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Learning to eat by cooking


leviathan
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I'm just starting the process of learning to cook, but how can I cook something if I don't know how its supposed to taste like. I can make scrambled eggs, but they're probably too dry because I'm not sure what proper scrambeled eggs are supposed to taste like. When a recipe says to season to taste, I have no idea how its supposed to taste. I'm looking for some suggestions or recommendations where I can go eat to taste in the OC/LA region, places where I can find perfectly cooked scrambled eggs, medium rare steak that's seared the right amount, al dente pasta that's the right consistency, fish that's cooked where the meat flakes off, etc.. I'm not looking for anything too fancy, just the basics that will help my home cooking skills.

Edited by leviathan (log)
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It will probably be tough to have proper preparations of each of the things you mentioned all at one time in one restaurant. You might have to explore a bit to get cooked eggs, proper steak, and well-cooked pasta. Expect to make a bunch of visits to a bunch of restaurants. Honestly, I can't even think of where to start since OC and LA are, when combined, so vast in size. Have you thought about taking some intro cooking classes at a local junior college? I don't know where you’re located, but I know OCC near me in Costa Mesa has a pretty decent culinary program. You don't have to commit to a full program but you might do well to take the first couple of courses.

As I think about it, by the way, your perfectly cooked scrambled eggs might differ from somebody else's perfectly cooked scrambled eggs. Maybe you like yours looser? Maybe you prefer them cooked through further with brown edges? That's really a matter of taste. For me, I like my eggs just barely cooked through and slightly wet, but a lot of people would consider that underdone. Lots of butter and a touch of cream is the way I like mine, but some people prefer to lighten the scramble by adding a touch of water which provides air and steam.

For steaks, I generally find that searing to crusty brown on both sides then finishing in a 400-degree oven for 6.5 minutes followed by a 5-minute rest really produces stunning medium rare steaks (usually strip steaks at about 1.5" thickness). An instant-read thermometer would be a great friend to have. Cook the steaks until they're around 120 - 125 degrees internally then let the steaks rest 5 - 10 minutes.

If you browse through the California section of this forum you should find a wealth of restaurant recommendations for a huge variety of restaurant types. Casual, hole-in-the-wall, fine-dining . . . pretty much everything is covered so you should have no problems finding restaurants that will offer you what you're looking for.

R. Jason Coulston

jason@popcling.com

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I just received this message via email. Sounds like a great event:

Providence Announces 101 Cooking Class Series

Fin Fish 101 -Sunday, March 4, 2007, 11:00am-1: 30pm

Chef Michael Cimarusti and Chef de Cuisine Paul Shoemaker present their first in a series of cooking classes, Fin Fish 101. The Chefs will dispense their wisdom on methods of selecting, preparing, and cooking fin fish as well as make recommendations for the best pans and utensils for the job. Presented in the kitchen at Providence, Michael and Paul have composed three different fish preparations for you to taste with printed recipes to try at home. Kenny Crowder of Young's Market will also be on hand to offer wine suggestions to taste with each dish (must be 21 or older). Dishes demonstrated will be:

pan roasted striped bass

english peas, nantes carrots, shimeji mushrooms,

truffled lobster juice

poached tai snapper

roasted sweet peppers, cipollini onions, chorizo, basil

slow roasted john dory aux cinq saveurs

artichokes braised in white wine, pearl onions, coriander, black olive

$150 per person, class limited to 20 participants.

Class includes tasting portions of demonstrated dishes, tasting portions of wine, recipes and wine information to take home, and a notebook. Credit card confirmation required.

Please call (323) 460-4170 for details and reservations.

**Next in the Series-Shellfish 101, Hors d' Oeuvres 101**

Providence is located at:

5955 Melrose Avenue

Los Angeles, CA 90038

Phone: 323.460.4170

Fax: 323.460.4491

R. Jason Coulston

jason@popcling.com

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I'll second the idea of taking a few classes at OCC in Costa Mesa. I attended their program in '95-'96 and was introduced to a lot of things and techniques that, at the time, I was totally clueless about. Even today, still working in the industry, I can think of things I come across daily that I learned there - particularly knife skills, basic sauces, etc.

Devin

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Let me do a shameless plug for a fellow eGulleteer in the La Canada Flintridge area, near Glendale & Pasadena:

http://www.chezcherie.com

Cherie teaches a Cooking Basics Series that might work well for you.

I suspect you live more in the Orange County area, ehh?

