Basic Recipes
September 8, 2007 2:25 PM   Subscribe

What are some basic recipes to add to my cooking repertoire?

I can do spaghetti, fried rice, and french toast. I'm looking for recipes that are not too exotic, use ingredients that would be found at the local grocery store, but which are also somewhat interesting to make--something that would be fun to cook with another person.

I know about Mark Bittman's 101 simple recipes, but that's not quite what I'm looking for. And I know there are a million recipe sites out there, but I don't want to look through them all.

posted by mpls2 to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 105 users marked this as a favorite
well, maybe a more info on what you -are- looking for might help. mark bittman's "how to cook everything" is my standard beginner-cookbook recommendation, but if you want to narrow it down, let us know what your preferences are.
posted by thinkingwoman at 2:31 PM on September 8, 2007

How to Cook Without a Book has some good recipes, and focuses on learning a basic technique, such as sautéing or searing, and applying that technique to different ingredients.
posted by ijoshua at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

You seem to be missing a couple of food groups there in your list. How about:

- some kind of protein dish (it would be baked tofu or stir-fried tofu for me)

- steamed broccoli

- greens with a vinaigrette sauce
posted by amtho at 2:35 PM on September 8, 2007

Perfect roast chicken (small chicken, herb, salt and pepper, and a hot oven is all it takes - the Zuni Cafe recipe is a winner, though the book goes into a lot more detail). Great mashed potatoes. A classic omelet. Vinaigrette (infinitely flexible, and a good in-a-pinch sauce for pretty much anything). Something braised - pot roast or its cousins. All these things are good to know - it makes a decent dinner on autopilot easy, but they're also good starting points for improvisation and experimentation.
posted by peachfuzz at 2:44 PM on September 8, 2007

Bake a cake from scratch.
posted by gimonca at 2:44 PM on September 8, 2007

Take your spaghetti sauce one step farther and make lasagna.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2007

Best answer: I always reccommend the same site simply recipes has some great basic recipes for just about anything you might like a great roasted chicken, eggplant and chicken parm.

Also, how about a pizza from scratch? You can make it with real dough (can be bought at trader joe's) or even with a Boboli crust or those Pilsbury store crusts and they're good and the sky is the limit to what you do.

Pancakes, quiche, frittata, sauteed spinach with garlic - those are deadly simple to make and taste amazing.
posted by heartquake at 2:54 PM on September 8, 2007 [2 favorites]

Are you a carnivore? Here's one of my all time favorites, takes about 10 minutes.

Pick up a london broil, or a flank steak, or even a sirloin tip roast. Throw some soy sauce and/or worcestershire sauce in a baggie. Maybe you add some fresh minced ginger if you have it, maybe not. Maybe you add some coarse ground black pepper, maybe you don't. You definitely need either the soy or the worcestershire sauce though. Let it marinate for between 2minutes and 2 hours. Pull it out. Throw on some salt (kosher or sea salt if you have, regular iodized if you don't) and a nice layer of black pepper.

Throw on a really hot grill, or skillet if you don't have a grill for maybe 3-5 minutes a side, MAX. You want this no more done than medium rare.

Take it off, let it rest at least 5 mins. Slice thin against the grain.

Eat, and preferably drink a nice beer with it.

Die and go to heaven.
posted by TomMelee at 3:01 PM on September 8, 2007

Also check out visual recipes they show you what you need, how to make it, and what it SHOULD look like when it's done (your dinner may vary).
posted by Captain_Science at 3:05 PM on September 8, 2007

Response by poster: I like meat (my spaghetti sauce has beef) and I especially like american, indian, italian, and indonesian cuisines.
posted by mpls2 at 3:05 PM on September 8, 2007

Best answer: Curry! Especially this awesome recipe for lamb Rogan Josh.
posted by ReiToei at 3:07 PM on September 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Seconding the roasts idea, assuming you're not a vegetarian. Roast anything is good because it starts with lots and lots washing and chopping, which is social and fun, and ends by just throwing everything into a covered pan (or pot) for an hour or two.

Also a great way to experiment with herbs and spices. Try a new one each time!

If you're not much of a cook yet, you may wish to use a meat thermometer to check that the inside is done enough to not kill you. ;)

Also, one-up the French toast and start working on crepes.
posted by rokusan at 3:07 PM on September 8, 2007

This seems to be a classic AskMe answer of mine, but tacos are quite easy and fun. I make the seasoning from scratch (using this recipe), and in addition to the seasoned beef, which takes just a few minutes, I prepare slided lettuce and tomatoes and grated cheese, and have sour cream and salsa. With some soft flour tortillas, everyone can assemble his or her own tacos.

