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Good first modern/gourmet type cookbook

Hello, newbie here. I'm looking for suggestions for a good first cookbook... something that contains recipes that are easy for a beginner (explains steps and techniques), but with a modern, gourmet slant to it (I have the Joy of Cooking but don't get very inspired by it, a little too old fashioned for me).

I enjoy muddling my way through "gourmet" recipes, but it usually takes me a whole day to prepare something! I'm not well versed in the basics, so I want to learn so that I can put together a good meal on a weeknight with only 30-60 minutes of time to prep and cook.

Thanks for your help!

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  1. I've found Nigella Lawson's cookbooks easy to use, and she encourages improvising if you don't have all the ingredients ... or at least she did. I have Tyler Florence's Real Food (or Real Kitchen), which has a lot of recipes that aren't too time consuming and don't call for too many ingredients. Another of my favorites is Betty Rosbottom's Cooking School cookbook. But I think it's out of print.

    1. My first coobook (besides the Betty Crocker cookbook I had through college) was How to Cook Everything. I still refer to it regularly.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Megiac

        Such a subjective choice--the question is, which will inspire you to cook--but I second the Bittman. It feels more modern than joy and really equips you to improvise. I learned with the classic, basic recipes in this book, and now as a I cook more "gourmet" I use recipes less and less, except for really specific things that I can just do a search on epicurious for.

        Think Bittman did a book with some French chef called "From Simple to Spectacular" which helps you see the steps involved in more complex food. I was recently flipping through Jacques Pepin Celebrates and it seems like there are some (albiet complicated) recipes in there.

        1. re: Mandymac

          Simple to Spectacular (with Jean-Georges Vongterichten) is really a fun cookbook, but not good for all around. Because it has five different variations on each of the basic recipes, it's scope is necessarily more limited. What's in there is great though. I'd recommend it highly as a second or third cookbook when the poster wants to start testing her new-found skills.

      2. Gotta agree about the Bittman "How To Cook Everything", it's a great cookbook for beginners.
        OTOH, My first "real" cookbook was "The Silver Palate Cookbook" and it is coming out with its 25th anniversary edition soon. I still use that book a lot. There are interesting sidebars about what to serve with what, how to pair wines with food, etc.

        1. If you are not a fan of Joy of Cooking (I'm not either), I think you definitely *would* like How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I far prefer this book over Joy of Cooking for everything from the basics to more gourmet preparations.

          1 Reply
          1. re: DanaB

            The original Barefoot Contessa cookbook. The majority of the recipes are extremely simple, yet modern, with a focus on using high quality ingredients. Everything I've made from it has been a hit.

          2. I second Silver Palate as I reference it for the simple things: salad dressings, meat temperatures, appetizers, etc. If you like Italian food, I have gotten a lot of use out of Giada deLaurentis's Everyday Italian. Simple and easy-to-follow recipes for sauces, pasta dishes and desserts. Most of all: Keep trying something new. You learn technique and what you like through experimenting. And if you flop or don't like how a recipe turns out, order take out.

            1. The big yellow Gourmet Cookbook from Gourmet magazine looks good to me. I checked it out of the library. It's pretty comprehensive in scope and has both simple and more complex recipes, the header notes will pretty much indicate.

              1. I was going to suggest the New Basics which is by the Silver Palate authors, but much more comprehensive. However, it may fail to inspire as most comprehensive books probably would. If photos and anecdotes are what you are looking for, maybe a Barefoot Contessa book?

                1 Reply
                1. re: KeriT

                  Oh yeah, forgot about that one....Gotta say yes to the "New Basics" too.

                2. The new big yellow Gourmet cookbok is fabulous, everything I've made from it has had my family drooling and asking for more, but I am not sure I would give it to someone as their first ever cookbook. I like nothing more than poking around the kitchen making things from scratch but this book wears even me out, sometimes.

                  I find the Silver Palater cookbooks unduly fussy for a medium-ish result.

                  Do you like Italian food? I love Marcella Hazan's books. The Essentials of Italian cooking starts simple, builds up slowly, gives you options, explains very clearly, isn't fussy, doesn't require a tonne of special equipement, etc.

                  1. I find the Best Recipe Cookbook put out by the folks from Cook's Illustrated has both great foundation recipes and interesting, often "gourmet" variations. Everything I've made from it has gotten raves.

                    But more than that, I think I have a better eye for selecting methods, tools, and ingredients after reading abut how they do it in their kitchens for every recipe they put out. It's definitely a book that helps you build confidence as a home cook.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: newbatgirl

                      I like that cookbook, and the things that I make from it are always good, but I find that it's the opposite of an inspiring cookbook. I only turn to it when I know exactly what I want to make and am looking for a recipe for that, not when I'm looking for ideas. I second the suggestions of Silver Palate and How to Cook Everything, both are great for beginners and have fun variations and are good reading cookbooks.

                    2. I'm a big fan of "Think Like a Chef" by Tom Collichio, from long before the Top Chef days. He has sections on basic cooking techniques, and then moves into recipes/techniques that you can use to build lots of different kinds of dishes. Some of the dishes in this book have been staples of mine for years now.

                      1. Wow, thank you all so much! I think I'll start with Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and perhaps a Barefoot Contessa cookbook or two. But I've also added all of the other suggestions to my list so I will hopefully get them eventually... thanks again to everyone for all of the help, can't wait to start posting about my home culinary adventures!

                        1. I heartily recommend the yellow Gourmet cookbook, which contains good commentary and a great collection of the best of Gourmet recipes from over the years - including simple as well as more elegant/entertaining stuff. It's sure to have a version of almost anything you can think of trying to make, but not as old-fashioned as Joy.

                          For a solid introduction to many delicious basics, The Best Recipe from the Cooks Illustrated folks is very good too.

                          I know people like the Bittman book too - I've just never had any personal experience with it.

                          1. Charlie Trotter Cooks at Home
                            Anya von Bremzen's The New Spanish Table

                            Somewhat more traditional but full of appealing recipes and sound technique:
                            Patrica Wells' Bistro Cooking
                            Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

                            1. After all the positive comments about the Bittman book, I had to see if I could e-bay it...woo hoo! just picked up a brand new copy for 6.75 including the shipping! Thanks chowhounders for turning me on to what sounds like a great resource!!!

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: fooddiva

                                If you're still looking, I heard about this one on NPR and I also heard it may have gotten a James Beard Nomination. Haven't tried it myself but it's on my wish list.

                                It's supposed to be designed to show you how to riff in the kitchen. It's called The Improvisational Cook.

                                Here's the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Improvisational...

                                1. re: newbatgirl

                                  You may already know this, but be sure to check out epicurious.com. It's an on-line compilation of Bon Apetit and Gourmet magazine recipes (as well as a few others, randomly), and has the benefit of user's reactions to the recipes. Most are very easy to follow, and the site also offers "buzz...something", which features 30 recipes that most people are commenting on currently, and "most popular" which highlight the recipes that are most favorably reviewed. I turn to it often (as well as Silver Palate, Ina, Giada and others. Pictures help).