General Question

dxs's avatar

Can you help me improve my cooking?

Asked by dxs (15077points) January 19th, 2015

I’m sitting here starving and sick of my continuous pan-frying and microwaving. The problem is, most recipes I find online seem to be way to difficult to understand (6 oz of chicken breast?! Let me pull out my scale and counterweights and make everything a slimy salmonella mess) and use specific ingredients that I’d not be able to find another use for (as if I’m of legal age to buy any expensive, fancy-named wine anyway).
I want to get better at cooking, and I want to add more variety to my cooking. I suppose the latter won’t be possible without the former.
Please feel free to share any easy, specific recipes you have.
Also, I’m going to the grocery store soon, so I’d be interested in a list of basic kitchen cooking needs: spices, canned things, etc.
Thanks a lot!

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74 Answers

Dutchess_III's avatar

Gosh, salt, pepper, onion powder and / or onion flakes and garlic are must-have spices for me.

Also, I always keep a can of beef broth on hand for soups and roasts and stews.

Here is a pretty easy and delicious recipe for a roast.
Get a roast.
Slice some onions and put them in the bottom of the crock pot.
Put the roast on top of the onions in the crock pot. The onions help the roast to not burn on the bottom.
Add some diced potatoes and some carrots (I always buy baby carrots so I don’t have to hassle with cutting them up) and some more onions.
Pour in a large can of beef broth, or you can pour in some water and throw a bunch of beef bullion cubes in. (They’re really salty so cut back on the salt you add.) I use about 2 cubes for every cup of water. You need to make sure all the veggies are covered, but you don’t want it filled to the rim, either, or it will make a mess.
Add some salt and some pepper.
Set it on high for a while. Keep an eye on it and when the water starts to roil, turn it on low and go do something else for about 9 hours.

When it’s time to eat, get some French bread to dip in the juice. SO GOOD!

This dish just gets better with time!

I’ve found that you can freeze the left overs. It changes the consistency of the veggies, but that’s ok. It’ll just blend them in with the juice.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I think this might help you quite a bit.

And I would recommend this handy little book, which has tables and charts to help you quickly translate 6 oz of chicken breast into something more familiar, as well as figure out substitutions for things you have on hand, suggestions for pairing flavours, and lots more. It’s a great thing, and I’ve practically worn mine out. They describe it as a dictionary, and it is that, but the appendices are where the most useful information is. The “look inside” feature on Amazon will give you a glimpse.

gailcalled's avatar

When you buy packages of chicken breasts, they come with a weight on the label. So you can easily estimate what 6 oz. might be.

Coloma's avatar

Get yourself a crock pot and you can spend about 20 minutes prepping delicious soups, chili, spaghetti sauce, chicken, etc. Other than the prep time all you have to do is walk away for 4–8 hours on average and viola…dinner is served. Then…you toss the rest into freezer containers and you have all kinds of meals on hand. If you spent 3 days in a row making chili, spaghetti sauce, soup or your choice you would have about 20 servings or more of all kinds of entrees.

I have a big crock pot on right now with a yummy 15 bean soup cooking with carrots, celery, onions, smoked paprika, chili powder…mmmm good!
Prepped by 10:30 and dinner at about 5:30–6.

janbb's avatar

Take chicken breasts of any size. Dip in olive oil, then Progresso Italian breadcrumbs on both sides. Drizzle a little olive oil over them in the pan and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes. Serve with a green veggie and pasta with butter and garlic. Very easy and good.

Cruiser's avatar

I recently found this cool website called Supercook where you punch in the ingredients you have and it will spit out a bunch of recipes that will use those ingredients and you just pick the easiest one.

