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Essential cookbooks

f
fbf242 Nov 13, 2008 06:51 AM

Over time I have accumulated a fair number of cookbooks, many of them with glossy photos of exciting recipes, usually received as gifts or bought on impulse... and I rarely use them. They're fun to look through, but I just don't really like cooking from a highly specific, out-of-context recipe. As I've been getting more into cooking, I've found that I really enjoy reading (and then cooking from) books that explain different techniques, how ingredients work together, etc - books that "teach" rather than just present a recipe.

I'd like to add some cookbooks to my Christmas list. Which books do you consider essential in every cook's library? Which books have most shaped/influenced the way that you cook? And/or bake, I should add - I'm not much of a baker but I would love to learn more!

  1. j
    jpc8015 Nov 13, 2008 07:30 AM

    If you are interested in baking you must get "The Bread Bible" by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This book offers easy to follow instructions as well as lengthy chapters discussing how different flours and liquids will effect your final product. This book has some great recipes in it, I was not able to bake anything with yeast before I got this book but I am now able to bake any bread recipe from any book because I am better able to understand how the ingredients work together.

    1. c
      CeeBee Nov 13, 2008 07:46 AM

      I'm not sure if these are essential to everyone, since cooking and tastes and knowledge are so very personal. These are the books (in no particular order) that I use often, really enjoy, and find to be essential to me:
      The Gourmet Cookbook (the yellow one) from Gourmet Magazine. This is a good, basic book with recipes for just about everything. I recommend this to people who are just getting started and need a basics kind of a book.
      Betty Crocker Cookbook: I have my mom's old one and again, use it for a lot of basics, especially with baking (Spritz cookies, Banana Bread). I also recommend this to a lot of beginners.
      The Best Recipes in the World-Mark Bittman: This one has all kinds of ethnic recipes. I turn to it when I want something a little different.
      Everyday Food: Great Food Fast-Martha Stewart Living: I like that this book is broken up into seasons. The recipes are all easy enough to not be intimidating, the ingredients are usually things I have on hand or buy regularly. Nothing in the book takes too long to make. I use this often for weeknight meals.

      1 Reply
      1. re: CeeBee
        s
        Steady Habits Dec 4, 2008 06:06 AM

        CeeBee, I also have my mother's old copy of BC...with an inscription from my father, as it was his gift to her on their first wedding anniversary in 1950 :-). I wonder if he was trying to tell her something, ha ha. (Although by the time I came along, she was a very good cook....) Anyway, that book's a gem, isn't it? Mine is so tattered, the binding is gone, but I still use it frequently, as you say, to find something basic or one of the mid-Century "classics" (cooking or baking) that you just don't find in cookbooks today. I agree it would be very useful to new cooks, for it's pictorial demonstrations of techniques and tips and info on ingredients and equipments. I also treasure my mother's Betty Crocker cookbook for her notations in the margins as to what worked for her and what didn't. :-)

      2. chowkari Nov 13, 2008 07:58 AM

        I also love to ask for cookbooks for Christmas! Last year I got The Zuni Cafe Cookbook and Gastronomique. The former I love and highly recommend, as she talks a lot about cooking techniques. The latter is great to have, but quite honestly I have not utilized it much yet.

        Other cookbooks that shaped how I cook are.....

        - Sunday Suppers & Lucques
        - Biba's Northern Italian Cooking
        - Not a cookbook, but I highly recommend a subscription to Saveur.

        I also recommend The Joy of Cooking (for the basics) and The Bread Baker's Apprentice.

        The most highly overrated cookbooks are, in my opinion, Donna Hay's. I actually own a ton, and I hold onto her magazines - the photography is so beautiful, but I find the recipes to be uninteresting. Again, good for basics.

        1. g
          gfr1111 Nov 13, 2008 08:05 AM

          Your request has two different parts to it. Do you want the names of cookbooks that posters to Chowhound like? or Do you want recommended "how to" type cookbooks. The two are not necessarily the same. However, be that as it may . . .

          I'd recommend Alton Brown's "I'm Just Here for the Food," which really explains why you use the techniques you do and what happens if you don't. Also, I would recommend Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," either volume I or II.

          I hope this helps.

