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Recommendations for a general cookbook

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Oistrakh12 Aug 6, 2011 07:01 PM

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?

  1. bayoucook Aug 6, 2011 07:08 PM

    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
      r
      Rella Aug 7, 2011 09:22 AM

      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
        bayoucook Aug 7, 2011 12:16 PM

        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
          r
          Rella Aug 7, 2011 12:38 PM

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

          1. re: Rella
            Jay F Aug 7, 2011 01:46 PM

            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
            c
            ChiliDude Aug 9, 2011 07:07 PM

            I have 3 different editions that sit on the shelf.

          3. re: Rella
            r
            rasputina Aug 9, 2011 09:37 AM

            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
              c
              ChiliDude Aug 9, 2011 07:06 PM

              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. a
            acgold7 Aug 6, 2011 07:09 PM

            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 half.com 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
              bayoucook Aug 6, 2011 07:20 PM

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

              1. re: bayoucook
                r
                Rella Aug 7, 2011 04:26 PM

                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.

                http://www.amazon.com/American-Intern...

                 
                1. re: bayoucook
                  s
                  sueatmo Aug 8, 2011 05:38 PM

                  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
                    r
                    Rella Aug 8, 2011 08:22 PM

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

                    1. re: Rella
                      s
                      sueatmo Aug 9, 2011 08:06 AM

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

                      1. re: sueatmo
                        mcf Aug 9, 2011 08:22 AM

                        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
                          r
                          Rella Aug 9, 2011 09:18 AM

                          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
                            mcf Aug 9, 2011 02:15 PM

                            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
                              r
                              Rella Aug 9, 2011 02:23 PM

                              Quite understand. Thanks for clarifying

                        2. re: sueatmo
                          Jay F Aug 9, 2011 10:25 AM

                          I'll sell you my copy of HTCE.

                      2. re: sueatmo
                        eight_inch_pestle Aug 9, 2011 01:44 PM

                        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. roxlet Aug 6, 2011 07:20 PM

                    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
                      ChristinaMason Aug 7, 2011 04:29 PM

                      +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. a
                      acgold7 Aug 6, 2011 07:26 PM

                      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
                        bayoucook Aug 7, 2011 08:41 AM

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

                      2. o
                        Oistrakh12 Aug 6, 2011 07:59 PM

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

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Oistrakh12
                          a
                          acgold7 Aug 6, 2011 08:10 PM

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

                          1. re: Oistrakh12
                            s
                            soupkitten Aug 7, 2011 01:19 PM

                            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
                              jmckee Aug 8, 2011 09:50 AM

                              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
                                s
                                sueatmo Aug 8, 2011 05:41 PM

                                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.

                            2. srsone Aug 6, 2011 08:04 PM

                              while not strictly a cookbook....i have found Alton Brown's book-- Gear for Your Kitchen very useful...

                              1. Hank Hanover Aug 7, 2011 12:16 AM

                                Those are all very good books. If I had to choose one, I would probably go with "Joy of Cooking".

                                However those books can be pretty daunting because they are large books. If you are not afraid of reading and have the time, “The Americas Test Kitchen Family Cookbook” would be another excellent option. It has lots of explanations.

                                You may want to consider buying a smaller introductory book, especially considering how little time you will have to read cookbooks. I would look into “Cooking for dummies”, and “How to cook without a book” by Pam Anderson. Cooking for dummies is surprisingly helpful. It talks about all the cooking techniques like frying, roasting, braising, stewing, steaming and broiling. Once you know those techniques and when they are used, you know quite a bit about cooking.

                                "How to cook without a book" is geared for beginners and people that don't have a lot of time. It also teaches how to throw something together from the pantry.. a very useful skill.

                                Learn a few pasta dishes. They reheat well and they are quick and cheap. Learn how to cook eggs. There is nothing easier and cheaper than scrambled eggs and whatever leftover meat you have, including Vienna Sausages, although I prefer just plain breakfast sausage.

                                Learn some rice dishes. Casseroles work well. Risottos and pilafs are good and cheap and quick. Pilafs are easier than risottos.

