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Looking for a basics cookbook

My sister is getting married soon and I want to get her some good cookbooks to start with for her bridal shower. She cooks a little now, but she's in college so doesn't have a ton of experience. I'm looking for something that will teach her lots of standard recipes and techniques but not be too fussy. I'm thinking something by Alice Waters or maybe Ina Garten? I've never been a huge Julia Child fan or a fan of cooks illustrated. What do you think?

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  1. I like Delia Smith for basics. Her Complete Cookery Course is a classic, and her How to Cook series covers the real basics like boiling an egg. There might be a bit of a culture clash for a young American though: some of the dishes might be unfamiliar, and Deel can be a little too jolly-hockey-sticks at times...

    1. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and the Joy of Cooking are good for both novice and experienced cooks (with wonderful explanations about ingredients and techniques). The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbooks (red plaid cover) are also good introductory cooking texts.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nofunlatte

        I agree with both How to Cook Everything and the Joy of Cooking.

      2. Check out Martha Stewart's "Cooking School"


        and Williams Sonoma "Tools and Techniques"


        I picked up the Williams Sonoma book on a whim over the holidays because i got it 50% at Borders. I was very pleasantly surprised out how informative it turned out to be, even for a relatively experienced cook like myself. It's loaded with great photos that do a very good job of illustrating a particular technique etc.

        1 Reply
        1. re: flourgirl

          Second on the MS "Cooking School". I read it concurrently with James Peterson's "Cooking" and liked it much more.
          The Marion Cunningham revision of the "Fannie Farmer Cookbook" is very instructive and useful too, but not as (overtly) sexy (no photos).

        2. I would give her the Joy of Cooking, it will have the recipe for meatloaf or tuna casserole and also "fancier" food as well. For a second book I would recommend "A New Way to Cook" by Sally Schneider which has a lot of recipes - but the real value is that it teaches a technique (steaming shellfish or roasting poultry) and then give different ways to improvise different flavor combinations. It helped me learn to cook more intuitively, and I think it would be good for a novice.

          2 Replies
          1. re: corneygirl

            +1 on Joy of Coking - the original version.

            1. http://cgi.ebay.com/BETTY-CROCKERS-NE...

              You can only find it on Ebay, but I most cherish Betty Crocker's New Picture Cookbook. My mother got one (new, of course) when she got married in 1969. I always loved it so much, that my father found me a 1961 1st edition on ebay about 6 yrs. ago (as seen in the link above, still available in good shape). It is silly, yes, with it's pictures of women that look like June Cleaver and the recommendation to keep up your morale by putting on make-up and perfume daily, not to mention the suggestion of keeping your man relaxed by making sure the children are cleaned up and well behaved and his favorite cocktail is made at the time of his arrival home from work. Despite that, it includes the basics on everything, from how to set a table or a buffet to properly wrapping items to freeze and measuring out ingredients. Many of the "lessons" are considered modern today, such as the recommendation to vary texture and color on the plate when planning a meal or how to cook fish on a cedar plank. The recipes are easy and the 'retro' nature of most of them doesn't take away from the reality that they taste good, especially the baked goods. You won't find anything remotely ethnic in this book, and the one genuine complaint might be that when they try they often fail miserably.

              This cookbook is not only a great educational tool for the beginning cook, it provides some laughs as well. I just LOVE it!

              1. I'm very into the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook right now. I've had Joy of Cooking for years -- since I was about the age your sister seems to be -- and I have several editions, but I haven't actually cooked from it that much; same is true for the Mark Bittman books. There are some great recipes in both JOC and Bittman, and JOC is still my first go-to when I'm faced with an unfamiliar vegetable, but the ATKFC is more accessible and less intimidating, somehow. (For one thing, it's a nice friendly binder with lots of pictures. If you're just starting out, you want something you can look at and think, "ooh, that looks yummy.") I think JOC and the Bittman Everything books are great for somebody who already knows they love food and actively wants to cook more elaborately and adventurously. If you're just looking for a good Chicken Marsala or - more generally - something to cook for dinner, the ATK book is a great place to start.