          1 Reply
          1. re: gfr1111
            f
            fbf242 Nov 13, 2008 08:38 AM

            I didn't mean to say that I am only interested in "how-to" cookbooks - I am interested in books that people consider to have shaped the way that they cook or to have taught them a lot... they don't necessarily have to have that "how-to" feel, but posters have found them particularly helpful/useful/informative. I hope that kind of makes sense :)

          2. d
            dgreenwood Nov 13, 2008 08:18 AM

            I can't rave enough about Molly Stevens' "The Art of Braising" - a wonderful teaching tool and fabulous recipes. With her instruction you cannot fail! She covers everything from vegetables through most every kind of meat. And encourages the cook to experiment with flavors once you master the techniques. Her book also has wonderful sidebars about shopping for specific ingredients like cuts of meat and how they respond. Her editorial tone is friendly, simple and to the point and makes you want to cook just about everything in the book. Please check it out!

            Julia Child "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is a must for the techniques and recipes. The new edition has somewhat cut the fats of the previous version and made it more friendly to modern tastes and ingredient availability.

            For breadmaking, I would suggest Nancy Silverton's "Breads from the La Brea Bakery" for all things sourdough. Fascinating reading and great tasting! The Cake Bible by Beranbaum is what it says it is - I have made wedding cakes from this book with great success.

            2 Replies
            1. re: dgreenwood
              chowkari Nov 13, 2008 08:40 AM

              I appreciate your first recommendation. I've never been a braising person and would love to start. I will add this book to my Amazon wishlist! :-)

              1. re: chowkari
                Phoo_d Nov 24, 2008 11:55 AM

                I second the recommendation for Molly Stevens' book, though I think it's titled "All About Braising" http://www.mollystevenscooks.com/books.php. This book taught me how to braise and my life is now happier. It is one of the few reasons that I'm actually looking forward to another Midwest winter! If you don't already have a large dutch oven such as a Le Cruset, a 6-8 quart dutch oven and this cookbook would be the perfect gift.

                Another favorite book/gift combo is the Williams Sonoma Ice Cream cookbook and a small Cuisinart ice cream maker. This cookbook taught me the fundamentals of homemade ice cream, and my husband's life has been happier ever since!

                Phoo-D
                http://www.phoo-d.com

            2. yamalam Nov 13, 2008 09:17 AM

              A New Way To Cook, by Sally Schneider. Healthy but not diet or low-fat versions of the good stuff. Uses technique to cut down on saturated fat, etc, rather than lesser ingredients or abstaining altogether. I'm all for dumping 2 sticks of butter into the pan, but want to at least consider whether it's altogether necessary first, and this book achieves that for me:)

              1. j
                Jack_ Nov 24, 2008 06:40 AM

                a couple of books on my wish list:

                The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

                here them talking about it: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/lopate/epis...

                Also La Technique: An Illustrated Guide to the Fundamental Techniques of Cooking by Jacques Pepin the video version of this recently re-ran on TV and I liked it quite a bit.

                1. jen kalb Nov 24, 2008 07:12 AM

                  I think you can get a pretty good flavor of what cookbooks people find appealing from the cookbook of the month threads. Personally, Ive always been very fond of the books by Paula Wolfert and Marcella Hazan. both for reading about the cuisine, ingredients and techniques and for cooking the delicious dishes they produce. Julia Child's They Way to Cook is probably the best entree into her work. Plenty of braising recipes in these books, too.

                  Im not a fan of Bittman, think is goal of simplification takes him too far. If I am going to take the time to cook (as opposed to just getting meals on the table) Id rather take the time for max deliciousness.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: jen kalb
                    Miss Needle Nov 24, 2008 10:34 AM

                    I'm with you on Bittman. I think it's a great book for a beginner as the recipes tend to be simpler. But I haven't been too keen on a lot of his stuff. That said, I love his recipe for the overnight waffles.

                    Essential cookbooks? My vote is for Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cuisine, Casas's The Foods and Wines of Spain, Kuo's Key to Chinese Cooking, Rodgers's Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques, Tsuji's Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art, Andoh's Washoku, Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine, Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and Pham's Pleasures of the Vietnamese Table (prefer it over the seemingly more popular Ngueyn's book as I find the recipes taste much better).

