Your Continuing Cooking Education

The coffee table at our house

I have a Master’s degree in creative writing. But I’ve always said, the way I learned the most was by reading the great writers. Same with cooking.

I didn’t go to school for cooking. Most chefs didn’t. (Nor did William Faulkner or Virginia Woolf have Master’s degrees in writing.) I cooked in restaurants when I was a younger man. But I learned the most by reading, observing, studying what the great chefs were doing and doing that too, and by trial and error.

Here’s the recommended reading list for Cooking 101 with Professor Skinny Girls:

• Saveur magazine
Not only is this publication impossibly beautiful, winning countless awards. Every issue is like a vacation to faraway places to eat foods from the finest restaurants to the best street stalls. Its recipes will take you there.

• Serious Barbecue
Adam Perry Lang’s bible of barbecue is indispensable if for no other reason than to learn the dressing of the cutting board. It will change your grilling forever.

• Coco & A Day in the Life of El Bulli
These two books, pictured on the coffee table above (under stuff), are used for sheer inspiration. For lack of insanely expensive restaurant equipment (see my earlier post, “Good Gadget, Bad Gadget Pt. III,” for more on that), I would likely never be able to make a single thing out of either one, but they stimulate magical ideas. And magical ideas are the beginning of great cooking.

• The Vincent Price Cookbook
My mom worked with Vincent Price during her starlet days. This book, whose actual title is “A Treasury of Great Recipes,” is a collection of menus and recipes from the world’s great restaurants circa 1965, and was a staple of our kitchen when I was growing up. From its pages came such elemental dishes of my childhood as cold cucumber soup (recipe below), stuffed cabbage leaves and gazpacho. Mom’s copy is frayed and no longer has a cover. I have purchased several copies for friends and loved ones on eBay. Though some would argue for “Joy of Cooking,” from a creative standpoint I believe this should be the cornerstone of your kitchen library.

• Ratio
Also pictured on the coffee table above. This is an interesting book exploring the science of ratios in cooking. Along with “Joy of Cooking,” this is good for helping you understand the basics from which you can build.

• Wine Spectator magazine
Simple, intelligent and accessible, this is one of the best ways to find out about great buys in wine, learn about grapes and regions, etc. An affordable twice-a-month education in wine.

• Nobu the Cookbook
Nobu Matsuhisa has revolutionized the way we think of Japanese cooking. You have him to thank for the Spider Roll and spicy anything. Besides teaching you to fuse butter into your Japanese cooking, this book — or any of Nobu’s many cookbooks — features the perfect recipes for such basics as sushi rice, tempura batter and spicy sauce.

• Time/Life “Foods of the World” cookbooks
Another one you can pick up on eBay. I was fortunate — my mom gave me her set. Maybe yours will, too. Published in the late 1960s and early 70s, this series remains my go-to source for recipes and information on less-common international cuisines such as African, Russian, Viennese and Caribbean.


Starlet mom

• Mom
You can’t underestimate what you can learn from Mom. Watching my mom gave me my start in the kitchen. Give yours a call or shoot her an email, ask for a good recipe for dinner. It might help your cooking, and it’ll make her feel loved. If yours isn’t available,  you can email mine.

• Honorable mentions:
Among the countless other cookbooks I consult regularly and which you may want to consider adding to your library are the Charlie Trotter cookbooks (i.e. “Meat,” “Seafood,” “Vegetables”), Rick Bayless’ “Mexico One Plate at a Time,” “The French Laundry Cookbook” by Thomas Keller, any of the Culinaria regional books, José Andres’ “Made in Spain” and Mario Batali’s “Molto Italiano.”

*   *   *

Cold Cucumber Soup
as served at the classic Scandia in Los Angeles, which closed in 1989
from A Treasury of Great Recipes, Vincent Price, 1965

serves 6

3 cucumbers, peeled
2 tbsp. butter
1 leek, white & lightest green part only, sliced
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. flour
3 cups chicken stock
salt & pepper
1 tsp. mint or dill, chopped
1 cup cream
juice 1/2 lemon

Slice 2 cucumbers and sauté in a large saucepan gently with leeks and bay leaf in butter for about 20 minutes, until tender but not browned. Stir in 1 tbsp. flour. Add 3 cups chicken stock and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Let soup cool then puree in a blender and strain through a fine sieve. Chill.

Seed the third cucumber and grate on a cheese grater (large holes). Add to soup along with cream and lemon juice. Stir in chopped mint or dill and salt and pepper to taste. Chill in fridge for another 30 minutes or so before serving.

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 00:41:41



  2. Ben
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 00:44:34

    My wife always teases me for tottering into the kitchen, gathering together a few cookbooks, and dragging them back to the couch where I proceed to read them like novels. I too have Keller’s books, but I have Bouchon and French Laundry. I bought Reynaud’s “Pork & Sons” which has inspired me to make a roasted shoulder with milk jam that I need to tackle before warm weather makes that a bad idea. (Which reminds me, I need to buy a sausage stuffer attachment for my KA so I can churn out some fresh sausages.) Psilakis’ “How to Roast a Lamb” is a much appreciated tome. And I know this is terrrible, but I really appreciate Ina Garten’s basics. Her Lemon Roast Chicken with burnt onions and fried croutons is off the hook. Oh, you absolutely must make the Rosemary Focaccia in the Bread Bible. If you do not have the recipe, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. It has a ratio of flour/water of 1.0/1.135 and it makes the most addictive focaccia ever.


    • scolgin
      Mar 11, 2011 @ 00:57:11

      Yeah, my perfect Saturday consists of watching some cooking shows, reading some cookbooks, then making something that I’ve been inspired to do for dinner. The new(er) Keller book, Ad Hoc, is pretty great too. No need to be ashamed of the Contessa, she’s a good cook. They come in all shapes, sizes and philosophies. I like to ask little old ladies for their best cooking tips.


  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 03:01:25

    you could ask your little old lady sister for some recipes 😉 I’m a great cook…


  4. Greggie
    Mar 11, 2011 @ 03:44:23

    Many years ago there was a butcher shop on Melrose in West Hollywood near where I lived. Several times I ran into Vincent Price there, usually engaged in conversation with the butcher/owner.


  5. paul
    Mar 15, 2011 @ 14:14:05

    Since we are inundated with Cassava in our little neck of the FLA woods, I was very excited to find a section of the new Saveur dedicated to that starchy tuber. As I read the article I was even further delighted to find a connect to your list of books–The Time-Life Foods of the World–mentioned herein. Seems like this weekend may be time to head out to the Winter Park Art Festival and make a batch of Muhogo Tamu with the exception of the substitution of pork for the boneless chuck. Give my best to your Mom and Bruce. Also, Lori and I found the best little restaurant when we were in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago–just off of Royal in the French Quarter–called the Gumbo Shop. Apparently been around forever and a locals’ choice for a place to eat which says a lot.


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