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Food books that changed your life...

There are 3 food books that changed my life.

• Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential/A Cook's Tour (technically two books, but they came as a single edition)
• Mastering the Art of French Cooking
• The Making of a Chef by Michael Ruhlman

Anthony Bourdain's book got me interested in food in general. Mastering the Art of French cooking helped me expand my cooking abilities exponentially. The Making of a Chef encouraged me to enroll in cooking school.

What food books (cookbooks or otherwise) made an impact on you? Are there any that inspired you, made you a better cook, or changed your life? Are there any that you just found to be extremely interesting?

I'd love to hear!

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  1. One of the many but one of the best: Blue Trout and Black Truffles by Joseph Wechsberg, on food in the glory days of Vienna

    1. The Silver Palate Cookbook.

      Everything about that book influenced me.

      1. Michael Pollan's Omnivores Dilemma, mind opening about the current food production world. Diet for a Small Planet, a classic awakening to our interconnection with others. Rombauer's Joy of Cooking, an indipsensible cooking companion. Laurels Kitchen, slow down and enjoy more plant food. Victory Garden Cookbook, falling apart from use.

        1. I grew up in a kosher home and my mom & Grandma were Holocaust survivors. As new immigrants, we ate an awful lot of heavy, heavy Hungarian Jewish influenced food. Great, terrific food but very heavy! My mother's first "American" cookbook was the Betty Crocker and she considered this very terrific and we "morphed" a lot of ingredients to fit into our kosher cooking regime. In college I bought myself my first Joy of Cooking. This was my first cookbook dealing with "regular, American" food. I adored watching Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and others of French influence on TV. Their cookbooks came next. I branched out from there to Italian, Spanish and Mexican cooking. I still have my first Joy from the 1970's. The recipe for how to skin and cook a squirrel brought much laughter in our house. I can't repeat the comments from Mom & Grandma, but they were definitely inflammatory.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Diane in Bexley

            The Caesar salad recipe in that older edition of Joy is terrific - much better than the one in the new edition.

          2. All John Thornes stuff, his exhaustive examination of very basic ingredients, beans, potatoes, etc. was revelatory.

            Love Bourdain. If Hunter Thompson wrote about food, it would sound just like Bourdain.

            6 Replies
            1. re: laststandchili

              Oh, laststand, I like the way you think. John Thorne wrote a food journal that sent me the best recipe I've ever gotten.

              1. re: mamachef

                I used to check the website daily for his snack and breakfast entries. Loved it.

                What was the recipe?

                1. re: laststandchili

                  Sort of a weird pumpkin gratin, but not creamed. And I subbed in squash for the pumpkin. It was basically chunks of squash roasted with a parmesan crust that got crispy and blazing-hot in a shallow casserole.

                2. re: mamachef

                  John used to have a cafe in Ellsworth!

                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                    Love John Thorne too.

                3. re: laststandchili

                  You nailed it! I wish Hunter and Tony had gotten together - can you imagine the book that would have come out of that? Fear and Loathing While Running With Scissors Through Fire or something along those lines.
                  I miss Hunter!

                4. "To Kill a Wolf", by MFK Fisher.

                  1. The Art of Eating, the first MFK Fisher book I ever read.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: lemons

                      Another vote for the Art of Eating. After more than forty years I often return to read it because it has such a powerful sense of the intimate reltionship with food, Fisher and life.
                      From a review
                      contains what Julia Child referred to as "the essence of M.F.K. Fisher." Fisher (1908-1992) was one of this country's earliest food writers; her eloquent yet unostentatious prose has charmed generations. The 784-page collection brings together five works originally published under separate titles: "Serve it Forth," "Consider the Oyster," "How to Cook a Wolf," "The Gastronomical Me" and "An Alphabet for Gourmets." There are also recipes scattered throughout. .

                    2. Have to add a couple: Grace Young's "Breath of the Wok" high heat cooking, non stick has drawbacks, and the cultural loss of traditional street food. Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Italian Cooking", eccentric, enthusiastic, the difference between a recipe collection and learning from a chef. I do have to read Bourdain.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: dijon

                        I too love Hazan's cookbook. It got me to be more thoughtful about what and how I served when putting together an Italian menu.

