A must read for you in Publisher’s Weekly this week [thanks Tom Turner]. 

Serious question to home cooks out there: what kind of cookbooks DO you want?  And if I were to take on another cookbook project, what would you like it to be.  Please respond if you have time, I’d love to know. 

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136 Wonderful responses to “Cookbook Writers and Wannabes”

  • Greg.Turner

    I’d like to see more cookbooks that talk about cooking’s fundamental building blocks. And a cookbook that says it’s ok to experiment. And fail.

    I’d be interested to see a cookbook that took single, simple ingredients and provided several takes on the same recipe. You know what else would be cool? Flow charts of traditionally melded flavors. Arranged by region.

  • Art

    Two humble suggestions:

    1) An Italian Cook Book featuring NO pasta and NO Tomato Sauce. Something that will let people experience the MANY fine Italian dishes that contain neither.

    2) A Caribbean/Floribbean Cookbook. Probably bastardized by more restaurants than any other cuisine on Earth. How many of us have gone to a “Caribbean” Restaurant only to discover the only thing “Caribbean” about it is the absurd names they think of for the cocktails?

    REAL Caribbean and Floribbean are perfect for the home-cook. Please include a list of GOOD Caribbean/Floribbean restaurants as an addendum.

  • kristin

    The kind of cookbook that is just more than a cookbook. It informs. Little sidebars of information about figs and the different types and the nutritional value or a quickie sidebar about preserved lemons and a recipe on how to go about making them. I really like to read my cookbooks and learn from them.

  • Kansas City rube

    I don’t know if “The Fifth Quarter” already has this covered but I think a great choice would be a definitive offal cookbook with Consentino. I’d definitely buy it.

  • brian

    I’d say my most used cookbook published in the last few years is Rick Bayless’s Mexican Everyday. In the last 15 years? Patricia Wells Trattoria. Both books focus on fundamentals, while helping enlighten the reader on slightly simplified versions of classical tasting dishes that taste great. I think Gordan Ramsay does a great job in his Fast Food, and Sunday Lunches cookbooks as well, although they are catered to a country with a slightly different palate and grocery selection than ours. Swing the focal lens on some Keller flavor combinations that you could realistically prep and cook in an hour. ( or see Bayless’s ingenious use of the slow cooker for other ideas, I make those things all the time. )

    Another personal favorite is revisiting the classics from The New York Times Cookbook and American Cookery. Slight updating, voila, totally useful recipes that somehow feel like comfort food to anyone over thirty…

  • thespian

    I really want a ‘Cooking for One’ cookbook that isn’t by one of the ‘open a can of stock and add things’ girls. Every cookbook out there seems to be oriented towards cooking for a family or assumes you of course have a fabulous social group who comes over for dinner, with dinners in 4 portions. That’s pretty tedious to get through by the third meal of the stuff. I wouldn’t even mind it being a slim book that just discusses the basics of how to scale things down (there are some things that you can just quarter, when making one, and there are some things, especially butters and oils, where the proportions need to be reduced but not on a straight divisible level. Some spices can’t be reduced a full quarter, or they disappear, etc.).

  • Doodad

    Wow, thanks for asking Ruhlman. I am working through Tony’s Les Halles cookbook and expect to get the French Laundry cookbook for my birthday next week (hint hint wifey).

    What I like are books that show basic prep in one section (yes how to debone a chicken) and then what to do with the parts in a useful, economical, family budget way. Show me how to make good food that I can spin into other things as leftovers. I can buy a whole pork shoulder, but what are my choices in using it? The greatest help is a DVD included that SHOWS what is supposed to be done and how the prep should go even if the finished dish is not elegant.

    Then, explain why I am doing certain things whether classic or a new twist. I need to cook the pineapple prior to marinating with proteins because the enzymes degrade it, e.g.

    Just my 0.02

  • SunshineGrrrl

    You wrote in Making of a Chef about one of your teachers having a sheet of formulas and how that was enlightening to what you were doing. I’d love to see that sheet maybe as a tear page or some such and some examples of what you and others like to do with those basic formulas. And as always history, etc on each is always a lot of fun. I’d buy that in a heart beat.

  • FoodPuta

    My own interest, would be books on techniques, and the selection of ingredients. Allow the reader to be creative with some confidence. By learning HOW something works, not just put these items together, exactly measured.
    I feel good when I make something, that I thought was my idea, not just copying someone Else’s. Hell, if you can write a book, that describes the technique of combining Cheese with Pasta, and at the end, I personally name that dish “FoodPuta’s Macaroni & Cheese” I would be a legend in my own mind.

    Oh, and some awesome food-porn pictures always helps.

  • Tags

    I’d like to see you talk to Alice Waters about a cookbook highlighting sustainable suppliers, with plenty of backstory and pix of the folks and farms.

  • misuba

    I’d love to see a cookbook focused on taking some of the techniques and ingredients used in so-called “molecular gastronomy” and bringing them to the home cook – in the form of both fancier dishes, and stuff that’s less fancy than it is fun.

  • Fiat Lux

    As a home cook, I can’t tell you how many nights I come home, look at the staples in the pantry, and wearily wonder what else I can do with what’s already on hand.

    I love my cookbook collection and when I have the time, I have no problem going out and picking up (or preparing) the special extras I need for a particular menu, but on any given night, I’d love a book full of ideas on what do to with my standard pantry items.

    Yes, I know, that’s wandering into ’30 Minute Meals’ territory. I guess what I’m looking for is a book of more sophisticated recipes, but not so much so that you need to get a lot of specialty items to pull off a meal.

  • theFrog

    I’d love a “cooking for one/two” type book that doesn’t take me for a can’t cook/completely mediocre cook.

    Another book I’d love to see takes a bit of explaining. There’s the concept that in cooking, you can have two of the following three: Good, Cheap, or Fast. I have, personally seen a lot of “good/fast” books (though, “good” is awfully subjective). I’ve seen a lot of “cheap/fast” books as well. What I haven’t been able to find AT ALL, is a “good/cheap” cookbook (similar to what Doodad is talking about). Sort of cooking like restaurants do, where you use EVERYTHING to make amazing good with the idea of getting every penny out of every ingredient we buy.

    I’ve been seeing this sloppy trend of cookbooks with appealing, fast cooking recipes, but having me buy shortcut (ie. expensive) items to make the recipe. Spare me the shortcuts… tell me the long-cuts, even if it means that I’m spending all day prepping, chopping, making broth, etc, and ultimately using every last speck of that ingredient to make something (or maybe several somethings) divine and worth the money spent.

  • Rachel

    I have probably 100 cookbooks, ranging from niche things like “slow cooker for two,”ethnic cookbooks, and diet cookbooks, to more like the doubleday cookbook. My favorites are the ones like Doubleday and America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook. I like the test kitchen, because I know they’re going to tell me why the recipe is what it is and I know there’s a lot of trial and error behind it. I also know it has almost everything in it. I enjoy sort of researching recipes (well, not on a Wednesday night at 6 and nobodys eaten, but sometimes) and the Test Kitchen cookbooks really help, because they always explain why you really need to make a special trip to the grocery store to get that one weird ingredient they call for.

    As far as good/cheap/quick, try one called “cheap and easy” it’s small, but its great!

  • Victoria

    I’ve got enough recipes in the cookbooks I have. And unless something is totally innovative or creative, I’m not really interested in more ways to whip up a pasta dish using stuff I have in my fridge or pantry. Or cook a steak, or grill a piece of chicken. I want something different.

    I want a cookbook of nothing but side dishes. Poor, neglected side dishes. More ideas on what I can do to make those parts of a meal less boring than steamed veg and baked/mashed/roasted potaotes. And I want some general information on what kind main it pairs best with. Something light? Something rich? White or red meat? You get ideas over the years, of what “goes” with what, but it’d be nice to have a culinary outline for why you don’t serve certain things in the same meal, or why one prep makes a veggie a better pair for grilled chicken as opposed to a steak. You pick up bits and pieces of it by trial and error or “suggested” pairings from magazines, but I want ONE book that teaches me the basic knowledge and lets me run with it, and use it even beyond that book.

