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Jan 2, 2011 01:20 PM

Dumbed Down Cookbooks

I have recently been going to the library, getting two or three cookbooks, reading them, and returning in a week for a few more books. In doing this, I have found very few books that are, in my opinion, worth my time.

My biggest pet peeve is the Dumbed Down recipe. Many recipes I have found will say something along the lines of "Traditionally this dish is made with this technique or with this ingredient, but doing it this way is just fine for the home cook." Thanks author, way to make me feel like I only deserve adequate. Even worse is "In the restaurant we make it this way, but to make it easier do it this way." Why on earth would I want to make a lesser version of something because it's "easier"?! When I need easier, I'll go buy it in a box. Good food takes time and work. Shortcuts don't get you anywhere in life, and I think the same philosophy applies to cooking.

Personally, I love "The French Laundry Cookbook" because, although most of the food takes hours upon hours to prepare, sometimes even days, I know that I am making something the correct way and it will turn into amazing food.

My question to all you ChowHounder's is this:

What cookbooks would you recommend (that revolve around French or Italian food) that will teach me the in's and out's of the dishes it contains or provide in depth expertise in one specific subject, such as bread or sauces or pasta making (or anything else)?

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  1. I don't' know whether your library has any of these or not. But you can look at the reviews (as linked to the following page) and see if any are on your local shelves.
    My personal favorite, although not a cook book per se, is Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen" . It is not a cookbook for dummies.

    1 Reply
    1. re: todao

      McGee's book looks fascinating, I can't wait to read it.

    2. Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking would be the absolute opposite of "dumbed down" and would meet your Italian desires. I like Ad Hoc at home which doesn't take any shortcuts, but is a bit "homey" when compared to French Laundry. Of course Julia Child's Master the Art is a benchmark book, however even my very French cousins don't eat that way anymore.

      That is all I have on the top of my head. Do you read either of these languages?

      8 Replies
      1. re: smtucker

        +1 re Hazan.

        @OP: realize that CHs don't necessarily represent the majority of people who buy cookbooks. Also libraries are poor nationwide and they have to spend nonfiction dollars very carefully so what you see there isn't going to represent what's actually available. An hour spent looking over books at B&N etc. will give you a better idea. Plus CH, of course. Check out the COTM threads for true inspiration.

        1. re: c oliver

          I third the recommendation for Marcella Hazan.

          1. re: woodleyparkhound

            BTW, we stayed just south across the bridge from Woodley Park while in DC. Great nabe. Much good food.

              1. re: woodleyparkhound

                +4 for Hazan - my MIL just gifted her tattered copies to me and it made my holiday!


              2. re: c oliver

                Los Angeles Public Library has 18 copies available.

                Mr Taster

              3. re: smtucker

                Unfortunately I don't read either of them, it'd be pretty cool to learn though.

                1. the cooking magazines sometimes do that when they publish variations on restaurant dishes and i find it rather insulting. i think Food & Wine is the biggest offender: Chef so-and-so prepares it with specialty ingredients a, b, and c and techniques D, E and F, but we've simplified it for the home cook by substituting these common [boring!] ingredients and cutting out 5 steps. grrr.

                  if you can track down a copy, i've heard that this one from the Time-Life series is excellent:

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I have Cooking Italy, American Cooking: Creole and Acadian, both have so many wonderful recipes. They are recent finds at a thrift store, glad they have your stamp of approval! I'll be doing some reading tonight.
                    All of the the timelife (The Good Cook) books have helped me tremendously with technique and reicpes. Wonderful wonderful cookbooks if you can find them.

                  2. Anything by Giuliano Bugalli. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia. "Cucina Simpatica" which comes from the chefs at the restaurant in Providence that popularized grilled pizza and rich baked pasta.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: escondido123

                      +1 Giuliano Bugalli. He is uncompromising.

                    2. Anything by Richard Olney. "Simple French Food" is not dumbed down in the least, title notwithstanding. "The French Menu Cookbook" is also excellent, and if you have any interest in wine pairings, "French Food and Wine" is brilliant, even though you are unlikely to get your hands on the wines specified. Mr. Olney's palate was infallible. Not to mention the Time-Life "The Good Cook" series, which Is a classic. Olney's recipes put Julia Child to shame, IMHO. Everything of his that I've tried becomes THE definitive version. The turnip gratin from Sinple French Food shows just what a humble turnip can be, in the right hands.