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Old 01-24-2005, 02:44 AM   #1
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Recomendations for those learning how to cook.

Im trying to think of the absolute basics and tricks that all "bachelors" should know. The roomie Im living with can cook but really dosent have that much experience yet so I find myself teaching him on a regular basis. Here's a few I've figured out so far:

1) Never spice while frying. All you will end up doing is making a very effective pepper laced smoke and making the hot sauce bitter. Spice near the end when possible.

2) Cooking with high heat is great, but certanly not applicable to 50% of dishes.

3) Putting an alcoholic beverate in what you cook dosent instantaneosly give it class.

4) Sometimes less is more. You dont always have to spend a brick of extra sharp cheddar or douse something in hot sauce... foods are made to be apreciated, not disguised.

5) Any carpinter can tell you this: use the right tool for the right job.

6) Learn how to make a good white sauce. All you need is butter, flour, milk and 3 minutes or so. This can be turned into a dozen gravies, pasta sauces, rues, soup bases and whem mixed with a little stone ground dijon mustard... heaven.

7) Knowing how to shop is half of knowing how to cook. Look for fresh ingredients. Look for what's in season. Lean to recognize quality and take advantage of bulk with any thing that can be frozen.

8) Treat your knives like a loaded gun. Never leave them in soapy water, never leave the handle dangling off the counter and if possible give the sharp stuff it's own drawer.

My english, she's not so good... I meant to say I did it with the malice of forethought.
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Old 01-24-2005, 07:21 AM   #2
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Pretty good advice, I'd say. Add the following:

Water boils at 212 degrees or so. A gentle simmer will set an egg-white as quickly as will a full boil, but without breaking it into peices and clouding up the soup.

Meats begin drying out and becoming tougher when cooked over 165" F. Again, water boils at 212. If you boil meat, it will toughen and dry out. So when making stocks, broths or soups, use the bones and carcass of critters to flavor the liquid. Then cook the meat to the desired degree and add to the soup as you serve it.

Use a little flavoring at a time, and test after several minutes of cooking time. You can always add more of a flavor, but once it's in a dish, you can't take it out.

Just as some colors will compliment each other while others clash, so it is with food. Smell the flavors you are using and try to put them together in your head before trying a new combination.

Whether it's on the plate, or in the recipe, strive for a ballance of color and flavor in your meals.

Generally, the more colorful a food is in its natural state, the greater nutritional value it contains.

And there are a host of others too numerous to put here.

Seeeeeeya; Goodweed of the North
“No amount of success outside the home can compensate for failure within the home…"

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Old 01-24-2005, 07:24 AM   #3
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pay attention all you new cooks out there! (furiously writing all of this stuff down) :D
The past is gone it's all been said.
So here's to what the future brings,
I know tomorrow you'll find better things
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Old 01-24-2005, 07:38 AM   #4
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good advice
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Old 01-24-2005, 09:25 AM   #5
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I'm writing too bucky. that was all great advice.
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Old 01-24-2005, 11:20 AM   #6
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Buy some basic cookbooks Fannie Farmer and Better Homes and Gardens are good ones for a new cook. Hang out in Borders and browse their selection too.

Buy the best you can afford and build as experience grows. Ask for pricey items as gifts.

INVEST IN A GOOD KNIFE. A quality blade will last your whole life if treated with respect and care.

Subscribe to Cooks Illustrated magazine. Check out their cookbook too The New Best Recipe From Americas Test Kitchen. Great cookbook.

Don't be afraid to try something new.

Ask alot of questions.

HAVE FUN WHEN YOU COOK, otherwise it's just another chore.
Just because someone tells you that you can't do something doesn't mean you have to listen.
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Old 01-24-2005, 11:46 AM   #7
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That's really great advice goodweed and it really presents eloquently what I was trying to say about using too much heat... definatly worth making note of. On the other hand...

Originally Posted by Goodweed of the North
...use the bones and carcass of critters to flavor the liquid...
This might be a bad idea...

My english, she's not so good... I meant to say I did it with the malice of forethought.
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Old 01-24-2005, 12:08 PM   #8
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What a great topic! Right now my mind is blank and I am having trouble coming up with sage advice (so many good pointers were already submitted).

One that I will add though, when making pasta, use a lot of water. Use way more than you think you will need.

Another one I just thought of is to know that you do not have to be a slave to a recipe (unless you are baking). You don't need to sit there with a measuring spoon and freak out if you use a little more than the tablespoon of whatever.

Lugaru I love your advice about alcohol (#3). That is so right on. I remember once when I was camping with some buddies. We bought these great looking steaks and were cooking them over an open fire. We didn't have a grill rack or anything so we used those throw away aluminum pans. The streaks were almost done and looking and smelling great when one of the guys we were with decided to pour a can of Guinness over them. I have not camped with him since
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Old 01-24-2005, 01:04 PM   #9
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Wow, there are some great ideas here.

You guys are great.

