HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


I want a cookbook to cook _everything_ from.

  • j

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!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  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.

              1. The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters.

                The first half of the book is "Starting from Scratch" or something of that nature, and covers what she deems fundamental sauces, techniques, ingredients, etc. The second half of the book expands on those techniques and includes more ingredients and more variations. It's not a very large book, and there are lots of in-depth descriptions, so I think it would be possible to cook through the entire first section in a couple months.

                Interesting method. Have never considered cooking ALL the recipes in a book.

                1. I've been thinking about your question since you posted yesterday. It reminded of the gal who cooked her way through The French Laundry at Home.

                  I have, at this moment, 11 shelves of cookbooks. some inherited from my mother, some are gifts, some I purchased through the years. I have to say, of all of them, Julia Child's Vol. 1 of Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the book I repeatedly referred to when I was first married, and still do. Admittedly, the cooking and techniques are French, but when you go through the process she so carefully lays out in each recipe you have learned something which can then be applied to any other recipe.

                  Then of course, there are many wonderful ethnic cookbooks for concentration in one specific way of cooking. If you look at the listing the Cookbook of the Month (COTM) on the Home Cooking board, you'll find books that satisfy every cuisine.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Gio

                    The Joy of Cooking is such a good, basic reference - I mean, (may I never need to do this!), where else can you find out to cook porcuipine??? Also, Julia Childs' The Way to Cook has master recipes and wonderful variations. After many years of cooking and with shelves of cook books, I refer to those two books more than any others. But those aren't really what you're asking for - I like the Silver Palate Cookbook and have given many copies as gifts. Actually, I'm on my second copy since the original finally fell apart. The best place I've found to buy cookbooks is Jessica's Biscuit - enormous selection, great prices, cool deals:

                    1. re: janeh

                      My favorite cookbook to give to anyone who wants to learn to cook is Julia Child's The Way to Cook. I learned from this book 20 years ago, and I still refer to it as the place to get the bones of a recipe, and to learn how to take it from there.

                      I would disagree with the Joy of Cooking. I think it's a cook's cookbook, rather than a novice' cook book. You have to really work to understand how the recipe is written before you can proceed, and the illustrations, though charming, are fairly useless.

                      From the Cook's Illustrated series, I would go with the Cook's Bible, again a good place to learn from, since there's a good foundation to understand process. As a recipe book, it's okay, not as good as their larger collections.

                  2. There’s an excellent book, now out of print but available for literally pennies at Amazon.com, called “Jean Anderson Cooks.” The book is divided into two parts: a kitchen reference and a recipe collection. The kitchen reference part of the book is a master cookbook that includes such information as how to shop for and store meats, fish and shellfish, poultry, and vegetables; explains which cooking methods best show off the ingredients; offers “basic” methods for cooking each food, which is wonderfully inspirational for learning how to cook without recipes; and then gives some sample recipes that expand on the techniques described.

                    Jean is an award-winning cookbook author who is meticulous in her instructions. Her recipes never fail to work and are always delicious. Although the first part of the book contains more than fifty recipes (according to the flap copy there are more than 270 in the two sections combined), if you worked your way through just the first section you’d know the basics of how to buy, store, and cook just about everything.

                    Many of the recipes from this book have become standards for me. Her method of preparing Moules Marinière is even better than Julia Child’s.

                    1. I think, maybe Alton Brown would be a good choice. It's short (not like an encyclopaedia/compendium of everything) and it's general purpose.

                      1. JOY OF COOKING

                        I have nearly 200 cook books, but it is Joy that I use the most.

                        1. There are some good suggestions here, and I have a few books that others are talking about, but I still believe that you should look for a large, all purpose book. Something like Joy of Cooking, Julia Child, (I still think Complete Techniques is a good choice), and Alice Waters I think are good choices. However good they may be (I own and love Cookwise, and the Cooks Illustrated book) I think they are getting into a little more specialized cuisine and they have limited choice. You need a "bible" of cooking that gives you a huge fundamental base for all kinds of cooking. The ones I listed above are really that kind of book.

                          Alton Brown is a great cook and a great teacher of "why" but I think even he would say that his book is not an all inclusive book.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: HaagenDazs

                            "Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book" will suit you perfectly!

                            1. re: 1stmakearoux

                              Better Homes & Gardens is a nice book but I think it's a little goofy. I'm not sure I like the colorful, tab indexed sections. I mean, colors and glossy pictures are wonderful things to have but, with all due respect (my Mother still cooks from this book often) it seems more like a little kids book than a informative "bible" of all things cooking. Almost Disney/Rachael Ray-esque in some weird way. I think there are some good things that have come out of it but compare it to Joy of Cooking. Maybe it's just me...

                          2. To mention one point in your post, there's no reason at all to be intimidated by shellffish. I haven't found any tough to prepare, from crabs to abalone to mussels. One could also be intimidated by by Cook's Illustrated, whose motto is: "If you don't do it exactly as we we say, the dish will be ruined."

                            I'd suggest getting "Joy of Cooking" and trying recipes that look interesting.

                            1. I have had an early New York Times Cookbook for years and I can't imagine a better book to use to learn to cook. It covers multiple ethnicity's and often has multiple recipes for a dish. Some recipes are simple and some are complicated so you can choose the one that matches your skill set/taste or merge the ones that interest you to make your own version of a dish. My copy has a copyright from the late 60s but I'll bet that newer editions are just as good.

                              1. If you really want a comprehensive cookbook you're going to want one of the compendiums mentioned by the other posters. But I do have a suggestion for a slim cookbook (but is does have more than 50 recipes). Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is big and comprehensive, ranging over many cuisines. But I recently picked up a copy of Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks at Home, which runs to about 250 pages, just one hundred recipes, plus Bittman's personal quick-cooking lessons, shortcuts, and many ideas for variations, substitutions and spinoffs for most of the recipes. There are some photographs to illustrate a particular technique. It's out of print, but used copies can be had cheaply through Amazon.

                                Another book I really like and recently acquired is The Cook's Book, Techniques and Tips from the World's Master Chefs, eidted by Jill Norman and published by DK Books. This is a monster book, running around 650 pages, but it is quite comprehensive and has lavish photographs illustrating every technique and chapter. Here is an excerpt from the book-flap blurb:

                                "The one stop guide to every aspect of cooking that will give you the confidence to cook well, with successful results every time......Top chefs from across four continents present the basic preparations and best methods ...Every technique is clearly explained, with photographs that show exactly how it is done--and there are also notes on what to do if it all goes wrong."

                                I love The Cook's Book, and have made many of the recipes with great results.

                                1. Thanks for everyone's replies! It definitely seems like the consensus recommendations are Joy of Cooking, Julia Child's books, and books from Cook's Illustrated. I'm at least slightly familiar with these. (Sadly I think they're much too long for my goal of working through every recipe in them!) But I don't own any of them, so I really should investigate.

                                  Many of the others I've never heard of. I'll try to look for Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks, the Alice Waters and Jean Anderson books, and Cookwise and maybe pick one of them for my project.

                                  Thanks again to everyone!

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: jtv

                                    I don't think I chimed in - but out of the ones in your first paragraph, I'd go with The Way to Cook - I taught myself to cook using it, and still use it almost 20 years later.