Friday, March 26, 2010

Foodie Fridays: My Favorite Cookbooks for Beginners

I'm going to try a new thing where I post a food-related article a couple of times a month. These articles will probably be posted on Fridays, hence "Foodie Fridays." For the inaugural post of this undertaking, I've decided to blog on some of my favorite basic cookbooks. This is based on my experiences and opinion, so please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section!

Clueless in the Kitchen: The author, Evelyn Raab, wrote this book with teenagers in mind, and it provides an excellent starter for anyone who is just starting to learn how to cook. The recipes are basic and are very approachable, and there isn't anything in the book that would be intimidating to a cooking novice. The chapters cover everything from breakfast, lunch, and dinner to desserts and vegetarian cooking. Most of the ingredients are pantry staples, and by keeping the ingredient lists and directions very simple, Raab makes cooking seem very doable. The recipes include helpful icons, which designate cheap eats, vegetarian recipes, and comfort food (aka "Mom Food").

In addition to the recipes, Raab also has helpful lists on what staples should be in the kitchen, including ingredients and tools. She even has instructions to help you with non-cooking kitchen tasks, like unplugging a drain, cleaning a stove, and defrosting a freezer. All in all, this would be a great cookbook for a someone getting a first apartment or someone who is just starting to learn how to cook. Raab also wrote The Clueless Baker (another book I recommend) and The Clueless Vegetarian (I haven't tried this book yet).

Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen: Written by a mother and son team, this book takes a humorous approach to cooking. With anecdotes, "Mom Tips," and "Mom Warnings," this book is similar to Raab's in that it is definitely for a novice cook. While the recipes aren't quite as easy as those in Raab, the authors do provide a helpful rating system that tells you each recipe's level of difficulty (going from "Very Easy" to "Not So Easy"), so you know what you are getting into. Furthermore, the "Not So Easy" recipes aren't too difficult, so once you get a little cooking experience, tackling those should be a breeze.

If you are looking for a good basic cookbook for a college student (and you don't want to offend said college student with a book that is explicitly for teens, because he/she is too cool for that), Help! My Apartment Has a Kitchen is a good compromise. It doesn't give the same level of advice and guidance as Raab's book, but it is a good place to start of the neophyte cook. The Mills also wrote several other cookbooks, including: Help! My Apartment Has a Dining Room (good, but not quite as practical as this book), Chocolate on the Brain (good for the chocoholic and/ or baker), and Faster! I'm Starving! (I haven't had a chance to test this one out yet).

How to Cook Everything: While The Joy of Cooking is the go-to basic cookbook for many people, I have found that Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is less intimidating and more user friendly. While the book is enormous, it does cover everything that you might need once you have mastered the basics. I also like Bittman's approach to cooking as something that is enjoyable, relaxing, and simple. While his ingredient lists are more involved than Raab's, they are also focused on the staples. Furthermore, Bittman offers a lot of ways to improvise and vary a basic dish. If the huge How to Cook Everything tome, which has 2,000 recipes, seems a bit too challenging, you can opt to get How to Cook Everything: The Basics, which, as the title suggests, has 100 core recipes that are the most practical.