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Looking for "anti-cookbooks"

Irv's picture

When I was in engineering school, the term "cookbook" was used pejoratively to refer to any book that offered procedures without giving any understanding or insight on them. Many cookbooks are indeed like that: recipe after recipe that one can replicate at home, but little understanding of what makes the recipes tick.

I like Pam Anderson's How To Cook Without A Book, because she devotes a lot of the text to analyzing whole classes of recipes (e.g. stir-fries, omelets, etc.) down to the essential ideas. The recipes in the book serve as concrete illustrations of how one actually uses these essential ideas in the kitchen, but in fact the book almost invites the reader not to cook the recipes and go invent his/her own instead. It's the Anti-Cookbook: a book that teaches you how to cook, not how to cook one specific meal(*).

The other book I know that devotes significant space to the fundamental ideas, and illustrates them with recipes is How to Cook Meat by Schlesinger and Willoughby.

What other good books focus on the fundamentals behind broad classes of recipes as do How To Cook Without A Book and How to Cook Meat?



* I realize that experienced cooks can look at a specific recipe, abstract the essentials, and derive their own variations, or even whole new recipes, based on these essentials, but this is not something beginners like me can do.

Jean's picture

(post #62601, reply #1 of 18)

Essentials of Cooking -- James Peterson (sen?)

Cookwise -- Shirley Corriher

Along the way take time to smell the flowers.

A  clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.
help to provide free mammograms for women in need
Jangomango's picture

(post #62601, reply #2 of 18)

Fine Cooking magazine.   If you read the articles along with the recipe then you get a good idea of the whats and whys.

TracyK's picture

(post #62601, reply #3 of 18)

A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider

Joy of Cooking ... some folks only like the old one, I have the new one and love it.

"Noncooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet."

Julia Child

shywoodlandcreature's picture

(post #62601, reply #4 of 18)

I second Joy - new or old edition, it's the classic "how to/why to", though some folks prefer  Fanny Farmer.  Which reminds me, has anyone mentioned Marion Cunningham's books? Don't recall the titles, but I understand they're also excellent. 

As a Canadian, I'll put in a plug for any of the Canadian Living recipes or cookbooks - very thorough, workable, and well-written. Though a little heavy on the meatballs and cassesroles side of the epicurean equation, it's an excellent resource for learning the basics along with some variations.  

"That's the spirit, George. If nothing else works, then a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through."
-- General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, 'Blackadder Goes Forth'
madnoodle's picture

(post #62601, reply #6 of 18)

Glad to see you plugging Canadian Living.  I really like the magazine and the books.  And, if you sift out all the meatball and casserole recipes, there are some pretty good recipes, all of which you can count on to work precisely as written.

Canada:  where different coloured money makes sense.

What if there were no hypothetical questions?


Boilerplate's picture

(post #62601, reply #7 of 18)

there are some pretty good recipes, all of which you can count on to work precisely as written.there are some pretty good recipes, all of which you can count on to work precisely as written.

Exactly - CL takes a very down-to-earth approach, and the recipes are tested, tested, and tested again, under just about any imaginable condition. I know 'cause I got to see their test kitchens and hang out there for a day while the staff did their stuff.  

RheaS's picture

(post #62601, reply #10 of 18)

The buche de noel that I now have to make every year and bring to my current office, my former office and several friends' homes is based on a CL recipe from 1995 or so. It's a chocolate genoise with a mascarpone cream filling and covered with chocolate ganache. I get requests to make it as soon as American Thanksgiving is through. Nobody even cares if I don't make it look like a log or decorate it with meringue or marzipan mushrooms because the cake is fabulous.

Boilerplate's picture

(post #62601, reply #11 of 18)

Rhea, would you mind sharing the recipe (and any technical tips that go with)? I'd love to make a bouche noel this year, but have long ago lost my T&T recipe, and haven't found a decent replacement. TIA!