Love the life you live!
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Old 01-24-2005, 01:39 PM   #10
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I cant think of many that havent been mentioned already, but here is one thing that I have learned just recently. When following a recipe, and you decide to adjust it to your own liking, write it down! I often adapt recipes, and then can never duplicate it twice.

If a recipe calls for deep frying, which we all know is not healthy, try coming up with a baked version if possible. For example, some on here posted a recipe for baked onion rings. They were dipped in egg whites, then sprayed with cooking oil, and baked. Those were yummy!
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Old 01-24-2005, 02:37 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by amber
If a recipe calls for deep frying, which we all know is not healthy, try coming up with a baked version if possible. For example, some on here posted a recipe for baked onion rings. They were dipped in egg whites, then sprayed with cooking oil, and baked. Those were yummy!
Good point... a cookie sheet and a cooling rack can produce really crispy food.
My english, she's not so good... I meant to say I did it with the malice of forethought.
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Old 01-24-2005, 05:08 PM   #12
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Have all of the ingredients for the recipe on the counter and ready to go before you start constructing the dish (mis en place).

Make sure your sink is empty before you start prepping/cooking. Empty the dishwasher, then wash off the dishes and utensils as you go and put them in the dishwasher. If you can clean off a bowl, pot, pan, utensil and use it again in another step, do so.

Keep a plastic bag nearby (the type you carry your groceries home in) and toss out the peelings, shells, bones, fat, anything that will wind up in the garbage as you go. All this will help enormously when the meal is over and you need to clean up.
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Old 01-24-2005, 05:27 PM   #13
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When boiling potatoes for mashed potatoes or potato salad and when boiling pasta be sure to salt the water. The salt is absorbed into the potato and into the pasta - once cooked it is too late.

Absolutely no oil should be added to your pasta water.

When you are sauteing fish watch it turn opaque from the bottom up - when almost to the middle turn fish over - when cooked the rest of the way (the very, very center can even be a little underdone) put the fish on a plate or in a different pan and cover with foil. Fish will steam the rest of the way.

Read your recipe, get out ingredients and if there's anything to chop or measure do it before you ever start to cook. Line up everything in the order you need them. You'll save yourself a lot of aggrevation because two things - you will find out if you are out of anything and you will be forced to read the recipe from start to finish, eliminating some unnecessary mistakes.

Don't be afraid to use your herbs and spices. Look on the bottles/jars/containers to see what they suggest using it with - if that's what you are having add some - flavor is a good thing!

Salt AND pepper can do wonders for a dish.

Keep a covered bowl by stove filled with kosher salt - comes in very handy. Or 1 cup salt plus 3 TBS white pepper- this is also good for cooking.

Having a garbage bowl at your prep area saves a bunch of time. It saves steps and prevents things from dripping i.e., poultry.

When handling fish/poultry/meat/anything raw- make sure all your bottles are open and ready to pour, cans have been opened, and use a spoon for the salt versus your contaminated fingers.

Wash your hands after handling anything that used to be breathing immediatelyafter handling before touching everything.

Always thaw in cold water.

"Count yourself...you ain't so many" - quote from Buck's Daddy
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Old 01-24-2005, 05:47 PM   #14
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Usually the smaller the pepper, the hotter the pepper. Exclusions will be the LAME-O Heat free Jalapeno's.
Have you had your habanero pepper today????
The hotter the pepper, the better the pepper!!!
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Old 01-24-2005, 06:06 PM   #15
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Get a couple different sizes of enamel covered cast iron pots with lids.
You are not drunk if you can lie on the floor without holding on.
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Old 01-24-2005, 07:17 PM   #16
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Heat resistant spatulas and spoonulas are wonderful and affordable kitchen tools!
-A balanced diet is a cookie in each hand
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Old 01-24-2005, 07:33 PM   #17
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Along the lines of writing things down:

This is one of the reasons why I always type my recipes onto my computer, then print a hardcopy. I have a thumbtack stuck into one of my cupboads, and hang a butterfly paperclip from that. I hang the printed copy from the clip. This lets me look up at the recipe (like I look up at a ticket in the window at work), and keeps my precious counterspace clean. Never take a cookbook into the kitchen, as it will get all "boogered up".

Also, I will make changes in the recipe during the cooking process, as well as after. I keep a pencil handy for this, and just scratch out the stuff I want to replace, and write in new text. This works for both ingredients as well as method. Later, I will go back to my computer, call the document back up, make the noted changes, and save. I then trash the old printout, so that I have to print a new one when I make it again (keeps me from using an older version).
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Old 01-24-2005, 08:19 PM   #18
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I hate to sound like a "ditto head" but if you follow the suggestions of auntdot, kitchenelf, and AllenMI (among others) you won't go wrong. Some things I've perfected and have made so many times I don't need a recipe any more ... for everything else I do the same thing Allen does. But, in any case, I make sure I have all of my ingredients before I begin, then I prep everything before I get started. As you gain experience you'll learn where you can take shortcuts.