                      2. Delia's How to Cook, Vols. 1, 2 &3. I had a few cookbooks before this, but getting volume 1 at a rummage sale introduced me to two things. First - collecting cookbooks. Finding volumes 2 & 3 became a mission for me, and I just loved seeing them on my shelf. Second - she made cooking with seasonal, local ingredients look so stylish yet approachable.

                        1. Calvin Trillin's AMERICAN FRIED changed the way I enjoy food. I cant really explain how, but I remember feeling very different after reading it for the first time. That was maybe 25 years ago.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Fydeaux

                            Seconded. I read that book almost 35(!) years ago. It opened my eyes to the variety of food avaiable in other parts of the US. I am still awaiting my first trip to Kansas City. 8<(

                            1. re: Bob W

                              Club members assemble here for the bus trip to KC. That is a great book.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                Oh, I'm with you. It was recommended to me when I was an intern at the Kentucky Post by reporter / editor Bert Workum, who is mentioned in the chapter on Cincinnati chili. When my son was about 8 he liked me to read the chapter on "Fats" Goldberg's Kansas City eating binges to him.

                                1. re: jmckee

                                  I wonder how many years after that book was published before Trillin discovered that there in fact is good barbecue "east of Rocky Mount." He had been hornswoggled by a Western (Lexington) NC barbecue fan.

                          2. Home Baking by Alford and Duguid. It MADE me the relaxed, happy, versitile and wonderful (yep, that's me braggin'!) bread baker I am today. Plus the pictures and stories read like a cherished novel. Love their cookbooks!

                            This book opened my eyes to new possibilities in bread and taught me what rules could be broken without tears.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Sal Vanilla

                              I must take another look at that book, am not enamored of the Alford-Duguid style but the recipes were interesting, as I recall.

                              1. re: buttertart

                                Maybe check it out from the library Buttertart. If you like, you buy. I am ever the economist.

                                1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                  Me too - I have it already anyway.

                            2. A Hunger Artist (Kafka)

                              Salt: A World History (Kurlansky)

                              Kitchen (Yoshimoto [translated by Megan Backus])

                              The Flounder (G. Grass [translated by Ralph Manheim])

                              1. Not a book, but my buddies:
                                http://keiperslockandalarm.com/104th-...
                                Eight months of delisciousness.
                                RIP

                                1. Oh god, I'm probably going to come across as sooooooooo stuffy, but if I'm not gonna lie, then I'm stuck with the truth, stuffy or not. So... If I have to narrow it down to three, they are:

                                  Larousse Gastronomique... It answers all of my questions about classic cooking.

                                  A Precise Encyclopaedia of Gastronomy, Andre Simon, mid-20th century-ish... It tells me about anything that's edible, from elephant's feet to poodles, which were considered the creme de la creme of roast puppy during the siege of Paris. (Did you read that, Jay?)

                                  Finally, The New Settlement Cookbook, which just barely supersedes several others, but it is the cook book given to me by my mother's best friend (who was a professional cook) when I got married the first time because she knew my mother had intentionally neglected to teach me to cook so she had no competition. That gift saved that husband from a lot of gastronomical grief! I still have it. It is a memento of my youth and naivete!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    Caroline, I can totally relate to the New Settlement Cookbook. I got married and lived in Chicago in the 80's. The NSC came out of Milwaukee and was a huge hit with Jewish oriented cooks on the North Shore. It helped me understand how to update the Eastern Eurpoean cooking I grew up with.

                                    1. re: Diane in Bexley

                                      The Flavor Principal Cookbook by Elizabeth Rozin. I didn't cook much before I was in grad school, and, as a new cook, this opened my eyes to the possibilities of ethnic cooking and offered a sensitivity to the flavor/seasoning combinations used in different parts of the world. I followed recipes in those days and, much to my amazement, everything turned out tasting the way I hoped it would. It was a great beginning to many years of happy, satisfying cooking.

