nomming with my eyes
July 28, 2009 11:26 AM   Subscribe

For such a picky eater, I sure like to read a lot about food. What good food books can you recommend?

I've recently been on a food book kick. Books I've read and enjoyed are The Man Who Ate Everything, Julie & Julia, My Life in France, and Cooking for Mr. Latte. First person, humorous accounts rich in descriptive detail. I also enjoy it when there's a few recipes throw in. Bonus points for authors learning to cook or trying new foods.

What else would I enjoy? Whet my reading appetite!
posted by kidsleepy to Food & Drink (42 answers total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Kitchen Confidential
Outlaw Cook
Heat (very popular, I didn't care for it too much)
posted by He Is Only The Imposter at 11:32 AM on July 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Secret Ingredients
posted by gyusan at 11:38 AM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: Home Cooking and More Home Cooking by Laurie Colwin

How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher (dry, funny, plus recipes)
posted by Knicke at 11:38 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Ruth Reichl's books are great.
posted by anderjen at 11:39 AM on July 28, 2009

Heartburn. Nora Ephron's funny-bitter account of her lousy marriage to Carl Bernstein, plus recipes. (Like the one for the key lime pie she smashed in his face.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:42 AM on July 28, 2009

Ruhlman has several that are good.
posted by sanko at 11:45 AM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg is really lovely, although it's about 50/50 storytelling and recipes. She's the foodie behind Orangette.
posted by scarykarrey at 11:57 AM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: I simply cannot recommend M.F.K. Fisher enough. Brilliant, candid, funny and sexy. Here's a good place to start.
posted by minervous at 11:59 AM on July 28, 2009

Not books, but do you know about Carol Blymire's blogs French Laundry at Home and Alinea at Home?

I also enjoyed Becoming a Chef by Dornenburg and Page, mostly because of the bits of material from top chefs.
posted by madmethods at 12:11 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn, The Saucier's Apprentice by Bob Spitz, and The Apprentice by Jacques Pepin.

Also seconding Heat and everything by Ruth Reichl.
posted by alynnk at 12:18 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: A huge, massive second for M.F.K. Fisher. She's not just my favorite food writer; she's my favorite writer. This is a collection of five of her main books, including the one that minervous recommends.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:24 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, less swooningly, seconding Reichl, Steingarten, Bourdain. And I believe Frank Bruni has a memoir coming out -- it was just excerpted in the NYT magazine.
posted by kestrel251 at 12:26 PM on July 28, 2009

"On the Line" by Eric Ripert and Christine Muhlke
posted by alchemist at 12:28 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Nigella Lawson How to be a Domestic Goddess or Nigella Bites..... her descriptions of the food she makes are amazing.
posted by TonyDanza at 12:28 PM on July 28, 2009

I was coming in here to recommend Ruth Reichl's books too, but I see someone else beat me too it. I really enjoyed Garlic & Sapphires.

Also, if you're interested in Food Network personalities at all, Paula Deen's biography (Paula Deen: It ain't all about the cookin') was fascinating. I'm not a huge fan of her show, but the woman has had a really interesting life thus far! I also found out some things about her I would have never expected.
posted by geeky at 12:51 PM on July 28, 2009

Seconding Ruth Reichl and Laurie Colwin. Colwin's books on food are my comfort books, the books I read when I'm sick and depressed, or when in the waiting in the emergency room, or when it seems that the world is a horrible place. I can't praise them enough.

I would also like to recommend against The Year Of Eating Dangerously by Tom Parker-Bowles. It sounds like it should fit your "trying new foods" requirement, and it sounds like it should be charming, but it reads like a self-important fratboy who gets drunk every night as he charges across the world with little concern for local cultures. He treats his hosts and his food with the same utter lack of respect, and spends much of the book commenting that he was too drunk to remember next or that he showed up hungover (or, worse, still drunk!) to of dangerous food-gathering expedition (diving for seafood in poor conditions, that sort of thing--stuff where the wrong move could really get someone killed). There's a lot of puerile humor and self-congratulatory comments about how "weird" whatever he's eating is. (The chapter on Korean food, where his primary concern is to eat dog penis, is especially appalling.)
posted by MeghanC at 12:57 PM on July 28, 2009

How about not one, not two, but three brilliant food books, all from the same author:
  1. Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World
  2. Salt: A World History
  3. The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell
all by Mark Kurlansky
posted by GatorDavid at 1:19 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Gosh. There is just so much available.

