Review of Cookbooks

Food Chemistry

Harold McGee's The Curious Cook is the follow-up to On Food and Cooking. Both are about food chemistry. About 1/5th of what McGee discusses is useful, most is just fun. Some is really silly, like his 6 page attempt to keep pesto from turning brown.

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Cooking Technique

James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking is the similar to attending chef school, perhaps New York's French Culinary Institute, where he originally set the curriculum. Extensive photography help you with techniques that otherwise would have to be seen to understand. This is a book for the serious cook, who wants to know all the techniques that professional chefs use. Heavily slanted toward French technique.

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There are many, many books on bread-making. I'm an amateur, but my bread-making guru friends all swear by Carol Field's Italian Baker and Bernard Clayton's Breads of France (currently out of print). I recommend Field's "Crocodile Bread", a moist and light and chewy bread made from a very wet and sticky dough. Clayton's 3-day, somewhat sour bread based on Paris' "Pain Poilane" is also excellent.

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Indian Food

My favorite Indian cookbook is Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking. The preparation isn't as arduous as Yamuna Devi's Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and the dishes generally come out excellent. Devi's book is famous with the Hare Krishna crowd (who accost me when I visit museums in downtown Washington). It is huge, and if you're a vegetarian, probably a must.

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French Cookbooks in French

Since my first language was french, I can still read cookbooks in french, which is fortunate, because there are some excellent cookbooks which are not available in english.

La Bonne Cuisine de Mme St. Ange is a cookbook I picked up in France in 1994. It is a reprint of a French cookbook from 1927, and the recipes date from that era. I haven't tried many of the recipes, but it seems authentic.

Ginnette Mathiot's Je Sais Cuisiner is the bible of the French housewife. It teaches you how to cook by breaking everything down into numbered steps (2069 of them!) so that any single recipe never takes up more than a single page. The English translation is unfortunately now out of print, though the book is easy to purchase in france.