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Time to find a new go to cookbook. Looking for suggestions.

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I am a good cook who happens to love working out of cookbooks. What I have found over time is that the difference between a good and bad cookbook is just about as wide as the difference between a good and bad cook. My favorite cookbooks include a lot of recipes I think sound appetizing, which are not too complicated, yet always have good results.

For the past couple of years, I have made Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking my bible. I use it 3 or 4 times a week. I also like Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa books and have an old Marcia Adams book, Cooking from Quilt Country that I sometimes use.

The other night I went to a friend's house and had a wonderful meal she cooked using a recipe in Sunday Supper at Luque's. I was excited to buy it because she spoke highly of it, but when I looked it up on Amazon, the reviews seemed to say that, while the results are excellent, most of the recipes require a lot of work, which is not my thing.

I'd love suggestions of cookbooks you love with great recipes (I am trying to steer clear of pure Italian, since Marcella already has that space covered, but mediterranean influence or straight "American" is fine), many of which are not terribly labor intensive, that usually turn out good if you follow instructions.


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  1. Take a look at "A New Way To Cook" and "The Improvisational Cook" by Sally Schneider.

    1. i'm a big fan of paula wolfert. she seeks out traditional home cooks, all over the mediterranean rim, like north africa and the middle east, as well as southern spain and southern france. they are not bells and whistles type recipes, but have incredible depth of flavor, often from long periods of slow cooking or layering of ingredients. she's my go-to for party apps.

      she often gives a history or anecdote about the recipe too. i like that contextual aspect.

      1. Marcella is one of my most tattered -- and well-used go-to cookbooks. Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone won't let you down. There are scores of recipes with suggestions for variations; ditto Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

        Folks here are loving Bon Appetit Y'all by Virginia Willis.

        I had it out of the library and just ordered it. All the recipes seem to be winners, not too complicated and the recipes cohere well as a book (if that makes sense?!). Southern cooking by a French cuisine-trained chef.

        1. i love sunday suppers at lucques. i have learned a lot about cooking from her recipes and approach, and just about everything i've made has been fantastic. you can check out the old home cooking board threads about the book (it was used as a cookbook of the month); i'm not the only one who loves it. and though many recipes are time intensive, not all of them are.
          i also really like vegetarian cooking for everyone. but the labor to deliciousness ratio is not quite as good as lucques (with some more labor, and much more deliciousness).

          1 Reply
          1. re: rose water

            I agree about Lucques. There are a number of recipes that are pretty straight forward and not time consuming, and I've learned so much from her about combining flavours and textures. And, whie some dishes call for a number of recipes, those recipes in themself are good alone, and you don't have to make all of them, if that makes sense. (I.e., the fabulous pork burgers - you can skip the aioli and romesco sauce, and still have an awfully tasty burger. And I love her beets in horseradish creme fraiche/cream sauce.) One of the biggest things I learned from her was about seasoning (with herbs, etc. usually) the protein a day ahead of time. This seems to really make a nice difference in terms of flavour.

          2. My taste seems to run along yours. I have a couple of Giada's also, her first especially is one I like a lot.

            1. Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

              This is home cooking but with superior techniques to bring about exceptional results. When you first look at the recipe, it appears to be labor intensive and out of reach. However, Rodgers goes into in depth explanations so you can visualize and mentally taste the final product.

              That said, I also love Sunday Suppers but the results are usually well worth the effort. Both Sunday Suppers and Zuni were cookbooks of the month.

              Lastly, if you want to branch to chinese cooking, I love Land Of Plenty by Fuschia Dunlop. Fast, easy weeknight cooking. Also check out the COTM thread.

              7 Replies
              1. re: beetlebug

                I agree with most the previous recommendations (Bittman, Zuni Cafe, Deborah Madison), and would add for straightforward French food, anything by Patrica Wells. The Cook's Illustrated / America's Test Kitchen books are also very simple and reliable staples (although not as inventive as some of the others).

                1. re: toveggiegirl

                  I also love Patricia Wells for straightforward, seasonal French food. I will often do one recipe from Sunday Suppers, and one Patricia Wells recipe for the same meal.

                  1. re: ElissaInPlaya

                    I like Patricia Wells as well, but want to just note that I pretty much (with two recipe exceptions) hated Vegetable Harvest ... just for the record in case someone feels like running out and buying it!

