DEAR HARRIETTE: I loved your answer to "Single and Starving," the young woman who described her frustrations with learning to cook. My mother, of blessed memory, used to tell me, "If you can read, you can cook." When I graduated college, one of the things she gave me was a cookbook. At the end of the summer, I rented an apartment with a friend from my graduating class, and we resolved to handle all our own cooking.
He and I had lots of fun honing our cooking skills, although most of the time we looked a lot more like the Muppets' Swedish Chef than like Emeril. Our apartment was in another college town, and we both made quite a few women friends. It was easy to meet them -- most of them were college and graduate students, and all we had to do was invite them over for home-cooked meals. We did all our own baking, too, and were frequently asked to bring our specialties to parties. I was known for Sacher tortes, he for his amazing chocolate-almond tortes.
I married a woman whose mother was too overprotective to give her even a basic education in the culinary arts (for fear she'd burn herself on the stove or cut herself with a knife), so I taught her how to cook and bake. We still share kitchen responsibilities.
The one piece of advice that I would add to yours would be for "Single and Starving" to find a beginner's cookbook that explains what all the cooking terms mean and identifies the basic utensils. That way, she won't be stymied when a recipe calls for her to dredge something in flour, chop and brown onions, or melt chocolate squares in a double boiler. Armed with that, she should find a friend who also wants to learn to cook, and have some fun in that kitchen! -- Self-Taught Cook, Chicago
DEAR HARRIETTE: I've been in the same boat as "Single and Starving," and the book I found immensely helpful was "Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen" (Houghton Mifflin, 1996), written by a college guy and his mother. It chronicles how the mom gradually got him cooking when he and his roommates spent all their money ordering pizza. -- Sympathetic, Washington, D.C.
DEAR SELF-TAUGHT COOK AND SYMPATHETIC: I love it when readers share their great ideas to support one another. One more good idea that came through for this novice cook was to look for free or affordable cooking classes in her area.
This topic keeps taking me back to my youth, when I did not want to learn to cook and didn't cook for years. Now I am loving the experience of cooking, creating new dishes and feeding my family.
When my daughter asked her baby sitter if she could make my recipe for green beans and portobello mushrooms because it's her favorite dish, I nearly fell out of my chair. To go from hardly cooking eggs to having a specialty dish that my child requests says I have come a long way. The same can be true for you!