I Gotta Learn To Cook.

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GrawSith
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I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby GrawSith » Wed Mar 03, 2010 2:14 am UTC

Right now, I'm subsisting on a diet of breakfast cereal, store-bought sandwiches, frozen vegetables and frozen fish/chicken (oh and lots of snacks). I really, really have to learn how to cook.

I can make anything that comes readymade (pasta, veges, cake mix, etc), but have never actually made myself a meal from scratch. My parents were english immigrants and they possessed awesome old-school cooking talent, so I've learned some basics off them.

What i'd like from the cooking gods of xkcd is to rough out some recipes that are simple, cheap (not too cheap) and customisable. I'd like to create a solid base of cooking talent and build upon that.

Thanks in advance!

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Axman
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby Axman » Wed Mar 03, 2010 3:57 am UTC

No! Fuck recipes! You need formulae.

Recipes teach people bad kitchen habits; instead, you should learn the process of mixing flavors. I suggest two things: modifying pre-packaged food (make ramen authentic with vegetables, meat, and sauce, for example) and reading The Frugal Gourmet, as it teaches how to make the stuff that makes other stuff.

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happymedium
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby happymedium » Wed Mar 03, 2010 4:01 am UTC

Hey there! I'm just going to copy a few of my poor college student concoctions for you -- here goes!

1) Rice, black beans, and salsa

Probably the easiest thing ever, and super tasty. I don't really have a recipe for it -- just make some white rice (on the stove in a pot, or with a rice cooker if you have one), throw some black beans on top ( straight from the can), and add a dash of salsa. You can add whatever else you like -- I like to mix in a spoonful of sour cream, grate some cheddar cheese on top, and microwave it for a minute or so until the cheese melts.

2) Fettucine alfredo (a little more expensive)

1 lb linguine noodles
1 tbsp salt
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups heavy whipping cream
2-3 cloves minced garlic
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 cup grated parmesan cheese (I like to splurge and buy the real deal, not the non-refrigerated Kraft stuff)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp basil
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Add 1 tbsp of salt to a large pot of water and bring to boil. Boil noodles according to package. Then, in a medium saucepan, heat chicken broth over medium high heat, bringing to a boil. Reduce heat to medium, and stir in heavy cream, garlic, and cornstarch. Bring to a soft boil and stir for one minute. Reduce heat to low, add parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and basil. Let simmer for about 10 mins to melt cheese, let thicken, and incorporate flavors. Chop parsley and stir into alfredo sauce right before serving. Serve sauce over pasta.

3) Pasta with chicken, onions, and black olives (pretty much foolproof)

About half a package of pasta
A few boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced into cubes or strips
Vinegar
Vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small can of sliced black olives, drained

Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box.
Put a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil in a large frying pan on medium high heat. Place the chicken in the pan -- while it's cooking, add a few dashes of salt and pepper and some vinegar (I like to use a lot of vinegar -- the chicken soaks it up while it cooks). When the chicken is thoroughly cooked (the inside will be white and the juices will run clear), add the black olives and sliced onion and sautee until soft (I usually add more vinegar at this point, because I'm sort of obsessed with it). When the black olives and onion are cooked, add the pasta to the entire mixture and stir. That's it!

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Mr. Mack
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby Mr. Mack » Wed Mar 03, 2010 9:25 am UTC

Here's what I did to learn cooking.
I found recipes (mostly) online for things that I like and want to know how to make. I mostly used AllRecipes.com and Google. In order to find beginner dishes I'd include words like "easy," "simple," "quick," "cheap," etc. I'd usually try to aim for things that included a small number of ingredients and only a few ingredients that I didn't already own.

After a while, I had started to identify patterns as to how recipes are put together. This was actually inadvertent, but it seems to have worked out pretty well.

You might want to try starting off focusing on food from a specific culture, like Italian recipes, or Chinese recipes, or whatever. This can help focus on a specific set of spices.

Also, the first time you make a recipe, do so exactly as written. At this point, you're just familiarizing yourself with the procedure and any techniques used. Once you're familiar with how to do it, you can customize it to your tastes.
If you decided to focus on a specific culture, you'll find that the techniques used in that culture are probably going to be applicable to recipes from other cultures. For example, the breading technique used for Chicken Parmigiana isn't all that different from the technique used for Chicken-Fried Steak or Jalapeño Poppers. Or, once you learn to sauté, other types of frying aren't that big of a deal.

