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Which foundational cookbook would you give a beginning 23 YO cook?

Niece has been helping me do some stuff around the house and I would like to give her a gift. Her mother NEVER cooked, no joke, she grew up eating a lot of fast food or frozen dinners. She asked me to teach her the basics and I have. I want to give her a good quality foundational cookbook, more than Better Crocker. She wants the basics, how to choose good cuts of meat, appetizers/soups/salads/desserts. Was thinking of Fannie Farmer or the Joy of Cooking. Is there anything else I should consider? TIA!

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  1. I am loving "Cooking" by James Peterson. It is subtitled "600 recipes, 1500 photographs, one kitchen education" The wealth of pictures is either the best thing to cooking in a professional kitchen, or exceeds it.

    1. My mother gave me the Joy of Cooking (1973 edition) when I was a young 8 year old boy But it has solid fundamentals even if some of it is a bit dated by modern standards still the basics are there as are many recipes great book I read it often

      1. The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (the red & white plaid cover) is still my "go to" cookbook when I just want to know how to cook something, i.e., not looking for a fancy recipe but just want to know how long to boil an egg or how to cook bacon or a basic chicken breast recipe.

        I also like the Cooks Illustrated cookbooks, but I've only got specialized ones (i.e. chicken and grilling, etc) not a generalist one so I can't recommend one in particular..

        2 Replies
        1. re: Shann

          Agree on the BH&G cookbook OR Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything", as laliz noted below. The former is more "user-friendly" but very basic, while the latter can be a bit overwhelming, as it's a monster of a book. But the Bittman book is a seriously good cookbook for a starting cook - gives you a "how to make" on a lot of things you wouldn't think about. Check out the "Look Inside" at Amazon:


          1. re: Shann

            I also agree with BH&G cookbook. There are detailed photos of different types and cuts of meat, type of vegetables and fruits. When I first start cooking I would take it with me to the grocery store to help me buy the right ingredients. I really love the wedding edition as it has a whole section on entertaining, cocktails and cooking smaller portions for one or two. Highly recommended.

          2. I just gave my 26 year old DS (who just began cooking this past year) Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything".

            1. I gave my 22 year old Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Had originally planned to give him the Joy of C, but when I compared the 2, Bittman seemed a lot more "contemporary." The Joy is great (it's my bible) but Bittman seems to me to be the "joy" for Millenials.

              5 Replies
              1. re: masha

                I'll second this. Bittman does better with "ethnic" food than the others.

                1. re: bookhound

                  +1; I gave it to my DD when she moved out at age 21, and she loves it, and became a very adventuresome and confident scratch cook.

                  1. re: mcf

                    Gave HTCE to my baby brother and now he is well on his way to outcooking me. Sob.

                    1. re: sweetpotater

                      That's always a risk. :-) I hope my daughter does at some point, so I can hand Thanksgiving over to her some day.

                      1. re: mcf

                        Two different approaches to learning:

                        My husband learned to cook with a Chinese cookbook by LeAnn Chinn. Although his mom and younger siblings cooked, he never had. My husband's mom (who cooked) told him to pick a cookbook he was interested in and make some recipes. To him, it was more interesting to make something nobody in his family had ever made than to start with a basic cookbook. It took him HOURS to get a meal prepared the first time, but our favorite soup is the soup that he cooked the first day he learned to cook.

              2. Where's Mom Now That I Need Her (carried at Amazon) This may look like a dorky book for people still eating out of there dorms, but it is not. My mom handed it to me on my way out the door and I am grateful she did! This book has all the basics of cooking and baking, and so much more. Here's the product description from Amazon: "This book is full of hints about nutrition, grocery shopping, laundry and clothing care, first aid, recipes for quick, easy meals, and lots more." I'm 40 now and wish I still had mine (lost in a move) I used this book continually through early adulthood and even in to motherhood and there is plenty of room to add recipes and notes through the years.

                1. I have given at least a dozen copies of America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook. It's got lots of familiar normal food with good explainations and lots of photos. It's from the Cook's Illustrated people, so the recipes will be taste tested and method tested. And everything is relatively easy and uninhibiting. I have several neices and a nephew that come from non-cooking backgrounds. When I give them the book, I tell them to pick something and we will make it together. Then, when I know they are coming over, I will have also prepared a dessert that I think they will like from the book and I show them where it is in the book. All this seems to make it a little more tangible.

                  I think Cook's Country, put out by the same people, has an even simpler family cookbook with steps like "How to peel and chop a carrot". I have given them both as gifts together before.

                  These are both very accessable books. The photos really help. I also come from a non-cooking background and it may be hard for people who have always been around cooks to know how daunting it is to first start cooking. These are not great books of art, but they are very good introductions to basic cooking.

