Teach me to cook!
August 25, 2009 3:44 PM   Subscribe

I want to learn to cook. I just bought a Magic Bullet blender. Please suggest good recipes for beginners...it'd be nice if I could put my Magic Bullet to use, but your suggestions don't have to involve it!

That's about it... Although, I also live alone, and would like to find recipes that either make single servings, or can stay good for a few days or longer in the fridge/freezer.

posted by mingodingo to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
What level of cooking skill do you have? It'd be helpful to know if you're looking for super-simple recipes or something a bit more complex. Make sure you check out this thread for tips as well, though you'll probably want to throw out the tips about making demi-glace and such for now, until you gain a little more self-confidence in the kitchen.

I think the Magic Bullet is kind of crappy (ie, it's not terribly sturdy and I'm not sure how long they last), but you might be able to use it to chop veggies for salsa or stir fry, or you could chop garlic and onions for any number of applications.

Freezing and other methods of preserving are also particularly good for people who live alone. Plus, if you make a batch of something and freeze it, then all you have to do is reheat it later.
posted by runningwithscissors at 3:49 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

From Ms. Vegetable:

Use the bullet as a spice grinder. It makes EONS of difference to have freshly-ground spices versus the dried stuff in a jar.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:54 PM on August 25, 2009

Magic Bullet is pretty limited - hard to get good control. No good for thinks like chopping onions or whatever else the infomercial suggested. We use ours for making smoothies mostly.

However on occasions when I've wanted to make things like meatballs I've found that putting half an onion in it produces a pretty decent sort of onion pulp, great for adding onion flavour without big chunks.

For basic recipes I recommend starting with pasta related things. They're usually pretty simple but offer much variety, and they freeze well.

Soups are good as well. These are the types of dishes where once you get the general idea there is plenty of opportunity to experiment and invent.
posted by sycophant at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2009

A goldmine.
posted by pilibeen at 3:56 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you want to learn to cook, buy a proper knife. Keep it sharp. Don't put it in the dishwasher. That will be your most valuable tool.

Cooking does not have to involve fancy gizmos. I have a food processor, but hardly ever use it. You can do most tasks manually, such as whip egg whites, or mash chickpeas.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:02 PM on August 25, 2009

You're not going to be able to cook much with the Magic Bullet. We have one-- it was a joke gift from my parents (my dad and I are both early risers and have been riffing at infomercials since the late 80's). It is, however, awesome for two things I've discovered: baby food and smoothies.

Here's the problem with it-- the diameter is too small, so anything remotely thick that you're blending sticks to the sides right out of reach of the blades and a bunch of unprocessed food just sticks to the top of the dome. You can sort of remedy this by banging the base on the counter as you're using it or stopping and retrieving the stuff stuck at the top with a rubber spatula every few seconds. And most of the recipes that Mitch and Mimi make on the infomercial are disgusting, the alfredo sauce is exhibit A (disclaimer: I've never made theirs, but I know how to make pasta sauce.) Also, the notion of merely chopping salsa (for example) to a uniform consistency is ridiculous because the Magic Bullet will have pureed part of the ingredients while throwing another portion nearly untouched to stick to the walls of the dome. But I reiterate-- it is EXCELLENT for baby food.

However, I do have an excellent answer for your question because I made this with the Magic Bullet on Sunday.

Pesto (based on the recipe from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything:
  • 2 cups of loosely packed fresh basil leaves (ours were from our garden, but you can buy fresh basil easily and one package will probably be just enough for this recipe)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts (toasted lightly in a dry skillet)
  • One or two cloves of garlic (one huge clove, two medium ones-- I did one large one and one small one)
  • scant pinch of salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 cup hard cheese (preferably parmesan or romano)
Divide into two portions, put half of the ingredients into a pint-sized Magic Bullet dome, and blend until smooth. You'll need to bang it on the counter to get the nearly whole stuff at the top to fall on the blades. Scoop out into a bowl, curse Mick for putting the reinforcing beams on the inside of the dome so you can't just drag the spatula around smoothly, and put the remaining ingredients into the dome. Repeat.

