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Essential skills

Discussion in 'Cookery' started by RW369, Feb 3, 2011.

  1. What top kitchen skills and top meals/recipies do you think everyone should be able to do before leaving home. Here are a few of my own ideas.
    1. Pasta sauce (jars are so expensive)
    2. A roast dinner
    3. Some sort of cake, either fruit or sponge
    4. Soup
    1. Washing up
    2. Being able to tell if food is off rather than relying on sell by dates
    3. Cracking an egg without breaking the yolk (although I always mess this up if I really want a decent fried egg aenswich with runny yolk)
    I've started this because when I went off to uni I was appaled at how little some people were able to do in the kitchen, some people lived on pre-made pasta sauce and even then struggled to cook the pasta well. It might not be quite what modelmaker was hoping for as thread for important issues the posts have inspired me to be a bit more active in cookery (have been a bit of a bystander so far).
    People's responses might also make me more aware of what I probably should be able to do but can't - then you can teach me :)
  2. landaise

    landaise Occasional commenter

    Co-ordination so that everything is ready at the same time and served at the correct temperature
    Judging if something is adequately cooked and not relying on times given in recipes or on food ( if I cooked pasta for as long as they call ' al dente ' on a packet it would be very overcooked )
    Chopping and slicing ( how many people couldn't slice bread, if asked ? )
    Organisational skills such as cleaning up as you go along: I would never let my kitchen get into the state some people do ( SIL is good example of chaos in the kitchen but an excellent cook )
    Pastry making, bread making and baking in general ( I say skills because you need accurate measurements, an eye for detail and the ability to double, treble and quadruple ingredients )
    The nose and tastebuds that will tell you which flavours go together and how to replace an ingredient with another
    Making the most of leftovers: a friend once said that is true culinary art.

    A few ideas for what I think is a good topic, nice idea!
  3. landaise

    landaise Occasional commenter

    Just thought, it's also important to be able to identify things by smell: mychildren can identify most herbs and spices by smell and I'm teaching them about identifying meats by appearance ( to stop them saying " for lunch at school we had .......meat " : but then it can be difficult to identify school meat !)
  4. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    Sorry to start this thread off by disagreeing with you, RW, but I think that making a roast dinner is a fairly advanced skill for the new cook. Cooking a decent roast is an art, and I'm sure we've all been served up enough dodgy roasts to be able to acknowledge this! There's a lot of timing involved; lots of things that require different cooking methods and times, not to mention calculating the roast time for the meat, resting and carving effectively and getting the gravy finished and serving everything before it all gets cold! Don't forget that most people's first forays into cooking are unlikely to be for a large group of people, and more likely to be for one or two.
    When I first started fending for myself, I was scared of roasting a large joint of meat for a long time, and my Sunday roasts as a student tended to be chops or sausages (and nowt wrong with either of them!).
    When I first left home to go to Uni, I could just about rustle up a fried egg sandwich...I learnt fairly quickly though, that ready meals and things from jars are an expensive way to eat and so taught myself to cook fairly quickly.
    These were what I learnt to cook first, and so I'd say these are what I'd consider to be essential survival fallbacks for the newbie cook:
    Pasta with some kind of sauce (carbonara being the ideal choice for the beginner)
    Stir-fries of various descriptions
    Chilli Con Carne
    Grilled pork chops, or similar, with spuds and veg - ideal to cook for mates as a Sunday roast before hitting the pub
    Anything that can be served on toast (tinned pilchards, poached egg, fried mushrooms, etc)
    Omelettes of various descriptions
    Baked spuds
    A veg stew

    I'm aware that some of the above are little more than assembly jobs, but even small steps can be achievements for the novice cook!

    Skills - cleaning the kitchen effectively; not setting fire to the kitchen by falling asleep with a chop under the grill; realising that a diet of lager, cornflakes and doner kebabs will eventually make you feel a bit ill.
  5. Bethannie

    Bethannie New commenter

    Basic Recipes:
    Simple soda bread (baking bread - much simpler than you think and so impressive!)
    Mince in tomato sauce (see skills below!)
    Stir Fry (Cheaper and healthier than take-away and about as simple as cooking gets)
    A quick adaptable Curry (curry is always popular and takeaways are expensive)
    Simple fish bake - piece of white fish covered in tinned tomatoes and baked - served with jacket potato ( home-made food doesn't have to be complicated)
    At least one simple cake (lesson one in how to make friends quickly at Uni! I might not have been the obvious choice of 'friend' but I became more popular once people realised I could bake!)

