Reference Cookbooks
March 7, 2004 8:25 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for recommendations for a reference cookbook to supplement my current bible, The Joy of Cooking. Your thoughts? [A list of what I've got already will greet you inside.]

- Sundays at Moosewood (vegetarian food)
- Better Homes & Gardens "New Cook Book," circa 1965
- Good Housekeeping Cookbook, circa 1962
- "I'm Just Here for the Food," by Alton Brown
- "The Chef's Secret Cookbook" by Louis Szathmary

I'm looking for good overall reference books, not specialties -- in other words, what book do you turn to over and over again.
posted by me3dia to Food & Drink (38 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Laurel's Kitchen (well, unless 2 vegetarian books is too many)
posted by scarabic at 8:30 PM on March 7, 2004

Get the original Moosewood Cookbook. It's not famous for nothin'.
posted by bonheur at 8:32 PM on March 7, 2004

Mark Bittman - The Minimalist Cooks at Home

Try the beet pancake recipe.
posted by machaus at 8:32 PM on March 7, 2004

Give The Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook a try. I have tons of cookbooks, and I always end up back at this one.
posted by bradth27 at 8:47 PM on March 7, 2004

I've been using and enjoying The Best Recipe by the Editors of Cook's Illustrated Magazine. They're obsessive, but it pays off in the recipes.

Agreed on the original Moosewood, but be careful - I got a pre-owned copy on Amazon that turned out to be the revised version. It's not bad, but I don't like it as well. A copy of the original turned up at a yard sale shortly after, so it's all good. How's the Alton Brown?
posted by theora55 at 8:59 PM on March 7, 2004

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is great too.
posted by Utilitaritron at 9:01 PM on March 7, 2004

Response by poster: Alton's book is great -- but it's about how to cook, not what to cook. There are a few recipes, but if you want to know how to brine something or the best way to do a roast, this is the book for you. (It's a beautifully designed book, too, very much in the style of Good Eats.)
posted by me3dia at 9:05 PM on March 7, 2004

What to cook - epicurious and the many other foodie sites.
posted by theora55 at 9:11 PM on March 7, 2004

For reference on recipes, you're not going to beat the "Best Recipe" series from Cook's Illustrated, including the previously mentioned The Best Recipe, as well as books from America's Test Kitchen, and several other books on specific topics like soups, vegetables, and "American Classics." Check out their books here.
posted by mdeatherage at 9:24 PM on March 7, 2004

I recommend you stay away from Alton's Kitchen Gear book. not worth buying, unless you want to support the guy.

I hear Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques is pretty good. Also, Larousse Gastronomique, which I just bought for myself, mail order.

(As it is, I read cookbooks, but I rarely refer to them for specific recipes anymore -- aside from internal temperatures and stuff. My cooking has gotten to the point where I make concoctions based on techniques, and what looks good at the market on any given day. When it comes to baking, where precise measurements are key, I have favorite recipes in my palm pilot.)
posted by crunchland at 9:33 PM on March 7, 2004

The Way to Cook by Julia Child. The first time I butterflied a chicken following Julia's instructions I knew this was a *real* cookbook -- it makes you feel like a kitchen god. Some of the recipes (aspic, aspic, aspic!) are a bit dated but this is otherwise indispensable.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Perhaps this falls under the "specialty" category but I still turn to this all the time.

For Cook's Illustrated fans (count me as one), you can't beat the hardbound annuals with the index at the front. I have yet to have a Cook's recipe go wrong on me. I quite like Christopher Kimball's Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook, too, as it attempts to be something of a "master guide" to setting up your kitchen and learning a set of recipes that represent the best in old-fashioned, American farmhouse cookery. But I haven't tried enough of its recipes to determine if it lives up to "indispensable" status.
posted by bcwinters at 9:34 PM on March 7, 2004

Our house's classics (and this is from a family of foodies, which has a couple generations of business in selling speciality food items) are Joy of Cooking and the Time Life cookbook series. Now, the Time Life books (circa 1980 through 1987) are out of print, but can be found at most old bookshops for around $5-$8. The Strand in New York has a couple shelves worth. I'd also add the Byerly's Cookbook, put out by an upper-end Minnesota grocery store, but sold nationwide.

Jaques Pepin is good, but "hardcore," perhaps. It was way over what I wanted for everyday dinners. Here's another vote for Cook's Illustrated - no advertising, great recipes, and explanations of how foods work and why certain things need to be done and how to do important things which can be generalized to other recipes.

