What is cooking? Technically, cooking is just the application of heat to food, so it can apply to something like toasting poptarts. But c'mon: when we think of cooking, we consider the actual preparation of food using separate ingredients, mixing it all together, and making it delicious with heat. In modern times, it's become something of a lost art as the industrial revolution and modern chemistry have allowed the mass production and preservation of food to keep our kitchens stocked with a variety of near labor-free meals. But you can bring it back: generations cooked before you, and with less access to the technology and science behind cooking.
But why cook? Well, cooking yourself has several advantages over buying prefab meals. Such as...Frugality:
in general, homemade is cheaper than store bought since you're providing the labor. This especially applies to restaurant or fast food places, where speed comes at a premium.Flexibility:
If you buy a frozen pepperoni pizza, you're kinda stuck with that barring some alterations. If you want to change up the dough or maybe a different cheese or cut back on the sodium. By making it yourself, you have more control over every step of the process, and as you learn the different flavors of spices you can what you're in the mood for every time.Variety:
Going back to the pizza, if you buy one then you're stuck with it. At some point you gotta have pizza. But if you buy flour, cheese, tomato sauce, spices, and veggies, then suddenly you have a ton of options. Make your own spaghetti. Cut open that bell pepper and stuff it with cheese and spiced up sauce. By breaking it all down into basic elements, you have more control over your dining destiny.Vitality:
We've all heard the scourge of PROCESSED FOODS and so forth, but let's set aside the cancer panic and all that. The simple fact is that keeping foods safe for consumption AND ensuring they get to the store before microscopic fiends chow down on them tends to come at a nutritional cost. Vitamins and nutrients are generally lost or degraded in the process, and that means less nutritional bang for your buck! Furthermore, you are in the driver's seat, going back to flexibility. Need to cut back on the salt? You can! Less sugar? No problem.Gustatory:
Fresh ingredients tend to taste better! Not to mention the psychological effect of eating something you made, subtly influencing your opinion. Once again we head back to the flexibility bit: you're picking what you want to go in something, so it makes sense that it's going to taste better than ingredients dictated to you by some pizza factory in Iowa.
However, like all things in life, nothing is perfect. There are trade-offs, such asInvestment:
Cooking can be cheaper, but the price is largely frontloaded. First, you need equipment to actually cook in and with, and then you have to buy ingredients. While ingredients can be cheap, it's way more economic to buy in bulk. This saves money in the long run, but it can certainly be a strain on the wallet in the short term.Time Management:
One the things you're doing with cooking is providing the labor. This takes time, whether it be babysitting a stew or just waiting for an oven to preheat. Then there's the issue of cleaning up everything you've dirtied up afterwards. This can be mitigated through practice (learning how to juggle multiple meals at once, getting more efficient) and proper time management.Disappointment:
You're going to fuck up a recipe at some point, and admittedly nothing takes the wind out of your sails then seeing all that time and money go down the drain.Endangerment:
There are many laws and regulations to ensure that the food you eat is safe for consumption. By making your own food, you assume all risk for possible contamination. Then you have the equipment itself: heat, sharp objects, and volatile substances. Now the risk is not high if you take things slow and carefully, but there's also no risk of starting a fire when you order a pizza. Well...not normally.
But these downsides can be mitigated or even eliminated through proper planning and careful execution. In general, cooking is well worth the learning curve and both monetary and time investments. So let's learn to cook!
Seem daunting? Start simple. First, you'll need equipment. Here's a basic list...Vessels
the classic. Non-stick or cast iron work fine, although cast iron has the flexibility of going into an oven. However you may have to work a bit harder to clean it. Both are optimal, but for now one is fine.Pot:
just a moderately large container that will let you boil water. Ideally you'd want a sauce pan for, you know, sauces (and reducing thanks to the wider area) but a pot will do fine if you just stir and watch it.Oven Pan:
just a nice sheet pan, perhaps non-stick if you're so inclined, that will enable you to cook things like cookies, pizza, rolls, and so forth. If you get some foil, you can also cook up whole chickens if you don't mind the juices slopping around with the bird.Roasting Pan:
the proper way to cook meats in the oven, these typically also include a rack so the juices have somewhere to go. And a person can make use of those juices to flavor a salad or make a nice sauce if they desire.Plastic Containers:
Ideally in a variety of sizes. Unless you intended to eat everything you cook on the same day.
