The best cookbook EVER

8 Dec

With holiday season approaching, I thought I’d give a recommendation for the best cookbook I’ve ever had the pleasure of using: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It makes the perfect gift for any cook, no matter the experience level. While recipe maniacs like myself find it very handy, more inventive and go-with-the-flow creative types will love it too.

This book isn’t just a list of recipes with pretty pictures. It’s a 900+ page textbook with tips for almost every imaginable culinary feat, as well as some specific and many many general recipes. Bittman organizes the book by types of food (as many cookbooks are organized) and includes several paragrahs or pages of text on how to approach the food group from a health, diet, culinary, and consumer standpoint. He doesn’t preach, though; the book is so chock-full of plain, no-nonsense instructions and cooking advice that there’s isn’t any room for food apologetics.

My favorite thing about this book, however, is that it’s the perfect tool for the budding amateur chef like myself. Instead of telling you how to cook vegetable minestrone, for example, Bittman forces you to make a number of decisions while planning out your veggie soup. He says “2 cups chopped hard vegetables” instead of specifically telling you what to use. You have to make decisions based on your own knowledge of what flavor combinations are best, or, if you’re clueless about even that, you can refer back to his text on hard vegetables (he has numerous excellent comparison charts for decisions such as these) for help deciding whether rutabega or butternut squash would work best with parsnips or potatoes.

And, finally, the title doesn’t lie; it really has everything. Have you ever been asked to make something very common for the first time and not known where to find a general recipe? It can be overwhelming rifling through the numerous recipes a search engine will provide, and cooking websites can be just as confusing. With Bittman’s book, whether someone asks you to make coconut macaroons or quiche, you’ll have a very basic, made-from-scratch recipe at your fingertips, as well as a bevy of suggestions for ways to spruce it up if you want to go beyond the basic.

Cooking really is about exploration, and this is just the book to encourage that exploration while subtly hinting at ways to keep your dishes structured.

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