A Good Cook Book
Here are some ideas of great cookbooks from a PERSONAL perspective and why I’ve specifically chosen these. I own over 300 cookbooks and have written a few of my own. Menu’s and cookbooks are my hobby. My most expensive purchase was over 1000 dollars, and my cheapest 50 cents. They’ve all added value to my food journey. My favourites are actually books from the 1800’s and early 1900’s – I enjoy seeing the original recipes because many have been ‘Bastardised’ over time. By getting really old cookbooks or recipes, we get to see the origins. I bought an old bakery book from the 1700’s – it had a Christmas cake recipe calling for 5 litres of brandy – seriously, how bad can that be! We made the recipe 10 years ago as a dare – incredible. And that’s not the booze talking. It’s now an annual tradition. It costs more than a small house to make – but it is a tradition.
But these chosen few below have served me well for years.
In my opinion a good cookbook is a treasure. I don’t often follow it to the letter, I’m an experienced chef, so am able to improvise when cooking. But for baking, it’s best to follow it precisely as written. Baking is alchemy, a true science, it requires precision of ingredients and measurements to get the best results.
A good recipe book is akin to a good piece of art, it should get the creative juices flowing. It can lift your day. Cooking, like any hobby, is so therapeutic during negative periods in your life. It’s not just about comfort eating – Comfort Cooking is a “thing” too – Smells, memories and treasured moments. Cooking can lift your spirits immeasurably. Nobody ever tried to commit suicide while cooking!
So many great recipes are the result of improvisation or mistakes. Imagine the first person who mistakenly boiled an egg while trying to eat one raw, they accidentally dropped it into water boiling on an open fire in a cave somewhere. He must have been a hero!
Or the first time meat was dropped onto a grill or rock over a flame by accident and it sizzled and tasted better. Hallelujah to the birth of the modern BBQ.
So don’t be afraid to experiment using the core idea of a recipe you’ve been reading. It may fail … but it could equally be the next first boiled egg.
Once you have 6–10 tried and tested recipes you’ve mastered or can cook, rather than learning one more recipe – learn theses 4 basics — spicing, sauces, stocks and timing. It will make everything taste better and grow your repertoire and confidence exponentially. Learning the art of timing will shave hours off your time in the kitchen.
Only make one new recipe item at a time, don’t cook 5 new items on the same night. I always laugh when a home cook decides to cook something new and panics after they've overreached on the project – it’s 3 new vegetables, a new meat and a new way to do potato. Plus a new dessert. No experienced restauranteur would attempt that. Why put yourself under that sort of pressure. Just do a new meat dish and stop. Combine it with items you do well and go onto the next new option on another day.
Books to consider:
Mrs Beeton’s Family Cookbook – any of her books are worth keeping. They’re old, but tried and tested and have pretty much everything a home cook could want to know or cook. Especially the comfort foods. You can pick them up for a dollar in thrift stores. And you can modernise and adapt easily;
Larousse Gastronomique – it’s an encyclopaedic delight of cooking. It’s Mrs Beeton on steroids, for the more advanced chef but not difficult. Most apprentice chefs have a copy either as a set book or they chose to own one. It’s fantastic;
You do not need both Beeton and Larousse, choose one. Larousse is more advanced and Beeton is more home and comfort.
Vegetable Simple by Eric Ripert – Eric is a renowned top chef. For me, vegetables need coaxing and good technique to make them brilliant. He does that … simply. People seldom pay attention to the vegetable component, but truthfully, cooking vegetables well is, in my opinion harder to get right than any other product we cook or eat. And the real reason most youngsters don’t enjoy vegetable, is not because it’s veg – but because it’s boring, badly prepared or an afterthought.
The difference between a bunch of carrots boiled to oblivion in salted water, and a bunch of carrots basted in butter with a touch of powdered mustard, some fresh parsley and a sprinkle of sea salt is jaw dropping. Roasting a cauliflower in garlic butter or olive oil with a teaspoon of good tomato paste is a delight. Don’t just drop it in boiling water and cook until it’s mush.
