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What's a good recipe book/ blog for untalented beginers? [Moved from Not About Food board]

So, I'm getting married to a man who prefers home-cooked food, and short of running to my ma-in-law for care packages (not a good idea! it could be addictively easy) I'm going to have to learn to cook myself. I can manage thawing, some grilling and can-opening, and I may resort to all the shortcuts, but its a new engagement and I still have the best of intentions, so .. looking for a recipe book/ blog for untalented beginners. I've generally been good with following precise directions but I can never season "to taste". I still want some "sexy" recipes so that he doesn't miss momma too much. Any ideas?? TIA.

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  1. Cookbooks I would recommend:
    The Joy of Cooking, Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker
    The Way To Cook, Julia Child
    How To Cook Everything, Mark Bittman

    Good luck and Have Fun!!

    1. There's a magazine called Everyday Food that I think is good and might work well for you. It has tons of photos so you'll know how things should turn out and the recipes are easy. I think you'd learn alot and gain some confidence by cooking from it. Pick up some issues at your library or buy one and see. By the way, they have a tv show on PBS, too, so maybe you could catch an episode.

      Good luck Bombay Curry, you'll never be sorry you worked at this!

      3 Replies
      1. re: xena

        I agree completely with the Everyday Food suggestion - the recipes are simple to follow and always work. I use the new Everyday Food cookbook - it's called Great Food Fast - quite a bit when I'm in a rush. I also recommend Marion Cunningham's Learning to Cook - she talks you through it all.

        1. re: xena

          Everything I've made from Everyday Food has been fine, but nothing I would make again.

          Here's my suggestion... get one of Rachael Ray's cookbooks. (ducking to avoid chowhound wrath) I know, a lot of people find her grating, but her recipes are very easy, tasty, and forgiving. And they generally require ingredients that you have on hand.

          1. re: Pia

            I second the Rachael Ray recommendation for the same reasons. My family has liked pretty much everything I've made from her cookbooks, and while they may take a little longer than 30 minutes, they are very easy to make. I also like the fact that I usually have most of the ingredients on hand.

        2. Any of the Barefoot Contessa books, especially the one based on french food for the sex appeal. Simple recipes that often taste like there was a lot of effort. As long as you aren't afraid of butter and cream....

          1. Bill's Food - Bill Granger. Great, very straightforward Australian cook. Sort of Jamie Oliver-ish.
            Anything by Mark Bittman. I like the Minimalist Dinner/At Home books. HTCE is just too overwhelming. You can't go wrong with these. It is how my wife and I learned to cook. If your fiance likes fish: His Fish cookbook is also excellent.
            Jamie Oliver: Great fun and can't miss. I like the new Italy book, but cook more from his earlier stuff.
            The Sicilian Gentleman's Cookbook: Great Italian recipes. Simple, but not dumbed down.
            Patsy's: Red Sauce Italian.
            Real Fast Food: Nigel Slater. Name says it all. Cool read, easy and different.
            Dean and Deluca: Great for entertaining.

            1. The Better Homes & Gardens cookbook (the red and white checked cover) is a nice basic cookbook that covers everything (just short of how to boil water, really). That was my first cookbook and the one I ran to when I wasn't sure what temp a medium steak should be or when to pull a chicken out of the oven.

              The Joy of Cooking is another good one, and I hear the latest version (2006?) is better than the last (mid-1990's) and closer to the one from the 70's.

              I also have The Best Recipes from Cooks Illustrated, which I refer to when I want to try something new and need a recipe I know will work.

              I have How to Cook Everything, but I never open it, probably because I find something in the above books.

              1 Reply
              1. re: leanneabe

                I second the recommendation for Best Recipes from Cooks Illustrated. Everything I have ever made from there is just great and would make again. He won't want momma's food if you cook from this book.

              2. Add another vote for Joy. I learned just about everything I know from my battered and torn 1970s edition. To be honest, I actually prefer the older edition to the newer 1990s one - too much "nouvelle" and not enough basics, IMO.

                Beyond that, there are tons of great beginner cookbooks on the market. Most are aimed at students, but they're still great for someone who's learning the ropes. Flip through and see which one suits your style - that's usually the best option.

                As far as that genre goes, a personal favourite is "Help! My Apartment Has A Kitchen!" and the followup "Help! My Apartment Has A Dining Room!" (which is geared a bit more toward entertaining rather than fending just for yourself). They're well-written and don't ever gloss over steps.