Go to a used bookstore and find an old (1995 or earlier) copy of "Joy of Cooking" (NOT the NEW Joy of Cooking). It tells you a LOT about methods and ingredients. If you only ever have just one cookbook - this is the one to have.
"It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain
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Old 01-24-2005, 08:56 PM   #19
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Learn basic definitions and what they mean -

Beat, blend, whip, fold for baking.

Saute, sear, stir-fry, brown, 'sweat', for pan-frying.

Simmer, boil, braise, roast, reduce.

Mince, chop, slice, julienne -

oh, gosh - I gotta stop! Seriously, unless you absolutely in your heart of hearts know what 'beat butter and sugar together until light and fluffy' means, you've not 'gotten' that basic.

Watch as many 'valid' cooking shows as you can, or rent videos - Jacques Pepin has an excellent series on video of the basics - it's totally awesome!

Make sure your equipment is in good order; a good knife was already mentioned; oven temperature accuracy is a must; a good fry pan, a pasta pot, and a good roasting pan, some cookie sheets that can double to roast veggies.
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Old 01-24-2005, 10:12 PM   #20
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Well done people!

You guys get onto these things way earlier in the day than I can manage!

A few other thoughts:

1) A digital meat probe is an invaluable investment.

2) To follow the analogy of a "carpenter", his work is done to a quality limited by his skills and his tools. A "Cook" is not that much different...you can build up your "skills and experience" quotient, but "tools" are very important, too! Witness the testimonials on "good" knives!

Buy the best "cooking tools" you can, even if this means going "short" for a bit on other things...that really good set of pots, or a really "good" saucepan, osteriser, waffle plate, griddle...(even reaching down to an ergonomic potato peeler!) are worth tose extra dimes or dollars! While they may be superceded by future designs of cookware, there is a good chance they will not, but become "obsolete" or unattainable...buy "ONCE", buy "smart", and buy the very best you can...if any of my children were to be smart enough to ask for a good "tool" you could bet the mortgage I'd get it for them as a gift at Christmas or Birthday...

3) Some earlier valid advice on "spicing" your dishes...but don't forget that spices have a shelf life, too...usually about 3 months! Use an "Avery Label" or a permanent marker to note on the spice bottle what date it was first opened. If its out of "date" its almost universally "out of flavour" too!

4) If you make something that turns out "superbly", remember to "make notes" (while its fresh in your mind) on what you did, so you can repeat it. If it comes out badly, take heart! This happens to each and every one of us on occaision, or has happened at some point previously...taste the "carrion" again, and try and determine where you overdid or underdid it, so you can "coorect" in your next attempt...

Likewise, ask, at restaurants or hosted parties, "just how that was done?" Again, "Take Notes"!

5) Goodweed is so "exactly" right! You can add spices or herbs, but you cannot take them out! And both (but herbs mostly!) will "flower" (imagine the little daisy or rose flower "opening up") as they cook...so don't be embarassed or ashamed to get your face down by what you are cooking/mixing, and getting a really good "sniff"...once you've got the "nose" of it, try a spoonfull...(and CLOSE YOUR EYES when doing this)..we can make it "look pretty" later, but shutting off that visual sense will enhance the "small/taste" senses...

6) Another Member had such good advice here, too! Print out your recipe, and tape it up on the counter, or range hood, or cupboard, at eye level, for easy reference...the "one sheet" note pad allows you to easily record the "tweaks" or "screw ups" of each step, and allows for better "forensic" rebuilding of "what went right/what went wrong", when the outcome is known...

7) If in doubt, "undercook"...you can always overheat it later. If its "overdone", you cannot go back...

8) When "dinner planning", "walk backwards" through the process...if you want it plated and served at 1800, for instance, give 15 mins for general dinner call and actual "service", allow yourself time for unhurried "carving" as applicable, the "work" must "set" for a time from exiting the oven to being carved, and of course, ovens, BBQ's etc are notoriously variable in "cooking times", so resorting to "tenting" is one side, but feverishly "turning up the heat" to "finish" earlier is seldom a good choice...so when do you have to "start" the process? Error on giving yourself extra time...

9) Those TV Chefs aren't entirely dumb...they will show you themselves rapidly chopping up components of meals, but rest assured you will almost certainly never get that good...so have your "components" chopped and ready BEFORE you start any critical "time lines"

10) Kitchen Elf, as always, makes a super point...WASH YOUR HANDS AND IMPLEMENTS at every opportunity and every time there is the slightest doubt about health issues! What point in a really good meal, if somebody gets sick?

11) Never be afraid to "try" something new! Make it in small quantity, and taste test each step to familiarise yourself with processes and "handling"...once you get the hang of it, its easy to expand and serve to a crowd!

12) There's an "old saw" about entering love and cooking with "total abandon". Believe in this, (unlessyou are trying to do this professionally, in which case I do not know!) because it really is easier to get forgiveness than permission!

Am looking forward to dinner with Goodweed at his place, and comparing methods and ingredients! Expect we will both go through a "learning curve", and be forever "screwed" with scratching our heads and wondering "However did he DO that?"...

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