                  1. The Cook's Book: Techniques and tips from the world's master chefs

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      This is the BEST cookbook I've ever used! It has photos of step-by-step processes on tons of "basic" recipes and has a great selection.

                      Just make sure to get the FULL edition, not the annotated one. It includes several extra chapters. We got the annotated one by mistake. The one ipsedixit linked to is in fact, the full one.

                      Seriously, everyone should have this book.

                      I do think Joy of Cooking comes second though.

                      1. re: guster4lovers

                        Damnit, I want this one too, looks excellent on Amazon!

                        1. re: guster4lovers

                          Several used copies on Amazon, around 10 bucks a pop. Just snagged one.

                          1. re: guster4lovers

                            I eschew cooksbooks in general esp. ones that focus entirely on recipes.

                            But I make exceptions for those tomes that focus on technique and/or processes. This is one such book.

                            No matter how accomplished a cook or chef, I think everyone will get a little bit of something out of reading this.

                            And, no, I get no royalties ...

                        2. Womans Day Encyclopedia of cookery, 1967 edition (there may be a later sets) This will turn cooking into a hobby for anyone and it's interesting reading! We got ours 1 volume ata atime by visiting our grocery store and spending so much at each visit. Very informative with food history, too. Check 2nd hand stores, this is where I've found sets for friends.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: RickTNRebel

                            OMG, I have something similar! The Better Homes and Gardens Encyclopedia of Cooking, going from Volume 1 through 20. Very interesting reading, if dated (actually, a great source for retro dishes). Not sure I'd give it to a contemporary beginning cook, though.

                            I'll add a vote for Bittman (I have the first edition, not the update). Easy to follow and lots of tips. JOC is good, too, as is the Good Housekeeping Step-by-Step Cookbook, one of the ones that I used to teach myself how to cook.

                            1. re: RickTNRebel

                              I'm a graduate of the Woman's day Encyclopedia of Cookery academy. I love those books. They were pretty much my first exposure to foods from other countries. The day my mom came home with each volume was a fun one, you could read them like novels. I think however that for a brand new cook I'd go with "Martha Stewart's Cooking School" as it describes the processes involved very well. I read it in tandem with the Peterson Cooking and think MS's book is more suited to a beginner. Lots of photos too.

                              1. re: RickTNRebel

                                I have this exact series. My mom gave it to me after college because she didn't want it any more. I wouldn't give it up for the world. I often use it to get basic info on a subject or technique. The only problem is that it's a bit dated - terms like "salad oil" because there was no such thing as canola, olive and corn oil, all separate; larding meats; outdated items that are no longer common on grocery shelves. But I have often sat and read an entire segment on say, Belgian cooking, and learned a lot.

                                1. re: LisaPA

                                  I hear ya' talkin' on the good reading part! I still read them with a cup of hot cocoa; the recipe I got from those books years ago...the secret is to "pan toast" the powered cocoa with the sugar and salt before adding the water and then the milk. The series is dated, but I think new cooks could use the background info, since it seems we're trying to move away from processed foods and return to more basic, natural cooking... and I believe oils are explained completely in the "O" book. This is where I learned all oils are not equal! I fry or saute in my own oil "blends" now, which is the taste secret to McD's fries!
                                  I'm kinda into food history, so I do see historical significance in the books. More important to me I guess, is the re-connection to my past and all of the recipe mistakes I made! My "door stop" french bread...I'll never forget that one! Here's another: My young wife was surprising me with the chicken cacciatore recipe from the "C" book. She called me at work and asked me to pick up "another jar of Beef Bullion" on my way home. I found this curious because we had just bought a jar the past weekend. I got home and she was crying... It seemed the recipe called for "a cup of beef bullion"...she didn't realize this meant 1 teaspoon of powder dissolved in 1 cup of water...she had dumped in the whole jar of powdered bullion, which didn't measure out to be a whole cup of powder...that's why she asked me to stop and buy more! These are the things I think about when I read my old WDE of cookery...she passed away in 1998.
                                  So whatever cookbook you decide to give to this new young cook, make it special...it will get all manner of things spilled on it and it will get notes, recipes and clippings stuck in it...and memories stuck to it...

                                2. re: RickTNRebel

                                  You are so right. My well-worn copies of the volumes are what I turn to first for both old favorites and new recipes. My daughter found several volumes and is looking to complete her set.

                                3. I always recommend "Martha Stewart's Cooking School." Lots of instructional photos, tips for choosing the right ingredients, suggestions for varying basic recipes, etc. It's really the ideal book for a beginner (or anyone else who wants a book that covers just about everything a home cook needs to know).

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                    I'm 24, and when I started cooking (3 years ago) I definitely had Marthastewart.com on constant watch. It's great for basics.