I also second the pizza-from-scratch idea (which already is a Best Answer).
posted by sueinnyc at 3:16 PM on September 8, 2007

I have found that the most interesting recipes I have are ones that have a basic method and room for me to be creative. One of the best basic recipes is how to make soup (and this is good timing now that it's getting cooler). You can take a lot of help from the store if you just add some basic fresh ingredients. So here's the method:

Must have items:
*Stock (canned or box chicken/beef/veggie stock--I recommend chicken if you're not a vegetarian it goes great with almost everything)
*Garlic (the smaller you chop it, the stronger it is. If you don't like lots of garlic, leave it whole or just half it and then fish it out)
*Olive or Veggie oil
*salt & pepper (don't skimp on this it adds crucial flavor)

Saute onions in oil until they are translucent (about 10 minutes over medium high heat) throw in your garlic and cook for about a minute.

From there you can pretty much add whatever you want: whatever protein you like (day old chicken is great, or cubed raw chicken), beans, greens, veggies, canned tomatoes, dried or fresh herbs. The sky's the limit.

A favorite in our house is minestrone, which includes white beans, spinach or kale, canned chopped tomatoes, italian herbs, chicken, diced carrots, and either diced potatoes or already cooked pasta (and sometimes tomato paste if we have it in the house). Then I just add 1 box of chicken broth and let it simmer and thicken for about a half an hour.

Another fav in my house is asian soup which includes soy sauce instead of salt, rice wine vinegar, bok choy, chicken, bean sprouts, miso paste if we have it, ginger (peel it and keep it in the freezer forever--just grate some when you need it), cilantro, mushrooms and coconut milk (if we have it). Sometimes I add noodles, sometimes not, but I combine above ingredients with chicken stock and let it simmer.

Another great recipe is polenta. it's an amazing sidedish and can easily be turned into a main course very easily. You can either buy a box of polenta or use regular corn meal (they're essentially the same thing). Corn meal comes with directions for corn meal mush that's what you do. Add more liquid (water or stock) if you want thinner polenta or less for very thick polenta. When all the liquid is absorbed, add salt, pepper, and whatever sounds good. I like parmesean or cheddar cheese. Polenta also makes a great base for chili or spaghetti sauce.

My last suggestion is "casserole". Once again, this is more of a method than a recipe--which means you can get creative and use whatever you have on hand.

For the base I start out with sauteed protein, onions, garlic, and whatever veggies (fresh or frozen) I have on hand. Fresh mushrooms are awesome in 99% of casseroles I've had and add a really fresh flavor to a dish. Add chicken stock (or water in a pinch), some white wine (or white wine vinegar), cream or milk or sour cream, season to taste. Top with cheese if desired

Take whatever starch you feel like having (mashed potatoes, white or wild rice, slightly undercooked noodles) and mix them to the base. Cook for 30 minutes at 350.

You can make any of these recipes as exotic or down-home as you want. I've experimented with adding sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers, bacon, roasted red peppers, etc.

The important thing is to have fun and be willing to call for take out if something goes horribly wrong. You'll eventually learn what goes together and be able to look at what you have in your kitchen and make recipes up on the go.
posted by Kimberly at 3:20 PM on September 8, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: you can do a bunch of really easy variations on pasta sauce.

greek spaghetti: saute ground lamb, cubed eggplant, red pepper and spinach with minced onion and garlic, salt and pepper, a bit of oregano, and the tiniest bit of cinnamon. serve over pasta, and top with feta.

chinese spaghetti: saute ground pork with soy sauce, scallions, chinese five-spice, garlic, salt and pepper (and hot pepper if you like), shredded carrots, and shredded cabbage. serve over rice noodles or rice, top with chopped peanuts.

cincinnati chili: saute ground beef with diced tomatoes, corn, black beans, green pepper, garlic, onions, cayenne, a tiny bit of cinnamon, and cumin. serve over pasta, top with sharp cheddar.
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:36 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

My go-tos are:

Enchiladas: buy cans of enchilada sauce, follow the instructions on the can. Then experiment on what kinds of insides to use, then maybe start seeking out your own sauce recipes. I love a super hearty mixture of refried beans and ground beef. But you can put most anything in those things.

Spaghetti and meatballs: dry pasta, favorite canned or homemade sauce, and mix up some ground beef, egg, grated Parmesan, minced onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, bread crumbs (and whatever else you might like to try in a meatball). Make balls, simmer in the sauce for about an hour.

