Alas, there were two problems:
1) I grew up in the South, where men didn’t really cook (except barbecue, obviously).
2) My mother is a terrible cook. She’s okay with the occasional casserole, but please don’t let her stray too far.
Thankfully, I married an excellent cook. I don’t know how active Jonno was in his family’s kitchen growing up, but clearly, he was paying attention while his mom made pasta, meatballs, gravy, and all the other things she still prepares for his large, loud Italian American family.
Jonno also has a thing for cookbooks. He’ll sit and read them for hours. Me, I find them pretty dull — I just don’t get much excitement from reading a recipe.
Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything changed my opinion about that. Bittman doesn’t just tell you how to cook, he explains why you follow the steps that you do — why you soak beans, what happens when you knead bread too much, and so on.
That’s my kind of cookbook.
What’s more, Bittman hasn’t yet screwed me over. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve followed, say, a Fannie Farmer’s recipe to the letter, only to be left with something mushy or half-baked or burnt to a crisp. With Bittman, I’ve had nothing but success.
Naturally, when I returned to vegetarianism, I picked up a copy of his follow-up oeuvre, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food. Not only is the title completely accurate — really, he covers everything — but the book is thorough, too.
And he hasn’t forgotten vegans, either. He points out dishes that are easy to veganize, and when that’s not so simple, he explains how you can substitute ingredients to keep animal products out of your kitchen.
If you’re looking to go vegetarian or vegan and need some help planning meals, I highly recommend this one to get you started.