New to Cooking


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New to Cooking

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Editado: Jan 15, 2012, 9:16 pm

Hi everyone! My name is Taryn, and I am twenty-four years old. I am an anthropologist living in Raleigh, NC and I have a dilemma.

So, for my whole life I have lived alone. All I had to do was fend for myself culinarily with Ramen Noodles, string cheese, seltzer water and cheap vodka.

But, recently, my boyfriend moved in (along with his dog, then I adopted two cats three weeks ago...that's right 0 to 4 in like two seconds...all of them boys).

And I realized....I'm gonna have to start cooking.

No, it wasn't that bad. Actually, I want to start cooking. When my grandfather died, he left me all of his cookbooks, which was a very significant collection. My boyfriend also came with a big box of cookbooks his mother passed on to him. Also, I have done some extensive traveling in the past couple of years. I have been all over Eastern and Western Europe, staying with random families and friends along the way, and most of them have shared their recipes with me. In fact, the first recipe I cooked (probably ever besides apple pies on Thanksgiving) was egg recipe I ate for breakfast every day while I was in Turkey. Granted, it's not very hard to get correct, but still.

So my dilemma is....How do you start cooking? How do you budget time and money while still creating new things in the kitchen? How do you use enough vegetables? And most can I use these cookbooks to the best of my abilities...I mean really get use out of them? I have dreams of them being annotated with notes, covered in flour, dog-eared and highlighted.

I owe it both to my grandfather, my mother, and this man now consuming half of my paycheck.

Jan 16, 2012, 2:18 pm

My advice is JUST DO IT. The time required and the money required depend on what you plan to prepare. Allow yourself a little extra time at first because until you get used to a kitchen routine, it will take a bit longer. I don't know if the Food Network still has the "How to Boil Water" program or not, but that show was geared toward newbie cooks and usually introduced a new technique each week.

Find a recipe that sounds good to you, get the ingredients, and make it. Later, you may be able to take several cookbooks, compare the recipes, combine them into a recipe of your own, etc., but you are going to have to be comfortable with cooking first.

Jan 16, 2012, 2:21 pm

Help My Apartment has a Kitchen is what I gave to my sister and daughters when they first started. Work through it and then look at more advanced books. Soon you will be eating better and for less, or not, depends on what you want.

Editado: Jan 17, 2012, 9:39 pm

I can recommend finding some food blogs with lots of pictures. Not only are they more fun to look at than just a printed recipe, you can learn a lot by looking at the technique. Also, they're a lot easier to use as a guide than a video is.

If you're the type of person who is capable of making a detailed plan and sticking to it, making a detailed menu for what you'll make/eat for each meal for a week/fortnight is extremely helpful for shopping and budgeting purposes. Sadly, I'm too impulsive to make this work for me.

Finally, make sure you're equipped. The state of most people's knives is atrocious, not to mention dangerous. Get some decent tools and learn how to take care of them.

ETA I meant basic tools, like MrsLee said. Not fancy specialized or electric equipment generally, although an immersion blender is awfully handy. I meant knives, cutting board, measuring utensils, cooking utensils, etc.

Jan 17, 2012, 2:29 pm

Don't go overboard buying equipment/spices until you have read enough to know what sort of cooking you are most interested in. As sorchah said, good knives will make the kitchen less dangerous and more enjoyable. A good heavy bottomed saucepan and frying pan and a 4 quart Dutch oven/pot are good beginnings, a set of mixing bowls, glass or metal would be helpful, but one can make do with cheap until one has the luxury to invest.

I buy spices in the Mexican food section of our supermarket. They come in bags and are much less expensive than those in the bottles and cans. Pick a type of cuisine you want to focus on to learn the basics and stock up on those products. You will not have to buy as many different spices then, and they won't go to waste languishing in your cupboard.

I started with family recipes and Sunset Easy Basics for Good Cooking. I read through the cookbook, then started trying the recipes. They have a lot of instructions as to why you do certain things with the food and what all the terms mean but it didn't talk down to me, plus I've never made anything that wasn't good out of it. I'm sure there are lots of other cookbooks just as fine. Then, I just started reading cookbooks and eating food from cuisines I liked. That gave me a base for comparison. Watch out though. Once you start getting good at this, it will be difficult to find a restaurant you really enjoy the food in. :)

As for budgeting, watch the sales on meat, learn to use your freezer. Shop seasonally for vegetables and fruit. Stay away from prepared spices and sauces and mixes. Get some good quality storage containers for the freezer and pantry. Freezer ziplocs are your friend.

Jan 17, 2012, 2:47 pm

Find a recipe that sounds good to you. Most will tell you how many servings they make. Buy those ingredients.

