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Jan 5, 2008 05:44 AM

What are your favorite cookbooks of all time?

Here's my three cents-worth:

1. COOKING LIGHT magazine: Okay, I cheated right off the bat. But, darn it, I've read this magazine for years and have never prepared a recipe from it that wasn't at least good. Not haute cuisine, for sure. Just good, healthy American cooking using ingredients that are very accessible in my neck of the woods.

2. Mark Bittman's HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING: Not the most elegant cookbook visually, but the simple, fresh ingredients and fool-proof directions more than make up for it. (I also enjoy Bittman's recipes in Men's Health magazine.)

3. THE JOY OF COOKING (75th Anniversary Edition): The standard by which all other cookbboks should be measured, and the one to buy if you're only buying one--not to mention a perfect wedding gift.

PENDING: Alice Waters' THE ART OF SIMPLE FOOD. Haven't prepared any of the recipes yet, so I'll reserve judgement. But I am so far very impressed with Waters' tasty but healthful approach to fresh, seasonal ingredients. (Have got to get to Chez Panisse someday.)

A FINAL NOTE: My choices above do not reflect my overall tastes in food, which go well beyond regional American cooking. These are simply the sources I consult most often when cooking at home.

So, how about it, guys? What other good ones have I missed? And, in particular, what Asian, Italian, Mexican, and/or French cookbooks are MUST-HAVES for American cooks?

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  1. I mentioned this in another thread, but I like the idea of expanding my library to include these "essential" according to the James Beard Foundation cookbooks


    11 Replies
    1. re: The Dairy Queen

      A solid list. And I'm gratified, of course, to see a few of my choices on it (even if they are no-brainers).

      1. re: Jeff C.

        While the Beard list is interesting, it completely lacks "world view". Frankly, it lacks US "regional view" as well. That list is myopic at best. But I suppose the purpose Beard Foundation is to advance Amercian Cookery (not sure of the mission)?

        1. re: Ora

          Hmmm...excellent point. According to the link I provided, "the James Beard Foundation is dedicated to celebrating, preserving, and nurturing America's culinary heritage and diversity in order to elevate the appreciation of our culinary excellence" and it goes on to describe Mr. Beard himself as a champion of American cuisine. So, I'm not surprise to find the list lacking a world view, even though it does have a handful of cookbooks from other cuisines represented (5 books of the 20, so 25%), several of which (Bayless, Hazan and Child) are often recommended on this board:

          Authentic Mexican: Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico, Rick Bayless
          Classic Indian Cooking, Julie Sahni
          Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking , Marcella Hazan
          Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume One, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (as well as "The Way to Cook" by Julia Child)
          The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques and Recipes, Barbara Tropp

          But, on closer examination, it is surprising that there aren't more American regional cuisines represented given the Beard foundation's MIssion. Obviously, this list would be a starting point for just some basic techniques, since the list is limited to 20. What would you add (or strike or replace), Ora, to give a home cook the fundamentals with a more world view or for a more regional American view?


          1. re: The Dairy Queen

            Apologies for butting in, but I think we have to take into consideration the time in which James Beard lived. Were he alive today, I think he would be dumfounded at the array of Asian cuisines that are now considered "everyday American."

            My experience is that any institution that is founded to memorialize someone tends to cling to their view of the world at the time of their death. I somehow doubt that James Beard ever had pad thai. Maybe not even sushi, and god knows that's certainly proliferate in this country today. Japanese business men regularly fly to L.A. to have American sushi! Where's the sushi cookbook on the Beard Foundation list?.

            1. re: Caroline1

              More importantly, what sushi cookbook would you add to the list since you live in the here and now? James Beard Foundation list aside, very few sushi cookbooks have been mentioned in this thread, no? Even by our esteemed, worldly, and diverse fellow 'hounds? And many mentioned on the James Beard Foundation list including Child, Hazan, and Tropp have also been mentioned in this thread by others, so, it doesn't sounds like the James Beard Foundation list was that far astray, it just wasn't that expansive in terms of its world view. How would you add to the list with your current knowledge and superior 'hound sensibility?