  • Eddie

    I’d like a cookbook that focuses on ratios, where everything is broken down into its most basic elements. That coupled with inspirational ideas like Mark Bittman’s 101 Summer Express (from the New York Times) is a book I would find very useful. The fewer ‘recipes’ the better. I want to learn new techniques, I don’t want to be told to add an 1/8 of a teaspoon of cayenne pepper to anything.

  • sorchar

    A cookbook for parents and older kids with simplified versions of classic cuisine – something that lays a good basic foundation of techniques for kids aged about 11 or so and up, who are ready for something beyond mac and cheese.

  • Colleen

    I would love a book of recipes, ideas, etc. for cooking for one-two people, as someone suggested above (and nothing in there that says “make this big dish and freeze it”). I enjoy preparing dinner every night and would like interesting recipes with one-two servings.

    I also liked the idea someone mentioned above about a book of side dishes, particularly vegetable ideas.

  • ECK

    I get alot of recipes online (to counteract the article). I like websites such as cooks.com because it has a wide variety of recipes by regular people, not just chefs/tv personalities, and so I know the recipes will taste good. That’s number one, recipes that taste good (I’ve sold many a cookbook because the recipes sounded good on paper, but did not taste good).

    I’d also be interested in a cookbook for one or two person meals. I like entertaining, but more often than not I’m just making dinner for a couple people.

  • Kal

    I’ll second Sunshinegrrrl’s interest in the ratio sheet. I have been pining for one of those ever since reading your description of it. I’m a geek at heart and only began cooking once I’d been introduced to Alton Brown, and the concepts I’m still fuzzy on seem like ones ratios would clarify for me nicely.

    I also like the suggestion of freedom in ratios — i.e. once you know the basic concept, you can add and tweak ad infinitum. Some of my favorite recipes are things like basic muffins that can be easily turned savory, sweet, etc.

    General things I like in cookbooks: essential things that can be made ahead and kept indefinitely (stock, pancake mix, etc.) followed by recipes utilizing those ingredients. “Chef tricks” (I’m inordinately amused by each chef’s take on trussing chicken, for example). I really like it when the personality of the chef/author shines through — I enjoy the French Laundry cookbook, the Les Halles cookbook, and Jamie Oliver’s cookbooks in different ways, but I like all of them because I know what tone I can expect when I open them.

  • Judith in Umbria

    I’m reading this because I am writing one. Over two years of blogging, I discovered that lots of earnest cooks didn’t know important basics– many of them mentioned above. So, sure there are recipes, I am not McGee, but there are also descriptions on how to buy what there is and turn it into what you need. These are thing great grandmother knew because she had to. Today’s cook has tools great grandmother would find astounding. Use them.

    What to do with the person who says “I could never do that?” I think that person was never going to really cook anyway. Too bad, because how else are you going to know for sure what you are putting into your body?

  • Mark

    Charcuterie is the book I use the most in my kitchen, but I also work in a restaurant so maybe I’m a bit biased. My vote would be “Charcuterie Continued: Having your Pig and Eating it Too.”

    I generally tend to migrate towards seafood in the cookbook section, as well as meat, hoping there will be one focusing on pork, as well as less expensive cuts of meat. I think seafood cookbooks are the ones that people pick up most often to look at because there’s a pretty picture on the cover, but they often get put back on the shelf because they’re too intimidated by them and don’t think they could be replicated at home. Maybe something along the lines of “Seafood Simplified” with some techniques from chefs that can be done in a home kitchen. Nothing too “high-tech,” but things that can be easily done. I find that the dishes I’ve done successfully in very high-volume environments are the ones that can be done the most easily at home since they have less steps and most of the prep can be done ahead of time. And if the focus were on sustainable seafood, that would be a bonus.

  • cook.bot

    I’m amazed by how many people are requesting books on techniques. Have you never seen Pepin’s “La Methode” and “La Technique”? Concise text with copious photos that show what every step should look like. Working your way through them (or going back to them for reference) will teach you pretty much anything you need to know, from knife skills to dough methods… well, at least up to the era of Adria’s foams & bubbles.

    The two books were later consolidated into “Complete Techniques”, but for my money the two separate volumes are more complete. Expensive new, but fairly easy to find used, too (eBay, etc).

    I’m a geeky cook and love the Alton-type stuff and the comparative-testing prefaces to recipes in ATK’s “The Best Recipe”, so I’d love to see any book that applied that comparison method. Maybe localized by region or country?

  • Skawt

    Although my skill set is pretty advanced in the kitchen, what I would like to see is a cookbook that makes high-end, elegant recipes accessible to average people. It’s hard to get regular people to break out of the mac and cheese mold when you have people like Rachael Ray promoting mediocre crap to them.

  • Katherine B.

    Like so many other folks here have said, I would also like to see a cookbook offering quick, fairly cheap recipes. Hubby and I are trying to ditch the processed food, instead using cheap(ish) fresh foods. Recipes using fresh or frozen (when they get expensive in the dead of winter here in Cleveland.) vegetables and fresh herbs. What I don’t want is “home cookin'” type recipes or great food drowned in any kind of gravy. We need good food. Simple. Fast. Reasonably priced. Thanks.

  • Shannon

    I would love to see a cookbook that teaches how to cook the fundamentals perfectly, like roast chicken, tomato sauce, etc. And then give ideas on how to expand on each of those basic meals to make them more intricate.

    This way if you have a family weeknight dinner, or a fancier dinner party, you have recipes in one cookbook to choose from.

    I would also like to see a “cookbook” that teaches proper cutting techniques, food handling techniques, food prep techniques. Basically a book that teaches the home cook how to prepare meals quick and efficiently even if the meal is time consuming.

  • Marce

    I think the best cookbook I´ve bought so far is The Cooks´Book (Jill Norman Ed., http://www.amazon.com/Cooks-Book-Jill-Norman/dp/1405303379/ref=sr_1_4/102-2163354-2614541?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1189866660&sr=8-4
    because it is my idea of a cooking bible with tons of techniques and basic and not-so-basic recipes explained and pictured, and with a each chapter written by a famous chef who specializes in that area (i.e. Adriá on foams, Pierre Hermé on desserts). So I´d definitely recommend that one to those of you looking for techniques (and this applies to both novice and advanced cooks… and no, they aren´t paying me hahaaha)
    As for what I´d want in a book, I´d say nutritional information, possible variations, the sort of footprint of the recipe so that the advanced cook can get ideas from it, a method or two and then play with it.

  • rockandroller

    I guess it depends on who you want to sell the cookbook to and what you want them to use it for. I have bought a lot of cookbooks that I’ve really enjoyed reading and looking through but have never cooked anything out of, including the Les Halles cookbook Vincent Guerithault’s and the Occidental Tourist. Why?

    For the amateur home cook, there’s either too many ingredients required, too much time and prep involved in making it, equipment or tools required that I don’t have, or a combination of those 3. I get the most use out of a cookbook where the recipes have a few ingredients that I probably already have on hand, supplemented by key ingredients that I can plan to purchase that week. Most home cooks don’t have pantries with absolutely everything at their fingers, all the time. If all I have to buy to make a good meal is maybe some lemons and a chicken because I have the other 4 things, that’s do-able. If I have to skip the saffron because there’s no way I’m buying that, substitute regular raisins because I don’t have both regular and golden, swap out rice for quinoa, swap out regular yellow onions for cippolinis, after a few more swaps and misses it’s not even the same dish and I just go, “well, I don’t have all the shit for that one, I’ll just make something else.”

    Most of my home cooking starts with whatever i’ve bought and have on hand, and then me trying to figure out a way to prepare and combine what I’ve got to make it tasty. If I know we need some meat and I take down italian sausage from the freezer, what do I do with it? I had intentions the last 2 days of preparing the recipe on the back of my box of polenta which included sausage, but I don’t have 3 of the ingredients and nothing to swap and I keep forgetting to stop at the store just to buy those things, so by the time I get home and am hungry and tired, we just say fuck it and go out. Meanwhile the sausage is languishing, and will either be hurriedly cooked and probably eaten plain/without a recipe, with the polenta going unused still, or I won’t get to it and I’ll throw it out.

