Thursday, January 01, 2009

Black Dog Been A Long Time: Lonely, Lonely, Lonely, Lonely, Lonely TIME

I've noticed that people who think that cooking is difficult make the same three mistakes:

1. If low heat is good, then high heat is better and faster, so turn everything up on high.
Nope. You're working with sugars and proteins. They all react differently to different temperatures. If the recipe says 'low heat' then it MEANS low heat. If you don't know why it should make a difference, then look that question up on the Internet or ask someone. Then do it.

2. Get bored and then walk away from things while they are on the stove top.
DO NOT WALK AWAY FROM A HOT STOVE TOP. NEVER. An oven is a different matter; still, for safety's sake, always, always use a timer.

3. Address their lack of skills as though it were a charming foible. 'Gosh, I am just such a ditz! And it's cute!"
It's not. It's annoying and lame. Anyone who can read can cook. Stick to the easy stuff at first; master a few tasty things with only a few ingredients and instructions. Once you get comfortable with that, move up.

The best advice I can give to a beginning cook is, that when you first start out cooking, your only objective is to produce EDIBLE FOOD THAT YOU LIKE. Ugly doesn't count. All food needs to do is taste good and be nourishing. Period. All those gorgeous pictures in the magazines are staged, folks. Presentation only counts in a commercial establishment.

A good way to learn is to work out of a cookbook like this one, even if you're an adult:

You can buy it here:

Do it now. It really is that good.

This is the best kids' cook book out there. The format is light but not dorky, the steps are easy, the tools are laid out, safety and preparation are explained and most of all, the recipes are easy and TASTE REALLY GOOD. We still use a lot of the recipes, in fact.

If working out of a childrens' cookbook doesn't appeal, I would work out of a reliable standard like The Joy of Cooking. This book is like my family bible. Buy it in hardcover. It's worth whatever you have to pay for it. If you don't have it, you should. I am dead serious.

Joy's recipes are tested and reliable and presume no skill on your part. Joy not only gives you recipes but also explains why things happen in cooking and how to do them.

Don't-as a beginner, anyway- go try and cook things using the recipe sites out there on the Internet. Here's why...

Most of the recipe sites out there are built using recipes that random people submit. They aren't tested, they take skill for granted, and they just plain suck sometimes. Or rather, if I'm going to be generous, its that lots of those folks who contribute are probably better cooks than they are writers. Writing a recipe is difficult! Ask's a lot harder than it looks.

That having been said, the best reference resource out there for a beginning cook is online:, a site I highly recommend as a learning tool. They have technique demonstration videos that you can play as many times as you like, and people on staff that can help you out. It's a recipe collection, a forum, a reference and a cooking school. All skill levels are represented, and the instructors and moderators are really patient and helpful.

Here's my rundown of the common sites:

EGULLET.COM -Great everything-recipes, resources, information, links, recommendations and tutorials Online Culinary Institute-EXCELLENT EXCELLENT EXCELLENT very iffy but excellent if you're researching variations of a particular dish, since they'll present you with, say, five different versions of a given dish submitted by five different people.

Recipezaar-average to iffy, and also excellent if you're researching variations of a particular dish for the reasons given above there. of the white trash recipe...if you're looking for that weird pretzel and jello dip (this exists) they served at uncle Billy-Bobs' funeral, look no further. Recipes range from very good to very, very bad indeed. And I mean 'whoa Nellie' bad. They link to Sunset Magazine recipes, which I like.

Gourmet Magazine online-Average, good recommendations and links

Epicurious-Not the most user friendly site, but good - The moderators can be assholes, but their archives are SOLID GOLD. Absolutely invaluable information and resources particularly for obscure or very new things. Hash slingers, Cordon Bleu grads and everyone in between all gather here to worship. Aimed at the professional (or the highly skilled amateur), assumes a high level of skill.

Martha the most user friendly site out there. The recipes tend to be hit or miss, but the few good ones are very, very good. Excellent resources, reliably high quality.

Joy of Cooking online-Good, but not as good or as comprehensive as the book.

Americas' Test Kitchen- Meh. The show and the magazine are much, much better (I subscribe, in fact. You should too. Its like an advanced degree in cooking. The magazine is called Cooks Illustrated.) The site is very aggressive in its marketing tactics and the recipes are only up for a limited time.


  1. I am an iffy cook. There I said it. I am very good at side dishes and desserts. Salads, duh, easy. Veggies no problem. I have found that if I want to cook the entire meal, I require a recipe with pictures. If there are step by step pictures, more the better. This mystifies me because I have very good reading comprehension skills usually.

    I will check out the joy of cooking. I don't know why I've never gotten it before now (especially since they use my name in the title!)

    I like this post. Going to check out the website now...

