The Useful Book

201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop


By David Bowers

By Sharon Bowers

Formats and Prices




$15.99 CAD


ebook (Digital original)


ebook (Digital original) $11.99 $15.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around June 14, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

A modern and energetically designed encyclopedia of DIY with everything you need to know to roll up your sleeves and cook it, build it, sew it, clean it, or repair it yourself. In other words, everything you would have learned from your shop and home ec teachers, if you’d had them.

The Useful Book features 138 practical projects and how-tos, with step-by-step instructions and illustrations, relevant charts, sidebars, lists, and handy toolboxes. There’s a kitchen crash course, including the must-haves for a well-stocked pantry; how to boil an egg (and peel it frustration-free); how to grill, steam, sauté, and roast vegetables. There’s Sewing 101, plus how to fold a fitted sheet, tie a tie, mop a floor, make a bed, and set the table for a formal dinner.

Next up: a 21st-century shop class. The tools that everyone should have, and dozens of cool projects that teach fundamental techniques. Practice measuring, cutting, and nailing by building a birdhouse. Make a bookshelf or a riveted metal picture frame. Plus: do-it-yourself plumbing; car repair basics; and home maintenance, from priming and painting to refinishing wood floors.


Home Ec



Laundry & Clothing

Domestic Arts

Life Skills


Are you going to spend the rest of your life calling for takeout when you're hungry? The fascinating little secret about being able to cook is being able to make what you want, and make it taste the way you want it to, at any time you like. The other interesting thing to know is that it's not that hard. Learn some basics and pretty soon you can improvise like a pro.

Dry, Canned, Fresh, Frozen...
A Full Pantry
In the Pantry

Baking powder


Baking soda

Olive oil

Bouillon cubes (beef, chicken, vegetable)



Peanut butter

Canned beans (black, cannellini, kidney, pinto)


Canned tomatoes


Canned soups

Rolled oats

Chocolate chips

Soy sauce


Spices and dried herbs


Sugar (brown and white)

Cooking oil



Tomato paste




Vanilla extract



Hot sauce

Worcestershire sauce

In the Refrigerator

Butter or margarine




Cottage or ricotta cheese





Orange (or other fruit) juice

Fresh herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary)

Plain yogurt

Jam or jelly

Sour cream

In the Vegetable Basket & In the Fruit Bowl




Jam or jelly










Sweet Potatoes

In the Freezer


Hamburger (in 1 or ½ pound packs)

Chicken breasts and fillets


Fish fillets

Steak or pork chops

Frozen vegetables (corn, peas, spinach)

Cooking Tool Kit
Pots & Pans


Large cast-iron skillet

Insulated baking sheet

Baking sheets, with and without rims

Muffin tin

Steamer basket

Stainless steel saucepans

Stoneware or glass casseroles and baking dishes

Nonstick sauté or omelet pan

Dutch oven

Stock pot

Loaf pan

Power Appliances


Hand or stick blender

Stand or handheld electric mixer

Toaster oven

Food processor

Slow cooker


Knives & Utensils

Pastry brush


Vegetable peeler

Slotted spoon

Large chef's knife

Midsize utility knife

Paring knife

Serrated bread knife

Meat cleaver


Garlic press

Small grater/zester for citrus, nutmeg, or Parmesan (Microplane)

Potato masher

Standard spatula

Can opener


Extra-large serving spoons

Wooden spoons

Rubber or silicone spatula

Frosting spatula



Kitchen shears

Miscellaneous Equipment

Magnetic knife rack

Plastic cutting board

Wooden cutting board

Salad spinner

Cup and spoon measures


Large and small mixing bowls

Salt and pepper mills


Measuring cup


How to Boil Water

(The First Step to Cooking at Home)

There are fancier culinary techniques, but I can't think of many foods that can't be cooked in (or over) a pot of boiling water. Simple, straightforward, accessible. If you're ever stumped about what to make for a meal, put a pot of water on the stove, open your refrigerator and pantry, and start grabbing what looks good. Within minutes, you could be heading down the road toward chicken salad, spaghetti and meatballs, vegetable soup, or deviled eggs.

1 Pick your pot. Always use one bigger than you think you'll need in order to accommodate the displacement of the water by the food you'll be adding. (If you bring your water to a boil and then add, say, a bunch of potatoes, once the water reaches the boiling point again, it'll spill over onto your stovetop.)

2 Fill your pot with cold water. (But don't fill it all the way to the top!) It feels counterintuitive to use cold water, but hot water has been sitting in your taps longer, possibly pulling unwanted residue from your pipes.

3 Put the pot on a burner set to high heat. You can always reduce the heat later if you are after a simmer or a gentle poach.

4 Cover your pot with a close-fitting lid. This prevents steam from escaping and speeds up the process.

Try An Electric Kettle

The fastest and most efficient way to boil water is in an electric kettle, which can bring two quarts to 212 degrees Fahrenheit in less than two minutes. It's an inexpensive gadget that can make your life a lot easier. Boil the kettle, pour it in the pot, and speed up dinner.

