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Hi all -- am looking for some great beginner/intermediate level cookbooks as holiday gifts for my sister, who struggles with the difference polish sausage and shoe polish. Thoughts? I've already nailed down The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques and Science of Good Cooking but thought I'd branch out. Are there cookbooks you constantly rely upon? What has the best of basic recipes? I'm looking for anything that will both allow her to eat AND keep her alive in the kitchen.. :lol:

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I don't have it, but have heard good things about How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. There's The Joy of Cooking too.

My go-to is the Fannie Farmer Cookbook but that's a regional thing.

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The Joy of Cooking

The New Basics by Sheila Lukins

I prbably have over 200 CookBooks but Joy is the one I turn to for Basics or really anything. The New Basics is perfect for a more modern twist.

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My go-to is the Fannie Farmer Cookbook but that's a regional thing.

That's my go-to as well. The recipes aren't gangbusters but any time I need to know how long to cook a particular vegetable (asparagus, celeriac, parsnip) or a cut of meat (top round, sirloin, chuck) it's a great reference. And it's small, like the size of a Stephen King paperback.

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I would also recommend The Joy of Cooking, but with this note:

If your sister is more interested in cooking from scratch on the stove get her the older version “The Joy of Cooking” rather than the new edition “The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking” which is heavier on things like using the microwave. If she is fond of using the microwave the new version would probably suit her well.

This is what Amazon says on the new verses old edition:

“Five new chapters satisfy today's love of pasta, pizza, noodles, burritos, grains, and beans, including soy. The roughly 3,000 recipes, most revised from earlier editions, give the food processor and microwave their due. Interest in ethnic flavors, grazing, leaner meats, more fish, and less fat are reflected, and old standbys such as Tuna Noodle Casserole and Fried Chicken are updated. Information on canning, jams, pickles, and preserves is replaced by expanded material on grilling, barbecuing, flavored oils, and vinegars. Also gone is the personal voice of the old Joy. The new Joy of Cooking is comprehensive for today's cooks. Time will tell if it remains the long-loved, dog-eared kitchen companion and teacher Joy has been since 1931."

(I have the older edition and it is well used. But then, I get a kick out the section which tells you how to cook things like squirrel..)

Edited by clayrae

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I think the most essential book is Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques." It's a publication that combines two of his previous books, "La Technique" and "La Methode." Step-by-step instructions with pictures of every basic classic French recipe. It's the "Bible" IMHO.

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Complete Techniques is a great resource, but if she isn't interested in cooking classical French food it might not be the right choice. It also might be a little overwhelming for a complete novice.

Edited by Heather

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That's my go-to as well. The recipes aren't gangbusters but any time I need to know how long to cook a particular vegetable (asparagus, celeriac, parsnip) or a cut of meat (top round, sirloin, chuck) it's a great reference. And it's small, like the size of a Stephen King paperback.

It's one of my mom's favorites too -- one of the Fannie Farmer roast beef recipes is what she makes for my birthday every year!

Thanks for all of these suggestions -- these are great!

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Mark Bittman's cookbook "How to Cook Everything" could be the only cookbook in my collection. The year I discovered it (I think 2002) I gave it to everybody for the holidays. It has become a staple gift for showers et al.

The most ringing endorsement comes from my sister who rarely cooked or had a desire to step foot in the kitchen, she keeps Bittman's book by the stove and it is in constant use.

I refer everybody to his brownie recipe, especially when told a mix has been used. I guess I should say why I like Bittman's work so much, he provides clear and concise recipes for good food whether simple or fancy.

You can't go wrong with Mark Bittman.

BTW, I discovered him through his cookbook on Fish. Before I found it fish scared me. Seriously....

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I really never noticed alot of microwave stuff in Joy of Cooking, but it does have alot of things you wouldn't of found in the old book. I used it to make Tres Leches cake one Christmas and the recipe was authentic.

Mark Bittmans, How To Cook Everything, I have, but I have cooked nothing from it. I will check it out. Fannie Farmer I have also and I used to use it quite often before I got Joy.

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Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. There's a reason she won james beard & julia child cookbook of the year for this: Her twenty-gazillion recipes, from basic to advanced, _work_, without fail, but she also offers enough information about the ingredients and techniques involved to let you understand why they work and so improvise in the future, if you want. It's replaced joy of cooking as my go-to reference for every dish that doesn't depend on meat.

Edited by babka

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I also love the Bittman books. Also anything written by James Peterson, especially Sauces, and Vegetables. But the one book I could not cook without is Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page. This is not really a cookbook as much as it is a reference book. The ingredient matching charts contained in this book have become the inspiration for some of the best meals I have ever made.

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These are all awesome suggestions. Thank you guys so much...last question. Any recommendations for basic baking books? Or do some of these incorporate baking?

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These are all awesome suggestions.  Thank you guys so much...last question.  Any recommendations for basic baking books?  Or do some of these incorporate baking?

Joy of Cooking has a great deal of baking information inside.

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Joy of Cooking is an essential in our kitchen, if only because it has something about everything, and I like how it explains the category before the recipes.

My mother has a Betty Crocker cookbook that is the size and format of a three ring binder that she uses all the time.

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which has been discussed is also very good for the beginning cook.

