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Learning to cook
« on: December 28, 2012, 08:24:10 AM »
One of my new year resolutions is "Learn to cook." This ties in to my other resolution to lose weight, because one of the primary reasons I'm overweight is that it's infinitely preferable to order pizza than eat the boring stuff I can cook.

When growing up, my mother was all about meat and two veg. I can make a good roast dinner, but other than that my meals consist of a piece of meat and a pan of vegetables, because I don't know how to do anything else. I've tried getting recipes from people at work, but I'm usually confronted with "Oh, this one is really easy! You just have to fry this off and then chop some tomatoes and add red wine and reduce it down and then do X and then saute Y and..." by which point I'm completely lost.

I'm not expecting recipes, but does anyone have any straightforward go-to dishes I can look up so that I can ease my way in?

(A note - It's only me eating them. DH lives off tins of beans and sausage most of the time.)


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #1 on: December 28, 2012, 08:51:21 AM »
How about a simple soup recipe like chicken noodle?

Chop an onion (cut it in half, pull off the papery peel, cut the half into long slices, then turn it and do that again and you will have little chunks)

Peel and slice two carrots

Put 1-2 T(tablespoons) of canola oil in a big pan ( I use my Dutch oven- like a big soup pot) and heat over smedium high heat for about a minute. Toss in the onions and carrots and sauté them for about 5 minutes. (Let them sit and cook, then stir them around a bit, let them sit, then stir, etc)

Then add one box (4 cups) of low sodium chicken or vegetables stock, cover and bring to a boil. Add 1/2 C datalini or other small pasta (my family also really loves egg noodles in this soup). Add 6 ounces or so of frozen, precooked chicken that is already cut up. (i use Tyson brand). Turn heat down to simmer and cook until pasta is done according to cooking directions on package. Add a tsp or so of parsley flakes for color if you like it.

Eat! You can adjust any of those quantities to your liking.  You will learn with experience how to do it just the way you like it. You can also make vegetable soup this same way by sautéing all of your veggies in that first step then adding the stock. 

I really learned a lot of about cooking and different methods by watching shows on the Food network.  No lie.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #2 on: December 28, 2012, 09:12:43 AM »
May I suggest this book?

I've given it as a housewarming present to a couple of bachelor friends who were clueless in the kitchen.  It's got great step-by-step photos and little introductions at the beginning of each section on how to do stuff from breaking an egg to cutting up a chicken or how to cut up different vegetables for a salad.  Said bachelor friends are now confident enough to host small dinner parties (one guy even won a "best burger" cook-off among his buddies!).   Plus, the recipes are really great and simple to do... one of our family favourites is the potato crusted salmon fillets.  :D


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #3 on: December 28, 2012, 09:19:40 AM »
Joe's special- it looks terrible but tastes delicious, and it's cheap and easy to make.

1lb ground meat-beef, turkey, whatever you like.
1 package frozen spinach, thawed and drained in a colandar- try and squash out as much water as you can
1/2 lb sliced fresh mushrooms- use whatever variety you like best. You can use canned, but fresh taste better
4 eggs- crack into a bowl or glass and mix
1/2 diced onion- optional
Italian herb mix
1 tsp minced garlic- I am lazy and buy the jarred kind, but fresh is great
Cooking spray so the stuff doesn't stick to the pan

1. Spray your cooking pan-  frying pan/electric skillet/saucepot, whichever you have, and turn on to medium-high heat. When it's warmed up, add the meat (and onion, if using it) and cook till the pink is all gone. Chop it up into little pieces with a big spoon.

2. Add the mushrooms and mix into the meat. Keep checking on it, and when the mushrooms start releasing their water, toss in the garlic and Italian herb mix. I normally use a capful of it. Stir it all together.

3. Add the spinach and mix it in. Let it get hot, then take your beaten eggs and mix in. Let them set and cook through.

Serve with bread- you don't need another vegetable because of the spinach. I sprinkle a little parmesan on my serving because yum. You can also serve it over pasta. I eat this a lot the week before I donate blood because it's great for iron.

