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What is your favorite cookbook of all time?

I want to get a couple of new cookbooks and wanted to know what you chowhounders would name as your absolute favorite book, and why. Thanks in advance!

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  1. I've been totally in love with Molly Steven's "All About Braising" for two years now. I've yet to have even one recipe disappoint, and I've made probably half those in the book. It's a beautiful book, with many full-color pictures and illustrations; she includes many useful essays on how to buy particular cuts of meat, what to look for at your green grocer, etc.

    My favorite recipes include her "world's best braised cabbage," "zinfandel pot roast," adn "brisket braised with rhubarb and honey." Oh, and "braised pork belly with glazed turnips."

    You can check out some of her recipes and techniques on her website www.mollystevenscooks.com.

    Most would consider this to be more a winter cookbook than a summer one, but for a NYC apartment dweller with no grill or outdoor space, I can live with heating up the apartment for the kind of moist, flavorful food that comes from braising.

    I've given this cookbook as a gift to maybe half a dozen people, and those that have tried the recipes later told me how much they like it.

    17 Replies
    1. re: JimJohn

      I find myself intimidated by this book. I have checked it out from the library twice now and have DO's to use but think the recipes are suited to having nothing to do but cook. I call it "day off" cooking. Would you agree? I also think that the ingredients are doable and easy to find but really odd at the same time--in other words, things I'd never put together and am cautious about doing. I got really excited by the pot roasts and then saw the canneloni recipe and got more excited and I had to laugh when I saw she calls for making your own canneloni! Fortunately she gave steps for doing things in advance which makes it more realistic but I'm still incredibly intimidated by this book. It's like an "adult" cookbook when I've only been using kids or something. I can't explain well. :(

      1. re: eperdu

        eperdu, looking through the many Cookbook of the Month reports on AAB might give you a sense of how the recipes come out and how doable they are. People are really enthusiastic about that book!

        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

          I've read all the threads and I've read all the recipes. I'm just intimidated by it. I am planning to start with the Polpettone and tomato sauce.... that just sounds amazing to me. I think because it's similar to a meal at a restaurant which I love but don't get enough. ;)

          1. re: eperdu

            That's a great recipe to start with. They're just meatballs, after all. But, oh! What meatballs!

            I think you'll find it takes her more words to say something than you'd find with many other cookbook authors. It can make the recipes look more intimidating than they actually are.

            Another great *starter* recipe in the book is World's Best Cabbage. It is. And it's really easy.

            1. re: JoanN

              I love cabbage so I'll have to give that one a shot. I have such a weird schedule that I really only get two nights a week to cook "at my leisure" the other nights I'm trying to fix dinner at 9pm which is no fun at all.

        2. re: eperdu

          Braising takes time but I find this book very easy to use and I generally have all the ingredients, so, no, I am not sure what you mean, sorry ;(

          1. re: magiesmom

            I think it's probably the time factor for eperdu.

            By its nature, braising takes time. Even the cabbage recipe, which is very, very easy, takes a good 2-2 1/2 hours total prep and cooking.

            I like this cookbook a lot and think it's a great addition to even the most basic library. But it is probably a day-off book for most working people.

            1. re: magiesmom

              Same here. It is an easy book to cook from (and be inspired by) but nothing unusual about it or the ingredients it calls for. A great straightforward braising book with clear instructions IMHO. A good one to fall in love with! :)

              1. re: chefathome

                It is a well-written book, no argument there. The ingredients aren't unusual in terms of finding them but in terms of combining them (for me). For example, lemony chicken with prunes and olives. Normal ingredients but .. what a combo! I'm sure it's probably rooted in a classical French recipe but ...

                I also find the NUMBER of ingredients to be high. The hard cider and parsnips chicken is one of the least amounts with 6 ingredients (not including oil, s&p etc). A lot of the ingredients are pretty basic and pantry items (onions, garlic, etc) but it's still a lot for each recipe.

                Also, she really likes rosemary! It's one of my least favorite herbs so I'm hesitant to try the recipes because it's a primary taste/ingredient. It's possible it tastes great but it makes me shy away.

                The other thing, which someone else mentioned is that she's very wordy. The recipe instructions are 2-3 pages long each when it could be much shorter.

                Tonight I'm making the Polpettone in Tomato Sauce. It's a simple recipe but it sounds wonderful.