                    1. re: Miss Needle
                      JoanN Nov 24, 2008 12:52 PM

                      It's not so much that I *prefer* Nguyen's book as that I *have* Nguyen's book. Ordered both from the library, Nguyen's came in first, I decided I had to buy it, and was well into it by the time Pham's book came in. I ask myself, perhaps weekly, if I really need two books with such similar recipes. I've resisted so far. But darn you, Miss Needle. You're not helping any.

                      Agree with you about Casas. It didn't really influence me, except for the way I make paella, but it would sure be high on the list of books I wouldn't want to live without.

                      1. re: JoanN
                        The Dairy Queen Nov 24, 2008 01:19 PM

                        Oh no Oh no Oh no...these kinds of threads always sending me fleeing back to Amazon to update my "wish list" of books I'd love to own someday or for which I keep an eye out at garage sales and such. I think we need a new thread, "Cookbooks I wouldn't want to live without," which is slightly different than cookbooks that have influenced me along the way.

                        Which reminds me, did Bittman ever publish his revised list of 50 cookbooks he would not want to live without? http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5086...

                        RE: Nguyen and Pham, I own them both and, like Miss Needle, lean more toward the latter, but I think it could be sentimentality that it's the first one I started cooking from. Also, I think her writing is better. (And I'm talking about the little essays that introduce the chapters, not necessarily the recipes, etc.)

                        I won't list out my most influential cookbooks because I don't have enough depth of cooking experience to have a list that would be helpful to anyone else, I'm afraid.

                        ~TDQ

                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          Miss Needle Nov 24, 2008 01:47 PM

                          I also started cooking from Pham first. But after a couple of so-so recipes from Nguyen's, I find that Pham's recipes are a bit more complex in terms of flavors -- eg. ginger chicken and chicken curry. I think one reason why Nguyen's is so popular is that she's got some gorgeous pictures. And she also writes a well-written blog. I think some of her amazon reviewers are her blog fans. And perhaps Nguyen's serving sizes are more in line with American appetites. I still do like Nguyen's book. But if I had to pick one, I'd choose Pham's.

                        2. re: JoanN
                          Miss Needle Nov 24, 2008 01:38 PM

                          He he. I have a cookbook problem as well.

                    2. k
                      KiltedCook Nov 24, 2008 07:59 AM

                      Both of Alton's Cookbooks - I'm just Here for the Food; and I'm just here for More Food. The first deals with basic cooking techniques - braise, broil, steam, saute, etc. The second deals with baking things and the various techniques there.

                      If you love Mexican, get Rick Bayless' The Essential Mexican Kitchen

                      Although out of favor these days, I still love The Frugal Gourmet's original cookbook, plus his Three Ancient Cuisines cookbook.

                      1. k
                        Kelli2006 Nov 24, 2008 09:05 AM

                        I love my copy of Craig Claiborne's NY times cookbook and I constantly use the Cooks Illustrated "Best Recipe" books.

                        If you are interested in technique books you might want to purchase a used copy of the CIA textbooks, Shirley Corrhiers tomes and Harold J McGee's "On Food and Cooking". Peter Reinharts"Bread Bakers Apprentice" is a great introduction to bread.

                        1. JoanN Nov 24, 2008 10:06 AM

                          These are the books, not necessarily my current favorites, that have had the most influence on me:

                          Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” Volumes I and II

                          Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cook Book” and “More Classic Italian Cooking,” (now combined in “Essentials of Italian Cooking,” (although the recipes aren’t exactly the same). For all the Italian recipes, certainly, but especially for how to make homemade pasta.

                          Paula Peck’s “The Art of Fine Baking” and Rose Levy Berenbaum’s “The Cake Bible.”

                          Richard Olney’s “The French Menu Cookbook” along with “Michael Field’s Cooking School” (the latter now sadly out of print but readily available used)

                          “Paul Prudhomme’s Louisianna Cookbook,” for introducing me to a cuisine with which I was until then unfamiliar

                          Ditto, re: the unfamiliarity, for Fucshia Dunlop’s “Land of Plenty.” Although I had cooked Chinese before, it was more by rote than through understanding.

                          Molly Stevens’s “All About Braising,” because I thought I knew how, but I really didn’t.

