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.
- Classic Pasta Cookbook by Giuliano Hazan. It was the first cookbook that I bought for myself, expanding my knowledge beyond basic pasta. Now out of print, it’s only available from used booksellers like Powell’s.
- The Barbecue Bible by Steven Raichlen. Filled with “a-ha!” moments for the grill.
- I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown. Science, humor and good recipes, all rolled into one.
- The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook. Every recipe from all 10 seasons of the show.
- Cook’s Illustrated magazine and CooksIllustrated.com. Both are worthy investments.
What are the cookbooks, websites or other recipe sources that you swear by?