                                      1. re: janeh

                                        Elizabeth Rozin has done a number of good books. Thanks for reminding me of her, she had slipped off my mental radar.

                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                      Call me stuffy as well, but I do refer to Larousse Gastronomique as well. I like the descriptions of the dishes. And I also like the huge amount of info it has. In fact, I've now trained my boyfriend to look up cooking terms or dishes that he's not familiar with in it. Sure beats that "Honey? What's ___?" I get from him often. :)

                                    3. I think some combination of Harold McGee and Mark Bittman.

                                      1. A.J. Leibling. "A Light Lunch."

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: beevod

                                          My favorite Liebling line, re: Proust and his damned madeleines:

                                          In the light of what Proust wrote with so mild a stimulus, it is the world’s loss that he did not have a heartier appetite. On a dozen Gardiners Island oysters, a bowl of clam chowder, a peck of steamers, some bay scallops, three sauteed soft-shelled crabs, a few ears of fresh-picked corn, a thin swordfish steak of generous area, a pair of lobsters, and a Long Island duck, he might have written a masterpiece

                                        2. In "the real world", a soft bound basic Chinese cookbook from the 70's. I learned so much from it. I was raised to cook western food, but this opened up a whole new arena. I now own in excess of 20 Chinese cookbooks. Our youngest son has my old one in college.

                                          1. http://www.amazon.com/Von-Welanetz-Gu...

                                            changed my pantry for life

                                            8 Replies
                                            1. re: HillJ

                                              LOL! $159.48 for hard cover new or $1.19 for a used copy of a book that features a bottle of Molina Vanilla on the cover as an "ethnic ingredient?" I don't know who is funnier, Amazon for listing it or you for telling us about it. So tell us... Did you really Really REALLY buy it? '-)

                                              1. re: Caroline1

                                                C1! You caught me...I thought a bit of levity was warranted. :)

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  Fait accompli! I wonder if they've sold any? Not to me, Charlie Brown!

                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                    When the Von Welanetz had a cooking program on PBS in the early 80's the show was about home entertaining, easy living...but I found their books rather silly. The one on ethnic ingredients I came across in used book stores and it always makes me laugh.

                                                    1. re: HillJ

                                                      hmmm... Now I'm wondering what in the world I was doing in the 80s because I entirely missed them. Don't recall ever having heard of them before. But a book about "ethnic" ingredients that prominently features a bottle of vanilla on the cover, even if it is Mexican vanilla, made me laugh. Vanilla is universal, not ethnic. Were all their books that pricey? Maybe I should order one of the #1.19 used copies and find out more about their idea of "ethnic."

                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                        Seems to me they were Bon Appétit-level writers (and BA was really stupid in the '80s).

                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                          They had another book on LA Cuisine that is also a hoot. C1, if you're looking for levity-this is it! Paul Von W. passed away and the misses carried on, remarried, got involved in the Chicken Soup publications..but during this couples run they were considered to be quite hip in the CA food scene.

                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                            That may explain it. When I came back to the U.S. in December of 1960 after four years out of the country, and three years under the tutelage of a master chef, I was suspicious of the "expertise" of ALL chefs, celebrity and other, including dear darling Julia! Her greatest accomplishment (and luck) was timing. She brought French cooking to the American public, but Jacqueline Kennedy made it fashionable, and thereby made Julia acceptable (and laudable). I don't think I've ever read anything by any writer reflecting the propinquity of that pair; Julia and Jacqueline, but it was critical. Jacqueline Kennedy would have been an uncommon success without Julia Child, but I am not at all convinced the reverse is true. Timing!

                                                            About the only magazine that I paid much attention to in the Twentieth Century where food is concerned is House Beautiful. In the 60's, they ran a series of "mini-cookbooks" laden with incredible food porn and truly great recipes in the back of every issue for about two years. I do have a collection of them bound in a loose leaf notebook that I treasure greatly. But I thought both Bon Appetite and Gourmet were a lot more about silly elitism than about truly good food. But surely they came up with some good recipes? I just missed them. '-)

                                              2. In the past year I'd have to say Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home has completely changed the way I cook. All his hints have made my food so much better with a much more complex flavor profile.

