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Dec 23, 2009 07:12 PM

Recommend a cookbook for a VERY novice cook?

Hey all,

I'm looking for a cookbook (recipe book? instructor book?) for a friend as a gift. This person has not been around the kitchen much, and although likes cooking, is prone to following the instruction to the dot (in both a good way and the bad -- she once burnt chili because i told her to stir about once every 5-10 minutes, and she timed herself for 7.5, and as the liquid reduced...)

Anyway. I want her to expand her repetoire of recipes, something fun, easy, simple (we're both college students), and a good introduction to cooking.


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  1. I don't know is "The Joy of Cooking" still the cook book bible?

      1. Hi,

        I would recommend the Sunset cookbook "Easy Basics for Good Cooking". Not sure if it is still in print, but I've found older copies at Amazon...good luck!

        1. My favourite is Julie Van Rosendaal's "Starting Out: The Essential Guide to Cooking On Your Own." I think it fits what you're looking for to a T. Besides (really good) recipes that usually also have "what else to do with it" and "what to do with leftovers" segments, it has a section on how to choose fruits & vegetables and one on damage control, defines cooking terms in plain language, gives you "mom tips" (eg. how to chop an onion without crying) and has menu suggestions. It's available at Amazon here:

          Also pretty good, and with tips, are "Cooking Outside the Pizza Box" by Jean Patterson and Danae Campbell and Company Coming's "The Rookie Cook by Jean Paré.

          1. oh-oh... this is a great question. the flip side is that you may get too many suggestions as everyone throws in 2.5¢ (me too)... anyway, America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook would be a great gift. FC has over a thousand basic (read this as traditional/classic) American recipes (or good mods to other cooking styles) with easy to read text and color photos. This is an ideal book for someone starting to cook or for someone who's been cooking since the... well, a long time.

            List price is about $35 but it's often on sale at Amazon, the ATK/Cook's Illustrated website, or other booksellers.

            It's a ring bound book so you can take out a page if you wish. Most recipes are very straightforward and do not require any special skills or exotic or unusual ingredients. FC recipes include cooking (from apps to desserts) and baking (breads, cookies, cakes, pies). There's also an excellent menu planning section with suggested menus for full up meals as well as a real index.

            If someone follows the recipes exactly (sounds like your friend), the dishes will come out as advertised. If you've seen the ATK shows on PBS, you know how they test each recipe a <large number here> times. Now, people may agree or not whether something turns out awesomely good or just so-so (or not even that) but that's a separate issue. As noted, the focus is pretty American classic/traditional.

            My experience has been consistently positive. I've had more than a few requests for a "how'dja make that".

            This is also a good book for someone on a budget since the authors seem alert to good outcomes at modest costs.

            3 Replies
            1. re: jcr1

              I love my Best Recipes book and had said, prior to "meeting" CH, that if I were starting out cooking, that would probably be the first cookbook I'd buy. I'm a recipe follower and rarely feel the need to create. As I've said, they PAY those people to write those books :)

              1. re: c oliver

                I would second Best Recipes. It is so reliable and reads essentially like lab notes so it not only tells you the how but the why. Very useful for the novice!

              2. re: jcr1

                I have one of the America's Test Kitchen cookbooks. I'm beyond the novice cook stage (in years if not in skills) and I find my ATK cookbook invaluable when making many classic recipes. Any cookbook that expends two pages telling you how to make potato salad (including half a page about the best way to hard boil eggs) is pretty thorough.