All the best cookware and expensive gadgets in the world won’t be worth squat until you put them to work in your kitchen. At some point, you’re going to have to buy real food and attempt to make real meals. By far the best way to do that is to find a few recipes you like and go for it.
Since I know time is always of the essence, I took the liberty of Googling “Easy Recipe Cookbooks” for you, and Google happily obliged by returning around 20,000,000 results. TMI!!! How about I share the 4 best rated cookbooks in Suzi’s Kitchen, plus a few honorable mentions to get you going?
Practice Makes Better
When I was first married, my husband used to tell me how much he enjoyed watching me cook. I could go from cupboard to stove, refrigerator to cutting board, throwing this and that into the pots and pans, and turn out a delicious dinner without breaking a sweat. Little did he know how much work over the years it took to accomplish my effortless performance. My ex-boyfriends wouldn’t have given a plugged nickel for some of the dreck I tried to pass off as food! Cooking takes practice!
“Easy” is a Relative Term
There are very few dishes that aren’t “easy” after you’ve made them a few times. I can whip up a pot of Mexican albondegas or a beef Stroganoff with my my eyes closed, but that’s because I’ve made them a hundred times.
Cooking with easy recipes isn’t all about limiting the number of ingredients, which seems to be the main criteria for quick, easy recipe cookbooks. Can you buy what you need at the grocery store, or do you have to order stuff online from Thailand? Is it going to take all day to be done? I’m not saying don’t check out online recipes if they sound interesting. Just take the word “easy” with a grain of salt.
The Best Cookbooks in Lazy Suzi’s Kitchen!
3rd Runner-Up: The Silver Palate Cookbook (Rosso & Lukins with McLaughlin)
I adore this cookbook. Some of my favorite recipes on earth come from the pages of this well-written collection. Nearly a third of the book is dedicated to vegetables, salads, and beans, which always seem to need some sort of disguise in my family. The recipes are as easy to follow as they are delicious. There are amazing desserts, pasta, and chicken dishes that my family scarfs down regularly, plus breads and beef dishes that I haven’t tried because, well, Lazy Suzi here.
The side notes are interesting and fun to read, with quotes, notes, and even a few menus that sound a lot more exotic than they actually turn out to be. For example, “Salade Nicoise” is just potatoes, green beans, onion, tomatoes, olives and a can of tuna. Hard-boiled eggs if you want them, anchovies if you like them. The dressing is a vinaigrette with mustard. Easy Peasy!
The recipes really are pretty easy, but I can’t, in good conscience, call them all quick. The ingredients are readily available, but you might have to put some of them on your shopping list because you won’t have them all lined up in your fridge waiting for something to do. Then there’s the marinating and the cooking time. You’ll need to plan ahead for some of the best ones. It’s worth it though, and once you’ve made the dish a couple of times, you might figure out hack or two to cut down on the time.
2nd Runner-Up: Joy of Cooking (Rombauer, Becker)
This was a tough call, because for beginners there’s really nothing better to show you how to make the most basic of the basics. The problem is that they are SO correct in their language as well as in their recipes, that it can be a little hard to find what you’re looking for.
For example, if you want to make a white sauce, you can read all about the “roux” first, then figure out what you’re really looking for is Bechamel. Good to know. Unless you’re adding stock, in which case you’re making Veloute. Also good to know, but now you’re sidetracked and your family is getting hungry.
This a cookbook you read, not just for the recipes, but for knowledge about cooking in general. There’s a section in the middle called Know your Ingredients that anyone who is even thinking about firing up a stove really needs to study. Just do it after everyone is fed.
There are some extremely easy recipes in here, though. They will actually tell you how to make a cup of tea or broil a hamburger correctly. But this tome also includes some frightening dishes that even I might not do on a dare. Look, I was raised on the the Joy of Cooking, as was my mother and her mother before her. I would never want to be without it, and if I could only have one cookbook my whole life, this would probably be it. But for quick and easy, there are other options.
1st Runner-Up: The New York Times Cook Book (Claiborne)
You name it, it’s probably in there, from acorn squash to zucchini. I’m including it as an easy recipe cookbook because many of the recipes are really easy, and call for ingredients you should already have in your pantry plus the fresh stuff you can pick up at the grocery store.
There’s a friendly personality in the writing of the recipes, and they are step-by-step simple to follow. There are also fun little tidbits of information that you really ought to be aware of. For example, if you see the word “florentine” rest assured there is spinach somewhere in the dish. In fact, there’s almost as much general information as you’d find in the Joy of Cooking, without the full-on lectures.
The New York Times Cookbook doesn’t win first place in my kitchen simply because of its size. Although the the meals I’ve prepared from this book have always turned out amazingly delicious, there’s just SO much to see, it gets overwhelming. If you could only have 1 cookbook, this would still be a good choice, but when recipes start calling for “boquet garni” or “24 fresh chestnuts, peeled (see page 89)” I’ve already turned the page.
And the Winner is…Keep It Simple-Thirty Minute Meals from Scratch (Marion Burrows)
Surprised? Then you’ve never come across this gem which taught me just about everything I know about how to get an entire meal on the table all at the same time. I’m pretty sure it was my mom who turned me on to this cookbook years ago. The recipes are super easy, and I think 30 minutes for a main dish plus two sides, and maybe even a dessert is about as quick as you can get for anything that tastes good.
As if terrific recipes weren’t enough, this book also provides a “game plan” of directions that tell you what to do first, what to do next, etc., in order to make sure all your food gets done at the same time. This all by itself makes the book worth it. There’s nothing so annoying as having to wait for one last thing to finish cooking while everything else sits there getting cold. Each menu includes a shopping list for things you might not have in your pantry.
And about that pantry. You get a great run-down of all the things you should have on hand, pretty much all the time, in order to accomplish the dishes in the book. You’ll of course make your own adjustments, but there’s not much I’ve left out of my own cupboards.
Finally, there’s a section in the back that tells you what you can substitute for quite a number of ingredients in case you happen to be out, or don’t care for the ingredients listed. For example, you can use plain yogurt instead of sour cream in most recipes. (I do this a lot!)
For quick and easy, AND really tasty meals, Keep it Simple: 30-Minute Meals from Scratch is my hands-down, all-time favorite.
Most Hilarious Read: I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken. I love this with all my heart. It is the inspiration for Lazy Suzi’s Kitchen.
Cookbook from a TV Show: The Northern Exposure Cookbook by Ellis Weiner. Written entirely in character. If you were a fan of the show, this is really fun!
Foreign Cuisine: The Food and Drink of Mexico by George C. Booth. Authentic recipes that will never remind you of Taco Bell.
Vegetarian: Dirt Candy by Cohen & Dunlavey. Part recipes, part comic book, totally fun and, most important, delicious vegetarian food.
Your kitchen can be your prison or your sanctuary. I hope these cookbooks will inspire you to have fun!