Axman wrote:modifying pre-packaged food (make ramen authentic with vegetables, meat, and sauce, for example)

I do this with pretty much everything now. As for regular "from scratch" cooking, I think everyone with sufficient experience deviates from the recipe. Only to eventually happen upon the most awesome deviation ever and realize they hadn't written it down.
...that was really great BBQ sauce.

If you were looking for specific recipes, I might be able to recommend a few, but without an idea of what you like, which cooking tools you have, which ingredients you have, or how much you're willing to spend, there's so many options that it's a little hard to know what to suggest. The biggest of these issues is that you and I probably have very different ideas of what tastes good.
"Bagpipes, YES!"

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dubsola
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby dubsola » Wed Mar 03, 2010 12:07 pm UTC

GrawSith wrote:I can make anything that comes readymade (pasta, veges, cake mix, etc), but have never actually made myself a meal from scratch. My parents were english immigrants and they possessed awesome old-school cooking talent, so I've learned some basics off them.

This is a great start, in the sense that it sounds like you already know when things are "done". Nothing worse than making a delicious pasta meal and not checking that the pasta is cooked before draining the water. Crunchy pasta is very off-putting. To be clear: if you aren't already, get used to tasting and poking things to see if they're ready - recipes aren't always failsafe. And the other side of that coin is being used to watching food to ensure it's not burning. Burnt things ruin dishes.

What i'd like from the cooking gods of xkcd is to rough out some recipes that are simple, cheap (not too cheap) and customisable. I'd like to create a solid base of cooking talent and build upon that.

I reckon the following basic things will be enough to have you cook four dinners a week and not get bored of them:

-Basic tomato sauce: Fry onion, then garlic, then add canned tomato, lower heat, add dried herbs like basil / oregano, maybe a little chilli, some salt and pepper. After half an hour you have a pretty good sauce - finish it off with some fresh chopped herbs like parsley or basil and you're good to go. You can do a lot with this sauce, starting with pouring it on top of cooked pasta and adding parmesan, to adding vegetables to cook in the sauce - eg carrots at the start, mushrooms at the end, you can make a bolognese, you can add fried chorizo or italian sausage, or you can spread it on sliced eggplant to make melanzane. And it's ludicrously easy, just don't burn anything and it'll taste delicious. And the more you make it the better you get! As you go you can learn to taste it while it's cooking so you can work out whether to add salt - if it tastes like it needs *something*, it's probably salt. That goes for most cooking, IMO.

Roast vegetables: Chop up vegetables, season with salt and pepper, pour a little olive oil and stick in the oven. Learn to check whether they're cooked. learn to work out how long each vegetable needs to cook. Try different seasonings - I guess you could call them "European" - dried basil, parsley, oregano, maybe some balsamic vinegar. Serve with rocket, cherry tomatoes and some mild goats cheese. Or go "African" - ground cumin, coriander, and serve on couscous.

Stir fry: There are so many stir fry recipes out there, I'm not going to type it up. Just remember to have everything chopped and ready to go before you start. Like the previous two recipes, this gets better as you go along, you get better at working out what to put in there, and - BONUS - you get better at looking at things cooking and working out how far along they are.

Fish or meat: learn how to cook a steak, fry or poach a fish. Serve with steamed beans or broccoli, boiled or roast potatoes, maybe a little salad. This is very easy and very healthy.

Make your own salad dressing: have some good olive oil in the cupboard, that's your base. Mix two thirds of that to (say) one third of something vinegary like balsamic vinegar, or that seedy mustard. Add some salt and pepper, mix it up and serve. You could always add some finely chopped garlic, or some herbs, whatever - experiment.

Always have dried herbs and various oils and vinegars in your cupboard, and one kind of fresh herb, and then when you do your shopping you will probably only need to buy the main ingredients.

Once you've got these things going on, get experimental: go to the markets and buy an ingredient you've never cooked before - a vegetable, meat or fish thing. Then go home and look up that item - there'll be loads of recipes. Hopefully by now you won't have to buy too many 'flavour' ingredients like herbs because they're already in your kitchen.

