This is what I mean when I say I can’t cook

I can follow a recipe just fine although “season to taste” still eludes me. However, the just being able to put something together is the problem. For example, tonight I wanted something to eat. I thought pasta might be possible. Going through my supplies I found:
Egg noodles
Chicken broth
Green olives
Shredded sharp cheddar
Tiramisu flavored yogurt

I also had staples like flour, sugar and oil but no butter, milk or eggs.

I was thinking pasta and cheddar but was initially stymied by the lack of butter or milk.

Not a problem, I thought, since I can make a roux with oil. The chicken broth can be used for a sauce; I will simply base my cheese sauce on a veloute rather than a bechamel.

I made my roux, added the chicken stock and then the cheddar to create a creamy luxurious sauce which coated the pasta well. Unfortunately, as anybody with adequate taste buds would know, the taste was not as exceptional. Sure it was cheesy and I ate it after adding lots and lots of cracked black pepper, but people who can actually cook would have known that this wouldn’t work.

I don’t have a problem with technique, but I will just never have the knack for knowing what flavors will work and which won’t. I think it’s back to strictly following recipes for now. My new mantra is DON’T IMPROVISE!

Lol! Thank you Psychobunny that made my morning! :slight_smile: :grinning:

You were doing good till you added the cheese.

I was hoping you’d use the green olives, anchovies, pepperocinni, and oil to make a sauce for your pasta.

I was really worried about the yogurt!

People who can’t cook don’t know words like “roux”, “veloute” and “bechamel” :face_with_raised_eyebrow:

Wait, that’s not true. I know those words and I truly cannot cook. It sounds to me like you just need to make a better grocery shopping list :slightly_smiling_face:

Me too. Pasta is the one thing you really don’t need to make a sauce for.

Agree w everyone upthread. You have a lot of ideas; what you’re lacking is some organization.

Pasta and cheddar = mac & cheese. That’s an utterly different category from pasta sorta primavera like kayaker suggested that would have been very tasty.

Think in major recipe categories, not “I like this ingredient, that ingredient, and this other ingredient so of course they’ll all be good together.” My wife cooked that way until I threw her out of the kitchen 20+ years ago. [Hmmm, perhaps that was a clever trap she set. Naah, couldn’t be. Could it?]

Here’s an exercise: What toppings go good on ice cream? I bet you can name at least 10 you’d like. What toppings go good on a green salad? I bet you can name at least 10. I also bet there’s almost nothing in common on those two lists.

As they said on Ghostbusters: “Don’t cross the beams!” The ice cream beam and the green salad beam don’t go together, so don’t cross the ingredients. How do I know the beams don’t go together? They’re just radically different categories of dish with radically different audience expectations.

Admittedly that’s a strongly contrasted example. Although I do know of one ingredient that does go well on both for a suitably restricted list of ice cream flavors*.

In your case the cheddary cheeze and the chicken stock beams don’t cross so well.

You can learn, but it takes conscious thought, not just hoping the Muse will guide your hand to the right ingredient.

The folks on the cooking shows just seem to intuitively know how much of which ingredients to throw in. That’s 100% a hoax. Just like the actors in an action drama know exactly when to shoot, jump, and make wry commentary as they’re fighting. It’s all in the script. The carefully pre-written, pre-revised, and pre-tested umpteen times script**.

So think first like a scriptwriter. Think “what will make a sensible story?”, not “what can I fit into the same pot?”

* A slightly sweet dark balsamic vinegar goes great on vanilla ice cream. TJ's is good. But just a smidge and you have to be one of those people who really likes their dark balsamic vinegar.

** I often see the TV chefs destroy a half-made dish with wildly disproportionate spicing. Then again, nobody eats the one they’re assembling while we watch. They only taste the one previously made off-camera that cooked while the assembly is being filmed.

Exactly. The OP clearly understands some basic techniques, as do I. But I can’t look at a random group of stuff in the pantry and whip something up. Nor can I taste a dish in progress and decide that what it needs is a little cumin. But I can follow a recipe, if it’s reasonably explicit.

On the other hand, some can’t even do that. The New York Times ran an article (NYT paywall warning) earlier this month about incompetent cooks, talking, for instance, to a Texas A&M senior (and I only mentioned that because she is presumably smart enough to know better) who tried heating a frozen pizza. She said, “I stuck it in the oven at a random temperature because I didn’t bother to read the instructions.” She also didn’t bother to use a baking sheet, so the pizza fell through the rack after about twenty minutes. (Not using a baking sheet isn’t necessarily the problem as I’ve cooked many frozen pizzas where the instructions specified to put it directly on the rack. But twenty minutes is way too long.)

