Recommended Resources for Learning to Cook

I’m going to give you my top three cookbooks for any cook’s shelves.

I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking

I learned a lot about food from watching Good Eats.  Alton Brown is a good teacher.  I’m Just Here for the Food is a great resource if you know nothing about cooking.  Alton Brown will break down everything from cuts of meat to how to choose an appropriate cooking method.  While there are recipes, this is more like a cooking manual.  If you have no idea what you’re doing, this can be your cooking basics class.

The Joy of Cooking

The Joy of Cooking is a long time kitchen staple.  The recipes are good, and each major section includes some technical instruction.  I recommend finding a copy of the 75th Anniversary edition if you can.  It includes some more unusual recipes for this day and age.  If you need a solid basic recipe for just about anything, Joy of Cooking probably has it.

The Flavor Bible

If you want to learn to be an inventive cook, this is the one book you need.  It is an encyclopedia of which flavors go with each others.  Want to know what goes well with beets?  Turn to the entry for “beets” and get the full list of recommended flavor combinations.  While the entries are very good, sometimes an ingredient isn’t cross-referenced in both directions.  That flaw aside, I highly recommend this to an aspiring cook.

With those three books, you can figure out how to cook nearly anything.  (Baking is another story though Joy of Cooking will give you a start there.)


Better BLT


It’s been uncharacteristically hot for early September in Upstate NY.  Not only do we not have air-conditioning in our kitchen, but we have terrible airflow to get the heat out.  Yesterday when it was ninety outside and in the mid-eighties inside, I did not want to cook at all.  I decided to go with the least cooking possible.

The BLT is an American standard.  Who doesn’t love bacon?  But too often it’s a disappointment.  The bacon is cooked to crisp shards.  The tomatoes have all the texture and flavor of styrofoam.  The lettuce?  Crunchy water.  We all know bacon isn’t exactly good for you.  So if you’re going to indulge in bacon, you might as well go for the good stuff.  If you’re going to eat a BLT, you might as well make it the best damn BLT you can.  This is a variation on my friend Shelley’s “Better BLT.”

For our BLTs we used:

  • 12 ounces Applewood smoked, thick-cut bacon
  • 1 baguette, cut into thirds
  • 2 garden-ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • summer-mixed greens
  • Hellman’s mayonnaise
  • 1 ripe avocado
  • fresh lemon juice

Okay, so those last two ingredients aren’t exactly typical BLT ingredients.  It’s worth it anyway.

Mash the avocado with a fork and the fresh lemon juice.  The lemon juice will keep it from browning, though you should put a bit of plastic wrap on the surface to reduce air contact.  Lightly toast your baguette pieces, while you fry up the bacon.  I sliced my bacon in quarters to create smaller pieces, since the baguette is narrow.  I also find that bacon stretches a bit further when you have more smaller pieces rather than fewer large pieces.

I recommend spreading avocado on one half of your baguette, and the mayonnaise on the other.  The avocado adds creamy richness that balances the salt from the bacon.  Yet somehow a BLT doesn’t taste quite right without a little of that mayonnaise tang.  Layer up your bacon, tomatoes, and lettuce.  I recommend a bit of pepper on the tomatoes.

Do this while you can still get summer tomatoes.  Your mouth will thank you.