                          Madeleine Kamman’s “The New Making of a Cook,” subtitled “The Art, Techniques, and Science of Good Cooking,” and it really is.

                          James Peterson’s “Fish and Shellfish,” which taught me how not to overcook fish and how to like it that way.

                          And finally, on a more whimsical note but also influential, Peter Reinhart’s “American Pie,” because until then I was just pretending I knew how to make pizza.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: JoanN
                            oakjoan Nov 24, 2008 11:26 AM

                            I'd say that my parents influenced my cooking by example and by allowing my sister and I to take part in cooking as we were growing up. Both were fabulous cooks and made dishes from everywhere (steak and kidney pie, bbq turkey, Spanish cream cake, fatigman (sp) (Swedish cookies - fat men), Chinese stir-fries, curry, lots of salads, etc., etc. My mother baked her own bread for several years and my father experimented with home-brew beer and flavored liqueurs.

                            My favorite books have been Craig Claiborne's New York Times' Cookbook

                            Mastering the Art of French Cooking by J.C. (also used by my mother and which I still have - filled with notes in the margins)

                            All of Paula Wolfert's books, from Cous-Cous and Other Good Food from Morocco, Food of Southwest France (a particular fave), World of Food, Mediterranean Greens and Grains, Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean and Mediterranean Cooking. Hers are my favorite and most-used books. I love the authenticity and background of her recipes and her attention to detail.

                            Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andries de Groot - not so much a recipe book, although there are some, but a loving description of time spent in a valley high in the French Alps with two sisters in the kitchen of their inn)

                            Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni - lots of great photos and recipes from every region.

                            The Hundred Glories of French Cooking by Robert Courtine - a description of the most famous French dishes and their recipes

                            Eastern Vegetarian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey - lots of wonderful veg. dishes from all over Asia.

                            Jamie Oliver's books - I love Naked Chef, Naked Chef Takes Off and Jamie's Kitchen...actually, those are the only ones I have, but I find myself coming back to them over and over...great directions for basics, too.

                            Nigella - I only have one book and I don't like it (Nigella Bites), but I use her recipes online and am going to buy Domestic Goddess after having used it as Dessert COTM.

                            Rose Bakery - Breakfast Lunch Tea by Rose Carrarini - fabulous recipes from the Parisian bakery owned by an ex-pat Brit.

                            The Roux Brothers Cookbook - a very nice collection of mostly French recipes (espec. great desserts) from two French bros who own a famous restaurant in GB.

                            I think everybody should own the 2 Bittman books - How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World. There ARE lots of very basic recipies in HTCE, but it's a great reference and there are lots of good tips and recipes....Cotriade, for example.

                            I also agree with JoanN about Dunlop.

                            I could go on and on....WHAT? I already HAVE gone on and on?!

                          2. j
                            jazzy77 Nov 24, 2008 12:37 PM

                            Essential to every cook's library:

                            - "Cookwise" Shirley O. Corriher (Phenominal recipes, with techniques to explain why - and she's not as dry as Harold McGee)
                            - "The Cake Bible" RL Baranbaum (These recipes are rock solid)
                            - For general reference, "The Joy of Cooking."
                            - Any of Rick Bayless' cookbooks and PBS series, which are all so wonderful that I think I've developed an incurable crush on him.
                            - Paula Deen's cookbooks for when I'm looking for food like I used to have when I was a kid, but better.

                            Books that have shaped/influenced how I cook:
                            - Any of Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cookbooks are loaded with techniques and cultural connections to the recipes.
                            - "The Essential Vegetarian" Diana Shaw (This is the most dog-eared cookbook I own, and I'm not a vegetarian)
                            - Rick Bayless' cookbooks, "Mexican Everyday," specifically.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: jazzy77
                              Eat_Nopal Nov 24, 2008 01:13 PM

                              On the Mexican front... I would say Bayless' Mexican Kitchen (because it really focus on various Techniques & Base Sauces)... of course if you can read Spanish... Larouse de la Cocina Mexicana by the D'Angeli's would be the superior choice.