    When I was learning to cook, one of the best cookbooks I had featured different cooking purposes and methods in sidebars next to the meal. Like if you could make it in the microwave (horror!), it had a picture of a microwave and the cooking time, so you knew right away if that was where you wanted to start. Some of my faves were “cook once, eat twice,” which provided enough for leftovers or the original recipe PLUS a tasty way to use the leftovers in another meal. It provided full menus for holiday meals and helped me to understand timing when preparing several dishes, which is the hardest thing to get, I think. It also broke down the nutritional guidelines, which was very helpful. The negative was that the recipes relied too much on processed food; canned soups and such, which I don’t like so I quit using the book as I got further and further away from processed foods. It didn’t try to be fancy, it just helped you put good food on the table for your family every single night, including special occasions. No foie, no home sausage making in my tiny apartment, no chutneys or saffron, just easy to make and very tasty food.

    I’d love to have another cookbook like that which was grouped by what you have on hand but NOT using processed foods at all, though those could be listed as subs if you don’t have the real thing on hand (such as canned chix broth, I know, the horror, but I use it in my stuffing every Thanksgiving and it’s always the dish that gets the most raves). Like, you could divide it into sections as a normal, traditional cookbook (meat, veg, etc.) but it would offer a “key” in the sidelines that gave you a clue whether or not you could or should even start making the recipe, offering good substitutions you might have on hand.

    Maybe there’d be a picture of a chicken. And then it would say, if you don’t have chicken, you can use THIS or THAT instead. Then it would have total prep time and cook time. THEN I would be able to pick what recipe to look at, knowing that I had a chicken and 60 minutes to devote, start to finish. Almost like a tour guide – if you have 1 day, go here. If you have 2 days, go here and here. Then, in the actual recipe, it would offer substitutions that you could make if you didn’t have the particular item on hand, or things that you could easily leave out that wouldn’t change the dish that much. Like this:

    1/4 c. raisins (or not, if you don’t have them on hand, or sub chopped dates)

    I would use the shit out of a cookbook like that.

  • ruhlman

    that’s an interesting but really tricky cookbook to pull off, rockandroller, but i like the idea.

    and i LOVE reading these comments–they are so interesting to me, and heartening, not only because i’m working on a fundamental techniques cookbook, but because people are interested in the fundamentals in the first place rather than recipes. it sounds like many people want to be able to put something delicious together with what they have on hand and the only way to be able to do that is to understand the base preparations underlying all of cooking.

  • Alan Fleetwood

    I second the suggestion for an all inclusive book on offal, an area definitely underrepresented at my local bookstores. There are smatterings on the subject here and there in all sorts of cookbooks but nothing definitive on the subject. Plus there seems to be growing interest/demand.

    I too am surprised by the amount of people asking for a book on technique – Jacque Pepin’s Complete Techniques as mentioned by another poster is excellent as are the books used for both the CIA & Cordon Bleu programs.

  • rockandroller

    Exactly. I don’t know how many times I called my mother so she could verbally walk me through carving up a chicken until I finally got it. I remember standing on a stool when I was a little girl and her showing me over and over how to make things like scrambled eggs on our old electric stove, and her explaining how electric, which she hated to cook on, holds the heat so you have to turn them off before they’re actually done and the remaining heat will finish cooking them, otherwise they’ll be dry and can burn. Every time she showed me how to make something she’d say, “Now pay attention, and you can do it next time.” It took me a long time to discover that everyone didn’t have a mother like this. Pity I was such a picky eater. I remember her watching Julia Child and reading this Charcuterie cookbook she bought for $2 that was published in 1968.

    Because my Dad had traditional values from the “old country,” he insisted she learn how to cook native dishes, which were all from scratch. So every week she had to make bread, homemade yogurt, etc. It was anathema in my house to ever buy store-bought phyllo, for example, you MAKE it, what are you, stupid? If not for my Mother, I would probably be like most of my friends/colleagues and have no interest in or clue about cooking. Not that I’m any gourmet, but I know we’re cooking up a lot better meals than my co-worker who feeds her kids McDonald’s twice a week and stuff like Louis Rich carving board turkey sandwiches on the other nights because she doesn’t know how to cook.

  • JoP in Omaha

    First, to the person who said “there are already techniques books out there” (Pepin, Cordon Bleu, etc.), yes, that’s true. And I have them and read them. But they tend to have few, if any dishes along with them, so as a novice cook, I’m left with a “now what?” feeling. And when I find some recpie that uses a method I want to try, it’s cumbersome to be referring to two or more books simultaneously–one for a recipe, one for a technque.

    Clearly, when writing a cookbook, a first decision is who the audience will be. The comments above illustrate that that the needs of a novice cook and an accoplished cook are quite different.

    It appears that many of us are looking for the same thing….teach us how to cook relatively simple, flavorful dishes using good quality ingredients. I, too, fall into that camp.

    I’m new to cooking, so I’m still recipe-dependent. I don’t yet have intuition about what flavors go well together. So, I want two things in a cookbook. One is a thorough explanation of a cooking technique (roasting, braising, etc.) followed by lots recipes that utlitize that technique. Sort of like what Alton Brown did in his first book, but with lots more recipes.

    The other thing I’m looking for in a cookbook is “quick and easy” that uses good quality ingredients, not convenience products. Flavorful, awesome dishes that can be prepared quickly after a long day at work. Ideally, scaled down to 2-4 servings.

    I think these two goals could be met in one book. I need “quick” (30-60 minutes) recipes for weekedays, but I like to do things that require longer cooking times or are more complex to create on weekends.

    I’ve found quick recipes in my CIA and Cordon Bleu cookbooks, but sometimes it’s difficult to scale them down to just a few servings. So I was thrilled when I stumbled upon these books that meet the criterion of “quick and easy quality food for two” fairly well: Eating Well Serves Two; Pop It In The Toaster Oven by Lois Dewitt, and The Gourmet Toaster Oven by Lynn Alley.

    Gourmet cooking in a toaster oven? Yes, it can be done. For example, tonight I’m going to try red snapper with capers and olives, I think. Toaster ovens aren’t what they used to be, so don’t snigger. They can do real cooking.

    Those looking for recipes for two that use quality ingredients might want to take a look at these books. So far, I’m pretty happy with them.

    Thanks for posing the question, Ruhlman. You hit upon a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (what I want from a cookbook), and most don’t meet my needs. Thanks for giving us the opportunity to sound off.

  • Bob

    My two favorite cookbooks are BITTERSWEET by Alice Medrich and MAKING ARTISAN CHOCOLATES by Andrew Garrison Shotts. Aside from both being about chocolate, they explain the whys and wherefores and give you a basis for experimentation and improvisation while encouraging you to go for it. If I could find a boneburner’s cookbook like that, I’d be all over it.

  • Tags

    How about a cookbook called “Ouch!” riddled with common mistakes which are then corrected in detail.

  • Skawt

    Ruhlman:

    Fundamentals are absolutely necessary. Don’t let my comments get in the way; I have professional training and know the fundamentals; I also have a slew of textbooks from school, as well as my notebooks, that cover pretty much all of the basics (and advanced skills as well).

    That being said, just because *I* have these things doesn’t mean everyone else does. And to make these skills accessible to regular folks that just want to be able to cook decent food without having to go to school for a year to learn how would be very welcome, I’m sure.

    I know you could pull it off. The market is pretty desperate for such books, especially when there’s so much drivel out there to stack it against.

  • eileen from OH

    What I would love is a book that helps you to develop new dishes of your own. I get creative and whip up something new – only to discover that one ingredient spoils it all. I’d love something that discusses flavors/ingredients that work together (and those that don’t!) and how to develop/build a recipe. Could include recipes as well, or basic combos that can serve as a foundation for a dish.

  • sister AE

    I love cookbooks. I have too many, including some I’ve only leafed through and have never cracked open again. There are cookbooks I read for the stories – some actually written in between the recipes, others written between the lines. I mostly pick these up at yard sales and if they are 50- or 60-years old (or more) so much the better! I don’t tend to cook from these because they are so far removed from my reality (although the chapters on how to manage your maids are priceless).

    But the cookbooks I use and love have some things in common. The ones I like best have time estimates for the recipes, even better when there are separate prep and cooking times. I cook from multiple books at once and having help making things all finish up at the same time is useful.

    The size of the type needs to be such that when I prop the book up on the counter, I don’t have to lean in really close to decipher the measurements.

    I don’t mind buying one or two special ingredients for a new meal. But if I feel I have to go on a safari to track down at specialty shops a whole basketful of stuff I’ve never used before and don’t know if I even like – I’m skipping that recipe.