                                                1. For me it was The Fannie Farmer cookbook. It is what my Mother used when she cooked. She pasted recipes she received from friends and family I always enjoyed helping her in the kitchen so naturally when I wanted to cook 'grown up' food it was what I refereed to.

                                                  The second book is Great Chef's of France. It got me interested in the french technique and traditions. While French food as evolved from what it was thirty or so years ago when the book was done the interest in French food is still there. From there the interest then turned to other cuisines.

                                                  1. I've been thinking about my answer for several days now - different books have been crucial to my growth as an eater/cook/food professional at various points. As in any active area of study, you absorb, grow, plateau and then hopefully keep repeating the process!

                                                    As a child the Time/Life series Foods of the World completely captivated me. The photos, the lists of unusual ingredients and the family adventure of exploring other cultures through the recipes helped create a lifelong interest in travel and explorations in flavors and the traditions of foodways.

                                                    When I first began cooking I found a Michael Fields cookbook at a thrift store. His instructions for mashed potatoes made me realize that even the seemingly simplest step had a profound bearing on the end result. This caused me to observe closely, ask questions and be willing to experiment - what I like to refer to as the mad scientist approach.

                                                    The '70's edition of Joy of Cooking (the two part paperback edition purchased on layaway) helped fill in many gaps of knowledge/experience. For many years this was my go-to when attempting any new to me technique. The basics and the "whys" were covered well enough that I could then start to explore, usually with good results.

                                                    I feel the need to express the influence of personal recipe collections. My mother found a child's questions and desire to "help" to be a bother in her quest to get dinner on the table.
                                                    My grandmother would visit and transform the house into a glorious series of mouthwatering aromas. Each dish had a story, was a process of many steps and she loved "help"!

                                                    Years later, when my grandmother moved to a nursing facility, my mother and I were cleaning up my grandmothers house after everything of obvious monetary value had been striped my my aunt. I was over joyed to discover her recipe box, well worn Foley mill and several other kitchen hand tools. This meant more to me than the sterling platters, etc. which had been plucked away. Each time I use one of the tools I feel the presence of my grandmother. Each recipe in her collection gives clues to the often invisible history of women. A few years ago I finally noticed what wasn't in her recipe collection - cakes! I asked my father if his mother just didn't care for them or if she just made them from memory or what. Turns out she and her sisters were famous in there community as bakers and very competitive. They finally decided to stop competing and each sister choose a specialty. One aunt had cakes, one quick breads, one yeast breads, one candies and my grandmother focused on pies. Her recipe collections continues to let me discover new facets of this wonderful woman more that 40 years after her recipes were deemed valueless by others.

                                                    6 Replies
                                                    1. re: meatn3

                                                      What a lovely attitude and rich memories enrich your life! You've got great things working for you. Thanks for sharing them.

                                                      1. re: meatn3

                                                        What a lovely thoughtful post.

                                                        1. re: meatn3

                                                          I love this post.

                                                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                                                            I love that post and the wonderful memories and sentiments behind it. I too have a thing for items (kitchen items especially) that have been well-used by another cook, especially a relative. The love and concern with which they prepared food seems to translate, and when I use some of Grandma's "old-fashioned" kitchenware, I get very nostalgic and very happy. I (by request) inherited Grandma's "Big Utensils" - potato masher, ollllld Sunbeam toaster, waffle iron, whisks - but what I really, truly could never replace is the set of Drew Ware I received: thick enamel over cast iron; very "period" colors (pale, pale green and robin's egg blue, with a free-form flower as decoration). I can cook like nobody's business with that cookware!
                                                            Thank you for a delightful, memory-inducing post.

                                                          2. re: meatn3

                                                            How wonderful! I also have some things from my grandma and great grandma and cherish them, including rosette irons for Xmas goodies. The things I have from my Mom include the Revere ware that she got for her wedding and the slotted spoon and potato masher that came with them. I don't really feel comfortable using "modern" potato mashers, although they do the job just as well as, if not better than, my original. I still use the Revere ware, although I own LC and Calphalon (sp?) cookware, because with some dishes I just know how they should look in those old pots and pans.
                                                            Thanks for such a great post, and for making me think of the wonderful women in my life that preceded me in the kitchen. All of them good cooks, and fortunately for me and my brothers all of them willing to accept "help."

                                                            1. re: meatn3

                                                              Aw, I love this post, too! My favorite kitchen tools are mostly hand-me-downs, too. Reverware, Magnalite dutch oven, my mom's seasoned cast iron pans of various sizes, fabulous 40's and 50's casseroles, refrigerator dishes, and covered bowls from my husband's great aunt, a wide variety of miscellaneous kitchen hand tools from my gadgetry-and-kitchen obsessed grandfather.....they just fit so much better in the hand somehow, don't they?

                                                            2. Shirley Corriher's Cookwise,
                                                              Harold McGee, On food and cooking
                                                              The above books showed how I could use my understanding of science to improve my kitchen technique.

                                                              The CIA baking and Cooing textbook These books illustrated basic cooking and baking skills that I have been able to build on.

                                                              Kitchen Confidential-The seedier side of the culinary world.

                                                              The original Frugal Gourmet was my very first cookbook.

                                                              1. FORTY YEARS AGO I READ " LET'S COOK IT RIGHT " BY ADELLE DAVIS - A BASIC HOW TO
                                                                BASED ON GOOD TECHNIQUE AND HEALTHFUL INGREDIENTS . TWO OF HER BEST TIPS
                                                                WAS TO BUY A GOOD OVEN AND MEAT THERMOMETER AND DON'T OVERCOOK THINGS .
                                                                PRICELESS ADVICE !

                                                                1. Not so high brow, but I seemed to start delving into any new ethnic type food by starting with the Sunset book series. Mexican Cookery, Cajun-Creole Cooking and the like. I even picked up their Casserole Book at a thrift shop just for fun. Never got a bad recipe from any of them.

                                                                  8 Replies
                                                                  1. re: coll

                                                                    They have a nice new compendium cookbook out this year that I'm lusting after.

                                                                    1. re: buttertart

                                                                      I'm just in the middle of making up my Christmas wish list, so thanks!

                                                                      Never thought to look up their website, and look what I found
                                                                      http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitch...
                                                                      Never would have thought of putting cranberries in rugelach!

                                                                      1. re: coll

                                                                        http://find.myrecipes.com/recipes/rec...
                                                                        coll, looks like a whole cranberry jam, yummy!

                                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                                          You know, I might just try this recipe. Never made rugelach to my own satisfaction, why not start from scratch; and the cranberry and ginger filling will definitely be a hit with my family. Now I love Sunset even more than before!

                                                                          1. re: coll

                                                                            Go for it (& do report the yummy findings!).

                                                                            Sunset had this fab article on unusual spice blends recently and the recipes were all so unique. This is completely off topic, given its a mag) but here's the link: http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/techn...

                                                                            Did I share this with you already? :)

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              No, and I'm so glad I brought this up!

                                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                                If I make the rugelach again I think I will modify the cranberry orange sauce; putting a whole orange in resulted in a somewhat chunky and bitter taste. Although it seemed to mellow as time went on and all were consumed!

                                                                        2. re: buttertart

                                                                          Me too! I saw it at Costco a couple days ago. The cover and size drew me away from the lure of the 60 count health nut bars I "needed" for the car.

                                                                          I wonder if I will get it for Christmas!

                                                                      2. Been thinkin' too. Recipes for a Small Planet, a small 60's hippie classic that taught me to think about food & health and sustainable agriculture. Learned to make granola, whole wheat breads, yogurt and sprouting.
                                                                        Peace.

                                                                        2 Replies
                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                          Oh, and that Recipes for a Small Planet spinach with brown rice and cheese (as I vaguely recall) that I made weekly....

                                                                          1. re: janeh

                                                                            God damn hippie! God bless you.

                                                                        2. I can't remember the title but it was written by Alton Brown and came with magnets showing meat cuts for beef, chicken, pork and lamb. The book was about the sciene of food - explaining how food fried, why certain cuts should be slow cooked, how to deglaze a pan, etc.