              This Beard Foundation list was created in November 2007 by a committee including Pat Adrian, (The Good Cook), a division of Bookspan; Pat Brown, (Bon Appétit Magazine); Lee Svitak Dean, (Minneapolis Star-Tribune); Doralece Lipoli Dullaghan, (Sur La Table); Jan Turner Hazard, (Ladies Home Journal); Martha Holmberg,(The Oregonian); Kathleen Purvis, (The Charlotte Observer); Irene Sax, (New York University, The New York Daily News and Epicurious); Nach Waxman, (Kitchen Arts & Letters); and Rita Wolfson, (Doubleday & Co.) A decidedly American group, but a reasonable cross-section thereof, given the task at hand, I think.


              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                Whew! Guess I ruffled your feathers. Sorry. But you seem to have missed my point. So from my "current knowledge and superior 'hound sensibilities," let me reiterate:

                I: The James Beard Foundation was/is formulated to focus on American food from a memorialized James Beard perspective.

                II: Not specifically stated but hopefully understood by most readers, it takes at least a generation, according to social scientists, for broad new cultural influences to be absorbed to a point where they are accepted as mainstream norms.

                III: The Beard Foundation list of books does not (as can be expected) fully reflect the multicultural food influences that are broadly active in this country today.

                Not rocket science. There's nothing wrong with the way the Beard Foundation does things. But it is a bit naive to think it reflects present day food in America. What it does, it appears to do well within the narrower confines of its scope and goals.

                CHOW POLICE: If you remove this reply too, then please also remove Dairy Qeens reply to me. It's only fair.

                1. re: Caroline1

                  No feathers ruffled. As you can tell, ora made the "lacking the world view", as well as the lacking a regional U.S. view, point here ... and I conceeded those points here, noting that, indeed, the self-described mission of the JBF is American centric, which would explain the limited world view of the list. I further expressed that it seemed strange that the JBF list wasn't better at covering the American regional cuisines, given its mission and, (as I tried, apparently not so successfully, to point out in my reply to you) given the relatively broad cross-section of "committee" members who made the JBF list.

                  I still think (and, of course, you're free to disagree) the James Beard list is a decent starting point for American "basics" cookbooks, and even the handful of non-American cookbooks on the list, based on recommendations for many of those same cookbooks from other 'hounds, even in this thread. (Except, I will say, I don't know why the Martha Stewart cookbook is on there...), which is the point I was trying to make to you.

                  Just an aside about my my personal cookbook collection: it's rather weak on American cookbooks and over-represented on cookbooks for other cuisines, and even regional cuisines, as I typically pick-up cookbooks whenever I travel both within North America and abroad ( if I can't find any in English while abroad, I buy one when I get home--it's a way to "extend" my travels) . Cookbooks and photos are my primary souvenirs of my travels. So, when I saw that James Beard list, something clicked in me because it seems to be a list of cookbooks that would be helpful in supplementing my personal collection, but I didn't notice the American-centricness of it until ora pointed it out.

                  I'm not sure what additional point you were making in your intial post over and above the points ora made and I conceded, and my apologies if I've completely missed it, but I agree with the point you're making in your follow-up post about generations. However, since this is a thread about listing cookbooks and you seem quite knowledgeable, I was hoping you'd list out which cookbooks you think would "round out" the James Beard list and, since you mentioned sushi specifically and (if I recall correctly) only one Japanese cookbook (not specifically sushi) has been mentioned in this thread, I was hoping you knew of a sushi cookbook to add to the list!


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                    Sorry for misunderstanding. And I seem to have missed the Ora post, or skimmed at such a rate it didn't seep in. Bad habit!

                    As for the Beard Foundation's "Ameri-centric" list of cookbooks, it's a valid service. I think there is a tendency among all people to subconsciously ignore the cookbooks of the cuisine they grew up with. After all, Mom cooked it and we've eaten it all of our lives. For many Americans, that means pot roast, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, biscuits, pan gravy, iceberg lettuce salad, sliced tomatoes, and oatmeal. How many recipes for such staples do any of us have in our cookbook collections? Well, I do have a few cookbooks that include them, but they aren't cookbooks I use often, and when I do it's almost always for recreational reading or to research something I've run across elsewhere: The New England Yankee Cookbook. Cooking in Old Virginia (1879). Blue Ribbon Recipes. I think most cooks who collect recipe books have a few staples in their library, but nine times out of ten I think they're more the result of opportunity and impulse converging rather than a premeditated act of library building.

