Very basic basics?

Joined Aug 17, 2004

I came across your website and there seems to be a friendly bunch of people in the forums so I thought I'd ask for help here.

I'd love to be able to cook. I have food allergies (colourings, artificial flavours etc make me ill) and so I should really do as much home cooking as possible. I'm also going blind due to Usher Syndrome, so while I'd like to be a chef I realise it isn't a great idea to have a visually impaired person in a busy kitchen. I'd be happy to be able to cook for myself, in my own kitchen, where I know everything is.

The problem is that my family tend to overcook everything and it's a habit I seem to have developed. I'm always paranoid that everything I make will be undercooked and so I give it 'just an extra couple of minutes' which ruins the food.

I really need to go back to the basics. I've searched websites but they all overwhelm me. I want to know how to prepare, cook meats, vegetables etc. The sites I look at offer lots of recipes but they seem a bit too complicated for my current abilities. I just want to know how to do the individual things before progressing to proper, scary recipes lol.

One day I'd like to be able to prepare more complicated meals but for now I want to take it slowly. Are there any websites/books you could recommend to me? Please be aware that I'm in Scotland and may not be able to get a hold of some American books (unless they are sold through Amazon).

Claire :D

P.S. I tried making the Beef tenderloin with roasted shallots recipe on allrecipes, it was kinda a disaster but I'm not sure if I used the right cut of meat - I couldn't find any 'tenderloin' anywhere. Do these cuts have different names? Argh I'm such a newbie!
Joined Jul 31, 2000
Hi Claire,

Welcome to Cheftalk. Your right when you say theres a lot of friendly people here.People from all walks of life and culinary knowledge contribute here.

Take a look at our recipe forum as well as the recipe archive, I think you may find some interesting cooking discussions there. If you have any particular items you want to try/learn let us know and we will do our best to assist.

Happy cooking


Staff member
Joined Mar 29, 2002
Get an instant read thermometer. They help you know when something is done.

Joined Jan 5, 2001

Sounds like you are looking for technique more than recipes. Feel free to discuss any of your technical quandries here!

You might benefit from a good technical book, like the ones they use in culinary schools. Try the Professional Chef (which I haven't used myself) or Wayne Gisslen's Professional Cooking (which I have used). The latter talks a lot about meats and cuts and the more technical aspects of why we do things. You may find that once you understand these things, you won't need any recipes at all.
Joined Apr 28, 2003
Like Anneke and Chrose said, get a technical book. I have both books recommended and I find them both to be of the same level in detail but its a matter of preference as to which you may find easier to understand. These books are full of details from ingredients, techniques, tools, cooking math, terminology, and loads more. For a cheaper solution, you can do a search on Amazon for books keyword "Ingredients" and/or "Techniques" in the reference section.

But if cash is lacking, come here. Cheftalk, even to my suprise, is home to a lot of members.

Welcome to ChefTalk!
Joined Dec 30, 1999

This is of course a generalization but keep this thought in mind while cooking your food, I think it will help prevent you from overcooking...

Even when you take food off the heat, it still continues to cook from residual heat for a few minutes. Many professional chefs time the plating of their food with this in mind, knowing that even if it is a few minutes underdone, it will be done to perfection by the time the plate reaches the customer.

Some recipes count on this method of cooking meat. Oven roasts will often rise several degrees in temperature even after being pulled out of the oven.


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Claire, welcome to cheftalk. Beef Tenderloin can be found in stores labeled as filet or filet mignon. If I were in your shoes, my first task would be to learn how to cook a piece of meat in a pan. Here's my very basic cooking basic tips. Cooking is really simple. All you need is some food and a heat source.

Here's my first tip. Salt and pepper brings out the flavor in everything. How much salt and pepper? Imagine that a piece of chicken came out to the table without salt and pepper and you had to use a salt and pepper shaker. How much would salt would you use? Yes, that's how much salt you should use. If you're cooking a piece of chicken, do it on both sides.

Go to the store and see if you can find a piece of tenderloin or filet mignon or filet (same thing for this purpose) about 4oz in weight and about 1" thick. you need a heat source and a heavy bottom pan. Salt and pepper both sides like you would if it came to the table unsalted.

Heat the pan and add some oil until the oil starts to smoke. Now place the piece of beef in the pan. Allow it to cook until a nice brown crust forms on the bottom. Do not attempt to move it before the crust forms. If you try to move it before the crust forms it might stick. Resist the urge!

Once the crust forms, turn it. Allow the crust to form on the other side as well. Once this is done, remove it from the pan and allow it to rest for a coupla minutes. Now cut a piece off and put it in your mouth. Don't forget to chew :)

Joined Aug 18, 2004
Claire, Im not sure of the level of your impairment but there are tactile ways to tell a steaks doneness. One I was taught was to feel the tension in the web of your left thumb and forefinger. Rare is with the hand lax. Med. rare is while touching the tips of your thumb and index finger together lightly. Now try it with each of the other fingers with the little finger being well done. This technique covers most types and cuts of meats.

To test potatoes and vegetables use a fork tender test. Stab straight down into a vegetable with a fork and then lift straight up. If the veg or potato slip off they are done.

If you like the idea of an instant read thermometer they come in large/magnified lenses versions as well as some that announce the temp. Do an online search for them to see who may be willing to ship to Scotland.
Joined Jul 27, 2004
Welcome, Claire :)

Based on what you said, I would guess that your meats are probably perfectly done at the moment you are "afraid" and leave them on for 5 more minutes. Next time, don't leave them on! :D

Remember, you can ALWAYS put them back on the fire for a minute or two if they aren't quite done BUT, you can NEVER take the flame out of them once you've over done it. Kind of like salty a dish, you can always add more if it needs it but it you oversalt, it's ruined!

I think grilled meats can easily become a specialty for you even though you are going blind. When I grill meat, I mostly go by touch to see if it is done. Every time you make a steak, poke it with your finger at different stages in the cooking so you know how it feels. After you make a few hundred, you'll get to where all you have to do is cook by the touch. The time won't matter, it's all about the "bounce" in the meat. Generally speaking, the more bounce, the more rare it is.

My husband used to always overcook steaks on the grill until I showed him my grilling technique and told him to remove the steaks when he thought they "still needed a couple more minutes" and had a little "bounce" in them. He thought they seemed too rare but when we cut into them, they were perfect. We like ours med-rare (although I like min a little more rare than he does) ;)
Joined Nov 13, 2003
WELCOME!!! i think that you will find almost everyone here will be more than happy to help with any questions. a few things i recomend to freinds
1. instant read thermometer
2. timer (available with built in thermometers)
3. On Cooking by Sara Labinsky & alan hause
4. decent knives i prefer non serated (but you dont have to buy pro grade cuase you wont use them like alot of us do)
5. decent pots and pans (i prefer stainless steel and not non stick)
just use these as a loose guide of things to have in your kitchen. and dont forget this helpful resource known as :chef:


Joined Aug 27, 2004
May I suggest a visit to my site MY GOOD OLD KITCKEN:

The first two e books were compiled with a person that is looking for the basics in cooking. Is very simple and easy to follow.

Or you may want to go to my spanish site COCINA DE LUZ:

There are some free recipes that you can enjoy with your family.
Hope you enjoy our free recipe.

You are most welcome to visit my site any time.

P.D. Would you be interested in some natural (herbs) product for your sight problem? There are some new findings about these treatments.

Have a wonderful day.

Yours Mrs. Luz Alicia Gonzalez
Joined Aug 30, 2004
Hi Claire -- I'm also new to ChefTalk. I, too, have gotten wonderful advice and support. You might also consider keeping a 3 X 5 card taped to the inside of a cupboard near your stove and note cooking times (if your vision still allows) for different dishes the first time or two that you make them. That way if they are overdone, next time you will have a guideline to help adjust the time. Granted, many other variables will affect cooking time (quantity of food, heat source temperature, etc.), but that helps me with new dishes they were over-or under-cooked the first time I make them. I will also note this on the recipe I used. Good luck and have fun!
Joined Aug 31, 2004
One book I can suggest is "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman. Its got tons of recipes and also gives you a lot of techniue illustrations and instructions. I think its a good book for beginners.

Good Luck.
Joined Sep 8, 2004
I want to scream out this book recommendation: James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking.

Peterson is such a great teacher and cookbook writer ... he has a nack for writing books that are useful to beginners and professionals alike. This book is broken down into techniques and the ingredients they're most often used for, which gives a very simple structure. The chapters have headings like "How to Roast a Chicken" and "How to Poach Fruit."

He hardly ever gives quantities or times; instead he helps you understand how to judge the right amount of something to mix in, and how to tell when the dish is properly cooked (there's a whole section on judging "doneness").

Anyway, I own many of his more specialized, phonebook sized books, and I still find myself refering back to this one. It will be a useful reference even when you're spending most of your time specialized cookbooks or inventing your own dishes. I just bought a copy for my girlfriend (who's terrified of her kitchen) for $10 on ebay.

One other recommendation: a remote probe thermometer. This is a lot more instant than an instant read thermometer. The probe stays in the food in your oven, and the thermometer sits outside where you can see it. Most can be set to beep when they hit a predetermined inside temp. Polder and Taylor both make them, and they cost $20 or so. Most pros don't seem to need these things ... after a certain amount of experience they seem to know when roasts are done without even looking. But I'm pretty new to roasting, so I love mine. I do find that it works more reliably with big things (a leg of lamb) than with small ones (a chicken). Also, it's only for the oven. I wouldn't try to sautee something with the wire sticking out of it (not that you would want to ...)
Joined Jun 28, 2004
Every new, young bride in my family (I have 26 cousins and each one of them, except for my family, seem to each have 5 kids) will get a Fannie Farmer cookbook at the shower. Not the newer ones....we usually search for one published around 1960 - can get them pretty cheap on ebay. The reason is they list their recipes differently from most cookbooks. It really is step-by-step, for example:

Cream together:
2 cups butter
1 cup sugar
Mix in a separate bowl:
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda

Add to creamed mixture and blend well.
Then add:
1 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts

Mix well.

Instead of having to keep going back to the ingredients list, which is usually at the top of the recipe, it lists the ingredients in bold type as you go along. This helps to eliminate skipped steps. This book even has such basics as how to boil water for tea! Even after all these years, and with over 400 cookbooks, when I go to make something new, I always pick up my 1961 FF first.

I believe they also have a large-type version. Have fun cooking. Home cooking should be creative and enjoyable. Sometimes mistakes turn out to be a great new recipe!
Joined Jun 28, 2004
Ooops, my attempt at HTML tags on the recipe didn't work so well. Everything should be on a separate line. :eek:

Latest posts

Top Bottom