Find something comfortable and affordable. No sense dulling an expensive knife while you're learning.Spatula:
For flippin and servin. Kind of essential.Wooden Spoon:
for stirring, tasting, etc. Any spoon that's a poor conductor will work: wood is just the first that comes to mind.Cutting Board:
Come in wood and acrylic versions. The former is more resistant to accumulation of gunk (which breeds microbes) and the latter is easier to clean. You may want one of each: one for raw meats and one for everything else.Can Opener:
Nothing fancy, just a standard hand-operated device will suffice.Grater:
Preferably a multi-plane version, giving you more control over the size.Dry Measuring Cups:
You want cups with the measurement engraved. Trust me, my cheap Walmart cups with the measurements printed on have faded in like under a year.Measuring Spoons:
Same as with cups, get the measurements etched in there.Liquid Measuring Cup:
Printed on will probably fine here.Small Scale:
Digital is best, especially with a tare option, but mechanical will suffice if you can't find a cheap one.Strainer:
Don't bother with pricey strainers that are super fine grain or whatever.Whisk:
Mix it up.
Class K is designed for kitchens, taking care of grease fires. This is probably overkill, as they are more designed for restaurants, and an ABC extinguisher should suffice unless you love frying and are ridiculously irresponsible about watching your oil temperatures.First Aid Kit:
Nothing fancy; just something to handle cuts and burns.Oven Mitts:
Unless you prefer to handle hot pots and pans with your bare hands.Thermometer:
Instant-read digital sticks are cheap and will allow you to ensure stuff is heated properly. Intend to fry? You'll want a special deep fry/candy thermometer that clips to the pot.
This just the bare basics and may be missing some things. You'll know what you're missing as you learn and explore new venues. I left out electronic devices as they tend to be expensive, but a food processor, blender, and mixer This also doesn't include disposable things like foil, plastic wrap, bags, and so forth. Keep in mind that getting EVERYTHING at once isn't necessary, just slowly accumulate stuff as needed and you should be fine.Tips for Getting Gear
Acquiring all this at once, from a store, will be prohibitively expensive for a lot of people. But there are some ways around this:
- Relatives, especially older ones, tend to accumulate a bunch of cookware and will likely be more than eager to off-load stuff gathering dust in the garage or attic.
- People moving. Again, the older the person the more likely they are to have more junk they want to be rid of, but it doesn't hurt to ask if there's anything they can't or don't want to carry with them.
- Yard sales are great places to pick up basic stuff, as it can be harder to sell off things most households have. You can probably haggle down to fairly low prices.
- Friends getting married. This seems weird, but in my experience people love nothing more than gifting newlyweds tons of kitchen hardware. You may be able to get duplicates cheaply if they don't return it or whatever, but more importantly you can probably get their old stuff for cheap (or free!) since they have like 10 fancy new pots to play with.
- Local sellers, like Craigslist or in your local paper, can also have good deals and are generally more open to haggling. eBay is another option if you'd rather not personally interact with strangers from the internet.
- Restaurant supply stores now have online shops, allowing you to buy stuff. These places tend to sell in bulk, so be careful that you don't order like a case of the same wooden spoon when you just need one. But it's one of the few places where you can get 45 lbs of peanut butter for nearly a buck a pound!
- If you have a Costco or Sam's Club membership, these places make money more off subscriptions than products. What this means is that there's very little markup on cookware, so they'll be cheaper than places like Walmart.
I'd avoid specialty stores in malls and such, as they tend to mark up the price in exchange for the "convenience" of having everything in one place. But shop around and don't be afraid to check them out for deals. Also, keep in mind that used stuff will be of less quality, but for learning it's best to have cheap equipment to mess up rather than buying some three-figure cookware set and wrecking that.Basic Stock
These are items with long shelf lives (at least a year) that you can comfortably buy in large quantities and not worry as much. Just, you know, use it.
Flour: All-purpose and bread are good starting flours. Avoid gluten-free flours, the only exception is if you have a medical condition. Gluten is not going to kill you, and it makes dough good.
Cool Cooks to Watch
Yeast: Instant doesn't require blooming and can just be tossed into the dough mix. Packages are a cheap way to experiment, but bulk is the way to go.
Kosher Salt: If you have a food processor you could blast it down to finer grains if you desire if sprinkling on stuff, but this is the salt of choice for cooking due to the larger grain size.
Sugar: Keep it sweet and simple.