    Basic Skills:
    First and foremost - how to use a slowcooker! (Please, it can do so much and a slowcooker is so cheap these days!)
    How not to give yourself food-poisoning (so: why you need to wash your hands;how to tell when meat is cooked; how to store food; what best/use before means; don't use a 'blown' tin of fish however cheap it is!; the fact that rice needs care on reheating)
    How to turn your big pot of mince in tomato sauce (from 'recipes' above) into a pasta sauce, a shepherds pie and a chilli
    How to wash up - and the advantages of doing this daily rather than termly!
    How to use a standard can opener (obvious? But I have known uni students stumped!)

  6. Si N. Tiffick

    Si N. Tiffick Occasional commenter

    I know what you're saying, nick, but there's roast dinners and there's roast dinners. My 7 year old recently taught my 24 year old cousin (leaving home for first time and utterly useless inthe kitchen) how to make a basic roast dinner. He demonstrated how to half a lemon and shove it up the chicken's bottom (great glee demonstrating this bit) with a handful of thyme, to season the skin and sit the chicken on a thickly sliced onion (for flavouring the gravy). He pricked and foil wrapped baking potatoes. Then he hacked some veggies (peppers, garlic, red onions, courgettes, squash etc into chunks and oiled, herbed and seasoned them for roasting alongside the rest of the meal. He got her to put it in the oven for him. When I got home, she was astounded to tell me that C knew how to make a roast dinner (albeit without fancy knobs on) and now it's the only dinner she knows how to make for her Uni pals. He even showed her how to twist the leg to check it was done.
    He couldn't do a proper Xmas dinner or accompaniments that don'e cook in the oven together yet, because it's as much as he can manage to remember to put the veg in after the chicken and potatoes have been cooking a while, but I'd say that was still a decent meal and if a 7 year old can do it, an adult beginner surely can.
    When I left home for Uni at just-turned-17, I'd never cooked anything other that heating things up as my mother was territorial about her kitchen (still is!) but I had watched her and felt comfortable cooking straight away. I do remember calling my flatmate's mother in tears because I was whipping cream and couldn't understand why it kept going lumpy. "you're making butter!" she told me. Stop whipping it! The shame!

  7. Recipes and skills are kinda interjoined...
    1) Soup
    2) Pasta dishes (including bakes)
    3) Pastry and bread making
    4) How to use leftovers
    1) Understanding how long things take to cook so that everything is ready at the same time
    2) Not being dictated to by a recipe but judging by yourself
    3) Cleaning up as you go along
    4) How to chop
    1) use of herbs and spices
    2) what to have in the storecupboard
    3) how to plan a meals for a week/month
    4) how to make use of seasonal products
  8. Are you my twin?
  9. Sorry, me again.
    Having read landaise's and Si's posts - do you think we foodies naturally teach our kids to cook (mine both can - son is responsible for chops and steaks, does it much better than me!) or do you think we force them or do you think their interest comes from seeing us cooking and us allowing them to help from a young age?
    My daughter is a whizz at salad dressings and baking.
    They also can both name any vegetable or fruit.
    They will also both avoid unhealthy food for healthy food (as allowed "treats").
    I have to say, they enjoy the same "foodie education" from their Dad - that is one thing we have always been alike in and which saves an awful lot of problems.
    One day...I won't have to cook at all [​IMG]
  10. lilachardy

    lilachardy Star commenter

    Is a roast really that hard?
    I know I used to do the Sunday roast when I was at primary school. Nobody ever taught me, I just learned from watching or from common sense!

  11. It isn't if you have learnt it from being a kid - I think many will find it daunting if they have never been involved in the kitchen.
    I still have a great respect for a roast and die a million deaths roasting one as I am not a great meat eater - I used to ring Mum and say "ok how do I do it again?" EVERY single time. Mum could just look at a piece of meat and say "temp x at time y".
    I am much better at veggie stuff.
    But I can cook a roast.
    But sweat a lot doing it.
  12. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    My essential skills begin with being able to grab back the food you drop before the dog gets hold of it.
    Learn how to keep your fingers away from the knives on the grater. I sliced a finger on a cheese grater once which was so ironic, as at the time I made a living using seriously dangerous machinery without any guards.
    Don't be near a computer when you're cooking. It's too distracting. Even in the next room things boil dry whilst you're posting away.
    Being prepared to laugh at your mistakes and learn from them whenever possible.
    Learn how not to engage in an arguement with your partner when you're cooking.
    Don't drink whilst you cook as I do.
    Don't smoke whilst you cook as I attempt not to.
    Learn that a recipe is nothing more than a guide. Mopreso it's something to inspire you to do better. It isn't set in stone. Ingredients can be varied, as can amounts. The recipe wasn't passed down in the Bible and has to be followed to the letter. Someone thought what might be good, it worked ok for them and they wrote it up. Every recipe can be taken to another level that suits the individual palate of the cook.
    Don't die before you serve up or meal will be wasted.
  13. How to defrost things properly before you cook them, how to store cooked food afterwards. a friend at uni made me a lovely dinner one night and then a couple of days later I saw her "Prepare" frozen chicken by sawing it into chunks and cooking it from frozen.

