Delicatessen for Dilettantes & Greenhorn Cuisine
February 26, 2013 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Please recommend outstanding recipe books and resources for clueless cooks!

So, I come from a family which, for the most part, hasn't done its own cooking in generations. A few hodge-podge recipes (what do spaghetti, squash stir fry and fajitas have in common? I can cook them!) have been handed down to me, but I'd really love to expand my culinary horizons. In contrast to other members of my family, I truly enjoy cooking, and the cultural dimensions of cuisine are fascinating to me (I naively and sincerely believe sharing food is a path of peace). I'll try anything once, but have a preference for Mexican and Japanese foods light on meat and heavy on rice, peppers and assorted veggies. I've been dabbling a little using cookbooks I already own, but I'd like to add to my collection and branch out a little bit.

Currently I'm looking specifically for books that focus on Mexican cuisine (because of my location, it's easiest to find fresh ingredients for and I'm closer to the culture which is something that adds to the flavor, somehow), but I'm open to just about anything here. Relatively simple stir-fry and vegetarian recipes are also very much ideal. Again, I'm not a big meat eater, so Beefsteak McBurgertime's 80 Things to do With Bacon isn't going to be quite up my alley, but I do eat some meat and I'm willing to consider heavily meat oriented recipes in outstanding cases.

I'm interested in stuff that gets a little into the cultural aspect of cuisine, as well, or just something that has a unique character. Hugo Ortega's Street Food of Mexico looks like it may be something well worth looking into, but I'm not super familiar with culinary literature and I'm sure there are whole worlds I'm overlooking!

Your favorite online resources for recipes and stuff are great, too!
posted by byanyothername to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know from Mexican cooking, but you can't go wrong with Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything books. Here's his vegetarian book. There's a couple of other books in the same series you might find helpful.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 3:03 PM on February 26, 2013

My go-to recommendations for newish cooks, both by Mark Bittman:

How to Cook Everything

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

As far as Mexican cuisine, you really can't go wrong with Rick Bayless. I'd suggest a perusal through some of his collection to see what speaks to you.

Once you start feeling more adventurous, I cannot recommend Sally Schneider highly enough. The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook are favorites of mine.
posted by cooker girl at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Julia Child "The Way to Cook"

Bayless or Diane Kennedy's magnum opus are the standard go to in classic mexican for english speakers.
posted by JPD at 3:22 PM on February 26, 2013

Anything from the Cooks Illustrated bookstore. I really like "America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" because it comes in a three ring binder.
posted by Marky at 4:09 PM on February 26, 2013

Diana Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cookery is pretty easy for beginners, more than Bayless, but it is very authentic, which might not be what you want on a daily basis.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:12 PM on February 26, 2013

Classic Indian Cooking and Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni are both great cookbooks that cover basic food preparation (she taught me how to finely chop an onion!) and meal pairings.
posted by kelseyq at 4:35 PM on February 26, 2013

I absolutely love this free (Creative Commons licensed, even!) cookbook Home Chefs of the World, compiled by lnderjeet K. Virmani as a project of the International Rice Research Institute^ and the Suhay International Women's Organization of the Philippines.

This "Common Cooking Mistakes" article from Cooking Light and the accompanying MeFi thread are great too.
posted by XMLicious at 4:39 PM on February 26, 2013, Serious Eats, and Smitten Kitchen are my go-to recipe collecting sites.
posted by Fig at 5:04 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Three Good Things very simple and very good
posted by mumimor at 12:27 AM on February 27, 2013

If you are trying to learn the basics of how to follow recipes and what tools to use, The Four Hour Chef starts from zero and works through how to make several ascending in difficulty recipes culminating in a dinner party. Tim Ferriss is an out-of-the-box thinker so may or may not suit your style. A couple recipes include steamed chicken breast with baby bok choy with sesame oil where you could add rice (most of the book's recipes are low carb), a lamb ossu "bukko" that is very simple one pot in the oven (you could add mashed potatoes or polenta).

A note on Mark Bittman's books, good resources, - I own two plus his app which is delightfully designed. For a new cook the recipes are bare bones and while they give you all the options they don't prescribe and that may be necessary for a new chef to be told use this flavoring or herb instead of here are 10 herbs you might choose to use.

I've also enjoyed getting a cooking magazine and trying a new recipe every month. Magazine recipes - like blogs with lots of comments from cooks - must be accurate as they will get lots of hassle from readers if the recipes don't work well. the home cooking board is a another great resource. If you want to cook a certain thing and post there for people's favorites you will get many helpful responses.

Cook's Illustrated in another resource if you are really into a lot of detail and want to know why things are the way they are - Consumer Reports for cooking is how I think of it. Their online subscription is worth it. The recipes can be fussy and include steps that make little difference in the end result sometimes but you learn a lot.
posted by RoadScholar at 5:50 AM on February 27, 2013

Thanks, guys! These are giving me some great directions to go in.
posted by byanyothername at 11:53 AM on February 27, 2013

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