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Cookbook recommendation for a REAL beginner. I mean, a REAL beginner.

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Bittman, Child, and Garten would be too much.

I want to teach my brother-in-law to cook but he is a complete beginner. I mean, he once put a frozen pizza into the oven upside down!!

But, he's a stay-at-home dad, and honestly, I'm getting concerned with what my nephew is eating.

Something with lots of pictures would be best!

:-)

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  1. I always recommend "Martha Stewart's Cooking School." Lots of illustrations and straight-forward instructions on how to hold a knife,etc. I've never come across a better book for the novice in the kitchen.

    1. The Starving Students' Cookbook is a good one: http://www.amazon.com/Starving-Studen...

      1. If he's that challenged in the kitchen DVDs might be a good way to go. Safe knife skills and basics like bake/braise/saute/fry, etc.

        Some people learn better visually.

        1. This:
          http://www.amazon.com/Clueless-Kitche...

          No pictures, but full, easy to understand instructions for everything. Sounds like it would be absolutely perfect for your brother in law. Not at all stuffy or preachy.

          1. I still have a copy of "The Idiot's Guide to Cooking Basics"---it starts with something like "this is a measuring cup" and gets about as advanced as "how to roast a chicken." I liked it. Haven't pulled it out in awhile, but it's good for building up confidence.

            1. [quote]I mean, he once put a frozen pizza into the oven upside down!![/quote]

              This? Is hilarious.

              Regarding cookbooks, I know someone who got enthused about cooking/learned some very basic dishes from a children's cookbook (he has since moved on but credits that book for starting it all). I don't remember the specific title but I would think in general kid's stuff would be simple/easy. Maybe something to consider?

              1. I don't agree that "lots of pictures" is best. Most illustrations in cookbooks are for marketing purposes and take up space which would be better used for more recipes and (especially) explanations. My best-illustrated cookbook is my least used.

                Don' dismiss Julia Child. You don't want Mastering the Art of French Cooking, but consider Julia's Kitchen Wisdom. Not many recipes, but a wealth of information in this slim paperback. One cookbook is never enough, however. You also need one with lots of recipes to find a few you will want to use. Here I suggest The New James Beard. Beard has always been accessible to novice cooks, and there are many recipes in this book which are easy enough for a beginner to try, along with a substantial concordance. Every American kitchen library should have Beard and Child, in my opinion, whatever else it may contain.

                As for technique, there is no substitute for being directly tutored in the basic skills. Perhaps there is a beginner's class available somewhere.

                3 Replies
                1. re: GH1618

                  I would second Julia's Kitchen Wisdom for beginners. Another good choice for a novice is Richard Sax's Get in There and Cook.

                  1. re: lisaonthecape

                    And The Way to Cook. Simple recipes and more complex ones, but all with that inimitable Julia wit and wisdom that makes everyone feel good about their cooking.

                    1. re: Splendid Spatula

                      Way to Cook is an outstanding choice -- the pictures make it an excellent self-teaching tool. And you learn technique, which is really the Way to Cook.

                2. " I mean, he once put a frozen pizza into the oven upside down!!"

                  If you are being serious, what would make you believe a cookbook would help? He might try and read that upside down and get the measurements all screwed up.

                  He may benefit from some cooking classes that begin with the basics. The difference between a pan and a cup, which end of a knife to hold, etc. A web search with keywords such as the name of his town and cooking classes might offer some leads.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Fowler

                    I am with Fowler on this. I mean, the frozen pizza had instructions right? So who's idea is it that a cookbook would help? (and that is outside of all men reading/asking for directions jokes) Maybe a few weekend brunches spent together cooking will help him learn more than any book. And videos might be good as well, do not dismiss YouTube for good easy fun and funny cooking lessons.

                    1. re: Quine

                      Quine,

                      I really like your YouTube idea. He can view those from the privacy of his own home and not have to feel embarrassed about asking someone for instruction.

                      1. re: Fowler

                        I LOVE youtube for teaching cooking. I've been sending youtube video links for things like making pie crust, pounding and breading chicken breasts, searing meat and making pan sauces. The other thing is to work with the guy on what he'd like to learn how to cook and teach him directly.

