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Old 11-11-2008, 10:05 PM   #1
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Should I develop a "specialty"

Hey guys I'm new to the forums here and am just starting to cook more often. My question is, should I start in one area and develop a specialty for a certain type of food [BBQ, Steaks, Pasta etc.] or should I just try and make whatever I feel like. What would you recommend I do? Thanks in advance for any advice.

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Old 11-11-2008, 10:20 PM   #2
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Welcome to DC.

I recommend you try lots of different things. Develop a large base of dishes from many cuisines you are familiar with. Try to understand how different cuisines create thier flavors.

If you are going to have a specialty, it's something that will come from your experience and the foods you like. It's not something you choose up front.
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Old 11-11-2008, 11:05 PM   #3
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Hello and welcome.
iAndy is right... keep on trying lots of different things. The more you cook the more
you learn and the more you understand. Have fun!!
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Old 11-11-2008, 11:07 PM   #4
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Hi! Welcome to DC.

I agree, too. Build a good foundation with a variety of recipes. After a while, it will be apparent what you like/excel in. It takes time, so be patient and enjoy the process.
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Old 11-11-2008, 11:10 PM   #5
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I agree. Diversify, along with your palette. Life would get pretty boring eating just one thing all the time. And in a pinch, you would know the ground rules to make something of anything.
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Old 11-11-2008, 11:38 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by quicksilver View Post
I agree. Diversify, along with your palette. Life would get pretty boring eating just one thing all the time. And in a pinch, you would know the ground rules to make something of anything.
I completely agree with having the ground rules of cooking down. Learning how different ingredients interact with one another is an essential step in moving from "I can follow a recipe pretty well..." to "I know how to COOK!"

You can easily mix it up though. Take butter and flour for instance. Put equal amounts in a pan, start heating them, and you have a roux. From there the possibilities are endless. Whisk in some chicken stock for a white sauce, fish stock for a fish sauce, milk for a bechamel, cook the roux longer for brown sauce, etc.

If you like fish then learn 3 or 4 different ways to make your fish. Even if you are using the same kind of fish, different cooking techniques will give you different flavors. You can reinforce the basics and keep your palette satisfied at the same time.
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Old 11-11-2008, 11:59 PM   #7
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If you can eat in different ethnic restaurants each week and get a feel for what you like then start to cook. Using your library cook book collection and read the different styles of cooking get some ideas floating around then act on them
It may not be perfect but it will teach you every time you cook soon you will be swinging out all kinds of good food
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Old 11-12-2008, 02:09 AM   #8
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Thanks for all the replies guys, is there a thread somewhere that has some basic recipes? And as far as hardware goes, what would should I invest the most money into [Knives, Pots, Cutting Boards etc.]
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Old 11-12-2008, 02:33 AM   #9
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I have a friend that keeps wanting to get fancier and fancier. But I keep telling her to keep things relatively simple at first and go from there. It's easier to add one additional flavour to a recipe and decide how it works than to toss in 20 ingredients and try to figure out which ones don't belong.

A few things I wish I'd learned a long time ago:
1 - Use Marinades. Very easy way to impart a lot of flavour.
2 - Bake or roast longer and slower on chicken and pork to get them more tender and juicy.
3 - as said a few posts up, making roux. I never made gravies or sauces from scratch until I started making sausage gravy.
4 - use as natural and fresh ingredients as you can get / afford. This has made a big difference in my diet and overall health. I use raw sugar, kosher salt, filtered water, honey, olive oil and real butter.

Keep a sense of humour and don't take it too seriously. Cooking is fun more than work.

As for buying hardware, try to do more with the little hardware you have instead of blowing a lot of money on things you might not really need.

I would say for essentials:
1 - cutting boards and mineral oil for treating them
2 - a decent set of knives and a good sharpener. I have the Furi Fingers sharpener and it works pretty well.
3 - a microwave veggie & rice cooker - wonderful for steaming veggies and rice. (I hate cooking rice on the stove, I almost always burn it)

There are a ton of things I would like to have for my kitchen. But by trying to work with what I have, it helps me figure out what I really need to buy next. I had to buy a new stove a few months back so I'm working on paying that off before buying anything else.
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Old 11-12-2008, 09:34 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Drk2 View Post
Thanks for all the replies guys, is there a thread somewhere that has some basic recipes? And as far as hardware goes, what would should I invest the most money into [Knives, Pots, Cutting Boards etc.]
I got the cookbook "How To Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman. It's not very expensive for the softcover, and the latest edition has 2000 recipes. He also has great explanations on cooking techniques, how ingredients interact, equipment, etc.

