I’ve read books on economics, personal finance, investing, and saving money. But I have one book that has had a higher ROI than any other.
It’s not a money book. It’s a basic cookbook.
And even in the age of Pinterest, food blogs, food TV, and cooking apps, you still need one basic cookbook that covers a multitude of ingredients, basic food preparation, and cooking methods. One cookbook to turn to whether you want to roast a whole chicken, open a coconut, or bake a cake.
My grandmother had the Joy of Cooking. My mom had the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook. I like Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I paid $8 for it used in 2004, and I’ve pulled it out at least once a month for the last 12 years. The dust jacket is torn and I’ve spilled stuff on some of the pages.
My book isn’t pretty, but sure is useful.
Whatever ingredients I have on hand, How to Cook Everything will probably tell me how to use them with common ingredients to make something delicious.
You Need to Cook
Okay, maybe if you live alone and make a decent amount of money, you don’t really need to cook. You can probably get by on takeout and convenience food.
But eating out is expensive. Not only does it cost more money for your food if you don’t cook, but it may have long term effects as well because you probably won’t eat as healthy.
That’s not necessarily true if you learned to cook mostly by using the ingredients on the package, like I did. For several years, I depended on a lot of processed foods for our meals. They were easy to prepare and convenient, but had plenty of extra sodium and sugar. Plus, while the processed food cost less than restaurant food, I still paid a premium.
Let’s face it, that’s not really cooking.
I don’t make everything from scratch now, but I do a lot more real cooking these days. And while the “follow the instructions on the package” method got me comfortable with kitchen basics, I had a lot to learn.
I could have taken a cooking class or 3 at my local community college, but even the inexpensive ones are $100 for 8 weeks. Private lessons? LOL. $50 or more per session, even after Groupons.
Following a good cookbook seemed like a much more economical way of upping my cooking game.
I worked for a used book company for 17 years, and I have a lot of cookbooks that I picked up dirt cheap. For years, I’d pick up books by Food Network celebrities. Or I’d buy books on bread making, or vegetarian cooking, or making cookies. I had a big huge bookshelf of cookbooks in my kitchen, just like my grandmother had.
It’s not that I never used all those books. I flipped through many, and discovered some ingredient combinations to try. Or tried a recipe or two and then let the book sit on the shelf.
Mostly, though, I just collected cookbooks without using them. Since we moved 6 years ago, most of them have sat in boxes.
Having a ton of cookbooks made a lot more sense before the advent of the internet. Browsing recipes and reading the suggestions of a lot of different cooks helps make you a better cook. But when there are millions of recipes a Google search away, you don’t have to own a bunch of cookbooks.
You may like to own a bunch of cookbooks, but you don’t need to.
I really only need the one basic cookbook these days. As long as I have my basic cookbook, i can fix anything. By supplementing it with online content, I can cook everything.
Online Recipe Issues
So between Pinterest and Yummly and All Recipes, why do I even need a cookbook at all? You’d think it would be easy to find a recipe for just about anything online, and you’d be right.
Finding a good BASIC recipe that uses the ingredients you probably have on hand, though, can be a lot harder.
- So many recipes to choose from! Some are good, some less so. A good basic cookbook gives you a go-to source.
- Some recipe writers assume you have a good skill set. Unless you do (or just like googling for instructions), you need something that walks you through the steps.
- I find a lot of online content tries to stand out by being original with ingredients. Sometimes it’s easier to modify a simple recipe than to simplify a complicated one, though.
I don’t want you to think I don’t like online recipes. I do. They’ve replaced the need for a whole cabinet’s worth of cookbooks.
But they aren’t the place I’m going to start my search if I’m wondering “What the heck do I do with a whole fish?”
Finding your One Basic Cookbook
If you already have your one basic cookbook, great. But if you want to find the best one for you to use, you might want to try browsing a few different ones at the bookstore or library before buying.
Alternately, you can just ask your favorite cook to tell you their go-to cooking reference.
These are common books, and while I’ve included Amazon links, they are not difficult to pick up used. So, ask around, check around, and find a favorite to help you cook anything.
What books do you think have given you the best return on investment? Do you have a go-to cooking reference?
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