                                Finally, learn to stirfry. It is quick, cheap...even healthy.

                                Hope that helps.

                                1. e
                                  ErnieD Aug 7, 2011 02:22 AM

                                  Joy of Cooking definitely if you are looking for the basics. I would put How to Cook Everything on your short list too, though, for as soon as you have space/money. It has a lot of good ideas as well.

                                  1. s
                                    suburban_mom Aug 7, 2011 07:56 AM

                                    "How to Cook Everything" It is my go to book when I make something new.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: suburban_mom
                                      mcf Aug 7, 2011 09:48 AM

                                      I really don't like Bittman's food column or his recipes much, but on the strength of it as a primer, I bought HTCE for my daughter when she moved out, and she learned a lot about technique and cooking and became a very adventurous and confident cook by using it til she outgrew it. I used an old copy of Joy for many years as a young cook, can recommend it, too. Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa is great for learning techniques and for making the daunting easy, so her Back to Basics might be worth checking out, but I doubt it's as exhaustive as the others.

                                    2. Jay F Aug 7, 2011 09:04 AM

                                      I currently like "The Complete America's Test Kitchen Cookbook 2001-2011." http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Americ...

                                      Back in the '70s, my general cookbook was the then-current trade paperback version of Joy of Cooking. I got a lot out of Bon Appetit magazine, c. 1978-1984, as well.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Jay F
                                        r
                                        Rella Aug 7, 2011 09:26 AM

                                        "The Complete America's Test Kitchen Cookbook 2001-2011" is quite a book. I can hardly lift it, but I love it.

                                        I have the 10 years of DVD's that I've bought each year that match up, as well as the individual years books.

                                        I highly recommend it!

                                        1. re: Jay F
                                          f
                                          ForFoodsSake Aug 7, 2011 09:30 AM

                                          I have the America's Test Kitchen cookbook as well, and really enjoy it. I also have the Food Network Favorites Cookbook -- while the recipes aren't fit for stunning 4-star meals, they are generally easy and not intimidating for a novice cook like me.

                                        2. LulusMom Aug 7, 2011 09:18 AM

                                          When I first started cooking, I used epicurious a lot. I'd find out what was on sale, then look up recipes on using their search engine. I learned a lot that way, fairly quickly, and tried a lot of different things. That and using the library before you make a decision might be a good way to go.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: LulusMom
                                            mcf Aug 7, 2011 09:49 AM

                                            Epicurious is great, and the ratings comments can be very instructive as well, I've found.

                                            1. re: mcf
                                              LulusMom Aug 7, 2011 10:29 AM

                                              They helped me so much in the beginning, like having more experienced cooks standing around offering advice.

                                          2. isntsheclever Aug 7, 2011 10:22 AM

                                            I cannot speak to the content in any Cook's Country or America's Test Kitchen cookbooks, but I own several of their periodicals and watch the shows all the time. America's Test Kitchen Best of Baking is sitting in my dvd player as we speak. I would encourage any novice cook to pick up pretty much anything they've published or produced. Like acgold7 said, they do TONS of test and make all of the mistakes for you. And they explain why one thing doesn't work and why another does. This kind of knowledge is what takes you from cookbook cooking to cooking without a cookbook.
                                            There is one cookbook that I buy for wedding presents and the number one recommendation I give whenever someone tells me they don't know how to cook and want to learn. That book is In the Green Kitchen: Techniques to Learn by Heart. It gives a good primer on how to stock your kitchen to start. Then it gives you relatively simple recipes meant to be simple enough that once you cook them or twice, you will no longer need to read them from the book. You will know them by heart. What I love about this book is that there are lots of suggested variations. I find that a lot of novice cooks get stuck cooking a recipe only one way, rather than thinking outside of the box and looking for substitutions that are already sitting their fridge (or pantry, or garden). Check this one out at your local library and I bet you'll want to invest the money to buy it!
                                            And my two cents... Don't both with any of those huge tomes of cookery knowledge. They are so overwhelming at first. Stick with smaller books for now.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: isntsheclever
                                              Jay F Aug 7, 2011 05:36 PM

                                              Isn't She Clever: "And my two cents... Don't both with any of those huge tomes of cookery knowledge. They are so overwhelming at first. Stick with smaller books for now."

