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Dec 30, 2009 01:04 PM

Cookbook for novice cook who IS adverturesome, healthy, but relatively poor ;-)

My daughter was just ranting about the fact that no one seems to make a cookbook for beginners that is a) healthful; b) easy; and c) doesn't require expensive ingredients or a lot of supplies and tools.

Most "beginner's" books are of the "dump and stir" variety (nasty processed ingredients), or boring (mac and cheese and meatloaf, etc., etc. )...or they are intimidating (like Bittman's How To Cook, which I gave her for her birthday but she says is too frightening.... )

To quote my daughter: "I want a cookbook that will tell you how to make easy, delicious, exciting food when all you have in the house are some potatoes and cans of tuna, and a few spices. I can't keep running to Whole Foods when I have exams, and I can't afford to buy a lot of food and store it in the apartment. It just goes bad."

I thought of Deborah Madison's superb (and under-appreciated) The Savory Way, but beyond that, I'm drawing a blank.

Any other suggestions? She barely knows how to do anything besides omelets, despite (or because of?) growing up surrounded by passionate cooks.

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  1. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Runs the entire gamut of recipes and your daughter will find many that are easy and inexpensive, plus some with pricier ingredients for when she finishes school and is working! I find it more accessible for beginners than Joy of Cooking, though both have good information.

    ETA: along the Deborah Madison lines, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is a good choice. She'll have to use another book for her cans of tuna though!

    5 Replies
    1. re: nofunlatte

      Although I totally agree with the Bittman suggestion, and I gave her that for her birthday, I should have just kept it for myself <g>, as she's "scared of it." It's too big or something. Who knows.

      1. re: Beckyleach

        The size can be daunting! Maybe you can ask her for it back :)

        The red plaid Better Homes and Gardens cookbook might also be a possibility. I had a small softbound copy (w/some color photos) that I used until it got mangled in a move. Or if you can find a copy of the Good Housekeeping cookbook, it might work as well. Yes, some "dump a can of this", but photos of every recipe, plus step-by-step instructions. It's the book I learned to cook from.

        1. re: nofunlatte

          Maybe you can ask her for the Bittman book back, scan/copy select recipes you think she'd enjoy, then regift her a slimmed-down mom/dad-made spiral-bound version of the greatest hits. Just an idea.

        2. re: Beckyleach

          I gave my son, who just graduated from college Bittman's and he really likes it, and he is pretty much a beginner cook who is too busy with his first job to spend a lot of time in the kitchen What he particularly likes is the section that deals with substitutions, as he never has on hand exactly the ingredients called for in the recipes. Try to encourage your daughter to look more closely at Bittmans and show her that even when she does not have exactly the right ingredients she can use the recipes as a guide to cook what she does have.

          Christina Mason's suggestion is also a good one. There are a lot of relatively simple, few ingredient recipes in there, but maybe your daughter just has not dug sufficiently through the book; you might help her find them.
          Also, if there are recipes that you make that she enjoys, be sure to write them down for her, along with whatever helpful hints might assist her the first few times she makes them.

          1. re: masha

            you're right; the bittman book is *great* on substitutions. I always feel "empowered" to deviate with his book; not those fussy books that make you feel like you have to drive over three counties to get just the right ingredient. I also like the idea of "greatest hits" above; I started making books for my kids for Christmas this year (they are 13 and 16). I photocopied out of my cookbooks, or printed out my favorite web recipes, or typed up my own "in my head" recipes and put them in those plastic sleeves in a spiral notebook.

            I gave my daughter "Eat Fresh Food; Awesome Recipes for Teens" for Christmas this year; a bit younger than your demographic, but I like the look of this book; healthy, vegetable-heavy, easy recipes.


      2. The Art of Simple Food, perhaps... at least it is thinner than the Bittman book.

        Of course, I like Batali's Molto Italiano quite a lot.... have some pasta and the basic tomato sauce recipe on hand, and you're halfway done with many of the recipes. But I don't think it is any easier than Bittman's.

        There are some people who just aren't intrigued by cooking.

        2 Replies
        1. re: jaykayen

          why dont you tag some recipes for her in the bittman? that might get her started

          1. re: jaykayen

            I respectfully disagree re: the Art of Simple Food as a recommendation in this situation (although, I agree with you that the book is thinner!)

            I own the Art of Simple Food (it was also a COTM recently and was not universally loved, I'm afraid), and, although I am a fan of Ms. Waters and of Chez Panisse, I think the book is actually directed to a more experienced audience.

            I'm paraphrasing here, but I recall a recipe for pork chops that said something like, "Cook until they are done," with no information about how to tell when they are done or approximately how long that might be.

            I love jen kalb's recommendation (above) to tag some recipes from Bittman.

            Hmmmm...let me think on this question a bit.


          2. America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (ring binder). Lots of basic stuff and lots of explanations, which I think beginning cooks need/want unless they're naturally gifted. Enough variety to make things interesting, but enough basic stuff that you don't have to run out to the store every time you want to make something.

            1. This is out of print but someone gave it to me a few years ago in paperback and it really is simple and quite healthy (Marian Burros is known for healthy NYTimes food columns) and I don't think it's scary at all...give it a peruse and see if you think it might be good for her:

              2 Replies
              1. re: Val

                Hmmm...well, I'll tell you what, none of the books I was going to recommend (Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave: Luscious Recipes for a Healthy Life" or " The New Mayo Clinic Cookbook: Eating Well for Better Health", both of which won the James Beard Foundation Award for "health" cookbook in their respective years) has a single recipe that calls for canned tuna. However, Keep it Simple has two (but none with tuna AND potatoes. :) )

                I even checked "The Frugal Gourmet" (setting aside my icky feelings about Jeff Smith) and, nope, no tuna recipes.


                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                  I agree with the Elie Krieger -- healthy but still delicious and no real outlandish ingredients. All she needs is to get a few recipes under her belt to start feeling confident.

                  Another thought -- given that she's probably already overwhelmed with big books in school, just pick a very basic book on whatever her favorite type of cuisine is that she can pick just a few easy recipes from to become her signature dishes (like a basic Italian).

              2. Mollie Katzen has a new book out called "Get Cooking". Her classics "Moosewood", "Still Life With Menu" etc. are what got me interested in cooking in my 20s. Haven't seen "Get Cooking" myself but I bet it's worth checking out. More info on her website: