Learning to Cook

Well, if this doesn't sum up my experience with Alton, I don't know what does! Found on

Because I post recipes online, it seems only natural to assume that I learned how to cook by watching my mother and my grandmother. Wrong. While both cooked, neither one of them was a particularly stellar chef. My grandmother, for example, didn’t have any spices in the house, including salt and pepper. My mother had salt, pepper and cinnamon, but that was the extent of her sense of culinary adventure. Neither would have expected me to grow up to have a spice rack stocked with cardamom, saffron and turmeric. In fact, they probably would have been baffled simply by the existence of four different kinds of salt. (There are four kinds of salt?)

I taught myself how to cook. In the early days of my marriage, I muddled through by making plenty of pasta and some severely overcooked meats. I had little to no idea what I was doing.

I compensated by watching the Food Network. This was back in the early days when it was largely the Emeril network, but it wasn’t until I started watching Good Eats that things really clicked. Finally, someone who didn’t just tell me to throw a bunch of ingredients together! Alton Brown actually explained the “why” behind cooking, and suddenly things made much more sense. And once you understand why things are the way they are, or why things cook the way they do, it makes it possible to alter recipes and have a good sense of how they’re going to turn out.

Over the years, I’ve collected more cookbooks than I care to admit to owning. Here’s my go-to list that I use over and over again.

What are the cookbooks, websites or other recipe sources that you swear by?

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2 Responses

  1. Jim says:

    I grew up in a restaurant (and on a farm), with a French chef grandfather, and was taught to hate cookbooks. Consequently, I love books about food, but not “how to” books. With two exceptions.

    1. Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”. The book is a font of ideas, techniques, and yes, recipes. After 13 years of intensive use, I treasure my margin notes as much as the text itself.

    2. Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume I”. IMHO, no other Julia tome rises to the level of indispensability of Vol I. The Borgognone recipe alone is reason enough to give the book room on your shelf.

    The other resource I find useful and stimulating is Saveur Magazine. Funny, I have been published in Bon Appetit, but I don’t have a subscription to it. savuer is the only magazine that comes to my mailbox. I have every issue except #1 (gift idea!), and go back through them every winter. It’s an exceptionally high-quality periodical.

  2. Alisa says:

    Let’s see, if I made what I’d been raised on, we’d be eating overcooked chicken doused with cream of mushroom soup, and mac & cheese made with elbow noodles and melted Velveeta.

    I haven’t really read Saveur, but I’ll have to check it out.

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