                Don't get me wrong, I love the book, it just makes me nervous :)

                1. re: eperdu

                  >>Also, she really likes rosemary! It's one of my least favorite herbs<<

                  Leave it out. Or substitute thyme if you think it will work (and you like thyme). I don't *hate* rosemary, but I think it's overused. It's good with roasted potatoes and some meat dishes, but I like thyme a lot more, and I substitute it frequently.

                  The fact that they're both woody/stalky herbs helps make the substitution possible. I wouldn't switch in basil or tarragon.

                  1. re: Jay F

                    Jay, thanks for the sub suggestion. I do like thyme quite a bit. I like trying recipes as written because I trust other peoples taste sense better than my own. I'm still learning :)

                  2. re: eperdu

                    I get it - sometimes I'm a little thick. :) The lemon chicken recipe you mention is very good - probably tastes different than what you would expect. Prunes add a lot of depth to braises without being obviously prune flavour. Sorta like anchovies. They melt into umaminess and add that extra something.

                    You're right - she IS wordy. She could be more concise. Too bad there are not more photographs in the book - they can be helpful, too.

                    ETA: This is in response to eperdu re Stevens' braising book.

                    Hopefully you'll love the Polpettone. It would be awesome if that inspired you even more! I love that you are excited about it and want to learn. Your curiosity and questions are indeed the makings of a great cook. :) Don't get discouraged. We all had to start somewhere!

                    1. re: chefathome

                      Thanks. That particular recipe is one I want to try. It's just two of us so I end up having a lot of leftovers which makes me hesitate on some of the more unique recipes. I love prunes, oh wait, "Dried Plums" if the word prunes is non-chic. ;)

                      The polpettone is on hold--apparently ground veal is not very common. The ingredients are pretty simple so I think what I'll do is just keep checking my stores for the ground veal and then when I see it, I'll jump on it. That said, now to find a new recipe.

                      Seeing as how many braises are better the next day, it might work better for me. I work from 12pm-9pm which really makes meal prep tricky. Maybe I can try making everything first thing in the morning and then refrigerating it and reheating it at 9 when I get off work. It's an option! Thanks so much everyone for the input!

                      1. re: eperdu

                        Go to the butcher and request ground veal, or grind your own. Or if the recipe calls for a mix of ground meats, veal is often part of those "meatloaf" mixes of three meats (unseasoned of course).

              2. re: eperdu

                The thing about the time with braising is that it's hands-off for most of it. I cook with this cookbook on weekdays all the time. The total time you're cooking is pretty low, and then you stick it in the oven.

              3. re: JimJohn

                You know, I have like 100 cookbooks, and I gotta say All About Braising is certainly in the top 3. Just an amazing book. I'm going to buy another copy now for my sister, good call, thanks.

                1. re: SocksManly

                  I like to give this book and a dutch oven to newlyweds.

                  ~TDQ

              4. I agree with JimJohn, All About Braising is a great book. It's extremely informative with lots of tips, and I love the variety of recipes - everything from classics to "Vietnamese Braised Scallops" and "Mediterranean Squid. Some of my favorites are "World's Best Cabbage", "Braised Halibut Steaks with Creamy Leeks", and "Veal and Ricotta Meatballs".

                Lots of info here with reports of recipes and pics as it was a Chowhound Cookbook of the Month: October 2006 Cookbook of the Month: All About Braising'
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/330177

                Actually, in that theme, these are some of my other all-time favorites from the Cookbooks of the Month - I use them as my go-to books for both weeknight and entertaining menus, have learned a lot from each author regarding their style of cooking, techniques, and cooking tips, they've influenced and changed my style of cooking, and most, if not all, recipes I tried were winners:

                Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking http://www.chowhound.com/topics/325712

                Judy Rodgers, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/355995

                Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/387069

                Suzanne Goin, Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/397079

                Fuchsia Dunlop, A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking
                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/494660

                3 Replies
                1. re: Rubee

                  I've been using the original Joy of Cooking for 40 years, so that must be it. Craig Clairborne's International Cookbook got me going into world cuisine and Pierre Francy's 60 Minute Gourmet opened up a world to me. James Beard's New Fish Cookery taught me the Canadian cooking theory of 11 minutes to the inch. Pretty old stuff, huh?
                  PS I do have a lot of new cook books too.