The one thing that really improved my cooking was using fresh ingredients and fresh spices and herbs. Start a herb garden and you will love the difference it makes over using dried store bought spices. I grow my own garlic too and I will say that there is no store garlic that can compare! Yum! I am making myself hungry!

longgone's avatar

What do you like to eat? I love simple recipes. The ones I make regularly are:

Potatoe Cream Soup

Greek Potatoe Salad

English Grilled Cheese


Mushroom Risotto

Baked Potatoe Wedges


A delicious Bulgur dish

Homemade Mashed Potatoes

Like any of those?

Cruiser's avatar

Another thing I do is try to cook in one roasting pan, slow cooker or stew pot and make double what we will eat and make leftover lunches for me to take to work. Stews, soups and lasagna all taste better the next day. For one pot roasted meals….choose your meat and surround it with potato wedges, carrots quartered the long way and any other fresh veggie you got. If the roast needs more than an hour to cook add in the veggies in later about 60 mins before it’s finished. I like to make a hearty beef or chicken soup that takes 5 hours to cook but very little fuss on your part and just toss whatever in the pot and walk away. Last half hour add rice, noodles dumpling and some fresh herbs and you have a loving pot of yum. My wife has become the queen of casseroles which are more one pot wonders.

Aside from the fresh spices and herbs, lemon pepper, teriyaki sauce, unsalted butter, a pepper mill and sea salt are must haves in the kitchen. I also love to cook with baby spinach and fresh asparagus and grow those in my garden too! If you have any specific questions feel free to ask.

janbb's avatar

@Cruiser C’mon a my house!

dappled_leaves's avatar

@Cruiser Look out, I think @janbb is about to offer you candy.

Dutchess_III's avatar

mmmm. Lasagna!

Adagio's avatar

In NZ we have what is known as, night school. These are community education classes in a wide variety of practical subjects and run in the evening at local high schools, do you have anything similar there? The classes are always inexpensive to attend and a great way to learn a new skill. I once did a series of weekly Indian cooking classes. We were given a list of ingredients the week before and then cooked the dish or dishes in pairs, after which we ate the food together. It was great fun and inspiring.

dxs's avatar

Thanks for the help! Some really nice tips and links. I always hear people talking about crock pots, so I guess I’ll try it out. I’m going to try this meatloaf recipe tonight and see how it turns out. It sounds easy enough.

janbb's avatar

@Adagio Yes, we have those kinds of classes here too.

Dutchess_III's avatar

It also helps to know what the various ingredients do. Meatloaf was probably dreamed up by a women with a little bit of hamburger and a lot of mouths to feed. The oatmeal (or cracker crumbs or whatever you use) stretches the meat so it makes a bigger meal.

The eggs hold it together so it doesn’t fall apart when you cut it.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Also, I think you can make lasagne up ahead of time, and then freeze it. When you’re ready for it you take it out and bake it.

Lasagna is really easy.

Cruiser's avatar

@Dutchess_III I love cooking lasagna because you can mess around with the ingredients and near impossible to make a lousy lasagna. My mom always made the best lasagne and I thought how hard can this be? My first one I learned the hard way you are supposed to actually cook the noodles first….typical guy and don’t read the directions. My favorite recent hack was to use a layer of spaghetti noodles for one of the layers.

Dutchess_III's avatar


When my sister was a teenager she was making cookies. Recipe called for an egg. Only egg available was a hard boiled egg….

dxs's avatar

GAHHHJLKDSF;!! My roommate used the rest of the ground beef! Looks like I’ll be making myself a sandwich and calling it a night.

Dutchess_III's avatar

The shithead!

Cruiser's avatar

Go make a killer desert and eat it in front of the roomie.

Haleth's avatar

Start by looking for a few recipes that you’re interested in and that sound doable to you. The first time you make it, follow the directions as closely as you can. If there are any directions or measurements you don’t understand, google it or ask someone you know for clarification. (For instance, “6 oz of chicken” approxamately means one chicken breast.)

Unless you’re baking desserts, most recipes will come out pretty well with approximate amounts and cooking times, once you’ve gotten the hang of it. Once you’ve tried a recipe a couple times, you should be able to wing it.

