Favorite Cookbooks

I’m actually reprinting comments I made on another site, Pesky Apostrophe. The premise: Mac is enamored of another blogger taking up the challenge of cooking Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking cover to cover, and asked for other suggestions.

Christine said:

We have all those fancypants cookbooks out in our kitchen, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I would have to ask Mike which one he would cook his way through though, since he is the one that has read them all. His top favorites, aside from Julia? (I just went into the kitchen and Julia is actually out! He must have used it right before he left for Holland.)

– Jacques Pepin “Fast Food My Way”
– Jacques Pepin “Complete Techniques”
– Anthony Bourdain’s “Les Halles Cookbook” (I’m guessing on this one, since he left it out and I have seen him use it a few times.)
*** La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange, which is “The original companion for French Home Cooking” (This was recommended by several as a fantastic book.)
– The Making of a Cook by Madeliene Kahn (?) (Guessing on the last name – it was a big book and I couldn’t carry it out into the living room.)

He just bought a book that sounds like it would be good for you – “The Cook and the Gardner” – he hasn’t read it yet though since he just picked it up in London yesterday.

Just some ideas! Looking forward to seeing what you pick.

I wrote Christine back privately, then decided to leave comments of my own:

Well, I just wrote Christine a short novel in reply to her email, then had to dig to remember which blog was yours (sorry, only got the reader’s digest version of the post) to leave my own commentary.

Christine has quite admirably listed out most of my well-loved cookbooks. The New Making Of A Cook is written by Madeleine Kamman. Les Halles Cookbook is an excellent read, and one of my favorites.

Taking the upcoming holidays out of the mix for the moment, what are you wanting to do? Is it that you’re looking to develop a repertoire of familiar recipes to follow? Or that you want to feel more adept when you go in a kitchen?

If it’s the former, then you want to find a good recipe tome and go for it. Christine jogged my memory – Fast Food My Way (or many of Pepin’s other books) are great to go with. FFMW is really more about good food that’s easy to prepare, but comes off as fancy, rather than being classically French. See also Julia and Jacques Cook At Home, Les Halles Cookbook (for a good, delicious challenge). The dark horse here may also be Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher – she’s one of the founders of the current food science movement (along with Harold McGee), an excellent source of understanding food, and cooks for the palate of the American South.

If you’re trying to become more adept, then technique-based books are good. Certainly Kamman’s book is up there, although it is a bit hefty and may take you a few years to make your way through it all – I love it as a reference. Pepin’s Complete Techniques is essential for technique, although it would be tricky to cook it front to back, as it really does show individual techniques rather than finished dishes. The Cook’s Book, edited by Jill Norman, may be a good one here – it balances technique with recipes, uses lots of pictures, and covers a very broad range of styles and genres (so it’s not all French, all the time). Cookwise could easily fall in this category as well.

The Cook and the Gardener is another one of these journey cookbooks that you’re describing. In this case, Amanda Hesser (the author) went and lived in/near a French chateau and learned about living from the land with a French family there, and writes about the journey as well as the food. Great stuff.

This is all off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more that I would have for you if I were at home. (Oh! James Peterson writes great cookbooks, too, and two of them come to mind. He has a book on cooking techniques that is well done – title escapes me – and his book Glorious French Food goes through a series of foundation recipes, then presents a number of amazing variations on each – well worth playing with.) This should get you going, though.

Of course, if you have any other favorite factors, like vegetarian or Thai cooking, let me know and I’ll see what I can come up with.

[ed – After sleeping, I had another comment to leave]

I totally forgot one writer, Nigel Slater. He’s a British food writer, and has a knack for writing as much as cooking – a good trait to have if that’s your profession, I suppose.

His book, Appetite, is an excellent tool. The first half of the book is writing about food, seasonality, and such. The rest of the book is a variety of home cooking recipes. What makes them interesting is that the recipes basically don’t give measurements – for example, when you go to the store, you don’t buy a cup of onions, you buy an onion. That sort of thing. It really teaches you to feel your way through the recipe – he talks about what it should look and feel like rather than relying on exact measurements.

If you’re looking for a good book to use, I hope this gives you some solid recommendations. If you have other favorites of your own – please, leave a note about them!