Basic Cooking Tips


1. Keep it basic and simple. You don’t have to make beef cordon bleu. I have been cooking for over 20 years and I have never made it. No one said it better than Julia Child: “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.”

Alan Koehler author of The Madison Avenue Cookbook, (1961) mirrors my sentiments exactly: “In cooking don’t confuse excellence with complexity.” Good food does not have to be complex and have 25 ingredients. I deliberately shy away from most recipes like that.

The very first recipe I shared here at More Thyme meets both Julia’s and Mr. Koehler’s criteria to a “T.”  Tomatoes with Noodles is a recipe from the book 60 Minute Gourmet, by Pierre Franey. Quick. Easy. Delicious. Basic. Simple. This is a meal you can make when you get home from work at 6 p.m. with little or no hassle. You fix the meal and put the kids to work making the salads.

2. At first, follow the recipe directions. Then as you feel more comfortable play around a bit. Make recipes your own by adding or substituting ingredients. 

This tip leads to the next……………….

3. Don’t be afraid to improvise. I learned this lesson when I did not follow tip #2 above. One of the basics to cooking is making sure you have all the ingredients for a recipe at hand. This happened way back in the 70’s. I know. That almost makes me ancient!

Anyway, I was making Hamburger Stroganoff and I was sure I had onions in the fridge. But I did not. And I was in the middle of everything and did not want to make another trip to the store. I looked in the fridge and I found some green onions. So I used those. They were great in the recipe.

I was forced to improvise. And it worked and increased my level of confidence.

So great in fact, that I often just substitute green onions for regular ones. Not exactly traditional Russian Beef Stroganoff. But it reminds me of my cooking roots. If I don’t use the green onions in the recipe itself, I will often chop some up and toss them on top as a garnish for old time’s sake.

4. Cook what you like. Don’t make a recipe just because you saw it on TV or the internet or a magazine, or because it looks pretty.  Remember, those food pictures are posed and touched up. Any resemblance to real food  is purely coincidental! Cook what you like and you will be successful. This leads me to……….

5. Don’t judge your finished dish against the picture in the cookbook, magazine, internet, or TV show. The food in those pictures have been doctored to look good in photos just like a model has gobs of make up on and is still touched up to look good.

The only way to judge the food you cook is how it tastes and if you and your family like it.

This leads me to………………

6. Give yourself permission to mess up. It happens to everyone. One of the reasons I , and I think most of America, loved Julia Child so much is because  if some thing didn’t work she was prone to laugh it off, and just say, “oopps.” She didn’t ask for a ‘do over.’ She would say if you were alone in the kitchen who would know except you. Or she would say you could always eat your mistakes. I love that attitude.

Do not be intimidated by the entertainment of cooking shows. I love them as much as the next person. Maybe more. But I also know and realize that TV celebrity cooks have people. Lots and lots of people. These people do the grunt work. They  chop and dice and prepare and clean up. These stars also get to make the recipe several times over and tape a scene till they get it right. Or have mistakes edited out.

In real life we don’t get a ‘do over’ nor can we retape our cooking mistakes away.

So don’t judge your cooking  by what you see on TV. I ascribe to this philosophy when cooking: “When cooking, be nonchalant and proceed with an attitude of victory over all difficulties, imaginary or otherwise.” Irma Rombauer author of The Joy of Cooking.

7. Give yourself enough time. If you have been working all day, or you have to get the kids to soccer practice  you probably will not be able to cook a 7 course dinner for your family; or even something as simple as a pot roast which is easy, but takes hours to roast in the oven. Save those types of meals and extra fancy items for the weekend or some other day when you have more time. Don’t put extra added stress on your self.

For me the idea of cooking is to fix less expensive and healthier meals for you and your family while also have some quality time with your family as every one helps out putting a meal on the table, even if it can only be once a week.

Featured Recipe   Mixed Mushroom Pasta

This is a quick and easy meal to make on a week night. I am making it today because I still have some mushrooms from the other day (Mushroom Vermicelli) and some cream from last week in the fridge that I have to use up before they spoil.

All I had to buy was 4 more ounces of mushrooms because everything else was already in the fridge or pantry.

It would probably make more sense for me to share my Hamburger Stroganoff recipe with you today since I mentioned it above. But that would be too logical and would require more organization and planning than I can normally muster.

But it is on my list of recipes to share with you this winter. I promise you I will share it.

This is what you will need for 3 people:

6 ounces of fettuccine

1 tablespoon butter

8 ounces of mixed mushrooms*

1 small shallot

1 large clove garlic

½ cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons dry or sweet sherry*

Chopped parsley for garnish

*NOTES: Use a mixture of button, shitake, porcini, Portobello or wild mushrooms. What ever you can find. The mushrooms at the store today did not look too good. So all I got was some shitakes to add to the left over button mushrooms I had.

You can substitute sweet or dry vermouth or Madeira wine for the sherry. The tatse of the finished meal will vary with what you use.

Here is what you do:

Put the water you will cook the fettuccine in up to boil. When boiling add some salt and the pasta and cook according to package directions.

All this is best done before you actually start to cook the sauce.

Using a mushroom brush and a damp paper towel clean the mushrooms…………………..

………………….and then slice them.

Dice the shallot and garlic. Chop the parsley.

Melt the butter in a pan.

Add the diced shallots and garlic and sauté till wilted, about 5 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and sauté till heated through.

Add the cream and the sherry and simmer till blended and the cream thickens some what. If this does not occur add a pinch or two of corn starch.

Add the fettuccini to the pan and mix thoroughly. Season with the salt and pepper.

Put on a plate, sprinkle with some of the chopped parsley,  and serve with a salad or some fruit.

Bon Appetit!!!!


6 ounces of fettuccine                     $0.50

1 tablespoon butter                         $0.15

8 oz. of mixed mushrooms               $2.29

1 small shallot                                $1.33

1 large clove garlic                          $0.17

½ cup whipping cream                    $1.50

2 tablespoons sherry                       $0.10

Chopped parsley                             $0.08

Total cost = $6.12
Cost per person = $2.04

Quote of the Day

It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for something you are not.

Andre Gide

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