The result is very nice pesto. Refrigerate and toss with your favorite pasta cooked to manufacturer's directions.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:12 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

i really liked julia child's "the way to cook". very non-intimidating, starting off with basic 'master recipes', and then she builds on them.
posted by rmd1023 at 4:52 PM on August 25, 2009

I use my magic bullet for smoothies and to make hummus. Both easy, tasty and healthy!
posted by cestmoi15 at 4:58 PM on August 25, 2009

I started making crepes in my magic bullet from my infomercial addicted aunt. 1/3rd eggs, 1/3rd milk, 1/3rd flour and a bit of salt and maple syrup in the mix. Blend and pour onto a hot pan. I make small pancake ones because they are easy.
posted by mearls at 5:01 PM on August 25, 2009

Rouxbe has excellent video lessons and tips on cooking.
posted by leigh1 at 5:02 PM on August 25, 2009

This recipe doesn't use the Magic Bullet. But -- it is delicious, so you will not care.


You will need:

1 egg
1/4 cup of grated parmaesan cheese (note: do NOT get the kind that they have on the shelf next to the pasta -- look in the cheese section of your supermarket. That grated parmaesan cheese is a lot fresher and tastes way better.)
1/4 pound of pasta (usually, this is a quarter of the box.)
2 or 3 slices of bacon

Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. (Extra tip: put a little salt in the water; that just gives the pasta an extra shot of flavor.) Just keep an eye on it, and add the pasta to the water when it boils.

Meanwhile, while the water is coming to a boil (and/or the pasta is cooking), cut the bacon slices into little pieces (about a half-inch wide). Break the egg into a big bowl, dump in the grated parmaesan cheese, and beat that all together.

Dump the bacon pieces into a frying pan and fry them up until they're crispy. When the bacon is crispy, turn off the heat under the bacon, but leave the bacon in the pan for the time being.

When the pasta is done cooking, drain it (do NOT rinse it, because you need it to be hot), then dump it into that big bowl with the egg and parmaesan cheese. Stir it up good -- the heat from the pasta will cook the egg just enough, and will also melt the cheese. Then -- dump in all of the bacon AND the bacon fat from the frying pan and stir it up good again. Add some fresh pepper. You're done.

You're welcome.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:53 PM on August 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

How about chicken soup? You could do with a whole chicken, but as you're a beginner you might be more comfortable using a packet of drumsticks and thighs (dark meat has more flavor and is cheaper; you'd def want something on the bone)

Take your biggest-ass pot, i.e., a stock pot.

1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped into medium dice
2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
2 stalks of celery, cut lengthwise and then in quarter-moons
2 large carrots, cut same size and shape as celery
1 potato, diced
Fresh parsely, minced
Salt, pepper
Olive oil

Put pan on the stove on medium heat.
Add olive oil to bottom of the pan,
Then add onion, carrots, celery, garlic. Sprinkle on a pinch of salt and pepper, stir. Let cook, stirring every couple of minutes or so, until the onions have softened and become a bit clear. 6-8 minutes.
Add chicken, and bay leaf.
Pour in enough water to cover everything, plus a couple inches (don't fill to the brim, though)
Put the lid on and turn up the heat until everything comes to a boil. Then turn the heat down to low and let it hang out, simmering, for about 40 minutes. Add more salt and pepper here, tasting as you go, until it doesn't taste bland. (It shouldn't taste super salty, either.)
After 40 minutes, add the potato. Let simmer another 20 minutes. (Cut the potato up shortly beofre you add it; if it sits around too long it'll go brown, like an apple.)
Check the chicken. It should be tender, easily pulling away from the bone. If it is, pull the chicken out, take off the skin, and pull the meat away from the bones and return the meat to the pot. Taste one last time for seasoning, then add the chopped parsley, and maybe a glug of good olive oil or a squeeze of lemon if you've got it handy. Then eat.