    I am all for learning the basics, but if a recipe I am trying to use calls for me to flip back and forth in the book when incorporating a “basic” into the current recipe – that’s terribly inconvenient and I end up having to write out at least the list of ingredients & quantities in order to get through the recipe with the book still intact.

  • ruhlman

    skawt, I have professional training too and i can’t get enough of the fundamentals. you can keep getting deeper into them. i find recipes boring.

    There’s a small, cool book called The Basics, first published in Denmark or thereabouts. It’s impossible to find, say, custard if you wanted to but it’s a great book to browse through:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1933633182/ref=nosim/ruhlmancom

    and here’s the link to the combined edition of pepin’s classics La Technique and La Methode:

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1579121659/ref=nosim/ruhlmancom

    Eileen from OH, interesting idea and comment–can you name an example of an improvised dish that you ruined with one ingredient?

  • fiat lux

    ruhlman: i’m working on a fundamental techniques cookbook

    YAY! Sign me & skawt up for a copy.

    can you name an example of an improvised dish that you ruined with one ingredient

    Burning the garlic. A great way to ruin anything.

  • Skawt

    Ruhlman:

    Yes, I pretty much feel the same way about recipes, too. I typically use them for ideas, rather than to just follow them by rote. On the other hand, yeast-based dough recipes are very exacting. My baking and pastry instructors were very clear on the matter – B&P is not meant to be “guess-timated”. The measurement of ingredients must be precise or you can ruin a dough or cake.

    Since you’re doing a fundamentals cookbook, I hope you have a good section on stocks, soups and sauces. That’s pretty much my specialty. :)

  • jjob80

    In thinking about a new cookbook I remember taking a 5 day cooking class and the instructor framed each day’s lessons around a technique, such as braising, then we made recipes that required that type of cooking method. Perhaps a book that focuses on some basic cooking techniques, followed by recipes. Once you master braising, roasting, sauteeing, then you can take what you have in the pantry and fly with it.

    Seriously, anything you put out there…I will buy it!

  • RI Swampyankee

    My vote goes to fundamentals as well, including a section on what to have in your pantry and spice collection.

    Interesting. No one has yet called for you to do a cookbook on baking. Good. I’d rather have a cookbook with a really good seafood section (I’ve yet to find a decent seafood cookbook.) and a “fifth quarter” section.

  • Adele

    Michael,
    I 30th the motion for a fundamentals cookbook, and I’d like it to have a large seafood section. Interestingly, I’m comfortable making bouillibaise, (when I have time and funds)but not so comfortable cooking whole fish or even filets. I worry about overcooking and have decent cookware and knives — not that my cutting skills are fabulous — but no specialty items like a fish poacher.

    With regard to another of your posts, I hope you hear from Tony soon. You invite him to your city and into your home, introduce him to Harvey Pekar and then so little. I hope he wasn’t felled by some of the food he was exposed to on the last Top Chef episode.

  • The Purple Afghani

    Ruhlman: You could write a cookbook filled with “recipe portraits.”

    Interview a set of people that would have a fairly broad appeal (athletes, musicians, doctors, lawyers, politicians, whomever you wish), ask each one of them for a recipe that embodies them or their background, and then publish these recipes in a collection.

    Obviously, it would not be a cookbook of your recipes.

    Your skills as a journalist would render recipe portraits of others. Interesting others.

    I must admit, this idea stems from the “Feedback” section that’s on the last page of every edition of _Bon_Appetit_, where you can read the results of the editors’ interview with a famous person about their culinary interests and favorites.

    Basically, a “recipe portrait” collection would be a variation and expansion of the “Feedback” theme.

  • eileen from OH

    Re: recipes I’ve ruined. I can’t remember the exact recipes (since I wanted to forget ’em!) but I ruined an improvised sauce for sauteed chicken by adding tarragon (or too much tarragon). I was making the sauce and it was good, but needed “something”. And I thought “Aha, chicken and tarragon are yummo together!” (Forgetting that I wasn’t adding tarragon to just the chicken but to everything in the sauce.) It should have worked – except it didn’t and I didn’t have a clue WHY.

    I thought it may have been one herb-over-the-line-Sweet-Jesus since I love to play with herbs. And, okayokayokayokay – I have known to a tad heavy-handed with ’em. But I don’t even know if certain herbs shouldn’t be mixed and, if so, what those might be.

    I’ve also discovered, contrary to a firmly held former belief, that not every dish is enhanced with the addition of lemon juice.

    I use recipes as a starting off point but after that I find myself just blindly adding particular flavors that I like. Would be terrific to have a cookbook with some great flavor combo basics and WHY they work together – with recipes that use those flavors in different ways and textures and incorporate other ingredient flavor elements.

    And another section on which flavor combos don’t work and why.

    Hopefully, that makes sense!

  • jaye joseph

    So many of the recipes I cook come from the internet, specifically, Epicurious. I’m one of those people who says, “I’m in the mood for x.” Then I go to Epicurious, search for a recipe and then maybe look at a couple of other recipes and combine them to make my own. I probably do that half the time. Then about 25% of the time, I’ll go to a cookbook and cook something specifically because it sounds good (stuck on Super Natural Cooking right now), and the other 25% I go to a book because I want to learn a new technique or want to do something rather complicated (French Laundry or Charcuterie come to mind for that).

    I love a book that has a “tone”, and some story or a particular voice. Super Natural Cooking, Les Halles, French Laundry, all of these do that for me. I have Sauces, and I’ve yet to do anything from it because it’s so sterile, much like say, the Joy of Cooking.

    And cooking exciting, interesting food for one or two, that would be fantastic as well.

  • doodad

    Michael,

    In response to your question about ruining a dish with one addition. A technique can be wrong as well. I was following Tony’s stock recipe for the first time and my oven is obviously on the hot side.

    He wisely said no black, but did not indicate a time on the roasting of the marrow bones. I messed up both and proceeded to make inedible stock after a day and a half of hard work.

    As my daughter said, it smelled like death. And I embarrasingly agreed.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Ruhlman, whatever you do, I hope it includes good stories. I’m glad to know you’re working on a fundamentals book — it’s a lost art. I think my mother’s generation is the last one that learned how to cook from their mothers. We Boomers and Xers went off to college and didn’t necessarily follow the same “setting up housekeeping” patterns as our parents did, thus and we missed out on the basics. Before my grandmother died, she wrote down a lot of her techniques and methods — none of them recipes… just the hows and whys of the way she cooked. Why you don’t mix certain ingredients with others; how to balance ingredients for baking, or making a roux; how things should smell as they change in temperature… It’s one of my most treasured possessions.

    Learning the hows and whys from a writer like you would be accessible, smart, comfortable and familiar… and I’d be first in line the day that book came out.

  • Casey

    whatever topic you choose I hope you’ll include lots of stories. you’re a superb storyteller and I yearn for more.

  • LizC

    I bought Ramsay’s Sunday Lunch, the UK edition, and haven’t had a problem translating amounts or ingredients – I love it and am definitely in the market for more of his books. What I really like most about it though is that it includes entire meals; appetizer, main course, veggies and dessert. I’m working FT plus feeding a family of five and sometimes I just don’t have the energy to try and put things together creatively – it’s nice to just look at a full menu, plan my shopping and git’er done. Would definitely tend to prefer cookbooks that offered meal sets or plans.

    I do have cookbooks like LesHalles, Tru, FL, Michel Richard, Jean Georges, etc., and I do cook from them, I haven’t found them that daunting as far as ingredients and equipment goes, I just skip things that you can’t get in WI – like specialty veal cuts (can you believe it!! cow country!!) and seafood, but it takes a bit more effort to pull a meal plan together.

    I love the story books, but I realize those aren’t big sellers. One of my favorite old cookbooks is Eating Together by Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman (1984) which included reminiscences and recipes from both authors.

  • Kevin

    Ruhlman,

    I’m glad to hear that you’re working on a fundamentals cookbook. As a 24 year old who largely taught myself to cook (I’m an amateur, not a pro), I’ve come to appreciate that the way my generation has learned to feed itself is radically different from the way all previous generations have — and that this calls for a very different kind of cookbook than is frequently seen. In particular, I would note three changes in home cooking:

    1) People aren’t learning at their mother’s or grandmothers knee. Sure, I helped my (working) mother make cookies at Christmas-time, but I really started to cook for myself when I was in college and without anyone teaching me. Rather, a lot of basic technique I picked up from the Food Network. While television offers one way to transmit this knowledge, the fact that I had to turn to such media to learn basic techniques suggests that there is a niche to be filled where a generation ago there was not.

