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How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food--With 1,000 Photos Hardcover – February 24, 2012
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In How to Cook Everything The Basics, best-selling author Mark Bittman offers another essential collection of delicious recipes, from fried egg to steamed mussels. With clear and straightforward directions, practical tips and variation ideas, and helpful photos for each of the recipes, Bittman breaks down the basics to help all home cooks.
Recipe Excerpts from How to Cook Everything The Basics
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Curried Chickpea Salad
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Steamed Fish with Ratatouille
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Q&A with Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything The Basics
It's actually been almost 14 years since the first edition, which I can hardly believe myself. For me, there's a big difference between how I think about "food" and how I approach writing cookbooks. In fact, the way I write cookbooks has barely changed: I try to write simple, straightforward recipes that encourage people to cook rather than wow or intimidate them. These are cookbooks for people who cook or want to learn how to cook. In terms of thinking about food, see the next question.
This year, you ended your "Minimalist" column for The New York Times and became a regular op-ed writer. Would you say that The Basics reflects this big change in your career, and how you can present your ideas?
It's a huge change but I haven't left much behind; I'm still writing about cooking not only for the Times but for others. The Opinion writing gives me a chance to say what I think not only about cooking but about food, about eating. And what I think is that although cooking goes a long way to helping us eat better, there are many, many issues that cooking can't address, important issues to anyone who eats--which is everyone.
It seems like a lot of cookbooks are more about lifestyle and the latest trends in restaurant food. Do you think that The Basics is almost an anti-trend cookbook?
No. I think that the books about lifestyle and trends in restaurant food are not cookbooks. The Basics, modesty aside, is the epitome of a cookbook: It's a book that teaches how to cook. It'll be trendy for some people and not for others, like everything else.
When you were learning the basics of cooking yourself, what kinds of cookbooks did you use?
The basic books of the '60s and '70s, which were those by Jim Beard; Julia Child; Paula Peck; Craig Claiborne; and a few others. And of course Joy of Cooking.
From the Inside Flap
—Jamie Oliver, Celebrity Chef and Activist
Photography by Romulo Yanes
Since its publication in 1998, Mark Bittman's award-winning How to Cook Everything has become an indispensable kitchen staple. This modern classic serves as both an endlessly inspiring recipe collection and comprehensive reference for cooks of all ages and abilities.
Now, with How to Cook Everything The Basics, Bittman has provided a book for true beginners and perennial students, one that captures the pleasure and simplicity of everyday home cooking and makes it accessible to everyone, in full-color, step-by-step action.
The Basics is the ultimate confidence-builder. Whether you're just learning your way around a stove or are hungry for detailed guidance, Bittman's sensible approach, along with instructive, realistic photography, offers just the encouragement you need.
How to Cook Everything The Basics is a rare cookbook that teaches by example. Each of the 1,000 gorgeous photographs and 185 recipes has a story to tell and a lesson to share (you'll find a list of them in the back of the book), all in a casual, unfussy way that makes meals as enjoyable to prepare as they are to eat.
The Basics also provides commonsense advice on how to stock your kitchen with equipment and ingredients, while special features scattered throughout offer useful information on general techniques like cooking pasta, choosing and using seafood, making bread, and 26 other skills for identifying and preparing foods from vegetables and beans to meats, soups, and desserts.
Along the way, Bittman's practical tips and variations, descriptive visual cues, and straightforward explanations will help you recognize doneness, taste and adjust seasoning, and learn to trust your instincts. How to Cook Everything The Basics is the next best thing to having America's favorite home cook right in the kitchen with you.
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My biggest complaint is how quickly my copy started falling apart. After a couple years or so of using it a few times a month the pages started coming loose. (I had the hardback version, purchased shortly after it was first published). I took it to a professional book repairer and (1) the cost to repair it was well beyond just buying another copy and (2) he said that they way the pages were just glued into the binding was the cheap way to go and why it fell apart so quickly. So I've taped everything together and it works okay, but is annoying. I would have gladly paid a little more for a book that would have held up.
I bought How to Cook Everything - The Basics after I started living alone for the first time and realized that my cooking skills were pretty much limited to pasta with store-bought sauce and salads with store-bought dressings. I'm not a super-skilled chef yet, but this book has helped me pick up some basic cooking techniques, and get more comfortable in the kitchen.
