The 5 Cookbooks that Changed My Life

December 08, 2014

Personal Chef, food, culinary, White Apron

Whether you’re a beginner or experienced cook, cookbooks are a crucial part of learning and improving your cooking skills.

Blogs are wonderful, but a good cookbook will teach you a point of view on a certain style of food.  It will teach you how to flavor foods in that particular chef’s way, and through reading you will pick up tips and tricks you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of.

Here are some of the cookbooks that have changed the way I cook and see food.

1.  Cooking at Home with a Four Star Chef, Jean Georges and Mark Bittman

This book was my first introduction to Jean-Georges and Bittman.  It shaped the way I cook.  These dishes are refined – some are easier than others.  But it asks – how can I make a refined dish with as little steps and ingredients possible?  This is how I approach my cooking today.  Instead of 15 steps, how can I do 3 simple steps that yields the same results in 1/4 of the time?

An example of this is the tomato and basil tower.  SO simple, but beautiful and delicious (as long as you are making this in August when tomatoes/basil are at their best.)

Another recipe I LOVE from this cookbook that I have been using for years is this amazing Thai Coconut Curry Soup.  It’s a perfect recipe.

2. Mexico One Plate at a Time, Rick Bayless

This book is phenomenal because Bayless has gone through great lengths to adapt his refined Mexican cooking to the home kitchen.  There is not one recipe in here that I don’t want to make, and I don’t feel overwhelmed by the number of steps or ingredients.  As far as Mexican goes, this book is SOLID.

One of my faves is the fish baked in pickled jalapeno sauce.   I have used this sauce to bake tofu, and have omitted the potatoes.  It’s also a delicious sauce on pasta.

3. The Flavor Bible, Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

This book may be for more advanced cooks but should be part of every kitchen.  Every ingredient with its perfect flavor pairings is listed – so you can look up broccoli, and see that it goes with lemon, parmesan cheese, garlic, etc.  The book is meant to inspire creativity – so if you’re not a cookbook kind of person, this is a way to generate ideas without needing recipes.

I have an Evernote file with “Meal Ideas” – when I open the Flavor Bible, my creative process starts pairing ingredients and seeing recipes, and I jot everything down in this folder.  When I plan menus for myself or clients, I will often look through my folder to see what I can incorporate in these menus.

4. How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman

Bittman is a brilliant cookbook writer.  This book is great because he will have one pasta recipe – pasta with cauliflower, for example.  But he will give you 8 different iterations of the same recipes – pasta with mushrooms, for example.  This allows you to see that the same recipe can be constructed and interpreted in more than one way.

Recipes are a canvas and Mark helps you understand this on a fundamental level.  This pasta with mushrooms is a great example of this.

5. Professional Vegetarian Cooking, Ken Bergeron

Professional vegetarian cookbooks are scarce.  The recipes in here can be somewhat complex, but if you are looking to elevate vegetarian food to the next level, this book is brilliant.

Honorable Mentions

The Better Homes and Garden Cookbooks (for very beginners)

The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, Judy Rogers (for more experienced cooks.  lots of of great technique ideas)

Good Fish, Becky Selengut (not simple but such delicious and intelligent recipes.)

Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (LOVE all the recipes in this book, and love the combination of allspice/cinnamon often used in their recipes.)

Do you read cookbooks or are you a food blog person? How do you get your inspiration for what to cook for dinner?

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