We've all had a few Ooops! in our time. Anyone who cooks will attest to that. Eventually you will find that you have a few favorite recipes you make again and again and they get easier each time so that eventually you are comfortable experimenting with them.

When I first learned to cook, I had an aversion to touching raw meat with my bare hands! I'm well over that now because cooking is so much a hands-on experience.

Get a good cast-iron frying pan and season it well. Keep it seasoned and make it your best friend and it will never let you down. I have several different sizes. It is good for getting a good brown colour on meat, and they say it also adds iron to foods which we all can use. I would give up almost anything else in my kitchen before I'd give up my cast-iron pans. Their one drawback is that they're heavy.

Some suggestions for recipes:

Shepherd's Pie - a fair bit of work, but I've never had a person of the male species complain about this comfort food. (After my divorce, my ex called to ask for the recipe...please? LOL)


Stir-fry - Easy and quick and you don't NEED to use a wok. A frying pan will work just as well.

Good luck!

Editado: Jan 19, 2012, 2:49 am

I suggest the website Cooking for Engineers which helped me quite a lot.

Jan 18, 2012, 3:59 pm

Thank you so much everyone! I might start posting up my successes and failures on here. I am starting with Mexican cuisine since that happens to be a household favorite. Chicken tacos tonight!

Jan 19, 2012, 8:05 am

I found a great book a few months ago titled "Healthy Cooking for Two of Just You. It's a wonderful book to get you started and you don't have to cut down the recipes to make them. Most cookbooks are geared for 6-8 servings, and if you don't like it well you are stuck with the leftovers.

Jan 19, 2012, 8:11 am

as to Mexican; burritos, quesidillas are easy too, you can put anything into them. Sorry for the spelling folks

Jan 19, 2012, 12:38 pm

I would love to hear about your cooking adventures! :)

Jan 20, 2012, 12:25 am

Don't overlook YouTube. A lot of cooking techniques are difficult to explain in writing and really need to be seen. If you've never been shown how to make pastry or fold egg whites in to a batter, let alone joint a chicken, there are some tremendously useful videos.

Jan 21, 2012, 12:45 am

That is a grea tidea dajashby

Jan 21, 2012, 12:46 am

Thank you everyone for comments and suggestions! I actually made jumbalayah the other day....turned out tasting amazing (although it looked a little monochromatic)....but hey! as long as it tastes good. Forgot to take a picture though. Too busy eating it lol

Jan 21, 2012, 3:46 am

That's a good sign!

Jan 21, 2012, 12:40 pm

Congrats! Glad it was so good!

Jan 22, 2012, 5:35 pm

My late husband used to swear by How to Cook without a Book.

Jan 22, 2012, 6:07 pm

Phaedra...that looks really interesting!

Tonight, I am making spaghetti with turkey first meatball! Will take a pic if it looks all right.

Jan 27, 2012, 2:24 pm

I love cookbooks like The Art Of French Cooking that focus more the primary ingredients than on putting together a whole dish. You learn the most basic way to prepare an ingredient, whether it is cut of meat or a vegetable, and then you can adapt it to use whatever you happen to have on hand.

I think chicken is a really easy place to start. Learn how to roast an amazing chicken (which is not only delicious but looks really impressive) and you can have the centerpiece of any dinner.

Right now my favorite chicken recipe is:

1 cut up chicken with skin (cut breast in half to ensure even cooking) + olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper + whatever potatoes and onions or fruit you have on hand

Into a 450 degree oven for 50 minutes and you're done. You can use peaches and plums when they are in season for something a little sweet. Lemons jazz up pretty much anything. Just toss it all together and spread it out in a dish so that the skin is facing up.

When I am by myself, I like to have my own Iron Chef For One challenges where I have to create a whole dinner based only on ingredients I have in the house. As I have been living in New York City the past four years and hardly ever go to the grocery store, I have came up with some pretty strangely satisfying dishes based on a stray acorn squash or chicken breast.

In the end, sometimes you mess up and your food is dry or tastes bland, but you live and you learn and you become a better cook every time you do it.

Jan 27, 2012, 2:28 pm

p.s. In case anyone is interested, I have this blog that sometimes covers French cooking but right now is consumed by the fact that I am moving across the country:

Jan 27, 2012, 2:38 pm

Welcome to California! We aren't France, but we are close. Our wines, cheese and vegetables are wonderful! Also, where I live we have splendid olive oils and balsamic vinegars made locally.

Maio 29, 2014, 5:18 pm

Hi! Definitely Better Homes and Gardens. It's a classic and it has easy to difficult recipes and many include neat variations and how to photos for basic's what I started using and to this day I still use the scone recipe.
Good luck!

Maio 29, 2014, 5:29 pm

haha! do we all have blogs? mine's But yes, I'd rather be in France as well ;)