SiseFromm, thanks for the heads-up! I gave Chef Michael a call. He's a brave man, letting people like me sign-up for this class.

Russell J. Wong aka "rjwong"

Food and I, we go way back ...

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Cooking classes, cooking classes, cooking classes. And, if you are feeling like a novice in the kitchen, I'd avoid the classes on a specific topic or a one-time shot with a celebrity chef for now. Find a cooking school and sign yourself up for an introduction to the basics type series. And, not classes for people interested in becoming pros but classes for the home cook. You can build from there but that's the place to start.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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It will probably be tough to have proper preparations of each of the things you mentioned all at one time in one restaurant.  You might have to explore a bit to get cooked eggs, proper steak, and well-cooked pasta.  Expect to make a bunch of visits to a bunch of restaurants.  Honestly, I can't even think of where to start since OC and LA are, when combined, so vast in size.  Have you thought about taking some intro cooking classes at a local junior college?  I don't know where you’re located, but I know OCC near me in Costa Mesa has a pretty decent culinary program.  You don't have to commit to a full program but you might do well to take the first couple of courses. 

Oh, I understand that I might have to go to more than one restaurant; my gut would probably burst if I attempted to try everything in one sitting. I've read several cookbooks that describe what a risotta or pasta is supposed to taste like, but I think I need to taste what those dishes are supposed to taste like to truly understand whether or not I'm cooking them correctly.

I like the concept of Craft in NYC, where supposedly its all about cooking ingredients simply, but perfectly. I know they're going to open a satellite Craft in LA soon, but does anybody know if there are any other restaurants that share that philosophy. I live in Huntington Beach, so I'd rather go someplace closer. If Denny's had eggs cooked just right, I'd be happy to go to Denny's. Or, what about the Mortson's in South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. How are their steaks?

OCC is an interesting idea, but my impression is that its geared more towards those who want to become professionals in that industry. I think you can't just cherry pick one class- they'll make you enroll in several classes at once or you'll need to enroll in prereq classes before you enroll for other classes. So, my understanding is that you'd need to take beginner classes like stocks first before you can take other classes. But, honeslty, I don't see myself making stocks and bechamel sauce from scratch at home.

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Check your local Bristol Farms -- many of them have teaching kitchens with one-off classes that might be beneficial. I taught a few classes at the one in Manhattan Beach several years ago when I lived in So Cal.

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Sur La Table also offers courses. I know they have basic knife skills and other introductory type classes, but I also think their program is kind of expensive class by class. I still vote for introduction classes in a junior college culinary program, even if it means you only take the first couple. Making stock is, in my opinion, the most important thing a home cook can do to improve the overall quality of everything that comes out of the kitchen.

R. Jason Coulston

jason@popcling.com

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You pay for what you get.

I went to a free Williams-Sonoma cooking class this weekend at the South Coast Plaza about chinese wok cooking, and I really shouldn't complain because it was free but I am going to anyways. It was supposed to last an hour, and ended up pettering at 45 minutes. And, more importantly, it didn't really seem the two WS employees who were teaching the class really knew a lot about the topic they were supposed to be teaching. It seemed that they were reading off a pamplet that WS headquarters had sent to all its branches. Strangely enough, there was another employee, probably the manager, who was watching them but seemed to know more about the topic yet she wasn't teaching the course for whatever reason. Its too bad because WS occasionally offers free courses and this would have been affordable, ie. free route, to learn. I checked around some of the other cooking classes at other places, and they can get kinda expensive.

I've been reading through some of the past threads to get an idea where to go to eat to improve my newbie cooking skills. Its kinda perplexing, given all the money floating around in OC, that the level of cooking doesn't seem to match the level of LA's for the most part. Maybe, with Vietnamese dining in Westminster, does OC surpass LA. But, overall, I can't think of any place in OC that has captured national attention the way restaurants in LA have. Part of the problem is that the local OC paper is a second rate paper, while the LA Times only occasionally reviews what's happening out in OC.

So, far, Flemmings or Mastros seems to be the place in OC for a steak. Pacific Car in LA might be better, but its out in LA. But, ultimately, it might prove to be futile since I would never be able to cook a steak like they can at those steakhouses since a home kitchen just can't provide the same, intense heating sources.

