General Question

Emilyy's avatar

Can anyone suggest a cookbook/website that does a good job of laying down the basics of cooking?

Asked by Emilyy (2128 points ) October 9th, 2008

So my guy wants to learn how to cook (and yes, we’re looking into cooking classes). He feels like he’s lived thirtysomething years without learning how to do the basic fundamentals of cooking, and wants to change that. He can make pasta, boil or steam veggies, and BBQ, but wants to learn more skills. I know some skills, but I’d like to improve. We’re looking for a site or book that teaches more about how to cook and also has recipes, more than just a recipe book. Just wondering if anyone has a favorite from personal experience. Thanks!

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23 Answers

EmpressPixie's avatar

These cookbooks are my two favorite beginner cookbooks:
1. How to Boil Water
It not only has recipes, it tells you how to buy and store produce, explains meat cuts, and gives kitchen techniques like how to chop.

2. Betty Crocker—that big red binder
I like it for the same reasons. It gives a lot of good information on how to know when something is done, where the cuts of meat come from, comparison charts, substitutions, and other really important information.

For what you are looking for, How to Boil Water is probably the best match of my two. Give it a flip through at the library or bookstore.

EmpressPixie's avatar

You know, I thought I would like the ATK binder book, because I LOVE Cook’s Illustrated, but I was kind of disappointed with it. Having said that, Best Recipe and the big baking cookbook they do are two of my cooking essentials. I love their scientific investigations.

PupnTaco's avatar

Their Baking Illustrated book is amazing.

marinelife's avatar

Joy of Cooking

SoapChef's avatar

Marina just said it hands down Joy of Cooking.

tonedef's avatar

I really love Alton Brown’s ”I’m Just Here for the Food.” Sometimes, he gets caught up in the minutiae of cooking, and is a total stickler to best practices in the kitchen. But if you want to LEARN, this is a great place to start.

knittingandcanning's avatar

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee is a tremendous book, it goes into the science, lore and history of pretty much anything within Western cookery. It works well as a reference to use for understanding the concepts behind how things are done but does not really have any specific recipes.

The Joy of Cooking and How to Cook Everything are both good general cookbooks, with a good selection of recipes, again within the Western, or more specifically, American, cooking styles. The Silver Spoon is a very similar book but from Italy that has been recently translated into English.

I have not had a chance to get my eyes on it yet, but I suspect that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Cookbook would be an excellent book due to the amount I have learned about the basic techniques of meat cookery from his The River Cottage Meat Book.

As for websites, thePauperedChef.com is a good source, it is a blog, and so the information is not clearly layed out, but they tend to do a great job of giving both motivation and the information needed to try a lot of different things.

Also a word of warning on cooking classes, a lot of them tend to be very minimal on skill and technique education and will primarily just send you home with a handful of fancy recipes. Some of them can be worthwhile, so just make sure they are focused on primary skills and techniques and less on recipes.

My primary suggestion would be picking basic dishes that are dependent on a specific technique and try them over and over. Roast chicken is an excellent one to go with, it is hard to make something inedible, and if done regularly will give you a lot of practice with roasting, carving, and if you save the carcasses, stock making.

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I vote for “Joy of Cooking.” However, I bought my husband and sons the series of cookbooks, “A Man, A Can and A Plan.” They are for the totally ignorant. They even have pictures of what the guys need to get at the store. This is a great book if you are going on a trip and are afraid that your husband might starve while you’re gone.

tekn0lust's avatar

I totally second Alton Brown. His show “Good Eats” teaches basic and intermediate skills in a really great way. His books are great too.

princessvince's avatar

Definitely the Joy of Cooking.

And if you have a more gourmet bent, you should definitely get Think Like a Chef by Tom Colicchio (from Top Chef). It teaches you how to pan roast, braise, make stocks and sauces, etc.

Starburst's avatar

I love the magazine: Cook’s Illustrated.

Emilyy's avatar

@tekn0lust: Yeah, I guess I completely forgot about another untapped resource—The Food Network! Maybe I should get some of that on my DVR.

Thanks for all the great suggestions. This is really helping!

AllyMay's avatar

you can’t beat the bible of cooking – “joy of cooking” – as its been mentioned several times in this thread ;) its got everything you need to know.

XrayGirl's avatar

Go to a bookstore and check out some of the cooking magazines. They have so many now, and once you find one you like, subscribe.

cyndyh's avatar

The Joy of Cooking has simple recipes, but it also has a couple of pages at the beginning of each section that describe the nuts and bolts of what you’re doing. They have things about how to do many many cooking techniques, pick the right produce for your pie or salad, and how to substitute ingredients, etc. I really like that they separate off the explanations in the front of the section from the simple recipes so you don’t have to filter through all of that stuff after you’ve learned it, but it’s there if you need to flip to it.

I’d also recommend Alton Brown books, recipes online, and the show Good Eats.

MarcIsMyHero's avatar

Watch Alton Brown on Food Network. His show Good Eats is great for dudes. He is very no frills and thinks like a dude. He is a gear head. He treats the kitchen like a workshop or mechanic’s garage. Very easy to identify with. He like s to teach the how and why, rather than get too caught up with specifics of recipes. He will give you great foundations that you can apply to any recipe.

As far as books go, Mark Bittman (from the NY Times) has a great book called “How to Cook Everything.” It is illustrated and very accessible. It is a good segue into the much denser Joy of Cooking.

If pretty pictures is your thing, I love the Barefoot Contessa series of books by Ina Garten. Her recipes are what i would consider intermediate. But they are proven crowd pleasers for the whole family or entertaining guests. I have ripped off many of her recipes and come out looking like a star.

Salty's avatar

The Joy of cooking was the book that I learned how to cook. It covers everything. When I left home at the age of 19, I couldn’t boil water, but The Joy of Cooking was one of my first books I bought and I read it and tested many recipes. GREAT BOOK

stevenb's avatar

pupntaco is right. I absolutely love that cookbook. I give it as a gift several times a year. I have people tell me all of the time what an amazing cook I am. I really am just a good reader and follower of directons. You can’t go wrong with them. Alton Brown is great also. Good luck!

daisy's avatar

I like this website. www.allrecipes.com

One of the things I like about it is the reviews. People who have made the recipe give their opinion and suggestions on how to make it better. Also, there is a feature that allows you to adjust a recipe to the amount of people you want to serve. I have found some really great recipes on this site.

melanie81's avatar

Dude, Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. http://www.amazon.com/Betty-Crockers-Cookbook-Everything-Today/dp/0764560794

My mom grew up on it, then gave me the newest edition a few years ago. It has EVERYTHING. It’s a perfect mix of recipes and information (i.e. cooking charts, photos of unusual foods so you know what to look for at the store, “how to store tofu”, etc.).

cinddmel's avatar

I love the Food Network Magazine and foodnetwork.com – it also has all of the recipes from the magazine. It has advanced recipes and also very simple ones for the beginner cook.

Nan_C's avatar

The Gearheads Cookbook
for any man who like machinery.

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