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Looking for cookbook

I want to try to cook at home more, but I'm really lacking skills in the kitchen. I am lacking a lot of experience, and I think I often try to cook recipes that are complicated.

I would like to start cooking everyday, and I think it would be helpful to find a cookbook that I could work through, from beginning to end. It would be great to find a cookbook with the following qualities:

1. Has recipes for simple meals that call for fresh ingredients
2. Has variety
3. Does not use a ton of meat
4. Recipes are reasonably healthy
5. Most recipes don't take longer than 40 minutes or so

What I really want is a cookbook I can work my way through over the next few months. In the process I want to become more comfortable in the kitchen, eat better, and also learn some simple recipes that I will be able to remember and use in the future---without consulting a book or the internet.

Is there a particular cookbook that would be goo for this?

Oh...and I like pictures!

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  1. I would recommend Alice Waters 'The Art of Simple Food'. As the title indicates, the focus is on simple, fresh recipes that rely on top quality ingredients. There is a great primer at the begining explaining about pantry basics, equipment, some techniques, etc. The only thing missing are photos but there are some illustrations. You will also find people on this board very helpful if you have questions or need inspiration. Good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: ms. clicquot

      I second Alice Waters' new book. But I don't know of *one* cookbook that meets your criteria. I wish there were a book that taught you techniques and then provided recipes. Mark Bittman's fairly new "How to Cook Everything" comes the closest to that, but alas, no photos. But that's okay, he guides you through.

      You may want more than one; I don't know of one (other than Julia Child Mastering the Art of French Cooking) that you would want to cook from beginning to end. And anyway, they're often complicated and tons of butter!
      Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" is an excellent cookbook (won an award), fairly basic and mostly very easy and relaxed, with good explanations of techniques and variations (such as many ways to flavor sauteed boneless chicken breasts). A good standby.
      Also terrific is Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that on the whole is pretty basic and straightforward.

      Some meals can be put together in 40 minutes; some take more time, or you can cook over the course of a couple days (e.g., making vegetable stock to use in a dish the next day; or using leftovers to make a new dish)

      As Molly Stevens writes, the best way to be a good cook is to cook often.

      Start w/ basics and see what you like and want to develop. With all the glitzy magazines and myriad of trendy cookbooks, it's easy for a beginner to lose their way.
      Julia Child suggested finding some recipes you like, and cook them 3 times until you are comfortable doing so. Almost everyone is happy w/ a good roast chicken (sorry for another book suggestion, but Marcella Hazan has a great roast chicken recipe and her Essentials of Good Cooking is a bible in my home.)

    2. Try the More-with-Less Cookbook. Not too many pictures, but a lot of good, basic recipes, including many main dishes that make good use of small amounts of meat or less-expensive cuts of meat. One big highlight for me is the page that explains how to make your own white sauce and then adapt it so it's the equivalent (minus the HFCS and chemicals) of the canned soup that finds its way into far too many recipes.

      1. Joy of Cooking is a bible not any color pictures but something that will remain a reference for a lifetime....Silver Palate is nice as well as the Moosewood books.....for theatre......picture book cookbooks are for show and tell, and coffee tables, by celebrity author/chefs....decide if you want to learn cooking basics/foundations......or if you want to be amused/awed.....

        1 Reply
        1. re: Saddleoflamb

          Agreed about the Joy of Cooking. It's my go-to reference for everything in the kitchen from more mundane things like muffins and bechamel to the obscure (ie water-bath canning). It's not a pretty cookbook, but it has very reliable instructions and general cooking tips. Both Moosewood and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, which have been mentioned in other posts are ok for some things. The Moosewood cookbooks have good baking recipes as well as good tips on how to make meatless versions of some old favorites. However, the recipes are a little on the bland side and often require quite a bit of tweaking. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone has a few good recipes, but again, many require tweaking or simply don't work so it's not a good book for someone learning to cook.
          Do you like Indian or Chinese food? If so, Invitation to Indian Cooking, by Madhur Jaffrey or Chinese Vegetarian Cooking, by Eileen Yin Fe-Lo (not sure I spelled that right) are both relatively easy cook books with good instructions.

