Newest Review: ... To be honest, I never read this part of any cookbook, because I'm old enough to know what a spatula looks like, and to not leave al... more
Not just for children
The Usborne Beginner's Cookbook - Fiona Watt
Member Name: Holland1
The Usborne Beginner's Cookbook - Fiona Watt
Advantages: Inexpensive ingredients, easy to follow instructions, not patronising
Disadvantages: Bit childish looking
I'm really fond of this cookbook. Although it looks like it's designed for children, I think it was the first cookbook I bought in my late teens when I was still living with my parents and I'd just begun to get into cooking and experimenting. I remember using it to create really simple things like Spanish omlettes, and measuring everything out exactly because I didn't have the knowledge or confidence to experiment a little. This is very different to my current cooking style, which basically involves using whatever is in the cupboard, and substituting things ad hoc.
Although the cookbook is for beginners, it does actually contain some interesting recipes, and I still use this book now. Ok, so it's not the most sophisticated book I have in my cookbook collection, and it's not going to win any prizes for groundbreaking recipes, but it's a great starting place for beginners, and also has some recipes that can be adapted as you get more confident with your cooking.
The book itself isn't hardback, but it's sturdier than paperback if that makes any sense. The cover is quite thick cardboard, and the paper used in the book is thicker than the usual paperback paper, so it's not flimsy. It doesn't stay open without a little help, but the spine bends enough for you to open it on the worktop and place something on the page to keep it open, or it will stand in a bookstand easily.
The book is broken down into sections, beginning with hints and tips and some general cooking guidelines to read before you get started. To be honest, I never read this part of any cookbook, because I'm old enough to know what a spatula looks like, and to not leave all my pan handles pointing outwards in a health and safety nightmare situation. However, there are a few handy tips here such as measuring a teaspoon to be level unless told otherwise. I guess this part is useful for people with little confidence in cooking, although if you need instructions to use a garlic press you probably shouldn't be let loose in the kitchen to be honest.
The book eases you in gently with some salads and soups, and basic omlettes, and then leads onto some more substantial meals and snacks such as fish pie, stuffed pancakes, stir fries, roast dinners, and some sweet things like trifles. This doesn't seem to be categorised in any particular order, and is just part of a section called "Cooking for Beginners". This is followed by a section on "Pasta and Pizza" which includes classics such as spaghetti Bolognese, but also some more unusual dishes such as spinach and ricotta pasta shells. The next section is "vegetarian cooking" which includes veggie burgers, and possibly my favourite recipe from the whole of this book which is cheesy sausages (made with leeks). The final section is "Cookies and Cakes" which is quite extensive and ranges from gingerbread biscuits to classics such as scones and fruity buns.
==What do I like about this book?==
So, what do I like about this book? Firstly, the recipes vary from complete beginner, to more advanced, and there's nothing pretentious or unpractical about the recipes. The recipes are varied so there are full meals such as prawn and pepper pilaf, cakes such as carrot cake, marble cake and chocolate choux buns, and there are some slightly unusual recipes such as cheesy sausages, tropical spiced rice and lamb kebabs. Although it's designed for beginners, it's not overly patronising and isn't a book of soups and salads or really basic baked potatoes as you often get in these beginners books. The book does credit you with a bit of common sense, and the ability to follow instructions.
There are no ridiculous or difficult to source ingredients in this book, so you won't be trailing round the supermarket for hours looking for expensive or specialised ingredients. In fact, a lot of the recipes will use ingredients you already have in your storecupboard, making the book accessible to everyone as nobody will be priced out of using the recipes.
The instructions are detailed and easy to follow. They are quite interactive, so rather than being in the format of a list, they are in picture form, with some narrative alongside each picture. The pictures are diagrammatic rather than photographs, and although they are quite childish looking, they are quite useful for things like kneading dough or separating eggs, if you're unsure you're doing it the right way. There is always a photograph of the final result, so you always know what the final dish should look like.
==What don't I like about this book?==
There isn't really anything I don't like about this book, I think for a beginner's book there are plenty of recipes to keep you entertained and to get you experimenting. I still use this book, as I've found a few tried and tested recipes, and I also use it for classics such as spaghetti alla carbonara or macaroni cheese. I also love baking so I use this book for inspiration for new flavours, such as the banana and nut slices.
The only thing I would mention if you buy this book, is that even though the instructions are numbered, sometimes I've found myself following the pictures across the page, not realising they have been scattered about a bit. It's best to go by instruction number rather than where you think the next step would logically fall on the page, but other than that the instructions are very easy to follow once you realise that.
This is a great starting point for anyone wishing to improve their cooking skills. I would say it's best suited for beginners, and that they will grow with the book as their confidence and skills develop. Although you might not benefit as much if you are already very competent in the kitchen, you will still find a few new recipes which might come in useful, and there are some twists on classic recipes which may help you to use them as inspiration for experimenting.
I bought this book second hand from Amazon many years ago, and the version I have must be out of print as the price has gone up to just under £30. The updated version, which appears to have the same content, but now has concealed spiral binding to allow the book to be opened and stay open on your kitchen worktop, is available for around £8.
Summary: A great book for anyone wishing to improve their skills in the kitchen without being patronised
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