                                  2. I recommend America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.


                                    It has lot of recipes with explanations about why they are doing it the way they are. It covers what meat to use and how to shop for it, how and when to use each major cooking technique. It talks about selecting fruits and vegetables. It talks about how to use a knife. It even has recommendations on which brands to use.

                                    It is exactly what you are looking for.

                                    If she has a netflix account, have her rent America's Test Kitchen DVD's too.

                                    1. I'm adding yet another vote to Bittman. For me, it was the language of the book. He made everything seem so simple. I bought a copy ten years ago, and it was the first cookbook that I had that was not in the least bit intimidating to me. I come from a cooking culture of packaged food and overcooking. Mark Bittman unwrinkled my corn.

                                      There are also glossaries that give basic definitions of food items and techniques, as well as tips for selection, storage, and standard prep, which are very helpful to a newbie.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: onceadaylily

                                        My son also really likes the tables that provide suggestions for substitutions. He does not have the kind of lifestyle where he plans menus and then shops. Rather, he may decide rather abruptly that he plans to cook a meal (e.g., depending on when he gets home from work) and then starts foraging in the fridge & pantry to see what he has.

                                      2. As someone with a lot of experience in the kitchen I STILL turn to my copy of Joy of Cooking. I find that it has a lot of basic information and recipes as well as recipes that may interest more advanced cooks. I think it's a standard for a reason - even if it's not especially fashionable. I think JOC would cover many of the issues about which your niece has expressed interest.

                                        1. Another vote for the original Joy of Cooking (not the remake). Besides everything else about it, it's funny, and where else is your young cook going to learn the proper way to skin a squirrel?

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: rcallner

                                            LOL. Just went to check, because if I knew I had totally forgotten. Page 515 shows how to skin a squirrel.

                                            1. re: decolady

                                              Damn, my copy's index goes right from squid to stained glass gelatin. Page 515 offers two shrimp dishes.

                                              The Joy of Cooking was the bane of my early twenties, when mise en place wasn't even on my radar. And I like squirrels, but now I'm wondering if my used bookstore guy has an original, and will go even-steven on a swap.

                                              1. re: decolady

                                                I have a community cookbook from Alaska with such recipes as moose nose and pot roast of beaver. I wonder if we could get it on the cokbook of the month?

                                                Who knows? Maybe there is nothing better than pecan fed squirrels.

                                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                  I adore JOC and have always given a copy to new brides at kitchen showers along with a cast iron skillet. Both my grandmother and great-grandmother cooked squirrels (fried squirrel and squirrel stew), but I would guess that whoever did the hunting did the prep work to get the squirrels from their natural state to kitchen ready.

                                                  My copy of JOC is from the 14th printing - October 1979. I'd been married for about a year and my cousin was appalled that I did not have this book. LOL. It's seen a lot of use in the ensuing 31 years.

                                            2. I think the first cookbook can shape the cook. Joy of Cooking is one of my most-used references, and it has a whole lot of solid basic information (did they ever put back the information about how to skin a squirrel?), but the bulk of the book is a collection of recipes.

                                              The Bittman book mentioned above or Julia Child's "The Way to Coook" have a slightly different take on things. They focus on basic techniques, then talk about how those techniques can be applied to different ingredients.

                                              A recipe book is good for somebody who wants to make a given dish and is willing to go to the store to get the ingredients. A technique-oriented book is better for someone who wants to snag some ingredients and then figure out how to cook them.

                                              1. Another vote for ATK's Family Cookbook. Has simple to more complex recipes for everyday well-known dishes. Perfect for beginners. Good tips on equipment & techniques throughout too.

                                                And, if has an iPhone, recommend the app for Mark Bittman "How to Cook Everything". Only $4.99 in Apple's App Store. I don't know if it's avail for other platforms. Nice to have recipes on-hand when grocery shopping and has nice basics/techniques section. They recently updated the app to be more user-friendly.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: pharmnerd

                                                  The iPhone app for Bittman is excellent! I was lucky enough to get it at the intro price of $1.99 when it was first released, but I'd gladly pay full price for it. Fantastic, particularly with the updates.

                                                2. I know the Better Homes and Garden Cookbook has popped up a lot as a suggestion as well as Mark Bittman's How to Cook everything, but I would gladly trade my BH&G cookbook (The newest version, not my 1st edition) for the Bittman. I occasionally use my BH &G but I find the index to be frustrating and not intuitive at all. I can't tell you how many times I've said to myself I KNOW what I'm looking for is in this book, but the index is telling me that it's not. Also, as a 29 year old I find myself wanting to make Bittman's recipes more than anything in BH &G.

                                                  1. Perhaps I will buy her TWO cookbooks, The JOC AND the Bittman book. Poor kid doesn't even know how to select the right cut of meat, like which cuts to use for steaks and my old JOC has excellent charts. She is not an adventerous eater, Mexican or Chinese is about as ethnic as she will go, but I will check out the Bittman.