        2. I concur with the More-with-Less Cookbook recommendation. Excellent for basics. I have an older edition, but it may have been updated in the meantime.

          Another one for you to check out is the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook. I received this one years ago (the one from the 1980s) and it really did help me learn to cook. There is a picture for every recipe, plus information on the time it will take to complete a recipe. Good illustrations of each step involved, too. I don't use this one much anymore, but I found it an excellent all-purpose cookbook to learn from. It may have more meat in than you'd like, though, so check it out first (there's a newer edition out, I think).

          1. Lora Brody's Kitchen Survival Guide. It will not overwhelm you, is simple to follow and as a breast cancer survivor the recipes are healthy too. She wrote the book for her sons as they were growing up and moving out of the family home into their own places. Not only does it get you off on the right foot with the basics but it provides a wealth of kitchen info that everyone should know. It is spiral bound so it will lay flat and written like a mom talking to her kids. It is an informational and good read.

            1. Believe it or not, but Bittman's book with its straightforward and comprehensive recipes jump started my wife's cooking again. She only likes recipes that take up less than a page and aren't too complicated but she has a wonderful palate and excellent and discriminating taste when it comes to all kinds of food. Some of the recipes she's made from his book have been really good.

              1. The New Basics cookbook Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins is excellent. It has a lot of veggie recipes and the recipes are very accessible. It is like a Bible for me. Joy of Cooking is also very good in my opinion.

                1 Reply
                1. re: sarah galvin

                  I agree with you here sg, I forgot about how much I would look at their books, they have wonderful recipes that are sort of a step above the everyday food
                  (or what I think is, meatloaf or mac & cheese etc..), yet there are nice recipes for that in there too.. It's a fun and inspiring book as well a fun read. The recipes are easy to follow... What am I saying? I still use it!

                2. Sorry, no pictures. but I'd still recommend Joy of Cooking. I don't think I've used a cookbook in years now, and just about everything I've learned is from this (once you've learned the basics you can figure out variations on your own).

                  1. I really think the answer is Joy of Cooking. As another poster mentioned it's a bible and every kitchen should have a copy. It covers all the basics really well and has a lot of useful general information about food and food preparation.
                    That being said I recommend having more than one cookbook, Joy of Cooking is an essential foundation but there a lot of great cookbook's out there to explore.

                    1. I would add Julia Child's The Way to Cook to the list - it has lots of pictures and lots of step by step instructions. It also teaches by giving a 'master recipe' and then showing variations on that recipe. However, it is fairly meat oriented so it may not work as your primary cookbook. For a no meat alternative I'd second NYchowcook's recommendation of Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking fo Everyone. It's a great book with lots of basic and not-so basic vegetarin recipes (along with ideas on how to incorpoarte them into a meal - with or without added meat).

                      1. All of those cookbooks are great, but have you tried subscribing to one of the many cooking magazines out there? For you, I think you would like Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. It is well laid out, lots of pictures of the ingredients, lots of variety and reasonably healthy.

                        One of my best friends is not a cook at all, but when I sent it to her, she jumped right in and made Pork Tenderloin with mustard-orange sauce and was thrilled with how easy it came together. Plus, you get a new issue every month, and it's reasonably priced.

                        I cook a lot and love this publication and have used many of the recipes over & over, even to send meals over to friends. I think you will like it. Happy hunting!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Phurstluv

                          It looks like I need to take a loot at my own bookshelf before I go looking for a new book. I have been using Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything a bit. I made a spicy lentil soup from it the other day that was very good.

                          My roommate has the Alice Waters and Moosewoods books, so I guess I need to check them out.

                          I also just ordered the Glorious One-Pot meal and a Le Creuset...we will see how that goes.

                          1. re: Phurstluv

                            I agree with magazines being a great start. Many, like "cuisine at home" is excellent for someone introducing themselves to cooking (lots of great pictures) and not intimidating. And you haven't invested much to get a feel for what you like for recipes before launching into cookbooks.