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PAstrychef
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby PAstrychef » Wed Mar 03, 2010 10:17 pm UTC

The only way to really know how to cook is to do it. That your parents showed you that good cooking is possible is a big first step.
There are a few good books to stick in the bathroom and read through that will help. How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and Ratio by Michael Rhulman will get you enough info to try anything. On Food And Cooking by Harold McGee will let you understand the science behind what you're doing.
Pick a dish you want to know how to make.
Check out a few recipes for it, either online or in cookbooks. Find one that you think is ok in terms of complexity and clearness of the directions. Follow it and see what you end up with. If it's good-YEAH! If it's bad, can you tell what went wrong?
(one recipe you might try is the one I posted for roast chicken, with or with out the honey-cumin glaze).
If the thought of lots of leftovers is scary, ask a friend who knows how to cook to show you their favorite simple dinner. Then have others over to help eat.
You can also find cooking classes for adults in your area, and take one or two. Seeing stuff done is really helpful when you're learning.
That said, here's a basic recipe for one of my favorite dinners:
Poor man's stroganoff
Mushrooms-as many as you like. If you like fungi, the more the better. If you don't, then just a few really help.
Onions-2 small or 1 medium or 1/2 large (bigger than a baseball)
Some fat- oil, butter, bacon grease (very yummy), olive oil, vegetable oil, ghee, whatever
ground meat-8 oz per person for no leftovers, 12 oz-1# per person for plenty of leftovers
about 1/4 cup flour. That's 1 oz if weighed
about 4 cups Beef stock/broth from a box, or made from bullion cubes, paste or granules or home made stock
About 1 cup of milk
some sour cream
Clean and slice the mushrooms and chop the onions into 1/2" dice. That's fairly coarse, and perfect squares are not necessary.
In a big frying pan heat some of the fat and add the onions. Stir them around some. When they start to brown add the mushrooms. They will wilt and then start to brown. When they're nice and brown scrape them out of the pan into a dish.
Put the meat in the pan and stir it as it cooks, until it's in small bits and nicely browned. If the meat was high in fat, drain it into a can not down the sink. Save about 3 Tablespoons in the pan. If the meat was really dry add a bit of fat to the pan.
Sprinkle the flour over the meat and stir it until it evenly coats the meat bits and starts to brown. It will smell toasty.
Add the liquid to the pan slowly and keep stirring. Taste the gravy-it may need salt, I like to add pepper and some dried thyme. Add the mushrooms and onions back to the pan and cook until the gravy is thick.
Stir in the milk and again let it thicken a bit.
Turn down the heat and scoop in the sour cream. I use about 1 Tablespoon per serving. Mix well, heat gently or the sour cream will break and look gross, and serve with your choice of starch. Rice or noodles both work, so do toast or mashed spuds.
This can be made with beef, pork, chicken, turkey, lamb-use a chicken stock if you start with poultry. If you want you can add tomatoes with the mushrooms and onions. You can add soy sauce and some chili oil and/or hoisin sauce and have it with stir-fried veg.
This is where the idea of Hamburger Helper came from.
Good Eating!
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voidPtr
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby voidPtr » Thu Mar 04, 2010 3:50 pm UTC

I think dubsola's advice is great, and it's what basically works for me as a fairly novice cook myself.

I'll add or expand on a couple more points though.

1) Seasoning. Season gently. Season early. Season more than once. If you don't season, your food is going to taste bland. If you wait until you're finished cooking to correct your seasoning, you're going to end up using more salt than you need.

2) Butter. Speaking from the point of view of tastiness, you can never have enough of it.

3) TASTE YOUR FOOD AS YOU'RE MAKING IT! It's already been mentioned, but 'll stress it anyways. Is the seasoning correct? Does that sauce need a bit more basil or chili? Is the dressing too acidic or not enough? Oops, you overcooked the pasta! Before you mix it with the sauce, is it salvageable, or should you toss it and throw a fresh pot on? Cooking with my friends, it's amazing how many of them will get out their measuring cups & spoons to measure the balsamic vinegar within mls of accuracy to the recipe, but don't taste their food until it's done. There's no better way to ensure mediocre and inconsistent food.

4) Recipe Resources: http://www.jamieoliver.com & http://chow.com .

Cooking for a beginner does not have to be rocket science. Start out with good quality ingredients, give them a little bit a love and attention, TASTE YOUR FOOD, and that's 80% of the battle right there.

