I’ve been asked in the past for cookbook recommendations. I typically dodge the question, because it’s a tough one. And you can see just how difficult when you read Sam Sifton’s round-up of the latest cookbooks in Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. 13 books, 12 of the reviews tepid or, at least, recommended with reservations (like, “if you can overlook the filler and the steep price tag…”). Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook, spun off from his blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, is the only one Sifton greenlights, but it’s also not a straight cookbook.
Here’s my suggestion: Create your own cookbook. Get a three-ring binder like you had in school and a box of plastic sleeves, and then any time you read a recipe of interest in a magazine, newspaper, cookbook, or online, snip or print accordingly and add it to your collection. If that really seems like too much effort, steal a manila folder from work; keep recipes in it.
And if your heart really is set on spending $$ to develop a shelf of cookbooks, start with what you want to cook. I began with buying a series of books on soups and stews–Williams-Sonoma, Cook’s Illustrated, Joy of Cooking (this is the only book I wholeheartedly endorse). But now I consult my personalized recipe book far more frequently. So, if you love pasta, buy a basic book on pasta sauces. Or if you love Ina or Bobby or some other cooking personality, start with one of their books.
If you really think you’d like to start cooking in the advanced class, you can’t do better than Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home. It covers kitchen basics, like how to quarter a chicken, is well reputed, big as can be, and expensive to boot. If that’s what you’re really looking for.