Taco kit. Do what the box says.

Shrimp scampi. Fresh or frozen raw shrimp. Peel it. Saute in olive oil or olive oil/butter mix, with garlic and red pepper flakes and maybe some oregano or italian herb mix or whatever you want to try. You can splash some white wine in toward the end, that's good but optional. Serve over pasta. Sometimes I like to saute some zucchini and mix that in, too. Makes it feel more healthy.

Of course, these will, by default, be fairly high in calories. The first two are probably the most fun to make with friends. With enchiladas or tacos, you can add fun by also making guacamole (smash up some avocado and add lime juice and seasoning) and margaritas.
posted by lampoil at 3:47 PM on September 8, 2007

You can't ever go wrong with a good omelette, at any time of the day.

Paninis are also good- get yourself a little kitchen grill, and you're, um, cooking with gas.
posted by solongxenon at 4:01 PM on September 8, 2007

I always recommend Marcella Hazan's books. They are fantastic Italian cookbooks. Tons of simple and really good recipes for vegetables that are (yes, they all involve butter and/or olive oil, parmesan cheese, parsley and pancetta, but still). Also, she has some great recipes for simple stews and roasts. I like the pork in red wine vinegar and bay leaves: buy a chunk of pork shoulder, cut it in pieces, put it in a pot with red wine vinegar and a ton of ground bay leaves, put it in the oven, come back in a few hours.
posted by bluebird at 4:04 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry for clunky typo! Long day on the dissertation.
posted by bluebird at 4:05 PM on September 8, 2007

Learn sausages. At a minimum, you should know andouille/andouillette, bratwurst, bauerwurst, blutwurst, bockwurst, boudin (blanc and rouge), chorizo, "Italian" sausage, kielbasa, knockwurst, linguica, liverwurst, pepperoni, and Weisswurst. There are at least 1,000 other German sausages you could come to know, and at least another 2,000 Portugese, Spanish, Italian, Greek, and Middle Eastern sausages that are available in the U.S., with some effort on your part at sourcing.

Sausage takes you directly back to the earliest days of meat preservation, seasoning and use. Being knowledgeable about sausage, and keeping several kinds on hand, makes you ready to cook complex, wonderful dishes quickly, with minimum effort and preparation.

The same can be said of cheeses, and breads, of course. But in the U.S., with our population's preference for fresh meats, sausage is frequently overlooked as a cuisine source.

That said, you also need know and be able to use produce well. Here's a simple 16th century Scottish soup, based on the humble leek, that you can master in one go:


3 whole fresh medium leeks
12 ounces chicken stock (you can use canned or boxed chicken broth, if you haven't any stock of your own on hand)
1/2 cup dry vermouth or white wine (chablis or chardonnay)
1 cup light cream (or, you can use half-and-half)
1/4 cup sweet salted butter
2 cloves elephant garlic
(Optional) 1 cup previously boiled potato, in small pieces. (Later versions of the traditional Scottish soup called for potatoes, which didn't appear in Scotland until the 17th century or so, being brought back from the New World, and you can add them if you like. But this recipe is otherwise very rich, and does not suffer in the least if you omit them. Good way to extend the recipe to serve an additional last minute dinner guest, if that happens.)
Fresh black pepper
Sea salt
Handful of fresh basil leaves (or 1 tblsp. dried basil)
1 tsp. dried marjoram leaves
1/2 tsp. ground sage


Clean leeks, by removing green tops down to 1 to 2 inches of green tops above white stalks, discarding tops and outside layers of leeks which may be bruised or discolored, plus trimming 1/4 inch from root end. Split leeks lengthwise in half with sharp knife. Under running water, open leek layers along stem, and wash thoroughly to remove sandy grit which remains from fields where they grow. Remove to cutting board, pat dry with paper towels. Cut split leeks across length, in 1/8 inch or less slices, to make a fairly uniform pile of leek "half cresents." Reserve.

Peel elephant garlic cloves, removing dry ends. If you have a garlic press, you can cut the elephant garlic cloves to fit, and crush them in the press, at the time you need to add them to the leeks, below. If you don't have a press, mince the elephant garlic cloves finely with a knife on your cutting board. Reserve.


