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Cookbooks for newlyweds first time out of home?

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What cookbooks would you suggest for a young and newly married couple that have never lived away from home before? I thought it would be nice to start off their cookbook library as part of their wedding shower gift but they're not overly experienced cooks nor are they overly adventurous in their eating (don't think he's even ever had sushi). Suggestions? Thank you!

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  1. Betty Crocker has a book for newlyweds. It covers everything!

    1. A#1 is definitely Joy of Cooking. Even with a good cook for a mother and decent practice, when I moved into my own apt after college (and even now sometimes), it is an indispensible reference. Any ingredient or technique they might have a question about, it can be answered in this book.

      I like Nigella Express and any Jamie Oliver books for recipes with only a few ingredients. The recipes look a lot fancier in the pictures than they taste--just really good food.

      2 Replies
      1. re: porceluna

        Also, there are a number of books out there targeted at 1-2 person households (ie recipes with smaller yields). Take a browse at your local Barnes and Noble, and you'll be pleasantly surprised, I think.

        I recently checked out from the library "Cooking for Two: 120 recipes for every day and those special nights" by Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough. I haven't actually cooked from it, but it has basics like mac & cheese and turkey tetrazini as well as more elegant (yet not overly complicated) recipes.

        I also really like "Small Batch Baking" by Debby Maugans Nekos. It's a lifesaver! It has cakes, cookies, puddings, breads, etc that make only a few servings. Great for when a small household has a sweet tooth but can't, or at least shouldn't, finish off an entire full-sized cake. It also has a special Valentine's Day chapter with fancier "romantic" recipes--just right for newlyweds, I think! :)

        1. re: porceluna

          I would definitely agree with the Joy of Cooking, my boyfriend's parents bought me that book for Christmas and I wish I had it a long time ago! I plan on buying it for my sister's wedding in August, and I know she'll need it!

        2. Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide. It covers basic cooking and much much more.

          1. If they aren't way into cooking I'd suggest Everyday Food Cookbook. It's definitely for beginners and not an "everything" book but I think it gives new cooks confidence, allowing them learn and grow. There are pictures of each recipe, which is a big help.

            Also, any of the basics like the Good Housekeeping book or Betty Crocker.

            I agree that Jamie Oliver would be good, too.

            I have a book called "Timing is Everything: The Complete Timing Guide to Cooking" by Jack Piccolo that would probably be helpful.

            Great gift idea, apb.

            2 Replies
            1. re: fern

              I can back up both Good Housekeeping and Betty Crocker. I'm more familiar with Good Housekeeping, though. Their basic red-and-white cookbook has lots of photos, illustrations, nutritional information, definitions, identifications of different foods such as cuts of meat, etc. It's a great reference, but is not intimidating.

              1. re: fern

                "Timing is Everything" is fantastic! I wish I had it when I first began cooking, timing was the trickiest skill to achieve for me. It would be great paired with a good general reference. A lot depends on their personalities. Do they like to know "why"? Go with a Cooks Illustrated. Do they just want good flavor but quick & easy? Are they patient & thorough? Are they visual or verbal? Do they appreciate tradition or prefer the novel? There is a basic cookbook geared for every personality. The key to a good basic book is that it help them learn the skills and develop an understanding of how/why the recipe works. If the recipes (some of the tv related books mentioned below) call for just a can of this, a box of that - that info is available on the can label or company website & probably won't encourage any kitchen skills.

              2. Both "Best Recipe" and "American Classics" by the folks at Cook's Illustrated offer comprehensive, straight-forward, and classic recipes for the beginner and advanced cook alike. I still refer to classics in both of those books whenever I need a timeless and solid recipe.

                R. Jason Coulston

                3 Replies
                1. re: Jason_Coulston

                  Anything from CI is great. I'd start them off with "The Best Recipe" series. They even have a lite version as well.


                  1. re: Davwud

                    Of all the CI titles, I would start them off with the big red binder: America's Test Kitchen cookbook. It's great!

