Nom Nom Special Snowflake Cookbook
June 28, 2010 6:14 PM   Subscribe

The cookbook of my dreams may or may not actually exists, but if it does, I bet MeFites can help me find it!

I am starting to cook frequently, and have realized that I don't have a great, go-to cookbook.

I am looking for:

- Recipes that aren't for a crowd; most of the time I am cooking for two people (very active, often hungry) so an average 2-4 servings would be ideal. Books geared towards larger groups that are left-over friendly are fine too.

- Pictures! Lots of them, preferably for every recipe. Extra points for glossy and colorful. (This rules out a lot of the classics, eg Joy of Cooking, etc.)

- Minimal reliance on pork products and shellfish. I have been frustrated of late by the "nom nom bacon as a crucial ingredient in / on / under / over everything" trend. Doesn't have to be kosher, though.

- A mix of vegetarian and poultry / meat / fish entrees, with an emphasis on lean protein, vegetables, and whole grains- not looking for a diet cookbook, but also not butter butter everywhere.

- Menu planning and pantry stocking sections a definite plus.

- "Summer" style cookbooks need not apply, we live in Alaska where summer is apparently a relative term. But pretty!

Your favorite meals, links to recipes that fit this mold, etc. more than welcome.

posted by charmcityblues to Food & Drink (34 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
My wife, who is a cookbook aficionado, thinks that Nigella Lawson might be your go-to person for this: recipes for 2 people and sometimes 4, lots of nice pictures, fairly healthy cooking, and not too "meaty."
posted by Shepherd at 6:19 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Cooking Light series of cookbooks meet 100% of your criteria.
posted by Miko at 6:23 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: As always in these threads, I'm here to recommend EatingWell Serves Two. Focus on healthy things, quick preptime, covers every kind of protein, lots of great tips for how to shop for things in small portions. And everything we've ever made from it is very tasty.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:24 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

I suggest a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. Not only are there beautiful illustrations in the magazines, but their website is a treasure trove of information. These days they emphasize flavor and clarity of instruction, and are aimed at people cooking for a reasonable number. You can buy hardcover compendiums of their back issues, as well. While they're not all about health, it's certainly something that's discussed and emphasized on occasion.
posted by Mizu at 6:26 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Anything by Jamie Oliver. Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook has chapters that focus on pantry stocking. The Naked Chef is my personal favorite – we have adopted several dishes into our regular rotation, as have my parents and my family in Bulgaria (no overly exotic ingredients needed!).

You can find many of his recipes online: browse his website to see if you like his food. The books contain lots of info on basics and combining items in easy, delicious, and healthy ways.
posted by halogen at 6:29 PM on June 28, 2010 [5 favorites]

Barnes and Noble put out a cookbook in 2005 called "Cook's Encyclopedia of 30-minute cooking," by Jenni Fleetwood. It has a bunch of meat, fish, and vegetarian dishes at 10, 20 and 30 minute intervals, as well as photos of every dish (and photos of intermediate steps, too). It's not the cookbook we use the most often (I lean towards the Bittmans when I cook), but it is the one that probably fits your request the closest.

Most of the servings are spot on, too. 2-4 people for most recipes, 4-6 at most.

I just looked it up and it appears to be out of print. You can either see if you can dig up it in a used store or check out one of her more recent books, I suppose?
posted by thecaddy at 6:32 PM on June 28, 2010

Cooking Light might work but I've been a subscriber for the past year and it's VERY bacon-heavy.

Seconding Jamie Oliver.
posted by cooker girl at 6:32 PM on June 28, 2010

I know this is (South) Indian food but this cookbook is totally outstanding.

The Bon Appetit 30-Minute Main Courses book has a variety of recipes that are more continental.

Almost every recipe in these two books has been a winner, in my experience. Lots of pictures, too.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:32 PM on June 28, 2010

When I was cooking more regularly at home, I often referred to Everyday Food's Great Food Fast. It's filled with all kinds of recipes using lots of produce and an emphasis on lean meats (or you could make many of the recipes without the meat). There's glossy pictures for every recipe, and the cookbook itself is a compact size, which is a plus, so it doesn't sprawl over your countertop.
posted by trampoliningisfun at 6:34 PM on June 28, 2010

Rose Reisman's cookbooks are excellent. She also has a selection of recipes available on her website.
posted by kaudio at 6:40 PM on June 28, 2010

I'm not familiar with Everyday Food's books, but I watch the TV show and I think it might meet your needs. There are some meatier dishes, but they have a lot of really quick veggie-based meals that are pretty appealing. I would also suggest browsing Tumblr blogs, because there are a lot of good food ones.
I LOVE Cook's Illustrated, even though their recipes aren't always healthy. They're good for technique and for inspiration. My favorite things to do with a cookbook are get ideas, then just sub in whatever ingredients I'd rather use. So, like if it calls for bacon, use turkey bacon or just leave it out, etc. My favorite thing about cooking is customizing since unless you're baking, you have a lot of leeway to change stuff around in most recipes.
posted by ishotjr at 7:12 PM on June 28, 2010

Seconding a subscription to Cooks Illustrated. It's got your reasonable-portion recipes and your pictures, and it's pretty easy to figure out which ingredients are optional.

