I love understanding how a dish works, how other cultures prepare foods, and how they can be mixed. My current favorite is fusing Chinese and Mexican.
If you want to learn the basics of cooking from a master chef, there's honestly nothing better than Thomas Keller's masterclass.
If you don't know who Keller is, he's the founder of one of the most famous restaurants in the world, The French Laundry. As of now, he holds seven Michelin stars: 3 at Per Se, 3 at The French Laundry, and 1 at Bouchon. He knows cooking.
First and foremost, I recommend trying to master eggs. They're cheap and good for you, loaded with nutrients. You'll learn about proper temperature, heat control, cooking times, timing.
The more you cook, the more intuition you build. Eventually recipes become vague guidelines. And you'll learn recipes are poorly written. Pay attention to all of senses when cooking such as sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. When prepping in between cooking items, I can tell if the heat is too high by the sound of a fast sizzle or smell of an item approaching doneness too fast. When cooking meat, poke it often with your finger. Eventually you learn how done it is by touch or even sight. For example, when I'm grilling jumbo shrimp, I know it's perfectly done when the center just turns white and is no longer gray.
Then I'd get an electric pressure cooker. Instant Pot's are the most popular. Pressure cooking is basically slow cooking but faster and usually better. It's a set it and forget it device. The concept is fairly simple. Every recipe will need at least a cup of liquid in order for it to build pressure. The cooker will have a bunch of presets but I mostly use the manual timer. If you set the manual timer for 30 minutes, this does not mean it'll be done in 30 minutes. The timer only starts when it comes up to full pressure. This has the advantage of consistency, if you want to cook chicken it doesn't matter if it's one breast or ten - it'll just take longer to start the timer. It can take anywhere between 5-25 minutes to reach full pressure depending on how much mass needs to be heated up. Important to note if you're trying to have dinner ready at a certain time.
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There are obviously tons of recipes made specifically with instant pots in mind. I will throw in frozen or fresh chicken breasts and thighs, add about a cup of stock and set the timer for 20 minutes (30 if frozen). It'll come out like pulled chicken and can be added to salads, soups, rice etc. Chili's and soups are ideal in the cooker as are rice, grains, veggies (most cookers also have a steaming function) - so basically anything. The biggest downside is you'll only have one, so if you're cooking chicken you can't simultaneously cook rice.
Sous vide cooking is, in short, putting raw food in a vacuum/airless plastic bag and immersing it in water at a very specific temperature (hence the alternate name of immersion precision cooker). The most popular brands are Anova and Joule. Anova is the old, reliable device and had a on board interface meaning you can start/stop, adjust temp on the device itself. It also has its own app connected with the website Series Eats. The Joule is much smaller in size and prettier but you must use a smart device to control it. The Joule is also a very new brand, a bit more expensive, but totally worth it.
|Anova Culinary AN500-US00 Sous Vide Precision Cooker (WiFi), 1000 Watts | Anova App Included, Black...||803 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Breville Joule Sous Vide, 1100 Watts, White Body, Stainless Steel Cap & Base||1,504 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
You can get a vacuum sealer but I don't find them entirely necessary, especially to start. I put the food in a ziploc (use the name brand stuff as it's known to be safe and has a good seal) and then carefully submerse the bag in water with only part of the bag unsealed. The water will force all the air out of the bag. Once you're near the top of the bag you can seal it.
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From here, I'll go to. Costco and buy whole salmon and other bulk items for the freezer. At home, portion these outs into their own bags, season them, vacuum seal them, and then throw them in the fridge if cooking in the next couple days and freeze the rest. When you're ready to cook, just fill a bucket of water (I use the instant pot liner for this) and then attach the sous vide cooker to it. Set the temperature and let it run. Once up to temp throw one or more of the bags in and set a timer. The beauty here is it's very forgiving on time. Steak can be done in as little as an hour but can easily go 3 hours. The longer it cooks the more tender however at a certain point things get mushy so you shouldn't keep some thing on forever.
The only downside is you'll need to sear all meat after. It'll come out looking a little gross. Take it out of the bag, pat it very dry with a towel or paper towel and then put on a hot pan to brown it up. Everything cooked sous vide will come out fantastic. It's not necessarily a lot less work but it's definitely worth it.