                    1. re: katydid13

                      You may be right. We got "The Best Recipe" as a wedding gift so I know first hand of that. You may know first hand of the other.
                      Either way I'm sure is just fine.


                2. I would suggest the following:

                  1. "The New Best Recipe" Cookbook from "Cooks' Illustrated Magazine."
                  2. "The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook"
                  3. "The Betty Crocker Cookbook"
                  4. "The Joy of Cooking"
                  5. "The I Hate to Cookbook" by Peg Bracken

                  "The New Best Recipe" is just an updating of the book previously called "The Best Recipe." It is wonderful because it explains WHY you do what you do, rather than just giving you instructions. The recipes are the result of a lot of research on what techniques produce (for example) the best chicken pot pie, etc.

                  I like Peg Bracken's book for its humor, its elimination of difficult-to-find ingredients, and the quality of some of its recipes. (Hey, I love to cook, and I don't care about looking for difficult-to-find ingredients, but it sounds like this newlywed couple marches to the beat of a different drummer.)

                  The other cookbooks listed above are standard, and excellent, reference cookbooks. I hope that this helps.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: gfr1111

                    I love the I Hate to Cookbook. Funny stuff and actually, Stayabed stew was a regular at our house growing up. I still make it sometimes. Hootenholler Whiskey Cake and Elevator Lady Spice cookies were others we saw alot of. One of the very first recipes I made as a child was from that book, Sole Survivor. It was extremely simple but I was very young and knew only that I'd put out a tasty supper everyone enjoyed!
                    Thanks for the reminder, I'm going to get the book out tonight and have some fun.

                  2. I think the Donna Hay books are great for beginning cooks. I have Modern Classics I and II (II is desserts). Nice array of recipes - basics, roasts, pastas, salads, soups, etc with some multicultural variety. Simple dishes, simple ingredients, and yummy flavors. And every single recipe has an accompanying photo so you know what you're going for.

                    1. I think that Bittman's How to Cook Everything is the new Joy of Cooking - I used to consider Joy my go-to guide for basics, but now I use the Bittman so much more. The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is great, too - simple recipes that aren't exotic at all, but are solid and easy to follow. Lots of pictures and technique and ingredient info. too. These two would be tops for me for a couple like you describe . . . .

                      13 Replies
                      1. re: gansu girl

                        I agree 100% -- Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is the book I give as a gift in situations such as the original poster asked about. I never even open Joy of Cooking anymore.

                        1. re: DanaB

                          Another Mark Bittman fan here. We have had "How to Cook Everything" for several years, and recently picked up "The Best Recipes in the World". Both are great.

                          1. re: 2FlyingYorkies

                            Agreed on How To Cook Everything. I think that Joy of Cooking is more intimidating for a novice cook. The books from the Minimalist series are also great for novice cooks.

                            I also really like the "Quick from Scratch" series from Food and Wine Books. They were given to me as a gift when I got my first apartment, and I used them all the time (and still use them to a certain extent). They have updated versions from what I own, which you can buy here: http://www.foodandwine.com/books

                            1. re: Megiac

                              I also vote for How To Cook Everything. I rarely follow the recipes but it's a good starting point and a good resource for information about various foods.

                              I usually pick it up if I want to try something new-to-me that is traditional and want to get an idea of the basics of the recipe.


                              1. re: Megiac

                                What on earth do you find intimidating about JOC? A more basic tome I can't imagine.

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  I must say I agree with pikawicca. JOC is very clear, has a no-nonsense yet friendly tone and processes & "why's" are explained very well without getting complicated. Between a 2 volume paperback set of JOC I purchased on lay-away & a thrift store copy of Michael Fields I taught my self to cook pretty darn good at 16. I knew next to nothing (rice krispies treats & scrambled eggs) & was raised by a mother who was too rushed to be open to teaching a child. I now rarely need a recipe for more than inspiration and have had many other influential cookbook relationships over the years, but Joy was my primary teacher. Heck,I've even earned my living teaching cooking & doing recipe development and JOC provided my foundation! If I'm starting from scratch with a new ingredient/concept, JOC is still the first place I look!

