HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Good cookbook for a new cook?

  • b

A good friend of mine just moved into a new place with a big kitchen. She was recently married so she has every gadget imaginable and wants to start cooking. She is a novice and asked me to recommend some cookbooks. Does anyone have any in mind? She likes the ones with pictures and no fuss, delicious recipes.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Number one for a new cook: Julia Childs "The Way to Cook". Master recipes, big pictures, every section tells you where to start, how to substitute and gives you choices. I learned to cook with it more than 20 years ago, and it is still a great resource.

    Pictures are a tough requirement, but you may want to also have her look at Nigella Lawson's books. Again, if pictures are required, her recipes are easy to follow and I use them a lot.

    Other books I would recommend, (that are great, but don't have pictures), Mark Bittman's "The Best Recipes in the World", and "The Cook's Bible" published by Cook's Illustrated.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Felixnot

      I thought my self to cook with The Way to Cook as well, and think it's a great choice.

      1. re: Felixnot

        I must agree with Julia's "The Way to Cook". I am an accomplished cook, but still find myself pulling out Julia when making something we don't have often (like crepes, or a leg of lamb) IMHO, this is the very best for new cook.

      2. timing is everything
        really good, but not for recipes, for basic timing info

        joy of cooking

        2 Replies
        1. re: thew

          Agree, the new edition of Joy of Cooking is fabulous, especially for a "new" cook.

          Much as I love to cook and love Julia Child, unless you're fearless and undeterred, the Way to Cook is a little daunting. But it serves well as a guide for those who are accomplished in most areas.

          1. re: Phurstluv

            FWIW, I was 23 or so when I started using The Way to Cook, and really didn't no much of anything about cooking.

        2. She would like "America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook," which is huge, filled with pictures and cooking tips. It must have at least 1,000 recipes in it. The ATC franchise is publishing a baking cookbook to match, which I've already ordered. It will be available in a few weeks.

          1. Any of the "cook's illustrated" books, or John Ash "Cooking One on One"

            1 Reply
            1. re: Firegoat

              The Best Recipe, which is one of the "Cook's Illustrated" books is a good choice for the novice cook since it not only tells you how to make a recipe, but also why the recipe works -- i.e. the science behind the recipe. It is not the most exciting cookbook out there, but it is thorough and explicit.

            2. Alton Brown - "I'm Just Here For The Food"
              Mark Bittman - "How To Cook Everything"

              1. I really like Anna Del Conte's books and her book "Pasta" is easy, has great recipes, and wonderful pictures. It's also very inexpensive to buy it used. It's a steal.

                1. I started with Fannie Farmer (no, not the original). Today I give the novice Bittman's book. If I want to add to someone's basic knowledge I give Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I still feel you have to master the basic techniques if you want to be very good at this business of cooking.

                  1. I'm a big fan of Ina Garten. Her "Barefoot Contessa" cookbook has great recipes. Not a lot of ingredients or fancy techniques. It's my alltime favorite.

                    1. Maybe I'm just an old fart, but I just pulled out my original Bromberger Joy of Cooking and Craig Claiborne's International Cookbook to look up an old fav. reipe for braised lamb shanks 4 hours ago.

                      1. I like Alton Brown's book, but it's more conceptual than specific; heavy on theory and light on recipes.

                        Joy of Cooking is the opposite; tons of recipes, but not much in the way of unifying information. And the pictures are very limited.

                        The Way to Cook (Julia Child) is, IMHO, the best beginner's cookbook in the world. Enough recipes to allow you to figure out what you're going to do with what's in the fridge or pantry, and enough general information about foods to help you learn to cook without recipes. It also uses the "master recipe" format: start with something simple that allows the cook to master the basics, then add ingredients and embellishments that a beginning cook will be comfortable with only because the basic theme and ingredients are familiar.

                        1. "La Varenne Pratique" from the La Varenne Cooking School in France. It is in English, and is comprehensive, with lots of pictures.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: souschef

                            I strongly second this nomination. La Varenne is in my experience of giving many cookbooks over the years to novice cooks (in other words, generally *not* the kind of people here at Chowhound) the most helpful at building basic information in the quickest way.

                          2. I started with a Joy of Cooking, but the book that made cooking fun was Silver Palate. At this point, the cookbook is probably dated, but I still refer to it regularly. When my daughter gets her first kitchen, I will make sure she has a Joy, Bittmans' How To Cook Everything, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home along with numerous recipe cards of her "momma" favorites.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: smtucker

                              The Silver Palate is my all-time favorite, and after all these years I don't think there is a better, easier crowd pleaser recipe than Chicken Marbella. The recipes are simple and standouts, easily mastered by even a novice.

                              1. re: City Kid

                                Second that, City Kid. Silver Palate is a home-run. Chicken Raspberry is an all-time fav of mine and frequently requested, as is the chili for a crowd and the Roast Lamb. "The New Basics" would be a good one for a novice as it gives more explanation about cooking times, techniques and temperatures.

                            2. I think Bittman's How To Cook Everything is a perfect "go to" book for a huge amount of recipes, as well as great info about what to look for when shopping, cuts of meat, what freezes well, *everything*. I've been cooking for years and has been my base since I received it a few years ago. It doesn't have pictures, but does have quite a few drawings "where necessary"

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: DGresh

                                Wow, DGresh, I thought nobody was going to mention this fabulous book. I guess we've all either taken it for granted or some have soured on it.

                                This is hands-down the best book for a new cook I've ever come across. It covers almost everything you've ever heard of and some you haven't. I've given it as a wedding present to 2 couples and both have thanked me profusely. One couple actually began to get deeply interested in cooking and now make sophisticated dishes all the time.