                            2. c
                              chilihead Nov 24, 2008 12:38 PM

                              I'm really surprised that nobody has mentioned John Thorne. Mouth wide open, Serious Pig, Pot on the Fire and Outlaw cook are great reads and have changed the way I think about cooking.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: chilihead
                                Father Kitchen Nov 27, 2008 12:15 PM

                                Amen, Alleluia. I think Thorne has influenced my attitude toward cooking more than any other author. And his section on artisan bread in Outlaw Cook was the catalyst that turned me into a bread baker. But I got help along the way with books by Thom Leonard, Charles Van Over, Maggie Glezer, Joe Ortiz, Peter Reinhart and several other writers. But Thorne enabled me to see them in a whole new light. I stopped trying to do things to ingredients and began doing things with them. In a sense, after Thorne, I let ingredients teach me.

                              2. s
                                sardis Nov 24, 2008 01:20 PM

                                Might I add... Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson

                                1. g
                                  grantham Nov 24, 2008 02:07 PM

                                  I would agree with the idea that for Italian food, all of Lidia and Marcella Hazen's books are essential, but my favorite Italian cookbook -- and arguably the most practical (?) --
                                  is The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper. For the entry level cookbooks, I haven't found much to beat the original Silver Palate or Silver Palate Good Times cookbooks.

                                  5 Replies
                                  1. re: grantham
                                    JoanN Nov 24, 2008 02:21 PM

                                    Yet another recommendation I agree with. "The Splendid Table" is a marvelous book. I don't use it a lot, but I refer to it often.

                                    But I disagree with all those who recommend the Silver Palate books. They do have some good recipes, a few I've returned to with satisfaction over the years. But they haven't, IMHO, worn well. Too many of the recipes seems dated to me. Cooking from those books is kinda like listening to oldies. Good memories, but a little goes a long way.

                                    1. re: JoanN
                                      oakjoan Nov 27, 2008 02:14 PM

                                      Ditto to what JoanN said about Silver Pal. Also, don't they have lots of recipes calling for their products as ingredients? Yuck. If this isn't true, sorry and I take it all back.

                                      I also want to mention Diana Kennedy's Mexican cookbooks. There's lots of history and basic info, as well as complicated and unusual dishes. Also moles. She was writing books probably before Rick Bayless was born. He's fine, but she's still the queen.

                                      1. re: JoanN
                                        g
                                        grantham Nov 29, 2008 12:55 PM

                                        There are several recipes from the Silver Palate Cookbooks that have become annual holiday favorites in our household. Especially notable is the cauliflower gratin from the Silver Palate Good Times book. Never has a vegetable been more delicious than with the addition of prosciutto and a generous amount of cream. This will forever (I predict) be on our holiday menu!

                                        1. re: grantham
                                          JoanN Nov 29, 2008 02:04 PM

                                          I still make the Luxembourg Salad from that book and, on rare occasion, the Herb Wrapped Filet of Beef. Both good for entertaining. And I remember the Gratinee of Cauliflower. Just looked it up again. Six tablespoons of butter, one-and-a-half cups of heavy cream, and an equal amount of grated cheese. With that much butter, cream, and cheese you could make shoe leather taste good. I just don't think people want to eat that way any more. As I said, some good recipes. But they're showing their age and IMHO wouldn't be part of the building blocks of a cookbook library today.

                                          1. re: JoanN
                                            g
                                            grantham Nov 29, 2008 08:27 PM

                                            Generally speaking, people may not want to "eat that way any more," but for an annual Thanksgiving or Christmas side dish --we're talking once a year -- I haven't found anything better than the cauliflower gratinee from Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook. A little less decadent, but incredibly tasty, is the white bean salad from the original Silver Palate. I get that this isn't your number one "go-to" cookbook, but different strokes. . .

                                    2. m
                                      mdelno Nov 27, 2008 03:24 PM

                                      A real classic is "The Joy of Cooking". Amother and daughter have been writing this and updating for probably over 40 years. My old edition I purchased in the 1960s. I like it because they insert information about ingredients and measurements that I would never find anywhere else.Many of the recipes include alternate seasoning recommendations and substitutions. It's a wealth of information. I believe the recent editions have many contemporary style recipes. It's a book you might not use everyday, but it's a wonderful reference when you need it.