                1 Reply
                1. re: tartiflette

                  And to that I'd add Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide

                2. Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking (both volumes). she (her books) taught me how to cook.

                  1. I would say that the Silver Palate is great book for new cooks and those that are wanting to entertain. Easy recipes that are not too run of the mill, and using ingredients that are doable for the average household.

                    Great tips, and fun ideas for romantic dinners and with some easy ethnic dishes as well.
                    I still use it.

                    1. I second the Everyday Food recommendation -- I love it. They have nutritional information in each magazine, and usually do features with a week's worth of recipes from one shopping trip. And often the feature recipes are very efficient with ingredients and time, with a nice amount of overlap (say, prep a double batch of rice for tonight's side dish, reserve half, make the next page's stir fry later in the week in minutes). I've found it seems to be scaled towards two to four servings, too, and since there's just the two of us, that means there's usually just enough left over of each meal for a lunch or light dinner later in the week.

                      If you're looking for a good, easy to read blog, I suggest Simply Recipes. I've never made anything from the website that wasn't delicious. The instructions are so easy, and if there's any question, the blog author responds right away. Did I mention that the recipes are fantastic? And the pictures make it really easy to follow.


                      And another vote for the Sicilian Gentleman's Cookbook, if you can get your hands on it -- the recipes won't require you to debone a chicken or simmer a sauce all day. It's Italian weeknight food, but not at all boring or bland. These are the kinds of things my guy grew up eating and considers "comfort food", just like his mom's.

                      I think I might be the only one who doesn't use the Joy of Cooking! I own a copy, but I haven't yet come across a reference question I can't google quickly instead of looking up in there, and, while the recipes seem edible, they don't "wow" me. Possibly because my mom cooked from it pretty much exclusively when I was a kid -- you know what they say about familiarity.

                      Don't hit me, but consider Rachael Ray's 30 Minute Meals (or at least check out some of her recipes on the Food Network site -- the pasta puttanesca, the chicken cacciatore subs, and the devilish chicken sammies are some of our favorites). I've found that I can't make them in 30 minutes, at least not the first time, (more like 40 - 50 minutes, still not bad), but I have yet to make a recipe of hers that didn't please the people I was serving dinner.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dietfoodie

                        Hey, thanks for that simply recipes link. that looks fantastic!

                      2. Mom had the Better Homes and Gardens mentioned above... i now have it, well...whats left of it, so well worn and tattered that about a quarter of it is missing or torn. Joy of Cooking is next - but can be intimidating at first. I have both the 70s edition as well as grandma's from who knows when.

                        Any chance ma-in-law can teach you to cook a couple of your guy's favorite recipes? Good bonding, good way to learn basic techniques. And no, yours will never taste quite like mom's... but then hers wont taste quite like yours either.

                        1. Not to be overlooked: The New Gourmet Cookbook edited by Ruth Reichl. The recipes are very specific (no "season to taste" here); it tells you just how long it takes to prepare a recipe; the recipes often tell you what can be done in advance and what might be done with leftovers; and recipes range from very simple to fairly complicated so it's a book you can grow into. Most important, I've made perhaps two dozen of the more than 1000 recipes, which span a range of cultures and cuisines, and every one has been a winner. The recipes were not just picked up from old issues of Gourmet, but were tested and retested and you can tell. I have two editions of Joy, I have Bittman (and love it) and the first two Silver Palates. But in the two years I've had it, this has become my go-to and it hasn't failed me yet.

                          1. My teenage daughter and my non-cooking friends love the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook that I've given them. It's got pictures for everything, excellent basic recipe selection and the binder format lies flat! (An important and helpful feature.)


                            1. Ya know - while cookbooks are awesome and I own many - I would almost recommend recipe search websites to a new cook. www.epicurious.com and www.foodtv.com are 2 of the best searchable-by-ingredient sites I know of. As a new cook I'm assuming you'll want to know how to take ingredients you have at home and combine them into recipes. A good search engine will allow you to type in words like bacon, walnuts and goat cheese and come up with a recipe for Frisee salad with Bacon, Dates and Goat Cheese.

