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science_girl89's avatar

How do you make really great... Anything?

Asked by science_girl89 (231 points ) October 24th, 2008

Help! I’m 19 and I’m learning how to cook.

I know that I don’t want to be doomed to ramen for my college years. So, I’m investing some free time in learning to make more diverse foods. Instead of the usual hot dogs, hamburgers, and baked marinated chicken my family and I have always survived off of.

Recently I’ve been experimenting with more diverse meals. Honestly I’ve bought books, and gotten library basics, viewed youtube videos, and pursued foodnetwork.com and other lesser known websites for recipes and tutelage.

I’m so bored of bland or poorly prepared meals- please if you have any awesome recipes or recipe/cooking websites give me a hand. I’m looking for anything, seriously any recipes are welcome. I love ethnic, from Ethiopian to Malaysian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Brazilian, anything exotic. In fact anything non-exotic would be welcome as well, potato soup, great grilled cheese, pancakes, grilled salmon perfection? Anything is welcome!

Thanks Everybody! :)

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21 Answers

El_Cadejo's avatar

If you really want to learn, watch Good Eats with Alton Brown. Seriously his show is one of the best culinary shows on TV because he doesnt just teach you how to cook something like all the other shows, but he tells you why everything happens. He explains the whole process to you so you get a full understanding about whatever it is your cooking. Plus he makes some awesome stuff. im almost positive there is an episode about “potato soup, great grilled cheese, pancakes, grilled salmon perfection” he covers everything.

stevenb's avatar

I agree with uberbatman. You should also check out cookbooks by Americas Test Kitchen, or their website, www.cooksillustrated.com. They have made me a really good cook. They make their recipes very easy to understand, easy to cook, and wonderful to eat. They rock. Good luck!

jlm11f's avatar

That’s great ! Really have fun with whatever you do. I taught myself to cook last year too, and the one thing that’s important to remember is you won’t always make something that is delicious. Your food will sometimes be burned, not taste like the comments say it should taste like etc etc. But hopefully the mishaps will be a lot fewer than the actual amazing stuff you make! For recipes contributed by Jellies, check here. and here I know I listed my recipe for butter chicken somewhere in one of those Qs, and I remember a really appetizing recipe using lamb by Marina (though I still have to try that one). Of course, there are plenty others.

If you have never cooked ever in your life, you also might want to start small. Like make a pizza, etc. As for other recipes, I absolutely adore this site.

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

@Science Girl89 The good news is that cooks were the first scientists! :-) The trick to cooking is to understand what your ingredients taste like, and master the basic techniques, like the different types of chopping, grating, saute, etc.

When I learned to cook, the first thing my mom did was have me understand what spices taste like. Certain spices make things take a certain way, like cumin and chili powder will make things taste Mexican. Italian dishes usually include garlic and basil or oregano. Certain spices only taste good with sweets.

My daughters started cooking by making basic comfort foods like breakfast casserole, chicken pot pie, spaghetti sauce, apple pie. Resist the temptation to start out with something too fancy until you get the techniques down.

Like with science, get your ingredients and tools together before you start, make sure you measure, and follow the directions in order. Cooking is lots of fun! You will have some disasters; after 35 years of cooking, I still throw things out occasionally.

jessturtle23's avatar

Go to thepioneerwoman.com. She doesn’t have many recipes but they are all really good and she shows step by step how to make them. Also, Rachel Ray books are good for beginners and her recipes are inexpensive. I use to make something different every night but now I have about a dozen things I have perfected that people like for me to cook them.

SoapChef's avatar

All the above suggestions are terrific. Add a copy of “Joy of Cooking” and you will be well on your way.

laureth's avatar

In addition to what these folks (especially Alfreda) have said, I will state that research is key. By eating good food, you’ll learn what it tastes like. Getting to know food as a kind of friend, you’ll know what to do with it – rather than thinking of food as a commodity to be ordered around, or as an unapproachable being that is best dealt with by learning the rites and rituals (i.e., recipes) that others have done before you.

I realize this is kind of esoteric, but to put it differently, get to know the ingredients. If you know tomatoes, for example, you’ll know what they taste like in the summer, fresh off the vine with a sprinkle of salt. You’ll know what they taste like in your grandma’s sauce, compared to jarred sauce. You’ll know V8 juice and sundried tomatoes and how a Roma is different from an Old German. Then, when tomatoes are your friend, learn about something else – like basil, or pasta, or cheese, or pine nuts. And then you’ll realize that they all taste really good together, and that’s why people do it. What you get from recipes is not “why” but “how.” Knowing how will get you to some good places, but knowing why will take you further.

It takes a while. For me, it’s a lifelong love affair. :)

AlfredaPrufrock's avatar

That’s so true, laureth. Being a good, adventurous eater makes for great cooking. Tasting things creates a bank of taste memories, so that when you go to cook, you know what things taste alone and in combination.

EmpressPixie's avatar

First, get some Cooks Illustrated materials and read up on anything you want to make. They’ll have some great stuff to say about what they did that did and didn’t work.

Second, watch Alton Brown. He’s great.