  2. i have just discovered the goodness of brussel sprouts - i believe owing to their persnickety nature. takes a good touch to get them just right, but when they are... zowie!

    agreed on epicurious... one must already have an end-goal in mind, but have never found a bad recipe on there. cream drop biscuits from that site are simple and oh-so- waist thickening.

    the Better Homes basic cookbook is a great beginner one as well. gives lots of helpful measurement conversions and explanations.

    if one can't cook, one cannot be considered as proper friend material - not really...

  3. Joy: its because cooking can get overwhelming fast. you don't just use a couple of senses, you use them all at the same time. the more 'help' you have in the beginning stages the easier it is to learn. at least thats the way it worked for me.

    sEa: good ol' Better Homes! I had one years ago but it was the ringbinder style and all the pages fell out because I'm hard on things (i.e a klutz) I love their canapes, like the checkerboard sandwich loaf with the different spreads? thats fancy-schmancy!

  4. Why cook when I can takeaway?

    I make a spiffing mac cheese, when I get my gander up.

    Give me yer Chicken Madras. Mentalist Yankee other.

    Oh, I give good Who.

  5. Why cook when I have houseboys?

  6. I always prefer cooking with FIRE as opposed to electrically heated coils.;)

    I'd like to think that I'm a pretty good cook. Mostly self taught. Just keep it simple and TASTE it while you make it! Pretty food is usually mediocre.

    I specialize in Mexican and Chinese. And fish fry. 'Cuz I live down south.

  7. Anonymous7:00 PM

    It only counts when you learn it the hard way. Blood I say, despair, coldness, cans. Cans of beer, beans and Feuertopf - that makes grown men shudder here.
    I learned to cook in the "Internationales Haus", a home for students. Receipes are for the weak: Look into the shelves! You must have seen and tasted Iranian cowhead, Chinese thousand-years eggs (burried in the park for some months, yummie!) and feathered animals stolen from the public pond, yes, money was tight in those days. There is nothing a stiff moonshine Martini can't cure, just trust the two-semester-chemist, he's still with us isn't he? - Martha Stewart ah bugger ...

  8. Man. Kids' instruction books are the best for almost everything - I learned to cook, sew, do fancy braids and macrame from them. If ONLY they taught auto repair and small appliance tinkering in those Klutz manuals. Or the DK books. We have a DK baking book for Sweet Bean and it is tits. SO EASY and it has SO many pictures and is not condescending or overly complicated at all.
    Also, I suggest picking a few simple items (plain bread, cheese sauce, huevos rancheros) and learning to make them *REALLY* well. It helps you build confidence in the kitchen and gives you a good skill set to go forth with. Cooking is work, like anything worth doing, but lord knows it isn't HARD. Just takes practice.

  9. I have the Joy of Cooking! My mum gave each one of us kids a copy when we moved out of the house.

    Mine is 32 years old and the spine is trashed, it has chocolate all over a bunch of pages, but it is worth it's weight in gold!

    Best cookbook ever... has the best reference sections on everything you need to know.

  10. I have found that searching recipes on line can be somewhat hazardous, I did find the recipe for cooking chicken gizzards in coke for 2 hours then breading and frying. Amazingly tasty and tender!

    Have you seen the Big Cooking Show With Food and Chef Julian? Julian is about five years old and is very charming as he cooks his way through recipes for tomato sauce, cookies and chocolate zucchini muffins. When he gets older I am sure his producer will remind him not to double dip out of the cooking pot.

  11. I usually end up on the sites for cookie recipes, and tend to make the same old main stuff. I'll have to try more - thanks.

  12. I only got as far as being calld boring and lame


  13. I also recomend a book called Practical Cookery , which is used in all the catering colleges , has all the standards and is easy to understand (I think its authored by Kinton and Cesserani and is available on Amazon).
    I love cookin .
    always remember a date is more likely to put out if you cook something nice for them :-)

  14. garfy: step AWAY from the single malt, darling. go have a sandwich. I love you.

    mj: they say many parts ARE edible. like pine trees.

    xul: i leave that to the Yummy Biker, who is the GRILL GOD. but you can come make me q'd fish ANY TIME!

    mago: you got it, bucko! desperatin is the best teacher! but I'll pass on the cow head. you've done the 'wildcrafting ducks out of the municipal park' thing too, huh? nothing like a nice, tasty, bread-fattened duck, is there? ;)

    SSA: oh, that baking book thats all taped together? yeah, that rocks! he made the best bread out of that, folks! a four year old kid! he made real yeast bread with kneading and everything!

    ponita: yours is in as bad a shape as mine is! i've had to tape mine together about four times now, plus its where I keep all the precious family mementos, like the card from the flowers my son sent me for my birthday.

    retro: you need to get with Beast and talk to him about his ham made with coca cola. and now I need to go find julian and his show!

    joe: yeah, me too. when it comes to the holidays i always punk out and go with the tried and true stuff.

    ziggi: hey, now. you can make mayonnaise! and that dinner last year turned out really good too, as i recall. you can do eeeet!

    beast: is that the uk version of joy? I need to find that. NEED. NEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED to find it.