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Teaching Someone How To Cook


Shel_B
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In a few weeks, Toots' son is coming for a visit. While he's here, I'll be doing much of the cooking for the three of us. However, Toots has given me an additional assignment: teach "sunny boy" some recipes and how to cook some basic meals for himself. Like I'm a cooking instructor! Heck, I can barely cook myself, and I've never met this particular son, so I've no idea what he likes to eat, or if he's even motivated to learn.

That said, a little background. Last year, when his wife was away for a few months, he fed himself solely on sandwiches - luncheon meat from the local grocery, supermarket white bread, packaged cheese, and, of course, mustard and mayo. That is what he ate for the entire time his wife was gone.

He's now divorced and living by himself, but his eating habits persist, although I understand he's added canned soup to his diet.

So, how do you teach a guy like this to cook? Any suggestion on some recipes or ideas to give him? I was thinking egg dishes, pasta dishes, soups, vegetable and salads should be easy, but I'm open to ideas.

He's 58 years old and is, literally, clueless. I don't even know if he's got minimally useful cooking equipment ... thanks for any help.

 ... Shel


 

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that is a very interesting question.

My father never cooked, except his own breakfast at 5 am: cream of wheat.

My mother late in their life informed him that on Tues and Thurs he would cook. well he called me and figured the basics out.

1) what does he really really like to eat.

go from there. start with easy, simple: a pan saute of Meat / Chicken BR. etc

have him go to the MegaloMart and get some deli sides that dont have too much salt Cole slaw etc

one step at a time.

like to hear how this works out.

Edited by rotuts (log)
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Does he want to learn? Horse, water: that's my concern.

I don't know. Toots says he does, but, as you know, sometimes people tell you what they think you want to hear. We'll see ... I plan to ask him directly about what he wants.

 ... Shel


 

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this is a tough problem... especially if you don't know what he likes to eat...

I second rotuts... When I first started cooking for myself, I started with simple things - pan roast chicken breast with sauteed greens or salad, pasta, etc... something not too hard to really mess up and cause discouragement.

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Poor eating habits and lack of cooking skills are two entirely different things. He could be the best cook on earth and still eat crap. Sounds like you guys are worried about his eating habits, not his cooking skills. Unless he lives in a completely rural area, he could easily put together a healthy, balanced diet without cooking, between the salad bar, roasted chickens, etc. found in most modern US grocery stores. So he's making poor choices, regardless of skill level.

Perhaps the more important goal is switching him from white to whole wheat and going from highly processed cold cuts to minimally processed ones. If he likes meat and bread, teach him to do a slow roasted brisket in the oven. It will slice nicely for sandwiches, can be frozen (unsliced), and is easily varied to have different spice/seasoning profiles. Not much prep involves, and it cooks unattended for hours (like overnight).

Or a gift certificate to a nutritionist might be a better choice than cooking lessons....

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Assuming he wants to learn how to cook, it's helpful to know how he thinks. We teach a three-day course in kitchen basics, and almost the first thing we do is go around the room and take stock of the various attitudes among the students. In addition to skill level, we want to know: are they scientifically inclined or more intuitive? Are they afraid of failure; afraid of sharp, hot things; afraid of even touching raw food? Figuring these things out lets us skew our presentation appropriately.

If you can find these things out, we may be able to offer specific help.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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He sounds like my maternal grandfather, in which case I'd start with teaching him how to make pickled eggs.

Hell, I don't even know how to make pickled eggs ... don't think I ever ate one, either.

 ... Shel


 

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Poor eating habits and lack of cooking skills are two entirely different things. He could be the best cook on earth and still eat crap. Sounds like you guys are worried about his eating habits, not his cooking skills. Unless he lives in a completely rural area, he could easily put together a healthy, balanced diet without cooking, between the salad bar, roasted chickens, etc. found in most modern US grocery stores. So he's making poor choices, regardless of skill level.

Perhaps the more important goal is switching him from white to whole wheat and going from highly processed cold cuts to minimally processed ones. If he likes meat and bread, teach him to do a slow roasted brisket in the oven. It will slice nicely for sandwiches, can be frozen (unsliced), and is easily varied to have different spice/seasoning profiles. Not much prep involves, and it cooks unattended for hours (like overnight).

Or a gift certificate to a nutritionist might be a better choice than cooking lessons....