Third, Epicurious.com is a great place for all sorts of recipes. You need to work at it a little bit sometimes to find the right recipe, but it is probably there. Also you should read the reviews of any recipe before you make it, they usually give great tips to improve the recipe. I especially like this method for learning to cook because it teaches you to be adventurous and adapt the recipes to what you think you would like.

I think last, but most importantly: don’t be afraid to just try something. It might be so so, it might be AWFUL, but it might be amazing. I often read like twenty recipes for something I want to make, but then make it without actually following any of them. It’s so fun! Or sometimes I’ll just go at it and throw stuff together. Sometimes it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s hard to choke down (okay, that was only once and there were extenuating circumstances) but as long as you are willing to make and taste and adjust, you’ll probably always have something that works as a meal. And you’ll always have fun cooking.

edit to add: actually, when I was learning to cook there were a few bad meals, but they were part of the experience and, you know, I’ve gotten much better now. The one I was referring to was after I knew how to cook fairly decently and like I said, there were circumstances. (The spices were all labeled in Czech. I thought it was pepper, it wasn’t.)

laureth's avatar

Now I’m kinda curious about your “extenuating circumstances,” EmpressPixie…

EmpressPixie's avatar

I was making basically hash browns, and I thought I had peppercorns, but I was in the Czech Republic and going on look because I got a package at the store with a drawing on it that felt right and was next to the salt. I knew the word for salt, but not the word for pepper. They looked so right, but they were coriander which is my least favorite spice… I really cannot stomach it at all. I found out about the mistake in my first bite. And I had “peppered” the entire thing, adding it in the cooking phase.

laureth's avatar

Tee hee! That reminds me of when my grandma covered a flank steak with cinnamon, thinking it was pepper.

poofandmook's avatar

invest $30 in a good crock pot. You’d be amazed at what you can do with one… even someone who can’t make a PB&J can use a crock pot and make something wonderful.

XrayGirl's avatar

go to the bookstore and check out some of the cooking magazines…when you find one you like, subscribe to it. A lot of them are easy reading and have great “how-to’s”, tips, techniques, great pictures and easy recipes. You can find recipes at any of the “brand” sites like: Hunt’s, Pilsbury, Weber, McCormick, Kikkoman, Campbells, Good Seasons, Nabisco, Best Foods, Kraft, etc..just google the brand name. Good luck…cooking is such great fun, and a great way to be creative.

cooksalot's avatar

I say experience is the key. Use those books and make all kinds of foods. If something flops try again. Just keep cooking, learn from your mistakes, and have lots of taste testers who will tell you what they think. Then do it again with any necessary changes. After all no recipe is written in stone either.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I have a cool recipe that’s easy. I got it in South Africa:

Curry over Rice
Get a block of hot curry from the Oriental section of your supermarket. Also, pick up a package of stewing beef, carrots, onions, potatoes, rice and some bananas.

Cut the potatoes into small chunks. Slice the carrots and chop some onion. In a saucepan, heat a tablespoon of oil. Brown the beef, stirring to get all sides. Add water to cover the beef. This is the trick – to get the right amount of water and curry to make a nice sauce. You might have to experiment. Add the curry (start with half the block) and veggies, salt and pepper. Simmer, covered, over low heat for about an hour. If the sauce looks thin, add the other half of the block of curry. In the meantime, cook the rice according to package directions. Serve the curry over the rice, with sliced bananas on the side. It is also traditional to serve chutney on the side, but it’s expensive and I don’t care for it.

shadling21's avatar

@skagg – Stop. You’re making me hungry.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I also have a great recipe for egg foo yong, which would put any restaurant’s to shame. I have the recipe at home, but basically its bean sprouts, sliced or chopped celery, sliced green onions and chopped leftover meat (ham, chicken, shrimp or whatever. Whisk a couple of eggs in a bowl. Add salt, MSG and the above ingredients. Then pour about a half cup of the mixture into some hot oil in a skillet, making little patties. Fry to golden brown on both sides and put aside. Make sure you get them cooked all the way through. Make a cornstarch gravy with water, soy sauce, beef bouillon, some MSG and cornstarch. Serve the patties with the gravy on top. You can leave out the MSG if you are a health nut, but it really gives it a good flavor. I have had egg foo young in restaurants that were not cooked in the middle, and had icky thick brown gravy on top like you would put on mashed potatoes. Gag!

Raggedy_Ann's avatar

The suggestions above are terrific. For me, it was alot of trial and error. I’ve been cooking for my family for years and still screw things up. The other night had I not been paying attention I would have forgotten to add onion to my dish before putting it in the pan for the oven. Pay close attention to what your doing, read your instructions over and over. And if it doesn’t turn out the first time, try to figure out why and try again. Good Luck!

Haleth's avatar

I really like putting random ingredients together and making a stir-fry or a curry. For stir-fry, the main guidlines are cook the food quickly and at a high temperature. Whatever ingredient takes the longest, like meat, gets added first, and then veggies and things go in later. For curry, you actually fry up the onions first and then add meat and things. The onions cook down to form the sauce. If you go to an asian market there are lots of things you can add to your food to make it flavorful, like fish sauce or jars of minced ginger or garlic paste. The more fresh ingredients you use, the more interesting your cooking will be. There are services like localharvest where you pay in advance and then local produce will be delivered to your house on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. It can be a challenge to cook with what’s in season.

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