                                                    Now, where is the best place to BUY cookbooks at a reasonable price? Amazon? Are there other web sites out there?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                      I go between Amazon and Jessica's Biscuit, both discount a lot (you can check B&N too). For used books, ABEbooks is a standby.

                                                      1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                        I don't think you need worry about Bittman being out of her food comfort range. He has basic recipes, and then most often gives variations - including of various cuisines. Those will be there for her if/when she expands her likes.

                                                      2. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (most recent edition) by Marion Cunningham; her The Supper Book also has some good easy recipes to build confidence.

                                                        Julia Child's The Way To Cook will give great grounding in techniques and variations for various foods.

                                                        16 Replies
                                                        1. re: jmckee

                                                          I'm surprised no one has mentioned The New Basics by Rosso and Lukins. I've turned to this one more than any other over the years since it came out in '89.


                                                          1. re: scrumptiouschef

                                                            I was going to suggest New Basics. It was one of the first cook books I got and I have found it really helpful over the years.

                                                            1. re: cassoulady

                                                              I will certainly will check it out. Anytime I can get a cookbook that is recommended by a couple of people and is 864 pages and I can get it for as little as $0.75 on Half.com, I'm gonna pounce on it. http://product.half.ebay.com/The-New-...

                                                              Wow, this book is rated 4+ stars with 101 reviews on Amazon!

                                                              I'm sure all these books are good, including the one I recommended but if you have a choice of a $20 book or a $1 book, you might as well start with the cheaper book.

                                                              I'm sure all these books are going to cover the basic cooking techniques and I think that it is not the teacher or the book that is as important as the desire of the student to learn.

                                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                Ok. I have received my copy of the book "The New Basics" and yes I only paid $0.75 for it on half.com. I have had it for 7 - 10 days. Here is what I think of the book.

                                                                It has some good recipes including a chapter on microwaves but considering that it is a book for beginners, I was surprised there was no chapter on the basic cooking methods. You know like braising, steaming, boiling, roasting, frying, searing, sweating and sauteeing.

                                                                I would have thought that this info would be absolutely critical for the beginning cook. Not just definitions but how and when to use them and on what types of food.

                                                                Now other than that, it was a pretty good book.

                                                                1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                  Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?

                                                                  1. re: pikawicca

                                                                    LOL I did buy the book. It was just a bit of a disappointment.

                                                                    You know, there is another feature I really like in a cookbook and would really like to see it in a "foundational" cookbook. Recipes that have a list of variations.

                                                                    For Instance Weinstein and Scarborough put out a cookbook called "Cooking Know-how". In this book, they would publish 8 different stews or whatever featuring different spices or meats or vegetables but it is still basically the same dish albeit with highly different tastes.

                                                                    That is the kind of thing a beginning cook needs to learn immediately. It encourages him to examine a recipe and think about what he could do with it.

                                                                    Without doubt, you learn from following recipes exactly but you learn to cook when you learn to create.

                                                                    Here let me get off this soapbox (steps down). I get carried away.

                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                      We all get carried away, from time to time.

                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                        You're right. Variations help explore pairings, and can give a new (and timid, as I was) permission to play.

                                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                          See, I don't think The New Basics is really intended as a beginner's cookbook, despite the title. It's more what they think of as recipes one needs to have in the bank, and it's more expansive then the premise of the Silver Palate books. They do have some good info, such as the charts on apples and cheese.

                                                                          I think Bittman is good about giving a very basic recipe/technique and offering variations, though not as extensive as the book you mention.

                                                                2. re: scrumptiouschef

                                                                  Mmm. I was assistant manager at a bookstore at the time, and as the resident "food crazy" was asked to take this home and have a whirl. It left me cold; not "basic" enough for me in regards to this question. Didn't really teach techniques or classic flavor combinations.

                                                                  1. re: jmckee

                                                                    I don't like any of the Silver Palate and carryon cookbooks myself, I find them glib and annoying. But then I'm a b*tch. In the best possible way.

                                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                                      Well yeah...only in the most positive sense of the word.

                                                                        1. re: mcf

                                                                          Be one without knowing it, maybe?

                                                                    2. re: scrumptiouschef

                                                                      I love this cookbook, but I agree with jmckee that it probably isn't the one "go-to" book for an absolute beginniner. What I do find is that I actually leaf/read through it on ocassion for the great lists of pairings and quotes, and it's amazing in that sense. I also refer to it quite a bit when I need to find basic information (cooking times, etc.) on an ingredient that I don't use regularly.

