Cooking Tips

Great cookbooks for gifts or for yourself!

Last week I mentioned some ideas for great stocking stuffers. This week I want to mention some cookbooks to consider either as gifts or for yourself. Perhaps print this Cooking Tip with the ones you would like circled in red and leave it in a conspicuous place.

The first two books are for those cooks who love to understand the science behind successful dishes. They do have recipes in them but the real worth of these books is the discussions of ingredients and techniques behind those recipes.

The first one is The Food Lab by J. Kenji López-Alt. This book was published in 2015 and soon won the James Beard Award for General Cooking and the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Cookbook of the Year award. The author takes all those culinary “rules” and puts them to the test to see if they hold up to reality. When is the best time to salt your steak before cooking? What is the best method for obtaining easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs? The writing is entertaining and it is a wonderful resource to have on your bookshelf.

A similar book is Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. Being a biochemist by trade, the author delves into all aspects of cooking and helps the reader to understand why things happen. She then pairs those scientific discussions with recipes that demonstrate what she is teaching. This is one of the first cookbooks I bought when I started getting interested in cooking. The original volume was published in 1997 but is still a great resource. In 2008, she published Bakewise: The Hows & Whys of Successful Baking. Although I do not have this book, I can only imagine it would also be a worthwhile volume.

The next two books are pure culinary reference books – no recipes – and are for those cooks who are very serious about not just cooking but truly understanding the world of food. First is On Food & Cooking: The Science & Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. It was first published in 1984 and updated in 2004. It was one of the books that I was required to have in culinary school. According to its description, it is a “compendium of basic information about ingredients, cooking methods, and the pleasures of eating.”

A dictionary of sorts is The New Food Lover’s Companion by Rob and Sharon Tyler Herbst. The latest edition is 2013 and is a great book to grab when you run across a term or an ingredient with which you are not familiar. The authors also published The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion in 2015. It is a larger book both in size and content including information on more ethnic ingredients, food labels, ingredient substitutions and safe cooking temperatures.

Do you ever want to just throw ingredients together to make a dish without a recipe? This can be done but not all flavors complement each other. That is where The Flavor Bible Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg comes to the rescue. Published in 2008, the jacket describes this book as “your guide to hundreds of ingredients along with the herbs, spices and other seasonings that will allow you to coax the greatest possible flavor and pleasure from them.”

A little gem of a book is Food FAQs: Substitutions, Yields & Equivalents by Linda Resnik and Dee Brock. I consult this book every single week. The authors have painstakingly compiled lists and charts that answer questions such as “how much juice in an average-sized lemon”, “how many onions are required to make one cup of chopped onions” and “what can I substitute for a quince?” I cannot more highly recommend this book.

Enough of reference books, what about actual cookbooks? Here are just a few that I use and love. If you are a fan of southwestern cooking, Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill Cookbook. After having eaten at The Mesa Grill in Las Vegas and absolutely loving our lunch, my husband bought this for me last Christmas. It is a very pretty cookbook but is also filled with delightful dishes page after page. Everything I have made from this has been wonderful. Last night, I made “New Mexican Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Bourbon-Ancho Sauce”. It is not a cookbook for those of you who want quick and easy. Although his recipes are not difficult, they do require quite a few ingredients and often consist of multiple components. The effort is worth it but you should be aware of this before purchasing this book.

If you love to bake, Bake from Scratch (a culinary website as well as a magazine) has published three volumes entitled Bake from Scratch: Artisan Recipes for the Home Baker by Brian Hart Hoffman. All kinds of baking are included from bread to cakes to pies to pastries and more.

An interesting little volume that answers the question of whether it is better to buy an item at the store or to make it yourself is Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese. This book was a gift from my husband’s brother and his wife. After extensive testing, the author tells the reader when it is worth the effort to make something homemade and when it is better to just buy it. She bases her recommendation on the cost, the effort and the end result.

There are so many great cookbooks out there that it is impossible to compile a list. These are just some that I use on a regular basis and can personally recommend to you.

Happy Reading – and Cooking!