In a medium saute pan, melt butter, add cut leeks, and cook over medium heat, stirring, until leeks begin to appear translucent. While doing this, in a 3 quart sauce pan, heat chicken stock or broth, and add pepper, sage, marjoram to make fragrant stock. Bring stock to boil, and reduce heat to simmer, while leeks continue to cook in saute pan. When leeks are nearly sweated, add crushed or minced elephant garlic, (potatoes, if using) and basil, and continue stirring on medium heat for another minute or two, until leeks are soft and translucent, and all ingredients are well coated in butter. Remove leek mixture from heat, and add them to chicken stock.

Add vermouth to stock and leek mixture, stirring to combine. Salt to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes to combine flavors. [Many cooks use this time to turn attention to, and finish, their main course. But if you are making a simple lunch or dinner with this soup as the main course, set the table, warm some bread, and have a glass of wine, or a beer!]

Cream and Serve:
Immediately before serving, return heat under leek mixture to medium, and bring to early boil. Cut heat, and pour in cream while stirring, to completely mix and cream soup. Serve immediately, with Club or Ritz [warning: embedded audio] crackers.
posted by paulsc at 4:14 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding curry, curry, curry.

When I was cooking for 12 (hungry, working, hippie) people on the Katimavik program, we had this one giant pot (I think it was originally used to sterilize jars) that we basically had to use for every meal; otherwise, there just wasn't enough stove space to cook 12 people's worth of food. You can make a good curry as big or as small as it needs to be; it's literally a matter of doubling, quadrupling, halving, or whatever. As long as you have onions, spices, soup stock, and a source of tomato, you can add whatever is handy to the giant pot of bubbling awesome.
posted by tehloki at 4:16 PM on September 8, 2007

Best answer: Spaghetti carbonara - it's cheese, eggs and bacon. Our favorite recipe comes from Cook's Illustrated, and we can have it on the table in 25 minutes. Puttanesca is usually pretty fast, too - I leave out the anchovies and load up on the salty, salty olives.
posted by ersatzkat at 4:31 PM on September 8, 2007

Best answer: heartquake, it isn't a pizza from scratch if you buy your dough at trader joe's.

pizza dough: 3 cups all-purpose flour, pinch of salt, and a package of fast-rising yeast dissolved in a cup of warm water. after you pour the yeastwater over the flour/salt, knead for five minutes (until you can press the palm of your hand firmly into the dough for ten seconds, then withdraw it without the dough sticking). coat the ball of dough with a thin layer of fine olive oil, put a plastic bag over the bowl and put it in a pre-warmed oven for 45 minutes so it can rise. take it out and knead it into a disk as thin as you can.

the temperature of the water is crucial, you want to activate the yeast cells but not kill them, i know it by touch; you'll either have to get a thermometer or risk losing a couple through trial/error. i make scratch pizzas all the time, that's why i have a parma prosciutto ham from in my fridge, and plenty of basil and oregano in my garden.
posted by bruce at 4:54 PM on September 8, 2007 [3 favorites]

If you're looking for something fun to cook with someone else, nothing beats pancakes (crepes). Fillings can be savoury or sweet, and you can have flipping competitions! Not a great dinner party recipe, but loads of fun for two...
posted by finding.perdita at 5:10 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

then there's the easiest of all soups, split pea. 2 cups split peas (a standard package), 6-7 cups water, a large smoked pork hock, a chopped onion, a chopped celery heart and some cracked pepper. put it all in your soup pot for about an hour, after which you remove the hock with tongs, cut the layer of fat on the outside off, cut up the meat and add the meat back to the soup. the peas will be soft enough now to mash up against the side of the pot with a tablespoon. serve with sour cream on top.

you learn cooking one meal at a time, same way you learn wine one bottle at a time. you just have to get started and do it, and if you love it as i do, expertise will come naturally. i have a high-end cookware fetish, and i can justify any new acquisition "if this keeps me at home just 3-4 nights out of the next year, instead of eating out, it will pay for itself during that time, and i'll still have it when the year is up."
posted by bruce at 5:48 PM on September 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sausage and peppers (which I happen to be eating right this very moment.) All the measurements in the recipe can be approximated as well - cut up the amount of onions and peppers you want to eat, sprinkle on some oregano and basil, and if you don't want to open a bottle of wine, beer works fine too. I also sometimes use turkey sausage instead of pork to keep the calories and fat down. Serve with spaghetti and pasta sauce.