Seconding or thirding Kitchen Confidential, already mentioned, is a good read. Especially the chapter "How to Cook Like the Pros."

On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. I consider it to be a required text for any kitchen. So useful. It's a book you can open to any page and have an interesting and informative read about food. This is one that can truly raise instinctual cooking skills by fattening your fundamental knowledge of food and how cooking alters food.

The Best Recipe by Cook's Illustrated folks. This is a book wherein the editors describe trying out out dozens and dozens of preparation and cooking techniques for basic foodstuffs (ex. a roast turkey) and then zero in on the methods, ingredients and equipment that produced the best results. The Cooks Illustrated magazine is also quite good.

The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuchsia Dunlop is excellent. She is a very good writer and, although I have tried virtually nothing from the book but I have pored over it, pretending I have the time to cook everything.
posted by bz at 1:23 PM on July 28, 2009

I have some foodie type books linked on my goodreads profile here.
posted by pghjezebel at 1:29 PM on July 28, 2009

How To Be a Domestic Goddess is great if you want to read a lot of recipes. Nigella describes why she loves each one and offers some amusing anecdotes. M.F.K. Fisher is simply lovely.
posted by HotPatatta at 1:38 PM on July 28, 2009

french women don't get fat is a good one (by mireille guiliano). some personal stories and tasy-looking recipes too!
posted by sucre at 2:50 PM on July 28, 2009

Nigella Lawson's first food book "How to Eat : The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food" is an excellent book about the sensuousness of eating and the pleasure to be had from food, and is a good read even before you get to the recipes.
posted by essexjan at 3:16 PM on July 28, 2009

2nd and 3rd and nthing a lot of the above selections. Also amazed that no one has yet nominated Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I'm about 2/3rds through it, and it's Beautifully written, and tons of info, too!
posted by spinturtle at 3:17 PM on July 28, 2009

What great suggestions so far!

For a different perspective, try CookOff: Recipe Fever In America by Amy Sutherland--she goes behind the scenes at various cooking contests throughout the US--including the Pillsbury Bakeoff. Great, often humourous account of the women and men who enter these contests, how they come up with their recipes, and the way the contests are judged. Winning recipes are included!
posted by bookmammal at 3:43 PM on July 28, 2009

I have read and enjoyed most of the books mentioned above and want to throw in a shout out to Cook's Illustrated magazine. I devour mine happily every other month.

devour, get it?
posted by kiwi-epitome at 3:51 PM on July 28, 2009

I just remembered another one, somewhat different from the other suggestions: America Eats.

Here's the Amazon description:
America Eats! originated as a 1935 WPA project that sent out-of-work writers (mostly unknowns, but also some soon-to-be famous names like Eudora Welty and Ralph Ellison) to chronicle America's regional cuisine, focusing on the group-dining dynamic of church suppers, harvest festivals, state fairs, political rallies, lodge suppers, and any gathering where food took center stage--"In a nation inhabited by strangers, sharing a meal lessened the loneliness of wandering across unfamiliar landscapes." While bits and pieces of their work saw the light of day over the years, the project was never completed or published and was filed away in the Library of Congress like a culinary Ark of the Covenant until Brooklyn-based food writer Pat Willard used this national artifact as a roadmap for her own coast-to-coast tour to see if these traditions still exist (many, sadly, are long gone) and offer a contemporary update on the WPA's original observations. Sprinkled throughout with heirloom recipes (Root Beer, Pickled Watermelon Rinds, Chess Pie, Son-of-Gun Stew) and never-before-published vintage photos, America Eats! is a celebration of our nation's table and a welcome addition to the popular food lit genre. "It's nice to report that, when a community need arises, we're still inspired as a nation to pull out a big pot and start throwing into it a lot of ingredients, with the understanding that sharing a large batch of something delicious with neighbors and strangers alike is a fine and proper way to accomplish some good." --Brad Thomas Parsons
posted by kestrel251 at 3:52 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant is a collection of essays by a dozen or so writers talking about, well, cooking and eating alone. Some of the essays are hilarious and a few of them include recipes for the particular dish the writer referred to.
posted by vespertine at 5:00 PM on July 28, 2009

Japanese Women Don't Get Old or Fat (or something along those lines) is a great book on everyday Japanese cooking, as well as the general cooking philosophies (i.e. what constitutes a meal).

