Recommend the perfect cookbook
January 13, 2007 10:35 AM   Subscribe

If you could only cook recipes from one cookbook ever again, which cookbook would you choose? I'm looking to slim down my large, useless cookbook collection and instead invest in one or two that have lots of cookable, consistently good and useful recipes.
posted by janecr to Food & Drink (51 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Joy of Cooking.
posted by Malor at 10:39 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bittman's How to Cook Everything
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:41 AM on January 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

For me, it's a toss up between "The New Best Recipe" and "The Best 30-minute Recipe," both from Americas Test Kitchen. Plenty of tasty stuff, for simple and complex.
posted by Marky at 10:42 AM on January 13, 2007

Larousse Gastronomique, or Julia Child's magnum opus.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:51 AM on January 13, 2007

And, by the way, don't throw out cookbooks. You never know when a recipe will come in handy.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:52 AM on January 13, 2007

The Internet
posted by w_boodle at 10:56 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

2nding Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Best cookbook ever.
posted by jbickers at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2007

I would not part with my copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook. (91 used and new from $.50!)
posted by CMichaelCook at 11:03 AM on January 13, 2007

If I could only keep one, I would go crazy. I have too many, too! I have to 2nd Joy of Cooking -- pretty much no matter what you want to know how to do, you can find it in there. Other than that, I would keep the one I'm making myself, which I recommend. That way, no matter where you find the recipe, you can keep it for evah. I'm sort of scrapbooking mine, because I have some my mom wrote out for me by hand, and I want to keep it that way. I'm also thinking of disassembling one I started way back in college, in order to keep the food spattered remnants of my cooking youth.
posted by Medieval Maven at 11:06 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I second the Joy of Cooking.
It's got practically everything in there. It's the reference cookbook in my kitchen.
posted by mixer at 11:09 AM on January 13, 2007

Fanny Farmer cookbook.

Or maybe the More for Less cookbook.
posted by konolia at 11:11 AM on January 13, 2007

Joy of Cooking, again. Reliable, comprehensive, and instructive.
posted by donnagirl at 11:13 AM on January 13, 2007

Secrets of Success
posted by vega5960 at 11:16 AM on January 13, 2007

With cookbooks, I'm like most women with clothes: I have a jilliion, but rely on a handful. These are not necessarily definitive, but they're my faves:

What to Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House To Eat, Arthur Schwartz (yummy easy recipes from the basic to the exotic; lots of comfort foods)

Quickies: Ten Quick Ways With Everyday Foods, Chatelaine/Rosenberg (I use this constantly; superefficient)

The Male Chauvinist's Cookbook, Cory Kilvert (goofy title, but this is a great '70s cookbook with hilarious text. Elegant and easy recipes with an emphasis on French cooking)

Cooking With Three Ingredients, Andrew Schloss (amazing recipes that are super easy and fast to make)
posted by frosty_hut at 11:17 AM on January 13, 2007

Interesting you should ask this now, as we just wrote about Joy yesterday. I'd also give it a vote, but I'd go with the 1997 edition, not the new one that came out a few months ago.

Bittman is really fantastic, as well. For my money, his recipes are a lot more in tune with the modern American palate, so I'd probably ultimately take his book.
posted by NYCnosh at 11:17 AM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Best Recipe, or the New Best Recipe, from Cooks Illustrated. But yeah, the internet-especially I'd have to disagree w/pp re never getting rid of a cookbook. In my experience, you can find almost anything online. I also find that I only use one or two recipes out of most the cookbooks I have, so I'm trying to get those recipes written down and then free myself of the cookbook itself.
posted by purenitrous at 11:18 AM on January 13, 2007

If I needed to reduce my bookshelf to "one or two that have lots of cookable, consistently good and useful recipes," then I'd definitely choose Bittman's How To Cook Everything and The Best Recipe (which has apparently been replaced by The New Best Recipe).