                2 Replies
                1. re: darklyglimmer

                  I love the ATK Family Cookbook (and the Family Baking Book and the Healthy Family Cookbook) - like darklyglimmer says, it's accessible, and it has a vast range of recipes to choose from. It is a great go-to book for beginners and more experienced cooks alike. Not nearly as fussy or scholarly as Cook's Illustrated magazine.

                  I do love Bittman's HTCE, though, too - I use that for reference far more often than my copy of the Joy of Cooking. I was going to suggest both of those as good possibilities (maybe others would be interested in getting her library going too?).


                  1. re: gansu girl

                    Sorry, Honestly Good Food - somehow I missed in the OP that you were looking for non-CI books. I do love this cookbook, though.

                2. I thought of Joy of Cooking, but something like this might not be that fun for the novice cook. I agree with an above poster, it's for someone who already knows they love cooking and need something great to reference. I'll have to check out How to Cook Everything as well.

                  One thing I don't like about the betty crocker stuff is that they usually call for one can betty crocker soup, etc, etc. I want her to have a good fundamental cooking from scratch book. All natural.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Honestly Good Food

                    That's actually not the case with the vast majority of recipes in this book. Trust me. I really don't like to cook with cans of soup. Granted, instead of saying AP flour, it will say Gold Medal flour. Otherwise, it is all about the basics. And, it is unique -- none of her contemporaries will have one. I totally know it's a tough sell. I wish I could show this cookbook to everyone. :)

                    1. re: centralpadiner

                      I agree with Betty Crocker being the best resource for a novice or new cook. ANY of the Betty Crocker cookbooks. Mine are tattered and falling apart (and I bought new editions).

                      They do NOT ... let me repeat that ... NOT ... direct you to used canned soups and such. That would be more in line with the LCampbell's cookbooks, which are also good but more prone to used canned stuff.

                      What a novelty. One can agree without resorting to +1. Imagine that. Who would a thunk it?

                      Please do not give her Alice Waters or Ina Garte. Those books are on my shelves as pristine as the day I bought them. I've maybe used one Alice Water recipe (and Chez Panisse is one of my favorite restaurants).

                      See how it goes with the basics. You don't say if she is into food and while some of the above books are great reads if you have an interest, like the two you mentioned, they are on my shelf ... actually packed away ... I chucked a lot of them in a garage sale before I moved because they were just taking up valuable bookshelf space.

                      I like Harold McGee better than American Test Kitchen, because if you really have a question about the how and why of cooking, it is pretty much there. Interest in food or not, IMO, McGee's books would be great to give with a basic cookbook like Betty Crocker.

                      1. re: rworange

                        I still have, and occasionally use, my New Betty Crocker Cookbook (circa 1970 and falling apart now).

                        A book no one has mentioned is The New Basics by Juliee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. I actually don't own it myself, but it's very similar (and contains many of the same recipes) their two Silver Palate cookbooks, which are great: fun, easy to use, and the recipes are more geared to a contemporary palate and modern way of cooking and entertaining.

                        1. re: rworange

                          I must be thinking of the Campbells books then. I had someone give me a bunch of them and they were basically glorified ways of putting Campbells products together. Hehe. I will have to check out Betty Crocker.

                          I cook a lot of Alice Waters and Ina Garten, but that's just me. She's not me that's why I'm asking for more opinions ;)

                    2. If it is okay, I am going to answer a question that you didn't ask.

                      I couldn't make a bridal shower that was thrown for me by my mother's closest friend. This friend came up with the BEST idea ever! Each woman who attended the shower brought their "special" recipe along with the pan to cook it in. The cards were all put into a lovely wooden box, numbered with a number on each pan.

                      I ended up with some real duds like Jello salads, and some amazing "company coming" recipes like Veal Forestier. It was a culinary education and I still have every single one of those cards, even if the pans are no longer in the house.

