I know you’ve been waiting for this so I culled through my favorite books and will share with you first my reference selections. I’ve included my basic reference materials as well as one vegetarian book which serves as a reference for me. Selections are ordered by author and title with comments from moi.
If you want to purchase this cookbook from Amazon.com click on the link! My husband has made it super easy for you. We might make a nickel but that was not the purpose! Updated 4/12.
Reference Cooking Books
Author: Beard, James
Note: Out of print. Available on Amazon, including collectibles (just don’t take them all as I give them as wedding gifts!). This is a unique book that really teaches newbies how to cook because it concentrates on techniques rather than individual recipes. Learn to braise and what to braise or saute… and you’re only limited by your imagination and your guests’ palates.
Author: Child, Julia
Title: The Way to Cook
Notes: I prefer the hardcover because it lays flat on the counter. This is a great book for its contents and photos. What can one say about Julia, who came into our kitchens on PBS? Or James Beard, another American icon.
Author: Kafka, Barbara
Title: Roasting-A Simple Art
Publisher: William Morrow and Co.
Notes: When you only cook a whole turkey with stuffing once a year, this book will tell you how to cook it. Many instructions are given for fast roasting and slow-roasting along with temperatures for every done-ness. Ms. Kafka cooks and tests and writes incredibly well and this is a welcome addition to any bride and groom’s gift list.
Author: Kaufelt, Rob
Notes: This is a fun one for me because I’m getting to know some of the UK cheeses as well as French and Greek and Italian. And US and Canadian and Mexican, of course!
Author: McGee, Harold
Notes: A scientist in the kitchen. Now I can answer arcane questions my husband, the physics major, throws at me. What’s the difference between baking soda and baking powder? My answer is that powder brings its own acid to the party and one needs to add lemon juice or other acid to soda to get the party started and bake your cookies or corn bread.
Author: Rombauer, Irma and Becker
Notes: Years ago a farmer gave my roomate and I a Hubbard Squash. Ms. Irma told us we could use a sledge hammer to cut it. I’m sure husband Jim would use a chain saw. We let it sit on our urban apartment’s counter for six months then tossed it in the trash. But if you have a question on anything, this is the book to have.
Author: Schneider, Elizabeth
Publisher: Harper and Row
Notes: Lately my husband’s been off on vacation and perhaps once a week I let him come grocery shopping with me. I usually lost him all over the place, usually by ice cream or batteries. Now he’s in the produce section looking up the strangest fruit he’s ever seen. Lately it’s been star fruit and Pummelos. But if you find a kumquat or lemon grass Ms. Schneider will tell you where it’s grown, its season, what it’s used for and how to tell if it’s fresh. Then she’ll give you several recipes. Her Lemon Grass Seasoning Paste is a winner for grilled salmon or chicken!
Author: Madison, Deborah
Title: The Savory Way
Category: Vegetarian, Reference
Notes: I was a vegan for a short while and I’m in no way a vegetarian now but this book is fantastic, from white beans to parsley pesto. It’s definitely a buy and a keeper.
Following are some of my favorite cookbooks that are not in my admittedly selective “reference” category.
Author: Beard, James
Notes: Classic appetizers, both hot and cold, plus how to host a proper cocktail party, an invaluable addition to your library.
Author: Jeanne Voltz
Title: Barbecued Ribs, Smoked Butts, and Other Great Feeds: KCA-pbk (Knopf Cooks American Series)
Notes: A few years ago I did an exhaustive search for first a particular seasoning rub, then all seasoning rubs and could find but a few. Later on I found out that a lot of BBQ cooks on the circuit don’t want to share their recipes because of arming the competition and because most of them include MSG, something we’ve all been taught to avoid. Ms. Voltz is an exception, and I love her rib rub. She explains basic grilling vs. BBQ and includes a host of recipes for both methods, plus a section on side dishes. Love her Fresh Cucumber Relish.
Author: Walsh, Robb
Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
Notes: This is a serious book, recommended to me by Jim’s Uncle Bobby who hand-crafted a smoking rig to tow behind his truck and who thinks nothing of baby-sitting briskets, ribs and sausages overnight. His brisket cooks for 13 hours! So I jumped at the chance to research rib rubs for him. I’m an armchair smoker, as it’s difficult to accomplish in a fourth floor loft, and I don’t think the police horse patrol, right under our windows, would appreciate smoke billowing out of our building. Gentlemen, think of this as a wish book and ladies, Father’s Day is right around the corner.
