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Starting a Cookbook Collection?

My friend wants to start doing more home cooking. Problem is....she lacks cookbooks. So, for her birthday, she wants cookbooks as gifts. Question is....which ones?

She's mid-30s, NYC urban sophisticate, smart, Cambodian (so Viet/Cambodian recipes not necessary), but very busy. Tell me 5 cookbooks she MUST have.

PS: Though not a deal-breaker, I am a fan of pretty pictures, and I think she may be, too.

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  1. Fanny Farmer Cookbook, Marion Cunningham

    Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan

    All About Braising, Molly Stevens

    The Silver Spoon, published by Phaidon (for lots of pretty pictures)

    How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman

    1. I think one of Ina Garten's books is a great way to start. Her recipes are unintimidating, usually limited to a single page of text,and the results are great. Plus, there are lots of beautiful photos. I particularly like Barefoot Contessa Parties.

      Donna Hay and Nigella Lawson are two other authors that come to mind for their culinary and visual flair.

      1. Before I would start imposing my favorites on someone I would like to know what the recipient is interested in and wants to focus on. Does she like Italian? I called a moritorium of Italian cookbooks in my collection several years ago. I figures 14 was enough and it is not my go-to everyday sort of thing anyway. Southern cookbooks are a passion and I don't seem to get enough French books either. My collection is vast and varied and from all over the globe but I might suggest the Knopf America Cooks series published in the 90's might be a good starting point. They are regional books covering the US from coast to coast and border to border. Good reads too.

        As to All About Braising, that is an opportunist publishers way to sell more books. Braising is covered in more books than you can imagine. Having one just devoted to that technique is just silly, you could argues the same about baking books but it is totally different and baking does require real technique and skill. Braising is much less exacting.

        7 Replies
        1. re: Candy

          Candy, I know you are on the record with your distaste for this book. And yes, many a publisher has been exploitative. I suggest All About Braising because a) it is a comprehensive look at a technique that to me is underutilized; b) is highly recommended on numerous book review sites; c) has been a cookbook of the month here on CH with numerous helpful posts.

          It is nice that you are thoughtful enought to ask for all that background. Hopefully original poster's response will help others make additional helpful responses.

          1. re: MaspethMaven

            Lots of good suggestions on this thread! In fact, even with my present cookbook collection, I have some books to add to my Christmas list to feed my addiction :)

            Just agreeing with MaspethMaven (and Carblover's comment on the quality of "All About Braising"). In all fairness, I don't think the poster who said it was 'silly' has actually cooked from the book. I really like AAB and it could be a great addition to the variety of books you're considering, especially for the cooler weather, and do-ahead entertaining. Either way, you know your friend the best, so I linked to the quintessential review - the timely thread below on the 'Hounds cooking through "AAB" this month. It should help with your decision, on this particular book at least! (BTW, Hazan's "Essentials" that MM also recommended was Chowhound's October's cookbook of the month so you can check that out too -highly recommend that one also).

            Link to "October 2006 Cookbook of the Month: All About Braising":

          2. re: Candy

            Although braising may represent a few dishes in any given cookbook, AAB is for people who want to focus on and master the technique of braising across various cuisines and ingredients. Braising isn't as exacting as say, baking, but Molly Stevens covers braising in detail that's unparalleled IMO.

            That said, I personally wouldn't choose this book as a gift for the kind of friend the OP is describing. It may be too specialized for a starter and doesn't have the sexiest format or photos IMO.

            I'm thinking that the OP should get at least one restaurant-inspired book that is NY-based. Those that come to mind: Balthazar; Babbo; Les Halles; something by Tom Colicchio, Claudia Fleming, Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuellson, etc. May not be everyday books, but would be nice for entertaining.

            I personally like the Balthazar and Babbo books quite a bit. Recipes work too. Colicchio's Think Like a Chef is good for a beginner too.

            Of course, I'm also partial to West Coast books like Zuni Cafe and Chez Panisse.

            1. re: Carb Lover

              I agree with the above about ABB being an excellent cookbook. I find that I am flipping through it constantly and finding new things I want to try. While Carb Lover makes a great point about the book being too specialized for a beginner with lack of sexy format and pics, this may be the reason why it would be a great book for your friend.

              As CL also pointed out, the detail in the book is "unparalleled" and there is wiggle room for mistakes. Timing is not as essential for braising so the chances of a dish coming out fabulous rises. This will give your friend more confidence in trying other forms of cooking. Moreover, Molly Stevens gives you step by step directions and details that will give your friend guidance as to what the dish looks like at every stage of the cooking process. In addition, her timing is spot on. If she says that it will take 8 minutes to brown, it's 8 minutes. Many other cookbooks don't have that accurate detail. I think it is something that beginners will cherish and appreciate. There is always that modicum of doubt during the cooking process of "am I doing this right" or "did I f**k up and have to start over?" while I am not a beginner cook, I never had that doubt because of her directions. Plus the house will smell great and she can use that to torture her BF, friends and neighbors ;-)Once the temperature drops again on the east coast, braising is a great do ahead way to entertain guests.

              I also think the big yellow Gourmet cookbook is another excellent resource. It has become my go to guide on throwing together a meal. Down side - no pics.

              I've flipped through the new Bon Appetit cookbook and for some reason, it doesn't grab me at all. I don't know why but nothing seems that appealing to me.