If you like other stuff in your chicken soup, by all means, add it. (Can't stand peas, myself.) Just know that it should take the chicken about an hour to simmer to tenderness (maybe more if you use a whole chicken), so try and add other ingredients so that they'll be just cooked through when the chicken's ready. (Frozen peas should only take 5 minutes or so). Also, if you add rice or some kind of pasta, it is better to cook it seperate; if you put it in uncooked it will absorb an astonishing amount of your broth.

This is obviously a recipe for a whole big pot of chicken soup, but I find that soup's one of the easiest things to divide into single servings and freeze.

Also, generally: 1) Having a good sharp knife is very important. The reason Rachel Ray can pull off her 30 minute shtick when most people fail miserably at is is that she's a fast chopper. A dull knife will slow you down and is more likely to stick or slip and cut you.
2) when you're chopping an ingredient, try and get everything roughly the same size, otherwise you'll have some pieces overdone and some underdone. This also applies to different ingredients within a dish -- for instance, if you cut carrots way bigger than the celery, above, the carrots will still be crunchy when the celery's gone mushy. Same goes for things like meatballs, etc.
3) everything will take longer than you think it will, at first, so if you're trying something big or complicated or new maybe do it on the weekend when you have plenty of time. You don't necessarily want to be sweating and swearing over a dutch oven at midnight on a Wednesday, waiting for your beef stew to tenderize.

I tend to think that cooking's a lot like driving --- it only seems mysterious and frightening and difficult when you don't know jack; as soon as you even begin to practice you discover that it's really just a bunch of very simple skills strung together, stuff that anyone can do. (Which is not to say that, as with driving, you won't have a few terrifying fuck ups as you're starting out.) The best way to learn to cook is to pick stuff you know you like and then go find out how to make it-- - you'll be enthusiastic about making it and you'll know if you got it right at then end, and at least have a suspicion of where you went wrong if you didn't. You will also be startled at how simple it is to make shit from scratch certain things (I never buy salad dressing or brownie mix anymore).
posted by Diablevert at 5:54 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You may already know that there are blogs devoted to recipes for it.

If it is capable of grinding small things, try adding some ground flax to hot cereals. And if you do baking, blenders are a great way of making oatmeal recipes have extra flavour.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:18 PM on August 25, 2009

Check out sites like AllRecipes and Tasty Kitchen. They are community recipe websites where you can rate and comment on recipes after you've tried them.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 6:18 PM on August 25, 2009

Get yourself a good knife (as mentioned above, no dishwasher, keep it sharp), a decent sized cutting board, a 10-12" saute pan, and a pot big enough to make a pound of pasta (>4 quarts-ish). With these 4 things you can make endless awesome meals...it's all I had for years, while I was learning to cook (and learning to love it, as well). This can all be had for less than $100.
posted by nevercalm at 6:18 PM on August 25, 2009

'Recipes with oatmeal' would be the better way to put that.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 6:19 PM on August 25, 2009

A general idea of your current expertise with cooking would help us help you.

Apologies for answering a different question than the one you asked, but I think you'd get a lot more from learning basic principles and techniques than from recipes.

Invest in a good chef's knife (do your research, and be prepared to spend at least US$60), a good cutting board (it should be large, thick, and heavy), and a knife sharpener. Your knife is your most important tool—you will use it for every meal you make. A sharp knife and a heavy cutting board means the food will come apart quickly, easily, accurately, and without flying all over the place. Seriously; it makes a huge difference.

Aside from your chef's knife, the only knives you really need (other than table knives) are a good paring knife and a bread saw.

A cast-iron skillet is another good investment—season it well, and never wash it with anything other than warm running water and your hands. Cast iron conducts and holds heat in a certain way—it's hard to explain, but through experience and instinct, you'll learn when to use it. It's good for toasting seeds and spices over dry heat, wilting greens, grilling, pancakes, etc. You can bake bread in it, too.

Don't buy anything that could be described as a "gadget". Most of them are useless. If you look in a professional chef's kitchen, you won't see a bunch of Sharper Image gizmos—you'll see a set of sturdy, basic tools, well cared for.

