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Mar 3, 2014 02:36 PM

Best ingredient guide cookbook?

So this is something I've been trying to find for a long time, but have failed to find so far. Basically, I'm looking for a comprehensive reference cookbook that is a purchasing, storing, and prepping guide for just about every ingredient I could possibly want to use. This isn't so important for herbs or spices - I have found books for those - but for fruits, vegetables, meats, seafood, grains, some prepared foods (tofu comes to mind), dried foods, preserved foods - you get the idea. This guide should tell me what to look for in the grocery store (ie. how to tell if something's ripe / spoiled / otherwise worth or not worth buying), how best to store these ingredients (in the fridge? in a container in the fridge? should it be airtight? in a cool dark place?), and how to prepare them (how should I wash it? is it known for being gritty? are any parts inedible? how should I cut it? is there a specific way it needs to be cooked for health reasons? etc).

Not having a guide like this has been one of the biggest road blocks to advancing my home cooking. Basically, if I haven't used an ingredient before, I either won't buy it because I have no idea how to tell if it's good or spoiled, how to store it, or how to prepare it properly, or I'll buy it and do at least one of those things wrong, with results ranging from embarrassing to disastrous. So really any help here would be much appreciated. Thanks!

(Note that I'm using cookbook loosely here to mean, pertaining to cooking - it doesn't have to have recipes.)

(Also, I have found *some* of this information online, but it hasn't been even remotely comprehensive. I'm hoping there's a book that would be.)

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  1. For home cooking, The Joy of Cooking is comprehensive.

    I've never looked at the Larousse Gastronomique, but it is reputed to be an excellent cooking reference.

    For vegetables, I have found Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka to be a comprehensive compendium of vegetables, including recipes. She also includes microwave preparation or veggies, which is unusual in a general cookbook.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sueatmo


      So Vegetable Love definitely seems close to what I'm looking for, but the Cook's Guide (only a small section of the book) is really the only part of the book that fits what I'm looking for.

      I couldn't really find a "guide" section like I described in the Joy of Cooking (maybe that kind of info is spread throughout? I only skimmed it).

      This one looks like more what I'm looking for (Field Guide to Produce by Aliza Green, although I have no idea how good it is):

      1. re: wisew

        You can't go wrong with JOC. And yes the info is found in each chapter, before the recipes. But the JOC gives you so much along with the guides.

        . I will say that I have not been happy with the articles on beef cuts, but that varies so much by locale that is probably hard to do in a relatively small space.

        Barbara Madison has done a large vegetable (vegetarian) cookbook, which I admire but have never bought.

        For technique, Alton Brown is a good resource, but I don't know about his knowledge for specific ingredients.

        I buy cookbooks that are devoted to a special subjects too, but I generally buy for specific appliances.

        OK, try looking into this title: On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee. I have a copy of this. If you want more specific info, I can provide.

            1. re: rudeboy

              Sorry, rudeboy, I was questioning sueatmo about Barbara Madison, who I don't know.

              Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone (Deborah Madison's book) is a huge recipe book with a fair amount of information (I don't know what you mean by technical) - I think it's great, but I probably have only made 30-40 recipes from it and I use it mostly as a recipe book. It covers some grains and a number of vegetables found more commonly in the United States, but in NO way covers all vegetables. There are a huge number of ingredients or vegetables in the world and too many for one book at least if you want to be able to pick it up. (You can get this book as well as others very cheaply, second hand, on Abebooks.)

              Deborah Madison does have a newer book called Vegetable Literacy which might be something to look at - again in no way every vegetable. I have not seen it except on Amazon.

              1. re: mscoffee1

                Yeah Vegetable Literacy was the one I was thinking about. I don't have it yet, but considering. My veggie preparation is getting stale. I can't figure out how to copy her URL on my phone.

    2. For vegetables, The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash covers all that comprehensively, with many pictures, and is really a cookbook.

      For random-source info: I've found it very helpful to make a text file organized by ingredient, to save info I run across online or in books I don't own. Over the the last five years or so, it's really become a useful tool.

      1. To be honest, I've never found a guidebook that covers the range of information I would want. Joy of Cooking, for example, contains a lot of good basic information, but only for a limited range of ingredients and cooking styles. And I find that the more ingredients a book lists, the shallower the information.

        1. Good recommendations above. "The Joy of Cooking" is probably my default reference book for home cooking. For vegetables, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone" by Deborah Madison was pretty comprehensive. And while I hesitate to recommend an out-of-print book, my 12-volume "Woman's Day Encyclopedia of Cookery" from the 1960s is my other go-to reference. (My mom had it while I was growing up, and I bought my own pretty cheap on eBay.)

          Also, if you're going online, you might look at the "Food Guides" section on the Whole Foods Market website (found in the "Recipes" section). I'm not endorsing the store, just pointing out the guide.

          1. I think this is something you need to create. Books are a point in time. Online would be better than print since it's subject to frequent change. A lot of bits and pieces are around, but not a big organizer.