Oh, and don't forget to start with a decent 8 inch chef's knife, a honing steel, and a good chopping board.
|Victorinox Swiss Army Cutlery Rosewood Chef's Knife, 8-Inch||319 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Victorinox Swiss Army Cutlery Swiss Classic Fibrox Honing Steel, 10-Inch||244 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Walnut Wood Cutting Board by Virginia Boys Kitchens - 20x15 American Hardwood Chopping and Carving...||1,215 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|I'm Just Here for the Food: Version 2.0||265 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|How to Cook Everything—Completely Revised Twentieth Anniversary Edition: Simple Recipes for Great...||254 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution: A Cookbook||326 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
My favorite of the three is The Art of Simple Food. I have it sitting next to me on the table right now, because I remembered seeing notes for making a cranberry bean gratin in it. Because it's been cold and rainy here, a nice warm bean dish sounded really good, and I happened to have a bag of cranberry beans in the cupboard.
Although I often borrow cookbooks from the library, I keep only two on hand, and they're both by Alice Waters. I love her uncomplicated approach to cooking and her emphasis on great ingredients over fussy techniques. Even after twenty years of cooking, I find it reassuring to read her message that making good food doesn't have to be difficult.
I also highly recommend this cookbook:
|The Complete Cooking for Two Cookbook: 650 Recipes for Everything You'll Ever Want to Make||1,676 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
Not always the healthiest stuff, but very few bad recipes, nothing too hard, and the small portions are a nice way to experiment without having tons of leftovers of something you hate.
What if you want to learn some advanced cooking techniques?
I think you might be interested in Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. He offers the structures of foundational recipes and then lists variations on those to demonstrate the flexibility of each ratio. It’s a true “theory” book, not a cookbook, that allowed me to wildly experiment with flavor while still producing delicious and technically proficient food consistently.
|Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking||645 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
Budget Bytes is a great resource for beginners. Good picture tutorials, info about how to grocery shop in budget friendly ways, and loads of interesting flavors.
The Flavor Bible is a wonderful resource as well as The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. These two books are what I go to most of the time to figure out flavor combinations. The Art of Flavor and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat are also wonderful books especially for beginners.
|The Vegetarian Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity with Vegetables, Fruits,...||254 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|The Art of Flavor: Practices and Principles for Creating Delicious Food||45 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
|Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking||4,151 reviews||Check Price and Reviews|
The Flavor Bible specifically addresses what ingredients go together and how to combine them for best results. It is not a cookbook, and it has no recipes. It's more like an encyclopedia of ingredients that includes information on seasonality, best preparation methods, flavor profile, combinations to avoid, and flavors to combine. I love this book, and I read it for fun, but I've also used it to create original recipes and to plan menus for events.
Recently, my most prized cookbook is The New Best Recipe. Preceding every recipe (or group of recipes), they tell you about all the variations they tried, and why different choices lead to different results. They say how they arrived at the recipe they ended up with. I've learned a ton and been able to intelligently do my own variations because of that.
Do you know how to peel and cut a carrot? Put that bastard in there. Know how to perfectly dice an onion in just a few slices?
Now you do. Put it in. Ground pepper, too, if you're not a flavor hater. Got some salt? Save it for right before consumption time.
Normally, heated water in an open pot can only reach 100 ºC before turning into steam and floating away. This means that whatever's cooking in the water only ever gets 100 ºC hot. A pressure cooker works by increasing the pressure to a certain point, allowing water to reach temperatures around 120 ºC (PV = nRT or something like that). Higher temperature = faster cooking time.
1 part lentils to 3 parts water and you've got simple lentil soup. The more volume you use, the longer it'll take to boil, but we're talking a few extra minutes here -- not the hour or so it'll take for traditionally simmered soups to begin to think about tasting good. Buy a small cooker and play around with it. You'll be amazed by what it can do. Just follow the directions or else your house will explode.
First and foremost, learn knife safety. Look for that topic on YouTube, then practice, practice, practice; slow at first, then faster will come naturally; always handle a knife without distractions. Also, fire and scald burns are a risk. Be careful.
Think before you do. Hot oil can kill and burn your house down. Avoid deep frying until you are sure you can do so safely. Now for the happy news. YOU can do this, and it doesn't require a lot of gadgets and fancy appliances. Look up Chef John at Food Wishes dot com.
Trust me when I say you'll be glad you did. (Note to Chef John: Thanks for all the cool tips and techniques.) And if you and your family like bbq be sure to look up BBQ Pit Boys. Point being: YouTube is a wealth of free cooking videos, and don't forget to check out your local library system which has cookbooks on every topic for all ability levels.