Use fresh herbs and spices whenever possible. It goes like this:

home-grown herbs straight off the plant > "fresh" herbs from the grocery store > dried herbs

...with each being an order of magnitude more wonderful than the next.

Use fresh lemon, lime, and Parmesan always. Use fermented soy sauce, not the mixed crap (Kikkoman is the most widely available brand). You should be able to tell that your cheese came from a wheel, and that your produce came out of the dirt.

Not to belabor the point, but: herbs and spices are an absolute cornerstone of cooking. Seek out new ones (and new ways to use them) actively.

Don't refrigerate stuff unless you have to; it will ruin the flavor. You don't have to refrigerate most stuff, including some things that may surprise you (such as eggs).

Use a gas stove if possible—it's a lot easier to regulate the heat.

Read this article on mise en place and take it to heart. Basically, it just means: get all your ingredients chopped and measured, and all your tools ready to go before you turn on the stove. A few small ramekins are handy to have around (for holding small amounts of chopped and measured ingredients), and they're cheap.

Spend some time with this list. You might not use all of these techniques right away, but they'll start to give you an idea of the different ways that ingredients can be combined and thermochemically transformed. This is the essence of cooking.

Learn the tricks for quickly dicing an onion, chopping a mango, pitting a stonefruit (cut all the way around the natural "seam", down to the pit, then twist the halves apart), and so on. They can save a lot of time.

At least 50% of your groceries should come from the produce section.

Learning to cook is a lot like learning to screw. Just dive in with enthusiasm and good humor, and don't be afraid to make mistakes or try new things—that's how you learn. There's a tremendous amount of information online—blogs, recipe sites, and Wikipedia are all great resources. Take your time browsing at the grocery store, too (especially in the produce section)—there are all kinds of hidden treasures to be found. When you find something interesting, buy it—then look it up on Google to figure out how to use it. Don't be afraid to revisit things you think you dislike, either—a lot of us grow up eating improperly prepared foods, and that's especially true for certain ingredients (such as eggplant). I've convinced people who thought they hated beets, okra, and asparagus that they were tragically wrong.

At any given time, I have a whole mental list of stuff I want to try: new ingredients I want to find, new spices that I want to learn how to use, new dishes to make, new techniques I want to experiment with, new cuisines I want to sample. Keep a similar mental list, and again, just Google stuff to get from vague inspiration to a real-world dinner plan: "herbs that go well with beets", "ways to cook cauliflower", "vegetarian grilling", "side dishes for tacos".

A useful link. Another useful link.

And, yeah, soup is pretty foolproof, and wonderful on a cool autumn evening with a hunk of warm bread and a glass of wine.

Good luck, and have fun! Food and cooking are among the most wonderful things in life!
posted by ixohoxi at 7:01 PM on August 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think ixohoxi offers good tips, but that they really belong in the thread I linked to in my first answer. Again, mingodingo, if you offer us more info on your skill level and the kinds of foods you like to eat, we can better select recipes for you. Do you simply need recipes for one-person meals, or are you at the point where you need to learn how to make something as basic as eggs for breakfast? Are you vegetarian or vegan? Do you want recipes that will take you through many steps, or are you someone who views cooking as an intimidating necessary evil? Without these kinds of details, I'm not sure we can help you much.
posted by runningwithscissors at 8:01 PM on August 25, 2009

Hi all--thanks for the help, and sorry that my question was so vague.

I'm have no cooking experience--things that can be microwaved are kind of what I tend to gravitate toward. That said, I'm not afraid of spending some time and effort learning this, so while some really basic stuff is welcome, slightly "intermediate" recipes are also welcome, albeit with some explanation of things a beginner may not know...

I guess I really am looking for a lot of either one-person meals or things that can be frozen. I don't have any dietary restrictions, other than the fact that I'm trying to be healthier/lose weight...and I like pasta, which kind of screws with my whole "lose weight" goal.