                                  1. re: meatn3

                                    It's so interesting, how different people have different responses to cookbooks!

                                    In a similar situation, I taught myself to cook at 14 (when my single mom threw up her hands) via Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The first thing I prepared actually involved trussing the chicken, and I actually did it, with the drawings in Julia Child as a guide.

                                    I still have my mother's copy of Joy of Cooking (1962 ed., from when she first got married) and my grandmother's Fanny Farmer (when it was still called the "Boston Cooking School Cookbook,") and I still prefer Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" to either of those classic tomes for the basics.

                                    1. re: DanaB

                                      You have an interesting observation - I agree that a fair amount of what makes a book "good" to an individual is , for lack of a better phrase, it's voice. There are some books that are arranged in a way that they just don't fit my brains methods of understanding. I know others that adore them, but the way they are arranged just doesn't work for me. Time spent really looking at the books before buying is time well spent. That is why in an earlier post I encouraged the OP to consider their personalities when choosing a cookbook. Not everyone learns in the same way - if you understand your personal learning style it makes it so much easier to find the resources you need in acquiring new skills.

                                2. re: Megiac

                                  I never cared for How To Cook Everything, actually. I've picked it up in bookstores and libraries several times but it just didn't appeal to me. I guess it's a matter of preference.

                                  1. re: Megiac

                                    I would encourage a cookbook featuring fresh produce and seasonal cooking -- healthy, ecologically friendly, and going to farmers' markets is a fun adventure! Turning the goodies purchased there into a meal is another great adventure. In this way, the Moosewood Cookbook or other Mollie Katzen books are great for a new cook, filled with veggie entrees, fantastic soups, and some cool desserts too. They're vegetarian books but (now a meat-eater again) I still turn to her recipes again and again. The San Francisco Farmers' Market book looks pretty good (separated by fruit/vegetable), or maybe even suggest that they look at it or similar books in the library. Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone is an excellent comprehensive book, easy for beginners, with all sorts of preparations for different vegetables.

                                    Since they're just starting out, maybe they could get hooked up with a Community Supported Agriculture box of produce every week (what a cool gift!) -- and learn to cook with what's available locally, right from the start!

                                    Also, a subscription to Everyday Food would be perfect. I've made lots of wonderful recipes there, when I'm short on time or don't feel like getting involved in intricate preparation. Everything has turned out delicious. I started doing sauteed grape tomatoes from a tip in that book. I make a cranberry upside down cake (put it together in about two minutes, delicious) every holiday season. I like the organization of the magazine, the seasonal recipes and the focus on fresh produce.

                                    You started me thinking about future gifts for newlyweds... great topic!

                                    1. re: foxy fairy

                                      I'm not saying that yours is a bad idea, Foxy Fairy, but I am saying that when people don't know how to cook at all, it's best to start them out with a cookbook that will explain the very basics before moving on up. You gotta walk before you can run.

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        Moosewood and my mom taught me to *walk* in the kitchen. It's basic with very clear, simple instructions. She even breaks down how to put together a creative array of sandwiches with fresh produce! She teaches basic sauces, marinades... I learned so much from this. I'm glad that I cooked with a lot of fresh produce from the beginning, because that's my default as a cook.

                                        1. re: foxy fairy

                                          I agree - Moosewood was my very first cookbook ever; it was accessible for a beginner and I have continued to love it through the years.

                            2. How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson is great if you want to learn some basic techniques and recipes that you can cook without thinking about it. Even after cooking for over 20 years I have adopted some of her techniques.

                              Also as others have recommended get one of the basic how-to books for reference such as Betty Crocker or Good Housekeeping. I prefer the Good Housekeeping books especially the ones published in the 1970's.