Cooking with wine is so great! It combines with the fat in the dish to make really rich broths and sauces. In my experience, most recipes don’t call for a fancy or specific kind of wine- just a dry red or white. You can pretty much substitute any wine in a recipe, as long as it’s the right color. For instance, if a recipe calls for Burgundy you can really use any red wine. Just don’t use a sweet wine or one of those “cooking wines” from the grocery store.

A good cooking skill to start with is making a pan sauce. Instead of following a recipe, it’s a basic set of steps that you can use in a million different ways. Making omlettes is another good basic skill- same with sauteeing or stir-frying.

The beginning steps (sizzle meat, then onions and celery in a hot pan, add wine) are also a good way to start a soup. After that, add whatever vegetables you want, add some beef or chicken stock, and simmer it on low heat. Beef stew, vegetable soup, and clam chowder are all really easy to make. If you want to learn a dessert, bread pudding is easy and delicious, and good for beginners.

johnpowell's avatar

I am a simple man with a simple pallete.

My main stuff is burritos. Get some seasoning and cook the ground beef. Shred some cheese and get some romaine and sour cream. In a hour you can have burritos for days. Toss the meat on a tortilla with some cheese and microwave it. Put on the extras and enjoy. Good meal in three minutes.

English muffin pizzas. No explanation needed. Very yummy.

Baked potatoes. Potato in oven for 45 minutes and load it up with sour cream and cheese.


Prepare to have your mind blown..

edit:: And I totally feel you on recipes that use a odd ingredient that is ten bucks for a bottle and you will probably never use it again. I just leave that shit out and it doesn’t matter.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Mini Pizza’s:
Brown English muffin in broiler.
Remove from broiler.
Add tomato sauce.
Add mozzarella cheese
Brown again.

(Hint, lightly grease what ever pan you cook them in because if you pile on the cheese, like I do, some will fall off and melt onto the pan. Pain to get off it it’s not greased.)

Coloma's avatar

I just made this last week…amazing!

Be sure to use regular lasagne noodles, the oven ready ones will turn to mush. Best to break them up and cook them then add them last to the soup for best texture. This is a crock pot weener for sure!

Coloma's avatar

Well shit…link didn’t work…just look up lasagne soup recipes. Bah.

dxs's avatar

I’m scared of soups. I want to start off with entrees since to me they seem the easiest and the best deal for the calories. I’m going to the store now and making the ground beef tonight, that is, if my roommate doesn’t decide to eat the refrigerator. Well off I go. Wish me luck!

Coloma's avatar

@dxs Scared of soup? lol This must be a psychiatric condition somewhere. Soupophobia.
Seriously though, a good soup provides tons of nutrition. Veggies, meats, rice, beans, pastas. I could live on home made soups and garlic bread.

dappled_leaves's avatar

@dxs Please read the first link I left, to see what he says about stock and soups! I think if you’re looking to expand your repertoire a little, I think this is an excellent place to start. Don’t worry about things like cream soups or anything fancy, but learn how to make soup from the stuff in your fridge that you’re about to throw away. It will save you money, and makes a great last-minute meal in a pinch (frozen soup meals—> microwave = instant dinner).

All you have to know how to do is chop a few things and watch tv while it simmers all day.

gailcalled's avatar

And if you add less liquid to soup, it morphs into stew.
(And the converse.)

dxs's avatar

@dappled_leaves I did. The problem is, I have to have a dead animal’s bones. I’ll look into it, but I think I’m going to explore the crock pot first. Turns out we have one, sitting in the corner of one of those hard-to-reach cabinets.

dxs's avatar

@dappled_leaves But I can just buy the thing under a heat lamp for 6 dollars!

dappled_leaves's avatar

@dxs But where are the bragging rights? Anyway, those bones would do just as well for your stock. ;)

dxs's avatar

Jeruba’s meatloaf that I made a couple nights ago came out great! I had the rest of it this morning with a bagel. On the bagel, I put a mixture of butter, sugar, and blueberries. Last night I made this chicken dish and it was awesome. It took me almost an hour and I had so many dishes to do. I have some for today as well. Tomorrow I’m going to try to make chili with the contraption we have (I don’t know if it’s a slow cooker, a pressure cooker, or a crock pot!). I also have some chicken breasts left over that I’m going to make something with.

janbb's avatar

A slow cooker and a crock pot are the same thing.

