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Cooking by the book
March 18, 2010 6:51 AM   Subscribe

What are your favorite cook books? I'm in the market for more cook books. I am open to all cuisines and my only requirements are that the cook books have beautiful food photos and tasty recipes. So Mefis, bring it on, what are the cook books that I absolutely must have?
posted by kitchencrush to Food & Drink (52 answers total) 69 users marked this as a favorite
For bread my girlfriend uses The Bread Baker's Apprentice probably weekly. It has delicious breads and lots of pictures.

Bouchon is also nice
posted by ghharr at 6:58 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

It has no pictures, only illustrations, but The Joy of Cooking is downright canonical. From really basic stuff, e.g. this is a brown sauce, this is how you de-bone a chicken, etc., all the way up to elaborate desserts and breads. It's a real tome, but it's the foundation of real cooking from scratch. Everything else you can basically make up once you know your way around the kitchen, and Joy is how you get there.
posted by valkyryn at 7:00 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Charlie Trotter has a line of cookbooks that are basically food porn. The recipes are crazy complicated, but the photos are fantastic.
posted by mkultra at 7:01 AM on March 18, 2010

Again, it has no pictures, but Bittman's "How To Cook Everything" is basically the last cookbook you'll need for the next two years.
posted by mhoye at 7:05 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home and The French Laundry cookbooks will make you drool. Both have gorgeous photos. The recipes are fabulous, but a little labor intensive. Definitely doable, but maybe not for a quick weeknight dinner.

If you want to try out a recipe from Ad Hoc at Home before buying the cookbook, here is the recipe for Roast Chicken.
posted by socrateaser at 7:06 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have Ina Garten's Back to Basics. I'm biased because I love Ina Garten in general, and the recipes (as the title implies) are relatively basic. But, she always adds a little twist that make them far more delicious than I would come up with on my own.

Plus, the pictures are so good that sometimes I flip through it when not looking for recipes, just to look at them. Mmmm.
posted by CharlieSue at 7:09 AM on March 18, 2010

My mom bought me a copy of The Cook's Book for Christmas two or three years ago, and it's become one of my most-loved cookbooks. It's more of a how-to than it is just recipes, but it's filled with full color pictures as it explains how to cook an omelet [I'd always been slightly afraid to cook eggs, usually botching it somehow, but now my family raves about my omelets] and how to carve various birds and how to do all sorts of things, from the very basic to very very elaborate.

It's not just American style cooking, either; there are sections on Thai and Mexican and Middle Eastern and anything else you can think of, really. Each chapter is 'presented' by one of the most accomplished chefs in that area.

Also seconding The Bread Baker's Apprentice.
posted by alynnk at 7:18 AM on March 18, 2010

People around here champion Bittman's books. See also the MeFi Wiki for EatMe.
posted by knile at 7:23 AM on March 18, 2010

For pictures I love Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie, in particular the 15 brownie recipe.

I also love Nigella Lawson's books to sit down and read. Two favourites - How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food and How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking.
posted by valoius at 7:27 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Coming in to second "The Joy of Cooking" and "How to Cook Everything". But some other go-to cookbooks on my shelf that you might find useful are

Canadian Living Cookbook for tasty, easy to make weeknight dinners that even kids will like.

For curries and anything Indian, I have a book written by Madhur Jaffrey that I love. I can't find it on amazon right now, though.

For foolproof breadmaking, but also if you want to do some retro 50's food, the Purity Cookbook.

I picked up a copy of Susan Spicer's cookbook from Bayona when I was last in New Orleans, and she has some really good recipes.
posted by LN at 7:29 AM on March 18, 2010

As a rule of thumb, the more photo-luscious a cookbook is, the less concerned it is with practical quality recipes. For example, the Charlie Trotter series that mkultra mentioned have, in my opinion, zero practical value as a cooking reference. In addition to a labor-intensiveness best suited to a kitchen staffed with a dozen culinary school graduates, its recipes are notorious for specifying ultra-exotic ingredients with no suggestion of workable substitutes. As food porn: top of class. As something to cook from: worthless.