                                                                          I picked it up off the clearance table at the local college bookstore and it changed my cooking life.

                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                          1. re: cleobeach

                                                                            http://www.amazon.com/Im-Just-Here-Fo...
                                                                            cleob, was it this one with the quirky magnets?

                                                                            1. re: HillJ

                                                                              Yes it is!

                                                                              1. re: cleobeach

                                                                                My son loved that cookbooks as well!

                                                                          2. Of course as mentioned here by others, the Time-Life Foods of the World and, as much or more, the Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery were great influences, as were MtAoFC and How to Cook and Eat in Chinese, by Buwei Yang Chao, the great Chinese linguist Y.R .Chao's wife.

                                                                            4 Replies
                                                                            1. re: buttertart

                                                                              Glad to read that a few others were as inspired as I was by the Time-Life Series Foods of the World. When I was in high school, sequestered in the library during study hall, instead of actually studying, I was leafing through these books, and getting hungry from the pictures. I think I even transcribed a few recipes I thought (some day) I would try. They were a series of hardbound books and each had a companion spiral-bound collection of the recipes. I still hope to find a set at a garage sale someday.

                                                                              1. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                They're out there - have you tried AbeBooks or Ebay? I'm desperate to replace volumes left behind in a move, I have about 16 of the original 27 (but all of the spirals).
                                                                                Have a look at the Woman's Day thing too, their food department at the time was top-quality and many of the same writers as published in Gourmet etc wrote for this series.

                                                                                1. re: buttertart

                                                                                  I bought my daughter the spiral set thru Ebay a number of years back but they still exist out there. A virtual garage sale, if you're eager to find these, will help you faster. The Time-Life Series Foods of the World is avail thru Ebay. http://shop.ebay.com/i.html?_nkw=Time...

                                                                                2. re: Cheflambo

                                                                                  My Mom and I did find a set at a garage sale and it changed the food the rest of the family ate for at least a month or two. It was a great set and had some really good recipes in it. After our initial enthusiasm we slowed down, but did keep going back to them when we couldn't figure out what sounded good for dinner.
                                                                                  My brother took the collection to the Mainland (his wife doesn't cook but we were hoping to encourage her when she asked for them) and the books were never heard of again. Probably sold at one of their garage sales. How sad!

                                                                              2. Diet for a Small Planet (started a broader understanding of the food system) and The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas -- imparted a real feel for food and cooking.

                                                                                1. "Larousse Gastronomique" is definitely, without question, number 1. It is utterly fascinating and a HUGE influence on how I work with ingredients and cook. If the house was on fire it would be one of the first books I would grab.

                                                                                  Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" is one of my favourite food science books. I am a geek who needs to know why X works and Y does not.. It has helped me be a smarter cook.

                                                                                  Michael Pollman's "In Defense of Food" and "Omnivore's Dilemma" are books that are difficult to put down. They are really and truly life changing.

                                                                                  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal's "River Cottage Meat" made me see meat in a totally different way. This and Pollman's books actually caused me to make life-changing choices when it comes to choosing and cooking meat.

                                                                                  One of the most intriguing and compelling reads in my culinary life is "Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral and Recipes" by Mark Bitterman. Guaranteed to change the way you view various salts and their many uses. So very many "ah ha!" moments.

                                                                                  James Peterson's "Sauces" is my classic saucier book. This is one classic that will remain the leading authority.

                                                                                  Dornenburg and Page's "Culinary Artistry" is a fascinating look at all things culinary as an art and as science.

                                                                                  Ian Hemphill's "Spice and Herb Bible" transformed my thinking about using both underused and exotic spices and herbs. He continues to influence my purchasing and use of them. Have several spice and herb books but this is by far my favourite.

                                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: chefathome

                                                                                    LOVED the McGee book. Pollan? Oh, not so much. Precious, pretentious, and preachy.

                                                                                    Better than the Bitterman, I'd recommend "Salt" by Mark Kurlansky.

                                                                                    I have never read a Peterson book; when I was assistant manager at a bookstore, one of my staff and I would pore through each of his titles and practically drool at the lovely photos.

                                                                                    Glad to hear the Larousse is worth it. I've put it on / off my Amazon wish list probably two dozen times. Maybe I'll put it back on now.

                                                                                    1. re: jmckee

                                                                                      If I were forced to choose just one book it would be Larousse - without question. It is MORE than worth it. The cover price, when I bought it many years ago, was $120 and I got it for half that. However, I would pay the $120. Really.

                                                                                      1. re: chefathome

                                                                                        Dear Chef at Home et. al.

                                                                                        On Larousse -- which is titled a "Culinary Encyclopedia" isn't it -- it is more than that -- isn't it? how would you describe it -- recipes and technique and which edition do you think is best -- the newer or the older ones?

                                                                                        thanks
                                                                                        Rhonda

                                                                                        1. re: rhondathechef

                                                                                          It truly is the world's greatest culinary encyclopedia. The Oxford Food Companion is good but Larousse is so much more. My edition is 2001. Having seen others it is my personal favourite but I would love to hear about others with various editions.

                                                                                          I would definitely call it the best reference available, too. Without a doubt I learned more in Larousse about food, techniques, skills, etc. than most other books combined. But then I am an encyclopedic person - embarassingly my nickname is "Dictionary".

                                                                                          The recipes, although several may be tricky to make at home, are truly inspirational. However, it does contain some of my favourite recipes ever, including "Roasted Poached Capon with Pumpkin Gratin" and "Gougeres with Celeriac, Celery and Cream of Caviar" and the classics such as "Pot-au-Feu". It does assume the reader is culinarily informed. For example, the recipe for "Eggs a la Chevaliere" on page 270 reads:

                                                                                          "Bake a flan case blind. Arrange some soft-boiled or poached eggs around the edge and fill the centre with a ragout of mushrooms, cockscombs and kidneys bound with veloute sauce. Coat the eggs with supreme sauce. Dip some cockscombs in eg and breadcrumbs and fry them. Place a fried cockscomb between each egg and a thin slice of truffle on top of each egg."

                                                                                          Assumptions: you must know how to blind bake a flan; then nicely-done eggs; then a mushroom ragout; then find some of cockscombs; then create a veloute sauce; then a supreme sauce; then access a truffle.

                                                                                          I personally love this type of recipe and find them fascinating. For me Larousse Gastronimique is pleasure at its ultimate purest. It is my comfort "food"!!!

                                                                                  2. The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan really made me think about food as FOOD. The point he makes about the monotony of ingesting so much corn via HFCS, corn fed animals, and food additives really woke me up to be more mindful of what I buy.

                                                                                    Whether or not you think HFCS is spawn of the devil, it cannot be good to have a single food comprising such a large portion of our caloric intake.

                                                                                    TOD has made me at least mindful of what I eat.

                                                                                    1. 'Feeding a Yen,' by Calvin Trillin. Found out about CH there. Need I say more?

                                                                                      Cheers!

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: FishTales

                                                                                        He's terrific! Wouldn't you just love to tag along with him for a weekend?

                                                                                        1. re: FishTales

                                                                                          Oh, I love Calvin Trillin. And I've got to say, at the age of 13 or so when I got my hands on a copy of "Alice, let's Eat,", it gave me an awareness that there were other "weirdos" out there who thought about food in much the same way I did. Awakening!

                                                                                        2. french laundry
                                                                                          http://teenchefteddy.blogspot.com/

                                                                                          1. The German Cookbook by Mimi Sheraton - My husband is German, this book helped me to understand Traditional German Cooking

                                                                                            Professional Baking By Wayne Gisslen - I didn't know baking could be fun once I realized what I was doing wrong

                                                                                            Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen - This is the first book that open my eyes up to a new level

                                                                                            1. Firstly La Technique by Jaques Pepin is one of the best first cook books anyone should have, next Larousse is great for pretty much everything you want to know about almost anything food related.
                                                                                              Now there is food porn......The french laundry is great as is the fat duck cook book. as well as alinea.