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      thanks for the warning!
                      Actually, I'm not at risk -- not a big P Wells fan.

                      1. re: NYchowcook

                        Did you happen to see my post when it was COTM about how that book was threatening my marriage? If not, I'll dig it up for you.

                2. re: beetlebug

                  I agree with Zuni too -- it's made me a better cook, and I thought I was doing okay before! Sunday Suppers is wonderful, but more elaborate than I'm looking for on a day to day.

                  If you're looking for new ideas and global reach, I'd recommend Get Saucy by Grace Parisi. It's a compendium of sauces, marinades, dips, dressings, glazes, spreads, etc since you already know the basics of dealing with a chicken or picking what goes in a salad. She's from Food & WIne magazine - there's a good mix of styles represented.

                3. There is a Gourmet cookbook with Ruth Reichl as the editor that is my "go to" cookbook as it is huge, all encompassing, has lots of recipes, good technicques and source information as well. The only complaint I have is that recipe titles are in yellow print, which makes them a little hard to read. Other than that, very satisfied. It came out a couple of years ago.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Diane in Bexley

                    I agree with you, Diane. I adore Sunday Suppers, Zuni, Dunlop, All About Braising, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, Fish Without a Doubt--all of those books are now standards for me. But when I'm looking for (usually) quick, easy, good, reliable, I turn to the the big yellow Gourmet cookbook. I've made a lot from that book and been very happy with nearly everything. It wouldn't be my first choice for a fancy dinner party, but it's the book I turn to whenever I'm not turning to a specific author or cuisine.

                  2. For simple, straight-forward, not-too-hard cooking, I love Cooks' Illustrated/Christopher Kimball's (although I am not certain that he is listed as the author--this is more a staff compendium cookbook) "The New Best Recipe" cookbook. (Formerly, there was a "The Best Recipe" cookbook and this one follows that one, which is now out of print.)

                    Extensive research was done on each recipe to find the best way to accomplish each step in the recipe and achieve maximum flavor. Sometimes the Cooks' Illustrated staff makes the recipe 20 or 30 times, playing around with techniques, ingredients, cooking times, etc. Unlike some cookbooks, about which I sometimes wonder if anyone has actually ever made the recipe before me, "The New Best Recipe" almost always comes out right. And when it does not, it is something I did wrong by not following the recipe closely, not something inherent in the directions.

                    The Lucques cookbook sounds great! I am going to find it! Thanks to all.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: gfr1111

                      As a few posters mentioned upthread, several of the cookbooks mentioned have been cookbooks of the month (Lucques, Zuni Cafe, A New Way to Cook, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Land of Plenty). You might want to follow this link, which will lead you to the master threads for those books, which in turn will lead you to the threads with recipe discussions. You might be able to get a sense of whether you'll be into the books from these.


                    2. I am a big Marcella fan as well. Assuming your tastes run along the same lines, I will suggest the following:

                      Arabesque by Claudia Roden -- we did this book as COTM, and it got great reviews. It focuses on the cuisines of Morocco, Turkey and Lebanon. Roden is sort of the Marcella Hazan of Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food. Her books are a pleasure to read and the recipes produce great results.

                      Flavors of Greece by Rosemary Barron. This is an excellent Greek cookbook, very instructive on ingredients and technique, and great recipes.

                      Julia Child's The Way to Cook would likely appeal to you as well. It's not as fussy as Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which I LOVE, btw), and focuses less specifically on classic french. Recipes are very reliable and delicious.

                      You also might like Rosso and Lukins, The Silver Palate and/or The New Basics. They are more in the Ina Garten vein (even to the point that they started out by running a gourmet shop in Manhattan).

                      I agree with the suggestions for Sunday Suppers at Lucques and Zuni Cafe Cookbook. While some recipes in both books are a bit time consuming, the results are amazing and worth the effort. They both really are outstanding cookbooks, with recipes that are both very appealing and well-written. Plus, not all the recipes are complicated.

                      1. I often cook from SS@L, and the ingredients list in her recipes runs 2 to 3 times longer than an average home recipe. While onerous, I've always felt that when I stick true to the ingredients list, the results are better than if I freestyle it.

                        1. I received Mark Bittman's "Best Recipes of the World" volume and have really enjoyed all the recipes. He's simplified everything in his no-nonsense.