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Quality bistro cookbook that is principals heavy?


DHeineck
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I'm a moderately decent cook who's cookbook so far is picking my mother's brain about different meals she made as we grew up, and then running variations off of them. I think I can count by hand the number of times I have followed a non-baking recipe out of a book from top to bottom, it's just not my nature.

I'd like to branch out in all honesty, as I tend to cook the same things again and again with small changes here and there, which is easy to do since I only cook for myself. Being cheap, I usually build my recipes at the grocery store/farmer's market/etc based on what is available, cheap, and thus, in season. I'd love to grow a wider repetoir of sauces, dressings, seasonings, outright cooking techniques, flavor combinations. Thus, I'm looking for a book that is heavy on very basic preparations done excellently which leaves room for seasonal variations and that goes through the logic of why things are done the way they are. Something that I can perhaps do a recipe once in a while to get a feel for what the author presents, and then steal ideas from it to move forward.

I tend to stay with western European mostly, as my style tends towards simple Mediterranean meals where the ingredients show for themselves, but a book with a bit of diversity would suit me just as well. From my basic perusal, something like Bouchon from TK seems good, but I can't seem to find it in my local library. I'm actively seeking a book that pushes my boundaries and comfort level in the kitchen.

Thanks!

Daniel

Edited by DHeineck (log)
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I tend to stay with western European mostly, as my style tends towards simple Mediterranean meals where the ingredients show for themselves, but a book with a bit of diversity would suit me just as well.  From my basic perusal, something like Bouchon from TK seems good, but I can't seem to find it in my local library.  I'm actively seeking a book that pushes my boundaries and comfort level in the kitchen.

Thanks!

Daniel

Hi Daniel,

You might want to get Rombauer's classic "Joy of Cooking" as an all around basic reference. Also browse around www.ecookbooks.com They have thousands of cookbooks with good descriptions so you can get a feel for what you might like.

Regards,

Hank

'A person's integrity is never more tested than when he has power over a voiceless creature.' A C Grayling.

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Responding to the title of this thread, I've always found Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells, to be a good introduction to that style of cooking.

As David points out above, Tony's Les Halles Cookbook is an excellent reference; pay special attention to all the stuff before the recipes.

Further, a couple of great all-around cookbooks:

The Way to Cook by Julia Child - excellent technique with great pictures.

Simple French Food by Richard Olney

And from Time Life's Foods of the World Series - Classic French Cooking, authored by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey.

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Thanks all, I'll peruse around and see what works for me.

I've tried working out of the Joy of Cooking (stole my mom's for a while), but it doesn't seem to jive for me on day-to-day stuffs. Great for baking, though.

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Responding to the title of this thread, I've always found Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells, to be a good introduction to that style of cooking.

As David points out above, Tony's Les Halles Cookbook is an excellent reference; pay special attention to all the stuff before the recipes.

Further, a couple of great all-around cookbooks:

The Way to Cook by Julia Child - excellent technique with great pictures.

Simple French Food by Richard Olney

And from Time Life's Foods of the World Series - Classic French Cooking, authored by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey.

I agree with all of the above--you could add Elizabeth David's books, also.

I think I would start with Well's book--the other books assume a good amount of experience--you can cook your way through Bistro Cooking and then take on any of the other books.

have fun!

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I wonder if 'Simple to Sensational' might be of interest?

http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Sensational-J.../dp/1847373097/

The essential idea is to give a perfectly workable everyday recipe, and then show how it can be tweaked to make it much more 'special'.

Bouchon is interesting. If genius really is an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Keller is indeed a genius. Its not about clever short cuts, or quick ways. Its a book that is guaranteed to push way beyond your boundaries and comfort level (unless you have an awful lot of time on your nimble hands ...)

As such, its an interesting contrast to the practicality of Les Halles!

Do search this site for more about both.

However, I suspect that the book that would likely be the most use to you would be The Cooks Book. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0756613027/

Even though its not really about 'bistro' cookery, as such.

But it would give you plenty to think about and use in your own ways.

Surprised that no one has yet suggested the classic 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' (Beck, Bertholle & Childs). Its useful and really very deep. Elizabeth David as background reading, yes. Great scholarship, historical landmark, etc. But, from what you have written, I doubt you would think she was writing specially for you!

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

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I wonder if 'Simple to Sensational' might be of interest?

http://www.amazon.com/Simple-Sensational-J.../dp/1847373097/

The essential idea is to give a perfectly workable everyday recipe, and then show how it can be tweaked to make it much more 'special'.

Bouchon is interesting. If genius really is an infinite capacity for taking pains, then Keller is indeed a genius. Its not about clever short cuts, or quick ways. Its a book that is guaranteed to push way beyond your boundaries and comfort level (unless you have an awful lot of time on your nimble hands ...)

As such, its an interesting contrast to the practicality of Les Halles!

Do search this site for more about both.

However, I suspect that the book that would likely be the most use to you would be The Cooks Book. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0756613027/ 

Even though its not really about 'bistro' cookery, as such. 

But it would give you plenty to think about and use in your own ways.

