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Peter’s Five Most Influential Cookbooks

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Last week, I described my five most influential cookbooks. I had such a great response to the list – thanks to everyone who commented and wrote with their favorite cookbooks! I’ll be putting some of those on my next Christmas list.

At the time, I asked Peter to name his five most influential cookbooks. Our subsequent conversation went as follows:

Peter: Most influential, or favorite?

Jessie, having not chosen her own yet: I don’t know. Does it really matter?

P: Of course it does! A cookbook can be influential without being a favorite if it taught you something, but you don’t use it much now or you don’t like the recipes in it, or if it taught you a foundational cooking technique. Or, you could have a cookbook with your favorite recipe, but it doesn’t blahblah stand out bla-de-blah cooking gibble wibble blah blah blah …

(At least, that’s how it sounded to me.)

J, not listening: So, what’s your list?

P: Well, [proceeds to list about fifteen different books].

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J: … No. Just, no.

While I won’t be winning wife-of-the-year-award, I did get Peter to narrow down his list to FIVE books, only two of which we have on hand.

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And so, in his own words, Peter’s five most influential cookbooks (all images from Amazon links):

(1) Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual by Klutz Kids

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My first ever cookbook. I only remember making two recipes out of it (which I made repeatedly) – a “fried” chicken coated in cornflakes, and disgustingly rich brownies (Jessie: Having tried these, I disagree with the adverb and wholeheartedly agree with the adjective). Fried-like chicken has always been a part of my life.

(2) James Peterson’s Sauces

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In the first year out from college, having made only cornflake chicken and disgustingly rich brownies, I was looking for a bit more variety and came across a recipe for teriyaki sauce. It was a transformative experience. I had no idea that sauces like that could a) be made so easily, and b) so completely change the nature of a dish. In search for ideas on different sauces, I decided to get this book. It was nothing like what I was expecting. First, most of it went way over my head. Second, and most importantly, it wasn’t just a collection of recipes I could follow to the letter. Instead, this book showed me that there could actually be a reasoned process behind the generation of a recipe, rather than a happy happenstance of random ingredients. I read it cover to cover over winter break, quizzing my unfortunate Mom on the finer details of classic French saucemaking in the process. This is the one that opened the door to all the later cookbooks that came flooding in (Jessie: That is a very appropriate way to describe what happened).

(3) The Chinese Kitchen, by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo

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Probably due to a fabulous restaurant being in my hometown, my favorite cuisine has always been southeast Asian. The problem for me was that the whole process seemed extremely exotic. Most of the ingredients were unfamiliar, leaving me utterly in the dark about how to replicate those flavors at home. This book was the first one to show me how to recreate some of my favorites and began to help me get a grasp on this style of cooking. Several books later and I’ve built up a formidable repertoire, but if it hadn’t been for the first, I might never have got there.

(4) The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart

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I’ve always loved a good bread. Like the James Peterson book above, this is the dispositive source for teaching how and why various things happen with breadmaking. It was a little intimidating to start my breadmaking career with this book, but luckily the ingredients are cheap so the mistakes aren’t costly!

(Jessie: Peter is a huge Peter Reinhart fan. He wanted me to show off his personalized Peter Reinhart bookplate, so here we are:

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Now THAT’s a proud cookbook owner.)

(5) Think Like a Chef, by Tom Colicchio

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I worked through most of this book while Jessie was away in China. While I’d already cooked many things by this point, and was beginning to branch out on my own a bit, this one really pushed that envelope and got me comfortable with moving beyond the confines of a recipe.

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So, there you have it! The most influential cookbooks of a man who owns 75+ cookbooks. Have you every cooked from any of these? It’s interesting our lists don’t overlap at all, probably because our cooking styles are so different (Peter: meticulous, measured, and always mouthwatering; Jessie: quick and quixotic in execution).

Have a great weekend, everyone!

14 Comments

  1. Hahaha this post made me laugh! I would love that Peter Reinhart book, I am really scared to try anything bread-related (and I ADORE bread, you’ve no idea) so something not very intimidating but with recipes that look like the real thing would be great.

    This post also reminded me of my mum’s face when I suggested we buy a 3-year old boy an easy-bake oven as a gift… it was revulsion that a boy would ever find enjoyment in cooking! And here’s Peter asking his mum about the intricacies of French sauces! 🙂

    1. lol Christa! I think an Easy-Bake oven makes a great gift 🙂 And I bet you could make any of the bread recipes!

  2. Haha, such a good idea to post about both of your contrasting styles 🙂 I heard that it takes 10 000 hours of practice to master any kind of skill…sounds like you guys have mastered cooking!

    Have a lovely weekend 🙂

  3. Mmm, tell me more about the ‘You CAN Eat Chiles Everyday’ book from the cartoon!

    1. Are you looking for permission? 🙂

  4. AHhhh I’m so jealous of Peter’s bookplate from Peter Reinhart! SO jealous.

    I just happen to have my name printed in Peter Reinhart’s “The Joy of Gluten Free, Sugar Free Baking”. . . I was a recipe tester for it.

    1. We both thought about being recipe testers for that one – that’s so awesome you did it!

  5. Aren’t our Hubbies just so wonderful at times…a little difficult to get answers from…but in the end, they finally come through. LOL.

    I envy the Peter Reinhart bread book…on my wishlist since Christmas. Oh well, Easter is coming soon…crossing my fingers. I also have a few favs regarding Peterson.

    Alright Jessie…I’ll be going to take a sneak peek at your last post cookbook selections ;o) A little behind as usual.

    Have a great week.
    Claudia

  6. Great post!!
    I would have to say that Ellie Krieger is someone that really inspires me and I love her cookbooks. It’s great to see an RD pave the way for us!!!

    1. I completely agree! 🙂

  7. Simply Life says:

    I won that bread baking book in a giveaway and it ended up being one of my most helpful cookbooks!

  8. Nina King says:

    Peter, have a look at this one:The Science of Good Cooking (Cook’s Illustrated Cookbooks)

    1. Peter: Thanks, Nina – I’ll check it out!

  9. Hmm I’m wondering now if I could choose a top five…

    I’m loving the BBA! How super cool that Peter got it autographed!

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