The recipes are great - There are a lot of the fairly simple yet delicious recipes that I think are necessary to learn before you move on to fancier stuff. Be sure to read the side notes on the right side of the page, even if a particular recipe doesn't appeal to you. The author gives lots of ideas for switching up the recipe to make it totally different. (For example, if you don't like carrots, you can still make maple-glazed carrots...The side notes give you ideas on how to switch out carrots for other veggies.)
Here are a few of my personal favorites, to give you an idea of the types of recipes you'll get:
Poached Eggs: So simple, yet I never had any idea how to make them. I never even liked eggs before. Now I make egg and cheese sandwiches regularly.
Oatmeal from Scratch: Takes longer than the instant stuff I'm used to, but so much yummier!
Egg Drop Soup: Who knew that it's pretty much as easy as boiling water and mixing in some eggs, soy sauce and sesame oil?
Pasta with Garlic and Oil: Not quite as fast as just tossing garlic into pasta water, but much better tasting.
Boiled Greens - Put spinach in boiling water, add some butter and salt, and you've got a great side dish.
Quick Skillet Beans with Tomatoes- Tomatoes cooked with frozen edamame is so good!
Rice Pudding in the Oven - Takes a while to make, but worth it, especially when you need some winter comfort food.
Chili from Scratch, Stir-fried Chicken with Broccoli, Cold Noodles with Peanut Sauce - Yum!
Anyway, there's a lot more, and a lot of things that I haven't made yet, but those are the recipes that I find myself making repeatedly. Hope that helps!
If you've ever had questions about anything cooking related, I'm sure this 500 page monstrous book will teach it to you, and teach it well. I'm going to have to buy the other books from this author because these books are so good. Thousands of pictures, details, alternatives, it just has it all. It tells you what kind of pots, pans, spices, dishes, utensils, etc., you'll need for cooking anything. There's just so much in this book, I couldn't possibly lay it all out in a review. Just buy it already.
Although it is filled with recipes, The Basics is not really a cookbook. It is presented in a very straightforward way that is designed to not only give you starter recipes, but to provide recipes that teach the fundamentals of cooking. For a "basics" cookbook, one thing I look for is whether it truly is targeted to teaching the basics. When I was first learning to cook, I would be thoroughly confused every time a recipe called for "onion," and went to the story only to discover four different types of onions. And what does "salt to taste" mean? Fortunately, Bittman's book takes these things into account and is very good at not making assumptions on the cooking level of the reader. For example, when discussing olive oil, Bittman states "every time I refer to olive oil in this book, I mean extra virgin." These tips are placed in the beginning and scattered throughout the book and are just the types of explanations I think should accompany a cookbook on the basics. Where the original HtCE just gives a list of essential ingredients you should have, The Basics provides more guidance, with tips such as "buy unsalted butter," and "use firm tofu packed in water," instead of just telling you what ingredients to buy. It is ordered in the traditional Breakfast, appetizers, salads, soups, pasta, entree, etc. formula, but the recipes are also ordered by technique - designed to teach the fundamentals early in the book and progressing to more difficult skills by the end. You don't have to go in order however, and if there is a specific lesson you want to learn (eg, blanching), you can turn to the back and view a "Techniques" glossary which has a list of all the techniques presented in the book so you can go directly to what interests you. Each technique has a basic lesson, followed by several recipes that incorporate it and allow you to practice the technique. With most cookbooks you'll maybe see 2-3 recipes for every one picture. At over 1,000 photos and 185 recipes, you can see that in addition to the main dish, the recipes each have several smaller pictures showing different stages of the food production to give you a better idea of what you should be doing. The very first recipe is how to boil water, only it's not called that, it's a recipe for oatmeal. But the purpose is to show new cooks how water temperature affects food consistency and give them experience with the different levels of water heat.
