Be A Better Cook - Use Reliable, High Quality Recipes

Not every experienced cook will agree with me, but I think that using good recipes is a foundational building block to becoming a better cook. With the exception of a few gifted and creative people, we are not all 'masters' of composing complex layers of flavor in a randomly created dish. Nor are most of us able to combine ingredients in innovative explosions of unexpected taste.

I suggest that we take advantage of experts who already have created  wonderful recipes and learn how to execute those recipes ourselves. Then, later, make the recipe your own, or use it's principles as a starting point for your own innovation.

High Quality Recipe Sources

I believe in using a quite small collection of cookbooks, online sources, and magazines. While the short list of cookbooks changes over time, it's surprising how few cookbooks are in my rotation at any time.

For a complete review of each book and it's pros and cons, visit this page on my What Tom Cooked website. I also recap some old favorites that once were in this top list of frequently used cookbooks.

Here are my current recommendations:

What Makes A Recipe or Cookbook High Quality? 

  1. You like a lot of the recipes you've made from it. I'm not being flip about this, but really, you need to like what is produced. 
  2. A high percentage of the recipes from the book / magazine turn out well. That also means that the level of the book is appropriate for your skill level. Most of the books I recommend are appropriate for near any level. Cook's Illustrated, How to Cook Everything and Jamie at Home are the three most basic on my list. The other three are a little more advanced, with the Gourmet cookbook containing quite a few advanced recipes (along with many, many approachable ones too). 
  3. There are few or no errors in the recipes. You would think that cookbooks don't have errors because all the recipes are so well tested in advance. I wish that were true. There are mistakes that get published. 
  4. Of course I'd expect the instructions to be clear and easy to follow - that kind of goes with out saying.
  5. So now, we get to the real fine points that reflect REALLY good cookbooks and recipes..........
High Quality Recipes:
  • Have at least one major defining characteristic - boldness, subtlety, complexity, simplicity
  • Are time appropriate - a big time investment gives a big payoff. Quick recipes need to be powerful and effective. 
  • Rarely utilize packaged, canned, jarred, dried commercial / convenience food items. 
  • Use specialty ingredients judiciously to full effect. 
  • Rely on fundamentals, not gimmicks, tricks, shortcuts. 
  • Change with the times; are not reflective of just the latest fad item, tool or flavor. 

I think there are shockingly few good cookbooks - and fewer (maybe only one) good magazine - that provide truly high quality recipes.

But don't take these words as a dictate that only old, proven sources are reliable. We all need to keep trying new things - products, techniques, recipes - then rely on the ones that prove themselves worthy.


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