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Cookbooks for the ambitious home cook


hansjoakim
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Hi all,

I purchased Gordon Ramsay's "3 star chef" some time ago, and I've thoroughly enjoyed reading and cooking from it. What I particularly like about the book, is that it goes a long way in making "3 star restaurant food" accessible to dedicated home cooks. It takes time, patience, some ingredient hunting, but not overly expensive or hard-to-source equipment.

This is pretty much the only "for the dedicated home cook/ambitious but do-able" cookbook reference I have in my collection, and I would now like to see what else there might be out there. I'm mostly interested in French/Italian cooking, and it's a great plus if recipes are given in metric.

I am considering cookbooks by other celebrated chefs, such as titles by Heston Blumenthal, Alain Ducasse, Rene Redzepi (NOMA) etc., but most of them appear to me as coffeetable books meant for inspiring the pro chef rather than "home kitchen cookbooks". I've not had the chance to browse it yet, but would for instance Keller's "Ad-Hoc at home" be something to look out for?

Any and all suggestions are very welcome!

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Ad Hoc is home style food. I think Keller's books in general are nice, tho', and pretty much what you want--those box sets that pair French Laundry with either Bouchon (my favourite) or Ad Hoc are reasonably priced.

Grab Cuisine de Temps by Australian chef Jacques Reymond. Press Club by fellow Australian George Calombaris is nice, too. Neil Perry's Rockpool. Doyle's PIER. Savage's Bentley. Morimoto by Morimoto is mostly accessible. Tetsuya, too, if you can find a copy. Marco Pierre White's White Heat is older than these books but still very good.

Noma, Fat Duck, Alinea, Quay, Bras' Essentials are all lovely books but generally inaccessible--altho' not impossible, by any means--if you're intending to make faithful renditions of the restaurant dishes. Nothing is stopping you from stealing small ideas here and there, tho', and sticking them into something else.

Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

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Thanks so much for your helpful and quick reply, Chris!

A question regarding Keller's books: Would they be straight forward to use for a Euro-based home cook? I'm mostly thinking in terms of ingredient selections. I guess the recipes are given in volume in his books?

Thanks a bunch for those other cookbooks you mentioned - "White Heat" is another one I was considering before writing the original post.

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I've got all three of the Thomas Keller books mentioned (ad hoc, bouchon and french laundry) and love each of them. they are nicely written and give a lot of good background information on what goes into the dishes. ad hoc and bouchon are perfect for everyday cooking but for what you want the french laundry one would be prefect. It will keep you happy for months!

Ingredients-wise I've not had any problems with getting hold of things in the UK, it's all pretty standard stuff. It's a bit of an annoyance that everything is in cups/tablespoons when we all know that weights would be better, but hey.

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The older Raymond Blanc books are worth a look. Cooking for Friends is a bit more middle ground, but Recipes From Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons should be suitably challenging.

For something a bit more modern you could try 'Essence' by David Everitt-Matthias.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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A question regarding Keller's books: Would they be straight forward to use for a Euro-based home cook? I'm mostly thinking in terms of ingredient selections. I guess the recipes are given in volume in his books?

.

Ad Hoc and Bouchon are both very accesible to the home cook. The French Laundry cookbook is very doable but will be very challenging (which I consider a good thing for me). His other book, "under pressure" is a little too much for me. I wouldnt recommend that one for anything other than a coffee table book. Even though I have a sous vide setup I dont much like the book.

If you are considering doing the french laundry (which would be my recommendation if you want to challenge yourself) take a look at this blog if you haven't seen it.

http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/

She's just an ambitious home cook who managed to cook everything in the book and blog about it over the course of a few years. It was a fantastic project. She's doing the Alinea book now as well http://alineaathome.com/, but its not going quite as well as TFL did.

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If you are considering doing the french laundry (which would be my recommendation if you want to challenge yourself) take a look at this blog if you haven't seen it.

http://carolcookskeller.blogspot.com/

She's just an ambitious home cook who managed to cook everything in the book and blog about it over the course of a few years. It was a fantastic project. She's doing the Alinea book now as well http://alineaathome.com/, but its not going quite as well as TFL did.

Glad this blog was mentioned - I can't wait to read through it. I've got the FL and Bouchon cookbooks, and while I've cooked from Bouchon, I haven't had the nerve to properly try FL. Maybe this blog will kick me into gear.

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If you are a moderately skilled cook, what tends to make restaurant type dishes unapproachable is the sheer number of components involved rather than the complexity of technique. I'm sure you know the drill: First prepare three different stocks and then use a tablespoon of each.

If you want to improve your basic techniques in preparation for approaching some of these dishes, I'd totally recommend "The Complete Robuchon." Be warned, however, there are no pictures, just tried and true versions of French classics.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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Hi Nick,

Thanks for your thoughts. I already have a stained copy of "The Complete Robuchon" - and I agree with you completely. It's a great resource for technique and tried versions of authentic French dishes.

I should add that I'm also looking for some new books for the inspiration, plating ideas and new, creative ways of combining "standard" components.

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...

I should add that I'm also looking for some new books for the inspiration, plating ideas and new, creative ways of combining "standard" components.

A serious recommendation for what I believe to be a UK-only book (but see if Amazon UK could get it to you economically).

Its by Jason Atherton (who used to run maze for Gordon Ramsay).

Absolutely everything is designed to be do-able in a home kitchen.

