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Oct 31, 2007 12:01 PM

cookbook for beginner cook - help!

please advise me.
my better half has requested a cookbook for her birthday, and i am not sure what to get her.

she has very little cooking experience - especially compared to me. i've worked in professional kitchens for years, though i no longer do. it has become a bit of a joke in our relationship how i do all the cooking - however, i don't neccesarily want it to be that way forever. i did leave the industry for a reason, after all.

the cookbook needs to be easy. nothing should take a long time or sound intimidating. it should look appealing - i think it would need to have pictures in order to inspire her to use it. it should seem accessible. my favorite books are useless to her - partly because she does not have the ability to look at a recipe and then visualize / taste it, partly because they have technical stuff that sounds scary to her, and partly because i use them anyway.

any thoughts for me, hounds? i know you'll have a great idea.

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  1. My favorite beginner and overall basic cookbook is the Better Homes and Gardens one (it's red and white checked on the cover). I received mine at a bridal shower in 1985 and now it's held together with rubber bands, but it got me started in my early cooking days and is still a good go-to book.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Janet from Richmond

      Yes - that's the one I gave my sister - the illustrated version. There was a recent thread on this subject - will try to find it.

      I taught myself to cook using Julia Child's The Way to Cook and Marcella Hazan.

        1. re: MMRuth

          I have a number of the other cookbooks recommended - or have looked at them - but the good thing about this one is the illustrations, and v.straightforward instructions.

    2. The Joy of Cooking. My absolute fave.

      8 Replies
      1. re: diablo

        My fave was the Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

        1. re: SAnativegirl

          I have that one too. It's also a great resource.

        2. re: diablo

          I'll second the Joy of Cooking. I used to be a chef, and I still use it for ideas. My teenage daughter is using it. A *lot* of information from the beginner to the expert.

            1. re: rfneid

              Just to clarify: the book needs to be inspiring, but it doesn't need to be comprehensive at all. i too love joy of cooking, and taught myself out of marcella hazan and julia, but these books don't hold her interest. she doesn't want to become an expert. she just wants to make me dinner once in a while and not have it take four hours to do it. she's never going to be the kind of person who cooks very frequently. so i think i need to buy her a book that i wouldn't otherwise own, you know? i just can't stomach rachel ray, but something like that, i think. it definitely needs to have appealing food porn-style pictures, though. thoughts?

              1. re: pigtails

                I would buy her Matha Stewart's Healthy Quick Cook or Mark Bittman's From Simple to Spectacular. Martha's book is great because everything is laid out by season and by a whole meal. For example, she'll have a meat, side and dessert listed together. The pictures are really appealing. I'm a professional cook, and I look to this cookbook pretty frequently (aka, when my pants are feeling tight :)

                From Simple to Spectacular has gorgeous pictures and the recipes are easy to follow.

                1. re: pigtails

                  Since you want something that will tempt her to cook, think about the food that gets her drooling, and look for a basic cookbook in that style with decent production values. That is, if she loves Italian, get her a Giada cookbook, and so on.

            2. re: diablo

              I love the Joy of Cooking and I would go for one of the spiral bound copies. It is the book I consult when i just want to know simple thigns like, how long do I need to bake a sweet potato. It is also the book I go to when I need to know how to do something harder, like when I attempted to make an almond torte. It covers an amazing amount of topics and can be consulted for an hour or ten seconds.

            3. You might also consider a subscription to Everyday Food. An appealing magazine with pictures and good but simple recipes.


              2 Replies
              1. re: fern

                I heartily agree! What a great little magazine -- fun, easy recipes, that are also imaginative and tasty. mmmm. I've picked up lots of cool ideas there over the years - I first discovered sauteed grape tomatoes in Everyday Food, and my mom is always finding cool healthy alternatives to make for my sister from EF. Everything is under 30 minutes.

                1. re: fern

                  I heartily second Everyday Food. Great photos, simple recipes, menu ideas, ingredient info. And not at all intimidating. I usually don't end up using the recipes myself, as they seem TOO simple, but for people who really never cook, I think it provides easy, tasty recipes.

                2. any of the Jamie Oliver cookbooks, especially The Naked Chef and Happy Days with the Naked Chef. the photography is beautiful (and inspiring!), the recipes are simple yet impressive, and if anyone can make someone want to cook more, it's Jamie Oliver. he actually talks about how sexy mozzarella and basil are.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sophia.

                    I'd second those exact two books, since the OP specified simple, attractive recipes. Jamie's recipes are really simple and very good. Here in the UK, we're a bit fed up with him by now, but that doesn't change the fact that the books really are great. Easy recipes that always produce impressive results.

                    I'd also go with Nigella Lawson's How to Eat, which I recommend often. She's not a chef, she's a home cook, and every recipe in this book is the kind of thing that's manageable for normal people who love delicious food but don't have loads of time or expertise. There's a big focus on stress-free and enjoyable. The book is also helpfully divided into sections like cooking for one or two, cooking in advance, fast meals, weekend meals, etc.

                    I definitely don't recommend JoC for a beginner. I love the book and use it myself, but to someone who's a little intimidated, it can seem impenetrable. You could find yourself looking at it and going "Where do I begin??!". I think the Jamie Oliver and Nigella approaches are much gentler and aimed at giving the inexperienced cook confidence. Once you have the confidence, you can handle any recipe.

                  2. I second or third the joy of cooking its a must have . If I could only have one cookbook forever. However unless a reprint has more pics its not the most stimulating cookbook. Does she have a particular cuisine that she is facinated by.... I sense u have the basics covered. If you do most of the savory cooking maybe a great cookie book - something you don't ussually do so she can feel like she's doing something diff. I have a pizza cookbook that I think is silly, everyone that doesn't cook loves it because of the pictures and simplcity.