Cruiser's avatar

This is my all time most favorite chicken dish….Chicken Piccata with Lemon, Capers and Artichoke Hearts

Coloma's avatar

Okay…here’s my killer steak sandwich recipe, sooo decadent and amazing!

You will need:

Thin sliced top sirloin or round steak
1 extra large yellow onion
I large Red, yellow and orange Bell Pepper, cut into strips
( Secret ingredient ) SEASONED meat tenderizer not regular. Lawreys, Schilling etc, makes one
Provolone cheese sliced
Sweet french rolls.
Olive oil
White pepper

You will need 2 large skillets.

Slice onion and pepper strips and put in plastic bag with sprinkling of seasoned meat tenderizer, pinch of white pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil
Shake and massage bag vigorously until all veggies are coated with oil and seasonings.
Layer into large skillet

In second skillet coat with olive oil and lay out strips of steak liberally, LIBERALLY, sprinkled with seasoned meat tenderizer.

Sautee onionss & peppers on med-high heat, uncovered until tender, set aside
Pan grill steak strips until fully cooked

Separate meat into sandwich size portions in skillet, cover portions with onion and pepper strips and then lay the sliced Provolone on top.
Cover skillet and warm on med. heat until cheese is melted.
Spatula out portions onto french rolls spread with mayo of your choice and add sliced avocado if desired.

I promise you, this will sandwich be a life changing moment. haha

Serve with home cooked steak fries or onion rings. To die for!

Baked steak fries

Slice potatoes ( of your choice, skins left on ) into frech fry wedges
Put in plastic bag
Drizzle with olive oil and shake ‘em up to coat
Layer on cookie sheet or baking dish and sprinkle with coarse ground sea salt and bake at 400 for about 20–30 minutes until tender, sizzling and golden brown

Dutchess_III's avatar

What time is dinner @Coloma?

Coloma's avatar

P.S. Drain excess juices off veggies and steak before seperating into sandwich potions with the cheese to melt.

@Dutchess_III How ‘bout 5:30 sharp! :-)

Coloma's avatar

Cocktail hour starts at 4.
For the best palate and gastric prepping experience one must consume 3 bottles of ale pre-sandwich. I think Blue Moon or Shock Top is a good pairing. haha

dxs's avatar

Who wants chili? I made it myself using this recipe. Bon Apetit!

Coloma's avatar

@dxs Dude! I;m the chili queen, recipe looks good, but gotta add a bunch of diced red, yellow, orange peppers next time. Yummy! Now…to perfect your cornbread. haha

Dutchess_III's avatar

@dxs Good job!! Looks yummy!

Kardamom's avatar

The following items are always in my kitchen. This is not gourmet stuff, this is regular stuff, but it’s stuff that can turn into many different meals so you can mix and match.

