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I've just started cooking few months ago. It's a whole new world and I love love love it!

I looked through the recomendations below, but I was hoping to narrow the search to books that weren't just quick-and-easy just to get you by.
I am rather serious about my food:) - about its quality, taste/flavor, texture, presentation (heart creative/ethnic dishes too)- and being a curious person I am, I want to learn every detail from scratch, and get solid fundamentals to start building up from.

So I'm looking for
1) encyclopedic info on ingredients with colored pics - seasons, how to pick the best, how to store, etc.
2) fundamental, essential tools + techniques + recipes with colored pics
3) LOTS of details and explanations. whys of things.

Examples are
* A Rose Levy Beranbaum's recipe
I haven't tried it yet, but I really like the details and explainations on why I would see certain things, etc.
* Martha Stewart
I came across her magazine in high school (when I didn't have to cook) and I enjoyed her detailed article on few dozen kinds of salt and their specific uses- she seemed to get down to some hardcore basics.

I do love experimenting, but I also want to take a more structured and organized approach to my learning and skill-building.. Thanks in advance and happy cooking!

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  1. To get that level of detail, you need to go with specialized books that focus on specific cuisines or techniques. RLB's "The Bread Bible," as you would expect, is great on providing thorough explanations. I just started reading Rick Bayless's "Mexican Kitchen," and I loved how he starts with essential sauces, providing descriptions and drawings of different peppers. Although Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" discusses dishes we don't really eat any more (eggs in aspic, etc.), her detailed instructions on how to cook an omelet, souffle, etc., are fun to read.

    So the upshot is, what kind of cuisine or skill do you want to start with?

    2 Replies
    1. re: AppleSister

      That's a good point.. I also thought one book may not be enough.
      Should I say 'Western' or 'North-American', which seems to be mostly from Europe plus combination of influences from S.America, Asia, and Africa?
      I guess something in the line of "Martha's Cooking School" http://www.marthastewart.com/page.jht.... Topics here include Knives 101, How to Marinate, How to Fry, Eggs 101, and others.

      1. re: leeau

        I know you didnt just say martha stewart........

    2. The book I like to give to aspiring cooks is "Chez Panisse Cooking" by Paul Bertolli(with Alice Waters). The preface in itself is awe inspiring. Not the pictures you are looking for but plenty of love for food.

      La Technique and La Methode by Jacques Pepin are great resources.

      The Oxford Companion to Food.

      Le Livre de Michel Bras.

      Further recommendations could be made with a better understanding of technical competence and type of cuisine preference.

      1. Check out Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For the Food. It explains how things work. For a long time I followed recipes not understanding why things were done this way or that, this book helped me understand why.

            1. Well, i am a self trained chef. I started cooking when I could reach the stove top and I did some easy bake before that. Worked in the bussiness for 20 years. Some of my favorites are Cook wise, the first two Silver Palates, Penguin companion to food, and a good old Betty crocker to get some basic info. Hope that helps. Gwen

              1. Once you past your initial baby steps in the culinary world, I suggest 2 books, neither of which have pictures.

                How to Cook Without a Book
                by Pam Anderson (not of Baywatch)

                On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen
                by Harold McGee

                1 Reply
                1. re: ChiliDude

                  Absolutely agree on McGee's book. Not so much a cook book but a reference about the science of cooking. Cooking is both science and art. You don't have to know the science but it helps

                2. Honeslty, you can NOT GO WRONG with anything that Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) makes. She uses very few ingredients in her recipes, but the ingredients are the BEST! My husband and I will more often than not pull out one of her many cookbooks and no matter what we make, it always comes out perfect! She has several books - check them out at


                  I'm telling you - you can't go wrong with these!

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: SChalfant

                    Ina Garten! Martha stewart! these are good for housewifes and moms. Which Is ok but these are not books for aspiring Chefs. Try these book:
                    Author Book
                    Madeline Kaman- New Making of a cook

                    Thomas Keller- The French Laundry Cookbook

                    Larousse - Gastronomique

                    Judy Rogers- zuni Cafe Cookbook

                    Brian Polcyn and Micheal Ruhlman-Charcuterie The art of Salting, Smoking, And Curing.