                      2. re: Quine

                        Me too I like youtube. All you have to do is type in "how to blah" and you get the answers. Don't forget to look at the feedback to see how relavant the video is to the question.

                        Let's face it - most of us learned the basics through watching mothers working in the kitchen as we grew up. He needs tons of videos to catch up!

                    2. (Hello, first time poster!)

                      When I was starting to cook for myself, I found this book helpful: "Betty Crocker's Cooking Basics." It had thorough instructions, as well as photographs for most of the dishes, and had a good mix of main courses and sides. Even several years later, now that I am fairly experienced, there are still a few recipes in there that I make regularly.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: JaclynM

                        Welcome, JaclynM! Thanks for your input.

                        1. re: JaclynM

                          Hey Welcome! Way to go, jumping right in to help! That's how we roll on CH, we all love food and cooking and so love to share and help!

                          Yes, I had thought Betty at first myself. But I do know folks are different in how they learn, so that is why I said YouTube. I am very much a visual learner, see it can do it, sorta thing,

                          For example, someone described a recipe today by showing this:
                          http://youtu.be/a-GFimGcYJw

                          And I fully can understand how to make it. Now if I can just get those made egg omelet skills.

                        2. I like "Americas Test kitchen Family Cook Book" for a good basic all-around cookbook. It gives some great tips.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: CanadaGirl

                            I'll second "America's Test Kitchen Family Cook Book." I've given it to newlyweds, and they have invited me over for meals that they planned and made using the cookbook. It covers all the basics, and is very readable.

                            1. re: Heidi cooks and bakes

                              I would also recommend this book. The recipes are family friendly, there are illustrations where needed and the recipes come with detailed explanations.

                              1. re: foodie06

                                Another vote for "ATKFCB"...also--The Joy of Cooking--that book DID teach me to cook--it seems like a kind of hokey book, but it is excellent in its simplicity and explanations.

                          2. I would recommend a relatively short easy to read book because I don't know whether he thinks he has a problem. I recommend "Cooking Basics for Dummies".

                            Here is a link: http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Basics-...

                            Like all the books from that genre, it gives the basics and keeps it easy and understandable.

                            1. http://tinyurl.com/6nr7pb A Man, a Can, a Plan : 50 Great Guy Meals Even You Can Make

                              If the guy is really a novice, and he isn't too evolved culinarily, then this book might be just the thing.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: sueatmo

                                I was going to suggest this myself. It's not gourmet food, but it does cover some simple and basic meals using very basic ingredients (with pictures of the ingredients), simple steps like "stir" or "combine" and is the kind of cookbook I can imagine that even my husband would use. Since I (sort of) jokingly refered to the kitchen as "the room where the frozen pizza comes from" before I moved in, I feel like it's a realistic approach.

                                In a perfect world, there would be plenty of fresh veggies and simple but delicious food. In the real world, creating some functional meals from frozen foods and some canned staples is a much more realistic outcome.

                                1. re: alitria

                                  I bought this for a son several years ago. This son really did not cook much, but needed to know how to survive in a kitchen. He has learned much since, and he cooks fairly regularly now.

                                  I agree this is realistic for someone who puts the frozen pizza in the oven upside down.

                                  1. re: sueatmo

                                    This gives me a (little) bit of hope for my husband. I don't mind doing the majority of the cooking but it would be lovely if he were willing to master a few simple dishes for nights I can't cook.

                              2. Sort of an out there rec, but one of the first cookbooks I ever owned was "Dad's Own Cookbook" (http://www.amazon.com/Dads-Own-Cookbo...). It covers everything from what to own and what to have in your pantry to how to host a simple meal, and I believe it even has one fancy dinner party plan. It's written by a self-taught stay at home dad. No pictures, though; only a few illustrations to explain pasta shapes and the like.

                                1. I'd suggest some hands on cooking classes on basics. Since he's a stay at home dad, are his kids old enough that they all could do a "kid's" class and all of them would learn? I'd think that would be fun and instructional as well.