                      You might consider something like this for your sister. And congratulations to her!

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: smtucker

                        Having shower guests bring recipes is wonderful. I didn't get the pans, but I cherish the memory of the ladies as much as their recipes. Especially notes like "Lemon Bars. Serves 1!!!" (In my thank you note I wrote, "It actually serves 2, but only if he's quick!"

                          1. re: smtucker

                            I've also been part of a shower where the guests submitted a favorite recipe with their RSVP, and they were put together into a printed cookbook. There are several companies that do this for you.

                        1. re: smtucker

                          That is a really nice idea! I'll have to organize that. I have a feeling we'll get many more recipes along the jello salad genre though. Haha. I know my family.

                          1. re: smtucker

                            I really like the idea of a shower where the guest of honor doesn't have to show up :) All the goodies and none of the games!!! But, seriously, I really do like the recipe idea.

                          2. Joy of Cooking is a great reference book, but I almost think it's too overwhelming. I "learned" how to cook in college from a book my housemate had: Raymond Sokolov's "How to Cook." Fairly short book, maybe 200 or so pages, but it has a lot of fundamental techniques. I still think about what I learned in that book when I'm improvising something, as opposed to following a strict recipe. It's a great book to learn How to Cook, not How to Follow a Recipe.

                            There's a huge difference.

                            1. I'm going against the tide in this thread, but I have been really pleased with Alice Waters' "In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart" and think it would be a wonderful gift for a beginner. It's very approachable, basic without being condescending, and nonfussy and the recipes yield delicious results. The first section is on how to wash salad greens. The next is how to dress a salad. The next is on how to flavor a sauce. And so on. Each section has a little essay, then a few illustrative recipes. There are celebrity chef photos (often showcasing the ingredient, equipment, or finished dish) attached to each chapter. I can't remember right now whether the celebrities wrote the essays, contributed a recipe, or what. I know a lot of it is in Alice's voice.

                              Lots of nice photos of ingredients, kitchen equipment and finished dishes, though not one for every single dish, I don't think.

                              Although you could, I might not give it as the only book to a beginner, because it just isn't as comprehensive as some of the other recommendations you're getting, but I would most certainly give it as a second book to a beginner if you were inclined to get her two. Plus, it's very in tune with modern sensibilities about "lighter" cooking, not as much reliance on butter and heavy cream, etc.. All of the recipes I've tried have been winners.

                              You can use the "look inside this book" feature on amazon to see the topics covered.

                              On the other hand, there are Alice Waters books I would not give a beginner, notably "The Simple Art of Food." It sounds like it would be good for a beginner, but is too vague and assumes too much to be useful to a beginner. For instance, I recall a pork chop recipe in AofSF that tells you to cook it "until it's done." Not so helpful.


                              3 Replies
                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                "Joy of Cooking" first came to mind - for a beginner - I think something with a fair amount of photos - they will inspire her to cook and also give her an idea what something is supposed to look like.

                                1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                  Haha. Yeah, sometimes Simple Food is simple ingredients prepared in more complex ways. I love that stuff, but I probably would have been a deer in the headlights looking at it when I was first learning to cook. I do want to give her something that features fresher and lighter stuff though.

                                  1. re: Honestly Good Food

                                    Sorry, I just realized I have the title messed up. The Waters book I do NOT recommend for a beginner is called Art of Simple Food. (Not Simple Art of Food.)


                                2. "Cooking Know-How" by Weinstein and Scarbrough

                                  "How to cook without a book" by Pam Anderson

                                  There are lots of fine cookbooks out there. The trick is finding a book that doesn't overwhelm or bore a new cook. "How to Cook Without a Book" was probably the most helpful when I was just starting out.

                                  It tries to teach how to cook out of your pantry. It has quick and easy meals that a new cook needs to build their confidence.

                                  1. I never cared much for the ones you mentioned either, but this might be another option (no recipes) along with a cookbook with your favorite chef/restaurant/cuisine: