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Mar 22, 2012 12:17 AM

What's a great cookbook to cook through?

In lieu of a small fortune in culinary school, that is. I'm definitely one who loves good food, and only cook in emergency situations (as in my wife being out of town). I'd like to know of a great way to learn the basics properly...


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  1. I'd recommend 'The Silver Palate Cookbook'. It's getting on in age now, but the recipes are very approachable, and it's somewhat encyclopedic as well. 'The New Basics Cookbook' by the same authors is a lot thicker and written in the same style, so you might want to consider that one too. Both are available used at Amazon very cheaply (9¢ plus shipping for The New Basics).

    1 Reply
    1. re: RelishPDX

      Thanks very much, RelishPDX. Will go to Amazon to check them out!

    2. Jack, from the current cookbooks I suggest that you try Twenty by Michael Ruhlman.

      Here is a discription: Twenty distills Ruhlman s decades of cooking, writing, and working with the world s greatest chefs into twenty essential ideas from ingredients to processes to attitude that are guaranteed to make every cook more accomplished. Whether cooking a multi-course meal, the juiciest roast chicken, or just some really good scrambled eggs, Ruhlman reveals how a cook s success boils down to the same twenty concepts. With the illuminating expertise that has made him one of the most esteemed food journalists, Ruhlman explains the hows and whys of each concept and reinforces those discoveries through 100 recipes for everything from soups to desserts, all detailed in over 300 photographs. Cooks of all levels will revel in Ruhlman s game-changing Twenty.

      And a link to amazon:

      2 Replies
      1. re: herby


        Thank you - I've seen him on Bourdain's show as well.

        1. re: herby

          I like Ruhlman's book too, but I've a general question to throw out there about it.

          Does anyone else think Twenty is too advanced for a beginning cook? That was the reason I backed away from recommending it, and going with the Silver Palate books instead.

          Here's my perspective: To me, Ruhlman seems to expect some type of culinary awareness from his readers. The OP's only experience is as an emergency cook, nothing wrong with that. Read the "Think" pages of the book online at Amazon, it's filled with references to having you think about your awareness in the kitchen, pulling from memories to help you avoid mishaps and mistakes. I've found a similar vein throughout the rest of the book—though I must put out a disclaimer, I've only read through it in a bookstore, I don't own it.

          The Silver Palate books (and others like it, they don't own the franchise on this style), offer a starting cook approachable recipes with plenty of reference and background info. You learn to cook as you learn about food and cooking, if that makes any sense. Even though it's 30 years old, and I've owned my copy nearly that long, I still refer to SP, and one of my favorite recipes is in it, Pork Chops with Black Currant Preserves. I barely touch any other cookbook in my collection that's that old. Their Cassoulet and Ginger Candied Carrots opened new culinary doors for me (I still love to glaze carrots, only now I boil them in ginger ale first).

          So what say you? Is Ruhlman's Twenty too much to jump into at first, or is my head just screwed on wrong? :) I'm interested to know, as we get a lot of starting cooks visiting here. I think something along the lines of Silver Palate -> Alton Brown -> Ruhlman is about the proper progression—my mind is open to enlightenment and change about this.

        2. The art of simple food: notes, lessons, and recipes from a delicious revolution, by Alice Waters. This is my suggestion.

          3 Replies
          1. re: sueatmo

            I agree on Alice Waters. It is a great look at fundamentals through the lens of her approach and values. Everything is solid and a few are eye openers.

            1. re: sueatmo

              Alice Waters, of course - makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

              1. re: jacknhedy

                The Waters book was the first one that leaped to my mind, also.

            2. How about Cook's Illustrated (or Cook's Country) magazine (or their Best Recipe books)? Every year, I buy the bounded Annual Cookbooks. I have all of the back issues, and they explain the reason why you cook in a certain way. At the same time, 90% or so of the recipes there turns out really great. I wish they had some "healthier" recipes occasionally.

              2 Replies
              1. re: naoki

                Every year Cook's Illustrated publishes a special newstand issue with their collected "Light" recipies from the year. Some are just regular recipies that happen to be fairly healthy to begin with, and others are lightened versions of regular recipies. I picked up this year's version at my local Whole Foods.

                I think they also have a "Best LIght Recipie cookbook too.

                1. re: DeeCee

                  I should check these out. Does anyone happen to know if these "light" recipe issues and "Best Light Recipe" cookbook are compilation? Are they collected from the recipes published in the magazine?

              2. Or, Martha Stewart's Cooking School. (It's a cookbook)