                              You can't do that (easily) with a cookbook. Cookbooks are useful when starting without specific ingredients and building a shopping list. Just MHO.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: HungryLetsEat

                                Totally agree on the epicurious suggestion. In addition to using the search engine as HLE recommends, you can also make up a meal of a specific cuisine using their search engine. And I do find that some of the previous reviews of each recipe help a lot.

                                I also think Everyday Food is a good start. Pick one up and see what you think. Yes, some recipes they have are more interesting than others, but I have found some really great, really easy things that we make often.

                                Good luck! It'll be fun.

                              2. I also wholeheartedly endorse anything by the Barefoot Contessa. Although I don't particularly care for Giada DeLaurentiis, I like her recipes. They are usually fairly simple and straightforward.
                                Also, The Best Recipe from the Cook's Illustrated people is a winner. Although I love epicurious.com, I don't think that I would recommend it to a novice cook. You should use them once you have some confidence in your skills.
                                Good luck! Let us know how your cooking goes!

                                1. 101 Cookbooks (a great blog) had someone write in about how he couldn't cook at all, looking for pointers. There are hundreds of tips on the original post (http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/...), plus a very recent update from the unwilling cook himself (http://www.101cookbooks.com/). Give it a browse, I'm sure you'll find something useful!

                                  1. Get an in-expensive crock pot with a removable liner and timer and one of the many crock pot cook books. I'll bet you'll eat out of it every week.

                                    1. I'm with the folks who recommend Bittman. But also, the basic Betty Crocker cookbook is a good one for a beginner to have. The recipes in there have been tested and re-tested with just about every possible mistake that might be caused by inattention or inexperience, so they're pretty much foolproof. That and my mom's tried-and-true recipe file are how I learned to cook.

                                      1. Yet another vote for The Joy of Cooking - you have to get it! It's really indispensable. There are no glossy color pictures, but the recipes are well-written and well-tested, and there are just so many, from basic comforting stuff that you/he grew up with to more interesting/sexy dishes. Lots of info on technique and such, too.

                                        Another great book is Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques.

                                        Have fun!! That's really exciting to just be starting out! The sky is the limit...

                                        1. First welcome to the world of cooking, one in which you will constantly learn more and more, no matter how long you work to perfect it. Little jfood is early 20's and she is in training as well, so jfood has a little experience in watching her eyes when we work together in the kitchen. When that glazed look arrives, jfood performs an intervention and mentoring session. She will do fine. :-)))

                                          Also glad that you set the bar for us to respond at the entry level. Many of the suggestions in the responses have great cookbooks that you may consider a little bit in the future, but you should learn to crawl/walk/run at your own pace. Trying something from Julia's How to Cook book is a wonderful meal, but it may be a little in the future. Likewise going through epicurious.com is a great idea but you may not really understand what you are getting yourself into with some of the recipes although now they do "rank" difficulty on either epicurious.com or foodnetwork.com.

                                          For the beginner, Jfood recommends as an absolute minimum Joy of Cooking and Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and stop there for a couple of months. (Love the Silver Palate idea for menus for a young married couple as well,) Get a feel for how a recipe gets together, how to prep, how to fry, how to roast, how to grill.

                                          Then start adding in the areas you and hubby like. Who knows you may both like Indian and hate Italian, or French or you live in an area where you get fresh veggies 12 months a year and want to perfect your grilling skills. At that point jfood would recommend a couple of hours in Borders or B&N with a good cup of coffee and the two of you can "read" the second phase of cooking together.

                                          The last thing you want is to overreach and disappointed. a few months of success will increase you courage, your skills and eventually you will have that "I can cook anything" mentality.

                                          1. Another vote for Better Homes and Gardens... their vegetable cooking chart is failproof, if you've got a pile of asparagus and don't know what to do, turn there first.

                                            A few people have mentioned the Cooks Illustrated New Best Recipe, which is REALLY great, but I'm also a big fan of the Cooks Illustrated 30 Minute Recipe book. They are not fooling around with the 30 minutes, which includes prep, and you'll be really surprised at the delicious meals you can turn out with their guidance. Cooks Illustrated is always a good educational source. Try the skillet Lasagna, you'll be so impressed with yourself!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: delaneymae

                                              I gave that Better Homes and Gardens book to my sister, when she (finally!) decided to learn how to cook, and it has worked very well for her.

                                            2. I am not a beginner, but not a pro either. I fall somewhere in between, but always love Cook's Illustrated magazines for their solid information, and diagrams of techniques.

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: itryalot

                                                I find the Cook's Illustrated stuff amazing. It teaches alot of the how and whys of cooking and I believe has given me the knowledge to be more creative on my own. I also like the allrecipes.com site, many everyday recipes. Here is a beginer tip: when you buy spices mark the date on the lid. I have ruined recipes using old spices.

                                              2. If you don't already, I would watch some of the cooking shows (not Iron Chef America, etc...) on the Food Network, or better yet, PBS. So much of cooking is visual -- knowing what something looks like at a particular stage or how to do something like truss a chicken. Things like that, IMHO, aren't conveyed as well in a recipe, straight instructional text, or even diagrams or photographs.

                                                This is how I got hooked on cooking. I saw Sara Moulton cook something one day (jambalaya if you must know), and I thought, "Hm, that doesn't look to complicated, I bet I could do that." Watching someone else do it first made it much less daunting. Cooking with ma-in-law would serve a similar purpose (plus the added kissing-up bonus).

                                                If you still want a cookbook, Joy, The Best Recipe or Gourmet would be my choices. My selections from Bittman have been hit or miss.

                                                2 Replies
                                                1. re: msbo78

                                                  Along with watching cooking shows, these days there are a lot of videos available on the internet. A LOT. Seeing a technique is great. There's one linked on another thread about making risotto with Batali and Bittman, for example, but videos are all over the place.

                                                  1. re: msbo78

                                                    Another vote for the "Joy of Cooking" - I would haunt the second hand book stores or garage sales to find the 1970's version. I remember reading it as a teenager, and being amazed at how much information it provides on the ingredients we use, basic cooking techniques, cooking equipment, and even how to set a table properly for various types of menus. And the recipes run the gamut from the simple to the sublime.

                                                    And, although they are not strictly cook books, I suggest you look up MFK Fisher; her books will make you appreciate food in a whole different way.

                                                  2. After teaching all those straight guys how to do it, I would definitely trust Ted Allen


                                                    1. For home cooking with some sex appeal, it's hard to beat Nigella Lawson's books. I use a lot of the other standbys listed here: the Joy, Silver Palate books, Cook's Illustrated magazine (great diagrams!), and epicurious.com. For your specific request, Nigella fits the bill the best, I think. The recipes are usually very easy, don't require much seasoning to taste, and somehow toe the line of being comforting yet fresh/innovative. In most of her books, there are also ample pictures of the finished result, which can be a great guide. (How to Eat has very few pics, if any at all, from my memory; the rest are chockablock full.)

                                                      I've had particular success with Nigella Bites, Feast, and Forever Summer.

                                                      1. I like Joy of Cooking because it doesn't assume you know much of anything. It defines terminology and techniques and explains the basics--how to bake a potato, peel garlic, select ripe pineapple, etc. etc. The recipes often aren't all that interesting or adventurous, but you can't beat it instructions on the basics.

                                                        Cooks Illustrated is also great for explaining techniques step-by-step, often with good illustrations. I subscribe both to the magazine and the website.

                                                        Besides this board, another website where you'll find a lot of support and answers to basic questions is Recipezaar.com. It has a very homey, coffee klatch-type atmosphere, with few professionals and a large number of very experienced home cooks. It's very newbie-friendly. You'll find a lot of good recipes there, and you can post questions on the discussion boards ("Recipe Requests" and "Cooking Q & A" are good places to start) and get plenty of valuable advice. After being a mom-and-pop operation for the first eight years, the site was just sold (for $25 million!) to the folks behind the Food Network, but so far they're saying it won't change (let's hope).

                                                        1. Seconding the recommendation further up the thread for books/recipes by Nigel Slater, who (unwittingly) taught me to cook when I was a student in the UK years ago, when he was the Sunday food writer for the Observer newspaper (he may still be - don't know).

                                                          The recipes in some of his earlier books are in metric (even in so-called US editions), but he's more about technique, ingredients, and ideas than fussy measuring, so printing out a quick conversion chart and using it as a bookmark should cover you.

                                                          There aren't many writing today who do comfort food better...or who show as much respect for the potato. (Or bacon, or chocolate, or salt, or...well, it's not health food.)

                                                          1. You can try "How to Boil Water" it's a great cookbook by the Food Network.