    2) Recipes proliferate on the internet, and particularly with Web 2.0, they can be reviewed, modified, and rated by the mass public (epicurious, etc). In many ways this has made the old-style cookbook irrelevant. One doesn’t need to know recipes — one needs to know the techniques to execute those recipes. I think this is why Bittman’s How to Cook Everything has so much draw amongst my friends. He only provides a couple of actual recipes for each food product, but does tell you how to do something with nearly everything. Similarly for this reason I’m a big fan of Colicchio’s “Think like a Chef.” He builds upon basic techniques, and suggests how to work various flavors and product combinations with those techniques.

    3) Straight men are the new home cook. While men have long dominated the restaurant industry, the majority of home cooking has traditionally fallen to women in our society, with men relegated to the grill. I think this may be changing. Amongst my group of friends in grad school, almost all of the guys cook and are avid about it. Part of this may be the particular socio-economic demographic which I inhabit, but its a trend I suspect will broaden in coming years. This leaves open yet another niche for cookbook writers: food that is masculine and doesn’t treat its male readers like idiots (“A Man, a Can, and a Plan”)

    My purpose isn’t to suggest that you write a specifically male cookbook, or a young person’s cookbook, or an internet cookbook, or to replicate any of the titles that I have listed above. However, I think that all of these social trends stress the importance of a high quality fundamentals/techniques cookbook that is meant for beginning chefs that aspire to be something greater — not just would be restaurant cooks (like Pepin’s books) or people who identify as cooking idiots.

    In that spirit, let me offer a few features that might work for at least my demographic:

    — Suggested variations (like Bittman’s “with minimal effort” section in his “The Minimalist cooks at home.” These provide ideas of what flavors work together and how to elaborate with the same basic technique without requiring a whole separate recipe, and allow readers to learn even when they are not making that specific recipe. In particular it would be helpful to know how certain substitutions or additions make a recipe more like one region of cooking versus another.

    — Integrated web content. Lots of textbook publishers have integrated web content, and the same could be done with a cookbook — especially to appeal to the web-2.0-saavy consumer. This could involve video demos (very helpful to learn, say, how to quarter a chicken) and comment feedback for the recipes in the book (like epicurious.com)

    — The story behind the recipe. Because recipes of all sorts are available online, the real added value that I find in cook books or cooking magazines is not the what but the why. In an era where many people go to farmer’s markets to find heirloom tomatoes and restaurants list the farm from whence their grassfed beef came, consumers these days seem to want to know the story behind the recipe. As a writer, this also would seem to be your competitive advantage. So if you’re giving technique, share with us how the Basques differ from the Catalonians or the Vietnamese from the Thai. Let us know how (and why) certain flavor combinations are associated with certain areas. In short, give us a cookbook that teaches us as readers and cooks how food can tell a story of a particular place, people and time.

  • Dennis

    I tend to buy three types of cookbooks:

    – technique/reference/science books: Pepin, McGee, Childs, and so on. I want to know what actually happening, why it works, things that will be applicable across all the cooking I do.

    – books whose recipes I think I can trust, and for the most part when I say this I’m talking about baking and/or preserving. This is why I buy books from the Cooks Illustrated folks, why I bought Charcuterie, books of cheesemaking, Reinhart’s book on bread baking, that sort of thing.

    – books where I may never make a single recipe in the book, or very few, but where the recipes are creative/ingenious/amazingly presented, and meticulously photographed, or come with great narrative. These are the books I look to for ideas and inspiration when I cook, and include a very wide range, from “Biker Billy Cooks With Fire” to “The French Laundry Cookbook.”

    The vast majority of what I buy falls into the last category, mostly because it’s very, very hard to qualify for that “trust” thing in the middle, and because the “classics” in the first category seem to be pretty widely recognized and on my shelf.

    That doesn’t get into the non-cookbook-but-still-food-related category, like Bourdain’s books or Kurlansky’s “Cod” and “Salt”, or even Pepin’s biographical stuff, which I also read a good bit of.

    Except when I’m baking, where I stick to recipes, most of what I cook is improvisational (I think I’m hardly alone there, either.) So I buy books that help me do that. The technique stuff gives me the mechanics, and all the rest is inspiration, which counts for a lot.

    I’d say your instincts have resulted in your books pretty good fit for my tastes, since I’ve actually bought all of your cooking related books so far. There isn’t a title from you in that first “techniques” category yet, if you want to go for the trifecta. 😉

  • TopekaCalgarian

    Wow! Guess you really kicked the anthill eh?

    I find so many comments above applicable to my own situation, and I sense each of us is at differing skill stages, so, I guess it goes to the audience you want to address and of course, scope. Tough call.

    Since, technique seems to be a recurrent theme in the thread, and yes, those classic books have been mentioned, many are dated mostly by technology, not technique. What I’m suggesting here is why not take the best of Pepin and make that into a multimedia show? Put it on a website! A section for technique, another section for recipes a section for this and that. After all, as mentioned above, how many (self included) have cook books that they’ve barely thumbed through? (Oh and BTW, Website – Yes, maybe you could also accomodate us with some Ruhlman humor as well).

    The website idea doesn’t have to reinvent what’s being done on other sites, but it can be your own style/take on any given subject. I should, I think, be instructive in tone a la Alton Brown.

    And while you’re at it, whether book or website, please also take into consideration that some/many of us here in the flyover territories of Topeka, Kansas or Resume Speed, Iowa have trouble finding the sometimes esoteric ingredients for recipes you’d find in French Laundry or even Les Halles. For those of us who want to elevate what we do in the kitchen, it can be frustrating!

    Good luck!

  • Julie

    Can you work on a Korean cookbook, please? One that has truly authentic and delicious recipes that have not been watered down. –Other than that, I tend to value cookbooks with at least a modicum of backstory. I don’t need a nonna story for every dish, but I don’t like it when recipes are presented out of thin air without any reasoning behind it. I want to know why it’s different, why it’s worth my time and why you cook it that way? I believe knowing about the process (i do love a brief summary of trials and tribulations)lends for more credibility and makes me more motivated to try that particular version. I think when people invest in a cookbook, they not only want recipes but want to learn the nuances behind choices, whether they be for technical or personally arbitrary reasons. –Along with others, I also think an explanation of how to downsize for two would be great. Most recipes are for six.

    I’m looking forward to your new book coming out this fall. Saw it on the Amazon forecast list and it looks very helpful.

  • Daphne

    I absolutely second what Marce said. Its exactly the type of cookbook I need too. One for the real world I live in.

    “For the amateur home cook, there’s either too many ingredients required, too much time and prep involved in making it, equipment or tools required that I don’t have, or a combination of those 3. I get the most use out of a cookbook where the recipes have a few ingredients that I probably already have on hand, supplemented by key ingredients that I can plan to purchase that week. Most home cooks don’t have pantries with absolutely everything at their fingers, all the time. If all I have to buy to make a good meal is maybe some lemons and a chicken because I have the other 4 things, that’s do-able. If I have to skip the saffron because there’s no way I’m buying that, substitute regular raisins because I don’t have both regular and golden, swap out rice for quinoa, swap out regular yellow onions for cippolinis, after a few more swaps and misses it’s not even the same dish and I just go, “well, I don’t have all the shit for that one, I’ll just make something else.”

    Most of my home cooking starts with whatever i’ve bought and have on hand, and then me trying to figure out a way to prepare and combine what I’ve got to make it tasty. If I know we need some meat and I take down italian sausage from the freezer, what do I do with it? I had intentions the last 2 days of preparing the recipe on the back of my box of polenta which included sausage, but I don’t have 3 of the ingredients and nothing to swap and I keep forgetting to stop at the store just to buy those things, so by the time I get home and am hungry and tired, we just say fuck it and go out. Meanwhile the sausage is languishing, and will either be hurriedly cooked and probably eaten plain/without a recipe, with the polenta going unused still, or I won’t get to it and I’ll throw it out.