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dubsola
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby dubsola » Tue Mar 16, 2010 1:06 pm UTC

Funny thing, I was at a friend's house and noticed the Nigella Lawson book How to Eat. The first chapter matches up with a lot of what I said. :)

Further to your recipe resources, BBC Food has never let me down.

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pooteeweet
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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby pooteeweet » Mon Apr 26, 2010 7:24 pm UTC

I agree with those who say to use recipes to ease yourself into cooking-- Follow a recipe religiously once or twice till you feel like you sort of understand the mechanisms behind that dish, then twerk, then improvise things entirely.

Or another tactic I use often: When I want to try making something new and I don't really know what I'm doing, I'll often use google and read through a handful of different recipes. This is done partly to try and guesstimate what recipe will be best, and partly to find recipes that use the ingredients that are available to me at the moment. Sometimes no one recipe seems suitable, for a variety of reasons, but by the time I've read through all those recipes, I feel like I understand the dish enough to combine the techniques/ingredients from 2 or 3 different recipes. I usually panic halfway through making it and think for sure it's going to be horrible, but then about 98% of the time it actually turns out fantastic.

happymedium wrote:1) Rice, black beans, and salsa

Probably the easiest thing ever, and super tasty. I don't really have a recipe for it -- just make some white rice (on the stove in a pot, or with a rice cooker if you have one), throw some black beans on top ( straight from the can), and add a dash of salsa. You can add whatever else you like -- I like to mix in a spoonful of sour cream, grate some cheddar cheese on top, and microwave it for a minute or so until the cheese melts.


Simple stuff like this can be a good jumping-off point for experimentation which eventually leads to increased cooking skills.

For example, take the above recipe, but instead of throwing the beans in straight out of the can, do this:

1.) Chop an onion. Put it in a frying pan with oil or butter, on medium heat (hot enough that it sizzles a bit; not so hot that the onion starts charring/sticking to the bottom). Cook the onion a few minutes. If you want to, turn the heat down pretty low and go do something else for a while-- that's how onions caramelize and it's a good starting point for many dishes. Just make sure to check now and then that they aren't sticking and that your kitchen isn't on fire. This might be a good time to chop veggies for step 3.

2.) Add some minced garlic if you're into that, and other spices: red pepper flakes (use caution, these tend to be spicier than you think they are) and/or cayenne, cumin, oregano... Quantities depend on your preference, I'd say anywhere between a light sprinkling to a few teaspoons. If the pan is very dry, add a little dollop of oil or water or old wine or whatever so the spices don't burn.

3.) Chop up a small to moderate quantity of any veggies you have around that might go well with beans: Carrots, celery, bell peppers, leafy greens like spinach or kale... Add solid veggies like carrots to the pan now, to cook a bit before the pan gets all crowded with other stuff. Leafy things can wait till close to the end of the recipe, when you can just throw them in and put a lid on so they wilt.

4.) Add 1 to 3 cans of beans (you can use a mix of different kinds if you want). A can of diced or crushed tomatoes, or some tomato sauce or some salsa in a pinch, are a good idea at this point.

Now, again, you can turn the heat low-ish (just make sure it's still simmering) and walk away for 10 minutes or a couple of hours.

Follow the rest of happymedium's instructions. Serve with quesadillas and/or fried eggs and/or sliced avocado and cucumber and/or fresh cilantro or parsley. Use different variants to eat the leftovers for the next few days. Also: If you add enough liquid to your pot of leftover beans, you can poach an egg in it. Adding chopped leftover meat is another good way to spruce it up. Also: hummus and yogurt are surprisingly delicious additions to rice and beans.

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Re: I Gotta Learn To Cook.

Postby Primobabe » Tue Apr 27, 2010 12:30 am UTC

Dear GrawSith,

The key to cooking -- be fearless!

Sometimes, you'll have kitchen disasters. You'll make things that taste dreadful, have the wrong consistency, or are otherwise a waste of good food. This happens to the most skilled and experienced cooks. You can't be discouraged by failure. Try something else, or try to figure out what went wrong (it might have been the recipe or the ingredients, not you), but don't give up.

Nolan Ryan pitched some dreadful games. Picasso painted over plenty of his works, just to get some value from the canvasses. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote critical failures and commerical flops. Nobody's perfect, and the same's true for anyone who cooks. If you persevere, however, you'll turn out your fair share of winners.


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