Peppercorns: The flavor is much more potent when freshly ground, so buy a grinder and corns, or just one of the plastic things that include a grinder if you're lazy.
Rice: Keeps forever and is a staple in many recipes. Brown rices are better for you, and you may want a variety of grain sizes for different recipes. Buy in bulk.
Beans: Like rice, they have long shelf life and go in a lot of stuff. You may want to experiment by buying like one-pound bags of varying types to see what you like. However, bulk is cheaper!
Spices: Thyme, basil, cumin, etc. etc. These add a lot of flavor to dishes, and they're your secret ingredient.
Harder Cheeses: Stuff like Parmesan cheese will keep in the fridge for a while. Wrap it up in plastic wrap and rewrap as soon as you're done grating to maximize lifespan. Softer cheeses, like mozzarella, aren't nearly as long-lived so be careful how much you buy at once.
Oils: Extra virgin olive oil is one of the staples, but other grades of olive oil have their uses. Peanut is another good one for the general flavor, and I keep a big ol' jug of soybean oil (what most generic vegetable oils are) for general use like experimenting with deep frying. Note that you can recycle oils a few times by running them through a filter like a cheesecloth if you're deep frying a lot.
The easiest way to learn to cook is by watching professionals. Just look up very basic dishes on YouTube or Google and you have a jumping point.Mario Batali:
Let's start this off with a fat Italian chef. Batali is cool, his show is cool, but Food Network needed reality show so all you got are reruns now. You can find clips of Molto Mario on YouTube, so check him out.Anthony Bourdain:
One of those kinda blunt "rude" chefs, I guess, but No Reservations is a great show if only if the wider, international scope and is just fun to watch. Also he hates the fuck out of Rachel Ray which is a large plus in my book.Alton Brown:
His show Good Eats is, without a doubt, one of the best cooking shows ever made. You won't just learn technique, but also the very chemistry that goes into cooking. Watching enough of this show will teach why
certain ingredients and methods are employed, and these fundamentals go a long way to allowing you to freestyle your own recipes. Just stay away from Cutthroat Kitchen.Gennaro Contaldo:
Only started watching this guy, but he's like an awesome Italian uncle that just loves the fuck out of cooking. His enthusiasm is infectious, and he's got videos on YouTube.Julia Child:
Old-school French chef, adored around the world. No longer among the living, but her cookbooks and videos on YouTube will provide you tons of information.Jacques Pépin:
Another French chef that is loved by many. He even had a show with Child for a period. Dude just loves cooking, and like Child has lots of videos on YouTube.
So talk cooking! Talk about your latest victories or crushing failures. Get assistance from others! Go ahead and post pictures of your food. Unlike Facebook, we
won't judge you...unless it looks bad.
Kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder are four extremely basic seasonings that will take you a long way. Throw in some red pepper flakes or cayenne if you want a kick.
The quality of my cooking took a step up thanksto watching his stuff.
I've made the beef stroganoff recipe a few times now and it is excellent
1 Lrg cereal bowl
a package of oreos
a half gallon of milk
Empty a sleeve of oreos into a bowl
Fill that sucker with milk and let it sit for 5 minutes
stir the softened oreo and milk into a mush
and you're done!
Pudding goes well with fruit
chocolate sauce is a fine addition as well (especially if you aren't dieting)
That is like the number one reason I don't deep fry.
This deserves honorable mention. Chef John makes a lot of really good accessible stuff. A number of his dishes have gone in my permanent rotation. I also really like how easy it is to see what he's doing since the camera never leaves to food.
This is so very good:
I've always called this Oreo Soup! I think I use more milk though so it's thinner and less of a mush
I made some chicken in my crock pot the other day that was real good.
I just cut three boneless skinless breasts into thirds, browned them in the skillet with a little oil salt and pepper then added them to the crock pot on low with some spaghetti sauce from a jar a spoonful of dried onions, some parmesan and some fresh grated mozzarella. Let that cook for about three or four hours then served it over noodles.
Guys I am so excited for my kecap manis and three kinds of sambal.
picked up some new-to-me books for inspiration: Heart of the Artichoke (David Tanis) and Vegetable Literacy (Deborah Madison.)
now to break in the new rice cooker and steam some things...
-Indiana Solo, runner of blades
He will read to us the Cinnamon Scrolls and tell us the plan Jimmy Dean has laid out for us, break us free of out bagel and toast on the go shackles and lead us to the promised land of bacon and eggs every morning.