                                  1. Joy of Cooking might work. I've never used the book but a good friend of mine who was as bad as your brother-in-law learned to cook using the book. She used to call up with some crazy questions, ex. is 30 minutes long enough to boil an egg and kill the salmonella? Also, her culinary skills were questionable, ex. her idea of peeling a potato was to cut off whole chunks leaving less than half of what she started with. I'm surprised she never cut off her finger. Anyway she's gotten better.

                                    I also second youtube as a good guide.

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: lulumoolah

                                      I agree. I learned to cook from mom (who was a home ec teacher and gourmet cooking geek) and Joy. The old one. It had all sorts of definitions and diagrams (of cow parts, for example) - quite comprehensive. Everything from how to boil an egg and make stock to how to braise, flambee, etc. Not sure whether the new one would be as basic. The recipes weren't all winners on taste. But the instructions were generally quite good.

                                      1. re: Julia_T

                                        Let's not forget perhaps the most iconic of its instructions - "Stand Facing the Stove." I grew up with the (1962) Joy and have always been a huge proponent of it. As an instructional cookbook for a rank beginner you can't do better than the 1975 Joy of Cooking in my opinion. (I'm not a fan of the revamped Joy and don't think it's as useful for a novice cook.) That's exactly what it's designed for, unlike other cookbooks. It's beautifully organized and makes it easy to find quick answers, even when you're in the middle of cooking.
                                        The other great fun thing about it is the RANGE of recipes and techniques. Whether you want to know how to boil an egg, roast a chicken, skin a rabbit, or construct a champagne fountain, Joy has detailed instructions.

                                        1. re: ratgirlagogo

                                          Yeah, my friend had the older copy of Joy of Cooking which I think a family member dug up in her attic and passed along to her.

                                          1. re: lulumoolah

                                            She must have missed the section on how to boil an egg, I guess! It was very specific - for example, when hard boiling, add two minutes to the time if the eggs are still cold from the refrigerator. Too bad her parents didn't teach her.

                                            1. re: Julia_T

                                              Yeah, the egg question and some of the other crazy questions came before Joy of Cooking. I'm glad she was given the book, because it stopped the really bizarre questions she would ask me. I still get semi-odd questions - and I'm not a professional chef or even very skilled in the kitchen - but the questions are a little more advanced and less likely to make me wonder if she's an alien from outer space.

                                    2. I'm probably way off base here but for recipes and giggles along the way

                                      http://www.amazon.com/Complete-Hate-C...

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: iL Divo

                                        recipes and giggles are always good. And i haven't even looked at the link yet!

                                      2. It's not a book, but there's a blog by a stay at home dad cooking easy family meals http://mydaddycooks.co.uk/

                                        For someone who's really lacking the basics, watching it done usually helps a lot more than reading the words. If he is still interested after reading the video blog, then maybe get a book with some simple family type meals.

                                        1. Alton Brown. Super approachable, step by step style with plenty of photos and recipes that gradually take a beginner to the next level. Dad's usually love Alton.

                                          http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&...

                                          1. My first cookbook and the one I return to for the basics when I can't find the "perfect" recipe in any of my dozens of other cookbooks is the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook (with the iconic red plaid cover). It has a lot of decent recipes and also has basics like how to cook a potato or bacon.

                                            1. A great starter (What to Cook and How to Cook it):

                                              http://www.amazon.com/What-Cook-How-J...

                                              Lots of detailed photos.

                                              1. Another thought is TV. My kids LOVE cooking shows. Can you ask your brother or sister to record some to watch with or without their son? For example, Iron Chef America - can be an exciting competition sometimes. It's ridiculously gourmet, but might get him interested. Then there's...The Next Iron Chef; 10 Minute Meals, Aarti Party... I guess those are all Food Network shows; the other channels have some too. Top Chef? Never seen it but I have heard it's good. My husband likes Restaurant Impossible, where Gordon Ramsey completely re-does restaurants and yells at the chefs or owners for lousy cooking or presentation, and usually shows them how to make one or two better dishes (among other things). And of course, for the non-cooking approach to food, there's Anthony Bourdain, which could not be watched with your nephew I suppose.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: Julia_T

                                                  " My husband likes Restaurant Impossible, where Gordon Ramsey completely re-does restaurants and yells at the chefs or owners for lousy cooking or presentation, and usually shows them how to make one or two better dishes (among other things)."