For something approximating a useful balance, try Nigella Lawson's books. If you can find it, Madhur Jaffrey's out-of-print A Taste of India is also terrific.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:29 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

This question is basically the premise of the site 101cookbooks, as I understand it. She has a running list of her favorite cookbooks (most of which feature beautiful food photography, like her own site), and every once in a while she features a new one. Her collection is varied (cuisine-wise, though it skews towards the healthy) and always tasty.
posted by sa3z at 7:31 AM on March 18, 2010

If you need food porn with your recipies then take a look at the River Cafe's cookbooks. If you are really interested in the recpies I would second Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything and add America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which is a three ring binder like your mom's betty crocker cookbook when you were a kid. Pheidon has some lovely new cookbooks, I have The Silver Spoon which is enormous, good and stylish.
posted by shothotbot at 7:32 AM on March 18, 2010

I was wrong. These are her favorite cookbooks. That other link was her entire cookbook collection, it seems (not 101?).
posted by sa3z at 7:35 AM on March 18, 2010

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman. No illustrations, but tons of great recipes (most with variations), a great index, and genuinely useful information on buying, storing, and using different ingredients. I imagine the original book (How to Cook Everything) is good too. Honestly, if I could only have one cookbook, I'd be fine with this one.
posted by ixohoxi at 7:37 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. That has some photos (nice big color ones) but not many.

If you want more of a snazzy, glossy, photo-heavy book along the same lines: Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison's Kitchen.

(I wish I could second the recommendation of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman, but you said you have a "requirement" of "beautiful food photos," and the book doesn't have any photos. The first Deborah Madison book I mentioned is functionally equivalent to the Bittman book: they both aspire to be the only vegetarian cookbook you'll ever need.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Rick Bayless's Mexican cookbooks. Mexican Everyday has simple, easy, quick recipes. One Plate at a Time features traditional "standards". Photos are amazing, as are the meals they turn out.
posted by supercres at 7:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

The New Best Recipe, by the Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen people. Sorry, again, no photos, so it only fits 50% of your criteria, BUT, this is my favorite cookbook. Ever. Everything is delicious, and it tells you how they came up with recipes so you better know how to tweak them. E.g., it tells you that they marinated the chicken in soy sauce to tenderize it, a sort of quick brine. Ah! That means if I substitute tofu, I may use a little soy sauce for flavor, but not the full quarter cup, because tofu needs no tenderizing. Love, love, love The New Best Recipe.
posted by teragram at 7:44 AM on March 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

And I'm not vegetarian, but I'll second the Madison ones. Just made a quadruple recipe of her mushroom stock last night.
posted by supercres at 7:45 AM on March 18, 2010

For two foreign cuisines:

Mexican and Italian. Both great books.
posted by Aizkolari at 7:46 AM on March 18, 2010

River Cottage Meat Book
Any of the Keller books mentioned previously
posted by sanko at 7:49 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

In addition to Bittman's How To Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, I like his The Best Recipes in the World. No pictures in that one either, though.

David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop is an ice cream cookbook. Not every recipe has a photo, but many do, and the photos are beautiful. I've made several recipes and all have turned out perfectly.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:04 AM on March 18, 2010

I have six to eight essential cookbooks that don't meet your qualifications, since they have no illustrations, or they have line drawings or black-and-white photos. They do have grease stains, bits of cake batter, dustings of flour and cocoa, dots from lemon juice...

That said, the regular Larousse Gastronomique that you can get at popular bookstores meets the criteria of having both glossy photos and some decent recipes, techniques and info.

Also, if you want "impress your friends" cookbooks that will look good on a shelf or coffee table, you can pay a little more for shipping and get your swag directly from Amazon/France.
posted by gimonca at 8:06 AM on March 18, 2010

A quick scan of my own bookshelf for cookbooks with good recipes AND lots of beautiful photographs yielded:


Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking and Tra Vigne Cookbook

And pretty much anything by Donna Hay.
posted by rebeccabeagle at 8:09 AM on March 18, 2010

Wait a minute! Your profile says you're in Germany? That could change suggestions a bit...
posted by gimonca at 8:11 AM on March 18, 2010