                                                                      In a somewhat amusing "it's-a-small-word" twist, I was extolling the virtures of the New Basics to a couple friends in law school, and one of them looked at picture the back and realized that one of the authors was friends with her mother from college (they were sorority sisters, I think, though I don't remember from what college).

                                                                      Oh, and my husband refers to it a lot for basic information, too. In fact, it's because of him that the binding broke so that it opens (and stays open) to the egg page, since he can never remember how long to boil eggs.

                                                                      I do wish the New Basics had some big, glossy photos, but I can certainly live without it. The depth of information and quantity of recipes definitely makes it a favorite in my admittedly small cookbook library.

                                                                  2. My first cookbook was Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking–Volume 1." It was used a lot. Its grease-stained, tattered and the cover is barely attached, but i still have it and use it. About 10-12 years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Julia at a book signing. I brought my book and had her sign it. It is now one of my most treasured possessions.

                                                                    1. I also endorse "How to Cook Everything", but to echo ipsedixit, Tom Colicchio's "Think Like a Chef" is one of the most influential cookbooks I've ever read/learned from. It me the "how" of cooking as much as any of the recipes in Bittman's book.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: VealParmGuy

                                                                        Second for "Think Like a Chef". It's a really great book for explaining the whys as much as the whats and hows.

                                                                        Along those same lines, Michael Ruhlman's "The Elements of Cooking" is very good. There is a lot of great information, not just about food and techniques but tools and common sense advice as well. It's not so much a cookbook as a guide to being a good cook, which seems much more valuable in the long run.

                                                                      2. Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" and any America's Test Kitchen books. I like the ATK books since they are written by Cooks Illustrated staff (Bittman was a CI staff member at one time) and have lots of explanations of why certain things go wrong in recipes, what types of meats were tested in the recipes, simple food chemistry info... so much info that is clearly explained.

                                                                        If she is interested in baking, Baking Illustrated is an excellent all-pupose baking book with clear explanantions and plenty of dos and don'ts for bakers of all skill levels.

                                                                        Joy of Cooking is a good book, but if she has no real foundation it might be a little much for a first book---it's dense and has a lot of info, but I think of it more as a reference book thatn a good teaching tool.

                                                                        1. My mom did a stint in culinary school and when I was in college, I "borrowed" (read: I still have it a decade later) her copy of "On Cooking" by Labensky and Hause. It's more of a textbook with technical details and basic recipes, but I learned a lot from it. It covers both cooking and baking basics.

                                                                          Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" is another great one that explains the science behind cooking.

                                                                          Bittman's book is really great, too, so add my vote for that one.

                                                                          For baking alone, Dorie Greenspan's "Baking: From My Home to Yours" is a great recipe book that covers a ton of sweets. She goes over a lot of basics in the book, too, and I've found it really helpful and very approachable.

                                                                          My collegiate cooking heroes were Giada DeLaurentiis and Ina Garten, who both make fabulous dishes without an extraordinary amount of fuss. Their cookbooks aren't foundation cookbooks, of course, but if your niece was interested in good, non-intimidating recipes along with a foundation cookbook, I'd throw in one of theirs.

                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                          1. re: geekyfoodie

                                                                            GF, don't care for Giada, but have lots of Ina Garten books. As she does updated versions of the traditional Jewish cooking neice and I are used to, I have lent her some of the books. She made the cheese danish with puff pastry and brought those to a family brunch a couple of weeks ago, they were superb. She baked them at my house in the convection oven, and we had a lesson on how/when/why convection ovens are superior for baking. She moans about the substandard tools and equipment she has in her apartment.

                                                                            1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                                                              Hahaha... well, I know how that is. I think kitchen tools are a lot like clothing. When you're younger, the cheaper, substandard stuff works, but then you learn to appreciate investing in key pieces that you'll use forever. Still, Mr. Geeky and I were turning out great stuff with low-quality tools and an apartment-standard electric oven in college, so it can be done. At least you know what to buy her for any gift-giving occasions!

                                                                          2. Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques. It will give your niece a great foundation for techniques and fundamentals and she can work from there.

                                                                            Never a fan of the Joy of Cooking myself and while I gave away the copy of Bittman I received, How to Cook Everything is a nice reference tome.

                                                                            1. Another vote for Cooks Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. I have Bittman's HTCE and the Better Homes, and Joy, and Julia.... Better Homes seems a little too much of "Open a can of this" and everything I've tried from Bittman is underwhelming. CI/ATK - never had a recipe not turn out well. I like Ina, but I wouldn't say her books help teach cooking.

                                                                              1. I was lucky to be taught cooking basics by mom, but being a 26 year old and a friend to many in the demographic you are looking at (20 something, no cooking experience beyond the microwave - maybe) - I can say that my Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is still in rotation enough that it doesn't leave my kitchen. While the majority of my cookbooks remain in my spare bedroom, this cookbook is a compendium of great recipes that come from many backgrounds that I just don't have experience with making at home but enjoy experimenting. Several friends have perused it and either borrowed it from the library (the majority of these friends are from college and now are spread across the globe) and then just purchased it outright.