                              2. I don't know whether it's still in print (does that make me an old fart?) but I found recently in a used book shop a copy of Cooking in Colour, which I gave to my niece. The great thing about it is that every recipe has a colour photo, so you know what the final product should look like. Very simple, straightforward recipes, some actually a bit fancy-shmanzy, and a pretty broad variety of styles. Also, everything is in metric and Imperial.

                                1. The James Beard Cookbook. Covers it ALL, and simply enough for a novice.

                                  1. another vote for Bittman's How to Cook Everything. It's simple and logical and detailed enough for anyone from a beginning cook to one with more experience

                                    1. I just bought someone a new cookbook called Everyday Food. This person loves pictures for everything and they are somewhat simple. I believe it's put out by Martha Stewart and is on the grocery shelf monthly as a magazine too. It's a great beginner cookbook but nice attractive meals.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: lexpatti

                                        That is the companion book to a PBS cooking show. The recipes I have seen on the show always look decent and simple. Good food, a minimum of ingredients with some thought. Sort of Americas test Kitchen merged with 30 minute meals.

                                      2. America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
                                        They really do test everything.
                                        Everything works, especially for a novice.

                                        1. Alice Waters new one, The Art of Simple Food. It is for my daughter what JOY and MASTERING were for me.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: pickypicky

                                            I haven't used it yet, but in reading through it, it struck me as a good book for a new cook as well.

                                          2. I would highly recommend a new cookbook (1st Edition, 2007) from the editors of Cook's Illustrated entitled The Best International Recipe, A Home Cook's Guide to the Best Recipes in the World.

                                            This is because it is instructive without being juvenile. As Cook's Illustrated magazine is known for, they test kitchen recipes to find the best result, the best ingredients, recommended tools, etc. It's fun because the variety of international recipes is not boring and it shows so many ways to cook.

                                            The Best International Recipe book has about 30-40 pages for each country/region and offers basic recipes after a brief narrative. They entitle each recipe in American and give the proper foreign name following. The narrative sometimes gives a bit of history, sometimes their stages of kitchen discovery to get best results, sometimes an explanation of a needed ingredient and a possible alternative in American stores. It will show "the best" equipment (like using a tagine for some morroccon dishes) however, will also show a "fine option" (using a Le Creuset Dutch Oven in its place).
                                            This is Cook's Illustrated magazine style.

                                            It shows the different preparation styles; such as (a) how in China one might slice on the bias the veggies, scallions, meat, etc., (b) why using cubed cheese for Queso Fundido (melted cheese dip) is better than using shredded or packaged shredded cheese and why, (c) how to flambe on a gas stove and how to flambe on an electric stove; (d) shows pictures of assembling techniques for such as French blintzes and free-form tarts, Mexican tamales, Indian samosas, and scoring British soda bread and (f) they even show a picture of the proper dough consistency of good Italian gnocchi and a picture of what would be too soft a dough.

                                            There are traditional recipes from 14 international areas, so one would become familiar with the spices, the meats, the veggies, etc. (ingredients) indigenous to each area. And, having learned the closest way to make the real international dishes right here in America, I would think that after using this book for awhile, "winging it" with original ideas would be successful.

                                            Because I have watched and cooked with great home cooks from variety of nations, I saw many instances in this book that concurred with what they taught me.

                                            It even contains my new favorite recipe for variation Italian tiramisu, Orange Frangelica Tirimisu, that was featured in their magazine.

                                            1. I think that the Joy of Cooking is an excellent reference cookbook, one that I reach for whenever I am looking for a specific type of recipe. However, I would also want cookbooks that are colorful, full of pictures and inspiration. For more information about cookbooks, I have written two pages. One, which you can find at www.squidoo.com/cookbooks1, is a guide to choosing good cookbooks. The other is a discussion of a hugely popular book series called Company's Coming. You can find it at http://www.squidoo.com/companyscoming.


                                              1. I am lost without my big red McCall's cookbook. I always use this as a reference. I think it is definitely as good as Joy of Cooking if not better. It has 700+ pages and a huge variety of recipes. This would be my suggestion for a first all purpose cookbook. Mine was published in 1963 and it is timeless. Good cooking never goes out of style.
                                                P.Andy - pandacurry.com

                                                1. Joy of Cooking. What the Gideon bible is to hotel rooms so the Joy of Cooking is for kitchens. There's a reason for that. It has a smattering of information on just about every food.

                                                  I really like giving novice cooks both The Joy of Cooking and Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. If you want to know the "why" of cooking along with the steps and pictures I think it's a valuable resource.

                                                  1. I treasure cook books (with yummy photos to drool over), and I believe every home should have at least a few. However, books have limits. Online you can find anything. Perhaps making your friend a list of links to tasty food websites and blogs would be a nice addition to the cookbooks.

                                                    1. Great Food Fast meets the stated requirements: easy recipes, delicious results, mouth-watering photographs.
                                                      However, two superb cookbooks for novices that don't have photos have already been noted in this thread: The New Basics (by Silver Palate authors) is very comprehensive with a lot of, discussion of basic techniques, definitions, etc. and many fabulous recipes; it does have drawings and diagrams. And Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is also fabulous, with helpful advice and a slew of pretty simple recipes.

                                                      1. Simply Vegan by Debra Wasserman and Pure & Simple by Tami A. Benton.

                                                        1. Not a cookbook but a DVD and a book by Jacques Pepin:

                                                          The Complete Pepin: Techniques and Recipes (DVD) plus
                                                          Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques (Book).

                                                          It's almost like going to cooking school.

                                                          (If there is budget for one more...Jacques' Fast Food my Way would be a good third to round out the set.)

                                                          1. And I forgot in my earlier post: The (original) Silver Palate was reissued in an anniversary edition last year or so, and it has beautiful color photographs. I learned to cook from the original edition, and 25 years later, I am still cooking happily and still using many of those recipes.