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a cookbook to cook my way through?

Any recs for a great cookbook to cook my way through? I live in a very small, rural town that has 5+ months of winter so I need something that doesn't require a lot of specialty items. Although our farmer's market has begun its season, they are still mostly selling last year's root vegetables. Still some weeks away from fresh produce, I think.

I have Sunday Suppers (love it, but lots of particular ingredients that I don't have access to), Marcell Hazan (too heavy for summer), Nigella's How to Eat and a lot of baking books. My local library has the Gourmet Cookbook (which I check out about once a month), a Madhur Jaffrey veg boook, Fannie Farmer and a smattering of others.

Other requirements: I usually cook just for myself and have dinner parties 3-4 times per month (max 8 guests). Something that would translate well to dinners for one would be great. Also, I don't eat too much meat.

Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

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  1. "Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe" by Brother Juniper sounds like it would fit the bill perfectly. It's one of my favorite cook books. Not many hard to find ingredients, it's not all about meat entrees, there are plenty of really good versions of old stand by salads, soups, sides,, breads and desserts.

    1. I love Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and it sounds ideal for your situation. Each vegetable, grain, protein is described in-depth with at least five or six cooking suggestions- all sorts of ideas, none of which are fussy or impractical. Every time I open that I want to race into the kitchen and start cooking. I made the most divine asparagus last week and I ran to the store the next day to get more asparagus and make it again. Simple, gorgeous food with imagination. This is also quite a tome so it would be a feat to cook your way through it!

      I do have a fondnesss for Moosewood too though. I first learned to cook through a combination of my mom's old standby recipes and the Moosewood Cookbook by Molly Katzen. It's vegetarian and I just love it - she is cool and imaginative and affordable for veggie chefs wanting to step out and be gourmet. I have never had a problem finding ingredients without the need to scour specialty stores. Molly Katzen has come out with a whole fleet of cookbooks - the original is so great, but if you're already a more experienced cook you might check out one of the others.

      1. I think that The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking by James Beard is the best cookbook for cooking through. I did that in my early twenties, 20 years ago, and the lessons I learned in that book are still with me, hundreds of cookbooks and a restaurant later.

        1. 'How To Cook Without A Book' by Pam Anderson, a food writer, not from Bay Watch. It has a basic recipe for a particular dish, and then variations on a theme. This book has been around a while.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ChiliDude

            Another vote for How to Cook....... A much underrated (or unnoticed?) book, really practical, suggests lots of riffs on the basic recipe which stimulates old follow-the-recipe-to-the-last-dot me to actually trying original ideas. Pam started off at Cook's Illustrated, so her recipes are absolutely accurate; but unlike CI, they are simple and almost never (actually, never, now I come to think of it) call for exotic hard-to-find ingredients.
            For those dinner parties, I also suggest her Perfect Recipes for Having People Over. They have a lot of the same virtues as Without a Book, but are more elegant without being fussy or fancy. Get your local library to order them through library loan (do you have that kind of system?) so you can take a browse. Her Sauteed Cherry Tomatoes (available year-round at your supermarket) with Garlic and Basil are to die for. The simplest thing in the world, but all my guests want the recipe before they leave. And she's very big on interesting soups and salads.

          2. Julie Powell cooked her way through all three volumes of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, blogging all the way. The blog and a description are now published and absolutely worth reading and cooking from. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw/...

            And of course MTAOFC has plenty of vegetable recipes that don't call for exotic ingredients. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_gw/...

            The old reliables like Joy of Cooking have too many variations on a theme to do everything, but I often open my copy at random and have seldom made anything inedible. Avoid the brand new edition, though, which has been roundly panned.

            Finally, the recipe collection here has lots of vegetarian entries. http://www.chow.com/search?item_type=... as does Epicurious and lots of other sites.

            4 Replies
            1. re: KRS

              Mastering the Art of French Cooking is in two volumes, not three. And I believe Julie Powell cooked her way through volume 1, not both volumes.

              1. re: Timowitz

                Yes - just volume 1. But I have to confess to being too fickle to work my way through one book. I need variety ;-).

                1. re: MMRuth

                  And I felt really excited, however briefly it took me to scroll down this page, at the thought of a third volumn.

                  1. re: shallots

                    Maybe you could think of The Way to Cook as being a 3rd volume of sorts! That's pretty much what I used to teach myself to cook, and in many places she writes that she adapted recipes from Mastering .....

            2. Try the classic book, "Simple French Food" by Richard Olney: http://www.amazon.com/Simple-French-F...

                1. It's the Silver Palates 25th Anniversary.

                  That started a lot of people cooking in the 80's.

                  And most all the recipes hold up well.

                  1. When I wanted to cook everyday type of recipes with not a lot of exotic ingredients, I purchased Delia's Smith Summer and Winter cookbooks. They are based on her successful BBC series. They were both good; some recipes were rich though.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: itryalot

                      I love these two books too -- you have inspired me to pull out Summer and cook from it this week!

                    2. Although I also love Deborah Madison's _Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone_ and I think there are many recipes in there that don't require hard-to-get ingredients, I think it might be little frustrating for you if your access to produce is relatively limited. I think a better bet might be Mark Bittman's _How to Cook Everything_ which has a huge range of recipes -- from the very simple and quick to the more complex and fancy -- and tends to work more exclusively with familiar easy-to-acquire ingredients.

                      1. I know this may be after the fact, but I hope you got around to doing it. I think you'll find that for most cookbooks, you won't want to do more than the 3-4 times per month you have guests over. That's more cooking than you think especially if you plan on writing about it or doing anything that's particularly challenging. I am trying to do it with a bistro-style book (check out the profile for more info) and found the diversity to be a great thing.

                        Let us know what you choose (chose?)!

                        1. You said you have "How to Eat." I think it's a wonderful book, and I know of people on other boards who have cooked their way through it. But there might be some ingredients you'd have difficulty getting your hands on.

                          1. How about "I'm Just Here for the Food" by Alton Brown ? This is a techniques cookbook, more than providing just recipes, and you might think that that would mean a skimpy amount of recipes, but there are quite a few in the book and most of them do not require exotic ingredients.

                            1. "This Good Food" by Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette. Recipes adapted from a monastery refectory, largely (but not entirely) vegetarian, organized by seasons. apparently he has a number of similarly oriented books.

                              1. I think either of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything" books (the original or Vegetarian versions. I'm currently cooking through "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian". I started off the process cooking the recipes in order, but soon got sick of salads (the first chapter).
                                I like them b/c he explains each food group and always has useful ideas for substitutions. He also doesn't use strange ingredients.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: cookingodyssey

                                  CookingOdyssey, do you also have Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison? I'm curious how it compares to Bittman's Vegetarian book.

                                  Thank you,


                                    1. re: cookingodyssey

                                      Ah, VCFE is the Cookbook of the Month for July, so, if you need a little nudge to acquire (even from your local library) and cook from the book, here's your chance. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/531685

                                      If you ever do get a chance to contrast and compare with Bittman's, please do come tell us about it.


                                2. sally schneider's books - "a new way to cook" and "the improvisational cook" - are wonderful resources for flexible/adaptable, delicious recipes.

                                  1. If you can find it (do a Google search and you may find a used book; it's worth looking for) I'm convinced you enjoy The Prudence Penny Regional Cook Book.