Books For New Cooks

This is an update of an archived post, in which I tried to limit myself to selecting five cookbooks from my library that I thought would be good for newbie cooks. I didn’t quite hit the mark, as you can see. And I’m adding one more that I’ve recently acquired. What can I say, other than, “Hello, my name’s Carrie and I’m a cookbook addict.”

My winners either had lots of recipes and no photos (the “encyclopedias”) or lots of how-to photos and descriptions of technique (the “cooking schools”) or short ingredient lists, pretty photos and recipes that will please just about anyone (“accessible”).

Joy of Cooking. I actually only acquired this book a few years ago, when I was looking at my mother-in-law’s copy and commented that I actually didn’t own it. Guess what I got for Christmas that year? This book is, of course, an encyclopedia of just about every type of recipe. I use it extensively as my go-to for how to cook things. I learned how to properly cook a roast from this book, and when I hadn’t made soft-boiled eggs in forever, this was the book I cracked to double check whether to put the eggs in cold water or boiling water (bring to boil, gently put in eggs, return to boil, immediately reduce to simmer) and how long to cook them (4 minutes for large eggs). No pictures, but the completeness of the book makes it a worthy volume for cooks of all experience levels.
Everyday Food. Here’s the first technicality: I’m including two volumes, Fresh Flavor Fast and Great Food Fast. Like “Everyday Food” magazine (which the recipes in these books are pulled from), the recipes are tasty and accessible without being boring. Ingredient lists are short. There are only a few how-to photos in the back of each book, but each recipe does have a photo of the finished dish, which I know a lot of people really like in a cookbook.
Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. All hail the Queen of Domestic Pursuits! This isn’t an encyclopedia in the same way that Joy of Cooking is, mostly because it includes fewer recipes, but it includes detailed lessons on “Stocks & Soups,” “Eggs,” “Meat, Fish & Poultry,” “Vegetables,” “Pasta,” “Dried Beans & Grains,” and “Desserts.” It has sections on kitchen equipment, knives and seasonings, and a lot of how-to photos. Some of the recipes are basic, others are “fancy,” so a new cook could really grow with this book, and a more experienced cook could pick up some new tricks, too.

How to Cook Everything The Basics. I hesitated to buy this Mark Bittman book (my second-most-recent cookbook acquisition) because I already do know the basics, but I picked up some useful tips…and confirmed that this would be a great resource for beginner cooks. I mean, it even tells you how to boil water (really!). This book has lots and lots of photos, which really help the learning process (plus, they look nice). The book starts with a little treatise on “Why Cook?” (satisfying, saves money, produces truly nutritious food, is time well spent, is rewarding and leads to family meals), then segues into what the beginner kitchen needs in terms of pantry goods, fridge items and kitchen tools. Then he moves into basic food prep skills, from rinsing produce and holding a knife to all the major cooking methods (roasting, stirfrying, braising, etc.). Finally, there are 185 recipes that will get you cooking in no time, I’m sure of it. Once you have that mastered, you can move on to…

How To Cook Everything. If the title wasn’t clear, this Bittman book is another cooking encyclopedia, with appetizers, desserts and everything in between. Need to know how to cook quinoa? It’s in here. A classic osso bucco? Ditto. It has a nice little section about how to outfit a basic kitchen, too. Like The Joy of Cooking, it has no photos, but you can’t have this many recipes and photos and confine the book to one thick volume!
Jamie Oliver. I could not decide between Cook with Jamie and Jamie’s Food Revolution. The first book is Jamie’s “guide to making you a better cook” with “a whole load of simple and accessible recipes that will blow the socks off your family and any guests you might have round for dinner.” Can’t argue with that! I’ve cooked a bit more from the Food Revolution book, which actually has more how-to photos. The food is fresh and delicious, and the recipes aren’t complicated. Some recipes include some slightly exotic ingredients, but there is something in this book for everyone, and the tone and presentation is so friendly and confidence-building that it’s a real gem.