Of course Toots is concerned about his eating habits. He eats crap, day in and day out. And yes, he's lazy. And he lives in some rural village deep in the heart of Texas ... when asked, he didn't even know what stores were near his home ... he just shops at the local market. [Hyperbole alert]For all he knows there's a Costco or a Whole Foods just around the corner.[/Hyperbole alert]
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 ... Shel


 

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I've found Pamela Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book invaluable as a starting point for my cooking. Among other great stuff, it covers how to sauté a chicken breast, make a pan sauce, and make a basic pasta sauce. The recipes aren't complicated and emphasize techniques. It's much less intimidating than dumping a best recipes collection from Cook's Illustrated in someone's lap.

Anyway, I'd suggest showing him how to make some of the simple things in the book, then show him the book. Once he figures out he already knows how to make something from the book, it shouldn't be too scary to branch out with the other recipes.

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If he doesn't want to learn there isn't much you can do. But if he does want to learn then there is hope.

I think eggs are a great place to start. And since they are inexpensive if something gets burnt or whatever, you toss the mess and try again.

Years ago we had a family member and his wife move back into the area with nothing and we gave them enough kitchen and dining stuff to be able to get started. Little did we know that neither one had the slightest desire to cook for themselves. That is why you are facing a difficult to impossible challenge if he really doesn't want to learn.

Best of luck to you.

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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Heart of Rural Texas, eh? There's probably a H-E-B right around the corner, and they're great.

Depending on his interests and tastes - I'll be interested in hearing what you learn, also - some other possibilities for easy food to get him going are:

- buying a roast / rotisserie chicken, eating some parts out of hand, and using the rest for pasta dishes. Soups too, if he's so inclined, but I remember thinking that broth was a very mysterious and difficult thing in my earliest cooking days, so I might avoid that idea at first;

- Tex-Mex-style dishes: burritos or enchiladas made from canned ingredients (beans, salsa, etc)

- tuna-noodle casserole (you can eat on that forever) or large pots of chili or spaghetti

I agree with the posters upthread who say it would be an improvement if you could even get him to upgrade the selections of materials for his sandwiches.

Keep us posted~

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)
"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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My sister's latest boyfriend was divorced at 50. He had never cooked for himself, was living on junk food, and had no interest in learning to cook. She started out by noticing what he would order when they went out to a restaurant, and then asked him to help her when she made simple versions of those same dishes at home. I think they started out with salad and chili. He was shocked at how easy it was. Now he has a small repertoire, and proudly makes dinner when she has to work late. Quite a turn around.

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I'd start with asking him about what he wants to make, then preparing those recipes with him step by step. Hopefully it is something simple! :-) I find that a lot of my friends won't try new things because they are afraid of screwing them up, and all they really need/want is someone there reassuring them step by step that they are doing the right thing.

Of course, as many others have said, it won't matter if he isn't interested.

It looks like Nibor and I posted pretty much the same thought at the same time...

Edited by LizD518 (log)
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Does he want to learn? Horse, water: that's my concern.

Poor eating habits and lack of cooking skills are two entirely different things. He could be the best cook on earth and still eat crap. Sounds like you guys are worried about his eating habits, not his cooking skills. Unless he lives in a completely rural area, he could easily put together a healthy, balanced diet without cooking, between the salad bar, roasted chickens, etc. found in most modern US grocery stores. So he's making poor choices, regardless of skill level.

Perhaps the more important goal is switching him from white to whole wheat and going from highly processed cold cuts to minimally processed ones. If he likes meat and bread, teach him to do a slow roasted brisket in the oven. It will slice nicely for sandwiches, can be frozen (unsliced), and is easily varied to have different spice/seasoning profiles. Not much prep involves, and it cooks unattended for hours (like overnight).

Or a gift certificate to a nutritionist might be a better choice than cooking lessons....

Of course Toots is concerned about his eating habits. He eats crap, day in and day out. And yes, he's lazy. And he lives in some rural village deep in the heart of Texas ... when asked, he didn't even know what stores were near his home ... he just shops at the local market. [Hyperbole alert]For all he knows there's a Costco or a Whole Foods just around the corner.[/Hyperbole alert]

That's the issue, IMO. Others have mentioned situations where this chap might be MADE TO COOK because it's the right thing to do. That, IMO, invites passive-aggressive responses from him. If he has no current interest, as his habits seem to suggest, then IMO it would truly be a "horse, water" situation.

Perhaps if you somehow managed to contrive to get him in the kitchen while you cooked something not too challenging, but but you talked about it while engaging him in miscellaneous chit-chat? So that he notices that "cooking well" isn't such a non-male-normative activity? Perhaps he will respond, perhaps he will not.