Generally the instructions are to prep components and set aside, before a (single-handed) last-minute finish and assemble on the plate. Very much restaurant-style.

Full plating instruction is given and the result of that plating is illustrated - for all the dishes.

The plating is largely what makes the book stand out - the cooking itself isn't really tricksy.

The food is modern Euro/British with some multiculturalism.

Naturally, metric measures (and largely weights) are used throughout. (As with all current UK cookbooks.)

There are hardly any exotic or expensive ingredients called for.

I think the title doesn't do the book justice - Its called Gourmet Food for a Fiver ("fiver" = £5 ~ US$8).

The costing is actually per head for 4, for more than one course. So its a £20 budget for meal ingredients ... but even that doesn't include "store cupboard ingredients" like cooking wine and other alcohols... so its NOT about cooking on a very tight budget - even if the book itself is inexpensive!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1844008169/

Of the 'look inside' recipes, the Chilled Cucumber Soup with Salmon Tartare is probably the most typical of the book.

Atherton has another book maze: the cookbook detailing dishes from the original restaurant, with suggested home-kitchen derivations and variations. The 'restaurant' versions are more complex than the recipes in Gourmet Food - so that might be what you are looking for. There is a cheaper and lighter physical weight (thinking of postage!) softcover edition in the UK. The USA (thus almost certainly non-metric) edition has been retitled "Gordon Ramsay's Maze - with recipes by Jason Atherton". No wonder he wanted to set up on his own!

Since Raymond Blanc was mentioned upthread, I'd suggest that his most appropriate title might be his newest, Kitchen Secrets - UK book, Amazon UK link - the book of his two latest BBC series, in which he explains dishes from simple to complex, and the cheffy touches and techniques that 'make' them.

He's much more traditional than Atherton, "Recipes from Le Manoir" particularly so!

If that's what you think you are after, you might have a look at Ducasse's Grand Livre de Cuisine. And then think again!

Regarding Keller, you probably wouldn't choose Ad Hoc (since its about US home cooking translated to a restaurant and then back to home) or Bouchon (haute cuisine treatment of Bistro classics) or Under Pressure (unless you have sous vide aspirations). But French Laundry? Quite possibly - as long as you know what you are getting into!

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

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Thanks dougal!

Those are some great recommendations. I wasn't aware of Atherton's books, and I'll be sure to peek inside both "Gourmet food for a fiver" and "Maze".

I've had some time to browse through the three Keller books (not "Under pressure"), and I think I share the same impression as you, dougal, regarding both "Bouchon" and "Ad-hoc at home". I've put "French Laundry" at the top of my list.

Thanks again :)

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In that case, I'd definitely second Jason Atherton's Maze cookbook. Also have a look at Shannon Bennett's My Vue. Shannon trained under such luminaries as John Burton Race and Marco Pierre White. The book won a Gourmand award as best French cuisine book in 2005.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

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

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The cookbook to recommend depends on your goal, so my main advice is to start from either someone's approach to food you like or a set of things you want to learn and then find a cookbook that you're willing to spend time with.

After you' ve narrowed down the field, go to a physical bookstore and leaf through the cookbooks you're considering. The right one for you will speak to you. You'll like the way the author tells you about cooking. I cooked out of Mastering the Art of French Cooking for years because I wanted to learn French cooking. I loved the way she talked about what she was trying to do, which made me want to make time to cook from her book sooner.

You're going to try things that don't turn out the way you expected, so it's a relationship: why are you going to cook another recipe from this cookbook raher than start on a different cookbook. Coobooks are quite cheap compared to the cost of all of your time that you're going to invest.

I have several Keller cookbooks and the Complete Robuchon, and they are great choices. That said however, start from what you want to cook.

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Not a cookbook in the traditional sense, but The Flavor Bible is my new indispensable kitchen companion. It is essentially an index of flavors, foods and their attributes along with what works well with what. it's hard to describe, but it will provide you endless ideas. The book is a revelation.

I also love Lake House by Alla Wolf-Tasker. It's subtitled "A Culinary Journey in The Country of Australia" I love the approach of the book. Has quite a bit of narrative about the origin of the foods presented. The recipes are very unique(for me anyway), accessible, very good.

Can you eat that?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Another vote for Keller's "French Laundry." There are a couple of great things about this book I would add.

First, the recipes and directions are incredibly detailed and clear. In some ways it is a very easy cookbook to cook from because the recipes are so well explained. In my opinion the recipes are not difficult so much as they are incredibly painstaking and very time consuming. If you've got the time and patience as well as some basic cooking skills, you will do great with French Laundry.

Secondly, the book includes numerous general techniques used by Keller that will benefit your cooking in general -- for example his techniques for braising meats, cooking soup, baking gougeres, poaching lobster and boiling vegetables are as close to a gold standard for french cooking as you'll find. For all of his whimsy and cleverness, Keller's cooking philosophy is very direct and focused.

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Thanks for your reply, Brown Hornet.

I actually received my copy of FL before the weekend, and I've been browsing/reading/obsessing ever since. It's a lovely book, with surprisingly detailed recipes and instructions. A lot of great chef/gourmet restaurant cookbooks have been written since, and this one, now already in it's 12th year, sets the standard for all of them. I'm already eyeing potential dishes for next time I got guests over for dinner (including the lobster broth, butter poached lobster or the braised veal breast). Great book.

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