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Nov 14, 2008 05:40 AM

I want a cookbook to cook _everything_ from.

I've been cooking for about 4 years and definitely still have a lot to learn. My favorite cookbook is "Kitchen Sense" by Mitchell Davis. For those who don't know it, I'd say it's similar to "How to Cook Everything", but has fewer recipes (especially basic recipes). At one point I decided I would try to cook every recipe in it, to force me to learn some that I would naturally avoid. (For instance, I'm intimidated by shellfish beyond shrimp and scallops. There are probably also some ingredients/techniques I avoid without even realizing it.) After cooking from it a lot (by my standards) for a few months, I had barely scratched the surface.

I'm interested in another (shorter) cookbook to try this with. Maybe 50 recipes or so. I prefer an general-purpose cookbook, not from a particular cuisine. I also want to steer away from books whose main point is simplicity, like "Rachel Ray 30 Minute Mains". (If these are too many restraints, then a book that restricts to vegetarian recipes, or salads, would be okay.) So far, Cook's Illustrated magazines are the best I've come up with. I think they're not optimal though because I would just be randomly choosing some particular issues.

If this seems like a ridiculous aim, here's an analogy I have in mind. A very thorough and impressive way to learn the material in a math textbook is by doing all of the exercises. I was thinking about this and wondering what the cooking equivalent would be, and this is what I came up with. If you can think of a closer equivalent, suggest that instead!

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  1. This rec is totally not what you are asking for, but if you get it you will not be sorry. The New Best Recipe from Cooks Illustrated is absolutely a fabulous cookbook to both learn from and make great food. It's over 1,000 recipes, so you will not be 'doing all the exercises' . Why is it so good? It doesn't just give you the recipe, but for very many recipes it goes into a detailed explanation of how the recipe was developed, what alternatives were tried that worked/didn't work. Really a great learning tool. And the recipes work (not always the case in other books).

    2 Replies
    1. re: bnemes3343

      I also like the Cooks Illustrated books because of the detail they give. There are shorter versions specific to one type of dish (like soups) and something like this would allow you to learn the technique and the "why" part of the process so by default you'll be able to do more spontaneous cooking.
      Regular recipes allow you to see how ingredients go together but a deeper understanding of technique gives a better foundation for all cooking. Similar to learning addition and subtraction before algebra.

      1. re: bnemes3343

        Second that. It has become my "go-to" book and every recipe has turned out great.

      2. Short and thorough are not going to be found in the same book. There are however 2 books I can recommend: Complete Techniques by Jacques Pepin and Joy of Cooking. Joy of Cooking has lots and lots of variation in its recipes and Pepin's book is a little more advanced and focuses on classic French cuisine.

        1. I have lots of cookbooks and the one I have used most over the years is the original Silver Palate Cookbook. Some of my books seem dated but not this one. Lots of crowd-pleaser, sophisticated recipes that are not too difficult, just right...and the best company dish ever, Chicken Marbella.

          1. There is a good all-purpose instructional cookbook called "Cookwise" by Corriher. She recently published a sibling called "Bakewise," which I have not yet seen.

            Martha Stewart has published "Cooking School" cookbook recently. I

            1 Reply
            1. re: ChesterhillGirl

              I received my advance purchase copy of "Bakewise" a few weeks ago and it was worth the wait. I also love the Cooks Illustrated books.

              I also love my copies of the CIA textbooks and they are excellent if you want to improve your technique. They're a bit pricey but they can also be found lightly used on Amazon.

            2. Hmm... I don't know if you're going to be able to find an "everything" cookbook with only 50 recipes in it.

              I have the CI Best Recipe cookbook and it's my go-to for a lot of things, but I wouldn't necessarily say it covers all the basics. The Joy of Cooking does cover almost everything, but it's definitely not a short cookbook. Not something you'd want to go through one recipe at a time. My favorite "basic" cookbook is the red checkerboard Better Homes & Garden cookbook.