I don’t see why the OP’s recipe wouldn’t have worked necessarily; I make a mac & cheese side dish when I bbq that’s always a big hit (it’s a copycat recipe of a popular local restaurant). It consists of a roux with milk, cream, shredded sharp cheddar and parmesan added, then mixed with penne rigate noodles and baked. The OP basically made that with chicken stock instead of the milk and cream. I’ve also made a piccata-style sauce using a roux, reduced chicken stock and parmesan. I’m guessing the chicken stock and cheddar doesn’t play well together.

Nuts to you!

But yeah, generally very good points.

Yeah, the recipe looks fine to me. A mac and cheese with a chicken broth base instead of a milky base should work just fine. You can even find recipes doing just that if you look online.

The problem was that chicken stock and cheddar don’t mix well although I did find some recipes for cheesy chicken pasta but they basically added chicken to Mac and cheese. Incidentally, if I had anchovies I would have tried a non tomato Puttanesca style dish but what I had were sardines.

This is not the first such failure. I once tried to make a lemon chiffon cake by substituting oranges for lemons and whipping the egg whites by hand since I had misplaced my electric mixer. Since I was also lacking cream of tartar, I ended up with a delicious orange pancake. Again, I can cook with a recipe but I lack good judgement.

Here’s an example recipe. That one uses a bit of cream cheese, but you get the idea. There’s no reason it shouldn’t work that I could see. Here’s a recipe for cheddar cheese sauce that uses stock/broth and cheddar cheese. That should work fine.

I probably would have gone either that route, or a sardine-pasta route (which is a thing, though it would have been nice if you had lemon or capers or something like that to work with, though you can probably do fine with what you’ve got.)

As for the chiffon – I assume the cream of tartar was to help with beating the egg whites? It does make it easier and a bit stiffer, but it’s not at all necessary. I pretty much never use it myself. You just have to know when the egg whites are stiff enough. You can also substitute a little bit of lemon juice or vinegar for the cream of tartar – you just need an acid. And be sure to beat in a bowl that is completely free of fat. Copper, if you’ve got it (but I don’t.)

This assuming the “oil” is “olive oil”. Something like Crisco vegetable oil would be nasty with pasta.

All the better if the sardines were themselves packed in olive oil.

Ninja’d by ebby, but yeah, nuts. I was thinking sunflower seeds, but pretty much any nut or nutlike food goes well with both.

I don’t know about cooking shows, but after a little time in a kitchen, you do know how a spice or herb will affect the final flavor. They are also not making a novel dish, but one that they have made a number of times. I pretty much never measure, well anything unless I’m baking, and things always turn out the way I expected.

In fact, measuring can lead to problems for an inexperienced chef. I’ve seen people do some rather interesting math in recipe and unit conversions that end up with them being off by an order of magnitude or more. Without measuring, how much to add makes sense. If you are measuring, you may use your inaccurately calculated measured amount over your common sense.

I’m about like you; For me it’s mostly intuition and by eyeball.

e.g. Last night I made a shrimp & brown basmati “paella” I invented as I was going along. Some of this, a little of that, and cooked the rice as if I was making rissotto using veggie stock. But toasted the rice first a la rice-a-roni. Recipe? We don’ need no steenkin’ recipe!

It came out real nice. After dinner I had to work backwards to write down what I had done for refinement next time & to share w a friend.

Cooking is the second funnest thing you can do at home.

Also berries. Many a green salad recipe calls for sliced strawberries and/or blueberries. Sometimes citrus fruits. Sometimes dried fruits like raisins or cranberries.

So maybe the problem wasn’t the chicken broth. Now I am wondering if it was the oil. I was using vegetable oil that is probably 10 years old. I probably need to replace it. Usually I would use butter,

I’m a “jazz” cook. I look at recipes for ideas and to get a general sense of the ratios I should be shooting for. But that’s because I’ve been doing this for 40 years.

I’m currently going through my second phase of trying to learn to bake bread properly. My housemates are losing hope. And while I could just follow a recipe, if I did I would never learn how it’s supposed to feel, look, smell at each stage in order to come out right. So I’m going to insist upon failing a few hundred times until the day comes that making anything from baguette to ciabatta comes naturally to me. And in the mean time I’ll eat a lot of toast.

So tonight you used a combo that you didn’t like. Now you know you do not like that combo. It doesn’t make you a bad cook, and it doesn’t mean you should never try to improvise again. Faced with that group of ingredients I might have called out for pizza. :wink:

If you want to learn I highly recommend the cookbook “Ratio” by Michael Ruhlman.

I think you have it figured out, psychobunny. The main problem was probably the oil, especially if the bottle had been opened. Oil does get rancid and develop an off taste if it sits for years on end.