I do a super easy, fast couscous-spinach-shrimp dish too - buy a box of couscous, follow the directions on the box, and stir in a handful of fresh spinach during the last 2 minutes of cooking. While the couscous is cooking, saute some shrimp in a pan with olive oil and garlic. Mix everything together and eat.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 7:36 PM on September 8, 2007

Amongst a few others, Nigel Slater made me the kitchen don I am today! His books, particularly Real Fast Food emphasise simple cooking with fresh ingredients and runs the gamut from pasta dishes to bacon butties to tuscan steaks. I've given copies to loads of people and my own copy is in rags it has ben used so much.

Start with a good store cupboard. Black pepper corns, Maldon sea salt, a good olive oil, fresh garlic and lemons, good dried pasta, dijon and wholegrain mustard, red and white wine vinegar, good soy sauce, tinned anchovies, tinned tomatoes, pots of fresh herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, mint etc) and dried oregano, good balsamic vinegar and so on.

Get a good sharp chefs knife, it'll make preparation a joy. And get some good pans, a heavy griddle pan and a casserole dish. That's basically all you need.

Buy good, preferably organic ingredients from local suppliers. Find a good butcher, baker, fishmonger and greengrocer and make them your friends!

Play around with pasta to start maybe. Buy a good durham wheat pasta and make a simple sauce:

3 fresh tomatoes or a tin of chopped tomatoes (even Italians use tins!)
A handful of basil
A spoonful of capers
A few anchovy fillets
A handful of black pitted olives
A slug of good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Chuck everthing in pan but the basil and cook on a low heat. Keep tasting until it's good, throw in the basil and stir
Pour onto some cook and drained pasta and stir through.
Serve in warm bowls with some chunky bits of fresh bread and a glass of red wine.

That there is the essence of cooking. Good fresh ingredients done simply, cooked in a relaxed way to taste and served without fuss. Play about with quantities, cooking times, ingredients till it's your own Secret Sauce!

Learn to do a simple roast chicken. A good free-range bird, rubbed with butter, squeeze a lemon over it and stick the shells up it's butt. Peel and push some garlic cloves and some woody herbs live Rosmary or Thyme in the wing and leg joints and stick it in on a roasting tin and slam it in the oven (do a wee google for simple cooking times and temps). Once you've mastered that do a leg of lamb and a rack of beef. Find out how to make a good gravy and then try omake it even better.

With a grill pan you can make great but simple stuff. Boned chicken thighs with butter and balsamic vinager, steaks just dome with olive oil, salt, pepper and lemon. Seafood is great to do this way too. Or pan fry.

And get good at salads! There are a million of them and all very healthy.

Basically, keep the ingredients good quality, cook them simply and enjoy yourself. From shopping, to prepping to cooking to eating the damn stuff, it's one of life's greatest pleasures. Don't try and emulate the fancy restaurants and professional chefs. Think Italian mammas, friends digging in around the table and don't forget the wine. But that's a whole other post.

posted by brautigan at 7:57 PM on September 8, 2007

Simple, healthy, hearty, and cooks in less than 30 minutes. Different enough from the "usual" to draw compliments from guests. Would go great with grilled chicken.

Chop 2 onions, a few cloves of garlic, 2 green/red peppers, enough squash or eggplant for 2 cups or so, and 2 or so cups of either canned or chopped tomatoes.

Saute onions and garlic in a few tbsp of oil until translucent.
Add green peppers and squash/eggplant, cook until tender.
Add tomatoes.
Season to taste, don't forget salt and pepper.
Simmer for about 15-20 minutes.

South of the border flavor? - add cumin, cayenne (pinch), and top with cheddar-jack
Mediterranean flavor? - add dill and top with feta
Italian flavor? - add oregano, basil, and top with parmesan
Two tsp of seasoning is a good place to start.
If you know Indian spices well, it wouldn't hurt to try a recipe with that as well. Some good curry spice, perhaps?

The result is stew-ish in nature. Drain the tomatoes for a drier result. Serve over/with rice, quinoa, pasta, barley, crusty bread, whatever you have handy.
posted by wg at 10:19 AM on September 9, 2007

Perfect roast potatoes - peel potatoes, cut into chunks.
Boil them until they are going a bit soft on the outside.
Drain the water, then stir in butter / margarine / olive oil (whatever you prefer) and salt to taste.

You want to stir them in such a way that the soft outer combines with the oil and salt to form a mash, then sticks to the potatoes.

Bake in an oven around 180C for about an hour. The outside will be golden brown and very crunchy. Everyone I know goes crazy over these, and they are pretty easy to do.

My roast chicken hint - smear the chicken with a dollop of oyster sauce. The sauce browns, makes the skin very crispy and gives it a nice flavour.
posted by tomble at 7:59 PM on September 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

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