Quality knives make your life so much easier. Most knife makers sell a Chef's knife, utility knife, and paring knife as a set. You can do virtually everything with those three knives. Get a steel too, and learn how to use it. Using the steel is super easy, and takes less than a minute even if you are moving slow.

I made good food with a mishmash of cookware, but it's not easy to make great food with poor cookware. You don't have to break the bank with All-Clad or some other high end brand. Do you have a Costco nearby? This set was the highest rated non-stick on Consumer Reports, and it's 14 pieces for $180.00 USD: Kirkland Cookware. Take care of those (no dishwasher, no metal utensils, etc.), and you will get a ton of mileage from them, and learn to be a great cook at the same time! I'm not saying that you have to buy this set, but I just wanted to let you know that you can cook really good food with moderately priced cookware. Check product reviews in forums like this, or on Amazon.com to get an idea of what people are saying about different products.

You should have at least one good cutting board. Fortunately they are not that expensive. I just ordered this one: Totally Bamboo Cutting Board. It's not super fancy, but I'm lazy and this board is dishwasher safe as long as I oil it after it's washed. There's nothing wrong with starting out with cheapie cutting boards, but if you are doing a lot of cutting/chopping every day then you will want a board that doesn't warp, doesn't slide around, and doesn't flex when you're holding that potato down.

Hope this helps!
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Old 11-12-2008, 10:46 AM   #11
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Buy 2 or three good knives, not a set. Buy two or three good pots, not a set. Those white plastic cutting boards are inexpensive and good to your knives and can go into the dishwasher. Buy a couple of those and move up to wood later if you feel the need.

Decide which pots and pans to buy based on what you cook and for how many people. You don't need whole sets of anything.
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Old 11-12-2008, 02:01 PM   #12
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...and shop your second had stores, Goodwill and all those kind of places.
You'll be amazed what you'll find. (Ask JoeV)
Make sure you are comfortable with your equipment.
(I can't handle my cleaver, it's just too big and heavy for me. So it was a wasted investment.)
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Old 11-13-2008, 10:47 AM   #13
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I recommend you start working with dishes similar to ones you love the best OR that the people you feed love the best. Nothing encourages a cook more than having their food truly appreciated. If you fix something and people at the table just pick at it, or worse yet, say "yuck", not because you didn't do a great job of it, but because it is simply something they don't like no matter how perfect a job you did of it, you'll get discouraged very quickly. Then venture off into experiments with similar ingredients, but different dishes. I firmly believe in avoiding trying to duplicate a dish that someone's mom or a restaurant makes. It is setting yourself up for failure. It can be a fine balance. In other words, if no one you know likes ginger, don't start with a dish heavy in ginger. On the other hand, don't try to make authentic Thai cuisine for a friend whose mom is Thai unless she offers to teach it to you! Ditto a spouse's parent. If MIL makes a perfect _____, don't try to out do her, don't even make it at all unless she teaches you. It makes for good bonding moments and better relationships.

I think developing a specialty is just that ... something you develop over time. You do this after you've developed a few dishes, and you know which are hits and misses. You need to develop, too, a hard shell sometimes. Luckily I've always cooked in an environment where most people like to experiment in eating, so it's easy. When I first moved to the Midwest, I wondered, but eventually I wound up with several "specialties" that were not my specialties at all in younger days.
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Old 11-13-2008, 12:29 PM   #14
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I agree with what the others have said so I will only add that you can also "learn" a lot about cooking just by reading recipes. The more you read the more you learn. I look at a cookbook the same way I read a novel.

By reading the directions from the recipes, you will start seeing trends, repeated techniques, needed equipment etc. Even though I do not fix each recipe I read there are many times that I find myself having a light bulb moment when fixing something. (I could do... like I read in that recipe for stir fried squid or I remember a recipe where xxx and yyy were blended with zzz so they should work with this too)

I would also suggest that you observe other people cooking to see if you can pick up any "expierenced cook knowledge"
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