HELP!! Terrible cook seeks advice

Joined May 22, 2010
Cooking is not rocket science. Hell, it's not even remedial science. However, if you truly lack the ability to boil water, there's not much any of us can teach you in an online forum.

If you're truly serious about learning to cook, i would suggest picking up a used copy of a Cooking School textbook (On Cooking, Professional Cooking etc) and reading that. Local schools often have night classes for beginner cooks, basics. Things to get you feeding yourself simply. Recipes are useless without knwing what you're reading. Fold? Saute? Braise? Emince? Julienne?

There are also a lot of cookbooks out there for people who "can't cook". (I believe everyone can learn to cook well... if they're truly interested in it)

If you then come back to us with more specific questions... like, I dunno... "How come my barbecued chuck steak is tough and chewy", then we can probably help out.

But, if you want a nice simple recipe, Might I suggest The Food Network/Paula Deen's "Buttered Peas". :) ;)
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Joined Feb 1, 2007
I respectfully disagree with PrairieChef. But only in his choice of books. As to the rest, he's dead on; anyone with the desire can learn to cook well.

Culinary School textbooks have two problems for somebody in the WWC's situation. First off, they're written at too technical a level. And second, they're designed to be used with a live demonstration.

WWC would be better off with one or more of the consumer-level, techniques-oriented books. There are on-going threads about them at the book review forum, so no need to rehash them here.

Say what you will about their personalities and styles, the fact is, too, that you can learn a lot---particularly about techniques---by watching the popular TV cooks. I don't mean Sandra Lee. But folks from Rachael Ray to Emeril all have things to teach if you watch what they are doing.

More and more we're seening accomplished cooks and chefs teaching cooking, either one-on-one or in small groups. Finding them isn't always simple. But as a learning experience such classes are more than worth the enrollment fees.

And, WWC, it cannot be stressed enough: good cooking is not about following recipes. It's about applying good techniques to good ingredients. So concentrate on learning techniques and understanding ingredients, and the rest will follow.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
My feeling is that there are no bad cooks, just cooks who haven't learned to cook yet.  I think very simple recipes are good to begin with and they teach technique as they go.  Films are great because you see the technique that's hard to imagine even from pictures sometimes.  I never saw someone chop with a chef's knife before seeing Julia Child on TV in high school, despite having grown up in a household where lots of cooking took place.  I bought a chef's knife (very cheap - ky you may remember bowl and board - they had their own cheap carbon steel knives with kind of rough hewn handles - and copied her tv show. 

I think if you have a good source of recipes and a good explainer of techniques (simple ones!) you can learn to cook. 

The worst way to learn to cook is if you watch only snobby cooks who look down on anything amateur, who make everything way more complicated than it needs to be.  Those will get you to hate cooking and to think you will never be able to do anything and anything you do will be lousy. 

I must say i learned a lot from some VERY basic books - for baking, for instance, though i can make extremely complicated cakes and deserts, the old 1950s Betty Crocker picture cookbook is absolutely reliable.  I still turn to it when in doubt - best gingerbread recipe i have, and plenty of simple recipes that are infinitely gratifying because they ALWAYS come out.  I even like some of the savory cooking in there - try her tomato soup for instance - simple american stuff that is amazing if you make it from scratch, and is not hard at all.  Then you can pass on to more complicated and difficult things, because the techniques are pretty much the same
Joined Feb 1, 2007
My feeling is that there are no bad cooks, just cooks who haven't learned to cook yet. 

I'd say that pretty well sums it up, Siduri.

I never saw someone chop with a chef's knife before seeing Julia Child on TV in high school.....and copied her tv show. 

Precisely my point. By watching how the celebrity chef's do things, rather than paying particular attention to the recipes, you quickly pick up technique. I must have read a dozen descriptions of the claw-and-pinch-grip method. And you know what? Even knowing how to do it I found many of them confusing, and can only imagine how confused a beginner might be. But as soon as I actually demonstrate it to my students there's a collective "ahhhhh." The TV chefs can often serve in lieu of a hands-on instructor.

Not only for knife work. Even something as simple as a 3-bowl fry station can be daunting if you've never seen it done. But once you do, it becomes simple to understand.

