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Aug 6, 2011 07:01 PM

Recommendations for a general cookbook

I will be moving into a new place in the fall for graduate school, and will probably be cooking most of my meals. I'm a fairly novice cook, so I'm looking for a decent introductory/general cookbook that would cover a wide spectrum. I'm trying to decide between the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, How to Cook Everything (Bittman), the Joy of Cooking, and the New Best-Recipe Cookbook. Also "Cooking" by James Peterson seems interesting, as it seems to teach cooking techniques. I really like the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook for its design and presentation, but I don't really know about the quality of the food. What does everyone here use and what would you guys recommend?

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  1. Joy of Cooking, the bible for beginners and experts. Best Recipe is excellent too, but can involve time and equipment. Every cook should own Joy of Cooking - I bet most of us do.

    7 Replies
    1. re: bayoucook

      Sorry, bayoucook, I don't own Joy of Cooking anymore - I owned the initial edition, plus one more later; I've never liked it.
      But I do recommend Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" for a general cookbook.
      I think his recipes are generally very easy, and covers a broad spectrum of both traditional and modern methods of cooking.

      1. re: Rella

        Hey- to each his own! Joy really helped me on my way to being a great cook - I hope everyone has a *Joy*.

        1. re: bayoucook

          I do recall one redeeming technique - gravy! (If I'm not mistaken - it's been a few decades.)

          1. re: Rella

            Joy of Cooking also has my favorite recipes for cheese souffle (I tried every one I could find in 1978-79) and Chicken Paprikash.

          2. re: bayoucook

            I have 3 different editions that sit on the shelf.

          3. re: Rella

            Yep, I owned Joy about 25 years ago and I got rid of it so long ago I can't even remember when. I really don't understand the appeal of this cookbook. Of course I don't like How to cook everything either LOL. I don't have a favorite general cookbook.

            1. re: Rella

              I second the motion. I talked to the editor of the latest edition of Joy about listing the ingredients before the preparation instructions instead of weaving the ingredients in the instruction. She told me that it was mandatory to keep the format.

          4. For years, the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking was my bible and I learned most of what I know about the basics from it. Newer editions have had mixed reviews but I believe the most recent edition is supposed to be pretty good. If you can find the 1975 edition on or something I'd highly recommend it. The 1997 edition was widely criticized but the 2006 version was well received so I'd recommend that one as well.

            The Best Recipe from Cook's Illustrated is also great but not as extensive. Also recommended because they test a million different ways to do everything and make all the mistakes for you.

            Bittman's great and a smart guy but he has peculiar, New Yorky tastes and you may not find his recipes to your liking.

            11 Replies
            1. re: acgold7

              Same with me. I have the original and the 2006 one. Use only the new one now, more updated.

              1. re: bayoucook

                I have not been able to update my well-used copy of the book that I learned to cook from. (I keep this picture for nostalgia reasons.) Here is a picture - my alternative to others' Joy.

                Looking online, I see there were at least 4 or 5 others that agreed with me.


                1. re: bayoucook

                  Me too with JOC. I have 3 editions, actually. The edition that came right before the latest is my least fave. and it fell apart very quickly as well. There were numerous editions before the 1974 ed. That is the edition I learned with.

                  I suspect that a younger cook will prefer a book from Bittman, or even CI though.

                  1. re: sueatmo

                    Me, an "older cook," quite older, prefers Bittman, and CI.
                    But, young at heart.

                    1. re: Rella

                      I've seriously thought about buying a Bittman cookbook. I'm in the "quite older" category too.

                      1. re: sueatmo

                        Unless you need to learn the basics about ingredients and cooking, you might want to try some other author. He's carb/sugar heavy and even when not, his recipes are really pedestrian, IME.

                        1. re: mcf

                          I can't speak to his recipes being carb/sugar heavy, so I can't say that might or might not fit the OP's needs.

                          Yes, many recipes are basic. The OP is looking for a general cook book. This might fit the OP's needs.

                          1. re: Rella

                            Rella, I actually recommended it to the OP up thread, but sueatmo isn't a neophyte cook AFAIK, hence my comment to her. She's also watching carbs due to blood glucose issues.

                            1. re: mcf

                              Quite understand. Thanks for clarifying

                        2. re: sueatmo

                          I'll sell you my copy of HTCE.

                      2. re: sueatmo

                        I have and enjoy them both, for different reasons. Have used Bittman far more, although much less over the years. I'd certainly steer clear of the '74 JOC for a first-time book in 2011.

                  2. I feel that the New Best Recipe is a great starter book since it covers all the classics and is very instructional in the way it describes the various variations they tested before coming to the "best" recipe. It is extremely reliable, IMO.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: roxlet

                      +1 on this. It really saves you from making mistakes. Some of the recipes spare no calories, of course, but they are almost all delicious. I find the cooking times and temperatures for meats (and their resting times) especially helpful.

                    2. Yeah, I think if you could only have one, it's have to be Joy. Think of it as the basic way to do everything. Then if you want to refine some recipes and find the "Best" way to do what the CI book has, then the Best Recipe is your second book, and you're covered.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: acgold7

                        second that - love each one for what it brings to the table - haha pun intended

                      2. What does everyone think of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook?

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Oistrakh12

                          It's fine, nothing wrong with it at all. Not sure I'd have it as my only cookbook, though.

                          1. re: Oistrakh12

                            i'm deviating from everyone here, it seems. get the BHG. it's geared toward average cooks doing a recipe for the first time, and the recipes are clear, forgiving, tasty, and always work. there are good step by step illustrations.

                            the ATK is not actually geared toward beginners, it is anti-helpful for a beginning cook unless the cook is seriously OCD.

                            bittman is okay, if your tastes are similar to his, but let's face it he's kind of an outlier.

                            joy of cooking is a book that everyone who is older than you is emotionally invested in because blah blah our first meal as a married couple was the chicken on page 268 and i still have the book with the splatters, i was so nervous, yadda yadda. smile and nod. the thing is *dated.* there's a lot of good stuff in JOY, but look for a copy at a used bookstore or a garage sale and don't get it as your first or only cookbook.

                            i don't know anything about NBR cookbook.

                            james peterson is brilliant. much more so than bittman. even so, i would get a different 1st cookbook so you can get your legs under you, and save your pennies for his book, "cooking," or ask for it as a gift or something, so that you have a little experience and can learn from this book better.

                            1. re: soupkitten

                              My wife does not really cook, nor does she like to. She can fix five different meals. Four are in the BHG, which I never use. It seems to suit her.

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                I agree about being somewhat invested in JOC, but I want to remind you that there is a recent edition of this out there. You wouldn't have to obtain the 1974 ed.

                                I also used a BH&G Cookbook from the early seventies.