    When I was learning to cook, one of the best cookbooks I had featured different cooking purposes and methods in sidebars next to the meal. Like if you could make it in the microwave (horror!), it had a picture of a microwave and the cooking time, so you knew right away if that was where you wanted to start. Some of my faves were “cook once, eat twice,” which provided enough for leftovers or the original recipe PLUS a tasty way to use the leftovers in another meal. It provided full menus for holiday meals and helped me to understand timing when preparing several dishes, which is the hardest thing to get, I think. It also broke down the nutritional guidelines, which was very helpful. The negative was that the recipes relied too much on processed food; canned soups and such, which I don’t like so I quit using the book as I got further and further away from processed foods. It didn’t try to be fancy, it just helped you put good food on the table for your family every single night, including special occasions. No foie, no home sausage making in my tiny apartment, no chutneys or saffron, just easy to make and very tasty food.

    I’d love to have another cookbook like that which was grouped by what you have on hand but NOT using processed foods at all, though those could be listed as subs if you don’t have the real thing on hand (such as canned chix broth, I know, the horror, but I use it in my stuffing every Thanksgiving and it’s always the dish that gets the most raves). Like, you could divide it into sections as a normal, traditional cookbook (meat, veg, etc.) but it would offer a “key” in the sidelines that gave you a clue whether or not you could or should even start making the recipe, offering good substitutions you might have on hand.

    Maybe there’d be a picture of a chicken. And then it would say, if you don’t have chicken, you can use THIS or THAT instead. Then it would have total prep time and cook time. THEN I would be able to pick what recipe to look at, knowing that I had a chicken and 60 minutes to devote, start to finish. Almost like a tour guide – if you have 1 day, go here. If you have 2 days, go here and here. Then, in the actual recipe, it would offer substitutions that you could make if you didn’t have the particular item on hand, or things that you could easily leave out that wouldn’t change the dish that much. Like this:

    1/4 c. raisins (or not, if you don’t have them on hand, or sub chopped dates)

    I would use the shit out of a cookbook like that.”

  • Cigarlady

    Real street food and not some chef’s take on it. And don’t be afraid of a dish taking time. I want a real recipes for pan bagnat, socca, Italian beef sandwiches, banana roti, Japanese style kimchi, southern catfish and spaghetti. I read food travel books and watch the shows and see something great, that I can’t find in any cookbook. Mexican border food, which is what I make, is very hard to find in a book. Most Mexican books are interior Mexico, which is good but very different. I’ve yet to find a homemade chorizo recipe that tastes like what I buy at the Mexican grocery and gives that great red grease. I hate cookbooks that say you can cook beans, stoneground grits or polenta in 20 minutes. You can’t, it takes hours, but its not a lot of attention and you can hold it if your meal or guests are late. Why are cookbooks afraid to say that? I love the Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid books and Jim Peyton’s mexican books.

  • Connor

    Ruhlman: I would love to see you build upon Charcuterie. Hands down it’s the best source of techniques on curing, smoking, and preserving, and I turn to it often for both the technique descriptions and recipes. For example, my husband and I made your garlic sage-brined pork chops last night (for probably the 10th time!), and we’ve concluded that we’ve mastered the brined, grilled chop now.

    I would appreciate the same in-depth approach on other ways to cook meat -whether it’s organized by fundamental technique or part of the animal. I’ve had this thought a lot lately after frequenting my local Halal butcher, where you can get the most beautiful cuts of lamb, goat and veal (also beef and chicken). A cookbook focused on what cooking methods work best for different cuts of meat would be one that I’d buy…almost a detailed guide on how to navigate the butcher case, prep the meat, and then prepare it. Personally, I think the prep part is really overlooked…I’m just as interested to know the right way to season (should I brine, should I salt the meat?) as I am the fundamental steps of braising, etc.

  • JoP in Omaha

    It would seem that many responders want great tasting meals from fresh ingredients that can be made with little fuss after work.

    My goal for now is to be able to broil/grill/pan fry/saute something with some spices and herbs, adding a simple sauce perhaps. Even I can see that producing such things shouldn’t require a cookbook, but for me, it does becuase I don’t yet have an grip on what spices/herbs/sauce go well with a particular meat/fish/etc.

    I’ve searched high and low for books that meet my needs and have come up nearly empty. Cookbooks seem to fall into maybe 3 categories….the Rachel Ray/Sandra Lee/community cookbooks, chef/restaurant cookbooks, and special interest/ethnic books. For general purpose cooking, special interest cookbooks can be nixed. Most home cooks discount chef cookbooks as too difficult and don’t even give them a look (although now that I’ve gotten into that category a bit, I can see that conclusion is often incorrect. Very simple but awesome dishes can be found in these). So most home cooks resort to the Ray/Lee/community books because they don’t know where else to turn. Home cooks settle for mediocre results because at least it gets something on the table.

    I’ve finally learned that I don’t have to settle for mediocre, but the path to something better is not easy. Learning and trying and failing and succeeding is a joy. But it’s become a full-time avocation–time that many home cooks simply don’t have.

    “Le Cordon Bleu at Home” is interesting book. It’s a series of 90 cooking lessons, each lesson constisting of 3 or 4 dishes–an entree, a side or two, maybe a dessert. Each lesson addresses techniques/methods. It starts with relatively easy dishes, and progresses to more difficult ones. Wonderful concept. I would be thrilled to find a book that applied this concept of lessons at a more elementary level with easy-to find, mainstream ingredients. This would be my weekend cooking cookbook. I would welcome the structure that such a book would provide.

  • J. Johnson

    What about a cookbook that wasn’t about recipies but about how to take a common ingredient, say a chicken breast or sea scallops, and then has a chapter on that ingredient that shows various preparation methods and other ingredient combinations influenced by different cultures (i.e. Greek, Italian, Thai, etc.)? This would give the cook inspiration for creating dishes without the same old 1/2 teaspoon of this and 6 oz. of that.

  • FoodPuta

    While sitting here this morning, hung-over, it reminded me what would be mandatory in any cookbook.

    Table-scaping!!

    Why the hell wasn’t this already mentioned???

  • Rob B

    I want everything that the editors and publicists in the Publisher’s Weekly article believe doesn’t work or sell.

    I want esoteric. I want to know what the average home cook in Cambodia or Belgium might make for dinner. I don’t want the americanized version or interpretation of this made with supermarket peanut butter and ground beef. I don’t care at all about color photos. I don’t care whether the author is a celebrity or not, or if they have their own restaurant in New York. I don’t care to know how to make a truffled tower of turbot with microgreens just because someone who’s been on the Food Network says I should be interested in it.

    But, that’s just me.

    -RB

  • Don L.

    As the owner of a cookbook store, I’ve been fascinated to read and reread what people here would like in a cookbook. All day, my wife and I answer the questions of people seeking certain types of cookbooks and I’d have to say that alot of what people here say they want already exists. So I guess this shows that in many cases, even with all of the tools out there for finding books, unless a book’s title states exactly what a user seeks, it’s hard for them to know if it fits their needs. Some suggestions for some seekers above:

    Sides? Deboarah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

    Cooking with your adolescent children? any of Jamie Oliver’s books.

    Offal? Fergus Henderson’s Whole Beast or Stephane Reynaud’s Pork and Sons are a good start, even if a beef-centric book is still lacking.

    Global street food? Good idea for a book – but Anissa Helou’s Mediterranean Street Food is a pleasurable start.

    Ruhlman’s book will be very welcome in the techniques section, where it will join Pepin’s Complete Techniques, Shirley O’Connor’s CookWise, Anne Willan’s La Varenne Pratique and others (Anne Willan’s The Good Cook is a helpful bridge, by the way, between techniques and recipes).

    It’s a tribute to our customers and Portland (Maine)’s food scene, that our bestsellers don’t reflect much of what is said in the PW article that started this discussion. Our bestsellers over the past five months (in descending sales order) are: Herve This’ Molecular Gastronomy, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book, Martin Picard’s Au Pied de Cochon Margaret Hathaway’s Year of the Goat, Marco Pierre White’s Devil in the Kitchen, Nancy Jenkins’ Cucina del Sole, and Fergus Henderson’s Whole Beast. Portland cooks real food!