So, hope that's a little clearer. Thanks again!
posted by mingodingo at 12:16 AM on August 26, 2009

I've had a magic bullet for a few years and I use it for exactly three things:
1. grinding coffee
2. grinding peppercorns
3. inventing pestos

adding to Mayor Curley's pesto recipe, I love making different pestos with any flavourful green combined with any nut.

Aside from the norm I really like (flat leaf parsley + walnuts) and (arugula + cashews). Pepper and garlic are necessary (either grate the garlic in or blend it in some liquid before adding any other ingredients). I sometimes add cheese; sometimes it's parmesan, sometimes it's not (e.g. crumbled blue cheese is super good with the parsley + walnut combination).

If you end up eating as much pesto as I do, you'll want to cut down the amount of fat and go with a few glugs of oil, a splash of acid*, and mostly water. Just keep adding liquid, a splash at a time, until it blends smooth but stays thick. I store mine in the fridge in one of the extra bullet blender cup things with its own lid. I wouldn't keep it more than a week or so, though.

I've heard that the magic bullet motor is quite prone to burning out. Making pestos takes a while, so make sure that you're only giving it power for a minute or so and then stopping to shake it around a bit before continuing.

*The acid isn't optional; a lot of greens are just dying to oxidise and a splash of lemon (or vinegar) will save the whole thing from spoiling as quickly as it wants to.
posted by rhinny at 2:10 AM on August 26, 2009

If I were learning how to cook, I'd start with dishes that teach you a process that you can vary.

I like cooking risotto a lot - it's really not difficult, and once you've learned the process and base (fry onion/celery/leeks in oil, fry rice, gradually add hot stock for 20 mins until cooked, add flavouring) you can vary it infinitely with whatever's in your cupboard. It's not so easy to make for one, but it will definitely last for a few days. Here's a good recipe to start with. (Tip: err on the side of adding the liquid too fast than too slow, and if you run out of stock, just add more or use water).

You can learn pasta sauces the same way (fry onions/garlic/carrot/celery, add meat until cooked, add a tin of tomatoes, add whatever you want, cook for a while until your pasta is ready to be topped). Maybe start with a puttanesca? You could learn to cook soups in the same way.

I must admit, I find it much more difficult to cook for one. I usually make bigger dishes and have leftover lunches. When I'm cooking for myself I often end up eating veggies steamed over pasta/rice/bulghour, and then mixed together with a fried egg and some cheese and dressed with lemon juice and salt and pepper. Tasty, easy and healthy!

I think the best way to learn to cook is to watch - if any of your friends are good cooks, maybe ask if they could teach you a dish. Or harness the magic of YouTube? Being able to cook the stuff you like to eat is also a good incentive.
posted by Emilyisnow at 2:35 AM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]

It doesn't really matter that you think of yourself as a cook or not; whether you like it or not, you are, as long as you live, an eater. Serve your inner "eater" well, and you'll have to learn to cook.

Yes, you'll have to learn to cook, even if you are Paul Allen wealthy. The reason for that is simply that, your inner eater is never going to be satisfied, entirely, with the fare put before you by others, even if "others" means, exclusively, 3 star Michelin chefs. There's a hole in the soul of nearly every "eater" that is only filled when the "eater" directs the cooking. Only the most passive of "eaters" are willing to be eternally fed.

So, begin by embracing your inner "eater." Your hunger can be your guide. But it helps if you have, as Miko has previously advised, a well stocked pantry. And refrigerator. And freezer. That's because, when our inner "eaters" get hungry, most of us amateur cooks actually cook from our refrigerator, freezer, and pantry.

Not, from our appliances.

I never recall thinking, on a Friday afternoon, "Can I make something for dinner that calls for my new braising pan?" I do recall, that on many Friday afternoons, I wondered "How long after I get home can I be eating something rich, beefy, and pungent?" YMMV, but if it varies, very much, forget this comment, and go with whatever they are demonstrating on the Magic Bullet infomercial.