              I haven't cooked a lot from the Silver Spoon (I had to return it to the library, damnit) but some of the pics didn't look so appetizing. Also, it's huge and overwhelming to go through. It's also really heavy so I was less inclined to read it in bed. Because of that, I tended not to choose recipes from it.

              Zuni Cafe - beautiful book with delicious recipes. But all the recipes are time consuming so it wouldn't be something your friend could use if she wanted an impromptu dinner.

              Marcella's book - also great but no pics.

              Is their a correlation between the utility of the cookbook with the quality of the pictures?

            2. re: Candy

              Candy--Which Southern Cookbooks do you have? Which is the most comprehensive and authentic to you? [I must say--I have to agree with your All About Braising comment. I am not sure why that book gets so much love on this board...]

              1. re: Ora

                Maybe that book gets so much love on this board because braised food is a lot like comfort food for many people. Just musing.

                1. re: Ora

                  Follow this thread http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...
                  we had a discussion about southern books a couple of days ago.

              2. You don't say what her skill level is. Since I'm assuming because she's a professional and New Yorker, she'll want to do a dinner party soon to show off her new skills...

                Dean and Deluca, because it has a wide range of favorites from around the world, from European to Asian. No pictures but great recipes. I use this book all the time.

                Zuni Cafe. Both for technique and beautiful pictures.

                Chez Panisse Vegetables. For reference and introduction to really opening up flavors in veggies.

                Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Simple, earthy yet sophisticated flavors, by season.

                Desserts by Pierre Hermes. Spectacular food porn and also good reference for classic French baking techniques.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Kishari

                  Dean and Deluca is a very good cookbook, but it doesn't have ANY sweets or desserts and is, therefore, limited.

                2. Good follow-up questions, all! And I appreciate your input. Here's the deal. She's got a sophisticated palate and certainly can follow directions, but, given the fact that she has, and, I think, not one cookbook at home, it's probably safe to say that she's not the next Julia Child. Much of the food she'll be cooking will be for entertaining friends at home, or for cooking things she can make for her (and, perhaps, her boyfriend). I also know that seasonal cookbooks might be a good idea, and that she's probably less concerned about detailed technique than about making stuff that tastes great and look good.

                  The Fanny Farmer certainly was on my list, and I'm tempted to get her Silver Spoon, though I just got it, and although cook quite a bit, find it compelling but a bit overwhelming to tackle. I do think one solid Italian certainly would be good, and I'll reserve decision on the Braising book.

                  Keep 'em coming!!

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: skigirl

                    As a person who is self-taught in cooking (my mom checked out on the subject when I was around 14 and I took matters into my own hands), I would say the books that have been the most formative for me, and the ones that I turn to again and again for all kinds of items are:

                    (1) Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking -- personally, I consider this book an essential -- for one, although it is called "French Cooking" it really should just be called "cooking," as the subjects that Julia covers in detail are extensive, thorough, meticulously detailed, and have remedies for when you mess up. It's a great book for everything from how to make salad dressing to how to cook a potato, perfectly. Definitely get her this one.

                    (2) The Silver Palate or New Basics Cookbook by Julee Ross and Sheila Lukins. Once I got past the beginnings of cooking, these books were great for recipes in a variety of cuisines and for a variety of occasions. I might today sub-out this/these books for others, but for a beginning cook, they were pretty inspirational.

                    (3) Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking -- have yet to make a recipe from this book that didn't come out fabulous, and it provides a great foundation for Italian and Medterranian cooking.

                    (4) Personally, I've looked at my mother's copy of Joy of Cooking about once in the past 20 years. It never inspired me, nor provided me with anything I couldn't find better, elsewhere. For an all-purpose cookbook, I would highly recommend Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Recipes and methods are spot-on and easy to understand, and it really does have just about everything I've ever wanted to make listed in there.

                    (5) Number 5 is a tie for me. I'm torn between a book like Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, or something like "Epicure," which was a Junior League cookbook of my mother's which has great day-to-day recipes. I'd save the specialty cookbooks like Sunday Suppers and Lucques or the Zuni Cafe Cookbook for another time -- while beautiful books, they include pretty complicated recipes, not the best for a novice cook. If I were you, I'd use number five for something fun!

                    Edited to add: Actually, instead of book number five, I'd get her a subscription to a cooking magazine. I've gotten Gourmet for years, Saveur and Cooking Light -- all are good for different reasons, but if I had to pick one today, I'd probably say Saveur.

                    Great gift, by the way!

                    1. re: DanaB

                      I think the idea of a subscription is a great idea; the seasonality of the magazines always has them giving you the right idea at the right time; I happen to like Bon Appetit and think it's good for people who'd like to entertain; I got started on cooking by cooking from BA with grad school friends 20 years ago.

                      1. re: DanaB

                        Saveur, while an excellent magazine for reading, does not, IMHO, have many recipes that would fit into an 'everyday' cooks repertoire. I am an accomplished cook and no slacker, but even I am not interested in tackling Saveur recipes as they tend to utilize ingredients that are hard to find and are very time consuming. It is, however, on the top of my 'Must Read' list as it tells wonderful and insightful stories of cuisines from around the world.

                        1. re: DanaB

                          Wow DanaB, I was typing a list and then I saw yours.... um it was the SAME list!