    A cookbook I’d like to see? Something that fills the gap between Ferran Adria’s El Bulli books and This’ Molecular Gastronomy – aggressive contemporary technique, but with a focus on flavors and ingredients. We’ll have to wait for Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, or perhaps Portland’s own Rob Evans to pull that one off.

  • CarolinaGirl

    A poor man’s guide to fine foods. How to make fancy pants dishes that look & taste amazing but don’t require a millionaire’s checkbook. For example, I used a single mushroom to flavor a dish last week. The shroom was all of $2-$3 when purchased, but I had never even considered purchasing a mushroom that rings in at $29.99/lb. It had never (DUH!) occurred to me that I could flavor something and change the dynamic of taste with just one good mushroom. I had become so intimidated by the price, I thought an ingredient like that would not jibe with my student budget. More people would buy/try crazy ingredients if they realized said ingredients were actually within their reach.
    Amazing brainstorm session, Ruhlman!This has been a good read. Just puttin’ in my two cents as long as you’re asking…

  • Tags

    Why not get Harvey and Gary another payday? If you’re doing fundamentals, doesn’t it make sense to illustrate them? Having so much Cleveland talent in one place couldn’t hurt, either, at least for PR purposes.

  • Jay

    Guess I’m entirely out of whack as the best books I’ve read lately are Stealing Buddah’s Dinner by Bich Nguyen and Ludwig Bemmelmans hotel splendide books (OK, because of Bourdain’s recommendation in Nasty Bits). In terms of more traditional cookbooks, I’ve been following the podcasts (NPR Splendid Table) to Sally Schneider and blogs to 101 Cookbooks Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural cooking. Neither are food network or travel channel, but both have found a way to promote their work and catch my attention.

  • Carri

    Wow, go away for a couple of days and come back to one pasionate subject! As one who has been taught in the trade, cookbooks have been very important to both the quality and diversity of the food I serve and to my own developement as a baker and a chef. I am always looking for higher quality information…in fact I preordred your next book, ruhlman…so off you go! I’m glad to see so many people out there ready for what you have to offer…looks like your in the right line of work!

  • stephanie

    Question… is the cookbook you’re working on, The Elements of Cooking, due to be published on October 30th (which I’ve already preordered, btw) or something else?…

  • Kevin

    Honestly? I think you already wrote it. Charcuterie is a bible in my home. But off the top of my head? How about some fundamental serious cooking like making cheese, baking seriously good bread, something along those lines? Grass roots style cooking interests me a lot.

  • The Foodist

    Michael;

    You know Id really like to see a cookbook that gets away from whats new, and whats hot and focuses on some of the classics. More specificly classic American Cuisine. Not to soapbox but I think we are loosing the sense of American Cuisine in this country. I think we need to get people focused on regional and local classics again, not reinvented not reconstructed but the classics as they are meant to be.
    Though this idea would probably come off as old and dusty, Id still like to see some love and care put into it.

  • latenac

    The two cookbooks I go to the most are Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and The New Making of a Cook by Madeline Kamman.

    But the two cookbooks I have that always surprise about how useful they are are the Dean & Deluca cookbook and the Julia Child and Jacques Pepin cookbook. I think I like D&D b/c the collection is so wide ranging and there’s an attempt to capture authentic recipes. The gumbo recipes and the goulash recipe are my favorite. It’s the only book I have that captures goulash from Budapest. The JC and JP cookbook is fantastic b/c you get the dueling viewpoints of a professional chef and a home cook. The pictures are great and the side bars are wonderfully instructive. The world could actually use another cookbook like it that helped show other techniques and discussed the differences between home and professional cooks that didn’t dumb it down too much.

    That said thinking of you why not do something like Hot, Sour Salty, Sweet and get a nice budget to go travel somewhere exotic, get nice photographs and authentic but not unreachable recipes?

  • Deardeedle

    More cookbooks with smaller serving sizes. I think I own all of the cookbooks in my B&N that involve cooking for one or two. And as half of a couple with no kids [or plans there of] I often feel like the forgotten demographic of cookbook artists. Sure, I could scale down already 4-friendly recipies, [I’m custom to the 1/8 cup and 1/16 cup measurements that are not in the sets I own.] but I’d like more cookbooks for the singetons and coupletons out there! [Plus – they make GREAT newlywed gifts!]

    Add in there a love for good vegetable-loaded recipes that AREN’T all salads and you’ve got a fan for life!

  • NTSC

    A comment well above, by Mark, opts for Charcutiere II. I would second that with more on dry curing and smoking.

    I spent the weekend tearing the north room of my basement apart so I can build a dry cure box, two full sheets long, and as deep as a full sheet, against the north wall.

    Include addresses of people who will sell you a whole fresh ham suitable for hanging.

    I use Charcutiere a lot, especially in the fall. I probably made 60 lbs of sausage last year and hung an 18 lb fresh ham.

    I will be making the terrine/pate you made in Cleveland in a few weeks and somebody mentioned in the cafeteria this AM that the Browns won.

  • Claudia

    I second Tags on talking to Alice Waters, and getting the whole background info on not just sustainability and the sustainability purveyors, but the whole evolution of Chez Panisse, etc. Yes, I know it’s been done (sort of) before, but since Waters basically changed not only American cuisine and they way we eat, but going forward, how we eat globally in European-centric cuisines. Given the impetus of global warming, I think it now more important than ever that the impact of Waters and the Berkley crowd on food, eating and food production be revisited. In your hands, Rule-man, I think the subject would be not only fresh and timely, but would make people think – as much as Omnivore’s Dilemma, but hopefully without as depressing them as much.

  • Tags

    Making store-bought items with real ingredients (butter and cane) instead of hydrudgery and scorn syrup. Pointing out what’s in “100% whole wheat” bread & cereal – as opposed to the authentic 100% whole grains (not “contains 100% whole grains”) and making your own. List of suppliers would thrill.

    And Put Harvey and Gary back to work. Illustrate, maybe even have a story.

  • Claudia

    PS, Michael:

    I am very intrigued by your new book, Elements of Cooking (for the home kitchen) – it sounds like it might be McGee, broken down for us home cooks? (November 6, people, November 6 – pre-order at Barnes & Noble).

    OK, there’s my shill for the day.

  • Big Red

    Sorry I missed this posting initially. this is an interesting topic. I would say if you asked me, I would like to see a cookbook filled with original recipes. Go to places and pick a hand full of recipes indigenous to the area that everyone eats regularly. Like here in America, it might be a classic hamburger, or hotdog. Tell us a little about why the region eats this, what history brought this to be a staple of the diet. I am not lucky enough to be able to travel and try these things. This way I could possibly experiment in my own kitchen (assuming I could get my hands on the ingredients), and taste the things that make each region great.

  • DJButtonup

    Aside from Bittman’s “…Everything” and occasional internet searches I’ve learned what I know about cooking (many other amateurs consider me a fine home cook, but I’m no expert) from TV via PBS and Food. Because Alton and Julia have provided me with such great fundamentals I’m capable of riffing on almost any ingredients. In short, I don’t use cookbooks, but I occasionally read them.

    The question is how to engage the coming generation of home cooks, those raised on TV and etc. While still putting some profit into the publishing company. The answer, when the question is framed thusly, is of course comic books. There are plenty of life-realisitc artists in the field already, Ruhlman can write, knows cooking procedure and is familiar with visual metaphore. I think its a natural. Do each issue with a guest chef providing basic, but classy (or not) recipes for an entire meal. Advertisers would be a no-brainer, there’d be plenty of room for sidebars or just supllemental pieces in the back. They could be given away in grocery stores, put online and pimped through the nose. And, when you had them in the kitchen (because there’d be a page with the recipes in classic format) you wouldn’t feel bad about spilling sauce on them, they’d be light enough to clip, magnet or otherwise hang from the cabinets. And you could roll it up to smash bugs, or chase peekers and tasters out of the way with.

    I think this addresses all the common complaints about cookbooks, bulky, hard to use en media res and expensive. What’s more, if you don’t want to pay graphic artists it could be done with photo illustration. The possibilities are endless(ish.)

  • paula.forbes@gmail.com

    I write a cookbook review blog called Gastronobooks, and I have to say that many of these comments reflect my own. One of the most important factors for me when I review a cookbook is whether or not the cookbook needs to be written. Is there already something out there that does what this book is doing, but possibly better? Yes? Then why was it written? There are so many useless, boring cookbooks out there that simply show you the same things over and over again. On the other hand, maybe the cookbook brings something new to the table in terms of style of writing, methodology, diet (low fat, low salt, etc.) or appearance (in the case of the high res. color photo cookbooks, I suppose). What I think is missing from the cookbook industry are these different approaches for getting people to the same (or similar) place. If I want you to make the same meatloaf as I am, there’s going to be a variety of ways to get there as well as a variety of ways of getting you to get there. We need different paths to greatness, not rehashes of Junior League recipes.

  • paula.forbes@gmail.com

    I write a cookbook review blog called Gastronobooks, and I have to say that many of these comments reflect my own. One of the most important factors for me when I review a cookbook is whether or not the cookbook needs to be written. Is there already something out there that does what this book is doing, but possibly better? Yes? Then why was it written? There are so many useless, boring cookbooks out there that simply show you the same things over and over again. On the other hand, maybe the cookbook brings something new to the table in terms of style of writing, methodology, diet (low fat, low salt, etc.) or appearance (in the case of the high res. color photo cookbooks, I suppose). What I think is missing from the cookbook industry are these different approaches for getting people to the same (or similar) place. If I want you to make the same meatloaf as I am, there’s going to be a variety of ways to get there as well as a variety of ways of getting you to get there. We need different paths to greatness, not rehashes of Junior League recipes.

  • Paula

    Hi again. Uh, don’t know why my email address shows up in that last post or how to remove it. Also, there’s a typo in the URL. Any way to edit comments? (URL correct on this post.)

  • Oenophilus

    Ruhlman,
    While I adore food porn, what turns me on most is great writing and storytelling. Context helps in stimulating the readers imagination to inspire them to envision diverse uses for and variations on a recipe. Facing pages with photo and story on one side and ingredients and recipe on the other? Genre and ingredient focuses cookbooks abound. How about Ruhlminations?

  • JaxieWaxieWoo

    Having just received the official “Twinkie Cookbook” for my birthday, I’m not sure there’s anything I could possibly suggest that would top it… who knew you could make Twinkie Lasagne?

  • KJ

    Very late in chiming in here but I’d like to echo and elaborate on one of the comments upthread–the call for an updated compendium of American Cookery.

    James Beard’s book by that name is now some 35 years out of date but, structurally, it had a lot going for it. That is, you may recall that Beard frequently gave a basic recipe and then ran riffs off of it. Those riffs were, variously, historical, regional, or ingredient based.

    Much could be done with something like Fish Soups and Stews that captured those of the West Coast, the Louisiana basin, the Northeast. Or that elaborated variations on apple pie or crisp. Or, presented both a classic corned beef hash and a contemporary lobster hash.

    And while Beard didn’t do much in the way of technique in that book that doesn’t mean you couldn’t. It can’t be assumed any more that the home cook will know how to process those great things that we’re routinely “put up” around the country–chili sauces, strawberry-rhubarb jams, etc etc

    I’d buy it.

  • French Laundry at Home

    Wow — so Ruhlman’s book comes out in November, the same day as…. wait for it…. Sandra Lee’s memoir, “Made From Scratch” comes out. Lest you think I’m kidding, check Amazon. Gosh, I hope your book tour dates don’t overlap with hers here in DC… I’d hate to have to choose between the two of you. >snerk<

  • NTSC

    Kansas City Rube

    A lot of steel bowls, a meat grinder (the Kitchen Aide attachment works well), and a sausage stuffer.

    If you want to do smoked sausage you need a hot smoker, although some grills can do this.

    Dry cure requires a rodent/cat/dog/spouse proof hanging box in a cool (below 60) well venelated space.

  • Allison Moule

    Thanks for asking! As one of the most cookbook-obsessed people in the country, I am happy to respond. In no particular order:

    – An encyclopedic reference on fish with recipes. Peterson’s is eleven years old and Bittman’s is thirteen. I haven’t yet seen Paul Johnson’s, so I’m not sure if it fills the gap. It would need to cover fish from both the Pacific and the Atlantic.

    – A book on Central and South American cuisines.

    – A DVD on boning, filleting, etc.

    – A book on food presentation for home cooks. I don’t mean horrible nautical-themed napkins, but what can I do besides put three heaps on the plate?

    – Ideas and recipes for portable lunches and bento boxes.

    – A good book on things that can be prepared in advance.

    – A book of main dish salads.

    – A book on dim sum.

    – A discussion of how to compose a recipe: I go to the store, I find something exciting, but without my hundreds of cookbooks in pocket, how do I know what to do with it? Or, I have a refrigerator laden with ingredients from other recipes — what do I do with it all?

    – A discussion of what makes a complete meal. There are so many possibilities with flavors, textures, colors, temperatures, etc. that I always wonder how much is enough. I randomly pair recipes together and it doesn’t always work — even when the individual dishes are great. If I want to make something like a fatty duck, do I balance the flavors within the dish by using fruit/olives or do I balance the dish with its accompaniments?

    – Recipes for one, and especially, what I then do with the rest of the bunch of carrots, the rest of the carton of cream, etc.

    – There is serious deficit in the DVD department unless I want to watch Rachel Ray re-runs (ugh).

    Please remember that a great index is essential. Ingredients need to find their way into the index, not just recipe titles.

    Also, I live in Colorado so I depend on the Internet sources for a lot of ingredients. I love trying new and obscure foods, but please help me find them.

    My favorite cookbooks are those by Patricia Wells and Deborah Madison because their recipes are so reliably good. All hits, no misses. I trust those two enough to try a recipe for the first time on guests.

    Things I am permanently done with: pasta, bread, and big desserts. I am not afraid of fat.

    If you really want to appeal to the masses and sell books to more than just foodie followers, you need to do thirty-minute meals, chicken recipes, and slowcooker recipes. I’m of the foodie persuasion and don’t own a slowcooker, but I can tell you that all the other women at work put EVERYTHING in the crockpot. Everything.

  • Claudia

    If Sandra Lee’s and Michael Ruhlman’s book signing dates overlap in any city, do we get to go over to her gig and pelt her with processed food (in OR out of its box/can) en masse, after we’ve bought Ruhlman’s book? (Pelting her with a book like Ruhlman’s would be pointless. Right over her gin-saturated head.)

  • Amy Scott

    A good chunk of readers commented on how they would like a cookbook that contained formulas that would help them put together meals. I second that, but it also makes me want to revisit Pam Anderson’s “How to Cook without a Book.” It is a basic formula type book on how to put meals together, but very wordy. The wordiness cancels it out as a quick reference (it’s still a good book).

    I would like to see a “Pam Anderson” book without the wordiness. Pure formula in a “cheat-sheet,” plug-in-play type format that has a list of ingredients and then the formula (A+B+C=D). Just plug the ingredients and cook away.

  • Maureen Luchejko

    I don’t collect cookbooks anymore. It’s much easier to look up a recipe you want to make on the internet rather than sift through a dust collection of cookbooks. I would think featuring requested recipes on your website would work — and it’s gonna get more hits than another cookbook…

  • Gina Edwards

    Greg Turner’s comments that are first in line with this thread are right on the mark. As a cooking demonstrator, these are the topics that I’m constantly being asked for more details about. Culinary building blocks and how to blend flavors are a two of my cooking passions/pet projects and later this winter, we’re working with a local library to develop a series of courses on these topics. Even with a library of more than 500 cookbooks, there still hasn’t been a book that’s “the one” and stands out above the rest.

    Oh, and as a resident of Peoria, IL, Martin’s comments in the Publishers Weekly article were kind of funny. The only free-range chickens I’ve ever found around here were the ones we butchered at my grandmother’s farm when I was a girl. (They were tasty.)

  • Connor

    I’ve really enjoyed reading all of the posts here. One thing that really fascinates me about cookbooks is how they’re organized. Two cookbooks could contain exactly the same information, but depending on organization, one could be immensely more useful than the other. One cookbook that drives this home to me is Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean by Ana Sortun. As the title suggests, the recipes are organized by spices, and it really helps you to become familiar with the building blocks of a cuisine that is unfamiliar to lots of folks.

  • Hillary

    I’d like to see more weekly meal planning cookbooks! Maybe give a month-long plan or something in your book, balancing different proteins each day.