That said, cooking, even for a complete newbie, doesn't have to be that intimidating. Start with soups. Soups are easy. Anyone can make good soup.

Start by buying a few 15 ounce cans of broth. Chicken, beef and vegetable broth in your pantry will come into a 100 subsequent uses, but for now, just buy a few cans of each. You're only making soup, for your inner eater. Buy some "Italian seasoning" over in the spice section, too. That's usually a pre-mixed combination of dried parsley, basil, rosemary, sage, marjoram, and oregano, that you can toss into any canned broth, a teaspoon or two at a time, with good results. You can also buy some cracked black pepper, and I'll assume you have some salt (if not, buy some). Buy some canned kidney beans, some frozen soup mix vegetables, and some fresh sweet onions, celery, and green pepper. Finally, buy some oyster crackers and some fresh grated 6 cheese Italian cheese blend. Buy a bottle of Italian chianti, and a baguette, too.

Chop the onions, celery and green pepper, fairly finely. You can try doing this with your Magic Bullet, or you can do this with a real knife and a cutting board. Pour a can of broth, of whatever flavor you like, into a 2 quart saucepan, and set your stove to a medium heat setting. Add 2 teaspoons, more or less of "Italian seasoning." When the broth comes nearly to a boil, toss in the onions, celery, and green pepper that you chopped. When it comes to a boil again, toss in the beans and the frozen soup mix vegetables. When it comes near a boil again, salt and pepper to taste, and remove from heat.

Serve to your inner eater with a full ration of oyster crackers and, maybe, a sprinkle of 6 cheese Italian blend, a chunk of the baguette, and a glass of chianti. Congratulations, you've just provided your inner eater with your own version of minestrone, and you're as much a cook as most Italians.

Next time, add some sliced cold cuts on a plate (antipasto), and maybe steam an artichoke, or boil some pasta and garnish with cheese, and you've jumped up, easily, to serving multiple course Italian meals. Or, toss in some sliced up Italian sausage into your "minestrone" before the first boil, if you want a hearty, meaty version of a soup. Your inner "eater" will be proud of you, too, and shut up.

Until breakfast.
posted by paulsc at 3:06 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

I guess I really am looking for a lot of either one-person meals or things that can be frozen. I don't have any dietary restrictions, other than the fact that I'm trying to be healthier/lose weight...and I like pasta, which kind of screws with my whole "lose weight" goal.

Oh, then soups. Soups are your friends. The only techniques you're going to need to know how to do are a) chopping, b) MAYBE frying or browning in advance, c) boiling and d) simmering. My absolute favorite soup is something that is really easy and makes a damn ton -- and it's nothing more than "dice all of these ingredients and dump it all into a pot with 3 quarts of water, boil it for an hour, then throw in a handful of pasta for another 15 minutes. Stir in a jar of pesto for extra flavor. You're done."

It's also really, really, really hard to burn soup or anything like that. Soups are very open to experimentation, they're very flexible, and they're very forgiveable if you are one ingredient short ("....oh, damn, I thought I had one onion instead of two. Eh, screw it, I'll just use one instead; it'll just taste a little different, but it'll still be edible").

Soups are also perfect for freezing -- get a buttload of those single-serving tupperware containers, and dole out all the leftovers from a big pot of soup into them and freeze 'em all -- and then you can just pick up a nice roll from the bakery on your way home from work, or make a salad, pull out one of the single-serve containers and microwave it to heat it up, and you've got either a soup-and-salad or soup-and-bread dinner.

If you really want to learn basics, get Mark Bittman's HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING -- he's really good about explaining basics and techniques as you go. The cookbook has chapters on a lot of other things, too, so you can branch out if you want -- but if you want to stick to soups, his chapter on soups is a good "kindergarten." Then get a copy of the cookbook MOOSEWOOD DAILY SPECIAL -- it is nothing but soups and salads. My hunch is that you will do what I did with that cookbook -- slavishsly follow the recipes to the letter for years, while you're gaining more and more practice, and then you'll suddenly realize "....wait. All of these recipes are kind of exactly the same, it's just that different soups use different vegetables. That means...I can invent my own soup, just by picking whatever vegetables I want." And then you can start REALLY having fun.