Seconding shothotbot on the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, which is my go-to book for ideas/techniques. It's pretty broad and tends to give good directions, as opposed to some cookbooks I've used, where the recipes were clearly never tested in a home kitchen (or at all!). The America's Test Kitchen Baking Book is also fantastic, if a bit overwhelming in scope.
posted by JMOZ at 8:11 AM on March 18, 2010

Here are some pretty cookbooks that I actually also use often:

Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking (also, the hardcover is cloth -- you don't often see that nowadays)
Breath of a Wok, by Grace Young
Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper
Happy Days with the Naked Chef, by Jamie Oliver
Memories of Philippine Kitchens, by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan (maybe I'm biased with this one)

I wouldn't count out the cookbooks without pictures; I constantly use:

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison
The Best Recipe, by America's Test Kitchen (I guess there's a new one)
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-fei Lo
Modern Art of Chinese Cooking, by Barbara Tropp

(of course, Nthing everyone who has mentioned any of these books above)
posted by odin53 at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

nth-ing Ad Hoc by Thomas Keller and Co. Phenomenal pictures and good (if labor intensive) recipes.

The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper (cookbook, although the radio show is also good) has a funky layout, lots of interesting recipes, and plenty of delicious looking pictures.

The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider is also a good one. Not a LOT of pictures, but the recipes are dead on. Just made a close-roasted pork shoulder with ancho chili / cocoa rub that was out of this world.

stir by Barbara Lynch has some seriously delicious Italian food. Her gnocchi recipe is my goto for delicious, quick, and relatively easy homemade "pasta"
posted by conradjones at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2010

Pretty much anything Claudia Roden. Arabesque has good pictures, too. But my personal favorite is The food of Italy.
posted by gijsvs at 8:29 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anything by John Thorne. He is a wonderful writer.
posted by Jode at 8:35 AM on March 18, 2010

Count me in the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook camp. 99% of the recipes I've used have turned out perfectly the first time which speaks greatly to how much they test and fine tune the recipes. I do have the The New Best Recipe as well and there is a lot of recipe overlap. The biggest difference is that the Family cookbook is in a three ring binder and the New Best Recipe is bound a bigger due to the fact that each recipe has an article that explains why each step and ingredient is important and the consequences of not following the instructions.
posted by mmascolino at 8:36 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Only one person mentioned Marcella Hazan. A Must. The classic Italian Cookbook can't be missed; a lot else can.
posted by Namlit at 8:41 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing Ad Hoc at Home and The Way to Cook. Keller's books are always full of gorgeous pictures, but it's not too likely that you'll want to make the stuff in either the Bouchon or the French Laundry books unless you have a spare six hours. I know there are fans of Cook's here, but I just can't stand those guys. They are the Slate of cooking - contrarian just for the sake of being so. I've never seen anyone be so fussy over a freakin' roast chicken.
posted by Gilbert at 8:56 AM on March 18, 2010

I love Rick Bayliss' Everyday Mexican and Mexican Kitchen. I've cooked almost every recipe in Everyday Mexican and never hit a bad one!
posted by kittyloop at 9:01 AM on March 18, 2010

The one I love is It's All American Food: The Best Recipes for More than 400 New American Classics.

Mostly because it gives me all those staples that I never learned to cook and miss terribly, and a huge range of ethnic food that is gorgeous.
posted by Katemonkey at 9:04 AM on March 18, 2010

Vegetarian: The Complete Tassajara Cookbook strikes a nice balance between general advice and recipes. It also has some good stories. Warning: contains Zen Buddhism.

Indian: Madhur Jaffrey's Quick & Easy Indian Cooking is, shockingly, full of quick and easy recipes. It is not tremendously comprehensive, but it's a really good introduction to a complex series of cuisines.