                    Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page- Becoming a Chef

                    Anthony Bourdain- Kitchen Confidential

                    Anthony Bourdain- A cooks tour ( Audio tape Preferably)

                    Anthony Bourdain- Les Halle cookbook

                    Not to be mean but of you want to be a serious cook these are some good books to start with........

                    1. re: Davecooks818

                      Davecooks818, I'm in the process of adding a few more cookbooks and a chef friend suggested four, one of which is Larousse - Gastronomique. Can you suggest which edition is best? He also suggested the Joy of Cooking and my research indicates the 1975 and 75th anniversary editions are best. Hopefully a hound can confirm this. Also unsure of whether to search for used original editions of Pepin's La Methode and La Technique or to buy the new complete edition which includes both books. I received Escoffier as a gift and look forward to reading it as well. Thanks in advance for your advice. fdr

                  2. For the encyclopedia part, CIA publishes some very good and thorough, and textbooky, books which will help the serious beginner get rolling. I was just glancing through one at Borders the other day, but I forget the title. It retailed at about $80. Check Amazon.

                    For home style cooking, Joy is still hard to beat. The new edition just out seems to be pretty good, in the style of the older editions as distinguished from the 1997 (IIRC) fiasco. Also fairly cheap.

                    For ethnic, while they are old, the Time-Life foods of the world series is often very good, better than you might expect. You can get them on ebay. Buy a couple and try out some of the recipes. They were exhaustively kitchen tested at the time, under the direction of Michael Field I believe, and I have seldom had a failure.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: johnb

                      "Professional Cooking" by Wayne Gisslen and "The Professional Chef" by the CIA are two of the most commonly used textbooks in culinary schools and contain a LOT of information. Another book I would reccomend is "Culinary Artistry" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It isn't really a cookbook, but more of a guide on pairing flavors. If you want to get books on the cheap, try The Advanced Book Exchange (abebooks.com). It is a great resource for finding used books cheap!

                    2. I would highly recommend "The Joy of Cooking"... it explains clearly and it's my go-to when I'm stumped on the basics.

                      1. First off congratulations! You have many spectacular meals ahead of you and you're going to make your family thrilled to eat with you.

                        I started out cooking around 25 years ago, and I think of myself as a good home cook, with some knowledge of food. I always want to be able to create something good when confronted with any ingredients.

                        The single best learning cookbook for me is Julia Child's The Way to Cook. This cookbook is about being able to cook standard fare very well, starting with a master recipe for each category, and then modifications based on what you may have on hand. I still refer to it from time to time.

                        After that, I would highly recommend The Cook's Bible, from the editors of Cook's Illustrated. It is all about ingredients and how to use them, with very fine recipes that are well written. It is the single best cookbook on meat and how to use various cuts.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Felixnot

                          I agree about JC's "The Way to Cook" - along with Marcella Hazan - that's how I taught myself to cook. I find Joy of Cooking less inspiring - though I do use it.

                        2. The Joy of Cooking has to be one of the best basic, reliable reference books around. I still refer to my copy which is 25 years old.

                          1. I second Joy for reference -- it's very useful if, for example, you are faced with fennel, and you're not sure how to clean it or cut it.

                            If you're looking for recipes and thoroughness in description, I'd also look at the Zuni Cafe cookbook -- it's incredibly detailed as to technique, has color photographs (though not on every page). It's not a beginner book in that the recipes are not simple, but it is a beginner book in that it gives enough detail that you're not left to your own devices wondering when things are 'ready' or 'brown' or what have you.

                            1. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vols. 1 and 2, Marcella Hazan's Essentials Classic Italian Cooking and for your encyclopedia, La Varenne Pratique by Anne Willan.

                              Check here for more on the last one:


                              1. I second the suggestions for the Silver Palate books. Other than New Wave, they are my favorite remants of the '80s. Those gals put great notes in the margins on types of vegetables in the same family, differences between cheeses, and so on. And I second the Joy, especially since there is usually more than one recipe for the same dish. If you try the different renditions of coffee cake or pancakes, etc, you're getting a great lesson on cooking and on what you like.

                                For easy recipes that have come out fabulous on the first try and easily made my will-definitely-make-again list, try Nigella Lawson. A few other her books have incredible photos.

