best places to start for a beginner chef
January 2, 2013 2:26 PM   Subscribe

Hi, I'd like to start cooking meals for myself more often, but I've been overwhelmed by the number of books and websites online. Does someone know a good place to find recipes for beginner chefs, whether it be at a premium or not? Eating healthy is a priority for me as well. Thanks!
posted by da_wump to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman is great, because it assumes you have never so much as seen a kitchen or touched a cooking utensil before.
posted by griphus at 2:31 PM on January 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

YouTube has really great stuff! Just look for what you want to make. Also a great place to learn about knife skills.
posted by oceanjesse at 2:34 PM on January 2, 2013

I also highly recommend How to Cook Everything Vegetarian also by Mark Bittman, even if you are not vegetarian. It's an excellent source of easy, tasty and nutritious recipes.
posted by psycheslamp at 2:34 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was first learning to cook, I found the Brown Bag Lunch Cookbook really useful. It's not just about lunches, and the recipes are basic but practical and tasty! Also, Orangette's blog is great, and has recipes that are usually fairly simple but delicious.
posted by odayoday at 2:36 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

How to Cook Everything is great. In olden times, before the internet, I used Joy of Cooking to teach myself to cook. It's very fun, you will save money, and have a real sense of accomplishment when you make something that is really good. Doubly so when you get to feed it to someone else.
posted by karlos at 2:37 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I loooooove the Budget Bytes blog. Simple, tasty recipes.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:41 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I recommend the Six o'Clock scramble newsletter -- they give you 5 recipes a week, with a shopping list, and it's easy to customize from their database if you don't like their offerings.

Also, nth-ing Mark Bittman.
posted by OrangeDisk at 2:44 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like Yummly as a starting point too. You can type in a recipe name or just a few ingredients as well as things you absolutely don't like [if you log in]. You can see photos which I find useful to tell if it's the sort of thing you'd like and it includes quick and dirty nutritional information as well. Most of the recipes don't use complicated language and the way Yummly pulls it all in, you can look at just the ingredients first and then, if you want, go over to or Pioneer Woman or wherever the recipe is from and read all the blablabla part that surrounds it. I've been cooking a lot more of a food I didn't cook at all before (squash) and Yummly has been indispensible to me.
posted by jessamyn at 3:00 PM on January 2, 2013

I liked Alton Brown's books, because they teach you techniques and the science behind them, not just recipes.
posted by empath at 3:24 PM on January 2, 2013

I like AllRecipes.
posted by Autumn at 3:29 PM on January 2, 2013

If you want to focus on basic recipe, and then several variations, which is my favorite kind of cookbook, I suggest A New Way to Cook and The Improvisational Cook both by Sally Schnieder, in that order. The first is PACKED with information (things like, and focused on eating well in regards to both taste and health. The second is less dense, but more personal. Every recipe has a story about what inspired it, and the examples of variations are little more explicate.

Homemade by Yvette van Boven, is just a beautiful and fun book. It's not exactly every day cooking though.

Also, I love the River Cottage cookbooks, the meat one is like a love letter to the animals and a prayer thanking them for the food they provide all rolled into one, with recipes. REALLY GOOD recipes. The Everyday one is much more utilitarian, and probably better for general use.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:43 PM on January 2, 2013

er sorry, got distracted that should read "(things like the cooking time for various grains, as well as different recipes)"
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:44 PM on January 2, 2013

Throwing in for Mark Bittman. One extra-useful thing about those books (I have the vegetarian one) is that it'll teach you how to handle every imaginable vegetable. Like, what do you do with a fennel bulb? Growing up we ate spaghettios every night - I had no idea. But Mark Bittman knows, and he'll tell you. I'm a pretty good cook now, but whenever I encounter a new vegetable, I find out what Bittman wants you to do.