                                                  Hi,

                                                  I think Robert Irvine, not Gordon Ramsey runs Restaurant Impossible. I could be wrong because I have not viewed the show in a while. Hard to keep all of these reality shows straight though!

                                                  1. re: Fowler

                                                    Oops; you're right. Brain freeze!

                                                    1. re: Julia_T

                                                      Blame it on your husband for telling you it was Gordon Ramsey. :-)

                                                      1. re: Julia_T

                                                        Gordon Ramsay does kitchen nightmares.

                                                      2. re: Fowler

                                                        Yeah Irvine ripped Gordon's Kitchen Nightmares and does RI. But yeah, sometimes engaging the person in cooking as a sport or competition (like Old times Emeril shows) gets them interested in cooking.

                                                    2. When I first started cooking properly I used Nigel Slaters Real Fast Food.
                                                      I still use it now over 15 years later.
                                                      He uses recipes which often use store cupboard ingredients and often only 4 or 5 ingredients.
                                                      Any recipe book with a fish finger sandwich recipe (which by the way is great) has got to be good.

                                                      1. Such great tips - thank you so much!

                                                        Yes, the pizza thing really did happen. Sigh. I've already told asked him to make up a list of dishes they like to eat, or would like to eat, for meals and will happily coach him through these but I can't be there all the time so a basic cookbook would be great for him to thumb through and figure stuff out. I mean, he has expressed an interest in learning and does want his kids to be well-nourished, so I think that helps.

                                                        Thanks again!!

                                                        1. Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food is another instruction-heavy book with a lot of pictures and basic, non-intimidating recipes. I wish I'd examined it more closely before purchasing - it was waaayyyy too basic to add to my collection at this point. My MIL loved it though.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: Sushiqueen36

                                                            My friend swears by this book, and I was chatting to a bloke at work once who was cooking his way through it (from a low skill base)n and loved it. I think it's called Jamie's Food Revolution in the US though.

                                                            1. re: greedygirl

                                                              I went to his site and Ministry of Food didn't sound right but the text, description and cover picture seemed like what I had purchased. Since I had given it to my Mother in Law, I'd forgotten the exact name. Thanks for the clarification!

                                                            2. re: Sushiqueen36

                                                              A huge +1 for Jamie Oliver Ministry of Food/Food Revolution. It was written expressly with people like this in mind, to teach them how to cook good, healthy food for their families.

                                                              1. re: serah

                                                                You know, I have to second that one. Nice call!
                                                                I am pretty experienced, and still had a good time reading and using it. It even has little blurbs from other novices.

                                                            3. We keep the Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook with the plaid cover on our shelf. I can't tell you the last time we used a recipe from it, but it has so much useful information and so many pictures.
                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Better-Homes-Ga...

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: AreBe

                                                                Here's a third vote for BH&G cookbook with the red plaid cover. Mine is circa 1970 so I imagine recipes have been updated. I still have to check it when I want to hard boil an egg since I hardboil eggs so infrequently. My copy has all the casseroles that every family loves. I still use the beef mushroom loaf recipe. Also like the time charts for how long to roast different cuts of meat.

                                                              2. I learned w/Joy of Cooking, but this past year I have given two new cooks (one is 12 and the other is my 27 y/o son) Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" (I know you said no Bittman, but give it another look)

                                                                they both love it.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: laliz

                                                                  I agree with suggesting Bittman -- he's "the minimalist" after all, so good for a non-complicated approach. (At the other end of the spectrum -- the non-minimalist -- is Myhrvold.)

                                                                2. I got given "How to Boil Water" cookbook by Food Network as a joke by a college roommate after a cooking mishap, and have to admit that I still have it and use it every now and then! It's very, very basic.

                                                                  http://www.amazon.com/Boil-Water-Food...

                                                                  1. After making a recommendation for this thread (It's up there somewhere.), I went to Amazon.com and started searching for beginners cookbooks. There are a lot of them. A lot of them are very highly rated by readers.