                                              I agree. I learned more about cooking the food I really love by reading both Giuliano Bugialli's and Marcella Hazan's first books. After I'd read these, Joy kind of got relegated to occasional "look up how to cook unfamiliar ingredients Marcella doesn't mention" status.

                                              The most important thing I learned from Marcella: not to be married to my shopping list, but rather to be able to compose a menu as I shop. I've always done that, ever since.

                                              And Giuliano gave me the good pasta recipe.

                                              1. re: isntsheclever
                                                Hank Hanover Aug 7, 2011 11:33 PM

                                                I haven't read "Green Kitchen" but I was somewhat impressed with the table of contents and it's rating on Amazon.

                                                The only thing I didn't like was that it was only about 150 pages and the cheapest I could find it was about $12 used.

                                                "Cooking for dummies" and "How to cook without a book" are both longer, cheaper and both are very well rated books.

                                                1. re: isntsheclever
                                                  The Dairy Queen Aug 9, 2011 01:08 PM

                                                  I really liked In the Green Kitchen. It is very basic without being condescending. How to dress a salad, how to cook an egg, how to roast a chicken, etc.

                                                  But, some of the recipes are pretty ingredient dependent. I'm thinking of the David Chang tofu and tomato recipe with Perilla. Perilla isn't necessarily easy to come by. Or the recipe with the Japanese turnips.

                                                  Still, I thought it was a very nice book. I'm just not sure I would recommend it as someone's primary book or to someone who doesn't have access to a lot of specialized ingredients (mostly produce, I guess). But, as a secondary book, I think it's terrific.

                                                  ~TDQ

                                                2. o
                                                  Oistrakh12 Aug 7, 2011 01:21 PM

                                                  Hi guys, OP here. I don't plan on using this general cookbook everyday, since I plan to mostly cook asian food (I have cookbooks for that), but I would still like a cookbook for "American" food. I went to my local bookstore, and the Joy of Cooking seems very daunting and dense. I prefer the feel and design of the BHG new cookbook. I probably would prefer a more technique-oriented book and smaller book, such as "How to Cook Without a Book" or "Martha Stewart's Cooking School." Does anyone have any suggestions for something along those lines?

                                                  10 Replies
                                                  1. re: Oistrakh12
                                                    bayoucook Aug 7, 2011 01:39 PM

                                                    go to Amazon and see What to Eat and How To Cook It by Jane Hornby. Looks really good and may be close to what you are looking for.

                                                    1. re: Oistrakh12
                                                      LulusMom Aug 7, 2011 01:44 PM

                                                      Library! Go take out a few different things, and see what ends up getting used the most, or appealing to you the most.

                                                      1. re: LulusMom
                                                        mcf Aug 7, 2011 03:29 PM

                                                        That's what I was going to suggest! Even if a book isn't on the shelf, you can order it through the cooperative system. Read them, use some recipes and choose the one that speaks to you in the language you like best. Even though I always recommend Bittman to beginners, I don't like him or his recipes, only the way he teaches about ingredients to total neophytes.

                                                      2. re: Oistrakh12
                                                        s
                                                        soupkitten Aug 7, 2011 01:46 PM

                                                        get the book that appeals to you, that's the one you'll be excited to cook from. a book that seems boring or intimidating will sit on the shelf. i really do think the BHG is probably the best book for what you are looking for. unlike other beginner's cookbooks i will still go back to BHG and use the recipes because they work so well. i have no idea where my JOY is, don't miss it.

                                                        1. re: Oistrakh12
                                                          Hank Hanover Aug 7, 2011 11:36 PM

                                                          At 512 pages "Martha Stewart's Cooking School" seems pretty daunting itself.

                                                          1. re: Oistrakh12
                                                            Niki in Dayton Aug 9, 2011 01:24 PM

                                                            I bought both of my sisters-in-law the BHG new cookbook. One sister-in-law is Nepalese, and the other is American; both find it extremely useful, as do I, when I need to check something basic. It's easy to use, easy to find recipes, accurate, and fairly comprehensive. Go with your instincts - get BHG!