Pick relatively easy recipes at first; things without a lot of bewildering and time consuming steps requiring expensive and hard to find ingredients. Start with something simple that you and your family like. A lettuce, tomato, bacon cheeseburger with frozen fries or perhaps with your own homemade potato salad? Lasagne?
A Caesar salad with your own homemade dressing? Also be aware of the prep and cook time requirements so you don't end up serving dinner at midnight. Plus try to clean as you go in an effort to avoid ending dinner with having to face down a huge mountain of dishes. (Ugh, dish washing.) There are cooking books that teach just cooking techniques like how to cut apart a whole chicken, and I urge you to find yourself a good one with lots of step by step color pictures and well drawn diagrams (for free at the library).
Oh, and last but certainly not least: learn about safe food handling so you don't accidentally make yourself and others sick. Okay, THIS will be last--I promise--learn to bake cookies. Mmm, fresh baked cookies warm from the oven. On a personal note: I was a bachelor who couldn't afford fancy restaurants and I resolved to learn how to prepare my favorite dishes from among the fancy foods those fancy restaurants served. Well, I did that.
Pretty much like I've suggested to you. Admittedly, there were disasters from time to time. But dry and stringy chicken and burned cookies aren't the end of the world. There isn't a cook who hasn't at least once had to use a chisel to clean out a burned-on pan. So, remember and copy and improve on your successes, and learn from your mistakes.
You have to spend money on food regardless. It's much cheaper to cook most of the things you eat yourself than it is to buy them at a restaurant or in the frozen section.
There are a few exceptions. For example, It's very difficult to beat a 4 dollar pizza with a homemade pizza.
When my fiance and I first moved in together, and we had a pretty low income and we would stream episodes of Chopped and we learned how to combine ingredients to make new stuff, or at least make the usual stuff more interesting. You have to buy food anyway, may as well try to make it fun. We also turned this into a fun Valentine's tradition where we give each other baskets with 4 ingredients that we already have in the house, and we have to make dinner and dessert.
To really maximize the amount you save, you also have to learn how to shop, which often means touring multiple grocery stores and finding a spending pattern which maximizes your dollar and taste preference. You also have to learn how to use the bulk section. You also need to maintain your inventory at home to minimize food waste (e.g. actually use what you buy). A surprising number of my friends do not know how to price shop or buy by weight, or manage a basic home kitchen inventory.
Not only would you be spending money on food to eat anyways, but now you're more involved with the food that you put in your body and the bodies of your loved ones, and you're honing a fun, tangible craft. And really if you get good at it, you could be saving yourself money in the long run. And eating better and healthier the whole time.
It totally depends on what you cook. I make noodle dishes that are super cheap, but also enjoy gyoza & pork buns which are much more expensive to make from scratch than to just buy a pack of. Generally anything that requires dough of any sort to make is going to be more expensive than just buying premade stuff. Though with some recipes you can go half and use pillsbury dough in place of homemade dough.
A microwave and Trader Joe’s = perfect. You can survive on a budget of $40 a week. The food isn’t shit, you don’t have to spend time cooking, it’s easy to log in myfitnesspal (which prevents overeating and therefore “wasting” money) and it’s cheaper than most other stores nearby- not including the giant suburban bulk stores. Plus they’re getting better about packaging and/or the packaging actually makes sense for the product.
Rice, beans, frozen veggies are the answer here.
If you look at calorie counts, you’ll see the value per dollar and can make better decisions per the bottom dollar. Some meals will be $4 for 200 calls. and others will be 1,000 calories for $2. If you're clever, you'll get' to where you can even include some fresh fruit and veggies or some sweets or have extras.
Finding time is really the hard part. Always on the go with work, but spending at least $20 a day on food really starts to add up even though you can't afford it.
The most important thing here — look into food prep. The best resource I know is Reddit Meal Prep.
Butter and salt. Put salt in everything you make. Always. It brings out flavor in everything. Even if it is Kraft mac and cheese. Add a pinch or two of salt! Especially add it to chicken and beef!
FRESH peppercorn is also a staple ingredient but I wouldn't say put it in everything. Don't buy that precracked crap. It's worthless. Invest in a good grinder and buy whole peppercorns.
If you add bacon or a salty cheese (like feta) you want to go a little lighter on the salt.
I've been cooking meals nearly every day for my wife. I add salt to everything. People love everything I make. They've called me a wizard when it comes to making chicken.
Most every dish has three critical components that make it taste good. Salinity (salt, soy sauce), Acid (lemon juice, vinegar) and fat (oil, butter, meat fat). If your food is tasting bland you are probably missing one of these things.
If you are cooking meat, get a thermometer to know exactly what is going on inside. A chicken is cooked when it's internal temperature is 165F. Cutting it open to check will make the juices run out and make your meat dry, especially if it's not cooked and you have to keep cooking it.
Pay the extra cost for better cooking ingredients and tools. There is a difference between a 10$ Walmart knife and a 100$ henckel knife. Meat from a dedicated butcher will generally taste better than meat from a box box grocery store.
Reduce heat, extend time.
Almost any problem anyone encounters regarding burning stuff, scorching sauces to the bottom of pots, ending up with blackened outside and uncooked inside, meats not cooking through all the way, etc. stems from impatience, and can be solved by reducing the heat and extending the cooking time. Modern recipes, especially online, are all about "great meals your family will love in some absurdly short amount of time!" Bullshit. It's baloney, forget it. That time-to-table depends on everything going absolutely perfectly according to how the recipe writer portions, cuts, and cooks everything on their particular stove/pan/oven/grill, if it's not just false and hopelessly optimistic in the first place. Don't be in such a rush. Don't try to "catch up" if the recipe says done in 10 minutes and you're at minute mark 11. It's okay if it takes a few minutes longer to cook.
I have watched people make this mistake over and over again and fail to figure it out even after I explain it to them.
If you are having any of those issues, reduce the heat and extend the time. Doesn't matter if you're baking, stir frying, deep frying, grilling roasting, whatever. Turn that shit down.
Sam the cooking guy - maybe more entertainment than learning, but still pretty good American cuisine.
Alex French guy cooking - probably still in the entertainment vein but he likes to delve into deconstructing foods to their original basic ingredients and rebuilding them from the ground up.
I literally learned almost everything from watching YouTube cooking videos, especially, as you mentioned, Gordon Ramsay. Take a look at my YouTube playlist. It contains a lot of the basics you want to know.
The playlist contains the following categories:
I prefer when the videos are not short 2 minute long videos, but regular 15 minute complete meal videos. It shows the actual process of cooking.
Totally worth it!
A lot of kitchen stores run cooking classes. If you have one local, check to see when they offer. Also, local community colleges or community centers will sometimes run cooking classes. Check around in those areas to see what you can get.
Skip the 'date night' or 'trip to Paris' type classes at first and go for knife skills or other basic techniques. Also, Jacques Pepin's New Complete Techniques book is a must-buy - it's more of a textbook than a recipe book, so you get explanations of techniques along with a recipe to practice. Even if you don't learn it cover to cover, it's an invaluable reference.
You can freeze everything. A few years ago I was talking with a lady who had several kids and had to get by on a pretty small income. She was telling me about all the stuff you can freeze, things I have never considered before. Basically everything can be frozen. If they have space I would recommend the OP get a chest freezer.
I buy some fresh fruit (apples/bananas/oranges) but all the other produce is frozen. Because honestly I can't eat it quick enough. There are bread dough recipes that are freezer friendly. Make the dough and freeze it then you can cook it as you need it in smaller quantities for things like personal pizzas or a week's supply of sandwich buns. You can buy a giant block of cheese, shred it and freeze most of it. You can freeze pretty much everything so long as it's packaged well.
Freezers are your friends!
Are you still frying bacon? You might want to give this a try instead of frying.
Bake bacon on a cooling rack inside a sheet pan lined with aluminum foil for 15-20m per side at 350F. No splatter. Perfect bacon. No curling. Crunchy and chewy. Omit the cooling rack for trivial cleanup but slightly greasier bacon.
I think non-frozen bacon is vastly superior, it still has bite versus frozen bacon which feels mealy turns into paper-thin crisps, which I hate; worth finding a butcher that doesn't freeze their bacon.
Use a steal pan or cast iron. Use just enough canola oil to coat the pan. Get that pot as hot as you can. Like really fucking hot. Open the windows, disengage smoke detector, turn fan on. Put that steak down and don't fucking touch it. It will be smoking like a mother fucker. 1 minute. Flip it onto a part of the pan that hasn't been touched yet. after a minute, finish for a few minutes in the oven set to low-medium, depending on your oven (Degrees vary between ovens).
