6 Books to Make You a Better Cook in 2014

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Dana Velden)

This time of year I could always use a good book recommendation — particularly as I’m trying to regain the cooking mojo that appears to still be out on holiday vacation. I usually find my inspiration around the open flame of a grill, but the winter season has me hunkered down on a couch by another type of fire (with mandatory hot chocolate).

Here are some recent cookbooks I’m considering as I embark on being a more well-rounded cook.

1. Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison

I flipped through this book at an Anthropologie recently, and it’s beautifully photographed and intelligently presented. Eating more vegetables is something a lot of us aspire to do at the beginning of a new year. This book might just get you to drool over them.

“It presents an entirely new way of looking at vegetables, drawing on Madison’s deep knowledge of cooking, gardening, and botany. For example, knowing that dill, chervil, cumin, parsley, coriander, anise, lovage, and caraway come from the umbellifer family makes it clear why they’re such good matches for carrots, also a member of that family.”

2. Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

The folks at Happy Girl Kitchen in Pacific Grove, CA had this book on their shelves next to their preserved jams and dry farmed tomatoes. If the owner, who was wearing a “Yes, We Can – Food Preservationists” shirt at the time of my visit, stocks it in his store and workshop it must be good.

“The flavors of fermentation are compelling and complex, quite literally alive. This book takes readers on a whirlwind trip through the wide world of fermentation, providing readers with basic and delicious recipes-some familiar, others exotic-that are easy to make at home.”

3. The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart

I’ve seen this book pop-up all over my Instagram feed as of late, and after reading the back cover I can see why. Who doesn’t like to mix alcohol with science?

“This fascinating concoction of biology, chemistry, history, etymology, and mixology—with more than fifty drink recipes and growing tips for gardeners—will make you the most popular guest at any cocktail party.”

4. Ratio by Michael Ruhlman

My wife, the dough specialist of the house, requested this book in hopes of getting a better grasp on the basics of baking — and to ultimately move toward our goal of creating a house pizza dough recipe for our home. That definitely eats its way through some pizza.

“Ratio is the truth of cooking: basic preparations that teach us how the fundamental ingredients of the kitchen—water, flour, butter and oils, milk and cream, and eggs—work. Ruhlman empowers every cook to make countless doughs, batters, stocks, sauces, meats, and custards without ever again having to locate a recipe.”

5. Keys to Kitchen by Aida Mollenkamp

I know a lot of folks that pin recipes but are too scared to attempt them alone. In this book Aida attempts to break down the intimidation barrier of cooking and show you the essentials to making a solid meal every time. The reader can build upon those culinary victories to gain more confidence in the kitchen.

“For members of the tech-savvy new generation who can’t cook but want to, this essential reference guide makes an ideal starting place and for those already at ease in the kitchen it’s full of “who knew” moments for expanding their repertoire of great recipes.”

6. True Brews by Emma Christensen

From our very own recipe editor, and brew specialist. I haven’t been to Emma’s house but I’ve seen enough through Instagram to know that there is always something she’s brewing or experimenting with, which makes her the perfect resource for those interesting in jumping on the fermentation wagon.

“You can make naturally fermented sodas, tend batches of kombucha, and brew your own beer in the smallest apartment kitchen with little more equipment than a soup pot, a plastic bucket, and a long-handled spoon. All you need is the know-how.”

What books are inspiring you the most in 2014?