                                I also want to beg a holler for the Moosewood Cookbook. It's a little crunchy (which I personally like), but it has good recipes for vegetable dishes and vegetarian cusine that does not use fake meat(!). The Chez Panisse cookbooks are also good for this. I think learning to cook vegetables well is the most underrated skill in the kitchen, and the one that can revolutionize the way you shop, cook, and eat. Really. (And I'm not a vegetarian.)

                                1. Well, my first reaction is... why a book? You have one of the greatest forms of access to cooking right at your fingertips. The internet. I often use google recipe search, epicurious and the food network. You can save the recipes that work to a file, you can see many variations of the recipe for free, and most of all - you don't spend a cent, other than what you pay for your server.

                                  If you're hell-bent on books, then there's the library. Almost every book that's been suggested here is available to you on loan, often for as long you need it. You may find one or two is necessary for you... then you buy. That's just my two cents.

                                  I've overcome my need for cookbooks this way. And the money goes to the important stuff. Food and booze.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bryan

                                    I second the library suggestion: use library resources to figure out what books are worth buying. If your local library's resources are limited, you can get virtually anything through interlibrary loan (and keep it for a month or so). One non-cookbook suggestion is the Oxford Companion to Food, which is an encyclopedic compendium of food topics. You can use it to look up ingredients, dishes, cuisines, etc. It won't teach you how to cook, but it will expand your gastronomic knowledge.

                                    Cookbook wise, I agree with the "Joy" recommendations (i have the newest one), though it is picture-free and focused on home cooking. It will take you through the American, 20th-century basics, and it also has useful information on canning, sausagemaking, and other home-eccy topics.

                                    If you're interested in the cheff-ier side of things, Jacques Pepin's La Technique is an illustrated guide to basic french technique. Lots of photos, good introduction to knife technique, and widely availabe as a used book or in libraries (published more than 10 yrs ago). The CIA Professional Chef book is good, too (weighs a ton).

                                    And one more thought: don't just learn from books, learn from people. Seek out friends, relatives, coworkers who cook and ask for recipes, tips, and techniques. Find out all you can about your own ethnic heritage's foodways & cooking, or seek out regional specialties in your area, agricultural fairs, farmers' markets, and talk to the people you find. Good cooking & food isn't just found in restaurant kitchens or professional cookbooks...we have a wealth of food folk knowledge in the U.S. with roots from all over the globe.

                                  2. "The Cook's Book" by Jill Norman!

                                    1. I think leeau may have lost interest in this topic, but for anyone else who might be iinterested, "A New Way to Cook." If I were young and just beginning to set my style and methods, this would be the book. It deals with methods for healthier cooking without sacrificing good food. Well, I guess we've all heard that one before. Amazon has it paired with another one of her books. It looks like a winning combination.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: yayadave

                                        I bought this book on a whim and it has blown my mind. Everything I have made has been just wonderful, and much healthier than traditional recipes. The macaroni and cheese (which ingeniously uses a wee bit of rice flour to thicken whole milk into a sauce) convinced me that there's no reason use another recipe for the stuff ever again. The best thing about this book is that Sally S. really teaches technique and how to learn how to improvise using whole foods that are generally readily available. There are few obscure items and no light/fake items like fatfree this and that, fake meat, gums and syrups, or any of that nonsense.

                                        1. re: slowfoodgrrl

                                          That is one of my favorite books as well, and I don't hear it mentioned much, so I'm glad to hear that others find it as indispensable as I do.

                                      2. When I was about 12 years old...(long time ago!), I too was interested in learning the basics...I started out by making from scratch, pudding, yeast breads,pie crusts, etc...I actually used the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook and Joy of Cooking...I learned the "basics" there, then went on to more specialized ones....

                                        1. I'll add Chez Panisse Vegetables and Chez Panisse Fruit, no color photos, but detailed information on when produce is available (in No. California anyway), what to look for, how to cook - recipes from simple to complex. Also on produce, if you can find an out-of-print copy of Joe Carcione's The Greengrocer I'd recommend that too.

                                          When I was in your situation I devoured On Food and Cooking, Joy of Cooking, The Cake Bible, and Fannie Farmer. Something like Williams Sonoma's Kitchen Companion and/or The Food Lover's Companion would also be good reference. Or, of course the Oxford Companion to Food.