                              1. You can't go wrong with Fannie Farmer. It has recipes for staples like rice or scrambled eggs, recipes for familiar foods like meatloaf or macaroni and cheese, up to some very sophisticated recipes. Something they can grow into.

                                1. wow - i am impressed. thanks so much everyone! i now have some more ideas to add to my wishlist too.

                                  what are people's thoughts on rachel ray? (aesthetically it appears as it's more of an accessible book for them. and what about the williams-sonoma books? anyone used them?

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: apb

                                    I personally dislike Rachel Ray - I think her "30 minute" thing is a scam - nothing I've ever tried from her books or the Food Network site has actually taken only 30 min. More like 45 on average, maybe more - the prep. can be extensive. I have also found that some of the recipes just *don't work*. I feel like Rachel Ray tries to be too cute at times and that her food falls flat in the process.

                                    I'm not sure what appeals to you aesthetically about R.R.'s books - the How to Cook Everything and the ATK Family Cookbook that I recommended above are both nice looking books, not too preachy or high-brow, and are filled with what most would consider "normal" food (you'd mentioned these folks are not too adventurous). I agree that some of the books recommended are more "retro" or "old fashioned," but remember - there is a reason they're still so popular. They are great, basic books filled with time-tested recipes that aren't tough to manage.

                                    I implore you - don't believe the marketing hype! Trust the 'hounds!

                                    1. re: gansu girl

                                      The single best part of the ATK/CI family of cook books is that they give you an idea of what you're doing. So if you decide you want to try something new, you can check to see if they've tried it and what the result was. It's also teaching you to cook along the way so you can start making up your own inventions.


                                    2. re: apb

                                      If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing book from a well-known TV personality, I'd go with the Barefoot Contessa books before Rachel Ray.

                                      1. re: Megiac

                                        I love the Barefoot Contessa books. Beautiful photos, and great recipes with accessible ingredients.

                                      2. re: apb

                                        I wouldn't go with a Rachel Ray book for their only cookbook. Although it might look cute, nothing is more frustrating to a new cook to have recipes not work out right, or take more time than they say they will.

                                        If you think they need pictures/a glossy book, you might try The Gourmet Cookbook, from Gourmet Magazine. It has a lot of sophisticated recipes, but also has sections on basics, is well organized, and I've always found the Gourmet recipes to be well-tested with good instructions.

                                        If you think they need a t.v. personality to inspire them, I much prefer Nigella Lawson to Rachel Ray. Nigella's newest book, "Nigella Express: 130 Recipes for Good Food, Fast" has gotten very good reviews on Amazon.

                                        While some people really like the Cooks Illustrated books (The New Best Recipe, etc.), I find them to be a bit fussy.

                                        I have several of the Williams Sonoma books (Pizza, Fish), and while they are good (I've used the Pizza book many times), they only cover select topics.

                                        Bottom line is that any new cook needs a "basics" book, and How to Cook Everything, which I mentioned above, is my favorite in that category.

                                        1. re: apb

                                          "what are people's thoughts on rachel ray?"

                                          I am the first to say that Rachel Ray irritates the hell out of me. I do not find her thumbs-up and tomboyisms charming in any way.

                                          That said, if she is not the only resource for cooking information across the board, I've found at least one of her recipes amazingly easy and flat-out hands-down delicious! Somehow I got stuck watching a video of her making onions rings on FN's website. Her method: Slice the onions, seperate into rings, dip in evaporated milk, coat in seasoned flour, dip in milk again, coat in flour again and deep fry. Incredible! They fight for top billing with my tempura onion rings, and that's going some. And I ddin't even need ice water.

                                          I also tried to duplicate her Jacques Pepin smashed potatoes: place washed but unpeeled potatoes of uniform size in a single layer in a pan with lid, add stock nearly half way up potatoes, steam until almost done, remove lid and reduce stock to a trace. Potatoes should be brown on bottom. Mash with base of glass until each potatoes is a fat circle. Turn and brown tops. Serve. When I tried this recipe, it was a complete bust for me. Don't know if it was her fault, Jacques Pepin's fault, or mine. She did use Yukon Gold potatoes, but because I'm allergic to them I used russets. That may be the problem. Don't know.