For specific food types, "Memories of a Cuban Kitchen" is great authentic Cuban (vouched for by Cubans, though few Cubans eat this well anymore), "A Taste of Persia" has great recipes, a lot of fruits involved...
posted by whatzit at 9:41 PM on March 7, 2004

If you enjoyed Alton Brown's book and want more "science of cooking" stuff, then you should definitely get Shirley Corriher's Cookwise. Corriher is a food scientist who specializes in "debugging" recipes that don't work -- chefs hire her to do this. She's appeared on "Good Eats" and other Food Network programs and her book's approach will appeal to Brown's fans.
posted by kindall at 10:28 PM on March 7, 2004

You've got most of the bases covered. My standard reference for anything American is Joy. I use I'm Just Here when I'm dreaming up new recipes and want to think about cooking temperatures and such. I've got How to Cook Everything, and I like it, but somehow it's massive size gets in the way so it doesn't get as much use as Joy. Cookwise is an interesting read, but I haven't actually *used* it that much.

My other recommendation: Hermes House has a series of trade bound, full colour books. One of them 'Cook's Companion' is a good reference, and I sometimes find the photos easier to decipher than the line drawings in Joy. I've also got a vegetarian and an Asian references from the series. They're useful primers. The recipes are not endlessly imaginative, but the technique instruction is there, and the basics are covered solidly.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:38 PM on March 7, 2004

I keep turning, again and again, to some of the various Frugal Gourmet cookbooks. Especially the ...Cooks Italian one, even if that's technically a specialty one.

I think all his books are out of print since the settled lawsuit about molesting workers in his restaurant in the 70s, but they'll be in whatever your local used bookstore is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:39 PM on March 7, 2004

Had to go look at the cookbooks to check author and publisher...

I also make frequent use of two Reader's Digest books given as wedding/Xmas prezzies:

One Dish Meals has some hits and misses, but is good. It follows the gimmick pretty well: lots of casseroles, soups, and stews. Pretty basic and down-home -- you'd see lots of these recipes at your church covered-dish supper.

Like Grandma Used to Make is a good guide to various sorts of down-home, stick to yer ribs cooking. It's a bit updated, so it's not asking you to put lots of lard in everything, and so on.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:55 PM on March 7, 2004

The Achewood cookbook. As it says on the page (scroll towards the bottom):

"This content is print-only and will never be seen on the website. Recipes include: Ray's "Diamond Juice," Roast Beef's Basque String Bean Salad ("it has this insane dressing") and Téodor's brined pork tenderloin. This is a cookbook for people who are fed up with glossy, high-quality efforts by professional chefs who aren't forced to shop at lousy chain grocery stores and cook everything in a ruined teflon pan."

Cheesy? Yes. Helpful? Maybe to you.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:05 PM on March 7, 2004

By the way, I own the book and the recipes are genuinely useful, especially the perfect crispy oven fries.
posted by Keyser Soze at 11:06 PM on March 7, 2004

I'm not much of a cook (I had to look in Joy of Cooking for grilled cheese sandwiches), but I've had a lot of success with From Simple to Spectacular. They start with a basic recipe followed by four progressively more sophisticated variations.

And I've actually enjoyed some things from White Trash Cooking.
posted by kirkaracha at 12:16 AM on March 8, 2004

Anything by Claudia Roden, esp her Book of Jewish Food and The Food of Italy.

My old copy of the Larousse Gastronomique is always good for a laugh, with its funny language and detailed descriptions of the old haute cuisine.

I have also got a surpising amount of use from Elizabeth Luard's European Peasant Cookery which has many useful, simple, tasty dishes in it.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:45 AM on March 8, 2004

I recommend zingerman's guide to good eating. It is not overly heavy on recipes, but what foodie could resist a book so thorough about ingredients that the section on salt alone runs to nearly 10 pages?
posted by davehat at 1:38 AM on March 8, 2004

When I moved back to the states from Germany recently I could only take 3 bags and they all had to be under 50 lbs. I left all my cookbooks in Germany and only brought Cooks Illustrated magazines with me back to the states.

Why have a book when you could get a subscription to Cooks Illustrated and have a foodie fix delivered to you on a regular basis? You will learn more about cooking from reading the trials they go through to create the best recipes than you will from almost any cookbook.
posted by jopreacher at 4:08 AM on March 8, 2004

If you don't need a ton of recipes but you like to know how to cook certain things very well -- chicken cutlets, risotto, pork chops, roast chicken, corn soup, oatmeal -- I love my copy of The Kitchen Detectives. It's from the obsessive folks at Cooks Illustrated and it is a bunch of good recipes, using normal ingredients and really explains why cooking the stuff one way is better than the other. I've been eating oatmeal my entire life and have never had it as good as the recipe in this book makes it. I'm an okay cook but this cookbook has really taught me some things and allowed me to turn out some really fine foods. It's not quite an anchor cookbook for a kitchen but a good supplement if you like to learn the fundamentals of making a lot of basic American-type foods.
posted by jessamyn at 5:41 AM on March 8, 2004

The cookbook I've been giving to foodies lately is "Gulf Coast Kitchens". The cookbook tracks down family recipes from those of us living anywhere on the Gulf Coast, from Key West to New Orleans to Galveston to the Yucatan Peninsula. Predictably, a lot of great cajun/creole, seafood, and "southern" dishes, but also lots of Vietnamese, Tex/Mex, and Cuban. Every dish I've made from this book gets rave reviews.
posted by pomegranate at 5:58 AM on March 8, 2004

I'm surprised nobody has suggested The larousse Gastronomique yet.

