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Cookbook recommendations as gift for amateur home chef?

My mother-in-law is recently retired, an absolutely terrible cook (she admits this herself) and says that she wants to learn how to cook better now that she has more time on her hands. I'd love to get her a classic cookbook as a gift for her upcoming birthday and wanted some recommendations here. Important to note is that she is not someone with a diverse or 'sophisticated' palate--she refuses to eat sushi and a standard meal in her home is burgers with a side of horrifically overcooked green beans. "Cheese dreams" is another classic meal at their home: a slice of American cheese on a defrosted hamburger bun, topped with bits of bacon (cut up using a kitchen scissors) and then cooked in the oven. So, I don't want anything overly ambitious or fancy, as she wouldn't be interested in this.

Of course I thought of Joy of Cooking, and also How to Cook Everything, but wanted to see if anyone had any other recommendations. Books with explicit instructions on technique and general cooking principles (i.e. if the vegetable loses all trace of color you may have cooked it for too long) would certainly be handy for her.

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  1. How to Cook Everything is my go to book for gift giving. I love how he always starts with a very basic recipe, and then gives you multiple options for modifying.

    1. What about one of Ina Garten's coobooks? Perhaps "How Easy is that?"

      2 Replies
      1. re: pistachio peas

        I was going to suggest her first book - Barefoot Contessa. The recipes are very easy and straight forward, they taste great, and don't use any really unusual ingredients.

        I get it for most "new cooks". I also think the photography makes the recipes approachable and unlike the "big" cookbooks, there aren't so many recipes that the book becomes overwhelming for a beginner.

        The added bonus, you'd enjoy eating any of the recipes should she choose to cook for you.

        1. re: pistachio peas

          This was my first thought too, before I even read your suggestion! I learned to cook from Barefoot Contessa at Home and Tyler Florence's Ultimates. How Easy is That would be a great beginner cookbook as it has lots of good information and pictures.

          I also agree w/ the comment about the bigger cookbooks without photos can become overwhelming for someone new. When I was still learning, I bought How to Cook Everything, and years later I still have yet to make anything out of it because I found it to be too overwhelming.

        2. The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook is excellent.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Njchicaa

            I've actually found that Cook Illustrated recipes require a ton of kitchen equipment and a zillion steps. The payoff to get something 1% better is not worth the cleanup for me.

          2. I like the " the best reciepes " from Americas test kitchen. Everything I have ever cooked from it has been great. They also really help explain why things have to be done a certain way so u also learn a lot of technique. Good luck.

            1. Could you also gift her the experience of a cooking class? It's much easier and more fun way to learn.

              She might get a giggle (and produce some OK meals) with the cookbook A Man, A Can, A Plan. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/man-a...
              Or the Starving Students Cookbook. http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/starv...

              1 Reply
              1. re: MidwesternerTT

                We had talked about that, but she lives far away (suburbs of Canada, we live in NYC), so it would be hard for us to figure out what would be most convenient for her.

              2. I second the idea of a cooking class. That might get her interested enough to move on to cookbooks....or magazines.

                  1. re: weezieduzzit

                    Ruhlman's Twenty is a great place to start, and his Ratio is a great next step.

                    For an expansive reference on technique with great illustrations, I'd have to recommend Jacques Pepin's "New Complete Techniques". It includes basic ingredient prep and cooking techniques up to pared garnishes and composed dishes. Really solid.

                  2. The Way to Cook-Julia Child
                    Foolproof-Ina Garten
                    The I Hate to Cook book-Peg Bracken

                    For all things meat I love Roasting by Barbara Kafka.

                    1. Better Homes and Garden. While not the most adventurous cookbook, the instructions are clear, they avoid processed foods as shortcuts, and they have lots of accessible pictures of what things should look like.

                      1. I second Ina Garten's Foolproof.
                        Also, a subscription to a magazine with recipes, can be as simple as Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, which has pictures and step by step instructions with photos, of basic recipes.

                        1. You said she is recently retired and I'm pretty close to retirement age. I am a great home cook and have an very extensive cookbook collection. My first choice would be Joy of Cooking, with How to Cook Everything a close second.

                          A nice add-on gift is How to Cook Without a Book. It is not comprehensive "bible" like the others, but has some great tips on technique and simple, straight-forward recipes.

                          1. What about a magazine subscription to something like Taste of Home. I agree that ina does great cook books!