Blogger Laura Kumin Recommends: My Favorite Cookbooks

As part of a series of recommendations, we’re hearing from a terrific food blogger, Laura Kumin, whose Mother Would Know blog is one that all home cooks should know.     

First, a little background: After years as a lawyer, Laura moved from giving legal advice to creating recipes and providing the “kitchen wisdom” that our mothers (and fathers, aunts, uncles or grandparents) might have dispensed if we had only asked. A young friend named her site; instead of calling her own mother when she has a cooking question, this friend calls Laura, who answers questions without nagging or asking about boyfriends or jobs.  

My eclectic list represents the story (somewhat chronologically) of how I went from a college student who cooked (obsessively) during long, cold Midwestern winters, to a mom with 2 kids and a full-time job, to a food blogging empty-nester.  No matter what I’m doing, I want to enjoy the journey as much as the endpoint; I hope that you’ll find your way into at least a few of them.

My favorite cookbooks and cooking-related books:

  1. From Julia Child’s Kitchen by Julia Child.  
    I began cooking with the Craig Claiborne’s New York Times Cookbook and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (way before Julie and Julia), but this book was the first to spark my imagination. It is easier to read with simpler recipes those in Mastering the Art --with photographs of key techniques. I often use it especially to make leek-and-potato soup/vichyssoise.

  2. Rosie's Bakery All-Butter Fresh Cream Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book by Judy Rosenberg. 
    I bought this when my now 20-something kids were young. The cookies, cakes, and pies always turn out well (a result you won’t take for granted if you’ve used other recipes.) I adore Rosenberg's personal snippets that explain her connection to the sweets. Plus, how can you not love a book with this title?

  3. An Invitation to Indian Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey. 
    I got this 1973 cookbook book as a hand-me-down from a friend, who got it from her aunt. Filled with recipes from Jaffrey’s family, and explanations of Indian cooking styles/ingredients, it was my entrĂ©e into Indian cuisine. Even the recipes with long lists of exotic ingredients are accessible.

  4. The Baker’s Dozen Cookbook edited by Rick Rodgers. 
    The title comes from the contributors, 13 California pastry and dessert chefs, who got together to learn from each other and ended up creating this collection. I didn’t know of any of them before I got the book and my baking repertoire was limited. Now I see their names and creations all over the food world: they inspired me to move beyond basics. These experts know how to write recipes that a beginner can follow and an experienced baker can appreciate.

  5. The New Legal Sea Foods Cookbook by Roger Berkowitz and Jane Doerfer.
    I bought this thin book for $1 at a cooking store clearance, never thinking that it would become my go-to guide for seafood. It’s filled with basics on how to pick and store seafood, and with simple recipes that let me take off in flights of seafood fancy.   Its easy-to-read typeface and layout remind me that presentation is as important in a book as it is in food.

  6. The Classic Italian Cookbook and More Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. When my mom moved into a small apartment, I inherited many of her cookbooks. From that trove, these two yellowed paperbacks (tiny print, no pictures) are the ones that I treasure most. If you love to eat and don’t know Hazan, you should. Think of her as Julia Child and Alice Waters combined into a single Italian nonna with a doctorate in biology and opinions matched only by her skill as a master of Italian cooking.

  7. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. 
    If you want to know why a cooking method works or virtually anything that involves food and science, ask Harold McGee. This was my introduction to his storehouse of knowledge.

  8. Cookwise by Shirley Corriher. Another “how and why” book, this time with recipes. The introduction to each recipe has bullet points listing “what this recipe shows.” If all you read are the introductions, you will have learned a lot about cooking. Corriher followed up this book with Bakewise, also a winner.

  9. Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. 
    Everything I’ve made from this book has been amazing and that’s not a term I use lightly. Greenspan spends half her year in Paris, half in the US. Her recipes move from Continental to old-fashioned American and back again, and if she makes a misstep, I haven’t found it.

  10. Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge: the Ultimate Guide to Mastery with Authentic Recipes and Stories by Grace Young. 
    I never stir-fried properly until I read this and joined Grace Young in an online group called Wok Wednesdays. She calls herself a “wok missionary”; I consider myself her disciple. Each recipe comes with a story and Young shows how stir-fry masters meld Chinese and other cultures. You never need to eat bad Chinese take-out again.

Runner-ups and also mentions:
  • Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini by Elizabeth Schneider. Friend and noted produce authority Elizabeth Schnieder has written a vegetable reference tome. Don’t be intimidated by its size. Although it is almost 800 pages and weighs as much as a newborn, it is chock full of pictures, recipes, and delightful bits of vegetable pleasure. I’m no longer afraid to buy a vegetable just because I am not sure how to cook it.
  • Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. The authors, a Jew and a Palestinian, are cooks from Jerusalem. When they met in London, their collaboration took off and they now have several restaurants and cookbooks. This cookbook hooked me with poignant stories, striking photography, and intensely-flavored dishes.
  • Pati’s Mexican Table: The Secrets of Real Mexican Home Cooking by Pati Jinich. I didn’t know anything about real Mexican cooking when I heard Pati Jinich speak at a book launch. She was charming, telling the story of how she left a career as a policy analyst to become the host of a PBS cooking show and chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute. Her recipes are accessible to Mexican cooking neophytes and nothing like the Tex-Mex restaurant food that masquerades as Mexican.
  • The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz. One of the Baker’s Dozen, Lebovitz left California in 2004 and moved to Paris. This book, sprinkled with recipes, chronicles his adventures in his new life. Lebovitz lets us laugh about experiences that weren’t funny at the time. I found it inspiring and delightful.

Find Laura online here:

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