Author: Fox, Margaret and Bear, John
Title: Cafe Beaujolais
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Notes: This marvelous restaurant is in picturesque Mendocino CA. While Margaret doesn’t own it anymore she’s still in the neighborhood and working with food. I had the pleasure of doing my culinary apprenticeship there in 1989 and we still keep in touch. I regularly made the apple-pear crisp (because their was a surfeit of apples and pears from her orchard) and a chocolate-raspberry torte that unfortunately is not in this volume. Margaret has a great sense of humor and is one of few writers who write as they speak and endear themselves to readers.
Authors: Child, Julia; Bertholle, Louisette; and Beck, Simone
Notes: Julia Child came into my consciousness with her first PBS show. Out in the country we only got four channels. These three ladies brought French cuisine to the USA and for this feat should be highly commended. With James Beard, I believe they opened up American cooks’ minds and luckily brought moms everywhere out of the “Take one can cream of mushroom soup…” philosophy of family meals. This belongs as a basic building block but since it’s French, I included it on this list rather than Vol. 1. Ms. Child’s French Onion Soup is worth every second- don’t rush it!
Authors: Child, Julia and Beck, Simone
Notes: This follow-up to Mastering the Art of French Cooking is also a must-have for the serious cook. Many of the recipes we used at Institute for Culinary Education in NY City were directly from Simone “Simca” Beck because our teacher spent summers at her home in Provence. During my apprenticeship I found Simca’s Cuisine at a used book shop (Knopf, 1972) and it retains its hallowed place on my bookshelves.
Author: Deighton, Len
Title: Basic French Cooking
Publisher: Creative Arts Book Company
Notes: First published in 1979, this small paperback was called “Ou est le Garlique” and it has been out of print for years but is available on Amazon, as I just bought it as a gift for a special student recently. Yes, this is the Len Deighton of spy thriller fame. Even better, it is illustrated by the author with his own drawings. Learn about the batterie de cuisine (pots & pans and stuff), the mother sauces et al in this gem of a book.
Author: Artusi, Pellegrino
Title: The Art of Eating Well: An Italian Cookbook
Publisher: Random House
Notes: I’m told this book is in every Tuscan kitchen. Mr. Artusi was born in 1820 but these classic Italian recipes do not change. What has changed is that now the book has finally been translated into English. Buon appetito.
Author: Kasper, Lynne Rossetto
Notes: I love this book. It’s very easy to use and comes with wonderful stories accompanying each dish, called lagniappes. The page with Spaghetti alla Carbonara is wrinkled and stained but at least I now know how to cook pasta in the style of the charcoal-maker. Another family favorite is Balsamico Roast Chicken and Potatoes, in Italian it’s Pollo Arrosto. Delicious in any language. I often say that Americans live to work, and Italians work to live. Eating is a big part of life in Italy!
Author: Kennedy, Diana
Title: The Art of Mexican Cooking
Notes: I had the good fortune of meeting this non-Mexican ambassador of Mexican cuisine during my Cafe Beaujolais apprenticeship. The kitchen bustled for days before her arrival and everyone was nervous. A young cook was caught rinsing a roasted pepper and was immediately told that he would wash away the flavor, “and Diana Kennedy is coming.” She made staff an incredible shrimp dish (page 207) called Camarones Enchipotlados or Shrimp in Chipotle Sauce. At the time we had a ton of blackberries in the walk-in and she made ice cream. When I got the chance to drive her into San Francisco, three hours away, I jumped at it. We talked about a lot of things, but what I recall is her looking disdainfully at the Diet Coke I purchased at a rest stop and saying “Ugh, if you keep drinking that you’ll ruin your palate!”
Author: Lewis, Edna
Notes: As a “Union” gal, I was transplanted to the South and knew nothing except that “the War of Northern Aggression” is in no way over and I’d better learn about Southern traditions like a mess of greens and sweet tea. You’ll learn about making the most of everything in your larder, even if there’s not much there. Plus Southern staples like Virginia Ham and Buttermilk Biscuits.
Author: Peterson, James
Publisher: Van Nostrand Reinhold (div. of Int’l. Thomson Publishing, Inc.)
Notes: At nearly 600 pages this tome should have been included in Volume 1 as it is a comprehensive reference work. Please don’t think you have to read it from cover to cover in one, or a few, sittings. Keep it on your shelf, however, because it includes every classic and contemporary sauce known to humankind pre-1998 and won the 1991 James Beard Foundation “Cookbook of the Year” award.