There are very few people who are great cooks from birth. Everyone learns along the way. And most cooks, and even the great chefs have tools which got them to where they are now.
A very important category of tools is: Cook Books!
I happen to have two favorites. The first is a 30-year old copy of Joy of Cooking. As far as I’m concerned, no kitchen should be without a copy of this classic. It covers everything from how to set a table properly, to how to cook almost anything.
But, my most prized book of all is Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything Vegetarian”!
When I first got it, I referred to it as the “Joy of Cooking” for vegetarians to everyone. Since then, I’ve seen it referenced the same way by many, many people.
I love it. I can spend hours just reading and browsing through it, and I learn something new every single time.
First of all, this is a hefty tome, almost 1,000 pages. (I’ve actually used it to press tofu, LOL!) The book stays open to the page you’re looking at, which is really wonderful when you’re hands are sticky and you can’t remember how much cinnamon to add to Honey Spice Cake.
It covers almost everything from soup to nuts! Even for a non plant-based eater, this book is a treasure. Mark’s clear, concise descriptions of equipment and techniques prepares you for the delicious, yet easy to prepare recipes to follow. Included is information about what basic kitchen tools (including knives) you need to equipment that’s fun to have, but not absolutely necessary. Basic techniques are well explained in the Techniques section, and lots of illustrations throughout the book show you exactly how to obtain the best results.
Each section of the book explains basic techniques for that section, and then expands on them. Most recipes have lots of variations, over 50 just for ice cream flavors. There is an entire section devoted to sauces, condiments, herbs and spices which is invaluable for both a beginning and advanced cook. Seasoning is what separates a person who cooks from a great chef. It’s also what takes bland and makes it gourmet. Remember, if you can’t smell it (spices and herbs) you can’t taste it, and it will be bland. Vinegars, Oils and chiles are also covered in the SCHS section!
The organization is supurb, making it easy to find what you’re looking for, whether it’s how to make vegannais or instructions for cutting corn from the cob. The table of contents describes each section well and the index is excellent. But beware! Everyone I know who’s used this book tends to get side tracked when looking up specific things! There’s so much great and really interesting information that it happens easily!
There are even suggested menus covering main meals, international flavors and holidays in the back of the book. Need to know what to make for a vegetarian Thanks Giving dinner or a Super Bowl Buffet? The menu ideas are great!
I also appreciate the list of Recipes by Icon which shows which things are fast, make ahead and vegan.
The book is vegetarian, not totally vegan. That’s fine with me. He often suggests, in the variations of recipes how they can be adapted.
If I was told I had to evacuate my house immediately and could take only one book, I’m sure I would choose this one!
Note: There is also an iPhone/iPad app of this book. It is great, and I use it all the time on my iPad, especially when I’m a guest at a friend’s house. It’s easy to use, and worth every penny. A feature I particularly appreciate is the timers that you can run right from a recipe!