I absolutely love books. Physical books. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t argue with an expansive library on my phone that I can take with me (best for airplanes!) in my kindle reader….but physical books are just better. The weight of them in your hands, the smell of the pages, the ability to flip back and forth through pages to reference easily without frantically swiping and then losing your spot in your eReader….
So, I figured I’d take a closer look at some of the books I have and love, but haven’t really analyzed from a beginners point of view. First up is a popular and super helpful guide to cooking for beginners, including recipes that follow along with the given techniques!
This post contains affiliate links, which means if you use them to purchase this book, I’ll earn a small commission. It doesn’t affect your price in any way! I did not receive a free copy of the book or any compensation for a review – I’m writing this review because this is a product I use often and (spoiler alert!) highly recommend for beginner cooks.
How to Cook Everything: The Basics
This book is primarily a cookbook, and actually a sequel to Mark’s previous book: How to Cook Everything. He simplified and broke down his techniques so that you can follow along from the very beginning, whether it’s the first time in your kitchen or not. I was drawn to it because it does what I am currently doing with Salt and Skillet – breaking down even the simplest things like measuring ingredients and boiling water, and building on those skills to create fantastic recipes.
The author, Mark Bittman, is a food journalist with over 20 published books! He’s appeared on television shows and written for a number of newspapers and magazines. He’s been in the biz for over two decades, and his goal has always been to bring knowledge of healthy food and simple cooking to us fine folks. My kind of guy!
How to Cook Everything: The Basics is just one book in the How to Cook Everything series. He’s got variations for vegetarians, quick recipes, baking, and, of course, the original (and then the 10-year anniversary revised original). I started with The Basics for obvious reasons, but hope to check out all of his books!
Mark opens the book by helping you set up your kitchen and learning very basic skills. He’ll go over pantry essentials, tools you’ll need, how to hold a knife, basic cutting techniques, measuring ingredients, and cooking methods, including – yes – how to boil water. There’s a LOT of great information from the start, and Mark organizes it in such a way that it’s easy to understand. Not to mention, there are great photos on just about every page.
Information on Food
After the Getting Started section, the book is broken down by types of dishes. From breakfast to dessert and everything in between, Mark addresses one food group or meal at a time. Within these sections are tidbits and information on individual ingredients. The information can be it’s own subsection (such as Egg Basics or the different types of Salad Greens), or part of a recipe (like how to core a tomato)
The recipes themselves are simple and easy and often healthy! Mark will walk you through the most basic of recipes – like poached eggs (two ingredients, one technique, one pot) – and build you up to more complicated recipes, like Stir-fried Beef with Basil and Chiles. You can work your way through the book from start to finish and build on techniques and skills, or you can just flip through and find something you like. Nothing will be so complicated that you will be at a loss. All the information is in front of you, or just a few page-flips away.
The recipes range from a simple grilled cheese to a complete baked-from-scratch pumpkin pie. You can start simply and not have to worry about if you’re messing up even the most basic recipe – like a fried egg. That’s right, Mark will walk you through how to fry an egg and make a grilled cheese and all the very simple things that most other cookbooks assume you already know. And if you do already know these things, you’ll benefit from the more complicated recipes and all of the great information he has on the ingredients themselves!
Overall, Mark Bittman has put together an incredible resource for beginner cooks. He walks through everything from setting up your kitchen for success to cooking entire meals, using all information he has already given you! Plus, you’ll get a whopping 185 recipes that won’t overwhelm you, and you can use them again and again. Once you’re more comfortable with cooking and don’t feel like a beginner, How to Cook Everything: The Basics will still be relevant! You may forget some of these techniques if you haven’t used them in a while, and many of the recipes are full-fledged meals (or desserts, or appetizers, or snacks, or sides!) that you’ll come back to.
Plus, Mark’s other books in the How to Cook Everything series look so promising! I can’t wait to check them out and add them to my collection. He has other books not in the series that also look great. Check out Mark and find his recipes and books at his website, MarkBittman.com.
I only had a couple of issues with the book, and they’re very minor. First, Mark uses jargon from the start. While it’s not everywhere, there are a couple instances just in the Getting Started section where he’s speaking as a chef, and beginner home cooks may not get. For example, when he’s talking about stocking your pantry with oils, he recommends cold-pressed oils, and also suggests buying forged steel. In my opinion, when you’re just starting out, you don’t need to worry about some of these things. But, in cases like buying knives which you’ll plan on using for years, it couldn’t hurt to do a little Google-fu and look into these concepts a bit more as you see fit.
My only other issue sort of ties in with the above. The ingredients and equipment that Mark recommends may be a little higher-end or even unnecessary, like a chimney starter and a ruler for precise-dicing. He suggests that fried basil should never be used over fresh, but, in my opinion, if you’ve got dried on hand, why bother going to the store to buy fresh? Your recipe won’t be ruined, and you may as well use what you’ve got! However, his intent is to get beginners cooking “right” from the start, so I can see where he’s coming from.
Still, cooking is an art and once you learn the basics, you cater it to your own style, kitchen, tastes, likes, and dislikes.
Don’t let these nitpicky things hold you back from How to Cook Everything: The Basics. Mark Bittman’s book is seriously a fantastic tool! I use it quite often and highly recommend it, whether you’re just starting in the kitchen or are just looking for new recipes that are simple and quick.
You can grab your copy of Mark’s book here: How to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman.