Don’t Be a Wuss

I tell you, there’s just way too much to learn about food. ~Anonymous Home Ec 101 Reader

Heather says:

As humans we are constantly learning. Well, most of us, right?

Learning to cook isn’t like a college course, well except for culinary school and then it is exactly that, but for our intents and purposes that’s a different ball of wax. We’re talking about learning to cook in a very general sense.

Granted there are some definite concrete lessons along the way: if you cook food for too long, it dries out or burns; if you don’t cook it long enough, it may be a health hazard; some spice combinations should never see the light of day.

My question is, are you applying what you are learning? If you over-cook a beef roast: do you try again the next time repeating the exact same procedure; do you buy a meat thermometer to improve your outcome; or do you quit altogether? It’s a lot like weight loss or getting into shape. There’s no magic bullet, no overnight pill, it’s a journey of small successes and periodic setbacks.

We all have our own idiosyncrasies; some people need step-by-step instructions and precise measurements, which makes baking a natural choice. Personally, I like the fun of -usually- being able to change the direction of a dish with the last minute addition of herbs or salt. Writing for this site has taught me to be more careful, to write down the changes and tweaks to recipes, in order to pass them along.

Each technique you learn has the potential to open more possibilities. This is where I feel you may be hung up on “too much to learn” my friend. You don’t have to memorize: roast potatoesroasted broccoliroasted vegetables. It’s all the same concept with slightly different applications.

Learning to cook isn’t about memorizing recipes. It’s about observing outcomes and noting how your personal tastes feel about those outcomes. Have you read Notes on Cooking?

It is from this perspective, that I know I will always be learning to cook, as there will always be experiements to try.

Hang in there.


  1. Jen on September 15, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    I agree with this completely. Whenever I try a new recipe (which is usually one I've printed off the web someplace), I decide whether it's worth making again. If not, I toss it. If it is, it may need some notes on the side – like cooking time too long or too short (sometimes these things depend on the particular oven or cookware). I'll also note any substitutions I may have made that may have worked well or been disastrous. I used to rely on my memory for these kids of things but I've found that giving birth to a child has wiped most of that out so I'm working with a clean slate up there 😉

  2. Jenn @FrugalUpstate on September 14, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    I have a friend who will only cook from a recipe. Telling her "just throw it in the crockpot with a few veggies & spices" sends her into a tailspin. Which veggies? What spices and in what amounts. She has no confidence in her own abilities.

  3. @JayMonster on September 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

    I think the biggest excuse (and that really is all that it really is) is "I don't have enough time." Yes, we are all busy these days. I work 6 or 7 days a week myself, so I understand lack of time, but there are recipes that are simple, recipes that are quick, single post recipes, slow cooker meals… You can find a way… if you will give yourself a chance.

    There are also tons of places to find recipes (the glories of the Internet) for just about every niche and need out there. Kraft, Betty Crocker, Bisquick and many other companies have e-mail lists and areas of their sites with tons of great recipes… some complex, some quick and easy meals, anything you want… if you just go look for it.

    Bored of the "same old" stuff… look around. I subscribe to a list from Hershey that gives me great ideas (for food, not chocolate) on a monthly basis from the chef's at their Hotels (if you have never been, they have some exquisite restaurants). Some I copy and use, others I just use as inspiration to come up with my own ideas.

    If necessary, treat it like you did when you got that first chemistry kit (or similar) when you were a kid. Treat it like a bunch of little experiments. Some will work. Some wont. But you will learn from all of them.

  4. Keter Magick on September 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm

    Of the recipes I learned while growing up, I am using exactly NONE of them, because, sorry to say, my mother and grandmother were abysmal cooks. So when I was out on my own, I had to teach myself how to cook. It really was trial and error at first. I was very poor, and it's hard to make anything exciting from a limited pantry. But I kept slowly working on building up a spice cabinet, getting decent cookware, and learning how to recreate recipes for foods I enjoyed. Now I can cook anything…pretty much literally…and can walk into a kitchen with no idea of what's in there and have a decent dinner on the table an hour later. I even taught myself to bake (without recipes), and then taught myself to bake again when I developed a wheat allergy and had to use alternative flours. So the answer is, you can learn about food…just do it one step at a time and keep at it.

  5. jenny in cg on September 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    The first thing I learned 30 years ago as a new wife was to follow the recipe the first time and make notes right on the card/book page. I also read cookbooks as if they were text books; in a text book, you don't try everything that it talks about but you can glean lots of information and technique just from seeing how they accomplish certain things. You also begin to get a feel for what goes well together and which foods respond well to certain techniques.

    I think the best lessons came from being poor and trying to make the same ol' inexpensive or donated foods into something different and enticing. Trial and error can teach so very much!

  6. Andrea on September 9, 2010 at 12:01 pm

    I'm afraid we have been taught to not trust ourselves anymore. We are told to leave everything to the licensed professionals. We must get over this concept, it has hobbled us as an independent people. Cooking is a very basic skill. Just decide to tackle one small thing at a time—you will learn to trust yourself and become bold in searching out new challenges. This is the road to freedom!

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