Don't get me wrong; there's nothing wrong with recipes, per se. But unless they're combined with techniques instruction they can leave a tyro in the dust.
Joined Mar 25, 2011
Thanks for the replies. Excuse my ignorance ;)  I'm just after useful advice on how to get started that's all. Thanks for all the tips on what books to use etc.

I'll let you know how I get on :)
Joined Jan 8, 2010

In my opinion you are already halfway there!

The only people I know that can't cook are the ones that are just not interested at all!

You found this forum and started asking questions, so you're on the right track.

Can you tell us a bit more?

What would you like to cook, or what do you like to eat?

What have you tried making so far?

Maybe then we can help with some extra tips....
Joined Mar 11, 2011
Simple tips for new (or unskilled) cooks:

You asked for recipes but as others have noted, that isn't really you're problem. Recipes are everywhere, on the backs of packaging, and they're well tested time honored recipes anyone can follow.

Don't try to brown food in a cold pan. Get the pan hot FIRST, till the oil is shimmering around like a mirage in the pan.

Don't try to cook eggs (or most ofther things) on a dry skillet. It will stick horribly and make a mess. It's also difficult to clean the pan.

Don't buy thin, cheap, aluminum cookware with spraypainted non-stick surfaces like every grocery store or dollar general in the US sells. Buy heavy bottomed steel, or commercial grade non-stick. If you're really poor, buy cast-iron --it's superior to most alternatives, but it tends to store and carbonize flavors from past meals witch makes anything delicate and clean difficult. (It's great for really hot or really long cooking cycles)

Measure! After you've thrown enough MEASURED teaspooons of salt, you'll be able to do it without the spoon. Once you figure out whats going on, you'll know what can be thrown at the pot and what must be measured, for now measure everything.

Knowing when something is "Done"

This is a tough one to answer and I didn't realize how important it was until my son asked me the question. Some of us have been doing this at least 3 times/day for our entire adult lives, and it's like asking us how to know if it's day or night. However, a little science should help. Consider what you are cooking, is it a meat? how strong and rubbery did it feel in your hands. You can pull apart a filet or ribeye with your fingers (well I can, I have big hands) but try that with a beef brisket. You'd have to be he-man to pull that apart. Meats like that are made tender by cooking a long time, time for the connective tissues to breakdown. If you cook it a long time, what else might happen? Hmmm? It might dry out, better keep it covered. It might burn on the surface, better keep the temperature much lower than things cooked quickly. How thick is it? Is it uniform? A thin end and thick end will cook unevenly, try to portion your pioeces so that they are a uniform size (this applies to vegetables and everythign else) If it's really soft and tender, then you want to cook it quickly and keep all the juices inside. Think about that. If you want to keep juices inside then don't do things that cook or squeeze them out. NEVER press the juices out of meat with your spatula. Never turn it more than once. Think about it, you've already cooked one side, turned, it cooked the other, now the first side has cooled off and if you flip it again your'e going to start heating it up for awhile before it begins to cook again. You'll overcook that side and dry it out. Feel it, if it's still rubbery it isn't done. Poke it with your finger, do you really want to try and eat that now?

If you're at a loss where to start, then start with eggs. They aren't that expensive and you can ruin a lot of them without breaking the bank. Go to the store and buy several dozen, go home, butter a skillet, warm it up (eggs cook with little heat) and get started. Keep going until you can make a perfect omelet, perfect over easy, perfect poached, perfect sunny side up, perfect soft and hard boiled. You must learn to seperate the yolk fromt eh white and how to make whipped toppings, cakes, and sauces. It's all about the eggs baby. Now you need to expand your expertise to the other basics - butter, milk, flour. With butter and egg yolks you make hollandaise, all of the above makes pancakes and many other quick breads.

A sushi master spends 3 years just learning to make rice. There isn't anything wrong with starting w/ basics, because you'll need all those egg, butter, andflour skills in otehr things. You can start w/ recipes, but I'd start with basic foods, and learn every little things about preparing them.
Joined Mar 11, 2011
I agree. Recipes are everywhere, it's technique and execution that gets it done right. A good cook can make up for being short on one ingredient or another, and knows how to make something else in the fridge work just as well. I watched my son prepare a japanese meal last night, his first, and while not as bad as I'd anticipated, it was still painful to watch. Anticipating what pan/lid combination will be needed or whether to use a chinais or a collander, cheeze cloth or paper towel, etc makes all the difference. A video is priceless!

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