They are called scrolls because that is how you make them.
the slow cooker is my friend
i made corned beef last weekend
i still have a bunch of vegetables left over so I'll probably do like a beef stew next
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Buy "Ratio" by Ruhlman. I get so much mileage out of it. It helped me lose my fear of pastry dough, and is single handedly responsible for stopping me from buying pre-made salad dressing at the grocery store ever again. I felt so stupid, vinaigrettes are so EASY and all of the ingredients are basic pantry staples. Heck, even a solid blue cheese dressing only requires that I glance in the fridge and make sure I have buttermilk and mayonnaise and then I just grab some cheese while I'm shopping.
I like books that take a wider view of cooking and discuss the techniques at play, or the history and basic concepts for a particular cuisine. Aggregations of recipes are less interesting, there are so many good recipes available on the internet! The most useful books, for me, are books that help me glance at an internet recipe and figure out how it's going to play in the kitchen.
Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here For The Food" was one of my first books, and I still crack it open from time to time to refresh my memory. He covers all the basic cooking materials and methods and supplies a handful of recipes designed around each skill being taught.
More women chefs in that chefs to watch list!
Cooking With Dog on youtube surprised me with it's quality. Great Japanese recipes - it's my first stop if someone mentions an unfamiliar Japanese dish and I want to see it prepared (omurice comes to mind immediately). I especially like that the recipes are all prepared for one or two servings.
Giada De Laurentiis - Everyday Italian has great recipes that are a little more...Italian-American to Molto Mario's hardcore Italian? Anyway it's a Food Network show and they don't care about good cooking anymore so set your DVR to catch re-runs on the Cooking Channel.
Ditto on setting your DVR for Good Eats, the re-runs are also located on the Cooking Channel (if your cable provider carries the channel).
Jacques Pepin Heart & Soul is on the Create public television channel at around 9:30pm EST. I've been watching it before bed...he's so mellow. I sleep well and dream of butter and wine.
This recipe for dough:
Which includes a slow cold rise in the refrigerator for a few days (I've left it as long as a week and it just gets more flavorful).
Combined with this video:
I make really awesome pizza now. I needed that video, the dough was so scary and sticky and it really does take 20-30 minutes of kneading to get the gluten forming and the dough to start coming together enough to ball it up and put it in the containers. I can see why you'd spend 250 dollars on a food processor - I bought one of the cheaper models and tried making this dough in it and the motor just was not having it.
add a spoonful of miso soup paste. It works really well to add some saltiness, as well as some slightly more interesting flavours. Yet to find many things that it doesn't improve.
Steam // Secret Satan
The recipes aren't often super complicated, but there are generally pretty nice. The comments of the videos also generally have some great recommendations.
That pasta and broccoli recipe has been my life for the past month or so.
Steam // Secret Satan
OH man, this is really helpful.
I need to get me one of those scrapers, too often I'll add extra flour to my dough and not knead it very long because it's so sticky that it'll come out kinda stiff, thick and bland.
So uh. My stove is kinda grody. What is the best method for getting off some caked in grease short of something like simple green? I guess just a scrubby pad and lots of sweaty scrubbing but my scrubbers are more of the dish scrubbing variety and are absorbing too much oil gunk I think.
So I made her a tiramisu. I used the classic recipe that uses a custard base and not just the whipped cream and marscapone.
back to basics for me, i used to do this all backwards before, eggs and salt first, etc etc. Now i do it in this order and it does work better. Dont do crem fresh though i dont like that stuff.
Doc: That's right, twenty five years into the future. I've always dreamed on seeing the future, looking beyond my years, seeing the progress of mankind. I'll also be able to see who wins the next twenty-five world series.
make it so that it comes out of the oven pretty hot and ready to serve.
try not to use pure sugar on the glaze, as it'll burn a bit more easily. We've mostly used orange marmelade, although I want to try apricot jam. Add some wine, the juices of one orange, and maybe some star annise, and I think you've got everything. maybe some mustard idk
if the skin is on the ham, and you need to get it off, the way to do it is to go to the lip, and try and separate it from the fat very gently with a knife, and then, once you've got the teensiest bit of separation, to stick your fingers in there, and gently run them from side to side, slowly separating the skin off, without tearing the fat. You might need to start from multiple positions at times, and it can be useful to have a knife or some scissors on hand to remove bits of skin so they aren't in the way anymore.
Steam // Secret Satan
Grilling is broiling from the opposite direction.