As I mentioned in my Cooking Tenets, I’ve bought a lot of cookbooks, but have a small number that are my Go-To references on a regular basis. Many of them have been dogeared, bookmarked and spilled upon many times. Nearly everything I include here on the blog used one of these books for inspiration or reference.
|The Essential Kitchen Bookshelf|
While this may seem old fashioned now, when I graduated from college in the late 90’s and started really getting into food, this was the only way to go. Just like there weren’t comparison web sites for how to get cheaper car insurance, there weren’t YouTube videos of kitchen hacks and cupcake queens. And if you wanted better knife skills? Well, go find a chef to teach you. No different than if you wanted to consolidate your student loans, you didn’t start online, you went into a bank to see a banker.
So many of these may be out-of-print now. I’ve linked a lot of them to Amazon, but you may have to check eBay and used book sites. Benefit there is you can probably score them for a $1 each. Good luck hunting!
General Reference Cookbooks
- Gourmet Cooking for Dummies – This was the book that really got me started and I read it cover to cover on several occasions when I was first really learning to cook. Despite the stigma of the Dummies series, it was written by Charlie Trotter and breaks down the basics to what you need to know and what you need in your kitchen. Still a great reference
- Culinary Artistry – This is the essential reference book. Through meticulous research, the authors have built an amazing guide to cross reference how to match ingredients. Look up tuna, artichoke, red peppers or even a season and it’ll tell you all the flavors and ingredients that are matches, with highlights for the best suited. This is a great way to build a menu from the ground up when you want to cook around a couple of key ingredients that will match to a given wine.
- The Wine Lover’s Cookbook: Great Recipes for the Perfect Glass of Wine – If you need to pair dinner to a wine, this is a great reference. What flavors with well with Riesling? What ingredients will make a dish pair better with a Shiraz? What should I avoid?
- The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter – This is one of the first serious cookbooks I tried to use. The mistake I made was trying to replicate the recipes. Many are far too complex. What I later learned is to take away the ideas, the pairings and the techniques to create me own dishes. It’s a much better book to learn from than one which you try to make the dish like-for-like
- Chez Panisse Vegetables – Alice Waters tells you everything you need to know about how vegetables were grown, their history and how to prepare them.
- I’m Just Here For The Food – Alton Brown, what more can I say?
Regional / Ethnic Cookbooks
- Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way – The authoritative source for cooking with fire. It’s also a really great read. The author tells a great story about the passion behind grilling meat in Argentina
- Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art – Japanese cuisine may be difficult to execute with the precision cuts and knowledge of how to filet a whole fish, but the flavors aren’t. You can do a lot with dashi, soy, sesame and mirin.
- New Indian Home Cooking – I cook a fair bit of Indian food, this breaks down all the classic dishes from saag paneer to tikka masala and makes it easy to do in a way that doesn’t involve days of toasting and grinding spices.
- Amuse Bouche – Great ideas for killer starters. Written by Chicago’s own Rick Tramonto
- The Raw Gourmet – Cook nothing over 115 degrees and make it taste good too
- Simple to Spectacular and Think Like a Chef – both great books that break down technique and how to take your skills to the next level
- Field Guide to Meat – Butcher shop details on cuts and cooking methods
- The Preservation Kitchen – Great for how to can and pickle
- The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America – A fun one to throw in that’s really a novel. It’s written by an author who enrolls at the CIA and tells a vivid story of what it’s like to pursue a culinary degree.
- This is a post I wrote a long time ago about selecting a new car insurance company.