My favorite overall general cookbook is Bittman's How To Cook Everything, but it has minimal illustration.
posted by desuetude at 8:11 PM on June 28, 2010 [2 favorites]

Anne Willan's Look and Cook series is the best example I can think of for illustrated recipes. Really, every recipe has a dozen or more color photos. I have the pasta book, and it's excellent. The books cover different types of dishes, so you could pick and choose according to your preferences. If you are interested in grilling, I suggest Steven Raichlen's How to Grill, also heavy with photos.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:20 PM on June 28, 2010

Stone Soup has a great free ebook full of simple recipes that take 10 minutes or less and require only 5 ingredients or less.
posted by mazniak at 8:35 PM on June 28, 2010

another vote for Jamie Oliver's Cook with Jamie. It might be my favorite cook book that isn't Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.
posted by scody at 9:03 PM on June 28, 2010

Best answer: The cookbook equivalent of Cooks Illustrated is their fabulous cookbook, The Best Recipe. It's probably exactly what you're looking for, and will teach you how to modify recipes to suit your own tastes.

We _love_ ours, the dust jacket is almost destroyed, we use the basic vegetable recipes all the time (there are also variations that add a light sauce or unexpected flavor with minimal extra effort), there are tons of entrées, two perfect rice recipes, and five variations on chocolate cake (which was why I bought the book originally, for the perfect birthday cake + frosting recipe).

We're vegetarian, this book's not, but we still use it _all the time_.
posted by amtho at 9:04 PM on June 28, 2010

I love Cook's Illustrated but the magazine will fall down in terms of big glossy pictures. Some of their cookbooks do feature glossy particular the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.
posted by mmascolino at 9:23 PM on June 28, 2010

Here's another vote for Cooks Illustrated's Best Recipe.

I also recommend Ad Hoc at Home and Barefoot Contessa at Home. The former has a lot of recommendations about stocking your pantry, and what supplies and equipment you need for a basic but well-equipped kitchen. It has fantastic pictures too! The Barefoot Contessa one has simple, delicious recipes, and is also beautiful to look at.
posted by apricot at 9:24 PM on June 28, 2010

love my Barefoot Contessa and everything by Cooks Illustrated. Just got Lorna Sass's Whoe Grains Every Day Every Way, it's a great reference for all things whole grain, plus it has lots of pretty pics.
posted by snowymorninblues at 9:59 PM on June 28, 2010

My general go-to cookbook is The New Doubleday Cookbook. I have used it to cook for just me and my husband. Joy of Cooking is good and basic, but not my favorite, but I really like the 1931 edition. I just halve the recipes if I don't want leftovers.
posted by fifilaru at 10:32 PM on June 28, 2010

Donna Hay - The Instant Cook. It has lots of base recipes, then the variations (what to substitute, amounts to vary), when you change it from meat to poultry, seafood or vegetarian.
posted by unliteral at 11:21 PM on June 28, 2010

Oh! and think about getting an iPad and using the epicurious app - I haven't cracked a cookbook for the last three weeks, and I cook every day.
posted by unliteral at 11:25 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

A go-to book on my (weirdly limited) shelf is Laura Calder's French Taste. She prefers to eat relatively light dishes, and provides variations for each. It is, I will grant, low-ish on pictures, but you really don't need them--her whole schtick is that lovingly prepared food will always look beautiful. Disclaimer, I have done work for her and that book was a thank-you gift, but I was salivating for it anyway.

Thomas Keller's books (I have Ad Hoc At Home, a gift from a lovely friend, and have flipped through the French Laundry Cookbook) are absolutely chock-full of goooooooooooooooorgeous photos and how to select ingredients and stock up.

Edna Staebler did a series of books (Food That Really Schmecks, More Food That Really Schmecks etc) that are low on illustrations, but high on food that will really get you through an Alaskan winter--it's all Mennonite (sort of Canadian Amish) farmhouse cooking. And baby, it really schmecks.

Beyond those (and I really cannot recommend Laura or Edna enough, for almost opposite reasons), absolutely Jamie Oliver is your guy.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 11:32 PM on June 28, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would highly recommend the BBC's Olive "101" series. I've cooked out of a lot of them. The recipes work. The ones I've tried have been brilliant. They are tailored by what you're trying to do (easy suppers, meals for two, low fat meals etc). I've found some of them on Amazon but there are more in the series.

