Learning to Cook

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham

Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham

The Splendid Table used to be on on Sundays at noon on my local NPR station, and for a long time I couldn’t listen to it because it drove me nuts, it can be just so pretentious, but then either I got used to it or it got less pretentious (or I got more pretentious? hmm…) and I started listening to it most weeks and then they changed the time and it’s now in the middle of something else I’d rather listen to so I don’t listen to it anymore.

But back when I was listening to it, someone called in during the Q&A portion of the show and said she was a really bad cook, nothing ever turned out right for her, but she really wanted to learn and wondered if Lynne Rossetto Kasper had any suggestions for basic cookbooks for beginner cooks.

I was standing in the kitchen saying, “Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham! Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham!” like it was Jeopardy or something — Baton Rouge, Cindy, Baton Rouge! — but Lynne Rossetto Kasper said, “How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.” And I said NO! Wrong Answer!

Nobody ever listens to me.

Especially when I am in my kitchen and they are on the radio.

But I decided that around graduation season I would put up a post telling people that if they want to get something useful for any graduates in their life, they should get Learning to Cook with Marion Cunningham.

The book emerged from a series of classes Marion Cunningham taught for people who wanted to learn how to cook but knew absolutely nothing. She field tested all the recipes on the people in the class and revised and clarified based on things they had problems with or questions they had. So everything is explained in remarkable, painstaking, excruciating detail, yet it is not at all condescending. It’s like having some very nice neighbor take you under her wing and tell you everything you need to know and give you a whole bunch of really great, simple recipes that cover the basics across a range of things you might want to make — appetizers, soups, salads, meat entrées, a whole section on chicken (called “Thank Goodness for Chicken”), meatless main courses, salads, desserts.

I really love this cookbook and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

9 Responses to “Learning to Cook”

  1. Valerie Says:

    I’ve always loved Marion Cunninghams’ works, and I think her book has it all over Mark Bittman’s–his is good, but you can really see the difference between the two.

    RE: The Splendid Table–did you know you could hear their weekly programs directly off their website–it’s even divided into portions if you prefer to just choose one bit out of the program, and ignore what you don’t want to hear. I think they are also available as podcasts over iTunes.

  2. Chazley Says:

    That sounds terrific. I wish I’d had this book. I learned to cook by trial and error, mostly. And looking up terms on the internet. Blanch? Broil? But it all worked out okay. Now I even make my own pasta sauces from scratch.

  3. megan Says:

    I only can listen to like 15 minutes of her program and then I get tired of it. I always call her “Lynne Risotto Kasper”.

  4. Amy B Maine Says:

    I will look for this book! I have the Bittman book but, I have to say, I don’t like his cooking, for some reason. I do enjoy Jaime Oliver’s cooking videos for learners. He always ends his video with “pass it on!” as in, teach your friends to cook as well. Kind of like your blog!

  5. lessisenough Says:

    I know what you mean about 15 minutes of the program, Megan. I would rarely listen to the whole thing, but would catch parts and I think built up a tolerance that way. And then just when I was getting used to it they switched it. But I don’t like it enough to listen on the web or get a podcast. Though I’ve been using that for This American Life, which had its schedule switched around so many times that I gave up trying to keep track of it, and also for Fresh Air interviews that I hear parts of or whatever. It’s great being able to go in and just get what you want.

    And I really like the idea of Mark Bittman, the “minimalist” cook, but I don’t find him all that minimalist. I looked at The Minimalist Cooks at Home and thought a lot of the recipes seemed kind of fussy. But I know a lot of people like him so I was going to give it another chance but then haven’t managed to get my hands on it to spend more time with it. And How to Cook Everything looks useful in the sense that it covers everything but I haven’t been compelled enough to purchase it. I think it’s probably more updated than my “everything” cookbooks, which are The Joy of Cooking (two versions, one 40s/50s ish and one 70s/80s ish), and a 70s ish Betty Crocker plaid cookbook. I also have Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone which covers a lot and it pretty good, but also a little fussy.

    Marion Cunningham is definitely old-school, no nonsense. I like it especially for meat — things like pot roast — since when I started cooking I couldn’t afford meat so I never really learned how to cook anything other than stir-fry. She doesn’t assume you know anything, and that’s what I need.

  6. Christine Says:

    I was practically jumping up and down when I saw this post of yours. YES!!

    This is a cookbook that I always recommend for beginners. I got it many years ago, and it has wonderful treasures in it, even for experienced cooks. But for the beginners, it is invaluable.

    Oddly enough, not many folks are familiar with this wonderful cookbook. They *may* have heard of the author, but most likely not.

    I just wanted to tell you that you made my day/night.

  7. lessisenough Says:

    It’s good to know that someone shares my enthusiasm for this cookbook and understands why I was in my kitchen yelling at the radio.

    My favorite Marion Cunningham cookbook is The Supper Book, though I’m not sure if it’s still in print. It’s filled with simple, simple recipes that are all good. Like the minimalist cookies I posted a while back

  8. Christine Says:

    I think I have all of her cookbooks, and yes The Supper Book is a treasure. I make the cornbread from that book pretty often. I have had friends from the deep south tell me that is the best cornbread they have ever had.

    If you don’t have her book Lost Recipes, get it. It is on par with The Supper Book, and may even be better. I know that one is still in print, cause I just got it in the last 6 months.

    In her Learning to Cook book, I really like the chicken recipe where chicken pieces are roasted on top of vegetables and rosemary. It makes such a wonderful supper, and it is also a great company dish. And so easy to cook.

  9. lessisenough Says:

    Thanks for the tip about Lost Recipes, I’ll look for that.

    Yes, the roasted chicken recipe in Learning to Cook is great. I gave the book to my brother as a gift (even though he knew how to cook already) and I was talking recently to my sister-in-law about how much I liked the cookbook and she said they loved the roasted chicken and made it all the time. She wondered if the other recipes were just as good. Of course I couldn’t come up with any other examples, and then I remembered the Quick Tomato Stew recipe which is so good and has I think 4 or 5 ingredients — bread, stewed tomatoes, tomato juice, and bacon. And maybe onions or garlic. Basically I just love how all of her recipes are so simple and taste great.

    Another cookbook that has a lot of recipes of hers, and I think is where I first found out about her, was The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook. I made a few things from it and started to notice that all of the recipes I really liked were from Marion Cunningham. So then I got some of her other books and just love them.


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