Upping Your Cooking Game

What skills to learn, what tools to get
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Jin+Guice
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Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Jin+Guice »

I've been interested in cooking for awhile and have cooked 95% of my meals for the past nine years. I'm a decent cook, but I know there's a whole level above what I'm doing and I'm not sure how to get there. Does anyone have a practical methodology (or some tips/ tricks) for getting better at cooking? This is probably the only area of my life where my knowledge is almost all experiential (which is also to say ad hoc) and I have no book knowledge beyond reading recipes. When it comes to things like cooking, I learn best with hands on practical experience though I'm not opposed to reading, especially if it's something that can be directly applied.

horsewoman
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by horsewoman »

My favourite way to improve dishes is to cook a certain meal every other day for a week or two, while playing around with some things. I keep a simple log, what I did, what amounts I used, and how it turned out. This sounds pretty nerdy, but it works for me. The log (of the "end version") goes into a a small binder in my kitchen in case I forget.

Cheepnis
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Cheepnis »

Pick a recipe or dish that involves methods above your current skill level and make it. For example it could be something where heat is very important (caramel) or something where the process is critical (homemade pastry) or something that involves actual physical deftness (piping/cake decorating). Per my examples baking is obviously a great category of cooking that involves lots of specific and difficult skills.

Or if you're not looking to expand your skillset but expand the skill as a whole I'd say it's time to start making things without a recipe. I've made chili hundreds of times. The first time I forced myself to do it without any guidance I felt unsure, but the confidence came back after I did it a few times. Cooking without recipes also helped me turn the corner from thinking in amounts to thinking in ratios.

The sticky wicket in all this is practicing any of these things, especially if you overstep your skill level too far in the former method, could result in wasted food. It's a balancing act where you have to stay outside your comfort zone enough to keep learning, but close enough you don't mess up so bad stuff has to be thrown out.

ertyu
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by ertyu »

tip: when you have beers with people, ask them whether they cook, then ask them if they make X/what's their favorite dish that they make, then ask them for advice/their tricks on how they make it good.

You're going to get some people like me who just throw everything in a pot, boil it with salt and oil, and call it soup -- and are perfectly happy to eat it -- but you will also see which of your acquaintances are seriously into cooking and you'll know who to ask for advice in the future.

My issue with "level up on cooking" is that it's very very regional. I've always thought that the best advice can be given to you by people from your culture and location. Or maybe that's just me being a relative cultural minority on most english-speaking forums i participate in.

ertyu
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by ertyu »

Cheepnis wrote:
Thu Sep 10, 2020 9:05 am
Pick a recipe or dish that involves methods above your current skill level and make it. For example it could be something where heat is very important (caramel) or something where the process is critical (homemade pastry) or something that involves actual physical deftness (piping/cake decorating). Per my examples baking is obviously a great category of cooking that involves lots of specific and difficult skills.
My greatest tip for baking is, (1) mix the batter per recipe. (2) taste, and if applicable add ingredients to taste. (3) eat half of it raw, with a spoon. (4) bake the rest of it and feed it to other people :lol:

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

You could try the book Salt Fat Acid Heat. It has some foundational thoughts on the differences between good and great cooking with a lot of practical examples of things to try.

Alphaville
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Alphaville »

hands-on is the only way to cook, but a little bit conceptualization helps one to "up the game" either on the taste department, efficiency game, nutrition puzzle, substitution musical chairs, et.

there's so much media out there these days--from books to blogs to tv--you have a myriad resources to choose from.

the joy of cooking (i had an old edition) was a great book that started chapters on food types with a little bit of theory and explanations before going into recipes. that was my start.
david chang is hilarious to watch on "the mind of a chef"
samin nosrat (i have not read her book, but seen the shows instead) goes around the world looking at applications of "salt, fat, acid, heat". that's the conceptualization i'm talking about which comes handy in hands-on practice [eta: @gilberto de piento just mentioned too]
mfk fisher was a lovely writer and translated brillat-savarin into english
bourdain's "kitchen confidential" is not exactly about cooking but was a highly readable memoir about the love of food and i'd recommend it to everyone
kenji lópez-alt and the whole "serious eats" website are a gold mine when it comes to looking at principles behind the recipes. you can learn so much from it.
old videos of julia child, or julia child & jacques pépin on youtube (but they're not vegetarian)

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Dream of Freedom
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Dream of Freedom »

The tv series good eats used to go over the science of cooking. I have no idea if it is still on the air. The 4-Hour chef by Tim Ferriss has an interesting take and is more than a cookbook. Though admittedly it is a ginormous book and despite the name I doubt you could get through it in 4 hours.
Last edited by Dream of Freedom on Thu Sep 10, 2020 10:31 am, edited 1 time in total.

Hristo Botev
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Hristo Botev »

Old editions of Joy of Cooking are fantastic; like a sort of encyclopedia of food knowledge. You can often do better with some of the recipes, but it's a great resource for a really broad range of topics and recipes, with relatively shallow information for each topic/recipe.

Alphaville
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Alphaville »

Dream of Freedom wrote:
Thu Sep 10, 2020 9:33 am
The tv series good eats used to go over the science of cooking. I have no idea if it is still on the air.
oh yeah! alton brown has a devoted following and is an important influence in contemporary home cooking, explaining the science behind things. for some reason i never enjoyed his on-screen persona so i missed out on the whole thing :( but yes to checking him out.

america's test kitchen also follows the same test/science principles. not sure who started the trend, but they put out good info as well.

daylen
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by daylen »


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Dream of Freedom
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by Dream of Freedom »

Taste your food as you go.
The most important seasoning is salt. Too little it's bland. Too much it's salty.
Google what spices go with the food in question.

RoamingFrancis
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by RoamingFrancis »

I have Samin Nosrat's book on hold at the local library; I am also looking to up my cooking game so I will write a report of the book when I read it.

RoamingFrancis
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by RoamingFrancis »

Started documenting my read of the book:

viewtopic.php?f=6&t=11632

UK-with-kids
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Re: Upping Your Cooking Game

Post by UK-with-kids »

I asked my OH as she is quite an accomplished cook and essentially self taught. She said:
It's hard to say what stage you're at from the info you've given. You could easily be talking about jumping from excellent home cook to cordon bleu chef. Assuming you're not, the best way to move from just being a good cook is to break the rules of recipes, learn what it feels like to experiment. For example, if you want to make a recipe but don't have the ingredients experiment with substitutions, they may or may not work but that is not the long term aim. Out of this comes creativity and imagination, and ultimately what you're after which is skill.
That reminds me of the analogy about life being like lego bricks and you can either follow the instructions or try fitting them together in new ways.

She also said there are still some shortcuts where you can read a bit and save a lot of practising. E.g. you can learn the building blocks of what makes a good salad and then you can't really go wrong. Below is an example on that from A Modern Way to Eat. It happens to be vegetarian.

And there is also becoming familiar with what foods go together, which is something that can be learnt fairly mechanically from lists.

Image

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