                  1. re: Rubee

                    The Hazan and Goin books are definitely two of my all time favorites. I also rely a lot on The Way to Cook. Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories is a new favorite.

                    1. re: Rubee

                      i love molly stevens' braising book too! it's been wonderful. ditto on the braised cabbage -- so good! and pork braised in milk is another favorite. and the duck legs in port were amazing as well. and i make the quick lemony prune olive braised chicken legs all the time. and there are many more!

                    2. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" Vols. I and II, by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, is my favorite cookbook. I started cooking out of both volumes when I was about twelve years old and it/they introduced me to the concept of sauces (other than, say, ketchup or meat gravy). Furthermore, everything in it works. There are no losers, at least, none among the many recipes I have tried. Evrything is delicious and it is all explained clearly. Of course, citing Julia Child's book may be a bit passe, but hey, sometimes the old books are the best. This cookbook changed my life and turned me into a cook. I love it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: gfr1111

                        These are my favorites too. I started cooking from these at about the same age as you. My first recipe was Hollandaise sauce. It taught me so much about technique, and that helped me so much through out the years, it really is my favorite.

                        The whole concept of a "Master Recipe" and then listing the variations was an eye opening experience. This was opposed to having separate recipes for dishes, even if they were similar. I know there are other techniques that are not in these books, but it certainly gives you a great start to cooking, and even cooking on the fly, e.g. start with X, and add what you have on hand to make at least a passable, and sometimes great dish.

                      2. I love "Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchens, by Malulee Pinsuvana. It is a quirky, spiral-bound little book that it would be easy to dismiss as dated... but the recipes are really quite something. The Chicken Satay recipe alone is worth having the book for! And the photos are hilarious-- often a glass of beer sits by the plated food -- this is obvioulsy about to be consumed, not styled for a photo shoot.
                        My other favorite is Trattoria, by Biba Caggiano. Each recipe is accompanied by a description of the trattoria from which it came... Reading it is as much fun as cooking from it. And the recipes are more like the food I loved in Italy than any other I've looked at.
                        Oh, and I do use the Bittman 'bible' (How to Cook Everything) more than any other cookbook I own. Doesn't make it my "favorite" -- but it is my most-used!

                        8 Replies
                        1. re: missoulagrace

                          missoulagrace, I was given Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchen more than 20 years ago, by Finns while I was living in Helsinki. It was my introduction to Thai food. Now it looks like Number 2 Son will be moving to Thailand to teach in Aug. (Number 1 Son lives in Seoul. Hmmmmm, maybe we go teach in Taipai or Viet Nam?
                          Isn't Julia the grande dame of American cooking? I think I am over due in getting her books. Her biography is fascinating.

                          1. re: Passadumkeg

                            The Olives Cookbook by Todd English. Recipes that are challenging but possible for the average to good home cook. Garlic Risotto with lobster cream sauce, yummm! My copy has been used so much that the back is broken and most pages are stained but it is my favorite of all time.

                          2. re: missoulagrace

                            Missoulagrace,

                            "Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchens - Book 2 With ASEAN Recipes" by Malulee Pinsuvana came out in 1986. It's in the same spiral format and also has a cover showing four dishes.

                              1. re: missoulagrace

                                Missoulagrace,
                                Since it is so old I doubt if it is still available in the usual bookstores in Bangkok, but it might be findable at the big flea market they have they at Chattuchak Park. My (Thai) wife and I will be going there around December. If you have no luck on eBay or other stateside sources let me know and I can try to find a copy there. My email is adcamer77@bellsouth.net. We have probably 30 Thai cookbooks, most written completely in Thai, and hers are a couple of favorites.

                                1. re: ThaiNut

                                  That is such a nice offer... thank you! --Grace

                            1. re: missoulagrace

                              Okay, so I was able to get ahold of "Cooking Thai Food in American Kitchens" and it is exactly as quirky as you describe. The recipe I have to try first is the one for "steamed buns" that calls for Pillsbury buttermilk biscuits in a tube. I am just so incredibly curious.

                              ~TDQ

                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                LOL! I never thought of that! I have been longing for steamed pork buns for a while now but too lazy to make the dough. Never thought of the dairy case! I'll have to give that a try! '-)

                                Oh god, if it works well, the pounds I will gain...! <sigh>

                            2. Restricted to one choice I would say Joy of Cooking.