You can use either of the first two books listed above, they have good veggie options, but this book will elevate the vegetable from a ‘side dish’ all the way to the centre of the plate. It has vegan options, but I’m not specifically looking for those as I can’t see the point of veganism – but that’s just me. This is just a step up from the norm;
A Quick and Easy book for Canning and Preserving – something so easy to do and we should all make a few bottles at home. Less sodium and sugar is so important to our health. Homemade options usually use less of both. This will give you lots of gifts ideas too, it’s fun and cheap. I’m always amazed how popular a homemade bottle of relish, chutney or pickle is. People genuinely appreciate the effort you’ve gone to. And it’s cheap as chips to do as a gift idea! Plus buying when in surplus cheaply, and while in season, then canning or preserving saves a fortune over a year and gives you seasonal vegetables harvested in their prime;
Flavour Bible by Karen Page – tells you how to combine ingredients and what goes well together. A favourite of mine. I can’t recommend enough a book that shows HOW & WHY to combine various ingredients. Why does watermelon and feta cheese just work together. Or strawberries and pepper. Grapes and white wine. Yoghurt and chicken. This book is a must;
Sauces by James Peterson- a general cookbook usually has a lot of sauce options, but this kicks it up a notch. The fundamental difference between a top restaurant and a decent home cook is three things: great base stocks; great sauces and repetitive cooking of the same recipe till it’s perfect. Learn to make a few top sauces and it will elevate your cooking.
The Book of Sauces by Gordon Grimsdale – again, simple and covers so many options. Notice I suggest two sauce options. Making a sauce is easy. And it really makes a difference. Casserole a protein in water with veg, or do the same meal with good stock and a touch of wine instead of water. Strain the liquid and reduce on the stove till it’s a syrup, perhaps with a knob of cold butter or two, instead of using the “watery grave” you’ve made straight out of the casserole pot, and you’ll elevate the entire meal. The extra effort – zero. The protein should have been resting anyway.
Essential Cuisine by Michel Bras – this book always inspires me. It teaches cooking with a “light touch” and we all need something to aspire too. Make sure you get the English version … unless you’re fluent in French;
The Complete Nose to Tail by Fergus Henderson – while Fergus has acquired a cult like following in the U.K. and Europe, he is totally down to earth and a meat master. His restaurant is incredible – both for its simplicity of cooking but equally for what he plates up.
Folks … we cannot keep killing animals and only eating three cuts – the fillet, the strip and the ribeye. It’s wasteful. And it’s not good for the planet. It’s the vegan equivalent of picking a tomato and only eating the seeds. Let’s stop it. This book shows us that NOT eating the less popular cuts is missing out on deliciousness! And they’re so much cheaper.
Herings Dictionary of Classical and Modern Cookery – “the red book” of everything, it’s for an experienced cook and lists practically every meal EVER. But no recipes. It’s written like a dictionary giving ingredients only. But for me, this is my most used book in my repertoire. It travels with me everywhere I go, ALWAYS. It’s hard to come by. It’s worth the search for experienced chefs.
Origin: The Food of Ben Shewry – one of the younger up and coming stars out of Australia and a great forager. He totally respects the ingredients. I think this guy is incredible. You will learn from it no matter what level of chef or cook you are. The cookbook is extremely tough to come by though;
I haven’t added bread, desserts or national books. Perhaps “La Cucina by the Italian Academy of Cuisine” should be included because Italy is the food capital of the world. And it, like Mrs Beeton will give you a great grounding in Italian cuisine.
If you want another meat book, it’s difficult to find one that’s all encompassing AND ACCURATE. The Larousse is not bad, but for grilling or BBQ the American books are good. Try “Meat – Everything you need to know” by Pat Lafreida – it’s practical, knowledge based and informative but very American regarding cuts and techniques. Nothing wrong with that – just an observation. For grilled meats or true BBQ it’s tough to beat the America’s – Mexico, Americans or Argentinians. Meat, cattle drives and ranching is such a massive part of their culture.
Books I love but didn't fully describe — anything by Anton Mosimann — but especially his Essential Mosimann, Marco Pierre White’s early book —White Heat.
Equally these are good — French Laundry; Japanese Cooking by Shizuo Tsuji and Hot Sour Salty Sweet: A culinary journey through Southeast Asia.
If you love food or cooking, (and even if you do not) please buy a journal and take a little time to write down your family recipes from parents and grandparents. Journal your own recipes, keep a record of what you cook and how. Prices you paid per pound or kilo. The greatest gift my grandmother left her family was her old, battered and worn handwritten recipe notebooks. It provides an amazing link to our past and fondly reminds me of my long deceased family members. Looking at the prices of butter in 1956 is fun to know. Or that sugar is again available after the war. Think about how your great great granddaughter will know of a moment in time when you were dealing with Covid, through your food journal.
Happy book hunting