                    Sushi... I (stupidly) loaned my favorite and best sushi cookbook and never got it back. Damn! Moral: Do NOT loan ANY books! For good basic Japanese cooking I highly recommend "Home Style Japanese Cooking In Pictures," by Sadako Kohno. She does cover the basics well and succinctly for making sushi, but she simply calls it, "Vinegared Rice Rolled in Nori (Nori-maki)". Her words are clear, her pictures are worth the proverbial thousand words, and best of all her recipes taste good. That makes for a very good cookbook!

                    Since Chinese cooking is primarily an imprvisational precedure once you have a few basic techniques down, I only have two Chinese cookbooks. One is unfortunately not yet unpacked two and a half years AFTER the move! God, I hope it's in one of the boxes in the garage! It contains the greatest sweet and sour recipe known to man. It's a small spiral bound cookbook written around the time of WWII by a group of nuns in China, to raise funds for their work. I understand it's a sought after collector's item and hard to come by. Can't recall the name.

                    The Chinese cookbook I do have at hand is called "Chinese Snacks" by Huang Su-Huei. Incredible illustrations and a wide variety of Chinese recipes you won't find in any U.S. Chinese restaurant I've ever been to. One of my favorite recipes is a sweet dim sum she calls "Steamed Long Life Cake." It's a yeast dough filled with dates, then formed into a peach and steamed. Gorgeous and delicious. In many ways, I find her versions of Chinese dishes more akin to traditional Japanese kaiseki presentations, in that her dishes are designed to visually stimulate the appetite before coming near the taste buds. An excellent book.

                    I must confess I don't own any Thai or Vietnamese cook books. I do browse them, but impusle and opportunity have not yet coincided. That, plus there are tons and tons of recipes of all ethnicities availbable on the internet, so that has seriously damped my enthusiasm for needing to add more bookshelves.

                    As for Indian cookbooks, well, I'm allergic to garbanzo beans and have my tandoori marinade memorized, so I gave my only Indian cookbook to a friend. And Google serves me well.

                    Sub-Saharan African cooking seems to be gaining in public attention. Expeience has taught me caution on that count. A Nigerian student of my acquaintance volunteered to cook Nigerian food for me. God, I hope she is not a typical Nigerian cook! She boiled two pounds of white rice for three people! Can you imagine? And she made a chicken and shrimp "stew" by deep fat frying the chicken pieces for half an hour, then adding them to a pot with pureed red bell peppers and onions and a few other things and boiling them for an hour, then adding the shrimp and boiling an additional hour. As I said, for the sake of all Nigeria, I hope she is not a typical Nigerian cook! She cooked it here in my kitchen, and I'm still wondering if she had really ever cooked before or just wanted to play with my kitchen toys? But I have been reading sub-Saharan African restuarant menus on line, and some of the dishes sound quite interesting. I suspect that regional African food may be the next major food interest in this country. We certainly have a wide population base that will be attracted to it if only because they're wondering about their possible heritage.

                    As for the James Beard Institute, I find their lists interesting, but that's about as far as it goes simply because I have yet to find a list for anything, including all of the "Top 100" lists that are so plentiful, to really be all that illuminating. I knew a lot of people like "Casablanca" before AFI made it "official." I find single recommendations for single books, movies, music to be a lot more useful. But then I've never claimed not to be strange. '-)

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      Hey, these are fantastic additions, thank you! And, yeah, only lend out cookbooks that are still in print lest you never get them back!

                      P.S. No worries about the misunderstanding, tone is especially hard to read on a message board, I think!


              2. re: Caroline1

                It appears he ate sashimi way back in the 70's or earlier. I was reading a collection of his essays a few days ago, and it is apparent enough when he talks about raw fish and how eating it makes it clear that it is a crime to overcook fish. This would be from Beard on Food.