...But I wouldn't ever throw out The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, which definitely has "lots of cookable, consistently good and useful recipes." It's kind of a old-country Vermont version of those workhorse compilations.
posted by cribcage at 11:29 AM on January 13, 2007

I second the vote for the '97 edition of Joy.

I'm also a huge fan of Bittman's The Best Recipes in the World.
posted by rachelpapers at 11:32 AM on January 13, 2007

Here's another vote for the internet with an addendum. The disadvantage to using the internet as your cookbook is keeping recipes you love organized. One way to combat this is by getting a program like MasterCook and importing recipes you love and use to your own personal digital cookbook. That way you'll have recipes and shopping lists at your fingertips when you need them.
posted by Kimberly at 11:32 AM on January 13, 2007

Bittman's How To Cook Everything is what we refer to most often, although we also have Julia's volume 1, Larousse Gastronomique, and Best New Recipe.
posted by librarina at 11:35 AM on January 13, 2007

Nigel Slater's Appetite: not necessarily for the recipes, although they're fantastic, but for the improvisational sensibility it teaches.
posted by holgate at 11:36 AM on January 13, 2007

For me, it would have to be Mastering the Art of French Cooking. That being said... I have the America's Test Kitchens Family Cookbook and use it all the time. I haven't yet picked up ATC's Best or 30 Minutes but given their track record in my kitchen, they're probably gold.

A year ago or so I'd have said Joy (1997; nycnosh++) but the more I've been cooking the more I realize that I hardly ever even reference it. Just last week I relegated it to the secondary cookbook shelf.
posted by mimi at 11:36 AM on January 13, 2007

Bittman's great - but don't use his gravy recipe (or at least not the one with cornstarch - blech). Why get rid of good cookbooks? I guess I could survive on a desert island with Bittman's book and a well stocked pantry - but give up Marcella Hazan? Give up Joy? Give up Fannie Farmer? No thanks! I wouldn't even want to give up the weird old Larousse.
posted by prettyboyfloyd at 11:45 AM on January 13, 2007

Err, I meant the pre-1997 Joy; come on, they took out the squirrel- and turtle-cleaning directions!
posted by mimi at 11:45 AM on January 13, 2007

One more vote for the Bittman--it gets used in my house everytime we would have reached for Joy, GH, New Basics. I often cross-reference with it even if I'm cooking from a specialty cookbook.
Consider moving all your cookbooks out of the way for a year, and only keeping the ones you've used after that?
posted by Mngo at 11:58 AM on January 13, 2007

If I had to toss all but one, I'd keep Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking.

"Joy" is good as an introduction to a lot of tools and techniques, but many of the recipes are 50 years out of date. Once you've read through the didactic parts, you can toss it.
posted by ikkyu2 at 12:12 PM on January 13, 2007 [2 favorites]

I wasn't always a fan of James Beard, but as I've grown older, I've come to have a better understanding of what he represented to American cuisine, and I recommend his works. The James Beard Cookbook (1959) is a classic, but dated, since it doesn't include many later convenience foods, or methods, so for others, I can see James Beard's Theory and Practice of Good Cooking (1977), or The New James Beard (1981) as being more practical. The Epicurean (1894) by Charles Ranhofer (former Executive Chef at Delmonico's) is a must have, and is now (mon Dieu!) a free download in .pdf format! I would never give up my printed copy, but if I couldn't find a printed copy, I'd sit myself down, and maybe go to Kinko's, to make a loose leaf version for myself. Craig Claiborne's Kitchen Primer is the manual for new cooks that Joy would like to be, and his New York Times Cookbook is the indispensable manual of food you always grow into.
posted by paulsc at 12:38 PM on January 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

I strongly unrecommend Larousse Gastronomique. It's like an encyclopedia about food, rather than something useful for day-to-day cooking.

I have cooked exactly zero recipes from it; although it has some recipes with interesting curiosity value. Random page selection offers... Turkey stuffed with foie gras, truffles and 24 chicken hearts (among other things) *boggles*.

