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How to Cook Everything The Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food--With 1,000 Photos Hardcover – March 5, 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.
'A gem for the inexperienced and experienced...this is a most useful book to add to any cookery shelf.' (Yorkshire Gazette & Herald, 30th May 2012)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
I am not exaggerating when I say that this book has turned my culinary life around. I cook pretty frequently now, and I basically exclusively cook out of this book. I'm going to list several things about this book that I like:
* TONS of great tutorials for things like cutting up veggies, how to boil pasta the right way, etc. Along with these great helpers, every recipe includes page numbers to the relevant stuff, so you can easily flip back and forth to figure out how to do all of the mechanical stuff.
* The recipes are arranged in each chapter from easiest to most difficult, so it's perfect for new cooks to build up their confidence.
* The recipes are simple, and simple generally means cheap. It does NOT, however, mean flavorless. Everything I've made out of this book has been fantastic, even the super-simple Chopped Salad and homemade dressing.
* The section on what tools/equipment needed in a kitchen has also helped me furnish my kitchen better.
I would say that if you are a beginner cook, this book is absolutely the one to buy. It's affordable, well written, and will help you make fantastic food. Seriously. Look no further.
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!