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Cookbook for someone who doesn't cook

My sister just moved out of my mom's house after Thanksgiving. She has a roommate, but I don't know if she cooks much.

This girl doesn't cook. I'm pretty sure it's because she's never been in a situation where she has had to. (She is 22, and the only times she has lived away from home were two brief stints away at college.)

I want to get her a simple cookbook for Christmas. Something with easy but relatively healthy recipes. They would also need to be somewhat price-conscious. I was thinking some sort of "five ingredient" cookbook?

So things I'm looking for:

- simple, easy-to-follow instructions
- quick prep (30 minutes or less, maybe?)
- budget-conscious ingredients
- beginner-friendly
- cooking for two (nice but not req'd)
- preferably something that spans several cuisines

I'm perusing Amazon as I type this, but I wanted to see if anyone has any suggestions.

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  1. How about The America's Test Kitchen Cooking School Cookbook? It's hefty, beautiful (gift-worthy), and covers all your bases, plus it's basically a cooking curriculum in the form of a book.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Rilke

      I just pulled up the ATK Quick Family Cookbook before you replied. I'll check that one next!

      1. re: Kontxesi

        It looked awesome, but I think that would be WAY intimidating for her. If I gave her that, it would most likely never get opened.

        It seems like something I'd like to have in my kitchen, though!

    2. The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook has super easy recipes - I love that it's made like a a binder. (Guess it's the teacher in me!) It was my first cookbook as a beginning cook away at college, and I still go back to many recipes today.

      1. I have one called How to Cook Without a Book that gives basic recipes (stir-fry, sauteed chicken breast with pan sauce, pasta, eggs, etc.) and variations on each so you can get basic techniques and proportions down. Really useful for a beginner cook, I think.

        1. "Cookbook for someone who doesn't cook"

          I think that's called a "Take Out Menu".

          2 Replies
          1. re: jrvedivici

            That's valid. I just feel bad that processed food and take-out are her only options now. She's moved about two hours away from my mom, so she can't really just pop in for a real meal.

            Plus, neither her nor her roommate actually have a job right now. (The roomie's parents are starting them out, because they want their daughter out of the house....) So I figure they'll quickly go broke if they are living off of take-out.

            I mean, she is an adult. And if she really want to learn how to cook she would. I just want her to have the tools to be able to feed herself, I guess.

            1. If she has any interest in techniques, I think this book is good for a beginning cook -


              Not a lot of recipes but a basic education in "how" cooking works.

              2 Replies
              1. re: cleobeach

                Love Alton Brown - great pick. And it's a fun read too.

              2. For someone who really doesn't cook, how about something that is simply a good read? Such as The Nero Wolfe Cookbook, which might turn her on to my favorite fictional characters.

                1. Perhaps Jules Clancy's 5 Ingredients 10 Minutes? The recipes are often for 2 and have variations to accommodate vegetarians/vegans or other dietary issues.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sr44

                    Man. No Amazon preview and they don't have it at my library. :(

                    1. re: Kontxesi

                      Check Amazon UK for it. It's also available from http://www.bookdepository.com/ with free shipping.

                      Her blog is http://thestonesoup.com/blog/ for more info.

                  2. When I got married, I was given "The absolute beginner's cookbook" by Jackie Eddy and Eleanor Clark - you can buy it for a buck today on Amazon - very helpful!
                    However, I would recommend she use YouTube for various recipes - first, because many on Youtube are authentic cookers and not commercialized (so Italian cooking is from an old grandmother in Naples rather than a wanna-be), and also she will "see" in addition to "reading" the recipe.

                    Of course, you have to look at the likes/dislikes to make sure the person on the video is making something good :-)

                    Good luck!

                    1. I suggest Real Fast Food by Nigel Slater. All recipes are 30 mins or under and are for 2 people.Fairly cheap ingredients with quite a few store cupboard items. Mainly European dishes iiirc , though some Asian.

                      1. So far Real Fast Food and How to Cook Without a Book are looking promising. I'm also looking at Michael Symon's 5 in 5. Does anyone have that book or know about it?

                        1. DH brought 2 great cookbooks into the marriage: 365 Ways To Cook Chicken and 365 One Dish Meals. They were great starters and still my go-to for Country Captain, Sauerbraten and Picadillo.
                          Here's a WS version:

                          1. The Campus Survival Cookbook is available used on Amazon for under $1. It was written in the 70s by 2 mothers for their college aged sons. It meets all of the criteria that you mention with the exception that it is not as ethnically diverse in cuisines as more contemporary offerings. My husband learned how to cook from it and the Joy of Cooking when he was fresh out of college.

                            1. NON-cook has to want to LEARN how to cook or NO cookbook will work... imo!?!

                              When neice was pregnant with 1st, she REALLY wanted to be a SAHM... like her Aunt. The Aunt stepped in IT and came out golden with a NICE job (with only a HS education) and husband who made NICE money.

                              Niece worked at a day care as an aide... so not making much money. Then I asked what day care for new baby cost and did she make MORE than that... if she worked AND paid for day care, would be LOSING money big time.

                              My suggestion was to use those TAKE-OUT menus very rarely!! She never got any kitchen basics growing up... another story all together.

                              I went over for a visit when baby was home and settled in and said I'd do dinner. Brought fixings for chili... ground beef, big can of tomatoes & beans, big onion & green pepper, a PACKET of chili seasoning... and rice to cook. You'd have thought they had some famous CHEF in kitchen... I got raves!?! Told her do the MATH... 1 lb of ground beef and rest of ingredients makes a LOT of chili... way more than 3 people would eat & probably $6-8 max.

                              They alternate hosting football Sundays with friends. So 8-10 people could be heartily fed for about $10... not cost of 3-4 take-out pizzas!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: kseiverd

                                so...what's the end of the story??? did she learn to cook??? or did this just happen?? i'm dying to know how this turned out!

                              2. Maybe something from Rachel Ray?

                                1. My husband's roommate had "help my apartment has a kitchen" and the sequel "help my apartment has a dining room" Very simple, straight forward, and humorously written. Definitely aimed at those in your sister's situation.

                                  They were great. I still use the fajita recipe 10 years later.