                                                            1. re: Oistrakh12
                                                              The Dairy Queen Aug 9, 2011 01:43 PM

                                                              Well, if you want a smaller, technique oriented book, actually the recommendation above for "In the Green Kitchen" might actually be solid. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/800270#6735877 I think LuluMom's recommendation below for going to the library and checking out a couple of books is a good one. Or, if you don't think you have time to try out a bunch of books, you could just go to your local bookstore (Barnes and Noble, etc.) and flip through them and decide what appeals to you. You can also see the table of contents to In the Green Kitchen on Amazon.com's "Look Inside" feature.

                                                              How to Cook Everything was a "Cookbook of the Month" awhile back. You could browse those threads if you wish. I think reviews were pretty mixed. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/698815

                                                              Another option is something by Jamie Oliver. Maybe Jamie's Food Revolution, which is defintely oriented to beginners, with full-color step by step photos and a photo of the finished dish. It's a smaller book. Not super comprehensive (like HTCE) but a really good starting point for lots of techniques with recipes that are nearly all winners. He doesn't come right out and tell you, " now we're learning technique x", but he exposes you to most very gently. You can search on "revolution" in this thread to get a sense of some of the recipes in this book. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7691... Unfortunately, you can't "Look Inside" of JFR on Amazon, but you can read the reader reviews. (I always sort them by "most helpful"). I can't recite the sections, but he covers pasta, stir-fries, curry, stews, roasts, and desserts.

                                                              ~TDQ

                                                              1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                LulusMom Aug 9, 2011 02:20 PM

                                                                And Cook with Jamie is a really good book. I've had many successes with it. I think the idea is he is giving you lots of different kinds of foods and trying to make you a great home cook. I like this book a heck of a lot. I don't think it would be in the Jamie Oliver cookbook of the month thread, but you could look at the adjunct thread and find some recipe reviews. And truly, nothing I've made from the Naked Chef books has been at all difficult. Good call, TDQ.

                                                                1. re: LulusMom
                                                                  The Dairy Queen Aug 9, 2011 02:57 PM

                                                                  Also, I think "Jamie's Kitchen" is actually intended to be a cooking course. From the Amazon.com description: "Some of the cooking techniques included are making salads, cooking without heat, poaching and boiling, steaming, stewing and braising, roasting, grilling, and baking."... "Jamie includes tips on how to take recipes in new directions and how to be an inspired grocery shopper-spotting what's good, what's in season, and what's a good value. Most important, Jamie encourages budding cooks to have confidence and a sense of independence, and to be master of the kitchen!" I haven't cooked from this book a ton, but I think the recipes (and ingredients) are going to be a bit more "upscale"/gourmet than the ones in Jamie's Food Revolution, which is home style.

                                                                  Here are the chapters from JFR:

                                                                  Intro
                                                                  Essentials (ie stocking your kitchen and pantry)
                                                                  Twenty Minute Meals
                                                                  Quick Pasta
                                                                  Tasty Stir-fries
                                                                  Easy Curries
                                                                  Lovin' Salads
                                                                  Simple Soups
                                                                  Homely ground beef (that is, a bunch of things you can do with ground beef)
                                                                  Comforting Stews
                                                                  Family Roast Dinners (here's where you learn how to roast a chicken. every beginners cookbook has to show you how... he also shows you beef, lamb, pork, etc.)
                                                                  Delish Veggies
                                                                  Quick-cooking Meat and Fish
                                                                  Classic FIsh
                                                                  Kick-start breakfasts
                                                                  Sweet things

                                                                  Several JO books were cookbook of the month earlier this year. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/769149#6344137 And he's got a pretty robust website. Just so you can get a sense of the guy. http://www.jamieoliver.com/

                                                                  ~TDQ

                                                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                                                    LulusMom Aug 9, 2011 04:02 PM

                                                                    I was just going to mention the website, which has quite a few recipes on it, and might be a fun starting point. I can highly recommend the Bloke's Pasta (something like that). It is easy, and it is a huge hit with everyone I've served it to.

