Reading: The Way To Cook, my all-time favorite cookbook
While I have a list of cookbooks and other food-related books that I own and love over on my Amazon Store, there are three food oriented books that I use, read and would recommend above all others - all for different reasons. I've talked about two of these in some depth previously - Hungry Planet: What The World Eats by Peter Menzel and The Art of Eating, which contains some of the best works by my all-time favorite food writer Mary Frances Kennedy (M.F.K.) Fisher. Either would make a fine gift for a food lover or just someone who loves to read great books - or in the case of Hungry Planet, look at great photography too.
However, I've never gotten around to talking about my all time favorite cook book. Saying that one cookbook stands above all others is something, because at last count I owned around 120 cookbooks. I've only glanced through quite a few of them, have used a couple of recipes from others, but the one cookbook I keep going back to again and again for different things is The Way To Cook, by Julia Child.
The Way To Cook was originally published in 1989. This was a time when low-fat was the In thing, and people were scarfing up food with dubious 'low-fat' claims like Snackwells and relying more and more on prepared food and takeout. It was also a time when the world of restaurant cooking was experiencing a backlash against nouvelle cuisine. The Way To Cook was a perfect antedote to both movements. While Julia Child's previous works had mostly stuck to French cooking, The Way To Cook roamed a lot further than that. It had the simple message that home cooking was good for you, body and soul.
It covers basic cooking methods, like how to braise meats or vegetables, how to bake bread, how to make various kinds of pastry doughs, and so on. It has recipes for Boston Baked Beans (and the steamed Brown Bread that traditionally accompanies it), making your own corned beef, and peanut brittle, as well as various French classics from Tarte Tatin to a Salade Niçoise. It is simply a compedium of delicious food, whatever its origins (though strictly from the world of European/American cuisines - this was in the days before Asian Fusion). It's filled with little nuggets of wisdom from Julia, such as her advice for getting rid of the substance in beans that causes flatulence - to bring the beans to a boil, then throw away the water, and start again with fresh water to cook. To people who are worried about losing some nutritional value down the drain she advises to "just eat a minimally greater amount of beans".
The reason I love this cookbook so much though is that it just works. And, it doesn't just work for me - it works for everyone who follows the crystal clear instructions. I can't remember how many times I've given this book as a gift, and everyone who's received it has raved about it. Whether the recipient is an experienced cook or a beginner, this book fits - it's neither too complicated nor does it talk down to the reader. The photographs are clear and to the point too. I use the recipes in here for my pastry doughs, my favorite pizza dough, for coleslaw, for cakes of all kinds...the list goes on and on.
I've looked, and own, many other books that purport to tell me all I need to know about cooking various basics, but I have yet to find anything that surpasses The Way To Cook. It's not an exaggeration to say that it's made me a much better cook, more than any other cookbook I own. If you're stuck for what to get for a food loving friend or relative, you really can't go wrong with this classic volume.