    The order to do washing up.
    I think a roast can be daunting, but it's more a case of getting everything ready for a set time that panicked me than the actual cooking. I think it's brilliant that a seven year old could put together a dinner like that! will have to teach the LO when he's old enough!
    Being able to roast a baked potato - so many toppings!
    How to cook cheaper cuts of meat in a way that it makes it taste amazing. I can't believe it took me so long ot start using chicken thighs.

    And as Bethannie sais, a good mince recipe that can be the base of loads of dinners.

    Good thread!
  14. nick909

    nick909 Star commenter

    That's extremely impressive, Si! Good on your lad, and good on you!
  15. lapinrose

    lapinrose Lead commenter

    I first cooked roast chicken supervised by Grandmother when I was 9 years old.
    I'm still in Jordan and bloated after eating Musakhan, gorgeous mashed potato rolled in chopped almonds and roasted, chicken livers in a pomegranate molasss and the most incredible bread rolls that were like a puffed up flat bread but with the soft white layer inside,
  16. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    Aside from the flippant remarks I made earlier, an important essential skill is choosing the ingredients carefully. I rarely go food shopping with a the intention of buying something specific. Instead I see what's looking good within my budget and develop a rough plan for the meal in the supermarket or shops.
    We had a discussion a while back about belly of pork that I love slow-roasted with crisp crackling. One poster tried my recipe and said it was lovely but ever so fatty. She'd ordered it on-line rather than select the piece herself.
    I was fortunate in so far as my family owned a butcher's shop when I was a kid and were therefore always discussing cuts of meat. We've become so detached these days with pre-packaged food that I doubt many people ever see meat being cut up before come to cook it and in many cases couldn't say which part of an animal they are eating.
    An essential skill is to know which meats need slow cooking and which are better cooked quickly. Another, is which foods are a rip off and which are good value.

  17. ecky thump - I don't! I have my meal plan for the week and buy accordingly. If I cannot get a particular ingredient, or I see that something is on offer, then I will adapt.
    If I went into a supermarket without a plan, I would spend a fortune!
    You are very...spontaneous, MM [​IMG]
    Lapin - the first "roast" I learnt to make was roast chicken (with Grandma of course). I reckon I was about 7 or 8 and I was only allowed to do this having spent my prior years doing my apprenticeship from about 4 or 5, i.e. peeling the spuds on the kitchen doorstep, chopping carrots, setting the table with the tartan place mats and the posh Sunday cutlery and the plates with the roses on them and polishing the wine glasses (which was such a waste of time for one glass of wine per adult and some Schwepps Grape Juice for us kids, but hey ho, Lehrjahre sind keine Herrenjahre)
  18. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    The problem I have with buying food for the week is I never know what I will actually fancy eating until the day arrives. Part of this stems from the various jobs I've had over the years, many of which involved long hours travelling which thankfully, I no longer do. My darling wife's opinion on cooking is it's a means to an end rather than a joy and can't be ***** to do much more than chuck a dish in the oven and have a couple of vegetables with it. She loves the things I cook though, and took the view that as I'm a better cook than she is, she'll stand aside and have me do it all.
    No you wouldn't. It costs the same whether you but it daily or weekly. You might actually save money by getting the bargains as they occur.
  19. Often I don't either - but then I "switch" my plan (my plan is not set in stone).
    As I said, I do adapt to bargains - but I need a basic plan to start with.
    That is the way it works for me - I guess that is another thing we should all remember - do what works for you and not be a slave to what you are "supposed" to do.

  20. modelmaker

    modelmaker Occasional commenter

    Absolutely true. Don't be a slave to the freezer either. It's just a tool that's useful from time to time.

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