5 Books Every Cook Should Have


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To try orange ginger roasted chicken from The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen, click here for the recipe.

When I have too much time on my hands, which is not very often, I go through little lists in my head of "If I had to choose five": my five favorite books of fiction, my five favorite pieces of art in my house, etc. Recently, I thought of my five favorite cookbooks. My lists seem to remain pretty much the same, but this one has just changed. Last week I received a copy of Rebecca Katz's new cookbook with Mat Edelson. Before I tell you the name of this book, I want to tell you how impressed I was with it.

I have been writing this article in my head for days and finally can put pen to paper. Last Friday was the final day of Fall Pilgrimage, and I was able to retire my heavy hoop skirt. When Saturday came I was able to wear something I am much more comfortable in: an apron. Having an audience of eight for a fall evening cooking class, I decided to discuss some of my thoughts with my guests as we made a savory Creole fish stew. After reading more of the book and talking titles with my guests, within two days I have gone from the idea of calling this article "cooking to cure," emphasizing breast cancer awareness month, now to "five books every kitchen should have."

Finding the best Junior League books would follow the same rule as ordering sweet tea: Never order one from a state that does not have an SEC team.

I am not abandoning the importance of this month being Breast Cancer Awareness Month. On the contrary, I am trying to reach more people. There is not one person reading this article who has not already been touched by cancer. If we don't have a family member, then it is a co-worker or a best friend, or a neighbor. This is why I have put this book on my list of books I will always have in my kitchen. Although this book is titled The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery, I am telling you, it is so much more. It is a culinary Rx reference and an encyclopedia of food to help with many ailments.

I think every mother can use this book just to nurture her family when they have common colds, flus, and routine ailments. Every friend can use it to prepare something for other friends when they are ailing. Most importantly, it has recipes that are truly appealing and make you hungry when you read them. The author refers to that as the "yum factor".

As I read this book I was wishing I had it before now. I have two sisters that have had breast cancer (both in remission, thankfully) and now my mother has another form of cancer. Trying to care for someone going through treatment to me is like walking in a minefield. As much as I love to cook and to nurture everyone I love, I am fearful of preparing something that might make them feel worse instead of better. This book frees me from that. Already I feel more knowledgeable and inspired.

Don't let the title limit you to thinking you only need this book if someone you love has cancer. Think of it as a good reference book for cooking to cure.

Every kitchen should have:

1) A good reference book. Always on the top corner by the wall on my armoire in the den is La Varenne Pratique, because when I need it, I need it. A book like this covers everything from how to carve a ham and how to fillet a fish to the proper way to scramble an egg and a few basics of pastry. It is 500 pages of answers to most culinary questions. I attended this school and this book is like a refresher course every time I pick it up.

2) A pastry book. Next to La Varenne Pratique is The American Baker by Jim Dodge. He has a way of taking the fear out of baking. I also like books you really learn from. In the beginning of this book, he covers the topics of seasonal ingredients, complementary tastes and textures, clarity of flavor, simplicity, and promises of pleasure. Any pastry chef who gets into these topics before recipes has my respect, and his recipes work.

3) A Junior League book. Mixed in with many of my favorite cookbooks are several editions of Come on In. My favorite is from the Jackson, Mississippi Junior League. Maybe this is where the southern belle in me comes out. I would think finding the best Junior League books would follow the same rule as ordering sweet tea: Never order one from a state that does not have an SEC team.These books typically have about 100 recipes for dips and party appetizers for the home cook, but like a sassy Betty Crocker, they cover everything with more flavor and spice. They are always tested, and as much as I tease my friend Doris Ann Benoist that she has never made an entrée in her life--she has entertained for years with just dips--I always enjoy her latest dip.

4) An Italian technique book. My pick is Giuliano Bugialli's Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking. This book is a culinary history book, and also includes techniques. I have always believed if you can master French cooking and Italian you have the basic knowledge to venture into all the other cuisines. Remember, I am trying to limit this list to five. (You can substitute your favorite book here.)

5) A book to nourish loved ones. The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen: Nourishing, Big Flavor Recipes for Cancer Treatment and Recovery--This is a book I have added to my shelf and it will always be within reach. I think this book could be called many things--a mother's handbook to nourishing your loved ones or cooking to cure. I know my family and friends will benefit from my new favorite book the next time I need to cook something to make them feel better.

Which cooking books do you find indispensable? Tell us in the comments.