MEANCHEF's picture

(post #62601, reply #14 of 18)

I use this cake:


by MEAN CHEF (see my other recipes) posted on Aug 19, 2002
*****(1 review)

Source: "Cooking at Home"

tablespoon unsalted butter

cup heavy cream

ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

 egg whites, room temperature

tablespoons granulated sugar

tablespoon cocoa powder, plus more for garnish

Chantilly Cream

cup heavy cream

1 1/2
tablespoons granulated sugar

teaspoon pure vanilla extract

tablespoon cognac

confectioners' sugar, for garnish

seasonal fruit, for garnish

Place rack in center of oven, and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter an 11-by-17-inch jelly-roll pan or a 12-by-17 1/2-inch sheet pan, and line with parchment paper.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 cup cream to a simmer.

Add chocolate, reduce heat, and whisk until chocolate is melted.

As soon as mixture is a uniform dark color, remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Whip egg whites and 2 tablespoons sugar to stiff, glossy peaks, about 1 1/2 minutes.

Whisk one-quarter of the egg-white mixture into the chocolate mixture.

Gently fold chocolate mixture back into the original egg-white mixture, and mix until smooth and well combined.

Pour batter into the prepared pan, and spread it in an even layer with a rubber spatula.

Bake until cake is set and puffy, 10 to 12 minutes.

Transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature.

Lift parchment paper to remove cake from pan, and set it on work surface with long side facing edge of table.

Using a fine-mesh sieve, lightly dust cake with cocoa powder.

For the crème chantilly, whip the remaining 1 cup cream with the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, the vanilla, and cognac.

Spread evenly over entire surface of cake.

Roll the cake lengthwise, starting at a point 2 to 3 inches over the crème chantilly.

Roll cake another few inches, pressing against parchment paper to make a tight spiral.

Gently peel parchment paper off as cake layer rolls away.

Complete the roll, stopping at the far edge of the parchment paper.

Tuck the loose parchment paper around and underneath the cylinder so it is well wrapped and can be moved easily.

Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

When ready to serve, transfer roulade to serving platter.

Remove parchment paper, gently rolling cake into center of platter, with seam on bottom.

(If roll has slumped or twisted, lay a piece of plastic over top and sides, and reshape with hands.) With a sharp knife, trim both ends of roll crosswise or on a diagonal.

Dust top with confectioners’ sugar and cocoa powder, and garnish with seasonal fruit.

To serve, cut the roll into 1-inch-thick slices, and lay flat on dessert plates; top with additional crème chantilly if desired.


This filling:

Espresso Mascarpone Cream#60391

by MEAN CHEF (see my other recipes) posted on Apr 21, 2003
*****(2 reviews)

This filling is perfect for a chocolate roulade recipe #37524 or as a topping for Jennifer Millar's Chocolate Budini recipe #46775

cup heavy cream

tablespoons espresso powder

tablespoons confectioners' sugar

cups mascarpone cheese

Bring cream to a simmer.

Off heat stir in espresso and confectioner's sugar.

Transfer to bowl and cool slightly.

Whisk in mascarpone.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

Ganache poured over and of course meringue mushrooms.

RheaS's picture

(post #62601, reply #15 of 18)

Buche de Noel w/ Raspberry Coulis<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />


3 eggs

3 eggs, separated

¾ cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

¼ tsp salt

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 tbsp icing sugar (approx)


Mascarpone Mousse:            ¼ cup Amaretto

                                    1 ½ tsp unflavored gelatin

                                    3 egg yolks

                                    ½ cup icing sugar

                                    1 cup mascarpone cheese

                                    ½ cup whipping cream


Syrup:   3 tbsp espresso or strong coffee

            2 tbsp granulated sugar

            2 tbsp dark rum or brandy


Chocolate Ganache:            4 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped

                                    ½ cup whipping cream

                                    3 tbsp unsalted butter, softened

                                    3 tbsp icing sugar, sifted


In large bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks and ½ cup of the granulated sugar for 5 to 7minutes or until thick and cream-colored.  Blend in vanilla.  In separate bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form.  Beat in remaining granulated sugar, 1 tbsp at a time, until stiff glossy peaks form; fold into yolk mixture.  Sift cocoa with flour; fold into egg mixture in 3 additions.


