Sharing stuff that I like, cooked, ate, did… you get the idea.
One of the most onerous tasks of cooking can be to keep track of recipes that you want to try and remembering to obtain all the ingredients for those recipes when you’re purchasing ingredients. I’ve moved away from a recipe-centric method of cooking in recent years, partially because I am terrible at sticking to a shopping list and also because I’ve dramatically increased my shopping at local farmer’s markets and purchasing fresh, sustainable food. Rather than unloading sacks of groceries, finding the receipt, and lamenting the impulse buys, it is rewarding to give into impulse purchases at the market and bring home produce that simply looks great. But how do you assemble your purchases into meals that appear well designed? Cookbooks that don’t have recipes. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? Wrong.
These cookbooks are excellent references, and for very different purposes, but I’d suggest that anyone that cooks, even occasionally, have a similar set in their collection to serve the following three purposes:
What you’re in the mood for: Perhaps a soup sounds good, or piece of meat with a sauce, or a salad dressing. These types of recipes all have a basic formula of how they are constructed, and a book like Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio is a great resource of where to start. Furthermore, the recipes are scalable. Only have one egg, but want to make fresh pasta? You can figure out how much flour should be added, or make pie crust for one or twenty.
How to cook it: these are the little tips that help you know if you’re doing things right. There are several books along these lines, but I use Harold McGee’s Keys to Good Cooking (this may mostly be because it’s an autographed copy, but I digress). This book is full of short summaries of information that Mr. McGee has provided over the years through his books and columns, including techniques and substitutions. It’s easy to pick up and flip through a chapter that relates to what you’re planning on cooking and gain some confidence in the process before you start.
Ingredients you have on hand. This is ultimate foundation of cooking when you don’t have a recipe. You’ll find The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg on my bookshelf in a well-worn groove. I use this book because you simply flip to an ingredient you have and a list of complementary ingredients appears below, along with some classic combinations and words of advice from chefs. Did you just bring home eight ears of corn, some peppers, beets, and leeks from the market? This book will help you figure out how to use them best.
There are many other books available to help with these tasks, and these are simply the ones I own. With these as references, turning out a great meal with no extra trips to gather ingredients is an easy accomplishment.