                        2. re: skigirl

                          Here's a suggestion: if she isn't creeped out by old/other people's stuff, buy used books. Many, many cookbooks are given as gifts and never opened or are very lightly used. I hit library book sales, alibris, amazon, etc. and get great cookbooks for pennies on the dollar. This way, you could get her an entire LIBRARY of books for what you'd pay for a few new ones...can you tell that I love gift-giving gestures of excess? If you want to make it extra-special, order some food-themed bookplates printed with her name, playing into the "library of cookbooks" theme.

                          Another thought: if some part of the country (town, county, area) is special to her, you could get a community cookbook from that area...a Fla Keys cookbook to symbolize a great spring break trip you guys took together, etc.

                          1. re: Hungry Celeste

                            This is an excellent suggestion. We have Half Price Books in our area and I have found numerous cookbooks in near perfect condition for petty prices.

                        3. The Joy of Cooking - I still go to this one to get an idea of how a recipe should be and then expand beyond - a great resource for any kitchen

                          1. Other off the beaten track ideas might include...

                            A very decent French cookbook with pretty pictures is the Paris Cafe Cookbook by Daniel Young - I even checked out some of the cafes during my last trip to Paris.

                            For entertaining, I often find myself referring to Penelope Casas's Tapas.

                            Ideas for a decent Italian cookbook for a New Yorker would include Lidia's Italian Table by Lidia Bastanich from Felidia fame and books from Mario Batali - I like the Babbo cookbook (all the ingredients readily available at Fairways)or simpler with good pic would be his Simple Italian Food - she can check out how they are prepared in his restaurants.

                            1. I give every neophyte cook a copy of Rozanne Gold's Cooking 1-2-3. Most 3-ingredient cookbooks are crap, and rely heavily on processed foods, but Gold uses really creative techniques and combinations to create sophisticated recipes that aren't too daunting for the beginning cook. Donna Hay's also good at coaxing attractive presentation and good flavor from limited ingredient lists.

                              My choice for general reference is Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" - I think it's more relevant to the modern cook than either Fanny Farmer or The Joy of Cooking.

                              For seasonal cooking, Faith Willinger's "Red, White, and Greens", and Chez Panisse "Vegetables". I love "Sunday Suppers at Lucques" and Alfred Portales "12 Seasons", but their recipes are pretty involved - I probably wouldn't give them to someone just starting to collect.

                              For desserts - Rosie's Bakery cookbook for All-American cakes and cookies, Claudia Fleming "The Last Course" for upscale restaurant style desserts (they may be too involved for a beginner cook, but it's such a great book - I actually read it cover to cover the day I got it - I think it's worth having, just to learn basics about flavors and pairings.)

                              Finally - I'm looking to my own collection to figure out which ones are the most sauce-splattered - I've been using these four since college -
                              - Julie Sahni, Classic Indian Cooking
                              - Patricia Wells, Trattoria
                              - Ruth van Waerebeek, Everybody Eats Well in Belgium
                              - Susan Herrmann Loomis, French Farmhouse Cookbook

                              Is that more then 5? Oops. :)

                              1. Larousse Gastronomique - invaluable resource in dictionary format. It may have been updated, in which case, go to a used bookstore and find an older edition.
                                Joy of Cooking - Older editions - like having your mother around to ask -assuming your mother could cook!
                                Bittman's How to Cook Everything - pretty well covers it!
                                Mastering the Art of French Cooking - a cooking course in itself. Like having Julia in your kitchen.
                                Hazan's Essentials - either you'll get the point of Italian food from this or any other book is a waste. Then buy the Silver Spoon as the reference text.

                                A library card. NYC has good public libraries! Free recipes!

                                Every technique your friend needs to learn is in these books. They don't ever go out of fashion.
                                I just got rid of another bunch of out-of-date hot chef/restaurant/technique cookbooks that I just had to have. I've stopped buying them.

                                1. The cookbooks I use the most:

                                  -Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa (I like the first one -- but any of them are great)

                                  - The Best Recipe, by the eds. of Cook's Illustrated (a giant tome where you'll find EVERYTHING, and everything explained beautifully and with great detail)

                                  - Fannie Farmer ed. by Marion Cunningham, as mentioned above

                                  - ANY of the Saveur Magazine cookbooks (I have the Saveur Cooks American on my bedside table right now), which have amazing recipes, detailed and well researched pieces on food history, and beautiful photography

                                  and for dessert...
                                  - and I just picked up major eye candy: the Tartine Bakery cookbook (the wildly popular SF bakery).

                                  1. Keeping the difficulty level moderate, I'd choose:

                                    "Kitchen Sense" by Mitchell Davis--excellent basic cookbook

                                    "Please to the Table" by Anya von Bremzen--wide-ranging book that covers the republics that made up the Soviet Union. Lots of interesting food in this one.

                                    "Memories of a Cuban Kitchen" by Mary Urrutia Randelman

                                    "The Olive and the Caper" by Susanna Hoffman--Nice recipes and a lot of information about Greece.

                                    "Bistro Cooking" by Patricia Wells

                                    All of those are deficient in glossy food photos, so I'll toss in another one:

                                    "New Food of Life" by Najmieh Batmanglij--great Persian cookbook with mouthwatering photos.

                                    1. How about Pepin's "Fast Food My Way"? Practical and ungimmicky for a newbie with taste, and he is an excellent teacher.

