Like me, there are probably a lot people on here that have a lot of cookbooks, but I find I keep coming back to the same 1 or 2 books to give me the basis of most of the stuff I cook.
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Definitely the Joy of Cooking. It's not a convenience cookbook for people with busy schedules or low patience - the majority of recipes in there are geared toward flavour and not specialty diets or quick prep times - but at least 9 out of 10 recipes I try in there have near-perfect flavour and texture.
IMO, this should be in every cook's kitchen, even the ones that don't really use cookbooks. It has all the classic recipes, and you never know when somebody will ask you to make Chicken Kiev.
References I use:
- Harold McGee "On Food and Cooking"
- Michael Ruhlman "Ratio" - Using these ratios, one can make all sorts of things without a recipe
- Michael Ruhlman "The Elements of Cooking"
Cookbooks I'm fond of:
- Marion Cunningham "Learning to Cook" - Got me started 11 years ago.
- Lynn Rossetto Kasper "How to Eat Supper" - Also her NPR show, "The Splendid Table".
- Lynn Rossetto Kasper "The Italian Country Table"
- Marion Cunningham "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook"
- Phaidon Press Inc. "The Silver Spoon" - The bible of authentic Italian cooking.
Madhur Jaffrey's "Indian Cookery" (a newer edition of this) and a Danish book called "Mad" (eng: Food) from 1939.
I also frequently use "Reader's Digest Complete Guide to Cookery" for all those techniques and methods that I only need once in a while, but when I need them, I need them desperately.
I disagree with a lot of their activism, but their dietary facts are spot on. If you want to know how to eat healthy as a vegetarian, start here. (We're not vegetarians, but some of our friends are and we like to entertain with full meals.)
When my spouse was young, their family couldn't afford meat very often. This and Joy of Cooking were my mother-in-law's bibles for how to feed the family healthily during some rough spots.
I usually recommend the more traditional Joy of Cooking. It was pretty much the american cookbook for about 50 years. It's decent, and it's got a recipe for pretty much everything.
A more modern choice would be Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Same principle, but a more modern take on it.
Both books have huge amounts of text dedicated to first principles. How to do this or that, what this or that meat is good for, what herbs go together, how to make the base sauces, etc, etc. If you're looking for reference rather than recipes, that's a good place to start.
I recently purchased The Professional Chef (Culinary Institute of America) as both a cookbook and a reference guide. Despite what the title suggests, it is filled with basic information about: identifying different vegetables, herbs, and fruits; explaining the cuts of meat, their purpose and origin; chapters on different basic cooking techniques such as grilling, roasting, baking, etc.
It has a wide variety of recipes and some excellent resources for someone learning to cook. The best part is that the book will continue to serve you well through more professional culinary endeavors such as starting a catering business, opening a restaurant, or just cooking a meal for family and friends.
1080 Recipes, by Simone Ortega.
This is a classic of Spanish cooking that almost every mother gives to their children when they leave home ;-)
Seconding the recommendations for How to Cook Everything and The New Best Recipe, and I have to add How to Cook by the writer and TV presenter who taught millions of Brits: Delia Smith. It's the third hefty, indispensable volume on my cookbook shelf.
But if I had to keep only one, it'd be How to Cook Everything — it's ridiculously exhaustive. Not just a recipe book (though it's certainly that, and in a big way), but an encyclopedia of practical cookery. It's been invaluable as I learn my way around the kitchen and the grocery aisles.
My favorites are:
- Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison - the best general vegetarian cook book I've found
- The Voluptuous Vegan by Myra Kornfeld and George Minot - time consuming but handy when vegan's visit
- The Roasted Vegetable by Andrea Chesman - lots of vegetable recipe but not all are vegetarian
- The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
- King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
Slightly off topic as they don't really have many recipes in but I find the following three reference books really valuable...
Really useful reference book about cooking processes and ingredients. Want to know why something is working or not working the way it is, or how to cook that mystery ingredient. McGee is your man.
An encyclopedia of food knowledge, ingredients and gastronomical history. Very down to earth and well written too.
If you want to learn about classic European cooking this is the book to have. All of those classic techniques and gastronomy in one book. Lots of recipes as well.
Michael Ruhlman's Ratio is an excellent book detailing not just some recipes, but why recipes have what they have (and in the quantities they do). I found it's great to help free your mind from following recipes blindly and move to making your own (or improvising more).
Plus, some of the recipes in the book are quite good on their own. They also tend to be either simple enough to easily modify or have the simplified ratio detailed so that you know what's optional and what's mandatory.
His blog is also quite good a highlighting certain ratios and encouraging me to try new dishes.
I always end up referring back to the Larousse Gastronimique (I have several different editions), The Professional Chef (which is the Culinary Institute of America textbook), and Jacque Pepin's Complete Techniques. Harold McGee's On Food and Cooking is a fantastic book, but I don't find myself referring to it much when I'm actually cooking something.
If I could have only one cookbook I'd choose The Cooking Book, by Victoria Blashford-Snell. It's an extremely well elaborate illustrated hardcover guide for everyday cooks. It doesn't only contain delicious and accessible recipes greatly categorized but step-by-step guidance for techniques and, last but not least, suggestions for serving and what to do with left-overs.
From appetizers to desserts, from lunch box to elaborated party dinners. A superb book!
Alton Brown's "I'm just here for the food" is a great go-to if you need to look up a technique.
You also can't really go wrong with any book authored by Julia Child.