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I just thought I'd open up a discussion on cooking that hasn't been covered here in the past as far as I can see.  

 

What does it mean to learn to cook?  

 

I lived at home with my parents until I was about 21 years old.  My mom and sister are both phenomenal cooks and when I had to prepare food for myself, I typically hit the frozen pizzas, Kraft mac & cheese and other typical easy-to-prepare junk food items pretty regularly.  

 

One day when I put my big boy pants on and moved out on my own, I immediately started to miss the home cooking that I had become accustomed to.  One of the first calls I made to my mom was a request for her recipe for her homemade spaghetti sauce.  I was completely alarmed when she told me she didn't have a recipe.  It was just something she put together.  She challenged me to make it without a recipe and this is what started my love of cooking.  I knew what the sauce had in it but I had never made it before.  I knew what the consistency was like so I headed to the grocery store and picked up some ground beef, tomato sauce, an onion, a green pepper, some worcestershire sauce, tomato paste, sliced mushrooms, garlic, oregano, basil and some other stuff and brought it home to give it a try.  I made the sauce and was so impressed with myself I invited my parents over for a spaghetti dinner.

 

Both of my parents said the sauce was ok but not great.  I was devastated.  Mom asked me what I put in it and how I prepared it so I told her what I had done.  She asked me what kind of sweetener I used in it.  Sweetener?  Spaghetti sauce doesn't have a sweetener in it does it?  Well...  I learned my first lesson about countering the acidity of tomatoes with a sugar source.  My mom told me she just used a little bit of sugar in hers.  

 

After several more attempts at this sauce, I actually ended up with something different that mom's that I actually liked better.  It was a more chunky meat sauce with a fantastic flavor and it's a recipe I still make today.

 

I guess the 'moral' of this story is that following a recipe is not the key to learning to cook.  It's a good exercise in following directions and the result will be OK as long as the writer of the recipe wasn't a maniac of some sort.  Learning to cook is about figuring out how to make something and understanding how the ingredients work together to arrive at a finished dish.  It takes some trial and error, especially with herbs and spices to figure out how much or how little of something you need to achieve a good result.  

 

The second lesson I learned as I was learning to cook is a very important one.  Taste the food as you go.  Figure out if you need to add something like salt or black pepper.  Also learn how to 'fix' something if you have accidentally added too much of an ingredient.  Keep notes on what you used in your recipe and modify them as needed until you hit the sweet spot you are looking for.  There is no shame in making the exact same dish 5 or 6 times with adjustments each time until you get your desired result.  

 

There are certain types of cooking where a base recipe is essential.  Baking is one area of cooking where this is important.  The ratio of dry to wet ingredients and fats to proteins has to be on spot for the item to cook and set up properly.  This, however, does not mean that you can't do something unique with the cook.  A simple pound cake is a perfect project to practice baking.  You can create tons of wonderful cakes once you have basic ratio of of the main ingredients under your belt.

 

 If you follow recipes all the time and never experiment with ideas and concepts that you aren't familiar with, you won't likely make 'mistakes.'  As far as cooking is concerned, my mistakes have been my best teachers.

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I was fortunate my mother was a good cook. When we were kids, we learned some of the basics. She tended to cook meals that had left overs. I learned to combine leftovers into new meals for myself for lunch or dinners when she was not cooking. I then progressed into actually helping make the family meals.

I later took a job in a Bobs Big Boy as well as other jobs in a variety of fast food joints and sandwich shops. Over the years I learned a fair number of skills. I still plan meals with my coffee shop meal plan: meat/protein, veggie, starch. Every plate served in a coffee shop has all three and you can tell a meal is ready to serve when it has all three.

When Cooking, I use recipes as guidelines and frequently modify them. Baking is different in that it can be a chemical process so substitutions must be made correctly, especially when modifying them to be gluten free.