                                      1. Might I Suggest Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food and I'm Just Here for More Food. For me, they are like a mixture of Harold McGee, Shirley Corriher [she is on the show a lot] and the CIA's the Profesional Chef which I've owned for years. The book is laid out by cooking method, is straight forward and once you learn a recipe you have enough backround knowledge on how it went together to experement or he says "play with your food"

                                        I also just have picked up the Cook's Illustrated Family Cookbook. I know a lot of folks who love this book. It is laid out by course and there is a really good selection of recipes. I will say I had to fix a chili recipe because it was way out of whack in its flavoring. Lucky for me I had a 1/4 cup of Sam Adams Octoberfest which brought it back into perfect balance.

                                        Take care.

                                        - P.

                                        1. I think for fun you should get her Amy Sedaris' new "I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence." It looks wondeful, is funny, but has real recipes and good tips as well.

                                          I also like the Best American recipes books which are compilations of the best recipes printed in a certain year in various forms of media. As a New Yorker, I think she would like the best of angle. It's recipes from varied and sometimes unexpected sources, but they are picked as well for their accessibility. These recipes are all doable easily in a home kitchen but are about what's current. I would get the 150 Best, which is is a compilation of the compilation, so even better.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: traceybell

                                            i agree with the best american recipes, if only because they cover more technique than most other books.

                                          2. Here are my ideas after reading about your friend:

                                            1. The Joy of Cooking (although no pretty pictures) is a staple for any kitchen. As a novice cook, she'll be able to reference just about anything. Also has a solid collection of recipes. As others have suggested, How to Cook Everything would be another nice option. Perhaps a little bit more modern than Joy... Great to flip through for ideas.

                                            2. The Barefoot Contessa books are wonderful for EASY entertaining. Beautiful pictures and the recipes are reliable and delicious.

                                            3. For emphasis on seasonal, 2 cookbooks came to mind. The Zuni Cafe and Frank Stitt's Southern Table. Zuni is wonderful, but there might be too much emphasis on technique and someone who is not into cooking may be bored with all of the text that prefaces the recipes. (A recipe with 3 ingredients might take up a few pages - but, the recipes are simple and very very good) The Southern Table is a gorgeous cookbook, with a great assortment of recipes. For someone interested in pretty pictures, this would be sure to please.

                                            4. I'm a big fan of the Gourmet cookbook. Tons of tried and true recipes.

                                            5. For one solid Italian, I'd suggest the Essentials of Italian Cooking by marcella Hazan. I recently purchased it after reading about it on this board, and it has lived up to it's hype. However, there are no pictures, only illustrations.

                                            6. I think it could be fun to include a cookbook from one of her favorite restaurants. As a NYC urban sophisticate, she probably has a few to choose from...

                                            1. If your friend is just starting out cooking, I would suggest getting her coobooks with recipes that work! Too many cookbooks, particularly by restaurant chefs and celebrities are glitzy but when it comes to cooking from them they're intimidating, too involved and not necessarily techniques the home cook can master. Sure you could get her the French Laundry Cookbook, and it is lovely on a coffee table, but I doubt a new cook will tote it to the kitchen! Even as an accomplished home cook, I regularly turn to the tried and true simple books.

                                              I suggest:
                                              Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
                                              How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
                                              Cooking at Home by the Culinary Institute of America
                                              Chez Panisse Vegetables (simple to extravagant; seasonal)
                                              Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

                                              These will keep her happy in the kitchen and build confidence.

                                              1. If your friend will be entertaining a simple but elegant cookbook on appetizers/finger foods and one for desserts could be a nice addition.

                                                Have you considered a gift certificate to a book store so she can pick up her own favs?

                                                1. I taught myself to cook with Julia Child's The Way to Cook, which I find more user friendly - and has photos - than Mastering the Art ... though I have and use those volumes too. The other book I used when I started cooking was Marcella's Essentials. I have and like the Silver Spoon, but I don't think it is a good cookbook for a beginning cook - it assumes a certain level of knowledge, despite being touted as the Italian Joy of Cooking.

                                                  I also like Madeleine Kamman's book "The New Making of a Cook" - I've found it an invaluable resource - a real tome, no photos, but excellent explanations of the science and techniques of cooking, along with recipes etc.

                                                  As I perused my shelves, it also occurs to me that she might enjoy the Balthazar cookbook ... I use it often, has great photos, and is a wonderful example of a "restaurant" cookbook that actually translates well to the home cook.

                                                  1. How to Eat by Nigella Lawson.

                                                    It doesn't replace the more encyclopedic volumes like Joy of Cooking and Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But it is a fabulous reference, a great read, and full of recipes that really work. And Nigella is more in touch than any author I know with the cook who wants to make real food but doesn't have all the time in the world. She's an actual working person who loves food, and it shows in this book.

                                                    On the other hand, I also think that cookbook selections are very personal. Most of the ones I've been given as gifts without asking haven't been very useful to me. I think that a gift certificate to a bookshop (is there a cookbook shop near her?) is a great idea.

                                                    1. Read the review of the 75th anniversary edition of "Joy of Cooking" that appears in today's (01Nov06) NYTimes.

                                                      I have 2 editions of Joy which I use as guides, but have never prepared one recipe from them. I never liked the format of including the ingredients in the text of the preparation. I like to have an ingredient list prior to the text of preparation.

                                                      1. I like many of the above books but I would add to the list:
                                                        "The Way we Cook" by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven - short on pictures, long on technique and successful recipes - I have given it to three friends who sound like your friend with great success.

