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Cookbooks for the next level?


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Fast Food by Gordon Ramsay is really good and I just picked up The Spice Bible by Jane Lawson. It is really a good cookbook to have. Each section focuses on a spice and then there are some great recipes and you get a little of the history.Cooking with Jamie has some good stuff too.

A really classy one that I love to use is A Return To Cooking. Eric Ripert and Michael Ruhlman did this one awhile back and I absolutely love it. As others have mentioned Bouchon and Happy in the Kitchen are two others you really cannot do without.

If for anything, read the section about Chef Richard's "toy box" because there will be things in there that surprise you and the techniques he uses are really something.

Edited by kristin_71 (log)
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Hey gang,

I do own a lot of cookbooks these days (as I'm sure all of you do), some classics, some oddities, some strange used-bookstore finds (the little book of big sandwiches is actually a goldmine)... but I'm always trying to notch my food up to the next level.  To make my food less 'busy', simpler (does not mean quicker!), but well better at the end of the day.

My tastes lie more french/italian than anything else, though I have cooked an awful lot of indian and thai when the cravings hit me.  I'm more looking at technique, doing simple things well, but also 'fussy' things, plating, building a cohesive meal rather than just one thing.  Maybe something simpler than The French Laundry.

Some things I do own:  les halles, River Cottage Meat, mastering art of french cooking I and II, the new book of middle eastern food, all about braising, molto mario, charcuterie, new spanish table, the old world kitchen, several Jamie Olivers (I know, I know, but there is a few gems to be found in there), Hazen, a CIA manual (I use mostly for diagrams of cutting up chickens, trussing things, etc).

I'm not afraid of fussy, getting my hands dirty, or finding good ingredients.  I'm ok with pickling, jamming, curing (bacon, hams, etc have had some success in my house), smoking (mostly fish) and I'm getting better at deboning/hacking up larger cuts of things (most of the time).

I've been eyeballing reviews of things by ducasse (but which one?), waters (again, which one?), keller (maybe Bouchon?).  I'm sure there are others.

Is there one (or several) decent cookbooks out there for the determined amateur wanting to bring the food up to the next level, rather than "quick easy short-cut 20 minutes only" blah cookbooks.    I've had several breakthroughs this year and "ah-ha!" moments which have only made me rethink what I'm cooking and how I'm doing it.  Food blogs and local restaurants have made me think more about how I present it, and things that work together, rather than just 'following' a recipe.  I like to know why.. how... more inspirational works rather than just a list of ingredients and directions.

What was the cookbook that really solidified your cooking skills?

Should I be surprised that people have recommended books that you say you already have? :rolleyes:

From what you say it sounds as though Bouchon might be just the thing. Dishes that are conventional Bistro fare -- BUT recipes/methods that illustrate just how much care can be taken to lift the ordinary to the level of extraordinary. If genius really is an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Keller has to be a genius. And it ticks your "French/Italian" box. And for presentation, the pix are hardcore gastroporn.

Another one (also suggested upthread) is Bertolli's "Cooking by Hand" - which additionally ticks the 'pared down' requirement. And since you mention Waters, it might interest you to know that Bertolli was the chef at Chez Panisse and co-authored "Chez Panisse Cooking"... :cool: (And Cooking by Hand has a good charcuterie section, too!)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I was just writing "Can I throw Culinary Artistry into the ring?", but I see that someone beat me to it! Anyway, I definitely agree....

Not so much a recipe book (although there are a few), but a book of lists of what goes well with what...

When you get to the stage where you're not following recipes so much, this book is fantastic for dish creation inspiration. As much as any experienced cook knows the good flavour combinations, this is a fantastic prompt for when you can't think of anything suitable.

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Good questions.  Five to ten years I think I would like to be much less recipe dependent, more following what I have on hand / know what to source, better at understanding conventional and unconventional pairings.    More intuitive?  More technique focused rather than cooking-to-the list --this is a slow process as I find myself following a lot of recipes before it finally get into my brain the why's and the how's of how that particular recipe works / comes together  (or doesn't work / bothers me, etc).  Cooking more has obvious benefits, but cooking more with a little more direction is what I'm looking for.  I just did some fascinating experiments on a simple roast chicken (many variations of plainly roasted) that really made things come together for me on that front.  Stuffed vs. unstuffed vs stuffed and trussed vs trussed and unstuffed vs brined vs temperature control (start high, finish low vs start low, finish high).  A little over the top, but I had a good line on good chickens for cheap and a better idea for what I look for in a finished roast.  And that experience has brought me to where I am now, really wanted to hunker down and figure out technique / the why and how, rather than just cooking an interesting recipe.  So again, looking for cookbook(s) that focus on technique / process / understanding, pitched more for the determined amateur as opposed to something that may be more accessible to the general public. 

