The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop

The Useful Book: 201 Life Skills They Used to Teach in Home Ec and Shop

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“Master everyday tasks and take on a variety of projects and repairs around the house [with] this DIY encyclopedia” (The Buffalo News).

A modern and energetically designed reference 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 twenty-first-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.

“Married couple Sharon Bowers and David Bowers serve as mom-and-pop guides through the never-ending task of housekeeping in this handy book of how-tos . . . Readers learning to live on their own will want to have this book on hand.” —Publishers Weekly

“Anyone who studiously read the book cover to cover would become the paragon jack of all trades.”—Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780761187141
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Publication date: 06/14/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 417
Sales rank: 135,429
File size: 52 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

David Bowers is a woodworker, painter, author of Bake Like a Man: A Real Man’s Cookbook, and stay-at-home dad.

Sharon Bowers contributes to iVillage and Parents magazine, and is the author of Ghoulish Goodies, Candy Construction, and The Idiot’s Guide to Cooking Chicken.

Read an Excerpt



Cooking Sewing 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.




Baking powder Nuts Baking soda Olive oil Bouillon cubes (beef, chicken, vegetable) Pasta Bread Peanut butter Canned beans (black,
cannellini, kidney, pinto) Raisins Canned tomatoes Rice Canned soups Rolled oats Chocolate chips Soy sauce Cocoa Spices and dried herbs Coffee Sugar (brown and white)
Cooking oil Tea Cornmeal Tomato paste Cornstarch Tuna Flour Vanilla extract Honey Vinegar Hot sauce Worcestershire sauce


Butter or margarine Ketchup Cheeses Lettuce Cottage or ricotta cheese Mayonnaise Cucumber Mustard Eggs Orange (or other fruit) juice Fresh herbs (basil, parsley, rosemary) Plain yogurt Jam or jelly Sour cream


Apples Grapefruit Bananas Jam or jelly Cabbage Lemons Carrots Onions Celery Oranges Garlic Potatoes Ginger Sweet Potatoes


Bread Hamburger (in 1 or ½
pound packs)
Chicken breasts and Ice fillets Fish fillets Steak or pork chops Frozen vegetables (corn,
peas, spinach)




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



Hand or stick blender

Stand or handheld electric mixer

Toaster oven

Food processor

Slow cooker



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


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


(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.


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.


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.

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 stepby- 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.


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.


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.


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?

Green yolk is simply a formation of ferrous sulfide where the yolk meets the white. This normal, harmless, chemical reaction occurs when the yolk's iron touches the white's hydrogen sulfide. Yolks and whites cook at different temperatures, and overcooking contributes to this unsightly coloration. To prevent it, start with cold eggs in cold water, and once the eggs are cooked, plunge them into an ice-water bath to stop the cooking process.

Why are my egg whites rubbery?

Simply put: overcooking. Egg whites are largely protein, and like meat, when overcooked, they become tough. Start with cold water and cold eggs in order to gently raise the temperature of the whites while ensuring that heat permeates to the center in order to fully cook the yolk.

All of my boiled eggs are cracked. Help!

Never stack eggs — cook them in a single layer. This will reduce jostling. Also, as eggs cook, the gases inside them expand, forming hairline cracks and holes in the shell. Bringing an egg to high heat rapidly causes an internal explosion. Start cold and heat gradually.


If a box of eggs has been sitting in your fridge for two to three weeks, hard-boil them all. Not only will they last another week or so, but you can make ...

Egg Salad: Dice or mash the whole peeled eggs with a fork and add mayonnaise, salt, pepper, diced celery, chopped scallions, chives, parsley, or any other aromatic that catches your fancy.


Excerpted from "The Useful Book"
by .
Copyright © 2016 Sharon and David Bowers.
Excerpted by permission of Workman Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Learning how to feed yourself starts here,
How to Boil Water,
How to Boil an Egg,
How to Peel a Boiled Egg,
How to Crack an Egg,
How to Whip Cream,
How to Stock Up,
How to Be a Thrifty Shopper,
How to Freeze Hamburger Meat,
How to Buy an Apple,
Care and Handling of Lettuce,
How to Care For Iceberg Lettuce,
How to Make Vinaigrette,
How to Make Caesar Salad,
How to Zest a Lemon,
How to Juice a Lemon,
How to Cut a Lemon Wedge Garnish,
How to Chop an Onion,
How to Measure Flour,
How to Knead Bread Dough,
How to Make a Sandwich,
How to Refresh Stale Bread,
How to Make Bread Crumbs,
How to Make Croutons,
How to Make Pizza,
How to Have Dinner Ready in Thirty Minutes,
How to Make Soup,
How to Grill Vegetables,
How to Sauté Vegetables,
How to Steam Vegetables,
How to Roast Vegetables,
How to Blanch Vegetables,
How to Chop Broccoli,
How to Make Mashed Potatoes,
How to Cook a Steak,
How to Cook Lamb Chops,
How to Cook Chicken Breasts,
How to Roast a Chicken,
How to Brine a Bird,
How to Braise Beef,
How to Make a Pot of Chili,
How to Fry Chicken,
How to Cook a French Fry,
How to Cook a Pot of Beans,
How to Cook Rice,
How to Roll a Burrito,
How to Make Maki,
How to Cook with Tofu,
How to Repurpose Common Leftovers,
How to Start Canning,
How to Make Perfect Piecrust,
How to Peel an Apple,
How to Cream Butter, Sugar, and Eggs,
How to Make Cookies,
How to Frost a Birthday Cake,
How to Make Ice Cream,
How to Make Sorbet in a Bag,
How to Make a Pot of Coffee,
How to Clean a Coffeemaker,
How to Brew a Cup of Tea,
How to (Mostly) Decaffeinate Your Tea,
How to Make Iced Tea,
How to Clean Your Kitchen,
Simple tasks like sewing a button are impressive when done the right way,
How to Thread a Needle,
How to Care For Your Needles,
How to Sew on a Button,
How to Make Your Own Sewing Kit,
How to Baste,
How to Attach a Snap,
How to Fix a Rip in Your Jeans,
How to Fix a Hole in Your Shirt,
How to Hem Pants,
How to Hem the No-Sew Way,
How to Thread a Sewing Machine,
How to Hem a Skirt,
How to Make a Pillow,
How to Make a Comfy No-Sew Fleece Pillow,
How to Make a Super-Easy No-Sew Knot Pillow,
How to Make an Apron,
How to Install a Zipper,
How to Fix A Broken Pull,
How to Fix a Separated Zipper,
From laundry labels to shrunken sweater care,
How to Read a Laundry Label,
How to Sort a Heap of Dirty Clothes for Washing,
How to Remove Ketchup from a White Shirt,
How to Wash a Load of Clothes,
How to Wash a Down Comforter,
How to Care for a Sweater,
How to Save a Shrunken Sweater,
How to Dry Sweaters on a Drying Rack,
How to Reshape a Sweater,
How to Fold a Fitted Sheet,
How to Iron a Shirt,
How to Hand-Wash,
How to Hand-Wash Curtains,
How to Make a Dingy T-Shirt White Again,
How to Fold a T-Shirt the Retail-Store Way,
The life-changing magic of keeping a clean home,
How to Hand-Wash a Plate,
How to Load a Dishwasher,
How to Mop a Floor,
How to Vacuum,
How to Make a Bed,
How to Start a Bedroom Routine,
How to Hang Curtains,
How to Remove Gum from a Rug,
How To Erase an Ink Spill from Carpet,
How to Remove Pet Stains from Carpet,
The Poop on Poop,
How to "Spring Clean",
A few grace notes for the finishing touches of pleasant living,
How to Make a Household Budget,
How to Set the Table for a Fancy Formal Dinner,
How to Answer a Wedding Invitation,
How to Pack a Suitcase,
How to Tie a Scarf,
How to Tie a Tie,
How to Tie a Necktie on Someone Else,
How to Polish a Pair of Shoes,
How to Write a Thank-You Note,
How to Stock a First-Aid Kit,
Your home tool kit and how to use it,
How to Hang a Picture,
How to Hang a Shelf,
How to Install a Closet Rod,
How to Patch a Hole in Drywall,
How to Plaster a Wall,
How to Mix Plaster,
How to Repair Cracked Plaster,
How to Prepare a Surface for Painting,
How to Paint a Room,
How to Paint a Faux Finish,
How to Polish Furniture,
How to Strip Paint,
How to Prepare a Wood Surface for Painting,
How to Refinish Furniture,
How to Caulk a Bathtub,
How to Replace a Cracked Tile,
How to Patch Linoleum,
How to Replace a Damaged Section of Carpet,
How to Refinish a Wood Floor,
How to Refinish a Deck,
How to Catch Mice,
How to Repair or Replace a Screen,
How to Weather Strip Windows and Doors,
How to Caulk a Window,
How to Replace a Windowpane,
How to Unblock a Gutter,
How to Repair a Cracked Gutter,
How to Prevent an Ice Dam,
How to Remove an Ice Dam from the Roof,
How to Repair a Crack in a Concrete Driveway,
How to Patch Cracked Asphalt,
The fine art of measuring, cutting, soldering, and making with your hands,
How to Measure Hardwood Boards,
How to Sand Wood,
How to Build a Birdhouse,
How to Build a Picture Frame,
How to Build a Doghouse,
How to Build a Shaker Stool,
How to Build a Chessboard,
How to Make a Butcher Block,
How to Stain Wood,
How to Build a Bookcase,
How to Build a Storage Chest,
How to Build a Table,
How to Make a Spoon Ring,
How to Make Earrings,
How to Make a Decorative Metal Plate,
How to Make Wind Chimes,
Learn to unplug, seal up, and troubleshoot to make all your "pipe dreams" come true.,
How to Stop a Drip,
How to Unclog a Drain,
How to Fix a Burst Pipe,
How to Patch a Pipe,
How to Stop Your Pipes from Freezing,
How to Install a Sump Pump,
How to Fix a Leaky Washing Machine,
How to Replace a Sink Faucet,
How to Replace a Drain Basket,
How to Replace a Toilet,
How to Troubleshoot a Showerhead,
Wires, circuits, fixtures, and switches,
How to Slash Your Electricity Bill,
How to Make a DC Circuit,
How to Install a Dimmer,
How to Install a Light Fixture,
How to Rewire a Lamp,
Keep those wheels and gears turning,
How to Wash a Car,
How to Detail the Interior of a Car,
How to Bang Out a Dent,
How to Fill a Ding or Scratch with Putty,
How to Repaint Your Repair,
How to Change a Windshield Wiper Blade,
How to Fix a Chipped Windshield,
How to Change a Flat Tire,
How to Rotate Tires,
How to Check and Top Off Fluids,
How to Change the Oil,
How to Locate an Oil Leak,
How to Jump a Battery,
How to Sharpen a Lawn Mower Blade,
How to Maintain a Motorcycle,
How to Fix a Flat Tire on a Bicycle,
How to Adjust Bicycle Brakes,
How to Maintain a Bicycle Chain,
How to Tighten a Single-Speed Chain,
How to Align Bicycle Gears,
Conversion Tables,
About the Authors,

Customer Reviews