                                      1. f
                                        froddard Nov 27, 2008 04:02 PM

                                        I feel like my all-time favourite cookbooks aren't as fancy as all of yours, but I love, love, love my Mennonite cookbooks. More With Less and Simply in Season are my long-standing favourites.
                                        More With Less was published in the 70s and is kind of a Granola-hippy, kind of 'stretch your dollar', make your own bread and yogurt kind of recipe book with an Anabaptist Christian edge. Sounds really exciting compared to food porn cookbooks, huh?

                                        I just love this book because it taught me how to cook when I was a poor student. It showed me I could make a tasty lentil soup that cost almost nothing, it taught me how a simple white sauce could be used in a million ways, and it taught me to really think about my food in a global way. Simply in Season is a cookbook published by the same folks and it really focuses on eating local and in season. Both of these books have piles of substitution suggestions that encourage you to use the recipe as a guideline rather than fixed instructions, which has definitely influenced the way that I cook every day.
                                        Neither of these books really have much of a 'wow' factor, but I think that's why I keep going back to them time and time again. Both books can be a little preachy, but maybe that's why I like them too - they remind me of my Mennonite grandmothers!

                                        http://www.worldcommunitycookbook.org...

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: froddard
                                          j
                                          jazzy77 Nov 28, 2008 01:13 PM

                                          I used More with Less when I was in college too - and I swear I almost listed it!! People don't believe me when I say that in college I managed very well on a weekly food budget of $11 - and it was all because of this book! It taught me to buy/trade items from local sources and eat as close to the Earth as possible, including growing and purchasing local produce - to this day I keep mason jars full of lentils, quinoa, rice, and beans - and start my shopping at the local farmer's markets.

                                          Unfortunately, it was given as a present to my then-boyfriend who didn't last - and he took the book with him. God, I really missed that book.

                                        2. g
                                          Grillncook Nov 29, 2008 02:22 AM

                                          It came up early in the conversation but I'll second "The Flavor Bible" by Page and Dorenburg. One of the things you list is how ingredients work to together, and books that teach. If you want to learn about flavors and how they interact, this is your book. In 40 some odd years of cooking, I can't think of another book that has increased and advanced my cooking as much as this book has. It gives you a through understanding of why flavors work with other flavors and starts your thinking outside the box and explains why combos of flavors work. It's the book that anyone on my Christmas list is getting.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Grillncook
                                            ms. clicquot Dec 28, 2008 03:12 PM

                                            My mom gave me 'The Flavor Bible' for Christmas and I love it! I'm only on the second chapter but I'm really enjoying it so far. I'm not a beginner cook but I find it has a lot of interesting points. It features some of America's top chefs giving tips and insights as well as discussions about some of their dishes and ingredients. I highly recommend it to anyone who is passionate about cooking.

                                          2. m
                                            MaxdFood Nov 29, 2008 04:44 AM

                                            Hi Guys,

                                            Does anybody know a good cook book that i can buy here for argentine food?? I just got back from BA and loved the food out there so much that i want to learn how to cook it.

                                            1. LA Buckeye Fan Nov 29, 2008 10:24 AM

                                              My favorite cookbook author is Ina Garten. Her Barefoot Contessa book has easy delicious meals. It's never too complicated and always good. I think I"ve made almost every recipe in her first book.

                                              1. n
                                                nosh Nov 29, 2008 11:16 AM

                                                For me, there are three types and uses for cookbooks: reference, inspiration, and entertainment. When I need to refer to basic recipes, techniques, and timings, I pull out my big three and compare recipes -- The Joy of Cooking, The New York Times Cookbook, and either my Chez Panisse Cookbook or Jeff Smith's Frugal Gourmet or Julia's Art... When I'm looking for ideas for something to serve company or something new I grab Judy Rodgers' The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (the best-written I've found) or one of my coffee-table books with gorgeous pictures or a specialized ethnic cuisine book. For entertainment, I like books about the industry -- Ruhlman's Making of, Soul of, Reach of a Chef series, books by other chefs, servers, and owners, and even blogs.

                                                1. w
                                                  weem Nov 29, 2008 05:54 PM

                                                  I turn to a number of different cookbooks when I'm searching for a particular recipe or the explanation of a new technique. But my search nearly always includes a look at "The Joy of Cooking".