                                                                    I was surprised to find that very few actually define the basic cooking techniques. You know like sweating, sauteing, roasting, boiling, braising, steaming, grilling and searing.

                                                                    When I first started cooking, I was fortunate enough to find a book that did explain the cooking methods and techniques, what they accomplished and when they were used. It really didn't take very long to read it but when I was through, my reaction was "That's it? That's easy enough"

                                                                    Later, I figured out that after reading about those techniques, I was about as good a cook as most people and better than some. After I had cooked some, ruined some dishes and had a few successes, I was a better cook than most.

                                                                    The point to this rambling story is ... find a book that teaches the basic cooking techniques.

                                                                    Now I'm not sure whether the O.P.'s brother in law even wants to learn how to cook and if he isn't interested no one is going to be able to teach him anything. If he wants to learn how to cook, he will know all he needs to know to follow a recipe after reading about the basic techniques.

                                                                    Ok folks.. sorry... I'll shut up, now.

                                                                    2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                                      And I agree! So many "basic" cookbooks assume basics that should not be assumed. Heck, how to boil water sounds easy, but when you see terms like simmer, slow simmer, almost boiling, boiling, rapid boil, do not bring to a boil, rolling boil, ain't so simple!

                                                                      And just another reason why I say YouTube offers A LOT! You get to see what they mean, over and over and over, and if you want, other vids that also do it, but maybe in a way that you *get* it.

                                                                      Do not discount YouTube for cooking/recipes. Plus you can laugh often too!

                                                                      1. re: Quine

                                                                        Sure.. that's how I learned how to bone a chicken.

                                                                    2. Start with this one:
                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crocker-C...
                                                                      and then advance to this one:
                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crocker-C...
                                                                      From there you can pretty much branch out to anything else on the market with expectations of success in the kitchen.

                                                                      1. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, updated and edited by Marion Cunningham. Simply the best of the basics, and still, after 26 years in the kitchen, the place I go when I need to find something out about a dish I've never made before.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: jmckee

                                                                          I learned to cook with the old (c. 1970s) Fannie Farmer cookbook. It was very basic, with detailed instructions and simple line drawings. I used it so much that it finally fell apart. I think I will check out the updated one.

                                                                          1. re: jmckee

                                                                            I love Marion Cunningham! She has a book called Learning to Cook that I enjoyed as well. She has a great way of explaining things!

                                                                          2. I sadly relinquished Sunset magazine's basic cooking cookbook to my ex when we parted ways (it was his mother's). I highly recommend it and often do google searches for some of the classics in the http://www.amazon.com/Easy-Basics-Coo...

                                                                            IMHO, Betty Crocker, Better Homes and Gardens and other basic cookbooks are worth their weight in gold. You can't go wrong with any of them because they have been improved over the years and the recipes are often solid.

                                                                            1. Joy was my cookbook of choice starting with my mother's 60's version, through my 70's version. I bought both of my boys the latest Joy when they went to college. It's pretty good - after some bad revisions in style, they went back to the old format.

                                                                              There are lots of great videos here on Chow.com with simple how-to directions. They are short enough, get the message across and don't have commercials first!

                                                                              1. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything might surprise you. It really is a great book for beginners!

                                                                                1. Sounds like my BIL who was mystified that the hamburgers he hadn't flipped over weren't getting brown on the top.

                                                                                  1. Check out cookbooks for kids, they tend to have very basic information, beginning with pictures and names of kitchen equipment and cooking techniques. The Betty Crocker book for kids was great for mine when little.

                                                                                    1. Yes youtube is awesome for some things. Jacques Pepin comes immediately to mind. That man has talent and in 30 minutes can teach things that astonish - and they were easy.

                                                                                      But the one and only book I would recommend without hesitation is The Best Recipe.
                                                                                      http://www.amazon.com/New-Best-Recipe...

                                                                                      It's not just a collection of recipes but also details how they experimented to get there. By reading through these, one gleanes a deeper understanding of technique and why certain things work well.

                                                                                      It is the only cookbook that I've had for years and still refer to. I rarely follow full recipes per se but I do find their basic techniques to be both "results oriented" with - thank goodness - a stress on SIMPLICITY. Good food is mostly about fresh ingredients and good simple technique.