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I'm just starting the process of learning to cook, but how can I cook something if I don't know how its supposed to taste like. I can make scrambled eggs, but they're probably too dry because I'm not sure what proper scrambeled eggs are supposed to taste like. When a recipe says to season to taste, I have no idea how its supposed to taste. I'm looking for some suggestions or recommendations where I can go eat to taste in the OC/LA region, places where I can find perfectly cooked scrambled eggs, medium rare steak that's seared the right amount, al dente pasta that's the right consistency, fish that's cooked where the meat flakes off, etc.. I'm not looking for anything too fancy, just the basics that will help my home cooking skills.

Bear in mind that these revelations don't come easy to people.

Lots of us didn't know what properly cooked al-dente pasta tasted like until we went to Italy for the first time and the light bulb went off in our heads and we realized "Ah, that's what they talk about!"

I understand your frustration, but this may not be as easy or quick as you think. Well, if you were to take a good cooking class, in addition to learning skills you don't care about, you might come closer to some of your answers. Otherwise, you may just have to work on it. For example, read up on the theory and techniques of scrambled eggs. One day, make a batch that's cooked for the median time. Another day, cook a batch for the longest time they suggest, and on another day, cook a batch that's at the shortest cooking time you see. The next day cook one that's even shorter (on the theory that eggs keep cooking for a minute after you plate them). Then, in all those four, see if your question isn't answered. If the really loose ones don't appeal to you more than the firm ones, it's a moot point anyway.

You could do the same thing with a "good" brand of pasta. Cook one batch to the maximum time suggested, and another a minute more, another a minute less. Then cook more batches towards the low end of the timing - one just at the lowest time, one a minute more, one a minute less.

Sure, this takes time and ingredients, but these aren't things you're going to learn quickly or easily. And then try it with fish.

People in life take a long time to realize these things. Even people in serious cooking schools take years to learn this stuff. There's really no magic bullet. But trial and error yourself may just be a lot more rewarding than chasing around to restaurants in the hopes that the time you go there, a textbook-perfect example of a particular dish will come to your table.

How will you know that you got the right one? You'll have to compare what you're eating with all the descriptions of how it's supposed to be. If the light bulb doesn't go off, and the al-dente pasta or the runny egg doesn't appeal to you more than the ones you're used to, it's not going to make a difference anyway then.

Overheard at the Zabar’s prepared food counter in the 1970’s:

Woman (noticing a large bowl of cut fruit): “How much is the fruit salad?”

Counterman: “Three-ninety-eight a pound.”

Woman (incredulous, and loud): “THREE-NINETY EIGHT A POUND ????”

Counterman: “Who’s going to sit and cut fruit all day, lady… YOU?”

Newly updated: my online food photo extravaganza; cook-in/eat-out and photos from the 70's

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Good news! I learned yesterday that a shop will be opening in OC soon that will focus entirely on a cooking service. They prepare a week's menu for and with you; purchase, pre-measure and bag the ingredients; then teach you how to prepare the meals; and package them up for you to take home.

They will also provide wine pairing suggestions, wine samples, and featured wines to purchase with your meals.

The store is scheduled to open in March. I don't have the name or address yet, but I will post the information as soon as I receive it.

_____________________

Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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Let me do a shameless plug for a fellow eGulleteer in the La Canada Flintridge area, near Glendale & Pasadena:

http://www.chezcherie.com

Cherie teaches a Cooking Basics Series that might work well for you.

I suspect you live more in the Orange County area, ehh?

SiseFromm, thanks for the heads-up! I gave Chef Michael a call. He's a brave man, letting people like me sign-up for this class.

Sadly I can't make that class but you do plan on providing a full review here on the site . . . right? ;-)

I do wish I could attend because fish cookery is my weakness and a constant struggle for me. I would cherish the opportunity to watch Cirimusti work in his comfort zone and I'm sure there is massive value in the lessons you'll take with you. I'm on the mailing list though so if this one proves sucessful I'm hoping more will follow that I can actually attend.

R. Jason Coulston

jason@popcling.com

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Good news!  I learned yesterday that a shop will be opening in OC soon that will focus entirely on a cooking service.  They prepare a week's menu for and with you; purchase, pre-measure and bag the ingredients; then teach you how to prepare the meals; and package them up for you to take home.

They will also provide wine pairing suggestions, wine samples, and featured wines to purchase with your meals.

The store is scheduled to open in March.  I don't have the name or address yet, but I will post the information as soon as I receive it.

There are a couple of those already open in south county. They've been around for a year or so I think. I think one is called Dinners Made Easy (or something like that) and I can't remember the other. I'll watch for the ads to get the names right.

Deb

Liberty, MO

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