I hope you enjoy Starting from Scratch, my second book, published each week online, one chapter at a time. Before the book’s final publication, I hope to sprinkle readers’ thoughts, opinions and advice throughout. After all, you each have helpful systems and solutions in the kitchen worth sharing. In addition, for each section, I’m food bloggers and culinary experts – for this excerpt, it’s Dani Spies, author of a wonderful blog in her name.

Cookbooks

During my first semester of college, I took an entry level Chemistry course as part of my pre-med curriculum. When I made my first-ever C, I was devastated! Yet my instructors convinced me not to worry. They’d say: “After you have taken 2-3 Chemistry courses, the first course starts to make sense. You simply can’t understand what you first learn until you learn more.”

Like Chemistry, cooking and reading about the subject make more sense once you experiment a bit more.

To get inspired and educated, cookbooks, magazines and food blogs are great starting points. You simply have to find the resources that fit your skill and interest level – there are some are for more advanced chefs and some for beginners, ones for those with all the time in the world to chop, simmer and stir and ones geared towards those who simply don’t have many hours each day to experiment in the kitchen.

Make sure you choose accordingly! Otherwise, you might get frustrated and give up! Don’t take on more than you can chew. Just chew on something that tastes good.

Cookbooks

One of my favorite cookboos is the award winning, License to Grill. Not only was Chris Schlesinger and John Willoughby’s wonderful restaurant, East Coast Grill, a few blocks from my old worn-down brownstone in Cambridge, Massachusetts, but the recipes in this book are never-fail. The chefs suggest unusual combinations of flavors – both in the rubs and the sauces/salsas/toppings – and the dishes are usually easy to prepare. The book provides background information, substitute ingredients and hints for cooking to the exact right doneness.

I also adore my Jamie Oliver cookbooks. He, also, is good at giving the at-home chef a warning if a dish is hard to prepare or deserves a few extra tricks of the trade. Not all of his recipes are easy to prepare, but most are worth the extra effort, if additional prep and cook time are required. A few of the cookbooks I have on hand (for now anyway) are: Jamie Oliver: the Naked Chef Takes Off, Jamie Oliver: Jamie’s Kitchen, The Naked Chef and Cook with Jamie. His most recent selection, Jamie’s Food Revolution, includes a range of easy and delicious dishes.

I have several Ina Garten cookbook’s as well. These are: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa at Home. Though the desserts contain a bit more butter than I would recommend for healthy eating, they certainly taste good if you are out to impress. Many of the main dishes are wonderful as well. Her newest #1 bestseller is Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics, includes a number of great dishes with simple ingredients.

The Moosewood Cookbook is a treasure, as well as The Moosewood Restaurant Kitchen Garden, which provides a wealth of information on growing herbs and vegetables.

Dani recommends Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison: “This is a great book if you are trying to get more veggies into your diet or don’t know what to do with all the veggies in the bottom of your drawer!”

Time-tested treasures like Joy of Cooking are dependable resources for cooking the basics.

Magazines

Thanks to the recession and declining ad revenues, Gourmet Magazine is no longer with us, at least not printed format. Fortunately, however, Bon Appétit is still in circulation. This magazine seems to in touch with today’s chef and his/her time restrictions. Many of the recipes provide suggestions on what can be prepared ahead of time and what is easier to prepare in the first place.

Two other great magazines with lots of basic tips are Cuisine at Home and Cooks Illustrated. The latter explains much of the science behind the cooking, and includes tips for a variety of kitchen tasks. The magazine is known for testing recipes, kitchen equipment and ingredients, and it shares these reviews with readers. This can be incredibly helpful and educational! Though the formats are fairly similar, Cuisine at Home includes more color photos to guide one’s culinary efforts.

I used to be a Cooking Light groupie. Then I spent way too much time making reduced fat desserts loaded with sugar. Today, however, the magazine comes full circle by offering healthy alternatives to the usual fattening dish. And many are quick and easy to make.

Dani likes Clean Eating Magazine, a publication filled with super easy, nutritious recipes and cooking tips.

There are other magazines which aren’t necessarily cooking ones, but include great and easy recipes. My two favorites are Real Simple and Sunset Magazine. Not to mention, whenever I am waiting for an appointment or getting my hair cut, I can find a recipe I like in most any magazine. (Think they’ll notice if I cut it out and take it with me?).

Online

Though organic Google searches will lead with recipes from Epicurious, AllRecipes.com, FoodNetwork.com and Cooks.com, there are over 11,000 food blogs with wonderful recipes, too. Some of my favorites are the wonderful ones written and hosted by contributors to my book, including Dani’s site, A Couple Cooks, and Ask Georgie. How2Heroes is another great site with videos for cooking almost anything (and Lynne is awfully cool, too). I also enjoy No Take Out, Mark Bittman, Simple Bites and many others.

Dani’s favorites include Elana’s Pantry, rich with gluten-free recipes, and Food Blogga, a popular blog by Susan Russo.

Like a good book, cooking magazines and cookbooks can provide hours of entertainment and escapism. As such, reading about food online can swallow more time than you might intend. If you really read the recipes, you can learn lots about how to cook, what to cook and what types of challenges you’re likely to tackle.

What are your favorites? I’d love to hear.

About Dani

Dani Spies, HHC, AADP is a L.A. based Health Counselor and an ACSM Certified Fitness Trainer.  She is a graduate of The Institute of Integrative Nutrition in New York City and holds a B.A. in Psychology from William Paterson University.

Her blog, danispies.com, is all about making good food SUPER EASY so people can eat well and feel great! She created the site four years ago to reach others wanting to learn more about nutritious ingredients and simple cooking techniques. She uses both written recipes and short videos to demonstrate how easy this can be.

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