                Your points are interesting. Myself, I don't think of food like that as American. But Americans eat all sorts of Asian food routinely, as you say. Puzzling.

      2. I have the 1975 annd the 1997 editions of the Joy of Cooking and go to both of them more often than any other cookbook it have!


        2 Replies
        1. re: PamelaD

          Yes. JOC and MTAOFC (Julia Child). As most CH'ers, I consider myself a cookbook afficianado, and these two are hands down the very best I have ever used.

          1. re: diablo

            I have three large bookcases in my dining room crammed with cookbooks and JOC and MTAOFC are the ones I go to most often. I have the new Joy, the 1997 and 1975 versions, and one from the late 60s. I would add to these the 60s Fannie Farmer cookbook. I have made gallons, washtubs, barrels of the FF lemon curd (lemon cheese, she called it) over my career, and she's got my go-to chiffon cake recipe too.

        2. Currently (meaning: for the past year or so) I am smitten by Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe Cookbook. What lovingly detailed instructions and sensory descriptions. For example, five dense pages of copy to explain how to make (the best) roasted chicken!

          Other titles that I still return to often, sometimes after more than 30 years:

          • Craig Claiborne's New York Time Cookbook
          • Silver Palate (both)
          • Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Julia Child, et al.)
          • Marcella Hazan's first Italian book

          2 Replies
          1. re: FeelingALittleBreadish

            You must be about my age. Those were the cookbooks where I learned to cook. I would also like to add Maida Heatter's Book of Great Desserts and others by her.

            1. re: veggielover

              Yeah, I guess my choices date me. I forgot to list Jean Anderson's Processor Cooking cookbook (vintage 70s). I got it when I received my first and only food processor—the original Cuisinart. Her cookbook introduced me to hummus (remember, this was the 1970s!), baba ganoush, dips, pureed vegetable soups, and so on.

          2. Here are a few of my older favorites that don’t get much mention on this board.

            For holiday cooking, I wouldn’t want to live without either “John Clancy’s Christmas Cookbook” or “Thanksgiving Dinner” by Anthony Dias Blue. Excellent recipes, and good ideas.

            “Jean Anderson Cooks” has one terrific recipe after another. I don’t think Jean Anderson gets anywhere near the recognition she deserves.

            “Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen.” I’ll be making his seafood and sausage gumbo, and my friends will continue asking for it, until the day I die.

            “The French Menu Cookbook” by Richard Olney. Because he really knew his stuff and every recipe’s a classic.

            “The Art of Fine Baking” by Paula Peck. Before there was a Rose Levy Berenbaum

            “Simply French: Patricia Wells Presents the Cuisine of Joel Roubuchon.” Sort of the Zuni Cookbook of the early 90s, and just as revelatory.

            “The Foods and Wines of Spain” by Penelope Casas. Still the best.

            And one new(ish) book, just because I don’t think it’s as popular as it ought to be: “The New Gourmet Cookbook” edited by Ruth Reichl. This book has amazed me week after week since I first got it. It’s not, for the most part, fancy dinner party, two-days-in-preparation food. It’s for those days when you don’t know what to do with the chicken thighs you have in the freezer or what to serve the bunch of teenagers who will be coming home hungry from a soccer game. I always find something I want to cook, and it’s always good, often, very, very good. I’ve made three dozen recipes from the book so far and there isn’t one I wouldn’t repeat.

            2 Replies
            1. re: JoanN

              Haha, JoanN, my mom and I are making Paul Prudhomme's seafood and sausage gumbo today. And I completely agree on his cookbook, that one would definitely be on my list.

              1. re: JoanN

                Agree 100% on Jean Anderson, the new book on Southern cooking is a joy and the Portugal one inspired me to go to Lisbon on vacation. "Cooks" is wonderful too, the peach soufflé is a dream.

              2. Bittman, previously mentioned; the Goldbecks' American Wholefoods Cuisine; Diet for a Small Planet; the Mennonite Central Committee's old More-with-Less Cookbook; and an old Betty Crocker if I need to look up something really basic.