DIFFERENCES VERSUS ORIGINAL HtCE
The original How to Cook Everything is the first cookbook I bought and one of the best primers for anyone interested in learning to cook. At over 1000 pages, it truly does tell you "how to cook everything," from slicing an onion to making your own sauces, to rolling sushi. It is one of the best "beginner" resources I have in my kitchen, but at times can be a bit overwhelming due to the amount of information. The Basics takes the same premise of HtCE, simplifies it a bit more, and adds pictures. There are some small noticeable differences in theory between the two books. HtCE has a list of 12 "Must-Have Kitchen Tools," 14 "Tools You'll Probably Want," and 8 "Nice-to-Have" tools. The Basics has a lit of 16 "Absolute-Minimum" tools, followed by 17 "Other Handy" tools. A salad spinner is on HtCE's "must-have" list, but on The Basics' "Other" list. Which of these lists is "correct?" It's hard to say. I definitely agree with HtCE that you must have a timer (even if it's your microwave). The Basics lists it as "other." How is a beginner cook going to learn without a timer? If you are trying to decide between which book to get, I would say that if you have absolutely no idea which end of a spatula is the business end, you should start with "The Basics." If you can cook a decent plate of eggs and know what a "simmer" looks like, you will get much more for your money with the Original "How to Cook Everything." The Basics won't have ten different way to make braised potatoes or a diagram showing you how to prepare lemongrass, but it will give you a recipe for mashed potatoes and show you a few different variations to it. HtCE is designed to give you as much information as possible about everything. The Basics is designed to give you as much information as needed to do everything right.
I have completely read through about half of the recipes in this book, and tested about two dozen of them. As mentioned, none of these recipes are going to be featured on your favorite cooking shows anytime soon. They use minimal common ingredients. You won't have to ask someone where the star anise is or worry about finding sherry vinegar in a store near you. The recipes are not bland, but they're not difficult or fancy either. Even though they're basic recipes, they seem very tasteful and I think they will appeal to a large audience. The "Warm Spinach Salad with Bacon" is only made up of olive oil, bacon, shallot/onion, spinach, vinegar, and mustard, yet it is a very respectable salad. You'd probably be disappointed in it if you ordered it at a restaurant, but served alongside a simple steak and potatoes meal it can go a long way to a nice dinner. I can easily see a beginning cook getting excited producing a lot of the foods in the book.
In additional to the original HtCE, the other "basic cooking" books I've read are Betty Crocker Cooking Basics: Recipes and Tips to Cook with Confidence (Betty Crocker Books) , Cooking Basics For Dummies , and How to Boil Water . This book currently ranks well at the top of my list for complete beginners, with "How to Boil" coming in second. Unless you have been cooking for a year or two, I think "How to Cook Everything: The Basics" will be an invaluable resource for the new cook. It is very well put together with a lot of thought put into it. The full color photographs go a long way to expressing ideas in the book moreso than the drawings in the original version, and just about every major technique is covered. You won't be creating blue-cheese infused butter with it, but by the time you're done, you should have a very respectable grasp of making the perfect Sunday dinner to share with some family and friends.
UPDATE April 2013: I've been using The Basics for a year now and I've now cooked about 75% of the recipes in the book. I still come back to it often and get tips from it. Definitely worth the price.
Top international reviews
Everything is explained in a way that puts you in the driving seat with your teacher by your side. You can read and revise methods to understand the how and the why behind some techniques, this is helpful if you're someone who graves a lot of detail and explanation. There are handy alternatives which help you to see how versatile food can be! It's also great because it teaches you what you can substitute if you don't have or like some ingredients.
There's a great chapter on baking which is great at the end. Really appreciated the conversions at the back of the book as well. 5 stars because they're due. I would shake the author's hand in gratitude if I could.
This book is a game changer for someone like me, as it walks you through every step of every basic task you would ever need to do while cooking. I've used this book to greatly improve my cooking skills, and so far nobody has been accidentally poisoned by me while eating the results.
It may be too basic for some, but if you're like me and need a launching point to work towards being a better cook, this is definitely worthwhile.
This book is exactly what I needed. I went through so many cookbooks with complicated recipes, no pictures, and obscure ingredients. I became so frustrated. . . then I found this book. Mark lays out of the basics, gives easy (but delicious) beginner recipes, and loads them with pictures. His e-book is expertly designed, and the best part? You can tell Mark is an expert chef. He knows what every spice, ingredient, and food is doing, and he can communicates it so well.
Mark, you are a lifesaver!
Bought it first as a gift, then one for myself, then again (twice) as gifts! Have received feedback from the first recipient, who was so pleased to finally be able to make a decent poached egg after following the instructions in this book. She had also followed the instructions for a standing rib roast, and it turned out perfectly! She is so pleased with this book.
tldr; Buy this book yo it is the shiznit!