Helps that Japanese everyday-person food is delicious, and that virtually nobody in America has heard of any part of it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:44 PM on July 28, 2009

Best answer: Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany by Bill Buford. It's a collection of his fabulous New Yorker writeups.
posted by dgrobinson at 7:15 PM on July 28, 2009

I just finished White House Chef which is a pleasant read.
posted by wittgenstein at 7:38 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I recently read John Thorne. He's been around a long time, but had somehow escaped my radar. His book Outlaw Cook is a collection of subtle, introspective, literate essays on various foodie topics, very much in the spirit of MFK Fisher's stuff but more likely to explore the history of grilled cheese than extol the virtues of oysters on the half-shell. I'm looking forward to reading more of his stuff.
posted by jon1270 at 5:32 AM on July 29, 2009

I recently read John Thorne.

Uh, actually I recently discovered John Thorne.
posted by jon1270 at 5:33 AM on July 29, 2009

Calvin Trillin's food books (The Tummy Trilogy, Feeding a Yen) are hilarious.
posted by turaho at 12:21 PM on July 29, 2009

Reading Under the Tuscan Sun while I was living in West Africa was my favorite masochistic pass time. I'd gobble up her words, drooling, then try to make my rice and beans a little more delicious.
posted by ohyouknow at 3:56 PM on July 29, 2009

This may not strictly count, but the Paris portion of Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London contains a fairly gritty (but frequently humorous) depiction of life in the kitchen of a high-class Parisian restaurant during the interwar period.
posted by PunkSoTawny at 10:38 AM on July 30, 2009

Response by poster: I've marked a few as best answers, because these are ones I've gone out and read so far. I'll mare more as I read and enjoy more!

My favorite so far was A Homemade Life - just what I was looking for. Personal anecdotes and a recipe in each chapter. Very similar in format to Cooking for Mr. Latte.
posted by kidsleepy at 7:11 AM on August 19, 2009

kestrel251's comment above introduced me to MKF Fisher. Such a joy! Thank you!
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:18 AM on August 19, 2009

Yay Orangette! Glad you dug it.

The Raw and the Cooked by Jim Harrison
The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook is wonderfully evocative of wartime occupied France.
The Taste of Country Cooking by Edna Lewis, which Orangette Molly got me into...Lewis reminisces about Freetown, a community of freed slaves who did all their own farming, cooking, and feasting. It's an amazing document.
The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Judith Jones is about the infamous food editor who nurtured Julia Child, Edna Lewis, and Madhur Jaffrey, among others. She talks about throwing out a Bolognese sauce that took all day to make, even.
Saveur is a food magazine more about this aspect of food--how individuals all around the globe connect and reminisce about food--than recipes. It might be up your alley.
Granta's Food issue is excellent, particularly Georges Perec's entry
Between Meals: An Appetite for Paris by A.J. Liebling always makes me hungry and yearning for pot au feu or cassoulet or Sauternes...
The Art of Eating, an M.F.K. Fisher compendium
Nigella Lawson's cookbooks are very talky. How to Be a Domestic Goddess is a lot of fun to read even if you never make a single thing out of it. Ditto Paula Wolfert.
NYRB recently put out a bunch of Elizabeth David's cookbooks. She's Britain's answer to Julia Child; she grew up in rural England IIRC and then used her inheritance to sail around the Mediterranean with her beloved. She came back refreshed and ready to expose England to more than kidney pie, etc. Awesome. Someone's even made a televised movie of her life starring Greg Wise.
Taste by David Rosengarten charts a similar territory as Molly's book and in some ways is a predecessor to so many of the current crop of food-nostalgic-obsessive memoir-cum-cookbooks. The final sections on how Rosengarten had his food epiphany and how it changed his life is much like what Molly talks about, her awakening in Paris.
Brillat-Savarin tends to be the go-to guy in many ways here.
posted by ifjuly at 11:16 AM on October 14, 2009

And it's not exactly what you were asking about, but if this sets of a desire to watch food-lovin' movies, I'd recommend Big Night and Like Water for Chocolate.
posted by ifjuly at 11:17 AM on October 14, 2009

Best answer: And now that I actually read the other comments, I have one more: he's not my thing, personally, but I'm amazed no one suggested Jeffrey Steingarten yet. The Man Who Ate Everything is pretty par for the course for these sorts of reminiscing foodie book requests.
posted by ifjuly at 11:27 AM on October 14, 2009

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