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Old 02-13-2013, 04:22 PM
Location: On the corner of Grey Street
6,056 posts, read 7,956,243 times
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My new year's resolution is to learn to cook better and to cook more often. I can do the basics pretty well and I can make some pretty good stuff (beef stew, fajitas, stir fry - good, but not too fancy or complex), but I really want to take my cooking to the next level if that makes sense. I was looking at the meatball thread in the recipes section, and thinking wow, I wish I could make homemade meatballs, and sauce...I'm guilty of usually using sauce from a jar, which is not the same as homemade. I'd like to learn to bake pies from scratch, make homemade sauce, etc.! My question for those of you who cook a lot and are really good at it is - how did you learn? Did you take a class, did someone teach you, did you experiment on your own? What is your best advice for learning to be a better cook?

Oh, and just for fun, I am curious what is the fanciest thing you make? The thing you're most proud of? You know, the thing you'd make if the Queen came over for dinner?
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Old 02-13-2013, 04:48 PM
Location: NW Philly Burbs
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I owe everything I know about cooking and baking to my Mom -- and boy do I miss her and her cooking! I guess I was lucky to be the only girl, and always helping out in the kitchen. When I was a teenager, I could easily bake a cake from scratch, make tons of cookies, and roll out a perfect piecrust (thanks Betty Crocker!). I'd also help with the dinner preparation and learned to make really good gravy from roasts.

My only gap in this training was cooking meats -- roasts, chops, etc., which I've learned through trial and error (and phone calls to Mom) over the years, and still mostly stick to cooking chicken breasts since that's pretty easy. I'm also inspired by a lot of the cooks on TV, and have invested in some good basic cookbooks.

If the Queen came over, I'd serve her what my Mom and I learned from my Grandmother -- real Polish food! Homemade stuffed cabbage and pirogi take a LOT of time and effort -- but there's nothing like homemade!
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Old 02-13-2013, 04:52 PM
Location: Currently living in Reddit
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I actually started with making omelets incorporating leftovers. I hated what my mother did with leftovers so I told her I'd just take of myself. At the time the big cooking show was Galloping Gourmet, and he did a number of egg dishes. I went to the library, read what I needed, copied the pages and ran with it. With practice I got from running scrambled egg things to actual omelets I could flip.

I got good at other stuff using how-to cookbooks from the library, not simply recipes, but the theory. I found CIA texts there for professional cooks and read up on techniques like braising, sauteeing, etc. and how to deal with different cuts of meat and fish, making stocks and whatnot. Wife and I were in a dinner party circuit with some other couples that got a little competitive, so I was usually challenged to come up with unique stuff.

We were also somewhat adventurous in where we ate out. So I learned to cook just about anything from anywhere, although I'd say SE Asia and Japan are still a weak points in my repertoire.

I think the main things for someone wanting to be a better cook is a) are you really interested in doing things right, and b) could you have fun doing it. If yes to both of those, you should have a fairly easy time of it.

If the Queen came to visit, the entree would definitely be snapper Veracruzana. It's not the most complicated dish, but I will say I've never had the equal to what I make at any restaurant in the US. And after she woke up the next morning... chilaquiles verdes!
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Old 02-13-2013, 05:01 PM
Location: Happy wherever I am - Florida now
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I learned the basics about how to measure precisely and follow a recipe from my leader in 4-H who was a wonderful older woman. If I had to rely on learning from my grandmother it would have been a handful of this and a handful of that. My father did the cooking in our family as my mother was disabled and her own mother had died early without inparting this knowledge. He prided himself on using fresh ingredients and local ones which he went out of his way to obtain, the best butcher and so on. We cooked together and that's where I learned some of the tricky things like making gravy from scratch.

When I lived on the west coast I took a chinese cooking class as that's one of my favorite foods. I learned a lot including having a positive attitude when putting something together. I am a careful cook but with years now of experience I know what can and can't be done with or without a recipe, and you will too. Just keep at it.
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Old 02-13-2013, 05:22 PM
Location: Eastern Kentucky
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Do you know someone who cooks well? It really helps if you have someone you can go to with questions. Get a good cookbook and go by it. You can experiment once you have the basics of the recipes down. If you have cooking classes in your area, that is a great way to learn.
The Queen, huh? Ok, my homemade lasgna with homemade bread. A salad to start, and a purchased desert.
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Old 02-13-2013, 05:25 PM
Location: Texas
42,204 posts, read 49,768,169 times
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The same way you learn to do anything well. Do it a lot.
Don't be afraid to fail.
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Old 02-13-2013, 05:26 PM
Location: Middle of the ocean
27,492 posts, read 17,642,239 times
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I learned basic cooking as a child, I love cooking as an adult. I love mixing flavors, incorporating texture..... and eating!!!!

I watch cooking shows for ideas, google when I need to for recipe ideas and just play around in the kitchen. One book I love is the Flavor Bible (I think that's the name), you can look up an ingredient and it will tell you what other items go well with it.... it's great when I'm stumped in the kitchen.
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Old 02-13-2013, 06:28 PM
3,877 posts, read 4,574,828 times
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Learn good techniques. There are a lot of videos on youtube for improving your knife skills, how to properly saute, deglaze a pan, etc. Growers/ranchers/farmers/fisherman associations will have information on how to choose the best of whatever it is their membership produces. Remember that a lot of great flavor comes from cheaper cuts of meats but those cuts will usually take a different cooking method to produce good results. Get a few good cookbooks -- read reviews on Amazon and check them out from your library, then just buy the ones that you really enjoyed cooking from. Wand watch some good cooking shows. Alton Brown is great at explaining what to do & why to do it and covers a small area of information but in good depth in each show. And above all, keep cooking and experimenting with ingredients and techniques.

And what would I cook for the Queen? If she was coming sometime in the next couple of weeks, I'd probably make my braised beef short ribs plated on a bed of egg noodles w/ horseradish cream, and serve that with sauteed escarole w/ garlic, and serve it with a Temperanillo.
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Old 02-13-2013, 06:48 PM
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A combination of trying (and failing), following recipes, watching my grandmother (neither of my parents can cook) and listening to professional chefs, both ones I know and ones on TV.

The thing I'm most proud of is probably my first major holiday meal, Thanksgiving dinner for 8, when I was maybe 23. If I had to pick one meal to cook for the queen I guess I would do with lamb with pinot noir sauce. Though in reality there are many many meals I'm proud of. As the "baby" of the family, establishing myself as the family chef has been a challenge, but there have been lots of victories along the way.

I'll also throw out there that being good at both baking AND cooking is a rare skill. My mother can bake with the best of them, but can barely make dinner. I'm an excellent cook, but baking requires a serious focus on my part and my baking flops outnumber the cooking flops by the 100s. You are probably better at one than the other.
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Old 02-13-2013, 07:19 PM
Location: Charlotte county, Florida
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I spent alot of time with my Grandparents growing up. I wathched them alot and learned alot.
We ate mostly comfort food, alot of fat and not any varied vegie choice..
I guess when they were not feeding me I learned to cook for myself.

Except for family favorites only I can cook like them, I have changed alot of the cooking stlyes and choices then they gave us..
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