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Jun 13, 2010 05:24 PM

Best cookbook for beginner?

My husband is learning to cook and needs something with easy to follow instructions. It can be recipes that are simmered/baked for a longer period of time because he is currently on leave. He is looking for "American" recipes because he is tired of the recipes I've been giving him from my stash of cookbooks. He enjoys all kinds of food, but the last meal he made from a Persian cookbook, in which he sauteed limes to make a bitter lamb stew in tomato sauce (and took some shortcuts which he didn't know would affect the outcome), left him with a "bitter" taste in his mouth for making more adventurous meals at his level of cooking. (I ended up cooking the sauce down more and adding salt and it was quite good in the end.)

Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. Fannie Farmer was my first cookbook and it's what I've given to other first cooks. Although I have a bunch of cookbooks, whenever I want something basic, like cornbread, pancakes, macaroni and cheese, chicken noodle soup, meatloaf, etc., my first stop is Fannie. The recipes are clear, pretty fool-proof and don't usually have a laundry list of hard to find ingredients. There's a ton of variety in the "American food" spectrum. It's good for letting me know how long to roast meats, what temperatures to cook them to and how to make gravy. The Yorkshire Pudding recipe comes out every Christmas to go with the prime rib and broccoli with Hollandaise sauce (all recipes I get from there as well.) I like the quick reference guides in the flaps, like how many cups in a pint, and substitutions for cake flour, that sort of thing. It really is a book I know I can always depend on.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Chris VR

      + 1 on Fannie Farmer! It's an excellent, basic cookbook that you can't go wrong with. I've been using it since I was a kid, and my mother and grandmother used it before me. We're going on our fourth generation now, as my kids use it too.

    2. I would definitely agree with Fannie Farmer as a good selection, as is the old gingham-covered "Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook." Both are well organized, clear about ingredients and instructions, and have easy-to-reference guides on the endpages of emergency substitutions, weights and measures, etc. Though I flirt with a broader range of recipes, cookbooks, and cuisines these days, both of these old classics have earned a permanent place on my primary cookbook shelf in the kitchen. They helped me figure out what the hades I was doing when I first started making dinner, and they're still the first place I turn when I want to make some comfort food like mac and cheese, oven-fried chicken, and favorite cookies.

      "Better Homes" seems to place more emphasis on convenience and speed than Fannie, but that may just be due in part to the age of my particular copy (from the early 70's) Both cookbooks have been updated with new information, recipes, and layout at various times over the years. Fannie seems to cover a bit more territory, and tends to have classier illustrations, especially the older printings.

      Check your local used bookstore!

      1. I would go with The Best Recipe, which is great for a novice cook because it reads like lab notes giving the reasons why they arrived at a particular recipe. It's the 'why' along with the 'how.'

        1. Though it's not as time tested as FF I'm going to recommend "Think Like a Chef" by Tom Colicchio. It's not a list of recipes so much as a book aimed at making one comfortable in the kitchen and using some basic techniques. Without a doubt the most influential "cookbook" I've ever used.

          It starts with he assumption that you may not understand exactly what some technique like "braising" entails. Colicchio gives you a real clear and simple step-by-step overview, explains when you might use it, and then offers a few recipes you can use to practice.

          Given his wariness of cooking and apparent yen for classic recipes I think this would be a great book for getting him feeling a bit more confident in the kitchen.

          1. America's Test kitchen Family Cookbook
            It is a large book with lots of explanations and recipes. A subscription to the cook's Illustrated web site would be a good idea, too.

            America's test kitchen dvds on netflix are great.

            "How to Cook Without a Book" by Pam Anderson is a book for beginners and intermediate cooks. It is designed to teach you how to cook without a recipe. It teaches you to keep certain staples in your pantry and use certain cooking techniques to just come up with something.