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Oct 26, 2007 09:46 AM

What to get for the absolute novice?


My little sister just started cooking for herself and her boyfriend. She is what I would call an absolute novice. I often get phone calls asking me how to cook rice in the microwave, how to make chili cheese dip, and how to tell if chicken is done.

She has also asked me what she can do with leftover defrosted hamburger that has been partially cooked in the microwave. I explained that she couldn't just refreeze it partially raw, but to finish cooking it and use it within the next couple of days.

So far, we've given her the four ingredient cookbook, mixing bowls, an 8x8 casserole plan, basic kitchen supplies, a lot of advice and some simple family recipes.

I'm planning on getting her a meat thermometer for Christmas, but I was wondering if anyone had any other recommendations: cookbooks, supplies or otherwise?

She is also the type of person who accidently uses rye flour instead of regular, gets teaspoon and tablespoon mixed up, and gets easily intimidated by recipes.

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  1. Sounds like she's at the stage that my sister was once at. I gave her the Good Housekeeping Cookbook and she's found it v. useful.

    5 Replies
    1. re: MMRuth

      I'm not as familiar with GH Cookbook, but Joy of Cooking has absolutely everything from the very very basic to fancy baking/esoteric ingredients/ethnic food.

      1. re: laurendlewis

        The nice thing about the GH one is that it has lots and lots of diagrams - don't have JoC so I don't know if it does or not.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I suggested realized I referred to the wrong one - it was the Better Homes & Garden Illustrated cookbook.

          1. re: MMRuth

            I have this one - the Better Homes and Garden) and it's really a good cookbook.

            Tuesday I bought 3, one for each boy, because I had given mine to one of the boys ( I know, I know he's not a boy anymore!), but our 2nd son was calling asking me about different cuts of meat and I couldn't answer because our oldest had my cookbook! So I bought 3, I got my old one back,transfered my notes into the new ones, gave one to my oldest, I will give one to my second when I see him next and will have one for the youngest when he moves out.

            This edition doesn't have a recipe for apple butter though!

        2. re: laurendlewis

          The Joy of Cooking would be my choice. It not only gives you recipes that work for nearly every standard American dish you might think of cooking, it also gives you good descriptions of the techiques you use in those recipes, as well as about other topics.

          I would also consider a class on some basics, even making stock. Find me someone who really knows how to make good stock, and I'll show you a good cook.

      2. I would get her one really good, high-quality chef's knife. It's the most useful thing she could have and it will instill in her a "respect the tools" attitude. This will slow down her cooking, which will keep her from making silly mistakes and also make her safer in the kitchen.

        9 Replies
        1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

          I agree. Top priority along with a couple of good cutting boards to protect the new knife. Don't want sis or DF chopping on the kitchen counter.

          1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

            "it will instill in her a "respect the tools" attitude"

            What, a free knife will instill such an attitude? Howso?

            1. re: FrankJBN

              Have you ever used a knife that says "I will **** you up if you don't use me properly?" Our favorite knife in the house -- which was a wedding gift, incidentally -- is a large Japanese chef's knife that's razor sharp, perfectly balanced, and entirely capable of cutting off your finger at the knuckle if you're not careful. As a result, this is the safest knife in the house, because we're both very aware of the knife, the food, the board and everything else in a way that we might not be with our vintage Sabatiers. I nick myself all the time with those guys, but I've never come anywhere close to injuring myself with this knife.

              1. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                "I will **** you up if you don't use me properly?"

                Only top-quality chef's knives say this?

                the greatest danger is presented by unbalanced dull knives. Any chef or butcher will tell you that a sharp knife is far less dangerous than a dull knife.

                1. re: FrankJBN

                  Right...which is...erm...what I was just saying. So why would it be a bad idea to get her a good quality chef's knife? I'm confused.

                  1. re: FrankJBN

                    Yes and no. As co-owner of the knife referred to above, I can say that I'm used to handling duller knives on which I can safely touch the blade, while cleaning them or whatever, but I'm pretty scared of this knife, especially if I'm handling it with wet hands (knowing all too well that it's easy to get a cut that I don't even feel on a wet fingertip.) I know that in use it's safer than a duller knife, because it glides right through whatever I'm cutting, but it's pretty intimidating to handle.

                    And, frankly, I've been cooking for 40 years, but I'm well aware that "any chef or butcher" has far better knife skills than I do or ever will.

                    1. re: Allstonian

                      It seems to me that dull knive that can really give you awful injuries are usually such that they only cut when used with force. Most kitchen injuries seem to happen when not all that much force is used. A sharp knife, it can always cut you, it just does not take much force for it to sink into human flesh.

                      I think a good knife is a good idea, after someone has done at least a little bit of cooking. Chop a few onions with something relatively dull, and then you step up to a good knife.

                      Or, just use good knives, and you take your chances.

                2. re: FrankJBN

                  Novice cooks don't know the difference between a really good knife and a so-so knife. Not the ones I niece put mine in the dishwasher!!

                3. re: BarmyFotheringayPhipps

                  I would purchase her a basic knife set ( Kitchen-aid chef and paring knife w/ a steel)a cookbook and a inexpensive digital thermo (Target sells Polder's) to tell when foods are done.

                4. When I started cooking, I used my mom's old Better Homes & Garden cookbook to look up everything from how to roast a chicken (what oven temp, how long, what temp the bird should be when cooked), to how to make chicken soup, meatloaf, pancakes, etc. It'll even tell you how long to steam green beans or broccoli. And what cuts of beef are used for what preparations. Specialty cookbooks like the 4-ingredient ones are good for recipes, but the nice basic ones (BH&G, Joy of Cooking, GH, etc) are invaluable for someone who is just getting past "how to boil water".

                  As for her asking about the defrosted hamburger, I don't think that's such a bad question. It's very similar to ones we get here on CH!


                  1. Among many other things I am sure she could use I would suggest Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide. She wrote it for her sons when they were moving in to their first apartments and it is full of essential information presented in a very readable and enjoyable style. Good recipes and easy to use.

                    1. Nice set of cast irons is useful.

                      I agree with the others that a basic comprehensive cook book is a great aid.

                      I started with Betty Crocker and it didn't hold me back at all. I think it was better than GH, not as good but simpler than Joy.

                      It is over thirty years ago that I made Betty Crocker's Turkey Divan (with chicken) for my first home dinner date. She loved it.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: FrankJBN

                        I had cast iron when I was in college and ruined it because I didn't know how to care for it properly. I wouldn't suggest cast iron for a young cook unless you know they would care enough about it to take care of it and you teach them how to take care of it.

                        But, cast iron is awesome. I'm just now building my arsenal of it back up.

                        My favorite gifts I got as a young cook was Pyrex. I still have a lot of it, and still love it. It's fairly indestructible, but if you break it, it's not the end of the world. And you can get sets that come with lids so they store leftovers.

                        1. re: FrankJBN

                          No cast iron for a novice. Get her teflon pans and no-scratch spatulas and spoons.