                                          Anyway, I've had a 50% success rate using two RR recipes. I've read cookbooks with a higher recipes failure rate. If you find RR recipe books appealing, I say go for it.

                                          But I would make it a gift pack by including Mark Bittman's book as well. There are a few things he doesn't cover, but darned few, and for people new to cooking, if they have Bittman, they pretty much have a clear map for navigating any cook book that comes after.

                                        2. There's a book I saw recommended somewhere called "Not On Love Alone: A Year of Delicious Dinners and More for Newlyweds" by Jessie Carry Saunders. I haven't looked at it or cooked from it, but the reviews on Amazon seem pretty positive, so maybe it's something to take a look at?

                                          1. OK, this may sound odd, but if the two of you are novice cooks (and it certainly sounds that way), I would advise visiting a bookstore / cooking store (Williams - Sonoma) and look at some books. Illustrations are a HUGE help for beginning cooks so you can see what the food should look like. Granted, this is no substitution for well written recipes, but I find it very useful especially if it is a recipe / item I am unfamiliar with. One of the best examples is Savoring Italy available at Williams-Sonoma. Well written recipes using readily available ingredients, simple terminology, and great pictures of the end product properly prepared and plated. Also, use this and other food based websites for helpful recipes. And unless you are looking for a divorce, avoid Rachel Ray and Sandra Lee at all costs.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: TonyO

                                              All good advice - pictures are a huge help.

                                            2. I have to second (third?) the recommendation for The New Best Recipes from Cooks Illustrated / America's Test Kitchen:


                                              This book literally taught me to cook (from not even knowing that you need to season meat with salt before you cook it). It has many staple recipes / sides / sauces that you can mix and match.

                                              The best part about this cookbook though are the explanations before each recipe as to why they do it a certain way, what other methods are and their advantages / disadvantages and illustrated technique sections (trussing a chicken, four steps to making a pan sauce, etc. It explains all the basics: what is pan-roasting, sauteing, baking, etc. and what the methods are used for, different types of cuts, different types of pans.

                                              I really can't recommend it enough for a brand-new beginning cook.

                                              (P.S. I found the Williams-Sonoma Bride and Groom Cookbook cute but not very useful. Then again, I dislike pretty much all of the Williams-Sonoma cookbooks).

                                              1 Reply
                                              1. re: LawSchoolGuy

                                                Also, they do product testing and put it in there.


                                              2. My go to is "Fanny Farmer"
                                                It was a wedding gift and is simply the everything I ever thought I wanted to know how to cook book. How to boil eggs to Beef Wellington

                                                I also now really enjoy "Cooking for Two" all of the recipies are 2-3 portions so you aren't stuck eating the same thing all week long.

                                                1. A junior league cookbook is a great gift as well. Almost all cities have a league and their cookbooks tend to have a good mix between more "gourmet" and easy recipes. I have lots of league cookbooks in my collection.

                                                  Also second the recommendations on "The Best Recipe" books. Sometimes it is important for a new cook to know why the timing/process happens the way it does and this books gives that kind of explanation.

                                                  My mom cooked a lot from the "I Hate To Cook Book" and I have given this several times as a shower gift. For working folks, sometimes it is just perfect.

                                                  No one books fills every need, that is why they are so much fun to collect!

                                                  1. I can't believe no one has mentioned The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters! Beautiful and elegant, easy to follow, and classic. Emphasis on simplicity, seasonality, and always planning your meal around the freshest ingredients available.