                                          1. well, if you've just started to cook then you've just started to collect cookbooks, and you sound like you haven't narrowed your focus too much.

                                            in addition to some of the other fine suggestions you should obtain copies "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison. yes you want this book even if you are not even vaguely veg it is a basis book. Jaques Pepin's technique book "la methode". Marcella Hazan. cookwise is a good book for cooking technique comprehension (recipes demonstrate why some techniques work and where the heck you went wrong with the bechamel. RLB for baking. also love greg patent and nick malgieri for baking books. judy rogers' book is good. as you get into techniques you love you will find the authors who will grab you. for example barbara kafka's "roasting" volume is freaking brilliant, but not if you don't have an oven or want to cook with this method. i use "the organic cook's bible" for reference frequently. also like the old-school rodale's complete natural foods cookbook. a lot of people swear by "how to cook everything," but the simple fact is that there is no encyclopedic cooking reference-- you gotta find the way through all the references available to you and focus on your area or areas of biggest interest. there is nothing wrong with reading "laurel's kitchen" with several grains of salt and never losing sight of chez panisse. i'd steer away from the marthas, rachels and emirils to begin with because a lot of what you will learn from "personality" chefs is how to do a fancy flourish on camera, or prepare a short-cut recipe in 10 mins with no understanding of technique, or getting bogged down in fussy frilly obsessive-compulsive disorder crap without getting to the real picture of cooking. do i have martha's books? yes--but it's not my go-to for technique or method. (don't have emiril or rachel's). i've only been seriously collecting cookbooks for 5 or six years so i only have 400 volumes or so. library is a good suggestion if you're just starting. so is your local independant used bookstore-- you can take a risk on a book priced at $7 that you wouldn't pay $35 for and chances are it will teach you something you didn't know. if you only get 1 recipe from a book that you paid $5 for i think it's worth it. make a list of books and authors you want to try to find and go on a book hunt-- it is fun! as you learn more you'll figure out which authors have the most to teach you.

                                            1. Bocuse, Paul. 1977. Paul Bocuse's French Cooking. New York: Pantheon/Random House. (no illustrations, pictures, or photos)

                                              Bailey, Adrian. 1990. Cook's Ingredients. Ney York: Reader's Digest Association, Inc. (photos and descriptions of thousands of ingredients)

                                              1. Here's a holistic approach. If you're starting out, It's a good idea to master a few basics without getting distracted by the obsessive-compulsive wackos. Good starters are JOY, Silver Palate, anything by Julia Child (whose initials are evocative of the level of her influence). Link to purchase autographed Silver Palate:


                                                Once you've had some fun and have a few back-up plans (unless you're already there), then I'd recommend having some fun with different cultures, such as Italian, Mexican, and Middle Eastern. Good texts with more depth are The Splendid Table (Italian Emila Romagna), the earlier mentioned Rick Bayless (start out with the margarita recipe), Midddle Eastern (Der Hartounian author, Moroccan and other countries). These encourage you to get into ingredients that you might not normally use and techniques that are further afield of the basics. Indian is also a great culture for use of spice as well.

                                                Then, I'd suggest circling back to French, and maybe even adding riffs on that, like Cajun/Creole, and messing around with grilling or smoking. For French, Richard Olneys books are great, and you'll start seeing the roots if you move into Cajun through Paul Prudhomme, Commanders' Palace, and early Emeril (pre-BAM). This is the stage where you'll become bored with restaurants that cook dishes you can now make at home, and you'll find your friends tend to drop hints about when they're invited over next......

                                                As for some of the earlier comments, there's a lot of wisdom there. Martha Stewart's food is lowest common denominator on the taste scale, and unnecessarily labour intensive. Enjoy!

                                                  1. A subscription to Gourmet magazine will only set you back about 15 bucks. A nice bargain.

                                                    Check out www.epicurious.com. Thousands of recipes and lots of videos explaining how to.

                                                    1. I'm going to second Silver Palates, Mark Bittman -- and I have to say, I'm getting an awful lot of use out of cooksillustrated.com. I'm just now getting into cooking (and I'm older), and trying to work more without recipes, and I find that site incredibly informative, on everything from ingredients to technique, in a very non-pissy way.