Be warned, it does look kind of weird at first, but it's yummy and it makes a lot.
If wisdom’s ways you wisely seek,
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak,
Of whom you speak,
And how, and when, and where.
Caroline Lake Ingalls


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #4 on: December 28, 2012, 09:36:18 AM »
I taught myself to cook with the help of I'd go to, say, "chicken" and sort the recipes by rating, high to low. Then I'd start looking through them and decide which ones looked like I could handle them. As I got more experienced I could take on more challenging recipes.

Do you have a crockpot? Some of our favorite recipes require nothing more than tossing 5 or 6 ingredients into a crockpot, turning it on, and waiting for dinner.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2012, 09:36:58 AM »
My biggest tip: Check out cookbooks meant for kids. They are very thorough -- no one expects a 12-year-old to know what "braise" means -- and their main dishes are just as main dishy as those in a simple cookbook for adults. They often include lots of pictures, too.

I'd suggest, based on what you've said about what you enjoy, that you check out older books, like 1980s and earlier, at thrift shops. You can try a lot of things and maybe find some your husband will enjoy, too.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2012, 10:01:11 AM »
Stuffed Peppers

Take one large red* pepper (just a regular sweet pepper). Cut in half, top-to-bottom, leave the stalk in place and remove the seeds/pith. Wash and set down on a baking sheet.

For each half of the pepper measure out the following:
1/2 teaspoon capers
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 plum tomato quartered (or 2 baby plum/cherry tomatoes halved)
1 teaspoon of fresh basil (probably equivalent to six/eight individual basil leaves torn up)
15-20g feta cheese

Fill each pepper half with the capers, tomato and basil, then drizzle the vinegar and olive oil over the top.

Stick into the oven at 180C (350F) for about twenty minutes, or until you can see the pepper beginning to char and go soft.

Remove from the oven and crumble the feta cheese over the top of each pepper half. Return to the oven for another five minutes.

Serve with a side salad and a slice of some nice Italian bread.

*It will work just as well with a green pepper or an orange one - I just prefer red ones!

It's simple, it doesn't require too much in the way of skills (which is one reason why I love the recipe!) and it's also a fairly healthy recipe and very tasty.

I also second the suggestion for the Good Housekeeping book - they're extremely good and easy to follow.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2012, 11:00:47 AM »
My personal kitchen philosophy is that cooking is an art, and baking is a science!  I will experiment while cooking, substitute one herb for another, add more or less of this or that.  When baking, though, I follow the recipe to the letter.

The basic ingredients I recommend always having on hand are olive oil, garlic (fresh and/or powdered,) onion powder and simple dried herbs like basil and oregano (to start!)  I also have a hot sauce (like Tobasco sauce) to add some zing.

Here are my go-to easy recipes.  Stick to the basic recipe, and if/when you feel comfortable doing so, experiment with the alternatives!

1 - My very basic red sauce: Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan, on medium heat.  Throw in one chopped onion and a sliced clove of garlic (or two or three!  Depends on your taste.)  Stir gently until you can see through the onions, then pour in a can of crushed (not diced - too liquidy) tomatoes and sprinkle in a teaspoon of dried basil, a teaspoon of dried oregano and a teaspoon of sugar (or honey; this cuts the tomato's acidity.)  Turn the heat down to low and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

While it simmers, prepare your pasta as per directions on the box.  I like fresh linguini myself, but anything goes! 

Alternatives: throw in a can of mushrooms (or handful of sliced fresh mushrooms) and/or some sliced sweet peppers (red, green, yellow or orange, whatever you prefer) before adding the crushed tomatoes.  Cook for another five minutes, then add the crushed tomatoes.  At this point, if you have it on hand and you feel like it, you can also pour in 1/4 to half a cup of wine (red or white, experiment!) Another idea is 1/4 cup of vodka and a few squirts of tobasco sauce*. Simmer for 10 minutes.  At the very last minute, I like to toss in a handful of whole kalamata or green olives.

This is great sprinkled with Parmesan cheese or with a few dollops of goat cheese thrown on top.  (Note: add the goat cheese to your plate, not to the pot of sauce!)