                                                                                She may end up looking up recipes online after a while too, so a compendium style is a great place to start with so that she knows what to search for and how a "basic" recipe looks before turning to Youtube and recipe websites.

                                                                                Basing a selection on her style will help too, but whatever you buy, she will be sure to appreciate it, especially if you bookmark a few recipes that you enjoy or that have special meaning to the two of you. My most treasured cookbooks are the ones that were passed down from family or were purchased for me and have inscriptions in them. As I cook through some of my deceased grandmother's cookbooks (some were gifted prior to her passing, some left behind for me), I find her notes scribbled in the margins and I can remember the results of the dishes. It never fails to make me smile when I use one of her cookbooks. Even better, when she was still alive and down the street, if the recipe turned out well, I would walk down a plate for her and my grandfather to try. Now that I live a few hours away, I call up my grandfather to tell him when a recipe turns out well.

                                                                                1. i didn't see anyone mention "timing is everything" - not cookbook with recipes, but basic guidelines for the timing of cooking for various foods in various manners , i.e.- how long to grill at 1" vs a 2" thick steak, how long to braise a chicken, hoe long different brans or grains take, etcetcetcetc

                                                                                  1. I'm surprised that no one has yet mentioned the Moosewood cookbook (and the accompanying Broccoli Forest).

                                                                                    Folks under forty won't get it, but there was a time when arugula and tahini were foreign words (my mother thought arugula was a tropical island). I suspect we over-forties might think of Moosewood as a relic of our hippie pasts, but there are many good recipes in there that were once novelties and are now standards.

                                                                                    The quirky illustrations and indeterminate amounts ( a "glob" or a "splat" or "pile") can be very comforting for folks who find the wordier tomes intimidating.

                                                                                    Some cookbooks are laid out like an encyclopedia (little teeny letters) some like a busy webpage (sidebars! headers!).
                                                                                    Moosewood doesn't feel like a textbook -- there's one recipe on a page and lots of white space. For anyone with reading issues or even just newbie fear, it can be a welcome respite from information overload.

                                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                                    1. re: beethoven

                                                                                      The original Moosewood recipes are loaded with saturated fats, sodium, and calories. Vegetarian cooking has progressed since then, as have more recent Moosewood cookbooks.

                                                                                      1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                        Not everybody views sat fats, sodium, and calories as intrinsically evil. Plus, I would say that the Moosewood books aren't really for beginners.

                                                                                        1. re: jmckee

                                                                                          Shoot, sat fats and sodium are two of my favorite things.

                                                                                        2. re: pikawicca

                                                                                          "The original Moosewood recipes are loaded with saturated fats, sodium, and calories."

                                                                                          Yup :)

                                                                                      2. How about Alton Brown's books? They do a lot to talk about the why behind the steps, and might be a good way to get them interested and excited.

                                                                                        1. The Joy of Cooking - I still turn to it more than any other book. I have lots of books, and some quite advanced, but Joy never fails me.

                                                                                          Someone said "get the original" which I think is a mistake. I'd say get the latest addition, it just means they have taken out the jello molds and added in the red curry paste. I think my Joy is now one edition back, i.e. there is one newer release, but I'd suggest a new edition over an older one and Joy over any other book.

                                                                                          I think Bittman is also a good recommendation - so yes, get two, but if it's only one, I'd go for Joy.

                                                                                          I also love Deborah Madision's books for healthy/local/vegetarian stuff - have cooked a lot from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and love Local Flavors - I'm not a vegetarian but like to eat healthy and love these books.

                                                                                          1. I can't narrow it down to one, so I would pick one of the following:

                                                                                            1) ATK - Family Cookbook
                                                                                            2) Bittman - How to Cook Everything
                                                                                            3) James Peterson - Cooking
                                                                                            4) Jacques Pepin - Complete Techniques

                                                                                            I happen to think 'Cook With Jamie' is a very good basic book too. For example, he does a great job of explaining different cuts of meat and when to use them.

                                                                                            1. The Australian Women's Weekly cookbooks are fabulous! All recipes are tested within an inch of their lives and are vetted for ease. The instructions couldn't be clearer and the results are pretty impressive.

                                                                                              Perhaps counterintuitively, I always think it's a good idea for beginning cooks to have a few recipes that are clearly explained, but produce reasonably sophisticated results like a good cake recipe or a fancy, but easy, sauce. When I started out I found it really helpful to impress myself with these kinds of recipes. It was only as I got further along that I began obsessing over the perfect fried egg etc...


