Supportive in the Kitchen
November 17, 2004 2:14 AM   Subscribe

My beloved fiancee is trying to improve her cooking, with a course and by diving into cooking books. As the guinea pig, it is in my interest to help her on her way. [more inside]

I'm looking for good books, and in particular a book which explains the science behind cooking which I'm sure I read about here once before.
posted by Frasermoo to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you looking for Harold McGee's book?

But you might try Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques too.

Alas, my knowledge is mostly about Asian cooking (though I do keep a copy of Larousse Gastronomique handy.) Do you want recommendations for that, by any chance?
posted by madman at 4:02 AM on November 17, 2004

My two favorites for basic cooking are How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and The Best Recipe by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine. The former has pretty basic, classic recipes, and also provides lots of explanation on techniques, science, and variations on all the recipes. The latter has relatively long recipes, but everything I have made from it has been fantastic.
posted by gregchttm at 4:11 AM on November 17, 2004

The Conran Cookbook is a good all-round kitchen bible featuring guides to ingredients of all kinds (what to buy, what to look out for when buying it, when to buy it, how to prepare it, etc.), an equipment guide (what kitchen hardware to use, when & why), plus hundreds of recipes.
posted by misteraitch at 4:15 AM on November 17, 2004

I heartily second both of gregchttm's recommendations, and was in fact about to suggest them myself. I also recommend Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for the Food. It discusses the basic heat applications and how food reacts to them, and is an entertaining read to boot.
posted by boomchicka at 4:15 AM on November 17, 2004

Oh, and although I don't have them (yet), Alton Brown's other books may come in handy as well.
posted by boomchicka at 4:18 AM on November 17, 2004

One more thought....expanding upon gregchttm's recommendation of The Best Recipe, a subscription to Cook's Illustrated magazine would make a superb learning tool. Their test kitchen experiments with a recipe until they find the best method for a particular dish, and not only do they print the recipe, but they also detail why the preceding attempts failed. It's very handy in cooking to know not just what works, but what doesn't work, and CI does a great job of addressing that.

I'll stop now.
posted by boomchicka at 4:23 AM on November 17, 2004

James Peterson has written some excellent books on basic technique. The problem with most cook books is that they describe everything, which works less well for us visually-oriented folks. Peterson's Essentials of Cooking has foundation recipes for most common tasks with photographs of each step. He uses 12 to 20 photos for each recipe, technique really, with explanatory text.

I cannot emphasize how much this book help me with the basics---it's like having a tutor there to guide your hands at every step. Almost every picture is a closeup of the chef's hands performing. Want to know how to debone a fish? Butterfly a leg of lamb? Turn vegetables? Hard to get from just a description, but easy to see from the pictures. The book starts with knife technique and works its way through soups and salads, meat dishes, vegetables and ventures into fish.

Very highly recommended. Combined with the Bittman and the Cook's Illustrated (you are getting her a subscription for Christmas?), that's an excellent introduction to European and American cooking.
posted by bonehead at 6:00 AM on November 17, 2004

Don't forget Cookwise! (I really like this book!) Also, as mentioned above, Alton Brown makes cooking-science fun. Check out his books (as noted) or his show (also available on DVD and, I hear, bittorrent).
posted by uncleozzy at 6:04 AM on November 17, 2004

Julia Child's The Way To Cook is probably a better book for today's cooks than her original "Mastering The Art of French Cooking".

And I still rely on The Joy Of Cooking for basic recipes.

If you don't like the somewhat anal-retentive style of "Cook's Illustrated", a good alternative magazine is Cuisine At Home. It's very informative and offers a nice selection of recipes in each issue. Do not even bother with "Gourmet", "Bon Appetit" or "Food And Wine" unless you like food porn.
posted by briank at 7:00 AM on November 17, 2004

Madeline Kamman's "The New Making of a Cook" is superb.
posted by bradhill at 7:53 AM on November 17, 2004

Wow. That little lot should sort us out for a while.. Bloody brilliant, all of you.

posted by Frasermoo at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2004

Second for "How to Cook Everything", "The Way To Cook", and especially "The Cook's Bible."
posted by Vidiot at 9:41 AM on November 17, 2004

"Cook's Illustrated", the magazine, is only a quarterly and is very pricey. I think their books are a much better bargain.
posted by smackfu at 9:57 AM on November 17, 2004

All of the above. Cook's Illustrated's The Best Recipe is really great, and Joy of Cooking has been a long time friend. In addition, Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.
posted by theora55 at 10:01 AM on November 17, 2004

Smackfu's comment reminds me -- at the end of each calendar year, Cook's Illustrated publishes a bound version of the year's issues, with a handy index. It's just another way to go. I still subscribe to the magazine and keep them in wooden magazine holders on my cook book shelves.

(Oh and I believe the mag is issued bimonthly, not )quarterly.
posted by boomchicka at 10:02 AM on November 17, 2004

I also enjoy Cooks Illustrated and the [ad free] web site costs about the same as the magazine and has what seems to me to be more content. The book that I like the best is The Kitchen Detective which is Chris Kimball trying out a lot of versions of a recipe [oatmeal, for example, or corn soup] and trying a ton of variations to make it a really good recipe that is also preparable by someone who is not necessarily a gourmet chef. It's got a lot of technique and doesn't assume you know much of anything. Not science-y per se but really gets into why some things work and others don't. It's the only cookbook I've ever had where I've really worked my way through it, trying and enjoying a lot of what was in there.
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on November 17, 2004

I'll also give my vote to Alton Brown's books for good intros to the science of cooking, McGee for every detail imaginable about food science, and The Joy Of Cooking for good basic recipes. I'll also add Tony Bourdain's new cookbook if you want to learn the basics of bistro cooking and like a book with a little attitude.
posted by TungstenChef at 4:53 PM on November 17, 2004

Nigella Lawson was the first TV chef-type who made cooking look like something I could manage. Her books, especially "What to Eat," are a great read and a great introduction to cooking. I would suggest (actually, Nigella suggests and I agree) that your fiancee start with a roast chicken, as it's fairly easy but gives one a nice sense of accomplishment.
posted by SashaPT at 12:34 PM on November 18, 2004

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