But soups. Soup is a perfect place to start out.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:26 AM on August 26, 2009 [1 favorite]

1. Buy some solid cookbooks. Check out the ones Empresscallipygos mentioned, but good ol' Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens is also a good place to start for standard recipes. If you want to learn the why and how of cooking, along with some recipes, check out Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food. There's also I'm Just Here for More Food, about baking.

2. Gather a few recipes that you consider staples, just to build your reperoire. Eg:

Really good scrambled eggs
French toast

Onion Tart

Soups (make in bulk, freeze in serving-size containers)
Lasagna/casseroles (again, make extra and freeze)
Chicken Pot Pie
Ratatouiile (Really easy to make, once the slicing is done, and impressive for guests. Use a mandoline if your knife skills aren't up to par. Or just cut everything into equal-size chunks and call it a kind of stew.)
Pizza (grab a whole wheat pre-made dough of Trader Joe's or something, add sauce, and go crazy with vegetables. I had a

A really good pie (don't be afraid to use store-bought pastry dough if you're afraid to learn to make it atm. My grandma buys pie dough and none us knew for years. My theory is that if Gramma Vi can do it, so can you.)

3. Don't be afraid to check out online recipes sites, like allrecipes.com or epicurious.com. This awesome site lets you enter the ingredients you have on hand, then suggests recipes you can make with those ingredients. I really like Smitten Kitchen's recipes. A lot of people like Ree Drummond's Pioneer Woman Cooks, and she does offer good photos that show exactly what she's doing in the recipe.

4. Be aware that just because you're cooking at home, it doesn't mean that the food you're making is automatically healthy. Ree uses a lot of butter. Paula Deen, God love her, uses a lot of butter. So do I. Butter is delicious. But now I have to go back on a diet because I haven't been paying attention to fat and carbs for a few months. Using spices to impact flavor, rather than adding fat to do it, is much healthier and can be a good creative challenge.

Eat a salad sometimes, especially if you add lean protein. Anything can be a salad; my favorite is tuna over greens with corn, black beans, cucumber, shelled edamame, and salt and pepper. If you add enough flavor, you won't even need a dressing. Really. Use romaine or spinach or a mesclun mix rather than iceberg lettuce, and you're already halfway to a good salad.

5. Check out other AskMe threads about food and cooking.
posted by runningwithscissors at 6:39 AM on August 26, 2009

Oh, and duh -- you can use the magic bullet to chop onions and/or garlic for any of the soups you make, if they call for it. Just a couple quick pulses should do it. (I use my food processor for similar tasks -- try to do just one or two quick pulses rather than lengthy leave-it-on-for-more-than-a-second stints; I've learned the hard way that there's a difference between "chopped onion" and "liquid onion".)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:47 AM on August 26, 2009

One of my favorite books is _Help, My Apartment Has a Kitchen_ which was great when I was about your level of cooking skill - lots of basics and stuff that you can adapt further as you learn more. (Some of the recipes are, however, healthier than others.)

I also just read through _Serves One_ last night which has a bunch of interesting looking recipes in it, and is aimed (as you might guess) at people who live alone. I haven't tried anything out of there yet, but the recipes for foods I already cook look like they should work just fine.
posted by modernhypatia at 6:50 AM on August 26, 2009

My advice for someone trying to learn to cook would be to cook. Just do it as much as possible. Start reading a cool food blog and make the stuff that looks delicious. Go through the archives too for more inspiration.

I wouldn't worry about having super-high quality ingredients or equipment until you know what you're doing. People are always telling beginner cooks that they need a good chef's knife, but you can get by with any random cheap one as long as it's reasonably sharp. If you decide in a few months that you really like this cooking thing, buy a nice one.

Just follow recipes. Cooking recipes are usually fairly easy and straightforward; it's the baking that can get complicated.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:57 PM on August 26, 2009

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