Best Food Blogs for Aspiring Cooks

Newsflash: If you have an internet connection and/or cable TV, you cannot claim total ignorance of cooking. Not anymore. Sorry!

Reality TV series like “Top Chef” get staggering ratings, which underlines something we already know: Americans like to eat, especially when someone else is cooking. But they can be misleading – not all of us can pull off the feats of culinary prowess that make these shows so compelling to watch. And I fear sometimes they intimidate instead of inspire.College students and grads can teach themselves TopChef-worthy cooking skills online.

When I first started cooking for myself during college, I had one goal in mind: to make delicious food that I already knew I liked. I figured I could taste my way around it.

After a few epic fails, and some serious Googling, I armed myself with a set of “real” knives, a few pots and pans, and a list of recipes I wanted to master.  Just a few years later, I cook every night, and I rarely glance at a recipe except for inspiration or to brush up on a particular technique. 

And no:  I didn’t have money, or a pantry full of exotic ingredients, or culinary training. I had a love of food; that, I suppose, is inborn.

But what really made the difference wasn’t my palate or my chef’s knife. It was my internet connection.

My Top 5 Food Blogs and Web Resources for Wannabe Chefs

Today, I turn to the same online places, again and again, for inspiration, a sense of community, and on occasion, a new idea, technique, or recipe that would have seemed out of my league just a short time ago. (That is, before I started reading food blogs in earnest.)

Here are five of my favorite distracting, mouthwatering, recipe- and tip-laden places on the worldwide web. And trust me - if I can cook this stuff, so can you.

  1. 20-something Cathy Erway’s Not Eating Out in New York: Consuming Less, Eating More. I started reading Cathy’s blog around the time she started it, in 2006, when she made a public commitment to not eat out in New York City. At all. I loved this gutsy move, but I also loved that her recipes were down-to-earth and included a health and cost calculator (and today, a green calculator too). For most of 2006 and 2007, I lived in Brooklyn too, even bumping into Cathy once at my local bar and gasping a fan-struck “hi, I love your blog!” at her. Truth is, even though she’s published a book and become a (foodie) household name, Cathy’s charm is her gift to demonstrate that great food can be done simply, even in a tiny galley kitchen in the Big Apple.
  2. Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes. Elise’s site isn’t the most beautiful or the most glamorous. But every time I am looking for a specific recipe or technique, it’s the first URL I tap into my keyboard. Why? She delivers simple, clear, diverse recipes (from Cucumber Raita to grilled sausage), categorized by type, and responds religiously to her zillions of comments – which are great, because they often suggest workable variations. Elise’s recipes are easy, delicious, and have never, ever failed me.
  3. The holy grail community site for home chefs, restaurant eaters, and foodies of all stripes: Chowhound. From discussion boards on everything from food media, new cookbooks, wine, and home cooking, to boards on every region in the U.S. and many international ones, to a how-to video series, to a blog, to a daily recipe (cocktails too), to user-submitted recipes, to seasonal features… Chowhound is Mecca for the internet-educated home chef. Got an ingredient you don’t know what to do with? Ask on the home cooking boards. Or pitch into sticky threads about weird things you make when you eat alone. It’s addictive!
  4. Molly Wizenberg’s gorgeous Orangette. I have followed Molly’s beautiful, soft-focus food photography and poetic waxing on brown bag chickpea salads through a wedding, a book, and now, her very own restaurant. The writing is top-notch, part memoir, part blog, part recipe – and the food, luxurious yet simple. (Top of the page at the time of writing: fennel ice cream.)
  5. Deb over at the equally beautiful (and even more accessible) Smitten Kitchen. Lush photos belie simple, delicious recipes that, in the blogger’s own words, are mostly “comfort foods stepped up.” One of my best friends, who had sworn off cooking, has become so enamored of Deb that she actually made dessert last Thanksgiving for her family – based on a Smitten Kitchen recipe. If the measure of a great food blog is its ability to teach, and to drive kitchen-phobes to take their sweaters out of the oven, then this is one of the biggest winners. Plus, she has great resources, like a conversion chart, and tutorials on basics (poaching eggs is harder than you think!).

Honorable mentions to The Pioneer Woman Cooks, 101 Cookbooks, Mark Bittman, The Wednesday Chef, Chez Pim, and about three dozen other blogs I read on a rotating basis that I dearly love, too. Who are your favorite food bloggers for basics and beyond?

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About the Author: Lindsey Donner

Lindsey Donner, is a writer who graduated magna cum laude from NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study in 2006. Her diverse experience includes working as managing editor of an English newspaper in Mexico and copyediting a novel about Cleopatra in the Czech Republic. In 2009, Lindsey launched her own design and writing consultancy, Well Versed Creative. Be sure to read her blog about the business of writing.

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