                                                        If she is interested in deserts for dinner parties, I cooked my way through much of "Cocolat" by Alice Medrich - it is out of print, but can be pretty easily found. Beautiful pictures and many of the recipes are surprisingly easy.

                                                        If I could only have one book, it would be "The Way to Cook" by Julia Child.

                                                        1. 1. How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
                                                          2. Appetite by Nigel Slater
                                                          3. Dean & DeLuca
                                                          4. Think like a Chef Tom Colicchio
                                                          5. Bistro

                                                          1. Although it's not a true cookbook, I find "Timing is Everything" by Jack Piccolo to be indispensable.

                                                            Here is a quick blurb: Author Jack Piccolo has assembled chart after chart offering invaluable, at-your-fingertips cooking times for grains, fruits and vegetables, meat, poultry, fish, sausage, even nuts! Taking into consideration size, weight, and thickness, each food's cooking time is listed alongside brief, easy-to-follow instructions on each particular cooking method.

                                                            This is really the most utilized cookbook in my kitchen, although I am fond of many of the above referenced books. "Roasting" by Barbara Kafka is also terrific and underrated.

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: JasonM

                                                              I couldn't agree more about Timing is Everything! I refer to it constantly. I can never remember how long to boil eggs or the right internal temps for roasting. I can't recommend it highly enough!

                                                            2. Williams Sonoma carries a great series of cookbooks. Lovely pictures, helpful hints and descriptions.

                                                              1. We had a couple in our dining/cooking group get married this past summer. At our fall cocktail party several of us brought them cookbooks as a small side shower to the event. Among the books given were Mangoes and Curry Leaves a great read and cookbook, Bourdain's Les Halles, the newer Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock southern book, a beautiful book on chocolate that I cannot remmeber the title of...I have been meaning to search that out, and the Bayless Mexico One Plate at a Time are some that come to memory. Not a bad starting collection

                                                                1. I've been giving deborah madison's "vegetarian cooking for everyone" to veg & non-veg friends for a couple of years-- think it's an excellent groundwork for cooking.

                                                                  I agree with the other posters about childs: "mastering the art of french cooking" & hazan's "essentials". i second the jaques pepin rec as well- he is down to earth & has great, useful recipes & technique advice: for beginners, his "cooking with claudine" is great too. i also love all of b. kafka's books, so i'm really just agreeing with others here:

                                                                  however, at the risk of getting slammed by my fellow foodies, you might seriously consider giving ANY aspiring cook one or more of the good housekeeping picture cookbooks-- the books show scratch cooking techniques with good illustrations-- the recipes are uncomplicated & clear, & your friend can learn cooking techniques & become encouraged by early succcess, & move on to more specialized & complicated cookbooks as she becomes confident in her technical prowess & general knowledge of cooking. try the basic cookbook or the baking book for starters :)

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                                                    I gave my sister one of those Good Housekeeping ones when she decided to learn to cook and I think it did the trick!

                                                                  2. I find the Delia Smith cookbooks really solid, reliable recipes that I make a lot. The cookbook names are rather deceiving because they are not beginner books.

                                                                    How to Cook Book One
                                                                    How to Cook Book Two
                                                                    How to Cook Book Three

                                                                    Also endorse Marcella's Essentials, Dean and Delucca and Silver Palate.

                                                                    1. WOW!!!!!!! You guys are sensational. Thank you for all of your thoughtful and incredibly helpful posts!

                                                                      I, like the friend for whom I'm buying the cookbooks, are overworked downtown professionals who can rattle off our favorite dishes at some if Manhattan's more noted/popular restaurants (faves of the moment include Cookshop, Per Se, Tia Pol, Lupa, Bellavite, Alta, various Chinatown dim sum shops, and Fatty Crab), and we can tell you who does the best delivery in Chelsea and the WV (where we both live), but due to time contraints, living solo, the desire to be out and about, and not exactly expansive NYC apartment kitchens, neither one of us cook at home much. Thus, your ideas are both inspirational and invaluable.

                                                                      They really have me thinking more about what--precisely--we both would want in a cookbook (I'm going to buy some too as a result of this post). Here's where I come out:

                                                                      GOOD THINGS (NOT ALL FROM ONE COOKBOOK, OF COURSE):
                                                                      1. Recipes for dinner parties that don't require one to be in the kitchen the entire evening.
                                                                      2. Recipies that aren't so complicated that you can make them when you get home from work at 8 pm.
                                                                      3. Recipes can be somewhat intricate, provided that a) the directions are clear and accurate enough that, if you're not already a seasoned chef, you can do it without panicking and b) you don't need to own every single kitchen utensil ever made.
                                                                      4. Pretty pictures.
                                                                      5. Seasonal ingredients.

                                                                      NOT AS GOOD THINGS:
                                                                      1. Boring food.
                                                                      2. Poorly or not tested recipes.
                                                                      3. Rachel Ray (sorry, not a fan).
                                                                      4. Cookbooks as literature. While good instruction and background is helpful, she wants to cook, not read chapter and verse on the origins and history of rice, etc. I undestand that such books serve a purpose, just as I understand that learning solid basic skills are crucial to becoming a truly great home cook. However, that ain't what this exercise is about. That being said, I AM a fan of the Zuni Cafe cookbook.
                                                                      5. While I appreciate the idea about cookbooks about NY restaurants, I don't think it's necessary to make the connection. We eat at Batali's restaurants, Balthazar etc. We don't necessarily have to cook their food.
                                                                      6. Gift certificate. Again, a nice idea, but she works around the corner from a B&N and she has money for books. What she doesn't have is time or focus to do the legwork herself. That's why she wants us, her friends who regularly dine with her, to share our ideas.