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned it, but you seem Cook's Illustrated is what you're looking for. You mention how you did all those experiments on roast chicken, and that's exactly what CI does- it does variations and different techniques until it gets the 'best' recipe. It'll stuff vs. unstuff, and explain why they chose one technique over the other- CI will say that one technique left the chicken too dry or that all that work produced neglible results.

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I'm surprised Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook hasn't been mentioned. I really like the no-nonsense, "here's how you get the #$%ing job done" attitude.

Reading this makes you feel like you're working for an unhappy, hung-over Tony.

Why?

In his books, Bourdain has admitted he was never much of chef. And, Les Halles is something of a culinary joke to my french friends living in america.

I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to write since Bourdain is evidently a member here, so I'll just quote the LA Times which reviewed and tested the recipes in the cookbook:

http://articles.latimes.com/2004/oct/20/food/fo-watch20

According to this reviewer, only one recipe really worked as the reviewer ripped apart Bourdain's techniques and recipes:

Next he wants you to brown the wet mirepoix without draining any of the fat from the pan, then sprinkle flour over it. Pour in the wine marinade, without even cooking the flour, virtually ensuring an icky raw flour taste...But we’re not done yet. Next is cooking lardons (slab bacon), mushroom caps and pearl onions separately and tossing them in at the last minute, so none of their nice flavor goes into the sauce, and none of the nice flavor of the sauce goes into them. The folly continues: There are mushrooms to saute, but not enough bacon fat; pearl onions to simmer, but too much water

If Bourdain wasn't a member here, would people here so highly regard his cookbook?

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If Bourdain wasn't a member here, would people here so highly regard his cookbook?

Bourdain is a terrific writer and I assume a decent chef since he has being cooking for the first half of his career... he might not be a great recipe writer from what I read in the article you quoted... but then the few recipes I tried from Les Halles worked quite well for me... I guess I would probably make jokes about the weird food-machismo that characterize most of his work before joking about the recipes... but then I'll concede that his book is about Bistro cooking, not haute cuisine... it is about basic traditional recipes more than about ground braking culinary innovations.

I haven't seen Bourdain writing anything on egullet recently but from the little I have seen from his books and TV show he seems to be the kind of guy with whom you could have fun arguing and disagreeing about a few things. Would be fun to see what he thinks of the LA Times review.

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My two cents worth...

I am a big fan of the Time Life series by Richard Olney. The thing I like most is that there is a lot of focus on techniques, ratios and generally the why's of cooking rather than just recipes. The technique pictures are pretty helpful. They are out of print but a friend of mine whom I gave a similar opinion has been picking them up at used book stores and through Amazon for very little money, $2 to $5 per volume I think (there are 19 volumes I believe).

Another good book for this sort of thing is The New Professional Chef by the CIA. It isn't as complicated as it sounds. Its somewhat similar to Pepin's book mentioned above.

I like the books by Trotter, Keller and others but they don't teach as much technique but some great recipes to be sure.

Anyone who says I'm hard to shop for doesn't know where to buy beer.

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I just bought Jason Atherton's Maze cookbook; I think it's within the realm that the original poster was asking. For now, it's only available as a UK import, though (thankfully my country does import UK books faithfully). Atherton is a Michelin-starred chef and the cookbook contains both savory and sweet recipes from his restaurant, each one followed by two "home" recipes that play on the flavors of the "restaurant" version. (He calls the "home" recipes "everyday fare." Huh.)

For example:

Maze recipe: Roasted quail with pear and saffron chutney

Home recipe 1: Quail skewers with Asian spices

Home recipe 2: Simple foie gras pate with pear and saffron chutney

Maze recipe: Apple trifle with cider granite and doughnuts

Home recipe 1: Apple crumble with hazelnuts and caramel custard

Home recipe 2: Doughnuts with apple filling and chocolate sauce

I was waiting for a sale to pounce on it, and thankfully, last Thursday, there was one and they took 20% off... So I bought it for approximately $31.40. Ouch. But did I mention the photographs? They are STUNNING. It's not really heavy on the technique but everything looks doable and I like the way Atherton thinks.

