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Need Book Recommendations

Hi, I'm new to cooking. Started reading "Cooking for Geeks" which appeals to me because it focuses on how and why at my level.

Please recommend any books that explain the whys as well as this one.

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  1. Wow, there are so many books . . . . . can you give some sort of direction - what do you like to eat? what do you want to cook? how basic are your skills? how simple do you want the recipes?

    2 Replies
    1. re: thimes

      thimes, I like spicy food, savory food, barbecue, Mexican, Sushi, Thai. I figured I should start more general than that since my skills are limited - books that assume I know little or nothing.
      I'll check out the Corriher books. Alton Brown sounds like what I have in mind- would you recommend "I'm here for the food"?

      1. re: robertbobb

        Re: Alton Brown's books - I'm Just Here For the Food and More Food are both great starts. The first is cooking oriented with a focus on meat techniques. "More" has a baking focus. Both really work from a "why" perspective and teach you technique.

        You should also check out Russ Parsons. His How to Read a French Fry is terrific!

    2. CookWise and BakeWise by Shirley O Corriher. I love them.

      1. Sounds like you would enjoy Alton Brown's books. A subscription to Cooks Illustrated might suit you also.

        I second the recommendation for Shirley O Corriher's books. She gives a lot of information in a very clear manner.

        1. I'm not familiar with Cooking for Geeks, but some very good cookbooks that I have used which do give comprehensive explanations and info:
          How to Cook Everything (the original one) By Mark Bittman. I especially recommend Bittman for beginners who want a good all-purpose cookbook.
          Cookwise by Shirley Corriher... more science-oriented, but excellent infomation and explanations.
          Baking Illustrated... this is by the Cooks Illustrated team and contains many recipes from the magazine. Before each recipe, there are several paragraphs that outline what steps they took in testing and developing the recipes. I learned a lot from reading these explanations.

          7 Replies
          1. re: iluvcookies

            I can't see a beginning cook going wrong with Bittman's "How to Cook Everything." It was indispensable to me when teaching myself to cook.

            1. re: JonParker

              Agreed... I also picked up his Vegetarian version, as well as the new "basics" version. They still hold up as good recipe inspirations for me.

              1. re: JonParker

                I find that Bittman is so boring and preachy. I don't recommend him at all!

                In addition to some of the books previously mentioned, The Best Recipe is a great book for the hows and whys. It actually reads like lab notes!

                1. re: roxlet

                  I can't stand Bittman either, I have his how to cook everything because I got it for free and I find the recipes uninspiring.

                  1. re: roxlet

                    Same here. I got HTCE when I first was learning to cook, looked through it a couple times, and it's been sitting on the shelf ever since. Boring.

                    1. re: juliejulez

                      ...and another in the non-Bittman camp. I didn't have any exposure to him here in Toronto and when his HTCE came out mr bc bought it for me on cd. I didn't even touch it. Learning more about him and the success of his book, I thought I might be more interested in a hard copy. Hmmmm, not so much.

                      If I search for a recipe in EYB frequently there's a version from HTCE in the mix. Inevitably it's one of the first I eliminate because it just doesn't measure up to other versions.

                      That said, I know he has a lot of fans so he's definitely doing something right.

                2. re: iluvcookies

                  Another vote for Bittman here. He taught me to cook. His book: Fish is also excellent.

                3. I know it's not a book, but a great cooking "geek" site...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: wyogal

                    I agree wyogal, I wouldn't say I'm a geek (though others might!!) but I love that site!!

                    The first book that came to my mind was one of my recent acquisitions, RATIO by Michael Ruhleman.

                    From Amazon: "Ratio is the truth of cooking: basic preparations that teach us how the fundamental ingredients of the kitchen—water, flour, butter and oils, milk and cream, and eggs—work. Detailing thirty-three essential ratios and suggesting enticing variations, Ruhlman empowers every cook to make countless doughs, batters, stocks, sauces, meats, and custards without ever again having to locate a recipe."


                    I always enjoy Ruhlman's approachable writing style and though I've only just started reading this book, it looks like another winner.

                    robertbobb are you interested in recipe books or cooking theory/science?

                  2. Agree with both the "cooking for engineers" and "Ratio" recs above.

                    You might find some of the old classics interesting (e.g. Escoffier).

                    For fun? Ayer's "Food 2.0"

                    1. The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook is a good resource for new cooks. the step-by-step illustrations help aid understanding of new techniques and the photos of every recipe will get your mouth watering and your culinary imagination running.

                      1. On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

                        1. The Cook's Bible by Christopher Kimball (of America's Test Kitchen fame)

                          This is a book from 1996 and can be purchased used for 2 or 3 dollars. It has some science in it but mostly it has what the author experimented with in developing the recipe.I highly recommend it.

                          How to cook without a book by Pam Anderson

                          No science in this one but the book is invaluable when you reach the point where you want to be able to throw something together without a recipe.

                          Finally, Study the dozen or so cooking methods. It won't take too much of your time. Once you know them, you will know about as much as anybody.

                          Here is a link that has those techniques.


                          1. Thanks for all the recommendations and discussion. I've ordered 'ratio' and an Alton Brown book for now, but I will keep most of these under consideration when I have more funds.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: robertbobb

                              Your library should have many of the ones mentioned. Cookbooks are kind of like shoes - you have to try them on to really see which ones are going to be a good fit!

                            2. Julia Child's "The Way To Cook" is wonderful -- great photographs, basic recipes with variations.

                              I've got the first two Alton Brown "Good Eats" books, and they're good.

                              Fannie Farmer, edited by Marion Cunningham.

                              1. I just read Cooking for Geeks and it was fantastic!

                                1. At the top of my list is definitely Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. It's exactly what you are looking for.

                                  Bittman is a comprehensive book but preachy and short on science.

                                  McGee's books are much more food science and he's the Guru.

                                  How to read a French Fry by Russ Parsons is a good book with foolproof recipes.

                                  There are 2 What Einstein Told his Cook books by Robert Wolke. They are compilations of his columns for the most part. They answer questions and debunk myths like whether searing seals in juices or potatoes remove salt in your soup. No recipes or cooking per se but fascinating nonetheless.

                                  Overall, Corriher.

                                  1. I'm noticing that America's Test Kitchen is not notably present here. They tend to make a simple recipe into a lot of work, but they have some scientific reasons to do so.

                                    1. Why not try one of the Barefoot Contessa`s books? She has one called Back to Basics. I am sure if you have success with recipes it will encourage you to cook more. Food blogs are really great to learn to cook, there are certainly many illustrations that go along with the commentary. You should purchase a book according to your tastes.

                                      1. Nigel Slater: Appetite. His Real Fast food is excellent as well.

                                        I just got "This is a Cookbook" and like it very much.


                                        Is also excellent.