Kitchen staples: canned beans (pinto, red kidney beans, white beans also known as cannellini beans, black beans, garbanzo beans) spices (dried oregeno, rosemary, garlic powder, chile powder, sage, celery seed, sea salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg, Montreal Steak Seasoning). For the pantry: dried pasta (macaroni, spaghetti, lasagna noodles, large shells for stuffing) cans or cartons of soup stock (beef, chicken and vegetable) one of my favorites is this Pacific Mushroom Broth, jarred or canned pasta sauce (my favorite brand is Classico, dried split peas, dried lentils, dried wild rice, dried Basmati Rice, dried regular Long Grain White Rice Vegetables: fresh garlic, tomatoes, regular potatoes, also known as russet potatoes (and others including small Fingerling Potatoes and sweet potatoes, sometimes known as garnet yams) and red skinned potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, celery, romaine lettuce, green cabbage, carrots, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers (Persian cukes, are best because they are small and have less seeds and are less watery) onions (regular brown onions, Red Onions and Green Onions, mushrooms (especially button, or Cremini and Portobello. Cheese: cheddar, jack, mozzarella, Parmesan. In the frizzer, uh I mean freezer: flour tortillas (when you buy a package of unfrozen tortillas, open the pack and separate each tortilla with a piece of foil or plastic wrap, otherwise they’ll stick together) buns and bread for sandwiches such as Sub Rolls, Mexican Torta Rolls, Sourdough and Whole Grain, and burger buns. Condiments: yellow mustard, Whole Grain Brown Mustard, Dijon Mustard, mayonnaise, balsamic vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, ketchup, Tobasco sauce, your favorite BBQ sauce, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, soy sauce.

Now for some easy, but delicious, recipes.

Sloppy Joes with Coleslaw

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches (this sounds daunting, but it’s really easy).

Chicken Mole Enchiladas with Mexican Cabbage Salad

Spinach and Cheese Stuffed Shells with Marinara

Mexican Torta Sandwich

Spaghetti Pie

Spinach and Mushroom Quiche (use a thawed in the fridge frozen pie crust to make it easier and quicker).


Meatball Sandwiches

Pulled Pork Shoulder (this is a very good how to guide).

Carne Asada Burritos

Black Bean Soup

Minestrone Soup

Hot and Sour Soup

Shepherd’s Pie


Don’t forget the desserts.

Pumpkin Pie

Lemon Bars

Gingerbread Quick Bread

Strawberry Trifle

dappled_leaves's avatar

You’ll never go hungry again, @dxs!

Mmm. Lemon bars.

dxs's avatar

@Kardamom Thanks a lot! I’m so excited! It’s late now so I’m gonna take a look tomorrow. I made some awesome stuffed peppers tonight (pics to come), and plan on making salmon tomorrow.

Kardamom's avatar

@dxs Yay! Let me know what you come up with.

Coloma's avatar

Oh man…that Gingerbread Quick bread is on my list for tomorrow, I have all the ingredients.

I just ate about a half a head of baked cabbage. Amazing.
Good thing I’m sleeping alone. haha

Kardamom's avatar

@Coloma enjoy phyyyyyttttt

Coloma's avatar

@Kardamom Haha Detonation has begun.

longgone's avatar


Here’s the super-simple risotto recipe:

First off, cook the rice. You’re going to need risotto rice, obviously, but don’t listen to the people who will say you need to be stirring non-stop. On the contrary.

1. Prepare 800ml of vegetable or chicken broth.

2. In your pan, heat up three spoonfuls of olive oil. Stir in an onion, diced, and let it cook on low heat. When the onion turns translucent, pour in 300g of rice. Vialone works best. Stir the mixture for two minutes.

3. Now, pour in almost all the broth. You’re going to need about an eighth of it later on, so put that away for now.

4. Add some salt, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil.

5. Once it’s boiling, turn the heat down. Put the lid on your pan, and leave it be for 15 minutes. If you stir once, you’re going to have to stir non-stop. Don’t make that mistake!

6. While you’re waiting, you can fry up some mushrooms. Use a hot, buttered frying pan. Slice those mushrooms up, drop them in the pan, salt them and add onions or pepper, if you want.

7. Once your rice is cooked, you can stir in the mushrooms, along with 100g of grated parmesan cheese, two spoonfuls of butter, and the remaining broth.

8. That’s it. If you like your risotto creamier, you can add even more broth, or a bit of milk.

Damn it. This made me hungry.

dappled_leaves's avatar

Thank you, ma’am!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Saw an interesting recipe on facebook. Mix a banana with 2 eggs till a batter is created, then fry them up like pancakes.