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I started at a very young age too...guess from my G'Pa I picked it up....traditionally men didnt really cook in the family and environment i grew up in , but my G'Pa cooked and he was amazing...I just kinda watched intently and then practised at home with guidance from my mother...i also watched by G'Ma she was an amazing baking feind and a perfectionist to the tee....so i picked that up....often were the days when i came home from school and decided to bake profiteroles or eclairs and 2 hours later my Mum arrived home to find the whole kitchen full and two or three enormous platefuls of eclairs or profiteroles....I continued thro the years with Sunday roasts and then as I got older into chinese, indian, asian and all sorts and as after I bought my house at 21 and moved out then it really kicked off...and to this day it is my thing...and am always experimenting. I too often get asked for the recipes....and even with baking the stuff I know from heart I just do it by feel and smell and it always varies slightly depending on the modd and how I want it this time.....

 

learning to cook is not really learning...it is understanding basic techniques and methods and then letting it evolve thro your creativity and building up new techniques as you go along and improving....

 

for me the key was I want to eat and I love my food then I damn well gotta get up and do it ;) I am often very disappointed at restaurants at the price, value for money and sometimes the taste.....good food that I cook at home costs way too much in Europe and a good price/taste/value for money combo is very rare and hard to find....but I am mega picky...

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My grandmother (maternal) is the cook of the family. We started when I was very young with things like brownies or cakes from a box. My paternal grandmother was also a great cook, or so I heard. Several factors caused her to hang up her apron before I every had a chance to cook with her. My dad has always been the griller in the family. There was always a brick bbq built into the patio with Kingsford briquettes, lighter fluid, and flames shooting 3 ft high. Dad would use off the shelf ingredients to make pretty good food. Grilled chicken with BBQ sauce, burgers, ect. My mother on the other hand could burn water. There have been several examples of her turning on the stove and forgetting about it, she comes back and the pot is burnt beyond recognition, warped, of melted though the electric burner. Her idea of baking to is take the extra pulp from juicing carrots and broccoli, add an egg and maybe some cornmeal( sugar and gluten are evil).

For me cooking just developed...I am a chemist, I like to mix things together and understand why...a good friend Eric has taught me some basics, Alton brown deserves some credit as well. I went on to read a few more intense food science books for fun.

Now, we don't keep any baking mixes in my house. My flourless chocolate torte recipe is a secret I have only shared with my sister. I will make everything from scratch as time permits...

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I grew up in a large family initially in upper Maine. My first recollections of food were the aromas of something cooking wafting through the air. I can still recreate those aromas in my head. That's how I came to enjoy cooking - Smell. It's how I cook and I rarely taste things while putting a cook together. It's also what disallows me to repeat, perfectly, something I've previously made in the past. Recipes are guidelines and starting points only. The magic starts when the nose says "more oregano needed" or just a tad more "wine" or whatever. I consider myself to be just an o.k. cook. People don't run away when I cook nor do they say, no thanks I've already eaten. I guess that's a good sign  :-D

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Unfortunately I see our generation as a dying one. Many factors influence how the next generation will eat. Fast food, both working parents, ready to eat meals, junk food, microwave ready, no love of leftovers, just to name a few. The stuff made for school lunches would certainly turn youngsters off. I have no answers it's just the evolution of our society. Goodby Julia Child hello MD's. And I don't think good nutrition is in the current dictionary.

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I've been cooking my whole life but what really propelled me into cooking was when I got custody of my son when he turned 4 (11 years ago). Being a single parent I was broke. I've made him a home cooked meal 5 or 6 nights per week ever since more out of necessity than anything.

I'm becoming a better cook as the years go on. Kamado cooking and this forum has really stepped up my game.

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Looking back, it was my mom and both of my grandma's that always took the time to love on their families through excellent home cooked meals.  I always admired that, and around the age of 20 discovered the joy of doing the same. 

 

As a cook, I am a work in progress!!  With that said though... I have developed a skill-set/understanding that regularly allows me to fill bellies and leave lots of smiles.  I figure it can only continue to get better... :-)

 

As already stated in this thread, I think it is a sad shame that so many of today's up and coming young adults have no interest/desire/understanding of what it takes to do what many of us do on an almost daily basis.