I secretly love my Betty Crocker cookbooks, no joke - the recipes are very simple (but often super delicious) and they never require weird equipment or unusual/hard-to-find ingredients. They often recommend specific brands, which is a sales technique, but is helpful if you're really flying blind. When I first started cooking, Betty Crocker recipes made me feel comfortable in the kitchen and capable of producing delicious food - they were a great confidence booster. And I still use a number of those recipes today, especially when I just want something quick and easy for dinner. (This one's my favorite:

If you're a veg, the Moosewood cookbooks are good, too.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:47 PM on January 2, 2013

The Kitchn is great. There is mix of easy, medium and difficult recipes. Also, the Food Network's website.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 3:56 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'll throw my hat in for Bittman's books (if you're looking for something a bit more focused than the "Everything" books, I suggest his Mini Minimalist, I was just gifted this and it's an excellent collection. It has lots of One Pot meals, and is sort of a "Best of the Easiest Of" from his work.

Also, I'm not a fan of most of her stuff (as she tends to be rather preachy...and I disagree with a lot of the policy points she puts out for food), but there's a really important lesson in Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. She goes into depth on how to build a proper pantry, and then how to cook out of said pantry (at french influenced california pantry mind you, you won't find any other types of cusine here, but that's not a bad place to start...) . Not a ton of home-cooks focus on this, but having the right thing on hand at the right time can really put you worlds ahead of most home-cooks. It's also a nice prep for if the power ever goes out. I would earmark this for a library trip, however.
posted by furnace.heart at 5:20 PM on January 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

A few ideas:

- Try this chicken and mushroom dish. I know, it looks so plain but it is insanely flavorful. I just made it last night and was practically licking my plate. And it's very healthy. Plus, you'll learn some really good basics about cooking from it.

- I liked this post on Buzzfeed today, some simple tips to get yourself cooking more in 2013.

- One of the best discoveries from that post was Punchfork, a pinterest-style recipe aggregator from some of the best food blogs around. This is helpful because looking for recipes on the internet can be really daunting, what with all the recipe sites of varying qualities.

- A few of my personal favorite food sites, all of which tend to have a lot of quite simple recipes:

Chow (has several series that are good for beginner cooks - check out this gallery of basic recipes)
The Kitchn
Simply Recipes (I've made a half-dozen recipes from this blog and they've all been great)

- Pick one good cookbook to start with and use it as your go-to. Mine is How to Cook Everything - I've also heard the Better Homes and Gardens book is good for beginners.

- Start out by cooking things you like to eat. Might sound obvious, but it can be easy at first to get caught up in what you "should" be cooking, because it's healthy or cheap or what all the food bloggers are cooking right now. But you'll be the most likely to stick with this and get better at cooking if you actually like what you make.

- Follow recipes, like, exactly. Again, might sound obvious, but it can be tempting to cut corners. But don't do that until you learn the basics. For instance, for years I never cooked with onions because I don't like onions. My food was always lacking something. Finally I learned that sauteed onions are a really important flavor base for lots of food and that's what was missing from my cooking. I wish I'd just listened to the recipes and used the damn onions all along.
posted by lunasol at 7:36 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Nthing Mark Bittman, Alton Brown, and The Kitchn. Smitten Kitchen is also good for having recipes at different levels.

Also, try watching some cooking shows, see whose style intrigues you, then do a search for their recipes online.
posted by Fig at 7:56 PM on January 2, 2013

I got a lot out of The River Cottage Family Cookbook - even if you're not in the target demographic, the way things are explained is useful, and there's a lot of sort of general information I found useful/interesting in addition to recipes.
posted by you must supply a verb at 9:10 PM on January 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Jamie Oliver was invaluable to me when I started learning to cook (I do know he grates on a lot of people). He's good for healthy and achievable.

Donna Hay was good for me as well, emphasis is on the quick and easy. Her older cookbooks were really good and be found on Google books.

I think following one or two chefs can be useful, as there is a lot of contradictory and confusing advice over techniques and recipes. That way you can get a grounding and branch out later when you feel confident. So maybe watch a few shows, find someone who appeals to you and invest in a cookbook or two.
posted by arha at 11:19 PM on January 2, 2013 is my go to site for recipes, hands down.
posted by lovingkindness at 6:38 AM on January 3, 2013

Response by poster: all of your comments have been extremely helpful. thank you all
posted by da_wump at 10:37 AM on January 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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