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the cookbook i tend to use the most is tom douglas' "seattle kitchen." i just find alot of his recipes relatively easy to cook (aside from the occasional recipe that uses ingredients you can only find out west).

for a basic, i'll just echo the joy of cooking. . .that gives a great breakdown of foods and has a ton of easy recipes. also, if they are wont to do such a thing, the cake bible is also helpful.

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I find The Professional Chef, the textbook at the Culinary Institute of America, to be invaluable. It reads very much like a how-to book, as opposed to being recipe-driven, and has many helpful photos to go along with its step-by-step instructions. The "Meats" section of the book, in particular, is great for learning the cuts, proper handling, and how to prepare them in various ways. But even better are the "Soups" and "Sauces" portions of the book, where technique can be difficult.

I've read Joy of Cooking, but it didn't have any photos (at least the version I had) and I found the format difficult -- the instructions are in paragraph form, like in an everyday book, so you can easily lose your place. In the CIA textbook, they are formatted in separate vertical columns, so you read one step and then move horizontally to the next one.

I keep it at the bedside table and try to read a little every night, just to keep thinking about technique even if I'm not in the kitchen. (Though I could solve this problem by sleeping in the kitchen. Hmm....)

I also find it very helpful when using recipes from other cookbooks, as a way to cross-reference some of the techniques and ingredients involved. It's not witty or entertaining reading, and sometimes you'll feel like a CIA instructor is sternly looking over your shoulder, but it is an excellent resource and avoids needless diversions like recipes for roadkill. Amazon has it on sale for $44.

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i concur that you can't go wrong with deborah madison. in addition to her more comprehensive book listed above, i have had a lot of success with "local favorites" in which she builds recipes around ingredients purchased at the farmers market, including some meats. i have been looking for a copy of "vegetarian suppers" which was published in the spring, and "vegetable soups" is due out in february.

if you are interested in adapting some basic recipes and techniques that take some of the calories and fat out, you might be interested in "a new way to cook" by sally schneider. it's not a bible around our kitchen, but i was using it quite a bit for a while and it makes interesting reading.

i used to gobble up cookbooks by marcella hazan. i have never had more fun cooking than when following her recipes, but i don't pull them out too often these days because i don't have the time and i'm not sure how long you can survive eating this food. you can come up with some really great things, though, as good or better than what you would find in a top italian restaurant. for a few years i would cook up a storm to see how many dishes i could get on the table in 24 hours for when my rather large family came over on christmas day.

i was tempted to buy mark bittman's latest international cookbook the other day. they had signed copies at olsson's that were 15% off, and i should have bought one but i started wondering about why i would want a signed copy of a book that is going to have pots sitting on top of it and suffer all kinds of abuse in the kitchen. i have never followed his recipes from books, but have occasionally cooked his minimalist recipes that appear on thursdays in the new york times.

a word of caution about recipes you find in the newspaper: there are often mistakes in them that slip by the editor. i am sure a recent bittman recipe, for example, specified way too much liquid. i was able to cook it off okay, but if i had considered the recipe ahead of time a modicum of common sense would have saved me the trouble. i am prone to jumping blindly into recipes, which can lead to some unhappy surprises.

one time following a recipe from the times it seemed like my potatoes were taking an eternity to get done, until our guest, growing impatient, suggested that they would probably never be done if i persisted in cooking them at 150-degrees fahrenheit, and he pointed out that the temperature in the recipe surely was in centigrade.

everyone should have a copy of julia child's mastering the art of french cooking. i remember a charlotte russe in there that was supreme. she does like you to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, however.

alice water's chez panisse vegetables is a good reference even though it is not totally recipe-oriented. our copy disappeared mysteriously. my hunch is that a friend of our son, whose mother owned a restaurant, decided to present it to her on her birthday.

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The books I turn to most often for inspiration and instruction are the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child et. al., and the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. Because the authors of both books go way beyond presenting a collection of recipes and devote a lot of space to discussions of technique, of philosophy, of ingredients, and so forth, I think these would be excellent reading for anyone, from rank beginner to kitchen wizard. Another excellent book that I think an aspiring beginner would get a lot of support and help from is Julia Child's The Way to Cook.

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Any recommendations for basic baking books?
For American style baking: "The Baker's Companion" from King Arthur Flour

For "fancy" desserts: "The Secrets of Baking" by Sherry Yard

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I agree with the Baker's Companion recommendation for baking books. They're very American desserts, but that's probably what most beginning cooks want (e.g. cookies, bars, etc.). Baking Illustrated, from the folks at Cooks Illustrated, might also be good.

I also love Deborah madison's VCfE. If your sister isn't turned off by the veggie in the title, it's a good book and meat can be added, easily in many of the recipes (if that's your thing).

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Has anyone bought the new The Silver Spoon (allegedly Italy's most popular cookbook)? I'm wondering what people think before buying it.

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I could not agree more re: Deborah Madison.

Other staples on my cookbook shelf:

--Good Food Book, by Jane Brody. The first 286 pages are nutrition guidelines, guide to good carbs, eating your way to good health and weight control, and hints for wholesome cooking (including how to equip your kitchen, measurements, shopping efficiently, etc). Then there are over 350 really good, pretty simple recipes.

--The Way to Cook, by Julia Child

--Any of the Moosewood Restaurant books.

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Another vote for The Way To Cook - it's unintimidating for novice cooks, and just plain good.

Baking cakes used to be a favorite hobby. As much as I love The Cake Bible, the recipes that have garned the most praise were ones from Desaulniers' original Death By Chocolate.

Edited by perrik

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