It's a nice book to own in theory, but not especially practical.
posted by ambilevous at 1:25 PM on January 13, 2007

Joy is an indespensible food and cooking reference. The America's Test Kitchens Family Cookbook reference above however is a fabulous cookbook. The recipes contained within have yet to disappoint me or my diners.
posted by mmascolino at 1:42 PM on January 13, 2007

From a vegetarian perspective: I would keep the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook. I've enjoyed every single thing I've made out of that book. I trust it enough to try a new recipe out on friends, without first having made it myself.
On the other hand, Betty Crocker's Cookbook (the red one with the 3-ring binding) is what I use for traditional recipes that I can't just invent on the fly by myself (ie I can make stir-fry without a cookbook, but when I want baked goods Betty tells me how much of each ingredient I need).
posted by vytae at 2:01 PM on January 13, 2007

You probably already own it. Go through your collection, look for the dirtiest ones, they are obviously the most referenced. Pick your favorite, write down the title and go buy a fresh copy. You know have a new copy of the best cook book you ever owned.

The utility of a cookbook has a lot to do with the level of comfort the cook has in the kitchen. If you are a classically trained, professional chef then you will have to have Larousse Gastronomique. If you cook for the challenge then Joy and the internet should give you a solid foundation to build any recipe with your own creativity, but if you cook to eat, and satisfy your family, I would lean towards anything coming from Chris Kimball and Company (ie Cooks Illustrated).
posted by bkeene12 at 2:46 PM on January 13, 2007

The January 6, 2007, episode of The Splendid Table featured an interview with a woman who described her process in whittling down her cookbook collection. She wasn't looking to keep just one cookbook, but it may be helpful. If you have iTunes, you can download the episode for free.
posted by naturesgreatestmiracle at 2:48 PM on January 13, 2007

Tough question. I'd be loathe to part with Cookwise, The Making of a Cook, and The Joy of Cooking. That being said, I get most of my recipes from the internet, and Alton Brown has forever changed the way I cook almost everything.
posted by bh at 3:17 PM on January 13, 2007

Another vote for How to Cook Everything. It is what got me cooking. I turn to it almost every day. Bittman's new The Best Recipes in the World is also good for more exotic dishes.

That, or the Sopranos Family Cookbook for good Jersey style Italian food.
posted by yesno at 3:31 PM on January 13, 2007

I like Cookwise, too, but it's not exactly exhaustive. For a pep-talk about not needing a cookbook (and some great recipe-ish essays) I'd keep John Thorne's Outlaw Cook handy.
posted by janell at 3:41 PM on January 13, 2007

I have a lot of cookbooks, something on the order of 25 feet of shelf space. Reducing that to one book seems impossible. I recommend that rather than picking one book you install more shelf space in your kitchen.

The one book I go back to again and again is The New York Times Cookbook, of which I somehow still have two editions. The Joy of Cooking is probably the best single book due to its thoroughness, but it really depends upon what type of food you like. Other good basic compendiums have been cited above, of which the Cooks Illustrated book and the Silver Palate books are quite good and well rounded.

There are so many easy to find recipes out there on the internet you would think that the market for cookbooks would be nil. Yet, a good compendium of recipes can be invaluable. One great place to explore new cookbooks is the library. You could whittle your collection down to one (or perhaps a few dozen) and then explore new stuff by checking cookbooks out of the library. Most libraries have great cookbook collections.
posted by caddis at 3:43 PM on January 13, 2007

I very rarely buy recipe books. The ones I own are mainly gifts from friends.

I buy cookbooks, though - technique books that go into some detail on the whys and hows, rather than just put splashy pictures of food that will never look that good when you make it because you lack several hours and a food stylist.

My standard reference is Joy of Cooking, though I've found Bittman's How to Cook Everything increasingly useful.