What's the Point?

The boiling point is the temperature at which a liquid becomes a gas. Water's boiling point is 212 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius) at sea level. A higher elevation will change the equation: The lower the air pressure (that is, at higher altitudes), the easier it is for water molecules to push out of their liquid prison. In a nutshell, water will boil at the top of a mountain at 185 degrees Fahrenheit. That means, if you're trying to boil an egg, you'll have to leave it in the pot longer. So cooking times will vary from Albuquerque to Aspen, and if your dish must reach a specific temperature to be safe to eat, it's smart to have an instant-read thermometer at the ready.

Worth your salt?

Adding anything to water—salt included—elevates its boiling point, increasing the time it takes the water to bubble. The difference in temperature between unsalted and salted water—based on a ratio of 1 teaspoon of salt per quart of water—is 1 or 2 degrees Fahrenheit, a difference that can matter for foods that cook quickly and in recipes that require precision. (The same principle applies to so-called hard water, which has a high mineral content.)

Some recipes call for salt in the water because it makes for a hotter boil, which cooks foods faster and more thoroughly. Mostly, though, salting simply adds flavor. For pasta, you'll want to salt the water in the cooking pot just as it comes to a boil. The salt dissolves in the water, and the pasta absorbs some of it as it cooks, so it gets salted from the inside out. If you salt already cooked pasta, it can't permeate the toothsome noodles. For a 4-quart pot, add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.

Top Ten Reasons to Cook

To nourish your body, mind, and soul, nothing beats the fruits of your own labor, in your own kitchen. Here are ten reasons why:

1. It's cheaper. Dining out means paying a mark-up on your meals to cover the restaurant's operating costs, plus tipping the staff (not to mention the cost of getting there and back). If you outline your menus in advance, stock your pantry, use coupons, buy in bulk, and prepare batches to freeze, you can really stretch your food dollar.

2. It's healthier. American restaurants often plate portions that are 30 to 50 percent larger than the recommended size. And diners often view meals out as a splurge or treat, which can translate to fried food, dishes drenched in melted cheese, or big hunks of red meat, as well as sugary drinks and desserts. In short, lots of what's bad for you. At home, you control the freshness (therefore peak nutritional content) of foods, as well as choose the fat, salt, and sugar content of sauces and condiments. Plating your own food gives you control over portion sizes and helps prevent unwanted weight gain.

Left: recommended portion
Right: restaurant portion

3. You get what you want. Hate mushrooms? Don't put them in the sauce. Love black pepper? Grind away without the embarrassment of having to signal for more . . . more . . . just a little more. If you're gluten free, you don't have to wonder if the chef really used rice flour in that batter—because you're the chef.

4. It saves you time. By the time you decide on a restaurant, walk or drive yourself there, wait for your food, and eat it or bring it home and serve it, you could have easily made a salad, omelet, pasta dish, burger, or stir-fry from scratch. If you've cooked ahead and stored individual portions, it takes just a quick reheat and some garnishing before you are ready to sit down to a wholesome meal in a matter of minutes.

5. You can balance your diet. At home, you're not limited to "one from column A and one from column B." By serving yourself appropriate combinations of foods from the Food and Drug Administration's recommended guidelines—once a pyramid, now a plate—you can ensure you are getting the proper daily balance of fat, protein, carbohydrates, and fiber.

6. You're less likely to get food poisoning. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that about 75 million people per year in the United States experience food poisoning. Food-borne pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites can sicken or even kill. Improper cooking temperatures, cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods, and poor sanitation are risk factors. At home, you can control cooking temperatures, sanitize surfaces and hands, and properly wash raw produce—steps often overlooked or skipped by inexperienced or rushed employees in fast-food kitchens.

7. It promotes friendship and family. Planning meals, cooking side by side, laying the table with special touches, and relaxing over good food and conversation bond people together. For humans, eating means survival. Sharing food is like a primal signal for "I've got your back."

8. Practice makes perfect. Or at the very least, practice assures progress. If you think you can't cook, there's no better cure for that than getting in the kitchen. If you start by following step-by-step recipes, with repetition, you'll begin to identify basic techniques such as searing, thickening sauces, and caramelizing vegetables, and they'll become muscle memory. Soon, you'll be able to grab ingredients from the fridge and cook a meal without cracking a book.

9. It's good for the planet. Restaurant dining leaves a pretty huge carbon footprint: Driving there requires fuel, sit-down restaurants generate lots of food waste (think of the uneaten breadbaskets that must be dumped), and takeout restaurants require a veritable mountain of wrappers, containers, and disposable cutlery.

10. It gives you a sense of pride. Whether it's building bookshelves, knitting a scarf, or preparing a nourishing and delicious dinner, we feel a sense of accomplishment when we create something from nothing and embellish it with unique personal touches.