Strauss's avatar

For a small household (including cooking for one) the perfect companion to the slow-cooker crock is the freezer. We have three at home, my high-school daughter is often not home at dinner time. We cook ahead and freeze on the weekends. Here are a couple recipes:

Frittata Muffins

6 eggs
½ cup milk or cream
1 cup cooked bacon, ham, sausage, etc., cubed (optional or any desired combo)
½ cup onion, finely diced
½ cup bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup spinach (or substitute kale, broccoli, or any green), cut (optional)
2–3 cup cheese, shredded (monterey jack, cheddar, or to your taste)
1 cup bread crumbs (soft, not toasted)
salt, pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350° F.

Beat together eggs and milk. Add meat (optional), onions, bell ) peppers (you may substitute or add any hot pepper, such as jalapeno, poblano, depends on your taste), greens (again optional) and about half the cheese.

Spray 2 mini muffin tins (each with 24 cups) with nonstick spray, or use mini-muffin liners. Fill each liner half with the bread crumbs (best to use bread crumbs cut or torn from complete slices of bread). Pour egg mixture over bread crumbs, almost to the top. Top with remaining cheese. Bake 8–10 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a mini-frittata comes out clean.

Remove paper cups, or use a rubber spatula to remove frittatas from pan.

What you don’t eat immediately can be frozen after they cool to room temperature. You have breakfast for several days, which, if properly stored, can last up to three months in the freezer.

Coloma's avatar

@Yetanotheruser That sounds delicious, I’m always looking for new slow cooker recipes. I’ll put that on my list.

Strauss's avatar

@Coloma actually, it’s not a slow-cooker recipe, but they do freeze well.

longgone's avatar

@dappled_leaves Sure.

I got called “Sir” and “Ma’am” in the course of the last two days, neither of which I have ever been called before. I must be getting old and masculine. ~

dxs's avatar

Here are my latest challenging meals:
Stuffed Peppers
Salmon with Mustard Sauce
Chicken Milano (the same chicken dish as last time, but I took a photo this time)
Chicken Mole Enchiladas, as recommended by @Kardamom, with a side salad of home-made dressing: lettuce, tomatoes, scallions, extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, oregano, rosmarino, parsley.

I’m getting a little more confident with my cooking. Thanks Jellies!

janbb's avatar

@dxs looks great!

Adagio's avatar

@dxs your cooking adventures have really taken off, I hope you feel deservedly proud of yourself. Way to go!

Dutchess_III's avatar

Way to go @dxs! Awesome!

Coloma's avatar

Soooo…when are we all invited to dinner Dxsie. lol

dappled_leaves's avatar

Heavens! I just ran across this series of handy references in my travels. Something here for absolutely everyone, I think.

Response moderated (Spam)
Strauss's avatar

Maybe Fluther should have a “recipes” tab!

One thing that can help tremendously is to start learning a few basic recipes, and then learn how to experiment with substitutes and additional seasoning.

dxs's avatar

Here’s one more update. Unfortunately I’ve lost a few of my cooking pics, but here are two that survived:
Meatloaf from @Kardamom‘s recipe.
Breaded Chicken a la @janbb. I got the first two pieces right, but the last ones didn’t come out right. However, last night I made some more and they all came out great. The problem was I didn’t have enough oil in the pan.
@dappled_leaves Great links! Those will be very useful now that I feel ready to start experimenting.

janbb's avatar

@dxs Niiice!!

Coloma's avatar

Meatloaf dinner here at the ranch tonight. My yummy meatloaf and classic mashed taters and peas. My friends are fighting over the coveted end pieces of the loaf. lol

dxs's avatar

@Coloma Most definitely. I offered my roommate some so long as he didn’t touch the end piece haha.

Coloma's avatar

@dxs Haha…so funny!

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