                                                    Also, it's not a cookbook, but I think everyone should have a copy of On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. It describes the history behind pretty much every food and ingredient you can think of, and also explains in great detail the science behind cooking.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: lmoy

                                                      I am mostly in the same situation as the OP's newlyweds... I only started cooking with any regularity and seriousness in the last year. My mom got me The Art of Simple Food, and I personally find it very discouraging! The recipes are simple--that's not the problem--though they are often very time consuming. But she makes you feel like if you aren't at the farmers' market every morning, cooking with a calendar of harvest times for seasonal ingredients by your side, then you're a failure.

                                                      I also own Bittman's How to Cook Everything, and I find it very encouraging and useful.

                                                      I also own one of Rachel Ray's books, and I agree with the earlier comment that it can be discouraging when the dishes don't come out well. I used some of her recipes during my earliest efforts, and my feeling afterwards was, "Yuck. This isn't so good. Maybe I'm not capable of cooking. Let's go back to take-out."

                                                      For my bridal shower, someone gave me The Newlyweds Cookbook, by Robin Miller, and cheesy as that is, it actually has some great recipes! Even my mom, who is a big fan of mocking my culinary abilities, loved the baked goods I made out of there for Thanksgiving and said I am now the designated family baker.

                                                    2. I know WS has a book specifically for newlyweds with great recipes and fabulous photographs! Also, have you considered the Ingredients Cookbook? Its a large tome, but it has a number of recipes with for specific things like broccoli. Its actually my go-to wedding gift and everyone loves it!

                                                      1. As an alternative, I think a subscription to a cooking magazine, such as Cooking Light or Bon Appetit, would be a really nice gift. I have found more "go-to" recipes in magazines than in books.

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: hollyeve

                                                          Cooks Illustrated. Again, it goes into detail about what is going on during a recipe can teaches how to cook. Not how to follow instructions.


                                                          1. re: Davwud

                                                            Now see, I think Cooks Illustrated is too fussy for these folks - heck, I'm a dedicated and regular cook and I don't even have patience for Cooks Illustrated mag. these days. There is great info. in the pub., but it's VERY particular and sort of esoteric for the average Joe/Joanne . . . .

                                                            As far as food magazine subscriptions go - and I do think that's a good idea, too, I think that the Everyday Food magazine is great for a couple like this. The recipes are easy, there are nice pictures and there are tips on technique and ingredients. I'd get them books for the wedding and then if it sparks interest, give a subscription as a gift down the road.

                                                            1. re: gansu girl

                                                              Yeah, I agree. The OP states that they aren't overly experienced so perhaps the CI books would be nice to have as a second source, they may not be the most user friendly for this couple. I second the Every Day Food magazine subscription, and think that the Everyday Food: Great Food Fast Cookbook would be an ok choice. There is a photo of each dish and nothing is too involved but some learning will happen. I think it's a great place to start if they are true beginners.
                                                              On the other hand, if they are interested in spending time reading and doing to learn about food and cooking, that's different.

                                                        2. Betty Crocker has been mentioned here. I've been cooking for a while and feel comfortable in the kitchen, but still use this book. Lots of variety, easy to follow, simple ingredients. If you want to go a little less expensive, and get yourself a whole bunch of (somewhat) seasonal recipes, subscribe for a year to Cooking Light magazine. I picked up a bunch of good recipes from this mag. Simple, easy, etc. The problem was I started to see the same recipe repeated about the same time every year.

                                                          1. Better Homes & Gardens has long been my "go-to" shower gift and I still think it's great. Having said that, I'm now doing the BHG and a Jamie Oliver book. JO's food meets your criteria, and the books look a bit "cooler" than the BHG.

                                                            1. I'm amazed no one has mentioned Julia Child's "The Way to Cook". that was the book that my husband and I learned on. I still use it for quite a few things, (nothing beats the meatloaf recipe). I am also a big fan of Cook's Illustrated (The Cook's Bible), and Bittman's Best Recipes in the World.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: Felixnot

                                                                The Way to Cook is what I taught myself with as well - along w/ Marcella's Essentials.