In the comments section on the Book Meme, Alex Elliott asked about a good cookbook for someone who wants to learn to cook.
Most of the cookbooks in my rather large collection aren't for beginners. Many of them are those food porn books that feature recipes that take hours and days and piles of ingredients that are so exotic and expensive that you end up wishing you had just taken the $60 you spent on saffron, smoked paprika and hearts of palm and had just gone out to dinner instead.
I learned to cook from American Wholefoods Cuisine a huge vegetarian compendium I got back in the 80s. I had recently given up meat and was tired of quesadillas so I was delighted to find 1300 veg recipes to choose from.
One cool fall day I used that cookbook to make a carrot stew recipe while my housemates were out hiking. They came in, tired and hungry, and fell on my creation, praising me endlessly for being such a culinary genius. That did it. I was hooked - an instant cooking junkie and I cooked so many recipes from that Wholefoods Cookbook that it eventually fell apart in 3 pieces and is now held together with rubber bands.
When I first moved away from home, my mom got me a copy of The Betty Crocker Cookbook with the inscription "Be patient. Good things take time."
Little did she know how prophetic that would be, not about cooking, but about me. I only moved out for 6 months, then came home for an endless community college career, followed by a long, expensive stint at a state college (Thanks Mom, Thanks Dad).
During that time, I survived mostly on Taco Bell, dorm food and instant oatmeal. I cooked rarely and badly. I distinctly remember getting the idea to saute eggplant (Why, I really don't know. I had no recipe and no plan - just an eggplant and a pan) and having it soak up so much oil that I took one taste and pitched the rest of the eggplant, frying pan and all, out into the driveway where it sat in the mud and rain.
I have heard that Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is a wonderful book for beginners and experts alike. Bittman writes "The Minimalist" column for the NY Times and has sprung some fabulous ideas, like no-knead bread, on the world.
But the truth about learning to cook is that you have to be interested if you want to do it well. If you don't care, actually truly care, it is going to be damned difficult to make a good meal.
I liken it to how I feel about fashion. I always think I would love to dress better, to look nicer, but when it comes down to it, I just don't care enough to put out the energy to make it better.
It doesn't make me that miserable to look like I do, and it doesn't make me terribly happy to dress cute, especially if it means spending time and money and/or being less comfy than I am in my baggy ill-shaped clothing.
The truly fashionable want to slap people they see wearing Crocs or wrinkly old clothing. I don't - to me it doesn't matter what people wear as long as they are happy, but I do want to walk into the kitchen and slap the cook who oversalted my Moroccan chickpea-vegetable tagine.
And when others eat the tagine and say "Oh, it's okay, I don't mind that it is a little salty," I want to slap THEM, too. Because I care deeply, and I can't imagine not caring. Just like I suppose some people feel about my corduroy jacket with the frayed sleeves and the ink stains. It's all a matter of what is important to you.
Do you cook? How did you learn?