Surprised that no one has yet suggested the classic 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking' (Beck, Bertholle & Childs). Its useful and really very deep. Elizabeth David as background reading, yes. Great scholarship, historical landmark, etc. But, from what you have written, I doubt you would think she was writing specially for you!

Thanks once again to all of you--plenty to dig around at the library/bookstore and see what plays nicely with how I think/cook. Very much appreciated.

I mostly cook anything "fancy" on the weekends and do soups/salads/leftovers over the weekdays. The reason I mention Bouchon was based on peoples notes that it had a lot of side commentary and insight into why certain things were done certain ways. Flipping through some more threads, it looks like "Think like a chef" is up my alley, as is the aforementioned James Beard book and Les Halles.

Bistro might not be the best word to describe--I'm more looking for a book that would be the equivalent of going to a culinary school over the course of several years (minus, of course all the restaurant managment parts).

For example, I learned to grill intuitively during my adolescence (us kids did the grilling) quite well based off screwing up enough times, and trying different techniques. I got a feel for it, although my family had to suffer through the failures :rolleyes: . Something that accelerates my learning curve inside the kitchen is what I'm looking for.

Recipes, by and large, would be a starting point to expand however I want--mostly I try and look at them and go, "oh, I see what they're doing" or are very basic.

Having read some examples off amazon--I think I'll start with "think like a chef"

Cheers,

D

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Offhand, I can't think of one cookbook that would meet all your needs. But here are some suggestions.

For explanations of French-based cooking technique, I would recommend Julia Child's The Way To Cook or James Peterson's Cooking. Peterson's book in particular has tons of clear "how-to" photos, and that's very handy. From what I've cooked from these two books, I like the food, too.

For more mainstream, classic American recipes, I suggest that you check out Marion Cunningham's Fanny Farmer Cookbook. The most recent edition includes recipes that reflect American ethnic diversity, and that's an improvement. The recipes seem well thought-out. I haven't cooked much out of this book myself, but I found my favorite brownie recipe and my favorite mac & cheese recipe in it.

The book I'm cooking out of now is Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. You don't say where you're from, and Waters' food, as you might guess, is very California-oriented. Definitely about plentiful fresh produce and the use of seasonal ingredients. Waters gives a basic recipe in her book, and then adds notes at the end about the many variations where you can go with the recipe. Perhaps you might like that. (I do.) I would caution that for best results you'll have to spend money on high-quality olive oil, spices, etc, not only fresh produce--Waters' style emphasizes natural flavors. This book includes info on technique, but it is more about Waters' technique, not necessarily the classic French technique. Nevertheless, Waters' techniques work, and they're efficient. I like the food, too. I've cooked close to 30 recipes from this book, and I've been happy with all of them.

good luck!

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Thanks once again to all of you--plenty to dig around at the library/bookstore and see what plays nicely with how I think/cook.  Very much appreciated.

I mostly cook anything "fancy" on the weekends and do soups/salads/leftovers over the weekdays.  The reason I mention Bouchon was based on peoples notes that it had a lot of side commentary and insight into why certain things were done certain ways.  Flipping through some more threads, it looks like "Think like a chef" is up my alley, as is the aforementioned James Beard book and Les Halles.

Bistro might not be the best word to describe--I'm more looking for a book that would be the equivalent of going to a culinary school over the course of several years (minus, of course all the restaurant managment parts). 

For example, I learned to grill intuitively during my adolescence (us kids did the grilling) quite well based off screwing up enough times, and trying different techniques.  I got a feel for it, although my family had to suffer through the failures  :rolleyes: .  Something that accelerates my learning curve inside the kitchen is what I'm looking for.

Recipes, by and large, would be a starting point to expand however I want--mostly I try and look at them and go, "oh, I see what they're doing" or are very basic. 

Having read some examples off amazon--I think I'll start with "think like a chef"

Cheers,

D

I think you're heading in the right direction with Think Like a Chef . It's a good introduction to techniques and the recipes are mostly there to show you ways to build on basic techniques and ingredients. I've had a lot of fun taking some of the basics and riffing on them.

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djyee100,

I'm just down the peninsula from you in San Jose! ...

You're probably less than an hour's drive down the freeway from me. (If there are no traffic jams. Note to others: around here, that's a big if.)

Do you belong to a CSA, or have you considered joining one? I've belonged to a CSA for a decade now, it has really spurred my cooking when I've had to do something with fresh, seasonal, and sometimes--unfamiliar--produce. I would also suggest checking into the many good cooking classes available in the Bay Area.

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I would add another vote for Patricia Well's Bistro Cooking as a starter for reliable recipes, with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking V. 1 for a deeper appreciation of the fundamentals. Their recipes are foolproof and both books provide guidance on variations.

As for pushing the boundaries, Patricia Well's most recent book, Vegetable Harvest, provides inspirational (and so far as I've tested, tasty) recipes for moving French food in a lighter direction. Two others I would also recommend: Daniel Boulud's Cafe Boulud Cookbook and Alfred Portale's The Twelve Season Cookbook for some interesting variations on the classics.


