When I began to get serious about cooking, the first book I ever bought (and still use) was Joy of Cooking (the 1975 edition.) It's a great reference source.
There has to be at least a million Italian cookbooks to choose from. For a beginner I would suggest Nick Stellino's "Glorious Italian Cooking". I've yet to try one of his recipes that wasn't a winner.
I don't do much Mexican cooking but I like Rick Bayless' enthusiasm and passion for it. Also, he speaks (as does Nick Stellino) to the home cook.
You will probably find there is a lot of trial and error (emphasis on the error ) until you master a few basic techniques. Then it gets easier but it's always fun.
Jock -- you are absolutely right about the 1975 Joy! A terrific resource for basic information and good, workable recipes.
As much as I like Rick Bayless, I think his recipes are sometimes a little too esoteric for a beginner. I mean, he seems to assume that you have a source of fresh masa. For a beginner, which I guess Dank is, I like The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz. It's an old (1967) book that was re-published in 1994. Look for it in cheapie book stores, used book stores, and places that sell remainders. It's got a lot of background information, and good recipes. (She went on to write some excellent resource books, especially The Encyclopedia of Herbs, Spices, & Flavorings.)
And for Italian, you can't do better than Marcella Hazan's books. Clear information, precise instructions.
OOOh, Kimmie, You know I love Zarela, too, but for a beginner? Even as a 'seasoned' cook, I find comments like 'Oxacan oregano is different from Mexican oregano, and they can't be substituted' a little intimidating! My thoughts are that it might stop a beginner in his/her tracks! Her devotion to historical accuracy and technique are unequaled, though!
I'd recommend Rick Bayless, as mentioned before, or Diane Kennedy's books for beginners. Rick especially breaks down ingredients and recipes in a way that's easy to read and relate to.
BTW - Have you seen Zarela's show on PBS? Or her hottie son, Aaron Sanchez, on FTV?!!!
To start your own Italian cookbook library, consider books such as Elizabeth DavidÕs ÒItalian Food,Ó a comprehensive guide to the foods of various regions, including Tuscany, Sicily, Lombardy, and Umbria. Other good choices include Lidia BastianichÕs ÒLa Cucina di Lidia: Distinctive Regional Cuisine from the North of Italy,Ó which offers both authentic recipes and a history of LidiaÕs family and background; and ÒBibaÕs Taste of Italy,Ó which emphasizes the northern Italian cuisine on which chef Biba Caggiano was raised. Marcella HazanÕs ÒEssentials of Classic Italian CookingÓ and ÒMarcellaÕs Italian KitchenÓ both offer recipes for simple foods prepared with authentic techniques, while ÒGiuliano BugialliÕs Foods of ItalyÓ provides a survey of more than 125 classic recipes. Finally, ÒThe Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink,Ó a comprehensive tome by John Mariani, offers more than 2,300 definitions of terms, ingredients, and techniques, as well as 50 traditional Italian recipes.
Ê RECOMMENDED READING Marcella Hazan
ÒEssentials of Classic Italian CookingÓ (Alfred Knopf, 1992; $30)
ÒMarcellaÕs Italian KitchenÓ (Alfred Knopf, 1986, $23)
I'll quibble on the Biba recommendation. I may be confusing it with another book but I thought it was obtuse and difficult to cook from. It's also paper heavy and content light. And not beginner friendly.
For Emilia-Romagna, The Splendid Table is my recommendation.
The Joy of Cooking can't be beat for starting off. I used a 1962 model for years and now have the New Joy of Cooking which for today's cooking equals the older ones with more ethnic recipes. After you get into it check out The Professional Chef from the CIA. (No, not the spooks, the school.)
For Mexican I just got The New Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz. It's an update (1998) of the older one. I looked at the books by Diane Kennedy and Rick Baylis and chose this one.
Since I never met a cookbook I didn't buy (or so my hubby thinks) I have a lot of them. When our kids left home they took with them:
1. Joy of Cooking
2. A Betty Crocker Cookbook
3. A Pillsbury Cookbook
I personally like CookWise by Shirley O. Corriher because I like to know the hows and whys of cooking.
Think of cookbooks as an adventure. The ones I use over and over again are purchased on the racks when you check out at the grocery store. I have hundreds of them and they all have lots of post-it-notes sticking out of them. The post-it-notes within are all the changes I make to recipes. Nothing is sacred, just a guideline as far as I'm concerned. And I'd never want to choose just one. Where's the fun in that.
Cookbook story thrown in for free: My friend had a best gal-friend growing up who's mother had one cookbook. That book listed menus for the entire year and this lady followed this book as though her life depended on it. The girls would check the book to know who's house they would eat at. Opting out on those liver or brains days...:lips:
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