                                                                                      Some recipes require exacting technique and many steps. I'm not a fan of those. Sure I LOVE the brioche at Bayona's in New Orleans. It was unreal. The waiter actually had to cut me off from asking for more. And having read the recipe over dessert ... OMG ... I will ... NEVER .... do that. But if she is reading this and wishes to mail me some ... I will worship her forever ....

                                                                                      I promise you - this is THE COOKBOOK that your brother in law needs to have.

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: jkling17

                                                                                        I agree on The Best Recipe since it detail not only the HOW of cooking, but the WHY as well. It's hard to say you've learned something unless you really understand why what you've learned works. Once you understand that, you can add that to your store of knowledge and apply it to other similar cooking situations.

                                                                                      2. No real recommendation other than what others have already suggested,
                                                                                        but It makes me happy to think that a Dad will learn to cook
                                                                                        and that his son will see and learn with him !!!
                                                                                        That's so great !!!

                                                                                        I have 4 sons and always tell them, "if you can read, you can cook"
                                                                                        meaning of course, you can read a recipe and follow the directions.

                                                                                        We typically cook together when they come over on weekends,
                                                                                        and I do get the occasional weeknite text message asking for "HELP !!!"
                                                                                        It's fun.

                                                                                        1. So which cookbook did you choose? Please share.

                                                                                          1 Reply
                                                                                          1. re: sueatmo

                                                                                            She probably didn't choose one because she asked him and he said he didn't need one while eating off the dollar menu. :-)

                                                                                          2. I would suggest Ruhlman's Twenty. It breaks down the absolute basic twenty techniques needed in the kitchen, then has recipies that each require each technique. Good for multiple reasons: Can practice a technique you just read about, see the different ways each technique can be used, or when prepping a meal, choose from different techniques to make prep easier.
                                                                                            The book is also heavily loaded with photos of what each stage in the prep should look like. Wonderful book for begginners, but also for all cooks.

                                                                                            1. Not sure about the quality, but the concept would lend itself to a total newbie:
                                                                                              http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Above-I...

                                                                                              1. OP here! I was thoroughly overwhelmed by all the replies and jotted down a very long list. I really want to thumb through a bunch before I buy but here is where my Amazon loving self has hit a wall - so many bookstores have closed! So, I'm waiting for a chance to spend a few hours in the closest one to me as soon as I can get there.

                                                                                                Believe me, this thread has been MORE than helpful and I'm super grateful for all the suggestions! :-)

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Violatp

                                                                                                  Which one did you end up choosing? Just curious. :-)

                                                                                                2. http://www.amazon.com/Help-Apartment-...

                                                                                                  Help! My Apartment has a Kitchen

                                                                                                  Check this out. Very basic but that's where he is, right? Lots of tips throughout, not much is assumed re the reader's skill or cooking knowledge.

                                                                                                  Good luck, it's nice of you to help him out!

                                                                                                  ETA: He might learn something by looking at the Pioneer Woman's step-by-step recipes.
                                                                                                  http://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/20...

                                                                                                  1. I began as an absolute beginner a little more than 2 years ago (in September 2009, I once googled "how to boil water" That is not a joke. ). I didn't use any cookbooks, just started slowly. First made instant ramen/ frozen pizza, then went on to boiling pasta and vegetables and tossing them with canned sauce, and then moved to stir frying and baking vegetables and chicken. If he's past the frozen food area, he should start with brocolli, corn and pasta. Boil all three of them, pour some sauce on it, mix and eat. it's not gourment, but it's a start. Same for boiling eggs and slicing it, and making a sandwich with it and sliced tomatoes and spinach and cheese. Then he should try easy soups: buy broth, vegetables, eggs, and microwave them together. Then move on to buying marinades and adding them to chicken breasts and putting those together in a pan until the chicken is white and done and eating that with pasta. Once he's comfortable in the kitchen, THEN buy him a cookbook. The problem is, he needs to want to learn. With the internet, there is never any actual need to buy a cookbook actually. Youtube videos and ehow are his friends here, they have descriptions of the most mundane of dishes.