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Think Again: Hit the Books

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Published on: Friday, February 14, 2014

B. Morrison, Special to The Sentinel

Many of the recipes in magazines and online are too fancy for me. They have multiple steps, take too long to prepare, and have obscure ingredients. With some searching, you can find easy recipes online, but it also helps to own a simple, basic cookbook that you can trust.

I learned to cook using my mother's Good Housekeeping Cookbook. When I left home, I bought her a new one and inherited her worn 1955 edition. Today that old book is missing the cover. The pages are brown-edged and tattered and covered with an archeology of stains, but I still use it. It has sections that explain basics like terminology from the simple (Steam) to the complex (Braise), different cuts of meat, and how to buy, store and cook various vegetables. It also contains simple, step-by-step recipes by a mythical beginner named Susan.

I asked my friends, many of whom have cooked professionally, to recommend a good modern book for someone just learning to cook. Here's what they came up with:

- Joy of Cooking. "It's specific, straightforward and comprehensive and the recipes work."

- Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. "Joy of Cooking is good if you already know what you want to cook, but Madison talks about cooking in a more general way, first taking you through techniques and then talking about bigger concepts like flavors that go well together and your options in cooking different ingredients. It has many recipes as well, but doesn't make you think you need to buy new ingredients each time you cook food."

- Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. "A great go-to resource." "Some pictures. Simplified recipes and it tells you the total time needed to complete the recipe."

- Betty Crocker Cookbook. "Simple, easy, beginner's level recipes. I have been cooking pretty elaborate food for 34 years and I still use my Betty for the shortbread recipe and many other things too!"

- Julia Child's The Way To Cook. "Helps you not just learn the basics, but also understand them."

By far the best advice, though, was to test out cookbooks by borrowing them from the library before buying them. Find out which one works best for you and has recipes that you are likely to make. You can also check yard sales, thrift stores, and used bookstores for used copies of these popular books. Go for it!

B. Morrison is the author of a memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother. For more information, visit 

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