If I just want recipes, I have the internet.
posted by jacquilynne at 4:02 PM on January 13, 2007

How to Eat, by Nigella Lawson. Good recipes, starts out simple, and a great read too.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:04 PM on January 13, 2007

'75 edition of joy, more for the "about_" than for the actual recipes, though I use the dessert recipes quite a bit. I reference it all the time for technique, and then modify any recipe I want.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:31 PM on January 13, 2007

Nth Joy of Cooking. Our oldest copy has recipes for groundhog! Comprehensive!

Online... Cook's Illustrated.
posted by FauxScot at 6:17 PM on January 13, 2007

Raw Food Real World.
posted by dobbs at 8:47 PM on January 13, 2007

Definitely Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking - both volumes.

It sounds horribly intimidating, but it includes step by step techniques described (and illustrated!) in detail on how to cook absolutely anything.

I have that, epicurious, and one of the Rachael Ray 30 minute meals books and that's good enough for me.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 9:23 PM on January 13, 2007

I have three cookbooks on a shelf in my kitchen, "How to Cook Everything," "New Best Recipe," and a three ring binder that I labled "Our Favorites" with loose, hand-written recipes, prints from the net, and magazine clippings. The binder only has recipes we use all the time. The rest of my cookbooks are on a bookshelf in another room and I could live without them, though reluctantly.
posted by KrustyKlingon at 9:29 PM on January 13, 2007

Aye, Bittman's How to Cook Everything
posted by edgeways at 12:40 AM on January 14, 2007

I second Appetite by Nigel Slater. The book is pervaded by a "it's food, for fuck's sake, so stop fucking around and worrying so much" vibe that's oddly liberating.

Each recipe (more of a conversation about how you might, or might not, like to handle a few choice ingredients than a set of prescriptive instructions) is accompanied by glorious photos that actually look like my home cooking - none of your macro-up-close-soft-and-blurry bullshit here, as well as a stack of ideas for 'riffing'.

The first part of the book is about eating seasonally, choosing good ingredients, feeding friends and familiy and letting go of all the wanky stuff you ever learned from all your other useless cookbooks. Rediscover the glory of a simply roasted chicken, good sausages, a wedge of cheese and good bread, or a packet of Smarties.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:49 AM on January 14, 2007

The Cook's Companion by Stephanie Alexander became an instant classic the day it was released. Absolute must have, the first book most people would open when looking for a recipe, and now owned by virtually all decent Australian home cooks.
posted by wilful at 10:02 PM on January 14, 2007

I Nth The Joy of Cooking. While I enjoy How to Cook Without a Book, and find that it has some great suggestions for everyday cooking, Joy is more comprehensive. I use Joy to learn about ingredients, techniques, gadgets, and recipes. I have a relatively new edition, and it includes some very modern recipes in with the classics. Out of my cookbook collection, it is absolutely the one I would keep.
posted by Sprout the Vulgarian at 10:02 PM on January 14, 2007

Seriously, How to Cook Everything cannot be beat for a 1-cookbook solution. The Joy of Cooking is a close second. There are other great cookbooks out there, if you want to complement your diet with more regional/haute cuisine, but you'll get 90% of what you need from those two -- especially for everyday fare. And really, any specialty recipes can be easily found on the Internet.
posted by RibaldOne at 10:11 AM on January 15, 2007

Something to think about is that fashion and style in food, even in good, basic, no-frills food, changes. Take a look at the original Moosewood cookbook, or through a lot of the recipes in the pre-97 Joy of Cooking, and you'll see what I mean. Our expectations and ideas about how food should taste and what it should comprise change with time, and in ways tied to larger cultural changes.
posted by OmieWise at 10:53 AM on January 17, 2007

Definitely something by America's Test Kitchen/Cook's Illustrated. I'd have said The Best Recipe a year ago, but now that I have the ATK Family Cookbook (in the red binder) I'm going to vote for that. It's fabulous.
posted by pyjammy at 10:20 AM on January 18, 2007

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