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Bittman's How to Cook Everything - opinions?

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Saw the book at Costco and was wondering what the general feeling for this book is. I was thinking of getting one for myself, but also getting one for the 17 year-old son of a friend. He loves to cook and will be off to university soon. Would this book be just as appropriate for a reasonable cook as it would be for someone just getting started in the kitchen?

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  1. Yes, it's a great book. My husband is more of a novice cook, and I am pretty experienced, but both of us will page through our copy looking for inspiration for nice suppers. His beef brisket recipe and mustard chicken thighs, along with his pad thai and his peanut noodles are all excellent.

    1. The Bittman book is a great all-purpose book for someone who already knows a few of the basics and can work their way around a kitchen. So it depends on how much cooking experience this kid has. I, personally, bought it for my son about a year or two after he left home and he loves it. But if the 17-year-old hasn't really had to cook much on his own, it may be more appropriate to give him something less enormous and comprehensive that covers kitchen basics, including how to shop, clean up etc. In my experience, when kids move out on their own they need more extremely fundamental information than you'd think they would.

      Look for a book called Clueless in the Kitchen. It's meant for exactly that demographic. Buy the Bittman book for yourself and, if the price is right, buy a second one to keep on hand until this 17 year old is ready to move up a notch.

      3 Replies
      1. re: Nyleve

        Thanks! He's actually fairly accomplished in the kitchen -- more on the dessert end of things (makes a mean pastry crust, creme brulee, sabayon, fruit pies, etc.), but certainly aware of other basic cooking techniques like roasting and grilling. So I think he may be ready for this book to help him expand his horizons.

        1. re: TorontoJo

          I love to hear about young people being good cooks. I always told my boys that learning how to cook well is the biggest babe-magnet there is. For some reason, this is more true for guys who can cook than girls. I guess girls are "expected" to know how, while guys are supposed to survive on beer and take-out pizza. I'm sure he'll enjoy the book - I love it.

          1. re: Nyleve

            LOL! Yes, his mother and I have discussed that he will do well with the girls in the future... once he gets out of his gawky "I-grew-ten-inches-in-two-years" teenager stage!

      2. I love this book and think it would be a great all-purpose cookbook for a person learning to cook. It has detailed instructions on process, which is what would make it good for somebody learning to cook, but also has lots of interesting and varied recipes. I just posted a thread last week about the first perfect steak I've ever made, and it was based on Bittman's recipe from this book.

        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1. i bought the book recently, and i've found it most useful as a guide to specific ingredients or procedures i'm unfamiliar with. i've found that i haven't loved the end products, but i've learned from the book and am better prepared to improvise because of it.

          1. I think it would make a great all-purpose cookbook for someone new to cooking. It has the basics and variations. I use it more often than my ancient Joy of Cooking for basic reference.

            1. If I had an interest in cooking when I was his age I would have loved to get How to Cook Everything. I bought a used copy through Amazon for myself and find that I refer to it quite frequently. I bought the edition that has a CD and recommend it for your friend. It has about 2/3 of the recipes that are in the book, meal planning tools and demos on techniques.

              1. Thanks for all the feedback. It looks like I'll be back at Costco buying 2 copies!

                1. I have this book too, and it's a nice reference, but I have to be honest about something. Every time I've tried following one of Bittman's recipes, I've been underwhelmed. For those who have the book and like it, do you actually make the recipes, and if so, which do you recommend?

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: AJ

                    Sadly, I've had the same experience. I loved looking through the book in the shops, so I finally broke down and bought a new copy several months ago. I was so sure that the recipes would be great, but in the end, I've been really disappointed with the results. I will continue to try them, but now I'm often finding myself reaching for other cookbooks when I'm looking for recipes or inspiration.

                    For some reason, though, I've found Bittman's NY Times recipes to be more consistently good. Don't know why.

                    1. re: Kagey

                      I love Mark Bittman's style, his philosophy, and his mission to show people that only a little extra effort is needed to make a good home-cooked meal. (Hello, Mr. Bittman, do you need someone to work for you for free?) That said, I think that because his goal is simplicity, more experienced cooks who are looking for something earth-shattering are not going to find it in his cookbooks. For me, his cookbooks are great as an inspiration and starting point, a comparison to use when I want to simplify more complicated versions of the same recipes that I find elsewhere.