If you're looking for a general reference, this is it. It's basically a food dictionary. Look up a topic and you'll find an explanation as well as recipes. No kitchen should be without it.

AB's first book, I'm Just Here For The Food is good but he gets even more anal retentive than he gets on his show.
posted by bondcliff at 6:26 AM on March 8, 2004

My main cookbook is the Fannie Farmer cookbook, the most recent edition. It's good and basic, but has some fancier stuff in it as well. It's never steered me wrong.
posted by eilatan at 7:29 AM on March 8, 2004

Our copy of The Joy of Cooking is so well used that we're just going to eat it when we can no longer read through the cooking stains. But Barbara Kafka's Roasting also gets a lot of use in our house.
posted by maurice at 8:44 AM on March 8, 2004

In addition to The Joy of Cooking, I use The New York Times Cookbook and The James Beard Cookbook all of the time. (I also second the Pepin, Child and Bittman books, but I use these two the most.)
posted by lilboo at 9:37 AM on March 8, 2004

I had heard a lot of praise for Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, but since purchasing it, everything we've tried has come out blah. On the other hand Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins' New Basics Cookbook has never failed us.
posted by gwint at 10:22 AM on March 8, 2004

I just got The Professional Chef, which is essentially the textbook for the Culinary Institute of America.

It not only has basic recipes for just about any significant dish in "Western" cuisine, but extensive information on choosing, handling, and preparing all different kinds of foods. It's not the best "recipe book", but it's the best "how-to" guide for cooking I've ever seen. Lots of pictures. Warning: it's not cheap, and it assumes a basic knowledge of cooking terms and procedures.
posted by mkultra at 10:29 AM on March 8, 2004

kirkiracha- my girlfriend, who grew up in the Deep South, has White Trash Cooking as well, and it's a total guilty pleasure! ;)
posted by mkultra at 10:31 AM on March 8, 2004

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. I've got quite a list to check out.
posted by me3dia at 10:37 AM on March 8, 2004

Although I have the old version of Joy of Cooking, I find most of my useful recipes/references in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I made sure each child had one when he/she left home.
posted by Lynsey at 11:25 AM on March 8, 2004

I've found The New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet an excellent resource. Everything can be made in one hour, start to finish--including the chopping, at least for me. Requires some basic cooking know-how but I don't think that would be a problem for you.
posted by Tholian at 3:17 PM on March 8, 2004

Go get this book:
The Best Recipe - Cook's Illustrated. Cook's publications are generally very very good . They build on the virtue of being precise but accessible in direction and method, explaining the why of what you are doing, and being absolutely rigorous in their pursuit of the best practice.

Oxford Companion to Food. I find this more useful than Larousse Gastronomique (good but the recipe + reference thing tends to be not as good).

On Food and Cooking. Excellent look at the history and science of food. One of the more informative books I have read. Some will find it dry or slow reading.

LA Varenne Pratique or Le Cordon Bleu's Complete Cooking Techniques. Both books that try to show with pictures how to do the basics. This is how you should hold to chop, etc.

If you have any further questions, please feel free to contact me.
posted by rudyfink at 5:34 PM on March 8, 2004

If you like Alton Brown, also pick up On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. It's 20 or so years old, but explains the "how and why" of cooking. A lot of the "science lessons" in Alton's show were obviously were inspired by this book.

I'll second the recommendation for The Professional Chef. My wife made me buy it and its greatly educational as well as being a cookbook.
posted by mrbill at 6:10 PM on March 8, 2004

I've had a subscription to Gourmet for 14 years. When I had somewhat more free time, I would try a recipe or two from each magazine and set aside the ones that were clear winners in terms of taste and effort.

I hit Pepin's "Today's Gourmet" routinely. I have another 8 or 9 cookbooks that I pick up far less frequently. The Joy tops my list for usage but it's really more in the "oh right, that's the cooking time for a 3 pound chicken" kind of way.
posted by plinth at 6:24 PM on March 8, 2004

/. has a thread on Cooking With the Internet that might be useful.
posted by theora55 at 6:27 PM on March 8, 2004

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