French: Mastering the Art of French Cooking is a classic. Comprehensive and surprisingly easy to follow (although I pick easy recipes, I will admit).
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:22 AM on March 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

For baking, nothing beats the Tassajara Bread Book - but it has 'only' illustrations. I'll add that the illustrations are exquisite, and tell a better story than most pictures could.
For cooking in general, and the best Mac and Cheese recipe,James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking, now back in print, and also with glorious illustrations. Also, great French Vanilla ice cream recipe.
posted by dbmcd at 9:57 AM on March 18, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Gorgeous photos (many showing step-by-step shots around one big picture of the dish), and really really really tasty everyday meal - I have become a proselytizer for this cookbook, but seriously, it's the best one I've ever owned (and the people who have bought it on my recommendation uniformly love it too).
posted by purlgurly at 10:02 AM on March 18, 2010

(FYI - Food Revolution is also titled "Ministry of Food" in the UK - that might be what you're looking for if you're in Europe.)
posted by purlgurly at 10:04 AM on March 18, 2010

The Epicurean Cookbook by Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico's Restaurant 1920. I don't have the fancy edition I've linked here, but a replica version, put out by Dover in 1971 as ISBN 0-486-22680-8. No food photos at all, but 800+ of the most detailed and informative line drawing illustrations you can imagine.

Forget the more than 3500 incredible recipes, just the pantry list and instructions for Russian, English, American and French style services, with course timing tables for wait staff service, is mind boggling, and humbling... And if you ever do need a formal dinner menu for 20 people in 8 courses, or a picnic for 60, or a buffet for 400, or a luncheon in 6 courses for 40, complete with recipes, instructions, table layouts, dish requirements, man power recommendations, and shopping lists, you have it at your fingertips!
posted by paulsc at 10:26 AM on March 18, 2010

Nth-ing Bouchon.

I also like The Balthazar Cookbook.

And I'm looking forward to tackling some of the recipes in Momofuku.
posted by sad_otter at 10:39 AM on March 18, 2010

Bizarre synchronicity because just a couple weeks ago I compiled my ultimate cookbook list as a way to dick around. So this is pretty much from that list. A couple show up in more than one place because they overlap to a degree I couldn't ignore. My categorization is sloppy, I know.

I feel like there are people you can trust for certain things, and combined with the internet for any questions or commiseration, plus confirmation pics of final results and experiences, you're good to go. (Plus you can get ideas for variations from the internet once you have the foundation in place.) So with that said...

French: Italian: Spanish:
I just got into this very recently, and it's completely alien territory for me as my parents didn't cook Spanish, not even vague allusions to it, so I may be out of my league here. Eastern European and Russian:
Very sad representation in my collection because my family (particularly my paternal grandmother) just knew this stuff inherently; I didn't need to learn from a book. Jewish: Mediterranean and Middle Eastern:
This is currently my favorite general style/approach to food/family of cuisines to cook, and the trinity for me is Paula Wolfert, Joyce Goldstein, and Claudia Roden. Indian:
Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni are commonly known to have popularized Indian to the outside world, so they're the go-to people. That said, 1,000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra is very helpful if you're just starting out.

Japanese/Pacific Rim:
for accessible Japanese if you're totally freakin' clueless like I am, Harumi Kurihara's a friendly face and a good balance of not offensively inauthentic but easy to accomplish. Elizabeth Andoh's good too. I may get flayed for admitting this but I don't mind Ming Tsai one bit either; granted, he was less dude-bro-ish in his earliest televised incarnations over a decade ago...Terrific Pacific by Anya von Bremzen is good too.

Rick Bayless and Diana Kennedy are all I've ever needed.

American: Help for pulling decent quick dinner out of a hat: Vegetable guides: Baking and desserts: Reference/compendium:
I'm going to be sort of unpopular here and admit while I think Bittman's mission to turn more people onto cooking than ever before by demystifying it is awesome awesome awesome (also why I love Jamie Oliver), I find his recipes consistently bland (but then, my tastebuds are all shot to hell; I can practically drink vinegar straight for kicks). His books are great of course though for easy, clear techniques. Cook's Illustrated's stuff as well as the CIA textbook The Professional Chef (older copies are easy to find used online and often in thrift shops or used book shops actually) are also great for this. Awesome by person or institution: For sheer look at that amazing thing and whoa, that exists: Random, other:
The Daily Soup Cookbook by Leslie Paul, Bob Spiegel, Carla Ruben, Peter Siegel, and Robin Vitetta-Miller--this has the potential to be somewhat terrible for seeking something specific on a time-crunch, as IIRC the index and organized chapters are a little incomplete and inconsistent. But it has soups you've never heard of, and I'm annoying into that sort of thing, so if you like being inspired it's great. I find the soups are without fail thinner than I prefer so I always use less liquid than they call for.