                                                                                              Then there is the memoir, everything by bourdain Kitchen Confidential is seminal, more recently the nasty bits and medium raw are truly wonderful. The Aprentice by Pepin is great. I cant remember the name of the book but the memoir by Clarissa Dickson Wright?, the surviving fat lady was pretty good. Heat by bill burford is a good read. Michael Ruhlman also has written some great books and cook books.

                                                                                              Down and out in paris and london is a great food book......You know what there are too many....Maybe I just like food related lit.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: jiminy

                                                                                                I miss the 2 Fat Ladies!

                                                                                                1. re: KailuaGirl

                                                                                                  I love the story of when Jennifer was given the news by her doctor that the cancer was terminal. He asked if there was anything he could do for her. "Yes!" she replied. "I would absolutely ADORE a gin and a cigarette."

                                                                                              2. C-rations changed my life forever. I won't eat a chain. (Hurts my teeth.)
                                                                                                http://david.brubakers.us/cookbook/ra...

                                                                                                1. Marcella Hazan's THE CLASSIC ITALIAN COOKBOOK
                                                                                                  Giuliano Bugialli's THE FINE ART OF ITALIAN COOKING
                                                                                                  Martha Stewart's ENTERTAINING
                                                                                                  Julia Child's THE FRENCH CHEF COOKBOOK and MASTERING THE ART
                                                                                                  Richard Nelson's AMERICAN COOKING
                                                                                                  Judie Geise's THE NORTHWEST KITCHEN

                                                                                                  and BON APPETIT magazine from the late 70s/early 80s.

                                                                                                  1. Better Homes and Gardens - Being Vietnamese, my first encounter with non-Asian cooking was through the this cookbook. Definitely put me on the path of cookie baking and cake making.

                                                                                                    How to Eat - Oh Nigella. This is the first cookbook I read as a book. Her narrative is just SOOO funny and direct.

                                                                                                    Barefoot Contessa Family Style - My first Barefoot Contessa book. I loved how it constructed menus. It really gave me concrete tips to be a better host.

                                                                                                    My Life in France - It's amazing how no-nonsense but completely entertaining this woman is.

                                                                                                    1. It may sound strange, but Adele Davis's Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit was literally a life changer for me, and I never read the damn thing. My Mom did, and it changed the way the family ate. she got onto all sorts of healthy-eating kicks after that, with home-made yogurt, "tiger milk" and wheat germ plus handfuls of vitamins.

                                                                                                      I know Davis has been debunked recently but at least she raised the national interest in heathy eating and nutrition, at least for some folks.

                                                                                                      1. Bourdain's "Kitchen Confidential" and "Cook's Tour" for me, too. Is it a generational thing that these books triggered an interest in so many of us? I was already getting into cooking and eating more, and I think I was right on the tipping point of fanaticism when these books came out in rapid succession. Made me realize that there was a whole other world in the library's food section beyond cookbooks for inspiration....

                                                                                                        "With A Bold Knife And Fork"--MFK Fisher The Dorothy Parker of food writing. So, so witty and wordily-knit. I love her to pieces.

                                                                                                        "CHoice Cuts: A Savory Collection of Food Writing From Around the World and Throughout History"--edited by Mark Kurlansky. Totally fascinating. Spans from Herodotus to contemporary writers, and it's interesting to see how long a fascination with food seems to come paired with a sense of humor and an obsessive nature. I love this book.

                                                                                                        "The Flavor Bible"--cam out a few years ago. Doesn't have recipes, just ingredients and a list of flavor affinities. An amazing resource for cooks who are very comfortable in the kitchen and with the concept of winging it. This became an invaluable resource when I signed up for a CSA and never knew what my box was going to contain each week. Besides listing obvious flavor affinities (say, tomatoes and basil) it also offers affinities in the lists that I never would have thought of and have been amazed by. I probably consult this book more than any cookbook at this point. You can look in your cupboard and fridge, see what you've got on hand, think about what's happening in the herb garden, then start looking up and cross-referencing ingredients to see which affinities are shared among them and work yourself out a nice, unexpected dish!