Essential Blogs for Beginner Cooks
You've just finished outfitting your first real kitchen. Now what the heck are you going to cook in it?
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So you've finally finished putting together your first real, adult kitchen. You've got all these shiny new (and slightly intimidating) tools to use, but what in the heck are you going to make with them?
It hardly seems right to make Easy Mac or ramen with such fine equipment. And anyway, you're all grown up now... probably time to move on to meals you can't complete using only a microwave. Your mom always made recipes out of that old red-and-white checked cookbook with the laminated pages, and yeah, they were pretty darn good. But something about the idea of picking up a cookbook feels horrendously old-fashioned (even limiting) to you. Where can you turn?
Well, like we do for almost everything today, we turn to the internet. It's filled with blogs—blogs dedicated to providing you with an endless supply of recipes to suit any budget, any diet, any palate.
But with so many blogs to choose from, how's a neophyte home-cook to know which ones to trust? Never fear, we've collected some of our personal favorites for your culinary pleasure.
Serious Eats: Fingers in Every Pie
Probably the granddaddy of Web 2.0 food blogs, Serious Eats is a family of websites covering various cities (New York and Chicago thus far) and food categories (dedicated burger, pizza, drinks, and sweets sites). It's also a great resource for recipes both simple and complex.
The recipe portion of the site is divided into a ton of categories, from sides to cocktails to mains to grilling. It's not really the most intuitive layout, but you'll never run out of delectable things to look at. Each week their unique Cook the Book feature spotlights a single cookbook, providing multiple recipes, usually around a single theme.
Chief Creative Officer J. Kenji López-Alt is perhaps the site's greatest resource. An Alton Brown for the Internet Age, he delves into the science of food in his Food Lab, not only telling you how to cook a given food, but why you cook it that way.
Simply Recipes: Unpretentious Awesomeness
This site's simple, un-flashy design makes it look like a generic recipe repository in the vein of allrecipes, but it's so much better than that. Simply Recipes is essentially a labor of love, run by former Silicon Valley consultant Elise Bauer. She gets some help from respected food blogger Hank Shaw and a few other contributors, but most of the recipes on the site are tested and perfected in Elise's own kitchen.
I've made dozens of recipes from Simply Recipes, and each and every one has been a certified smash, both with my own taste buds and those of my family and friends. Elise's recipes run the gamut from traditional American fare like classic meatloaf to one of the best African stews I've ever tasted and a surprisingly delicious golden beet and pomegranate salad. And when I want pure comfort food, Elise's Irish beef stew with Guinness and red wine is my go-to.
There's a tremendous variety here, despite the relatively low number of total recipes. They're written in a conversational style that makes them easy to understand, and Elise and her contributors are happy to answer questions and give suggestions in the lengthy comment sections. If you want recipes of guaranteed quality to kick off your adult cooking life, this is a great place to start.
Homesick Texan: You Can Take the Texan Out of Texas...
You think you know barbecue? You don't know barbecue like Lisa Fain knows barbecue.
Though she lives in New York City, Lisa is a Texan at heart, and her heart is homesick for the state's greatest export: barbecue. And also Tex-Mex, Mex-Mex, and chili. For the most part, her site Homesick Texan sticks hard and fast to the rules of Texas cuisine: no beans in chili, and "barbecue" means beef—brisket, ribs, sausage, and shoulder. But that's not to say you won't find pork, chicken, or seafood among her corpus of delectable recipes.
In fact, the best pulled pork I've ever made came from a recipe crafted in Lisa's kitchen. And even something as simple as the lowly quesadilla can be taken to a new dimension of flavor thanks to her nose for a good flavor combination. Her knowledge of Tex-Mex is encyclopedic, ranging from the prosaic to the more unusual.
Depending on where you live, some of the ingredients her recipes call for may be hard to find—Hatch green chile doesn't make it far out of the American Southwest, for instance—but it's worth placing an order at an internet specialty foods store or driving out to the closest Mexican grocery to find the more obscure items.
Smitten Kitchen: Cooking 201
Deb Perelman is another multi-talented New Yorker who cooks out of a tiny, 42-square-foot kitchen in a typical small-but-charming city apartment. Her site, Smitten Kitchen, is a goldmine of creative, (mostly) healthy, "stepped-up" comfort food. You don't need to be an experienced cook to attempt her recipes, but you will at times need an adventurous and industrious spirit—a willingness to work for your supper.
There are lots of recipes for bread and scones and biscuits, but you're just as likely to find a spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette or spaghetti with broccoli cream pesto. The site's recipe index is divided not only by ingredient but also by nationality and occasion. Deb has even created categories for her favorite recipes by season, and has lists of gluten-free concoctions and slow-cooker meals, too.
Smitten Kitchen is updated less frequently than some pro-level cooking blogs (mostly because it's a true one-woman site and Deb's a mother to a "tiny human", but nearly each and every entry is a winner.
David Lebovitz: An American Abroad
Maybe you're not into barbecue. Maybe you have a more refined palate. Maybe you could see yourself living the life of an American expat in Paris. David Lebovitz has a blog for you.
A former pastry chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, David moved to Paris in 2002 and has lived there since, in a tiny apartment close to the Bastille. He's a real character, with a far more forceful personality than most food bloggers. He's very active on Twitter and leads frequent culinary tours of Paris for curious visitors.
David posts recipes often—most often for baked goods, sweets, and cocktails, but sometimes covering side dishes and even main courses—but his site is about equally divided between travelogues, restaurant reviews, and helpful kitchen tips and techniques. If you want to know how to make authentic French pastries, breads, and cookies—or if you want to experience extreme jealousy—look no further.
These five are just a taste of the culinary riches out there on the world wide web. Here's a list of some other favorites!
Photo: Erich Ferdinand, Flickr [CC-by-2.0]