean little and certainly don't mean what they mean on the range used by the person who wrote the recipe.

You can pick up a whole kitchen full of tools and cookware from yard sales and flea markets, and you'll learn what you like and don't like about each. There are several kinds of cookware. What I can tell you for sure is that it is ALL "non-stick" when it's used properly. If you're sticking food to any pan, something's wrong with your method.

There are many paths to learning to cook well and in many styles. General cookbooks like the classic Joy of Cooking are still good. And yes, watching cooking shows is a great way to learn things the cookbooks won't normally tell you. Like how to deglaze a pan. And there's a ton of stuff on YouTube.

Like most people who learned in some particular way, I can't tell you how to learn. I began cooking when I could reach the top of the range, and I take a pretty scientific approach to new techniques now. All I can say is begin simply. Don't try to go nuts with spices. Good, basic food has plenty of flavor for you to bring out. Chicken parts tossed in olive oil with salt and popped into a 400F oven on a baking pan for a bit over an hour tastes great. And then, after you see how good simply is, you can move to rubbing butter with garlic, rosemary and lemon under the skin first. That sort of thing. Learn how to cook a steak and a pork chop properly, and you're ahead of most people. (Hint: They're very different.)
"Kitchen duty is awarded only to those of manifest excellence..." - The Master, Dogen
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Old 08-14-2012, 06:38 PM   #20
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Pick your favorite foods and figure out how to make them. Read recipes and techniques, ask tons of questions, watch Youtube, look at photos, laugh, cry, throw things, burn yourself, cut yourself, throw stuff in the garbage or flush it down the toilet. Buy stuff you think you might like, throw some of it out and let the rest of it sit in your fridge and grow mold. Melt utensils on your stovetop. Dirty way too many dishes, fall asleep and do them the next day. Repeat.

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