                                                            2. m
                                                              MyNameIsTerry Aug 7, 2011 02:08 PM

                                                              I'd recommend Cooking by James Peterson if you want to learn how to cook. Joy of Cooking has recipes for anything you'd want to cook, but I don't think you'll necessarily learn "how to cook" with that book.

                                                              1. eclecticsynergy Aug 7, 2011 02:29 PM

                                                                I think LulusMom has a great idea- borrow a few from the library and see which one feels right and speaks to you.

                                                                That said, my stained and battered (sometimes literally) old copy of Joy Of Cooking has been, over the years, by far my most-used cookbook. IMO if you could only get one, this is the one to get. Classic and encyclopedic. Every cook should have a copy, I agree with bayoucook..

                                                                Once you've got your feet under you,.and feel a bit more secure in the kitchen, get Bittman too. I recently gave HTCE to my son, deviating from a generations-long tradition in the family of giving Joy to one's kids. But he's confident and experienced, already been cooking for a number of years. And I'll give him a reference copy of Joy someday, too.

                                                                1. o
                                                                  oldunc Aug 7, 2011 06:15 PM

                                                                  Another way to go is the "Good Cook" series by- I think it was Time-Life, but it's been a while. This was a series of books on individual topics, with very detailed instructions and a lot of photos (of things in progress, not just finished dishes), covering most of the basics. The whole series got pretty pricey, but they're probably easily available used by now, or maybe in a cheaper digital format. Also, if you wanted to focus on a particular area, such as meat or desserts.
                                                                  My old fave for a general cookbook is Louis DeGouy's "Gold Cookbook", now hopelessly dated and hard to find, but Mom used it too...

                                                                  1. eight_inch_pestle Aug 8, 2011 02:38 AM

                                                                    HTCE. Not sure what would make that title an outlier or New Yorky. Definitely has limitations, and you'll definitely outgrow it. But bang for the buck, educational, and filled with basic principles? Yessur.

                                                                    1. t
                                                                      thimes Aug 8, 2011 02:40 AM

                                                                      I think the Joy of Cooking is a good reference book but I don't think it is good for true beginners. It is dense, overwhelming, no pictures . . . . I have it but honestly have never cooked from it.

                                                                      My recommendation is always the original "Barefoot Contessa" cookbook.

                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Barefoot-Contes...

                                                                      I find it easy to use, not overwhelming, simple ingredient lists, an easy mix of recipes to start with, easy techniques, great inspiring pictures, and every recipe (at least in this book of hers) turns out great. I think it is the perfect beginner book.

                                                                      1. jmckee Aug 8, 2011 09:53 AM

                                                                        1. "The New Fannie Farmer", edited / revised by Marion Cunningham. There simply isn't a better "starter" on the market. Covers most things without overwhelming you by covering everything. Clear instructions. Basic introductory info to all types of foos without inundating with stuff the newbie would never try.
                                                                        2. Julia Child's "The Way To Cook". Work your way through this one, and you'll be a good home cook. Emphasis on technique to a degree, but done by having master recipes then variations. Amply cross-referenced.
                                                                        3. Betty Crocker. The first cookbook my mother owned when she was first married. Still probably the best of the "name brand" basic cookbooks.

                                                                        "How to Cook Everything" is overrated and probably not for a newbie. "Joy of Cooking" is one where I never understood its popularity. And anybody who would give a newbie anything by Chris Kimball's nutty crowd isn't doing them any favors.

                                                                        9 Replies
                                                                        1. re: jmckee
                                                                          isntsheclever Aug 8, 2011 08:22 PM

                                                                          Just out of curiosity, what don't you like about the ATK peeps? There seem to be a few people who think that's the wrong direction to send a novice...

                                                                          1. re: isntsheclever
                                                                            s
                                                                            sueatmo Aug 9, 2011 08:09 AM

                                                                            I'm not impressed the Kimball's stuff either. I have used the recipes on occasion and they seem so involved. Even following the instructions carefully, you might not get good results. I enjoy reading about how they arrive at their techniques, but I am not sure they can always be duplicated in my kitchen.