Step 2 - Easy Italian chicken:  Preheat oven to 400F.  Take two boneless, skinless chicken breasts.  Sprinkle both sides with lots of onion powder and garlic powder (note: not onion salt or garlic salt!)  (If you have them, place one leaf of fresh basil on the chicken.) Place 1 slice of fresh tomato on each breast (on top of the basil leaf, if using.)  Bake for 25-30 minutes. 

Alternative: Skip the slice of tomato (and basil leaf); once done baking, spoon some salsa (I'm fond of the Tostitos brand roasted garlic salsa) onto the chicken. You can also place some thin slices of whatever cheese you like.  I use marble cheddar.  Stick it back into the oven just long enough to heat the salsa/melt the cheese (two-three minutes.)

Serve on a bed of rice (white or flavoured.  If you use salsa, Spanish rice goes very well with it) and any type of frozen or canned veggie you have on hand.  Also very good with a simple salad on the side.

Both these recipes make enough for two servings.  Makes for an excellent lunch the next day!

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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2012, 11:11:55 AM »
I'm going to suggest this book

I have it and several others by the same author, and so far, I've enjoyed almost everything I've made. I also have a tendancy to just do steamed veggies and salads, and try different marinades for meats (we grill year-round)


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2012, 11:20:05 AM »
The PP about kid's cookbooks gave me an idea.  Look at  She includes step-by-step pictures of what she makes. is good too. 


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2012, 11:32:42 AM »
Community ed cooking classes might be a good bet.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2012, 12:10:49 PM »
I agree with the others about kid's cookbooks when you're starting to learn, or try ones designed for students - my copy of "Where's Mom Now that I Need Her?" (  and "The Starving Student's Cookbook" ( were well-used when I was starting out. I've also found Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" a great resource as I got more into cooking. ( It describes something basic to do with most every vegetable, bean and type of meat, including how to best slice, chop or prep the food.

My go-to, I don't wanna cook recipe is Shakshuka. It's a middle eastern tomato dish, and I keep the ingredients on hand.

2 tblspn olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced (I use the pre-chopped stuff in a jar)
10 oz. frozen spinach (1 box)
1 can (14.5oz) of diced tomato with mild green chilis
1 can (28 oz) of diced tomato
1 teaspoon cumin
6 eggs

Heat the oil in a large pan or skillet. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add both cans of tomatoes and the cumin and bring to a boil. Add the spinach (no need to defrost it). Bring back to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and let simmer. Stir occasionally. Simmer until heated through. Crack eggs and add to the tomato mixture. The eggs will cook on top of the mix. I prefer my yolks cooked, so I break them, but they can be left runny. Cover and let cook 5 to 7 minutes, until eggs are cooked. Serve in bowls - one egg per serving.

It's an easy dish to experiment with, too - don't like it spicy? Cut the tomatoes with chilis. Like onions? Add those in with the garlic and cook them through before adding the other ingredients, etc. I've also seen it with chives, peppers, served over couscous...


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2012, 12:18:59 PM »
I also have learned SO MUCH from just watching the Food Network and Cooking Channel. I have learned knife skills, how to build different flavor profiles (now I am just showing off ~ LOL) and many different cooking techniques. It's my best tool.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2012, 12:22:40 PM »
Another trick I use is to cook all of my meals for the week on Sundays. I make things like pasta, meatloaf, chicken, soup, and a bunch of sides like rice, veggies, or risotto. It only takes a few hours because I utilize every burner and all real estate in my oven. Then I am covered for the week for my lunches, and my husband and my dinners.


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Re: Learning to cook
« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2012, 12:56:39 PM »
I second the mention of the slow cooker! That is my favorite thing, especially in the cold winter months. It's great to come home from work and dinner already smells fabulous.

Here's my favorite go-to slow cooker meal:
Roughly chop some red skin potatoes (I usually quarter then unless they're really big). Throw them in the bottom of the slow cooker.
Throw in a handful of baby carrots.
Put a couple pork chops on top.
Pour in a can of cream of mushroom soup. Fill the empty can with water and add that in.
Sprinkle in a packet of onion soup mix.

Don't stir it, just put the lid on and put it in low for 8 hours. My kitties are always crying at the slow cooker whenever I make this, they just want to find a way in there!
Sell crazy somewhere else, we're all stocked up here.