Spread in parchment-lined 17-x 11-inch rimmed baking sheet.  Bake in 375 F oven for 14 to 17 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.  Let cool on rack for 5 minutes.  Run knife around edge of pan to loosen.  Sift clean tea towel with icing sugar; carefully invert cake onto towel.  Remove paper.  Trim with serrated knife, if necessary.  Starting at long edge, immediately roll up cake in towel; let cool on rack.


Mascarpone Mousse:  Pour amaretto into large bowl; sprinkle with gelatin.  Let stand for 5 minutes or until softened.  Add egg yolks and icing sugar; cook, whisking constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes or until thickened.  Let cool slightly.  Gradually beat in mascarpone until smooth.  In separate bowl, whip cream until stiff peaks form; fold into mascarpone mixture.  Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes or until partially set.


Syrup:  In saucepan, bring coffee and sugar to boil; stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat; let stand until cool.  Add rum.  Set aside.


Chocolate Ganache:  Place chocolate in bowl.  In saucepan, bring cream to boil; pour over chocolate, whisking until smooth.  Let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour or until thickened.  Whisk in butter and icing sugar.

Unroll cake; brush with syrup and spread with mousse.  Using towel as support, tightly roll up cake.  Place, seam side down, on platter.  Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until filling is set.


Arrange the shape of final buche and ice with ganache.  Use a fork to make the ganache look like bark.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours. ( Cake can be frozen until firm, then wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen in rigid airtight container for up to 1 month; let thaw in refrigerator for 24 hours. )  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.  Sift lightly with more icing sugar.  Spoon Raspberry Coulis onto serving plates; cut buche into diagonal slices and arrange on top.  Makes 12 servings.


Per serving (with coulis):  about 440 calories, 8 g protein, 29 g fat, 39 g carbohydrate.


Raspberry Coulis:  2 pkgs (each 300g) frozen unsweetened raspberries, thawed

                                    ¼ cup granulated sugar


Drain raspberries, reserving ½ cup juice.  Press through fine sieve set over bowl to remove seeds.  Stir in sugar.  Stir in enough reserved juice to make pourable.  (coulis can be covered and refrigerated for up to 5 days) Makes abut 1 ½ cups.

RheaS's picture

(post #62601, reply #16 of 18)

The recipe I posted is the original recipe from Canadian Living. I may try Mean's cake this year but use the original CL filling. That's the best part although I use whatever liquer I have on hand (usually Frangelico). I don't always do the raspberry coulis. I love this cake because despite its richness, it's very light and one could almost finish an entire log on their own if so inclined.

Edited 10/28/2003 6:23:05 PM ET by Rhea_S

Boilerplate's picture

(post #62601, reply #17 of 18)

Thanks, Rhea, I'll print out and try both your version and MEan's. I'm specifically looking for a cake that's not too rich and sweet.

anneelsberry's picture

(post #62601, reply #12 of 18)

We make Julia's buche every year (orange genoise, chocolate buttercream). Kids love the meringue mushrooms more than the cake. Which is good for the adults -- more cake!

Somebody put a stop payment on my reality check!

Somebody put a stop payment on my reality check!

RuthWells's picture

(post #62601, reply #13 of 18)

I like the buche from The Cake Bible -- uses a whipped filling, rather than a buttercream, which is much lighter and leaves more room to try more desserts!


Ruth Wells

"Gardening is the only unquestionably useful job."
 - G.B. Shaw

Ruth Wells

"Gardening is the only unquestionably useful job."
 - G.B. Shaw

courgette's picture

(post #62601, reply #8 of 18)

I have most of their cookbooks and I, too like their recipes. They may not be to my taste, but they ALWAYS turn out. No failures there. Some of their recipes are quite sophisticated, but lots are down on the farm food, the kind I grew up on.

Irv's picture

(post #62601, reply #9 of 18)

I must say that of all the great replies I've gotten to my original query, the pointer to Canadian Living is the one I'm most thankful for, because CL was the farthest outside my radar screen. I would have never looked for a cookbook under that name...


CookiM0nster's picture

(post #62601, reply #5 of 18)

Baking with Julia

Ballottine's picture

(post #62601, reply #18 of 18)

"The new making of a cook" by Madeleine Kamman

So much to cook; so little time.


So much to cook; so little time.