While some people are true wizards in the kitchen, throwing random ingredients together and, more times than not, ending up with food that is edible and yummy. But even those people–most of ’em, I’m convinced–had to start off with training wheels: a few good cookbooks.
Now, I can do my fair share of positive-outcome experiments (though, as Todd can attest, more than once he’s come over for dinner and I’ve said: Just in case, there’s always pizza!) but I also have a _huge_ collection of cook books that I pull ideas out of regularly. Sure, Culinary School helped with the collection a lot but I actually had a good starter set going before then. My rate of acquisition may have slowed in the last few years but those stained and wrinkled pages stand out from the others with barely-cracked spines. Here are some of the books that I reach for when I don’t feel like cooking solo.
The Kitchen Companion Great all-purpose kitchen reference book. This one has basic recipes for a lot of simple things and base mixes you can do yourself but the thing I love the most is the amount of charts in this book! For each cooking method and each type of food that can be subjected to it you have charts showing how long it will take to cook, what temperatures it should be done at and so one and so forth. It’s a gem of a book and out of print, but used copies are pretty easy to find.
Marcella Cucina Authentic Italian cuisine and the source of my most favorite Risotto recipe ever. This is one of those cookbooks that can also be read cover to cover because the little anecdotes make it read like a foodie novel of her travels through the Italian regions of food.
The New Orleans Cookbook and River Road Recipes: The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine are where I turn when I want some home-style comfort food. The latter is a Junior League cookbook so features the names of all the contributors or and some duplicates versions of the same dish and always heavy on the butter and cream. The former includes touches of culture notes and a few stories here and there, but is a good city guide to New Orleans food.
The Cake Bible Dude. This woman (Rose Levy Beranbaum) wrote her thesis on the science and chemistry of yellow cake; talk about hardcore baking! The recipes are great and the techniques so precise (down to how many seconds you need to beat each addition of egg or flour) that, if you follow them, you can’t make a bad cake. I especially like her “Chocolate Bread” (which is really a perfect chocolate pound cake).
Martha Stewart’s Menus for Entertaining Say what you (or I) want about to woman, herself, this book is one I reach for when I need a little nudge about party menus. I don’t think I’ve ever used a full menu of hers all at once, but the balance she strikes between the various elements is a good jumping-off point and the food photography is stunning. That’s enough for me.