                                                                            1. re: sueatmo
                                                                              r
                                                                              Rella Aug 9, 2011 09:27 AM

                                                                              The last recipe I used this July was in the 2005 cookbook Chicken Paillard (or Peyard?).

                                                                              What I do on any recipe is to break it down (whether it is ATK or others) and write it up, print it out, and add notes of my own on it for next time if it is successful.

                                                                              With ATK, it takes a little more time to separate the chat. But I had a good time with the recipe, reading it, watching the DVD to actually see the product being made, then making it myself.

                                                                              Granted, it is a simple recipe, but I feel I would've not got the end result otherwise. Dear Husband is more capable of undertanding a recipe's intent and end result than I, so perhaps it takes two in our house and maybe I wouldn't enjoy it so much otherwise - just musing.

                                                                              1. re: Rella
                                                                                Jay F Aug 9, 2011 10:27 AM

                                                                                Rella: "Chicken Paillard (or Peyard?)"

                                                                                Paillard. It's French.

                                                                            2. re: isntsheclever
                                                                              jmckee Aug 9, 2011 08:56 AM

                                                                              Their conceit of all their recipes being the "best ever". Their somewhat deceptive and sneaky business practices. Their sometimes involved and sometimes bizarre methodolgies in their recipes -- the example that pushed me over the edge was making lemonade by mashing lemon slices with a potato masher. I just think they are off on a side track, by themselves, out of the mainstream of good cooking.

                                                                              1. re: jmckee
                                                                                r
                                                                                Rella Aug 9, 2011 09:45 AM

                                                                                The one problem I have with them is their recommendations. I perk up when they do a taste test, but I disagree many times with their recommendation of cooking tools. My main problem is that I so disagree with one of their sponsored products that it does taint my 100% acceptance of their 'best ever' judgment.

                                                                                1. re: jmckee
                                                                                  bayoucook Aug 9, 2011 11:39 AM

                                                                                  I don't take it as best ever. I take it as the best they could get it after a great deal of experimentation. Also, in the beginning they tell you why they want to make it better, and what qualities they hope to achieve with it. I've never had a failure from using one of their recipes. I didn't suggest this book to the OP because I figured he/she was more interested in getting quick but tasty meals on the table rather than spending lots of time and needing more equipment to make *the best* recipe.

                                                                                2. re: isntsheclever
                                                                                  r
                                                                                  rasputina Aug 9, 2011 09:54 AM

                                                                                  I have issues with them too, in fact I recently canceled my subscription and quit watching their show after years of watching their shows, owning a few of their cookbooks and being an online subscriber.

                                                                                  Their taste testing never reflects my own taste.
                                                                                  I find Chris Kimball completely annoying.
                                                                                  Their recipes reach the point of obsessive detail, even though I do have a few that I use regularly and like.
                                                                                  I don't understand their yankee mentality or emphasis on cheapest cost in buying cookware
                                                                                  Their bbq is a joke every recipe spends at least 1/2 it's time in the oven
                                                                                  Adam the kitchen tool and gadget guy was my favorite but he has reviewed things where he clearly didn't take the time to truly learn how a different product worked compared to what he was used to.
                                                                                  Bridget and her contant "that's right" comment is like nails on a chalkboard to me.

                                                                                  1. re: rasputina
                                                                                    r
                                                                                    Rella Aug 9, 2011 11:42 AM

                                                                                    Referring to "Bridget and her contant "that's right" comment is like nails on a chalkboard to me."

                                                                                    I'd never thought about comment before, but there are some words that cooks use constantly; such as "beautiful," that can grate. It's hard any more for me to not groan when someone says "YUM!" When they roll their eyes while saying "YUM," that's really difficult :-)))

                                                                              2. financialdistrictresident Aug 8, 2011 05:51 PM

                                                                                The Joy of Cooking. Be careful which edition. I still refer to mine.

                                                                                I also love the illustrations in The Way to Cook, Pepin's Complete Techniques and LaVarenne Pratique. Sometimes a show me is helpful when you're learning.

                                                                                Also some of Jamie Oliver's books are good. The Ministry of food, while not a general cookbook like Joy, attests anyone can learn to cook in 24 hours!

                                                                                2 Replies
                                                                                1. re: financialdistrictresident
                                                                                  bayoucook Aug 9, 2011 11:45 AM

                                                                                  I think one reason I loved JOC so much was for its information. I came from a tiny, rural town in Mississippi and loved cooking, but I had never heard of, say, lemongrass (and so many more) - it educated me and taught me much when I left home for good at 18. Do I use it as much as I used to, having mastered quite a few cuisines? No. But we have a hallowed past!

                                                                                  1. re: bayoucook
                                                                                    mcf Aug 9, 2011 02:20 PM

                                                                                    I haven't looked at my copy of JOC for years, but I'm pretty sure it's the only cookbook I have with pictures and instructions for skinning a squirrel for cooking... :-)

                                                                                2. dave_c Aug 9, 2011 09:11 AM

                                                                                  For a novice cook and from your list, I would recommend the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook". The book provides technique and basic recipes. Also, as you mentioned the layour is pretty good. Another book to look for is the Betty Crocker cookbook

                                                                                  Next would be "How to Cook Everything".

                                                                                  Joy of Cooking... I'm over this book. It's a compendium of so-so recipes. It may be a good reference book, but it would be on the bottom of my list. My suggestion is to borrow the book from the library to see if it's something you'll want to buy. Also, if you have a local Goodwill or thrift store, you may find a copy for under $5, same with the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

                                                                                  The last two books I'm not familiar with.

                                                                                  1. yayadave Aug 9, 2011 08:25 PM

                                                                                    Don't bother with New Best Recipes. They aren't that good. If you just want to eat and not make a project out of it, Better Homes and Gardens has recipes that work and are what folks eat.

                                                                                    Another approach is to look at Pioneer Woman Cooks, allrecipes, Simply Recipes, and epicurius - all on-line.

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. re: yayadave
                                                                                      d
                                                                                      dkennedy Aug 25, 2011 08:40 AM

                                                                                      OP,

                                                                                      This is a book I recommend to my beginner students. It is a great book for learning and practicing techniques:

                                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/18837...

                                                                                      The book is available used on Amazon for a very good price and it has the look inside feature so you can see if it meets your needs before you buy it.

                                                                                    2. m
                                                                                      Marianne13 Sep 5, 2011 10:08 AM

                                                                                      I second the vote for Jaime's Food Revolution. Every recipe has a picture (until i was an experienced cook I avoided books without pictures), the tone is very reassuring and not at all snooty. More complicated recipes have picture cooking instructions. The recipes are very homey, don't use expensive ingredients and reheat well so you can cook a few meals on the weekend to eat the rest of the week. Perfect for a student IMO.

                                                                                      NBR's is too labour intensive (although I've had delicious results) for an inexperienced cook and HTCE is great to have on hand if you can stand to live out of the index - only a serious foodie would read a book that size. Although I agree that some of HTCE's recipes give inexplicably bland results, if you actually read the book you will become the kind of cook that can revive any recipe. I've read it (yes, dork) and have found it priceless for cooking with what I have on hand. Once you get a decent amount of condiments, you can defrost anything and make something great with the usual pantry staples: garlic, onions, potatoes etc.

                                                                                      Of course, i have to put in a good word for Donna Hay. I have all her books and love them... teh recipes are simple and I always get great results, but I cook from them less often because they reheat less well and many require a trip to the grocery store. (My grocery budget explodes whenever she releases a new one!) Two to consider, esp if you can find them used - the photos are gorgeous:
                                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Off-Shelf-Cooking-Donna-Hay/dp/0066214483/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1315242169&sr=1-1
                                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Off-Shelf-Cooki...

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: Marianne13
                                                                                        m
                                                                                        Marianne13 Sep 23, 2011 07:12 AM

                                                                                        Oops I just realized I posted the same book twice!

                                                                                        http://www.amazon.com/No-Time-to-Cook...

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