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I would caution that for best results you'll have to spend money on high-quality olive oil, spices, etc, not only fresh produce--Waters' style emphasizes natural flavors. This book includes info on technique, but it is more about Waters' technique, not necessarily the classic French technique. Nevertheless, Waters' techniques work, and they're efficient. I like the food, too. I've cooked close to 30 recipes from this book, and I've been happy with all of them.

Her techniques work IF you can get very fresh, high quality (read: expensive) ingredients.

I can't count the times I've made bland, uninteresting food from a Waters' recipe.

For me, cooking from her books is always an expensive, risky proposition that only sometimes produces worthwhile results.

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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I found The Food of France at Costco. It's cheap and comprehensive and has a ton of bistro food.

I second The Way To Cook by Julia Child, especially since you say you're looking for a technique heavy book. I used to go to Anne Willan's La Varenne Pratique for reference, but not since buying The Way To Cook.

The Complete Robuchon, while not technique heavy, is an astounding reference. The book's foreword is worth the price of the entire book.

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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Since both Beard's book and "Think like a Chef" are pretty cheap, I'll pick them up and see how they go. Word on the street is my mom is going to be buying all 3 of us boys a few basic cookbooks, of which I'd be shocked Mastering Art of French Cooking wasn't entailed.

Thanks all!

D

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.  I'm actively seeking a book that pushes my boundaries and comfort level in the kitchen.

Thanks!

Daniel

Bouchon and other TK books are amazing, although recipes may be a bit complicated and time consuming for a beginner for every day use.

I agree with most of the suggestions made above, especially those of Patricia Wells books, however, I would start with early Patricia Wells, for example, "Patricia Wells at Home in Provence" is very good for ambitious beginners. I've been using it for 15 years now and have never been disappointed. My daughter was 7 when she first made PW's Cherry-Almond tart, she is still making it now that she is 22.

PW' last books are a bit disappointing to me. I stopped buying them after "Vegetable Harvest" which came out a year or two ago. I was upset because PW went to the market and took pictures of everyday vegetables like onions, carrots, potatoes, etc. and included them in the book. For some reason the picture of a cauliflower display appears twice (on p. 145 and on p. 173.) I paid $35 for that book hoping to see pictures of the finished dishes or rare ingredients not, not lovely pictures of potatoes that are widely available in US. Therefor I can't recommend her "Harvest" book, but anything that came before that is amazing.

You may also want to look at John Ash's books, Cooking one on one, Private Lessons ...from a Master teacher might be just what you are looking for. http://www.amazon.com/John-Ash-Cooking-Pri...50978690&sr=8-2

skipper

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+1 for Les Halles.

I've have both Les Halles and Bouchon, and I reach for Les Halles ten times more often. I simply don't have the time to follow TK's instructions to the letter. Tony's shortcuts get me to my destination.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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I can't count the times I've made bland, uninteresting food from a Waters' recipe.

I don't know that that is definitely a Waters' recipe problem.

I'm sure the recipes work really well if you have access to ingredients at the height of the season, the patience to source them, and money to buy them. If not, forget it: the recipes fail or are just so bland, they're not worth making.

A program on Food TV proved it to me:

Waters was invited to a farm/villa (of a renowned person in the world of food) to cook a banquet dinner. It was fall and she was thousands of miles and months away from California's bounty. The banquet was a flop. Worse were her antics throughout. She was apoplectic that there was just nothing to cook! It was the farm's fault. It lacked this ingredient, that vegetable, etc. Things were not coming together and there was nothing she could do, more so, could not be blamed for the resulting mediocrity.

It showed her philosophy under siege, and let me tell you: The empress had no clothes!

The local, seasonal ingredients she leans on so heavily were unavailable, and she barely knew what to do with what could be sourced.

Proof therein: She leans so overwhelmingly on natural abundance, locality, and seasonality that she's lacks substance in the absence thereof.

Isn't the test of a person's skill what they can do with what they have?

Aren't all great peasant foods great because they produce fantastic food from scarcity?

Kudos to Waters for bringing us some of the way back to what's fresh, seasonal and local; but, beyond that, what is her philosophy exactly?

If it's not fresh, seasonal, or local, let's tantrum, let's whine, let's starve!

Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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I have one you might enjoy, it's really more a flavor profile reference than actual techniques. I love it when I need a bust of creativity or a new way to treat an old favorite

The Flavor Bible - Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

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A program on Food TV proved it to me:

Waters was invited to a farm/villa (of a renowned person in the world of food) to cook a banquet dinner. It was fall and she was thousands of miles and months away from California's bounty. The banquet was a flop. Worse were her antics throughout. She was apoplectic that there was just nothing to cook! It was the farm's fault. It lacked this ingredient, that vegetable, etc. Things were not coming together and there was nothing she could do, more so, could not be blamed for the resulting mediocrity.

Do you remember anything about this program - which series it was a part of, etc.? I'd love to see it.

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I have one you might enjoy, it's really more a flavor profile reference than actual techniques. I love it when I need a bust of creativity or a new way to treat an old favorite

The Flavor Bible - Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Thanks for this rec!

I appreciate all the commentary. I'm still reading it!

Daniel

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