                                                                                              1. In addition to my earlier post (and replies!) The WDE series was my introduction to cooking and it inspired me. Cooking became another creative outlet for me and I've enjoyed it ever since.
                                                                                                My own kids showed no interest in cooking until they were 27 or so. Prior to that "cooking" was using buttons other than the "minute plus" button on the microwave!
                                                                                                Once they hit 27, I started getting bombarded with requests for recipes and the techniques used from their chidhood.
                                                                                                Maybe your "newbie" cook hasn't hit that stage yet in her life, but she will...we all do. So the answer to your question is obvious...she's going to want whatever recipe books you used to cook for her when she was growing up....you may as well give em' to her now and start writing down all of your own recipes...she's gonna want them too!

                                                                                                1. Sounds like her mom and my mom should have lunch. I'm not too much older than your niece and have learned to cook from The Joy of Cooking (a newer addition), The New Basics, and The New Best Recipes (CI). All of these books have the foundational information you need to shop and prepare, I think the folks at CI are probably the most thorough. You can also give a subscription to the CI website which allows her to access (most) of their recipes, articles, and recommendations. Once she gets into it, get her Marcella's Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking for Christmas.

                                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                                  1. re: katherineryelle

                                                                                                    I am a new cook so probably best able to comment. Some of the excellent cookbooks mentioned here are far too advanced and complicated for a newbie.

                                                                                                    I agree with Katherine that CI Best Recipes is a great starting point. I bought the book and found it a great primer. There are plenty of diagrams which show you how to do things. Look at the other CI books too. And the new cook knows the recipes have been tested.

                                                                                                    As I progressed I added James Peterson - Cooking
                                                                                                    Jacques Pepin - Complete Techniques

                                                                                                    These helped me with techniques and have very good instructional pics. Pepin is great value for the money and most useful.

                                                                                                    But lets face it there is so much on the web now, marvelous videos on how to do things, most of the top recipes from the best cookbooks. TV shows and countless cooking blogs - it is all there for free!

                                                                                                    Web videos have been a huge help to me - how to cut an onion, garlic, pastry making etc.

                                                                                                    May I put in a strong plug for our very own Chow. There is so much info here and Chowhounds are so wiling to help.I really don't think the beginner needs too many books nowadays.

                                                                                                    1. re: Mistral

                                                                                                      The fact is...this stuff just isn't that hard. There are about 15 cooking techniques. Once you know them and some knife skills, you have all you need.

                                                                                                      Look these techniques up on the web and learn them. Find some recipes that use those techniques and try them.

                                                                                                      After that it is just a matter of finding the recipes you like. You do that. You will know more than 80% of the home cooks out there.

                                                                                                      Wet Cooking Methods:

                                                                                                      Simmering & Boiling**
                                                                                                      Blanching & poaching
                                                                                                      Braising & stewing**

                                                                                                      Dry Cooking methods:

                                                                                                      Sauteing & pan frying**
                                                                                                      Roasting and Baking**
                                                                                                      Broiling and Grilling
                                                                                                      Deep frying

                                                                                                      The methods I list together on one line are very similar to each other. Learn one and you are very close to knowing the other.

                                                                                                      ** These techniques are more useful and therefore more important to know.

                                                                                                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                        It's true. Once you learn all of the necessary techniques, you'll know how to cook.

                                                                                                        1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                                                          I like the way you think. When I was about 23 I got the Escoffier, which sort of assumes you know the techniques. Now, nearly 40 years later I love it, but it might as well have been a phone book at 23.

                                                                                                    2. "French Cookery School" by Anne Willan and Jane Grigson took me from not knowing how to cook to becoming a pretty decent cook. You may want to also buy "Cook It Right", also by Anne Willan. It has pictures of food that is undercooked, overcooked, as well as cooked correctly, in addition to telling you how to save something you have screwed up. Both available used on Amazon.

                                                                                                      15 Replies
                                                                                                      1. re: souschef

                                                                                                        Cook it Right is a very good one and would be useful to a rank beginner. The other one would take some dedication and some prior knowledge, I think.
                                                                                                        A girl at work (age 21) decided she wanted to learn to cook (had barely boiled water) and set herself up with http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crocker-C... - has been using it with great success. I looked through it and it really does seem to go over the very basics with good photos of the processes.

                                                                                                        1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                          Buttertart, the other one does not take prior knowledge of cooking. With no knowledge of cooking (but extensive knowledge about eating) I picked it up and decided that I wanted to learn to cook. The first thing I decided I wanted to make was Grand Marnier Soufflé. It did take me about a dozen attempts, but I mastered it, and then moved on to puff pastry. So yes, it does take dedication.