                                                  And the book that had the strongest early influence on my relationship to food isn't really a cookbook, though it has recipes: "The Art of Eating" by M.F.K. Fisher.

                                                  1. sarah galvin Nov 29, 2008 08:30 PM

                                                    Joy of Cooking is a must have. It is a good reference book even if you don't make all of the recipes. I also use Silver Palate all the time.

                                                    1. c
                                                      Clarkafella Nov 29, 2008 08:45 PM

                                                      Both "Joy of Cooking" and "The Southern Living Cookbook" are my go-to choices- but the latter might be replaced by "Screen Doors and Sweet Tea" by Martha Foose. A great new book that covers nearly every aspect of southern cooking...

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Clarkafella
                                                        allisonw Dec 3, 2008 05:32 PM

                                                        Classic Vegetable Cookbook, Ruth Spear
                                                        Cradle of Flavor, James Oseland
                                                        and a ditto on the Hazen and Bayless

                                                        The Oseland book would make a really nice gift as it's gorgeous and informative as well as having great recipes. If that name sounds familiar, it's because he's the editor of Saveur.

                                                      2. Shane Greenwood Dec 3, 2008 05:49 PM

                                                        If you are looking for essential books, The Professional Chef is about as essential as they come. It's the foundation book for cooking school and details flavor profiles from all over the world, every knife technique, mother sauces, every food group, recipes, and more. It is not sexy, but it will teach you a heck of a lot more than most.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Shane Greenwood
                                                          Eat_Nopal Dec 3, 2008 05:57 PM

                                                          Larousse de la Cocina Mexicana... which I recommend above... would be the Mex centric equivalent.

                                                        2. s
                                                          Steady Habits Dec 4, 2008 06:26 AM

                                                          I think my cookbook collection is smaller than those of most people I talk to who are obsessed with cooking, simply because, like you, I like books that talk more about technique or cooking orientation/philosophy, more than I do recipe books. I don't buy too many specialized books. Many folks here have mentioned most of my essentials, but here they are:

                                                          JOC (Rombauer)

                                                          Betty Crocker (an old one)

                                                          The New Making of a Cook, Madeleine Kamman

                                                          The Doubleday Cookbook (mine is c. 1978)

                                                          Bugialli's *The Fine Art of Italian Cooking*

                                                          David's *French Provincial Cooking*I

                                                          and something I highly, highly recommend to anyone who doesn't have it,

                                                          --Culinary Artistry, by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page

                                                          It's a terrific resource for new cooks who are learning to put flavors together and for experienced cooks who, maybe like me, have felt now and then like they'd go crazy if they didn't find some inspiration for putting together some novel combinations (after cooking the same old stuff for decades).

                                                          Other than that, my own interests comprise the *cuisines du terroir* of New England and certain regions of France. So, I love my Fanny Farmer and Cooking with Shelburne Farms, from my NE region; and Susan Loomis in general, but specifically, On Rue Tatin.

                                                          1. n
                                                            nosugarmama Dec 4, 2008 01:18 PM

                                                            I love the "Diabetic Gourmet Cookbook" from Diabetic Gourmet Magazine. If you have any friends or family members that are diabetic, like I do, then this is great to have. What I like about it is that the recipes use real, whole ingredients. There are also a lot of regular/popular dishes (like buffalo wings, lasagna or chicken marsala) that have been tweaked or portioned to make them diabetic friendly. Lots of appetizers too. It makes it easier for me during the holidays for sure.

                                                            Actually, this cookbook has a lot to read about cooking good diabetic-friendly food that you can apply to all of your recipes. You can find the magazine for the cookbook here:

                                                            http://diabeticgourmet.com

                                                            I also like "5 Spices, 50 Dishes" which is filled with Indian recipes that are pretty easy to make. I enjoy Indian food, but a lot of my Indian cookbooks are just complicated enough so that I never actually make anything in them. You can find some recipes and info here:

                                                            http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10556689

                                                            Another fav is "Cucina DiCalabria: Treasured Recipes & Family Traditions from Southern Italy. Lots of tasty Italian recipes -- but what makes it nice is that it's also a great book to read. Lots of stories to go along with really good recipes (which is something you said you like in cookbooks). You can find a recipe from it here: http://www.starchefs.com/features/eas...

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