                            I too love Everyday Food - always get new ideas.

                            And Cooking Light is excellent as well.

                            Have fun!

                            1. re: lexpatti

                              You're right, lexpatti, I subscribe to all of those as well! Definitely less intimidating than some of those listed cookbooks!

                          2. Your local library is your friend -- check out their cookbook section (basic) to see what appeals.

                            1. I agree with the library suggestion. You can try out as many books as you want that way with no commitment!

                              I'd suggest Nigella Lawson's How to Eat. I always suggest it because recipes are simply presented and uncomplicated, because good food without strenuous effort is one of the main ideas behind it, and because it's a great reference, with a lot of basics and divided into sections for quicker meals, meals for one or two people, healthier meals, Sunday lunches, etc.

                              I'd stay away from basic references like JoC at first because it's so dense and can be intimidating. I love it when I need to look up timings for roast meats or how to make pancakes, but I'd never cook my way through it. Again, though, the library is the way forward!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Kagey

                                Can I support the Nigella suggestion? As a Brit I'm a tad biased, but she's just so readable that you just want to cook everything!

                              2. I've just finished working through Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the Food". It's primarily an instruction book on basic cooking techniques. I've found it incredibly helpful in improving my kitchen skills in a very short time. Also, the recipes in the book are simple and delicious. I'd recomend it to anyone.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: hoosiercheetah

                                  I love Ina Garten's cook books. Simple recipes, fresh ingredients, some meat but unfortunatley Ina is not a cheap date. She uses only the best ingredients so her recipes can be a bit pricey. O and not exactly healthy either but you can modify if necessary.

                                  1. re: jesoda

                                    I agree that you can't go wrong with any of Ina Garten's books. They are visually beautiful and the recipes simple enough to just jump in and start cooking.

                                    The Everyday Food cookbook is another excellent choice - it is chock full of exactly the kind of recipes and photos the OP has expressed an interest in.

                                    1. re: btnfood

                                      I just picked up that Everyday Food cookbook for a bday present. I loved the format, lots of pics, recipes aren't complicated. Bday boy gets overwhelmed with two many ingrediants and complicated instructions but likes good food, presented nicely. This was a perfect fit. Bj's Wholesale has it.

                                2. I'll throw out Jamie Oliver's new book, Cook with Jamie. Lots of pictures, good recipes, and I've found his writing style really engaging. I'm sure there are people who would disagree, but I've really liked his stuff. You could check a couple of his books out from the library before buying.

                                  Magazines are another good option - I used to subscribe to Everyday Food, and it seems like it would fit the bill for what you're looking for. I eventually stopped subscribing because I wanted more challenge, but everything I made from it was good and I really liked the format. Cooking Light isn't bad, either, although some of their recipes try a little too hard to be healthy. But, there are probably five or ten good recipes for every so-so recipe. And, again, lots of pictures.

                                  As others have suggested, Alice Waters' new book would be a great one to work your way through, and Bittman's book is great. Joy of Cooking is a good one to have on hand as a reference, but I wouldn't try to work your way through it, especially if you have an older version (my copy has recipes for all kinds of forest critters that I'd never touch!).

                                  Cook's Illustrated (magazine and a variety of books) has been another good reference, although I know a lot of people are irritated by the "this is the only way to do it if you want it to turn out" tone. But, I've had a lot of luck with their recipes and they do a great job explaining things. No pictures, although some of the recipes have very helpful illustrations.

                                  The library is your friend! Take advantage of it and check out some of the things people have recommended before buying, to see what works for you. Since I have a cookbook problem, I have a rule for myself that I have to check cookbooks out from the library before buying them, and that's been really helpful - there have been books I thought I'd love that I've ended up not being that impressed with, and others that I wasn't too sure about that I ended up buying later.

                                  1. This is a good cookbook to learn techniques, and tricks in the kitchen, Has lots of photos and a wide variety of recipes. It is a good place to start. Only problem is finding it! Maybe they would have it at the library or a used bookstore. It is the "Better Homes and Gardens Simple secrets to better everyday cooking." If you can find it I think you would like it. Lots of information about ingredient, nutrition, etc., and over 300 recipes.

                                    1. The Splendid Table's How to eat supper is getting rave reviews with simple directions for less experienced cooks.
                                      Check it out of the library along with a dozen others!

                                      1. It sounds like you're focused more on simple, healthful "go to" recipes than delving into lots of cooking technique. I recommend the New Mayo Clinic Cookbook. It's a skinny cookbook, only 50 recipes, so something you can easily work your way through in a couple of months. It has gorgeous photos. All the recipes are simple and focus on fresh ingredients and good nutrition. It won a James Beard award for "healthy focus" the year it came out. You can see some sample pages here (click on the green preview button) http://bookstore.mayoclinic.com/produ... The only thing I don't like about this book is that it's not available in hard-cover.

                                        It also has sections on menu planning and shopping tips.

                                        Another book I like a lot is, don't laugh, Weight Watchers Great Cooking Every Day. WW partnered with the CIA to put together this cookbook and they really focus on healthful dishes using whole grains and healthful cooking methods that taste great. What I like about it is, again, it's mostly a book of recipes, but usually, with each recipe, they sneak in some cooking technique or ingredient tip. So, you can just work your way through the recipes, but you pick up a lot of new tips along the way. Lots of dishes with legumes and whole grains in this one, as well as many nice photos. I don't think there's a photo for each and every recipe the way there is in the Mayo Clinic one, though. Available through Amazon.


                                        1. The one site that came to mind that fits your 5 criteria is www.101cookbooks.com. Everything Heidi swanson makes is simple, fresh, healthy, leaning towards vegetarian, and really delicious to boot. She posts a new recipe almost every week, and has a great database of all her recipes. And wait till you see her photos! She also has a book out if you you'd rather have something on paper.

                                          I agree with Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." You can't go wrong with having this book on your shelf. And Alice Waters' "The art of simple food" is a great reference book on how to approach food and cooking responsibly. In a way, I find it more of a food philosophy book rather than a cookbook. Either way, I think it lays a great foundation.

                                          As for techniques, I think it mostly comes with practice, but if you're serious about learning them right, I would consult Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques" as a reference book. Every page is filled with him demonstrating each technique step-by-step.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: yumyumyogi

                                            I love Heidi Swanson's website (and cookbook). And the photos are stunning. I haven't found the recipes in her book to be that accessible, though.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              I see. Are the recipes in her book more complicated than those on her website?

                                          2. If you have a library near you, you can check and see if they have any cookbooks, to get an idea of what you may want to purchase or borrow.

                                            1. No pictures --- but you don't need 'em with Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Recipe. Her cookbooks seem to be little known on Chowhound, why puzzles me, because they're all great. Reliable and accurate (she's out of the Cook's Illustrated school), down to earth (what real people want to eat in real families every day), readily available ingredients, healthy (basic meat, chicken, fish, vegetables, vegetables, vegetables). Basically she gives you patterns --- a supper soup all in one dish, a saute with vegetables, etc.- --- and then suggestions to ring changes on them, depending on what's in the market, what your family likes, etc. So you never need to be bored. I wouldn't be without it, and I strongly suggest it to you, even though it has no glamour and isn't trendy and doesn't come up a dozen times here --- ;-) Oh, and it doesn't even cost a lot of money!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                                                Just a minor correction: the title is "How to Cook Without a Book."

                                                1. re: BerkshireTsarina

                                                  True. Good book. ChiliDude often recommends it, I think. I did get a copy of it, and I think it's very good for someone who wants to get used to cooking fresh food on a daily basis. For someone with a lot of experience already, though, it might be a little too elementary. I like to go back to it occasionally when I lack inspiration or when I have lots of ingredients but no idea what to do.

                                                2. I like the Mayo Clinic Eating Well for Better Health cookbook. That fits most of your criteria.

                                                  1. For many, many years I watched and learned from the Master Chef, Julia Child. God rest her soul. Now, she's available on DVD and I can't think of a better teacher. Check it out