                                                                      By the way, one of us already has gotten her a subscription to a magazine.

                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                      1. re: skigirl

                                                                        mark bittman's "how to cook everything" is literally that... from simple to more refined. a wide range from everyday meals to holiday suppers & ideas for dinner/cocktail parties.
                                                                        he even maps out menus for various events. i love the book. it's great as a reference as well as for recipes.

                                                                      2. Could you, in addition to the new books you'll be purchasing, copy some hand-picked tried and trues from your own books or online? Use a great printer and get the pics,too. Slip them into plastic sleeves and pop into a sleek binder or something. May not fit the urban sophisticate profile exactly but she'd probably find it useful. Perhaps others in your group would contribute, too.
                                                                        I've done this for our kids as they've made their exits and it's helped them to have early success in the kitchen.
                                                                        Also, if she's pressed for time having a book with just a handful of recipes chosen by friends would make for quick meal planning decisions. No reading, (of course, you could include short personal notes re the recipe involved...) just recipes and pics.

                                                                        Sort of like inheriting Mom's recipe box.

                                                                        1. Joy of Cooking (1975 ed.)

                                                                          Chez Panisse Vegetables
                                                                          Chez Panisse Fruit
                                                                          Chez Panisse Desserts

                                                                          Marcella Hazan:
                                                                          The Classic Italian Cook Book
                                                                          More Classic Italian Cooking
                                                                          (these originals are superior to the later one-volume Essentials edition)

                                                                          Mimmetta Lo Monte:
                                                                          Classic Sicilian Cookbook

                                                                          Elizabeth David:
                                                                          Italian Food (not the coffee-table edition)
                                                                          French Provincial Cooking
                                                                          English Bread and Yeast Cookery

                                                                          Richard Olney:
                                                                          Simple French Food

                                                                          Jacques Medecin:
                                                                          Cuisine Nicoise

                                                                          André Daguin and Anne de Ravel:
                                                                          Foie Gras, Magret, and Other Good Food from Gascony

                                                                          Madeline Kamman:
                                                                          Madeline Kamman's Savoie

                                                                          Jane Grigson:
                                                                          Charcuterie and French Pork Cookery

                                                                          Patricia Wells:
                                                                          Simply French
                                                                          Bistro Cooking
                                                                          The Paris Cookbook

                                                                          Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz:
                                                                          Complete Book of Mexican Cooking

                                                                          Paula Wolfert:
                                                                          The Cooking of Southwest France
                                                                          The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean
                                                                          Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco
                                                                          Mediterranean Grains and Greens

                                                                          Marie Khayat and Margaret Keatinge:
                                                                          Food from the Arab World

                                                                          Madhur Jaffrey:
                                                                          Indian Cookery (British edition)
                                                                          World of the East Vegetarian Cooking

                                                                          Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book (1950 or other pre-cake-mix edition)

                                                                          1. I somewhat fit your friend's profile (thought I live in Miami) and here's what I would choose.

                                                                            Joy, Marcella's Classics or Molto Italiano (which is the book that I truly use most), something by Ina Garten or Nigella Lawson for dinner parties (Feast is great), Deborah Madison's Vegetarian book, and Mango & Curry leaves (gorgeous and best non-specific Asian book I've ever used.

                                                                            1. I can't believe no one else has mentioned any of Jamie Oliver's cookbooks! Am I the only one who appreciates them?

                                                                              One of my most used cookbooks is "The Naked Chef Takes Off" -- I think that's his first book. The recipes are fairly simple and there are lots of gorgeous photos of both the food and of him (yummy!). He places a lot of emphasis on combining just a few fresh ingredients in sort of a carefree way. The risotto recipes are fabulous as are the seafood dishes.

                                                                              Also, for desserts, I really like Gale Gand's "Butter Sugar Flour Eggs." Everything I've made from it has turned out well and I'm not much of a baker.

                                                                              1 Reply
                                                                              1. re: empecot

                                                                                No, I really like Jamie Oliver's books, but I'd already suggested Nigella. I think they're similar in tone--both value quality and taste above all, and both subscribe to the notion that it's not brain surgery. It IS possible to put together a good, solid meal without driving yourself crazy or chaining yourself to the stove for hours and hours.

                                                                                And just to get even further into the Brit food scene, I love Gordon Ramsay. He's entertaining and his enthusiasm for getting people back into home cooking is infectious. But for some reason his books don't do it for me. The recipes look nice, but I don't feel inspired when I read them.

                                                                              2. He may not be sophisticated, but I always find myself returning to Jeff Smith. I think the Frugal Gourmet is a must for any library.

                                                                                1. most of my favorites or recommendations have been covered (such as marcella hazen) but i have a good one that meets all your criteria, including pretty pictures:

                                                                                  the hammersly's bistro cookbook. simple, tasty dishes from the boston landmark. the beer braised shortrib recipe is worth the whole book by itself.

                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                  1. re: shimpiphany

                                                                                    I LOVE this bistro cookbook! One of my faves... The shortrib recipe has been on my "to try" list!