                                                                                                          1. re: souschef

                                                                                                            But would someone 23 and as described have an extensive knowledge of eating the things in the Observer School? It is a wonderful book but not exactly baby steps (if baby steps are called for).

                                                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                                                              And everyone's level of desire varies. Making a Grand Marnier Soufflé is not the *usual* beginning point for most cooks or bakers. :-)

                                                                                                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                No, not really. I started to bake and cook when I was little with my mom and (even more fun) with my dad (Sunday dinners when my mom was down with a migraine). By the time I was 16 or so I knew enough to make a stab at Julia and Foods of the World recipes. It doesn't sound as if the person this is intended for has that level of interest or knowledge. The girl in my office had never cooked for herself beyond microwaving something until she got this book and she's having a lot of fun with it.

                                                                                                                1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                  Souffles were one of the first things I taught myself to make. The recipe in the paperback version of Joy of Cooking that was available in 1978 was perfect. I'd look up the page number, but some of my cookbooks, incl. JOC, are in boxes.

                                                                                                                  I would serve a cheddar/swiss souffle with a salad, a cheese/fruit/nuts/antipasto starter, and dessert. It was a nice, simple dinner.

                                                                                                                  I do not like either of the new "Joy"s, btw. Get a somewhat updated original instead.

                                                                                                                  The Fannie Farmer Cookbook was also a good one.

                                                                                                                  I didn't much like Craig Claiborne's NYT Cookbook, but he and Pierre Franey put together a book's worth of their "60 Minute Gourmet" columns, and I found that very useful. The main course was printed on the left page, the side dish on the right. I kept the book at work, where I would xerox the page I wanted to use as both shopping list and recipe. It wasn't organized by techniques (mostly sautees and pan frys), but I learned a lot from that book.

                                                                                                                  1. re: Jay F

                                                                                                                    I've made lots of soufflés, but not a Swiss one. That's the one where you make individual cheese soufflés, unmold them into a skillet of hot whipping cream, cover them with more cheese and bake again, right?

                                                                                                                    1. re: souschef

                                                                                                                      I've never made a Swiss one, but OMG that sounds delicious. I meant Swiss cheese.

                                                                                                                      Again, that sounds really, really good, the Swiss souffle.

                                                                                                                2. re: buttertart

                                                                                                                  You do have a good point if baby steps are needed - something I forget since I have a tendency to dive in instead of just dipping my big toe in the water.

                                                                                                                  1. re: souschef

                                                                                                                    I still can't dive without holding my nose so it makes for a funny looking dive with only one arm out. ;-)

                                                                                                                    But I did start off my baking with an apple pie for Thanksgiving. Not like your soufflé, but making a homemade pie crust at 14 and being told I was the official pie baker in the family gave me confidence to try other things. But sometimes people have to start off with chocolate chip cookies...and not the slice-and-bake kind - I mean actually sifting flour! LOL

                                                                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                      You deserve a lot of credit. At 14 all I knew about pie (besides eating it) was "He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum...." :)

                                                                                                                      The soufflé caper was not until I was over 30.

                                                                                                                      1. re: souschef

                                                                                                                        ROFL re: "he put in his thumb..."!!!

                                                                                                                        And "The Soufflé Caper" - would be a good title for the Diane Mott Davidson "Goldy Bear Culinary Mystery" series. :-)

                                                                                                                        1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                                                                          @Linda, I love the title idea! I love her series too, and am just nearly caught up to her most current book - just have the Enchilada one to read next :)

                                                                                                            2. re: souschef

                                                                                                              @ Souschef, thank-you for pointing me towards "Cook It Right" - it's now in my list of books to check out from the library. Much appreciated!


                                                                                                            3. Ratio is the all time foundational cookbook. Learn with that and you can pretty much cook anything without too much of a problem. The way that Ruhlman explains cooking from a base of overall conceptual and technical understanding, rather than just simply saying to do x and then y is a good way to approach cooking and would give her a good foundational approach from the get go.


                                                                                                              If I could only keep one cookbook, this would be it.

                                                                                                              1. I would recommend "How to Cook Everything" by Mark Bittman.


                                                                                                                Sorry if someone already said this - I didn't read all the replies!

                                                                                                                1. "Everyday Cooking With Jacques Pepin" is one to be considered too. Lots of easy recipes with step-by-step pictures, but it also has a few more complex ones. A few copies are available on Amazon for 84 cents.

                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                  1. re: souschef

                                                                                                                    I found Jacques Pepin's LA TECHNIQUE very helpful back in the late '70s. It's also available on Amazon Marketplace, starting at $5: http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listin...

                                                                                                                  2. I'd second the rec's for Joy Of Cooking as the Bible of cookbooks, and for Bittman's HTCE as a bit more emphatic on techniques and variations.

                                                                                                                    Both of them excellent encyclopedic books for newer cooks.