The Self-Taught Cook

From DIY cocktails and sugary confections to seasonal dishes and splendid sauces, these 5 cookbooks will help you fine-tune your skills in the kitchen.

Photograph: Images courtesy of Amazon

Become your own bartender with DIY Cocktails by Marcia Simmons and Jonas Halpren, industry insiders  who will school you in cocktail ratios, sweet and sour ingredients, basic behind-the-bar tools, and even ice sizes (for drinks on the rockier side). Be encouraged to personalize your favorite potions by “splashing and dashing” along the way. Taste testing required!

Cooking Up the Good Life by Jenny Breen and Susan Thurston focuses on the family table and how to prepare a delicious dish for every course with recipes like potato gratin with gorgonzola, seafood kebabs in lime-ginger marmalade and Coco Loco cookies. This book is also interspersed with fun food facts: Quinoa, we learned, is a versatile grain that goes well with tofu, chicken, meat or fish. Divided into sections by season, this cookbook offers relevant menu suggestions for dinner parties, holiday meals and more, plus tips for getting your kids involved with mixing and measuring.

Keep this bible for hearty dishes close to your stove. Sear, Sauce & Serve by Tony Rosenfeld lets you choose between meat, fish or vegetables, then scan for the temperature and preparation required for sautéing, stir-frying, broiling or grilling.  Jazz up your dishes with recipes for 225 different sauces including spiced pineapple-rum glaze, tomato and basil sauce, and crushed peach BBQ sauce. The food pairings are drool-worthy and the author’s commentary, colorful: “Hello, fish sauce!” writes Rosenfeld of his Thai red curry sauce which promises to spice up your night.

Fine Cooking in Season narrows down the ingredients you will be cooking with based on when they become available. Green is the color of spring with fresh asparagus, peas, salad leaves, ramps and more. Unsure of what a ramp is? This cookbook includes color photos of every main ingredient mentioned. Try a spring risotto recipe with ramps, peas and morels, or simply sprinkle chopped ramps over a mashed or baked potato. Learn how to incorporate fruits and vegetables for healthier eating with this must-have guide to your local farmer’s market.

With recipes for cotton candy, peanut butter fudge, Parisian macarons and more, Sugarbaby by Gesine Bullock-Prado will bring out your sweet tooth. Leave traditional baking behind for a look at what stovetop cooking can do to transform sugar into confection. This book takes sweet-making seriously and addresses the tools and techniques you’ll need before getting started. We love that the author writes each recipe as if it’s a fun science lesson,  “Approach making rock candy as a lab experiment… it is a week long process—and well worth the time.” The only difference—these lab results are edible.


Click here for this month's book club pick, with a recipe to try for your next dine-and-debate!

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First Published April 20, 2011

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