                                                                                  2. The ones I use most often (as opposed to the celebrity one's with exotic recipes and great pictures):

                                                                                    Madhur Jaffray's "World of the East Vegetarian Cooking"
                                                                                    Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cuisine"
                                                                                    Patricia Wells' "Bistro Cooking"
                                                                                    Kuwako Takahashi's "Joy of Japanese Cooking"
                                                                                    JG Vongerichten's "Simple Cuisine"

                                                                                    Julia Child "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" - I don't use it much but this is was what got me really interested in cooking.

                                                                                    If you're going to buy fancy celeb cookbooks, I like:
                                                                                    "The French Laundry Cookbook", "The Babbo Cookbook", "The Harry's Bar Cookbook", "The Nobu Cookbook", "Cooking with Daniel Boulud", etc

                                                                                    1. WHEW. So, I'm getting her two cookbooks and forwarding your wonderful thread on to my friends, so they can reach their own conclusions.

                                                                                      I'm getting her two books: Marcella Hazen's Essentials of Italian Cooking and, gasp, MS's All About Braising. I'm getting her the braising book for lots of reasons: 1) the recipes look delish and this is precisely the type of stuff I can imagine her cooking at home; 2) the recipes are full of stellar seasonal ingredients; 3) they are "entertainment" friendly -- many can be prepped in advance, before having people over; 5) although wordy, it's explanations appear to be incredibly helpful and clear; 6) I like the idea that it crosses lots of different regions/cultures/etc. and 7) I'm making the Duck Legs with Port and Dried Cherries for her birthday party this Saturday night.

                                                                                      In case you're curious, I'm also requesting cookbooks for Hannukah presents this year (due to a pest infestation this summer -- ick -- I had to throw out most of mine!). People just might happen to be forwarded this link for clues on what, precisely, I want (hint hint to those who know me, i'm hoping for a Julia Child, a Hazan book, Mango & Curry Leaves, Chez Pannise Vegetables, and a Patricia Wells book. :)

                                                                                      THANKS AGAIN!!

                                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: skigirl

                                                                                        I think your choices are PERFECT - especially for do-ahead entertaining, and Hazan's techniques are tools she'll use forever. Be sure to report on the Duck Legs - I was going to try that or the ragu, but never got around to it!

                                                                                        1. re: skigirl

                                                                                          Thanks for letting us know your game plan based on feedback. Sometimes a person will ask a similar question and never re-enter the discussion leaving me wondering if they've even seen the wonderful responses. Sounds like you've done your homework and considered your friend's needs; your selections sound great!

                                                                                          1. re: skigirl

                                                                                            Great and very thoughtful choices. Below are the links to both books from the cookbook of the month. It will give your friend some guidance as to what recipes has worked and what hasn't worked. I found Marcella's links to be especially helpful as a starting point. That book has so much information that it can be overwhelming for a beginner. Plus, there are many pretty pictures to help motivate the home cook.



                                                                                            1. re: skigirl

                                                                                              came to this thread late - of course, I am obsessed with cooking and eating but have had to work it in through a rushed professional career and family life - you made me think back on how I started out, while in law school and the kind of books that have been go-to over the years -

                                                                                              If Indian is an interest, Madhur Jaffrey's Invitation to Indian Cooking - actually any of her books are accessible, the recipes produce delicious food and are generally pleasingly non-challenging to execute - once you stock your pantry.

                                                                                              Italian - definitely Marcella. I rely on her two first books. There is an essential simplicity and precision about her approach which is very reassuring - follow one of her recipes and you will produce a delicious dish. Not too many cookbooks I can say that about.

                                                                                              They Way to Cook - actually, this was a rather recent addition, but the authoritative tone, excellent recipes and pictures make it a topnotch book.

                                                                                              Paula Wolfert' Mediterranean Cookbook. I have all of Wolfert's books, but this, her second book (recent revised and reissued with additional recipes) is probably the most accessible to the average cook. Its an ingredient based approach (sections on grains, legumes, oil, etc) which spans the whole Mediterrean basin. Ive done most of my cooking from the original book and found the recipes most soul-satisfying.

                                                                                              Desserts - you didnt say anything about baking - but its a very satisfying area for a novice cook to start. I have been very happy with Maida Heatter's books in this area - extremely reliable recipes, delicious result. MOre recently I have liked Claudia Fleming's Gramercy book, but the recipes are a little more fussy and require more steps, and I think background. Richard Sax's Home Desserts book is simpler and produces fine desserts too. And there are many good dessert recipes in "The Way to Cook" - the tarte tatin is a blockbuster and not too hard. NOthing tops the old Betty Crocker Baking Book (facsimile addition available) for traditional american desserts and even breads.

                                                                                              There is also a need for looking up things sometimes - how long to roast a cut of meat or bird, conversion tables - I usually did into one of my old James Beard books for the meat/fish timing info and to an old Joy for the ingredient conversions- is there another book that subs for this kind of reference?

                                                                                              Breads -if your friends get the yen to bake,and its a fun way to spend part of a Saturday, Beard on Bread and Brother Juniper's Bread book are both simple and accessible, with some easy recipes that produce great results. Apart from these, I particularly like the recipes in Carole Field's Italian Bread book.

