Is your kitchen drawer filled with plastic forks and mini ketchup packets? When you open up your refrigerator, do you have to read the plastic bag the food was in to remember what you ordered? Are your cabinets filled with paper plates and plastic cups that have a picture of a chicken on it? Maybe it is time for your kitchen style to do a little growing up.
Many people think cooking is difficult. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Fortunately, there is plenty of help out there. I want to give you some ideas on cookbooks suitable for beginners that will help you go from amateur to meal planning sophisticate. With just a couple of basic techniques, tools, and a few ingredients you will be able to make amazing meals for one or many in no time!
How do you know a good cookbook when you find one?
Cookbooks are written for a variety of cooking levels on just about every taste, ethnicity, holiday, or ingredient you can think of. A quick internet search will confirm the sheer variety of cookbooks, turning up everything from cakepops to roadkill cuisine. The options are literally endless.
What makes a good cookbook is completely relative to where you are in the world and what you have available to you. A good cookbook for most beginning cooks should list simple ingredients that are readily available where you are. Take a look at how many ingredients are listed. Any more than 8 ingredients and it may become a little too overwhelming for the uninitiated.
Food Should be Fresh
The ingredients in a good cookbook should mostly depend on fresh ingredients to make the meal. There are many starter cookbooks out there that depend on pre-packaged foods that are full of sugar, fat, salt, and devoid of nutrition. Items like canned beans are acceptable when short on time, however be sure to read the ingredient label. Go for canned items that do not contain any salt, sugar, or preservatives listed.
Time in the Kitchen
How much time does it take to make the recipe? As a kitchen newbie, you probably are not interested in spending countless hours kneading and proofing dough, waiting for vegetables to ferment for days on end, or basting turkeys for the next 12 hours. Some of the best meals can be made in 15 minutes to under an hour. If time is of the essence, many cookbooks will write in the margins of the recipe the amount of time it will take to complete the entire meal, from prep time to the table.
What tools do you need to prepare the meals? Do the recipes ask for things like double boilers and dehydration units? Then you probably do not want to start off with that. Many good cookbooks will tell you in the beginning if you need any special tools that you may want to invest in before getting started. However, most basic cookbooks may require no more than what you will find in a basic kitchen starter set you can purchase in the kitchen supply aisle of a large retail store.
So, here they are – 5 amazing cookbooks for beginners:
1. Salad for Dinner: Simple recipes for salads that make a meal – Tasha De Serio
Think beyond the wilted iceberg lettuce and grape tomatoes that taste more like styrofoam served to you at your favorite fast food joint. This cookbook features gourmet salads that require very little skill, quick preparation, and a few simple ingredients. These are salads that are sure to satiate you with loads of fresh vegetables, grilled meats and fish, hearty grains and savory homemade dressings. These are salads that can very easily be packed for lunch to take to your job or for a weekend picnic.
The cookbook opens with a list of basic ingredients you should have in your pantry to help you pull together any of the salads with ease. They list basic instructions on how to craft your own croutons, the essentials of a flavorful vinaigrette, and how to toast different varieties of nuts to give your salad an extra crunch factor.
This cookbook is filled with beautiful, full-color pictures that entice even the biggest salad-phobes to the table.
More reviews of Salad for Dinner: Simple Recipes for Salads that Make a Meal.
2. The 15 Minute Vegetarian Gourmet – Paulette Mitchell
Whether you are a vegetarian, a wannabe vegetarian, or a die-hard carnivore everybody can benefit from adding more vegetable based dishes to their diet. As the title of the book promises, these are dishes that can be made in 15 minutes, making it deal for busy professionals.
The cookbook begins with some basics like making a tasty vegetable stock, ideal for flavoring rice, beans, and can be used as a base for soup. There are also some directions for old favorites that never go out of style like making a basic omelette or how to cook rice. Even if you think you may know how to do these tasks, it never hurts to get a few pointers on improving your cooking technique.
The author uses spices and herbs from many different cultures that will help wake up your palette. Some of my favorites include Oriental Stir Fried Rice as well as Chickpea Zucchini Curry. She even includes desserts like Carob Hot Fudge and Honey Raspberry Sauce.
This cookbook will sure to be a staple in your cooking arsenal for many years to come.
3. The Book of Burger – Rachael Ray
You can hate her, or love her. Most people know her from being the overzealous cook on the Food Network, her own daytime talk show, or her magazine, EveryDay with Rachael Ray. I simply love Rachael Ray and what she has done for eating. She has taken the pompousness out of the eating experience without making it cheap and tacky.
The Book of Burger is (you guessed it!) full of delicious burger recipes and fun side items. The sheer variety of burgers is amazing: beef, lamb, turkey, salmon, pork, veggie, etc. Try the Bourbon Barbecue Sliced Steak Sliders, Sicilian-Style Tuna or Swordfish Burgers, or the Middle Eastern Lamb Burgers with Baba Ghanoush. Don’t get too intimidated by the names of the recipes. Rachel Ray is a master at pulling inspiration from a multitude of fine dining experiences from all over the globe and making it practical for the at-home cook. If you get bored with this cookbook, then I am not sure there is a cookbook out there to satisfy your hunger.
More reviews of The Book of Burger.
4. How to Cook Everything The Basics: All you need to make great food – Mark Bittman
This cookbook is for the woman who is serious about becoming more crafty in the kitchen. Mark Bittman gives you the most basic of basic instructions on how to cook, well, EVERYTHING, in one book.
The cookbook opens with a section called, Setting Up Your Pantry, complete with color photos. The author includes storage tips, useful kitchen tools, and a small section on how to use spices to build flavorful meals. If you don’t know the difference between simmering and boiling, there are large, full color pictures to make it plain for you.
The recipes start with basics like oatmeal and French toast and move into more involved meals like Panfried Trout with Tartar Sauce and Roasted Buffalo Chicken Wings. These recipes are kitchen classics that are sure to please everyone.
More reviews of How to Cook Everything The Basics: All you need to make great food.
5. The Starter Cook: A beginner home cook’s guide to basic kitchen skills & techniques – Linda Johnson Larsen
This book is less of a cookbook, and more of a guide to basic cooking techniques. This is an essential reference for those who are seeking to become a kitchen master.
My favorite section is the chapter on fish and seafood. The author offers tips on how to choose the best seafood and what to do with all those strange fish pieces. This is often a mystery for those who are used to buying their fish already cleaned and unattached to its head, tail, and other identifiable parts.
The author includes notes for the budget conscious as well as tips for those who are cooking for better health.
Cookbooks are a wonderful place to start your experimentation in the kitchen. However, you do not always have to stay with the recipe exactly as it is written. Feel free to be as creative as you would like to, perhaps incorporating some of the traditions from your own family dinners or cultural events. These are the things that make cooking special and worthy of passing down from one generation to another.
If you try a recipe and it does not work out, do not be afraid to attempt it again. Even the best chefs have burned a roast, over-peppered the potatoes, or have mistaken salt for sugar in a cake recipe. The key to good cooking is practice. The more you cook, the better you will be at it.