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Cookbooks that made you a better cook?

I'm still such an amateur, but a whole lot better than I used to be.

It seems like my cooking will plateau, and then...I discover a new cookbook and learn something that takes everything up a notch.

Working with Patricia Wells's Trattoria and Bistro Cooking did that for me. Left me with a much better intuitive feeling for how certain cooking methods work (properly salting pasta, using bouquet garnis, etc.). Same with Yan-kit So's Classic Chinese Cookbook -- so precise on cooking methods and what you're trying to achieve. America's Best Recipes has done that for me with some baking techniques.

So I'm curious...what cookbooks have transformed your cooking and made you a more competent, confident cook?

I'm particularly interested in bread baking, if anyone has suggestions.

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  1. To be clear, I mean they made you a better cook all round, even when you're not cooking a recipe from that book.

    1. The Supper of the Lamb, by Robert Farrar Capon, for a general philosophy of cooking, and The I Hate to Cook Book by Peg Bracken for bringing humor to the process and for encouraging following one's own instincts ("Don't like X? Then leave it out - although leaving the chili powder out of chili is rather pointless and you may as well make something else"[paraphrased since my copy's not at hand]).

      Running a close third is Claiborne's Herb and Spice Cookbook, a really big revelation in the early 1970s.

      2 Replies
      1. re: tardigrade

        Thanks for bringing up The I Hate to Cook cookbook by Peg Bracken. I didn't learn to cook by her but 40 years ago it was amusing.. I still like that book...

        1. re: tardigrade

          I read Supper of the Lamb my undergrad senior year, and started cooking for myself about a year later in grad school. Other than browsing my mom's cookbooks it was my first serious cooking reading. The second piece was Joy of Cooking, especially the ingredients and methods chapters. I bought Larousse Gastronomique a few years later.

        2. Cooking from Amish Country by Marcia Adams and the PBS series way back when. It really isn`t anything technical but it helped me to define the type of cooking that I like. Simple, savory and comforting.

          1. anything James Beard (bread, pasta, American Cookery is my favorite)

            1. Have you looked at Ruhlman's book 20?

              That book is totally technique driven and I think would be along the lines of what you are looking for. Tom Collichio's "think like a chef" is another cookbook thats about a lot more than the recipes.

              For me personally, The Thomas Keller Books and the 6 volumes of Modernist Cuisine have taught me more than just about anything else.

              6 Replies
              1. re: twyst

                Oh and not a cookbook at all, but "the flavor bible" is an invaluable resource for cooks who like to experiment.

                  1. re: chefathome

                    So good I even bought a copy for my iphone ><

                1. re: twyst

                  I think I learned the most by watching "Essential Pepin". But this is a show, not a cookbook.

                  If I had to choose a cookbook, I would choose the 6 volumes of Modenist Cuisine too, plus Modernist Cuisine at Home. Not for the Modernist methods, which I rarely use. Instead for the fact that they cove nearly every aspect of cooking. For example, the chapter on food safety has changed the way I cook because I now understand that time plays a role in addition to temperature. Dishes I've made for years are improved by small changes to my method. I like MCAH because it simplifies things to the most important elements. The misnamed "fat-free" Mac-n-cheese alone is worth the price. Or the carrot soup.

                  1. re: ttochow

                    Ha! Ha! If this thread had the title "cookbooks that had the biggest impact on your wallet?", Modernist Cuisine would definitely win. None of this stuff is cheap.