Take it out and let it rest for 5 minutes. Seriously, let it rest, I am not fucking with you. You dig in the second it comes out of the oven, I will find you and put you in the oven. Cover it loosely with foil while its resting, you don't want to steam it and compromise that beautiful crust you put on the steak, which at this point doesn't even matter because I know you put too much oil in the pan because you thought that 'just enough to coat it' wasn't enough. Should be a lovely medium rare. That is how a steak ought to be eaten.
The real issue with sushi in the US not tasting authentic is that most restaurants don't pay attention to the rice. Sushi rice is made with a vinegar, and this changes the flavor of plain rice dramatically. There are even powdered packets that you can mix in with your cooked rice to get the taste pretty close.
Rice is the primary component of sushi and yet the emphasis on how it tastes is largely ignored in the States. Blows my mind.
You start out with a Victorinox 8" chef's knife, cooking out of your parents recipe books with basic ingredients from the grocery store. Then you hear about a local farmers market, and start buying fresh veggies, aged beef, fresh spices. You start investing in cookbooks, maybe a Henckel knife, and some higher quality pans.
A year later, you have a sous-vide cooker, the guide to modernist cuisine, and you've commissioned a blacksmith for a 10 inch high-carbon chef knife made out of O2 tool steel and a handle made of panda-bone with inlays from the last California Condor.(anywhere between 800-2500-whatever you wanna pay) and then you wonder where all your fucking money went.
I am a self taught cook. I learned basically out of necessity. My mom makes very bland meals and insists on cooking all her meats to a well done / boiled texture. When I grew up we would watch cooking shows and I guess I have always been interested in it. If you want to learn yourself there are plenty of great recipes on youtube and also online. Just google what you want and see if it's something you would be confident doing.
Everyone in my family treats cooking like a chore. As soon as my parents trusted me to use the stove by myself they let me cook my share of the meals. Generally stuff like boil pasta, heat up jarred pasta sauce, maybe add some cooked ground beef.
We had a tiny cutting board, no chefs knife and steel unseasoned pans. Regardless of these terrible conditions I did enjoy cooking.
After a while I started wondering how the dishes we made from "easy cooking" packages were made from scratch and tried the original recipes from the internet. I just got more and more into cooking. I watched all of good eats, got a good knife, a decent cutting board and just kept cooking stuff.
Overall I'd say trial, lots of error and lots of internet. Now I think I'm a pretty good hobbyist.
I was living in the Bay Area for at least 2 years and never used my oven or stove. I ordered seamless every single day if I was eating at home. Or I made toast.
"What's in the fridge that needs to be used" is exactly how I learned this skill. There were a couple months in my 20s where I lived off of food pantry donations and I quickly learned how to look at ingredients and make a meal. It's pretty fun if you pretend you're in a cooking challenge!
One thing that helped me kick off my cooking was actually watching Top Chef (it was exciting and creative and you get to learn a TON of terminology) and also finding YouTube cooking personalities that I wanted to watch. The latter made me feel like I was being taught by a friend 🙂 Now I cook daily.
When I lived alone, partly out of respect for your room mates and partly out of convenience, I just learned to clean while I cooked. Even after I dished up, everything else was ready in containers and the majority of dishes were either soaking or already washed in the sink. When I finish eating, I take care of the dishes.
I fucking hate a cluttered kitchen. Clutter overwhelms me, frustrates me, in general just upsets me. When I'm at my parents house, I'm surrounded by the clutter. It's a nightmare to make anything in and in general just makes me sad.
I wouldn't claim I can cook, per se. I can follow a mean recipe though. I think some of the skills that are in that were all trial and error. How to make rice correctly. How to slice and dice without cutting myself. How to control a flame without burning stuff. Those are just alllll trial and error. Lots of patience on my fiances side. More importantly, a love of cooking. I absolutely love that feeling when I do a recipe correctly and it tastes as good as it sounds and I made it myself. Nothing beats that feeling for me.
A large part of cooking is not having the fear. It's kinda like a science experiment.. You need to follow the method and know the principles. Pick up a learning book. Watch YouTube videos.. And above all, don't be scared.
So what's your cooking story? Feel free to share in the comments!