Food history and cookbook as document: Food writing:
posted by ifjuly at 12:06 PM on March 18, 2010 [22 favorites]

I'm cooking my way through Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The recipes tend to be involved and require a lot of ingredients, but are all delicious. It's more for cooking 8-10 person dinner parties than every day cooking, but I find it an inspiring every time I open it.
posted by snickerdoodle at 1:51 PM on March 18, 2010

Wow, ifjuly...I thought I had something of a cookbook collection, but you put me to shame! Just saved your post into my files and I'm sure I'll be collecting the books on it for years to come.

For my own meager addition, I'm just going to nth the America's Test Kitchen series. I have about 10 of their books, and there's nothing else I've ever used that produces such consistently excellent recipes on the very first try. Bittman is nice because he has a lot of recipes, but if I can find something in the Test Kitchen series that works for the ingredients I have (which, when you have 10 of them is most of the time, thankfully!), I know I'm going to have a really good dinner that night.
posted by sdis at 3:34 PM on March 18, 2010

Also note that the Test Kitchen 'Best _______' books all have a center section of beautiful photos, so they still fulfill that requirement, in addition to being the best cookbooks I own.
posted by sdis at 3:36 PM on March 18, 2010

I have a disturbing number of cookbooks. The ones I turn to the most that I don't think have been mentioned:

Two books by Patricia Wells: Simply French in which she adapts the cuisine of the legendary Joel Robuchon for the home kitchen, and Trattoria which is up there with Marcella Hazan's and Paula Wolfert's Italian cookbooks in my opinion. Both books have great recipes and techniques but are short on photos.

For food porn with good recipes and history, its hard to beat the Culinaria series. These are amazing coffee table books with beautiful photography and wonderful essays and recipes of regional cuisines in Europe.

This may not be your cup of tea, but the best book on barbecue that I've encountered is Serious Barbecue by Adam Perry Lang, a classically trained chef and CIA graduate who has worked at Le Cirque, Daniel and Restaurant Guy Savoy who now operates Dasiy May's BBQ in New York. If you want to learn how to barbecue (meaning low and slow with smoke, but he also covers grilling) there is not a better book that I've seen. Also good if you happen to be working with a Weber Smokey Mountain is this book.

Finally, I cannot recommend Happy In The Kitchen by Michel Richard enough. Looks a lot like Thomas Keller's cookbooks in terms of production value and design. This book is one of the most creative, playfuk and inspirational cookbooks I've ever seen.
posted by AceRock at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2010

I'm a pescatarian (seafood, eggs and dairy, but no meat), and I'm seconding Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, so I imagine How to Cook Everything is great too. It's the only cookbook i've ever come across that I just want to sit down and read. It has tons of information on preparation, ingredients, storage.

What I really like about it is that each recipe has variations, which I think encourages you to cook with whatever you have on hand, instead of feeling like you can't cook what you want without going out to buy grapeseed oil or smoked paprika or some such thing.
posted by inertia at 6:52 PM on March 18, 2010

The American Table has illustrations rather than photos, but it was written by a poet.
posted by betweenthebars at 11:34 PM on March 18, 2010

Everyday Food: Great Food Fast
Falling Cloudberries: A World of Family Recipes by Tessa Kiros
Better Homes and Gardens
posted by girlmightlive at 8:26 AM on March 19, 2010

Seconding Donna Hay. Great photos, quick recipes that can be easily altered. I use the hell out of The Instant Cook.
posted by craven_morhead at 9:57 AM on March 19, 2010

This one has lovely color photos and good solid recipes: Myra Goodman's Food to Live By. She owns Earthbound Organic Farms so there are pictures of farmers at work and fields of crops as well as the finished dishes, which is kind of a nice change. Mostly "sophisticated American", for lack of a better term (think Silver Palate) with some international recipes tossed in. Brilliant salads, in particular.
posted by Quietgal at 11:23 AM on March 19, 2010

Nigel Slater's books changed my culinary life.
posted by theCroft at 5:15 AM on March 21, 2010

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