Good Luck.

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Does he want to learn? Horse, water: that's my concern.

I've learned from experience that the key isn't leading the horse to water, but making him thirsty. ;)

A wife of a good friend of mine had told us she wasn't 'into' cooking - she had a basic few things, but no desire to learn. One time at their house for a BBQ (this was in India, mind you), I rummaged through their pantry and ended up making fettuccine alfredo from scratch (including noodles from scratch and alfredo from roux). She helped me with a few of the sides, but was stricken by how easy it was to make this from scratch.

That ignited a passion in her and she's now a quite accomplished pastry 'chef' in her home and a joy to eat with.

The point: For some people, seeing something incredibly easy (a perfectly sauteed chicken breast with S&P) that tastes like a million bucks can inspire them to want to learn.

My $.02 (depending on exchange rates)

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PastaMeshugana

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The point: For some people, seeing something incredibly easy (a perfectly sauteed chicken breast with S&P) that tastes like a million bucks can inspire them to want to learn.

My $.02 (depending on exchange rates)

You're the second or third person to suggest that, and it's something I've been thinking of as well. I thought I'd ask him to help me prepare dinner, and give him a simple task, such as dicing a mirepoix or cutting vegetables, all the while doing some prep and cooking myself, and explaining what was being done and why. Toots has terrible knives, so I thought I'd bring one or two of mine and let him see the difference, and importance, of good and well maintained tools.

Additionally, by asking him what he'd like to eat, and having him help, he may be a bit more interested in learning how to fend for himself in the kitchen. I could express the need for a reasonably well stocked larder, and how that makes food prep easier.

Film director Robert Rodriguez had a cooking lesson on his DVD of Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and he suggested that one can learn one or two recipes at a time, make them several times until they are learned well, and then move on to other recipes, using the same repetitive technique. After a while, you'd have a repertoire of several recipes you could count on for yourself and for guests. I may suggest that technique with some recipes or foods Toots' son might like.

That, and keeping the ingredients handy for those recipes, might go a long way toward helping Alec cook for himself more often.

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 ... Shel


 

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Smithy, on 13 Sept 2013 - 12:31, said:

- buying a roast / rotisserie chicken, eating some parts out of hand, and using the rest for pasta dishes. Soups too, if he's so inclined, but I remember thinking that broth was a very mysterious and difficult thing in my earliest cooking days, so I might avoid that idea at first;

- Tex-Mex-style dishes: burritos or enchiladas made from canned ingredients (beans, salsa, etc)

You've given me a great idea - DelMonte Chicken Rollups - a recipe I found in an add for DelMonte canned tomatoes. Just a few ingredients - onion, canned tomatoes, rotisserie chicken, some tortillas. Cook onions with tomatoes, wrap chicken in tortillas, cover the wrapped chicken with tomato mixture, cover the skillet, and cook a few minutes to heat through. Over the years I made the dish a few times, spicing it up with hot peppers, adding vinegar, throwing in some herbs, adding cheese, etc. It's simple, cheap, very little skill is required, and no specialized cookware. The whole thing can be made in a skillet ... and takes but a few minutes. Add a bagged salad mix and dinner is served. Edited by Shel_B (log)
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 ... Shel


 

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Learning to cook and learning some menu's are two different things, but one follows the other. As others have said, breakfast meals is a good place to start. Grilled sandwiches and roast chicken are a couple of other things. Most men learn to make some kind of pasta dish early on in their cooking careers, I think.

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I had a similar situation with my mother-in-law. She was a Registered Dietitian in a well regarded hospital, gave lectures to docs and nurses but had no interest in preparing her own meals. I always did the cooking when we visited (she was 8 hours away by car) and she stayed in the recliner. I had no idea how poorly she was eating until she had a health crisis and started to try to cook more. She mentioned some frustrations with food prep and was receptive to taking some pointers.

The two things that had the most impact on her were realizing that the microwave could do more than cook a frozen dinner, and that frozen veggies are pretty good. On the MW - discovering cooking a potato in the microwave that she could have with some toppings like cottage cheese, cheese, and green onions was a revelation to her. As were kitchen scissors. The whole cutting board and knife thing threw her. As to vegetables, she had a combo "aha" that she could take what she needed out of the bag and nuke it and assemble a balanced meal with not much fuss and few dishes.

Quesadillas are also a verastile simple skill to put in a rotation; alleviating the sandwich monotony.

As I type I realize that learning how to shop may be the gateway skill to better eating.

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