                                                                                              1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                Jen, what's either really funny (or really sad, depending on how you look at it) is that both my friend and I ARE lawyers--and senior ones at that, and the last time I really took time to cook for the sheer pleasure of it all, on a regular basis, was LAW SCHOOL!

                                                                                                1. re: skigirl

                                                                                                  I can believe that - even with the stresses, law school is a time when there are time windows to pursue pleasure or at least you can make that choice whether to play or go to the library - and usually at that stage of life, free time is not eaten up by family and other obligations. I have found that cooking gardening and similar pursuits are super escapes from all the intensity of the profession. Good luck!

                                                                                                  1. re: skigirl

                                                                                                    when I was in law school one of my great pleasures was getting up early in the a.m. before class and bake . . . muffins! I wish I could remember all the varieties I perfected and delighted my classmates with so many years ago. Then when I was at a corp firm in NYC, my biggest desire was to get home by 8 someday to make dinner at home. But then I hadn't had time to shop before that day, so there was nothing in the refrigerator! Now I have a low key atty job and I cook all the time!

                                                                                              2. Some interesting suggestions from Jonathan Gold in this week's LA Weekly:


                                                                                                take care

                                                                                                - P.

                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                1. re: Mattapoisett in LA

                                                                                                  I liked that LA Times article for its diversity of cuisines.

                                                                                                2. For pretty pictures you cannot beat the Time Life series of coffee table books on foods of the world that came out, I believe, in the 70's. The technicolor photographs are wonderful. You'll find them at out of print bookstores & online at websites selling o.p. books. They are not hard to find and you often find them at bargain prices. But it's something that would be fun to collect because there must be 30 different ones. and they are just a pure pleasure to browse through.

                                                                                                  1. The recipes work, too.

                                                                                                    When getting these used, remember to look for the little spiral recipe book that goes with each volume.


                                                                                                    1. I agree with Carb Lover above, it's nice to hear feedback after so many people have taken the time and trouble to respond. Sounds like you have a very lucky friend, I hope she really enjoys the books.

                                                                                                      1. I just have to post about a couple of cookbooks that are kind of misfits in my collection since I normally favor more intricate, technique-heavy recipes if I have the time. For good week-night meals I've really enjoyed a cookbook called Flash in the Pan. It's all one-pot meals organized by protein (meat, fish, eggs, etc.). The recipes always come out well, the book has pictures and the recipes are very easy and quick. I'd also recommend Martha Stewart's What to Have for Dinner. Again, I'm not usually a fan of the Martha cooking, but this book has really nice meals organized by season and a few of her recipes have become staples for me (the giant almond crumb cookie, for one). The book also has nice pictures and is organized by menu not by food item, so it's easy to envision a whole meal, appetizers to dessert. Has anyone else tried these books?

                                                                                                        1. I'm puzzled by the recs for Deborah Madison's big cookbook. My vegetarian side is heavily skewed toward Middle-eastern and Indian cuisine, so imagine my shock when I looked for a falafel recipe and found that she recommends a MIX!! Dammit, no wonder Safeway no longer carries tahini and dry chickpeas.
                                                                                                          I highly recommend books by Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni for Indian, and Paula Wolfert and Tess Mallos for Middle eastern cooking. If you can find it, the latter's Complete Middle East Cookbook is amazing!
                                                                                                          And ditto on the above recs for Fannie Farmer, Mark Bittman and Alton Brown.

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: DiveFan

                                                                                                            I own Tess Mallos book and it looks terrific (havent cooked from it yet), but note that Israel is not included in her "Middle East" if that matters to you. What recipes do you like in that book?

                                                                                                            1. re: jen kalb

                                                                                                              I haven't found any to dislike if I like the ingredients :-). If you haven't had fesenjan at a Persian restaurant, by all means try the recipe on p.111 (OK to substitute chicken thighs)! BTW one limitation of this book is lack of indexing by indigenous name (e.g. you won't find fesenjan indexed).

                                                                                                            2. re: DiveFan

                                                                                                              I love "Food From Biblical Lands" by Helen Corey. Since my mom refuses to quantify what she uses in her cooking, I rely on Helen Corey for guidance. She is famed for "The Art of Syrian Cookery," also a wonderful, prize-winning cookbook.

                                                                                                            3. So my friend loved the cookbooks. I ended up giving her, as I previously noted, Hazen's "Essentials" and AAB. My other friends took some (but not all) of your advice, getting her Bittman's "How to Cook Everything," an Ina Garten, and a subscription to Food and Wine. As for the dinner that accompanied (including my entree of AAB's Duck Legs with Port and Cherries, see my other post re: side dishes.)

                                                                                                              Thanks again.

                                                                                                              1. Wow. Great thread.

                                                                                                                I have to say, since the birthday girl allegedly doesn't own a single cookbook, I'm guessing she's not much of a cook yet.

                                                                                                                With that in mind, I'd highly recommend (and I know I'm gonna get slammed for this) _The Best Recipe_.

                                                                                                                Why? Because they carefully explain WHY certain ingredients should be used and the PURPOSE of certain techniques. If read and followed it helps transform someone from a person who simply follows instructions to someone who knows how to actually... cook.

                                                                                                                Once you know how to cook recipes become more of a set of suggestions and guidelines and inspirations, not a set of rigid rules.

                                                                                                                Ok, all that said I completely agree on the Barefoot Contessa mentions. And Bittman's _How to Cook Everything_ is very good, but in my opinion, he tragically underspices most dishes.