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Unlike most of you, I did not learn to cook from my mother.  When I was growing up, being in the house was the last place I wanted to be, and it wasn't until I left home and was on my own, or even when I married and had a family, that I had to learn to cook.  My mother did a lot of cooking and baking because there were 8 children (I was second oldest and no help AT ALL) and when I did start cooking I had pictures in my mind of how my mother did things, so maybe I learned something by osmosis.  I would have to say the network cooking shows got me starting cooking creatively, and when I realized what a creative outlet it was, I was on my way.  My older brother is the gourmet cook of the family, so he's one of my mentors but I don't cook like him at all.  My sister is the farm cook, a regular whirlwind in the kitchen.  I just like to try new recipes, experiment with new techniques, and cook with fire.  That's why I love this forum, and well, my forum friends are pretty special too.

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So I grew up overseas where there wasn't a lot of fast food or restaurant food available to us. As I recall, the first time I ever ate fast food was when I was 10 and an A&P Hot Dog drive in opened in Singapore. Prior to that I have no memory of fast food at all. Although restaurant food was common enough as we travelled and stayed in hotels ... but even then it was proper meals, not snacks, or junk. 

 

My mom always insisted that wherever we lived we were going to live like the locals as much as possible. That meant not locking ourselves into some American Ex-Pat enclave, eating hamburgers, and being afraid of the local cuisine. We always lived in a local neighborhood, fixed and ate what our neighbors ate, went to local restaurants, etc. My mom always tried to learn to cook some of the local cuisine at home and in exchange would teach people how to make favorite American dishes that she'd grown up with as well.

 

On furlough, we always went to live with my father's family on their farm in East Texas. During those times, not only was there down home farm cooking, but there was canning and preserving. And you didn't live on the farm and not help. So many times while I was staying with my grandparents I was participating in the process of canning and preserving in some kind of age appropriate way. 

 

By the time I was a teenager, I could cook a meal, bake simple cakes and pies, process and can most fruits, can tomatoes, and I was allowed to pressure can beans and other things with adult supervision. 

 

Everyone cooked. Even my dad cooked - although his specialties leaned more towards fried bologna and scrambled eggs. :) You cooked or you didn't eat. 

 

When we came back to the States full time, my mom went back to school to become a dentist and that meant we kids and my dad were responsible for the meals and most of the housework. So ... we cooked. Going out to eat was a HUGE treat and usually happened when my mom could come home for the weekend. It was a way to celebrate her coming home. 

 

I didn't discover fast food on a daily basis until I was in high school and there was a Wendy's on the corner that we were allowed to go off-campus to for lunch. :)

 

So for me cooking just ... is. I feel strongly that it's something everyone should know how to do, at least at a basic level. Everyone should be able to feed themselves without having to resort to a package or a restaurant. Even if all you can make is scrambled eggs and know how to roast a chicken. It's a start. 

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This is a true statement.My Mom was the BEST COOK and Baker,that God put on this earth. :) But I didn't learn from her.What boy growing up in NYC,watches his mom cook?lolWhen I got married,linda did the cooking,until she tried Italian cooking.lolI got mom's reciepes,and I did the Italian cooking.When Linda and I got back together,I wanted to impress her with my lack of cooking skills.lol.So I took over the cooking,and started cooking on a grill.This works out great,I don't work but she does.So when she comes home,a nice meal is waiting for her.

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Well, the truth is that my mom, bless her, was just an average cook. The food was hot, on time, plentiful, but frightfully bland. Now my Aunt Peg, that a different story. She was a cabaret singer in San Francisco in her younger days. She had an Italian boyfriend and probably learned to cook from somebody's mother or grand mother. It was at her house that I first tasted herbs and spices other than Salt and Pepper. Man she could cook. My wife an I met another couple years and years ago. They were foodies and into wine before the term foodie was even coined. The guy is a great friend and my mentor when it comes to cooking. We go to great restaurants together and travel to each other's house each year just to cook and eat together. We just traveled to San Francisco with them and did nothing but eat and walk. In addition to my friends influence on my cooking. This forum has helped a great deal and I feel that I have grown quite a bit in both skill and confidence since I started following the dialog. 

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