As you've identified, one cookbook to do all you want is going to be tough. But this is a series of [cheap] books and they're mighty fine.

I'd also recommend Olive Magazine as well.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:58 AM on June 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

You may be interested in the Cookbook Recipe Database.
posted by artlung at 5:13 AM on June 29, 2010

Just to add to the Cooks Illustrated suggestions, every year they come out with a Cooking for Two issue.
posted by belau at 5:55 AM on June 29, 2010

Mark Bittman's Food Matters is a good fit for most of your criteria and even though it's not perfect for you all around, I think you would find it super useful given your description above. It is not a cookbook per se--it's mostly about food and ways of eating--but has a bunch of awesome recipes (which fit your food/nutritional criteria, as does his whole philosophy about eating) and it supplies information on how to stock your pantry and kitchen for the kind of cooking he thinks is healthy and sustainable (and delicious!). He also includes fantastic info on how prepare the bases of many dishes (grains, beans, soups, stews) and then how to customize them with different blends of ingredients depending on what kind of flavor or meal you are aiming for. It has breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. It's a fantastic "must have" reference book for someone doing the kind of cooking you're talking about.
posted by Rudy Gerner at 7:05 AM on June 29, 2010

I'm surprised nobody has yet recommended Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

These books are utterly indispensable in my kitchen. They both contain hundreds of recipes with seemingly limitless variations. They walk through each food group with specific instructions on what to do with each type of food. Both books have recommendations for meal planning, pantry stocking, food selection and cooking techniques. The recipes range from the utterly simple, like how to cook beans, to the classically complex, like using those beans in a two-day cassoulet. Of the hundreds of cookbooks in my kitchen, I use these on a near-daily basis.

The only criteria these books don't meet are glossy pictures; there aren't many at all.
posted by slogger at 7:08 AM on June 29, 2010

The only criteria these books don't meet are glossy pictures; there aren't many at all.
I think that, coupled with the fact that glossy photos was one of the first requirements that came to the questioner's mind, is one reason why How To Cook Everything wasn't proposed. I will say, as an aside, that while the illustrations in How To Cook Everything are minimal, they are well purposed. I've always found centerfolds of a finished dish to be marginally useless in a cookbook, as it doesn't help me understand how the dish should look as I'm making it; but the illustrations in Bittman's books are all about practical techniques, like how to butcher a chicken or peel a pineapple.

While less comprehensive and diverse than How To Cook Everything, I found that James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking was enormously helpful to me when I was teaching myself to cook. There are glossy photos for everything and often for every step within a recipe. He released a more comprehensive tome called Cooking , which I don't own but appears to be worthwhile. Peterson's focus is French techniques applied to a conventional American kitchen and palate, so I wouldn't pick it up if you're interested in, say, learning to make Vietnameses beef pho; but it's excellent for roasts, stews, braises, pies and salads. More importantly, like How To Cook Everything, Peterson doesn't really teach 'recipes'. He teaches techniques that you can adapt endlessly so that you can eventually learn to cook without a book.
posted by bl1nk at 7:32 AM on June 29, 2010

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything also has possibly the best iPhone app ever, if you have an iPhone. It's got built-in, adjustable timers attached to every step, plus easy to customize shopping lists, plenty of ideas on how to alter recipes, etc.
posted by ferdinandcc at 7:58 AM on June 29, 2010

Seconding the iPad and Epicurious app. So awesome, plus automated shopping lists if you plan your meals in advance!

For serious food love, though, I recommend 1080 Recipes (Spanish food) and The Silver Spoon (Italian) if you really want to get down. They're the all-time best-selling cookbooks in their respective countries, and Phaidon books has done an amazing job with the translation and design.
posted by brand-gnu at 8:40 AM on June 29, 2010

Seconding Donna Hay. I just got Off the Shelf used at a thrift store and it is excellent, and the food photos (which I don't care about but you mention you do) are fantastic and, unlike lots of cookbooks with glossies, the recipes actually wind up looking like them, ha. She favors seafood and chicken, as far as I can tell.
posted by ifjuly at 9:28 AM on June 29, 2010

Pioneer Woman came out with a cookbook not too long ago. Not incredibly healthy stuff, but delicious, and she takes wonderful step by step photos. Check out her recipes on her blog before you buy!
posted by Night_owl at 10:40 AM on June 29, 2010

In re: Pioneer Woman, the pictures in her book are sort of small and...dim? I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but they are disappointingly non-vibrant. Her website is great though.
posted by apricot at 7:25 AM on June 30, 2010

« Older Help me remember the name of this book?   |   What options does a cosigner have when the... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.