                      In any case, the recipes that I think are good are the banana bread recipe (the whole wheat flour adds an incredible, nutty dimension), the basic pork chop recipe, and the wonton/dumpling recipe. I once made a simple Asian-style mussels recipe from "The Minimalist Cooks Dinner" that was superb. In his "World's Best Recipes," I like the chicken with olives and lemons and the socca/farinata (chickpea flour pancake). I agree with Kagey that his NY Times recipes are often more consistently good, but a lot of them are also in "World's Best Recipes." Actually, now that I think about it, his best recipes are those that involve fairly minimal effort, but are still worthwhile in showing that something like mussels can be cooked at home effortlessly. (I've had friends be shocked that steamed mussels can be made at home.)

                    2. re: AJ

                      Bittman's recipes are a little too simplified for my taste -- he always leaves out at least one step or one ingredient that I think is necessary (and I've had this conversation with a number of other people who are good cooks). That said, I love his cookbooks, because they make hard seeming things accessible, but I tend to check other similar recipes or fill in the blanks from my own experience.

                      1. re: AJ

                        I totally agree. I am NEVER inspired by anything I've made and I've done a lot. I don't think I've ever repeated a recipe except for the noodle cake, which is great.

                      2. Hmm. I bought this book on an impulse because I have liked some of his quick and easy recipes in NY Times. But I found this book rather dull with coventional recipes. A friend had exactly the same experience.

                        1. I can'tI can't say enough about this book. It is a classic. I think of it as an accessible and fun-to-read encyclopedia for home-cooks.

                          It is extremely practical and well-written. What I like about the book is that he often gives you a short and concise explanation as to why certain steps need to be taken in the cooking process so that it de-mystifies a lot of the process. I would say that I am a pretty experienced home-cook. I grew up in my parents’ kitchen so I know my way around a kitchen. But a lot of the things I did I did because I’d seen it done but never really understood why it was done and/or how each step contributed to the final product. In this sense, I found the book to be extremely useful.

                          Plus, no matter how experienced of a cook you become, you’ll always need a good reference book to turn to now and again.

                          1. I love HTCE as a general reference, with good ideas for variations along with cooking times and explanations.
                            The leg of lamb made with coconut milk and cilantro is spectacular - it's one of the little after-notes on the main lamb entry. The chicken with 40 cloves of garlic stew is pretty perfect too . . . and a perfect jumping off point for your own experimentation.

                            which recipes have people been disappointed with?

                            1. My daughter asked me for one cookbook to take off to college with her. This was the one and it's been perfect for her needs.

                              1. I use it as a general reference and starting off point. I try something I've never tried before, see if I like it generally, and then go and find the more complex/"authentic" version of the recipe to experiment further. I often tweak the recipes, but I find that when I am uninspired, there's always something in there that I am happy with. That said, the cauliflower tomato curry, the deviled chicken thighs, and the regular and spicy beef brisket recipes are favorites, and my jewish friends routinely request that I, a mere shiksa, bring the brisket. And my husband, who has no idea where to start when he has to cook, uses Bittman almost exclusively when I task him with dinner.

                                Best Recipes in the World is a more complex book, by merit of the wider array of ingredients and techniques, and the recipes are often "the next level," while still less daunting than a more "authentic" recipe would be to someone trying something for the first time.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Notorious EMDB

                                  I dont find the few recipes I tried very satisfying (I think the shortcuts tell on flavor) but it was a big success with my daughter and her college roommates - they used it all the time in their apartment, so I think it would be a good choice here.

                                2. I appreciate the recipes people have mentioned here and will probably try one of them next, as recommendations are always helpful. I should also mention that despite being less than thrilled with my experience of this cookbook so far, the recipe for baked eggplant slices with garlic, olive oil, and parsley was very good.

                                  1. Bittman's book is for now what the New York Times Cookbook was in the 60s - a good general guide for new cooks.