Also on sale was Michel Richard's "Happy In The Kitchen" at 40% off. It was a great deal (now only $28.88) but I didn't crack it open so I didn't know what the book was like and didn't buy it (real reason at the end of this post).

Another book on sale: Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restuarant. This was a no-brainer, as it was still quite expensive (about $45) and used ingredients/ technique that I would not attain for a long, long while. But it is the most beautifully photographed thing I've seen in a while.

I had to slap myself silly because I think I'm getting a cookbook fever (I was also eyeing Payard's Chocolate Epiphany). I need an intervention before I buy again!

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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There are two cookbooks coming out later this year. Alinea of course is one everyone has been anticipating and The Complete Robuchon. They can be pre-ordered on Amazon now. These are really taking it to the next level. :smile:

Edited by kristin_71 (log)
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Bourdain is a terrific writer and I assume a decent chef since he has being cooking for the first half of his career... he might not be a great recipe writer from what I read in the article you quoted... but then the few recipes I tried from Les Halles worked quite well for me... I guess I would probably make jokes about the weird food-machismo that characterize most of his work before joking about the recipes... but then I'll concede that his book is about Bistro cooking, not haute cuisine... it is about basic traditional recipes more than about ground braking culinary innovations.

Perhaps, since you already knew how to cook those dishes, you might have unconsciously made course corrections when you tried those recipes and didn't necessairly follow the recipes as laid out by Bourdain?

I don't think the reviewer had an issue with it being bistro cooking vs. haute cooking. In the review, she writes:

Surely the man can cook a chicken, I thought, flipping to coq au vin. But here, as frequently throughout the book, Bourdain’s technique is unorthodox to the point of wacky. Coq au vin calls for a whole chicken, marinated overnight in wine, mirepoix (diced onion, celery and carrots), bouquet garni and a lot of black peppercorns. He has us dry it off and brown it in olive oil and butter, still whole. Weird.

If Bourdain had followed traditional time-tested recipes that produced dishes that worked, I don't think the reviewer would have had any issue with that. Its when Bourdain deviates from those traditional recipes, with bad dishes as a result, that the reviewer takes issue with the recipes.

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mcohen, I don't disagree completely with your comment regarding the quality of the recipes in the book, I only tried a few of the recipes and therefore am not in a good situation to pass a definitive judgement. I am not even in a position to verify many of the claims in the article since the copy of Les Halles that I read is back at the librairy.

That being said, I still find Bourdain's writing quite entertaining and interesting even in a cookbook like Les Halles. It is always nice to be reminded to take cooking more lightly even if the person telling you that somewhat adopted a cynical-macho-know-it-all character that can annoy almost anyone who takes literature or TV too seriously.

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  • 1 month later...

I figure I should update --after all, I started this thread.

Some of those mentioned I already have.. .

The Ugly Pink Bible (aka Thai Food) - I've had this for years and I've cooked a lot from it. Thai cravings come and go, mostly go, I blame Vancouver. I used to live in Kingston (Ontario) and it was easy to find even the oddest thai ingredients. In vancouver? I have to range far from home to find thai basil. That aside, great book that I look for for inspiriation when I break out the giant mortar and pestle to do some relaxing hand ground curry pastes.

Julia child (mastering the art of french cooking, etc) - Useful as a reference when I am looking for a specific, known preparation, or got a bunch of veg on the cheap that I've rarely used before. Mostly used to double-check other recipes when I think something is taking a shortcut I don't like.

Les Halles - Hilarious read. Agree with the above, the writing is great. As far as it's use.. good for inspiration, but I don't find myself cooking for it very often. Often superceeded by River Cottage MEAT and others.

Vijs - Upscale indian (indian-fusion?, indian-pacific-northwest?) food. Luckily Vij's is only a few minutes away so I can always compare my attempts! Some things good (cinnamon and red wine curry with beef shortribs, the house chicken curry) some meh (a rather subpar dal, actually), but still worth going through to crank up the indian to a new notch.

Charcuterie - oh how I wish I had the proper equipment, most of the time. Dabbled in some of the easier things in this (bacon, salt pork, corned beef) but lack of equipment/proper storage areas/fridge with humidity controls/etc/etc have kept me away from the sausages. One day, one day.