A Boil by Any Other Name

Scald. A moist-heat cooking technique using liquid or steam to help dissolve solids such as salt, sugar, chocolate, or flour. Think hot cocoa: scalded milk with sugar and cocoa powder dissolved into it.

Poach. The gentlest boil. Use this technique for foods that can fall apart, dry out, or overcook easily. Poaching preserves the flavor of delicate foods. Think fish, eggs (out of the shell), pears, and chicken breasts.

Blanch. A French cooking technique whereby you plunge food briefly into rapidly boiling water to cook it but maintain its color and crispness. Think haricots verts (green beans) and asparagus. Also used to loosen the skins on soft fruits such as tomatoes and peaches, so they can be easily slid off.

Simmer. Stopping just short of a boil, with liquid cooking at 180 to 205 degrees Fahrenheit so that the flavor isn't cooked away and the amount of liquid isn't reduced. Think stocks and soups.

Rolling boil. The most vigorous boil, often called for when a food isn't introduced until the liquid is as hot as possible. Think pasta.

Reduce, aka "making a reduction." Used to thicken and intensify the flavor of a liquid by boiling off the water. Often done in a wide, shallow pan with no lid in order to enable evaporation. Think glazes and sauces.

Nuke It! Boiling Liquids in the Microwave

You can use your microwave to boil, but be extremely cautious of "superheating." This occurs when water heats past the boiling point without forming bubbles to release air, then erupts in a dangerous, scalding volcano. Here are some tips for safer microwaving:

Before heating, stir the liquid thoroughly to add air.

Before heating, place a nonmetal object in your bowl or cup to encourage the formation of bubbles. A wooden chopstick works well.

Heat in short stints, carefully stirring at intervals.

Heat in a vessel with an irregular interior. Ridges and bumps offer what scientists call a "nucleation site," serving as a starting point for bubbling.


How to Boil an Egg

Just drop an egg in boiling water, right? Sure, you'll wind up with something technically edible that way, but to avoid pitfalls like funky green yolks and rubbery whites, read on. Just a little care is all that's needed for boiled eggs that are tender, creamy, and fresh tasting.

1 Start with cold eggs from the refrigerator, and place them in a single layer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or pot with a tightly fitting lid.

2 Cover with cold water, to at least 1 inch above the top of the eggs.

3 Place the pot over medium heat, uncovered, and bring to a rolling boil.

4 Remove the pot from the heat, cover it, and let it stand for 12 minutes to hard-boil and 6 minutes to soft-boil.

5 Using a heatproof slotted spoon, scoop out the eggs and place them in a bowl of ice water. Let stand for 10 minutes.

6 Peel and serve right away (see How to Peel a Boiled Egg) or refrigerate the unpeeled eggs for up to a week.

Tip: If you notice the white seeping out of a cracked egg during boiling, add a little vinegar to the water. This helps the proteins in the egg white coagulate faster, sealing the crack.


How to Peel a Boiled Egg

Nothing dampens enthusiasm for this tasty, high-protein snack like the struggle to free it from its natural wrapper. Here's how to peel eggs with ease and keep the whites smooth and even.

1 Start with older eggs. The higher pH of older eggs strengthens the membrane, making it easier to separate from the white. Eggs less than 3 days old are harder to peel. I like to keep eggs in the fridge for up to 2 weeks before boiling them, for easier peeling. Don't know how old your eggs are? Put them in a bowl of water. If they stand on their ends, they're old enough. (Older eggs have bigger air cells, the concave part at the flat end of a hard-boiled egg.)

2 Before boiling your eggs, do one of the following: Make a crack or pinhole in the large end of the uncooked eggs. (This allows carbon dioxide to escape.) Add a teaspoon of salt to each quart of egg-boiling water. (When salt permeates the egg, its proteins coagulate and firm up, making the white easier to pull from the shell.)

3 After removing the cooked eggs from the hot water (see How to Boil an Egg), gently crack the shells before plunging them into ice water.

Tip: You can avoid the peeling issue completely by slicing the whole, boiled egg, shell on, in half with a very sharp knife, then scooping out the good stuff with a fine-edged spoon.

Boiled Eggs: Troubleshooting

Ick! My yolk is green. Can I still eat it?


On Sale
Jun 14, 2016
Page Count
448 pages

David Bowers

David Bowers

About the Author

David Bowers is the author of Dad's Own Guide to Housekeeping and Bake Like a Man: A Real Man’s Cookbook. He lives in New York City and Dublin, Ireland.

Sharon Bowers is the author of Ghoulish Goodies, Candy Construction, and The Lazy Way to Cook Your Meals. She lives in New York City and Dublin, Ireland

Learn more about this author

Sharon Bowers

Sharon Bowers

About the Author

Sharon Bowers is the author of Ghoulish Goodies, Candy Construction, and The Lazy Way to Cook Your Meals. She lives in New York City and Dublin, Ireland

David Bowers is the author of Dad's Own Guide to Housekeeping and Bake Like a Man: A Real Man’s Cookbook. He lives in New York City and Dublin, Ireland.

Learn more about this author