Best cookbook(s) for someone new to cooking?

A friend of mine is newly single and needs/wants to learn to cook for herself. She requested cookbook recommendations and my first thought was How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman, but I was wondering what y'all would recommend. Thanks!

  • Posted by: vivanat
  • January 16, 2012


mainecook61 January 17, 2012
The new "Cooks Illustrated: 200 Recipes from 20 Years....." is excellent. The lengthy commentary of the magazine is pared down to a good explanatory headnote for each recipe.
boulangere January 17, 2012
Ruhlman's 20. Wonderfully written. Very grounded in well-explained techniques that will help her to learn to cook, then learn to create her very own dishes.
ChefJune January 17, 2012
the book I always buy beginning cooks is Julia Child's "The Way to Cook." The book is full of cooking lessons, photos of recipes and methods, tips for substitutions, just everything you could ever think of wanting to know about a dish. She also takes a basic dish and does riffs on it.
Sam1148 January 17, 2012
Yes....I agree it's one of my well worn reference books. Like others have said it might be "level II" for a beginner.
While we're very much focused on from scratch cooking. Ceil Dryer has some good ones for complete beginners.

One I had in college was his "Instant Gourmet" (that's out of print) that used both ready made and fresh stuff. As a kid, it gave me more confidence to take those elements and combine and create.
I remember one recipe that was simply canned asparagus, chicken stock (then blend it after heating) to make a soup...and dress it up with sourcreme. Yeah, people here would gag, but with a hot plate and little skills--it worked for me.
And I still use his suggestion of making a pate with a few slices of bunshweigher, heat it, mash it with some butter and touch of A1 sauce and mold it to make a 'almost' Pâté. With a plate of fruits and cheese and water was it at back in college days.
misshunter January 17, 2012
The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook is great for the beginner - not too fancy, easy to follow, very instructional, and 3-ring bound so it's easy to work with while cooking. Absolutely everything I've tried from it has turned out well. I am not a very confident cook so I like to follow a recipe for my first time with a dish and then I will tweak it on the next try so I really like this book to give me a base from which to work.
SeaJambon January 17, 2012
These are all fabulous ideas. Personally, for the true beginner, I find the "Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook" is hard to beat (great illustrations that walk through nearly every step; good photos of the final product; easy to understand time estimates both for active and total time). That's my real basic, 101, recommendation. Slightly more advanced for the cook with reasonable confidence is Julia's "The Way to Cook". The Good Housekeeping is good, "basic" food, while Julia takes everything to the next level (although does so in such a great, easy to understand, way). I've never read the Mark Bittman, but based on everyone's recommendation, I may have to! "Cookwise" is a GREAT book, but not what I'd recommend for a true beginner -- UNLESS that beginner is a science-type who will be totally excited by the explanations of how everything works (I geek out on that but also know many of my non-science friends find it boring and can inhibit use). Anyhow, those are my thoughts! For the beginning cook, it really is all about building confidence, so starting with the easy almost fool-proof recipes and explanations really makes a difference, IMHO. :)
sexyLAMBCHOPx January 16, 2012
A magazine subscription to Everyday Food and online membership for Cooks Illustrated.
Sam1148 January 16, 2012
Don't forget Julia Child's "The Way to Cook"'s beautifully photographed, and instructions are clear.
While might not be a lot of 'quick start' recipes. It's very sound and still referred to my home for 'master recipes'. can find it cheap at 'cutout' sections, or used book store.

In fact...go to a thrift, or used book store and look at some of the Better Homes and Garden books, Sunset Magazine, etc..etc. You could get a dozen books for the price of a new one.
gt9 January 16, 2012
I am enjoying Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal...gave it to my daughter also and she is cooking up a storm.
petitbleu January 17, 2012
I just discovered this book and it is absolutely fabulous. It inspired me in a way that no book about cooking has in a long, long time. Great for thinking frugally as well as creatively. Highly recommend.
ChrisBird January 16, 2012
I also like the transaltion of the book that French mothers give their daugthers. It is called "I know how to cook" in Engllish. I have found it incredibly helpful.

Oh and I second the Cookwise recommendation. I attended a demonstration class that she did and it was fantastic. Be careful of the first edition, though, there are some slight weirdnesses with quantities (especially in the "Touch of Grace" biscuits
Shalini January 16, 2012
For reading, Nigella Lawson's How To Eat, for quick cooking Nigella Express and for everything else The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser, for once your girlfriend is wanting to cook more.
SKK January 16, 2012
Shirley O. Corriher's COOKWISE. The recipes are not only great and fool-proof, but she explains the principles behind the success of the recipe. And the pictures are pretty!
duzercat January 16, 2012
Best basic? Betty Crocker's new 10th edition. Clear instructions, tested recipes, new sections on vegetarian cooking and grilling. The others listed above are good but perhaps not for real beginners.
JaneEYB January 16, 2012
Mark Bittman's book might be a bit overwhelming for a complete beginner, given that it contains 2,400 recipes. One I like for beginners is Jane Hornby's What to Cook and How to Cook It from Phaidon. 100 recipes for good basic foods, with clear step-by-step photos.

Voted the Best Reply!

bigpan January 16, 2012
The Joy of Cooking is still great after all these years - no fancy pictures but good basic recipes and background explanations.
Slow C. January 17, 2012
I have several versions of the Joy of Cooking in my pantry. At this stage in my cooking game, I rarely consult cookbooks. But, when I do, I always know Joy of Cooking will give me a basic correct answer and great jumping point (and will also answer the oddball, "how do you cook squirrel" kind of question). For the basics, this is absolutely a treasured must have.
Niknud January 16, 2012
My mom's standard gift to her children as they headed out of the nest was Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Pretty much covers the gamut from how long to boil a hard-boiled egg to what temperatures to cook proteins to. Great go-to resource that I still use regularly.
boulangere January 16, 2012
One of my favorites is Lynne Rosetto Kasper's How to Eat Supper. The stories are delightful, the recipes are not at all intimidating, and the explanations are just right.
Grandma K. January 16, 2012
A lot depends on her skill level. If she is a true beginner get a basic cookbook that contains a lot of pictures and simple recipes. It should have a section on How To, such as How to Braise etc so she can learn the basics.
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