Since I started this thread I've gone out and gotten two books.

1) Cooking - Peterson. A surprisingly useful reference. I use the techniques as a springboard to try something else and I've certainly taken a closer look at many of my food preparations steps and (I think) elevated them since using this. A surprisingly good pastry/dessert section. Don't let the first few pages of "Things to learn" on pates scare you off, it gets down to the basics of technique after that. I've done a spattering of actual recipes from here, but again, it's largely technique and reference (amazing photographs of lots of things that make more sense when you see them) of fairly classic (mostly french) dishes.

2) Bouchon - Only had this one for a few weeks. I've done a whirlwind out of it cooking for the gf. The clams were good, and the rest of the garlic confit and soffrito (mhm) got used up in plenty of interesting (and sometimes, simple) ways. Best vegetable stock I've made in awhile (needed for the roast squash soup which WAS good, but I think next time I may doctor for my nothern tastes with a small handful of ground hazelnuts and maybe a bit of maple syrup). Duck confit with brussel sprouts is hands down, the current favorite. Quick quick if you happen to live blocks away from a guy selling scandalously good (and cheap!) duck confit. Adapted some of the chicken recipes to cornish hens with good success. I look forward to cooking more out of it when I get the time.

Those two, which mind you are very good, are still very french. I'm enjoying it, certainly, but I think I will need to look more for a decent italian primer. Molto Mario has treated me, mostly, well over the year but I think I need to investigate some other options for theory, etc. Likewise, The New Spanish Table, good ideas and flavour combinations but a lot of the "short-cuts" the author uses for the home cook bother me and make me try to piece together the original dish from the description of how the cook does it, rather than her simplified method. I don't know if I'll find a spanish cookbook with a more professional depth.

The new book of middle-eastern food continues to be somewhat of a downer. Interesting ideas but, I find, rather simple and bland preparations for the most part (the meat dishes mostly... salad/appetizer section is great). I've been eyeballing Moorish/turquoise as something more 'refined' for middle-eastern food but I'm not sure.

Happy cooking folks.

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The new book of middle-eastern food continues to be somewhat of a downer.  Interesting ideas but, I find, rather simple and bland preparations for the most part (the meat dishes mostly... salad/appetizer section is great).  I've been eyeballing Moorish/turquoise as something more 'refined' for middle-eastern food but I'm not sure.

Having eaten at Greg Malouf's restaurant MoMo in Melbourne in its former location, I cannot recommend his food highly enough. The books are great.

If you want to try out one of his recipes, go to his web site ( http://gregmalouf.com.au ): it currently has a recipe for Turkish Spoon Salad with Kofte Kebabs.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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Having eaten at Greg Malouf's restaurant MoMo in Melbourne in its former location, I cannot recommend his food highly enough. The books are great.

If you want to try out one of his recipes, go to his web site ( http://gregmalouf.com.au ): it currently has a recipe for Turkish Spoon Salad with Kofte Kebabs.

I'll take a peek --thanks. I think I might mosey down to the local cookbook shop tomorrow and do some flipping through.

When I said the Roden middle-eastern meat dishes were simple and bland, I meant just bland. Simple is good. A nice slab of butter fried feta, lovely. A quick tabouleh, or hummus, awesome. The meat preparations in that have all been very ho-hum. Maybe my meat taste is too influenced on the simple, meat-for-meat's-sake french on side and the highly doctored indian on the other, making the above seem more of a bland middle-ground I don't care for. Not sure. That being said, the lamb koftas have spawned much experimentation and happy results. Most other meat things in that book won't be made again. Haven't dabbled with the fish much.

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  • 1 month later...
Those two, which mind you are very good, are still very french.  I'm enjoying it, certainly, but I think I will need to look more for a decent italian primer.  Molto Mario has treated me, mostly, well over the year but I think I need to investigate some other options for theory, etc. 

Can you elaborate on what you're looking for here? I just keep coming back to the Babbo cookbook as an ideal reference for "elevating" food but it seems like you're wanting something more. You mentioned in your original post that you have Hazan, who's another one I'd refer you to for more on theory and history. Beyond that I'd say try to track down Waverly Root's Foods of Italy book which surveys every region of Italy, or Culinaria which does the same.

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