Back in the 1960ís many cookbooks were loaded with inferior recipes and they uniformly lacked important information about the cooking process and how best to handle the ingredients. Some of those cookbooks were born out of the Great Depression, where economy trumped everything else, so even the variety of ingredients was severely limited. Yuck! Only a few great cookbooks existed, and most great home cooking was a result of recipes handed down through generations of dedicated cooks.
Some years later I learned much about cooking from "The Joy of Cooking©" by Rombauer and Becker, which was one of the few great cookbooks available in different editions/revisions since, I believe, the late 1930ís. What they did that was unique was to teach background information about ingredients and how to become a great cook by learning cooking techniques, not simply provide "do this, do that" simpleminded recipes. No longer was the homemakerís knowledge confined to what was learned from mother or in home economics class in junior high school or in simple minded (and typically bad) recipes found in magazines or newspapers.
Today life is vastly improved with opportunity to learn cooking techniques and what to use via the Food Network® and other food related television programs, numerous excellent recipe books, and the Internet is a vast resource for getting recipes, many of which, however, are pathetic. But you can learn how to identify the best from the worst through experience, for yes, experience can be but not necessarily is for all people the best teacher. One problem with the cooking shows on television is that they exist to entertain more than teach, so quite often too little information is given during a show segment to allow the home cook to faithfully reproduce the prepared food. Sometimes, however, the specific recipes are available on the Internet.
Great friends in Massachusetts, Russ and Sue Gale, loaned a copy of a book to me used as a primary textbook by The Culinary Institute of America® to train professional chefs. As you might guess, the title is "The Professional Chef©." That book is a real revelation and in some important ways it goes far beyond the information provided in "The Joy of Cooking©." Let me simply say that I am having a great time learning ever more important information about cooking and confirming some essentials I learned independently, and to my chagrin learning why some of the foods I have attempted to prepare in the past were marginal instead of excellent. Well, if we are smart the learning never stops, and if we are considerate the knowledge gained is shared.
I used the Internet to learn about the most recent books available from the culinary institute and they number about ten. The two that appear most important generally are "The Professional Chef©" eighth edition and "Baking and Pastry©." As of early 2011 they each cost $70 and they can be purchased directly through the Internet from the culinary institute. What a fine bargain! If you know folks who really love to eat and like to cook and whom you really care about then give them these books as a lifetime gift. They just might feed you well for the remainder of your days out of gratitude.
Now we get to the truly important, absolutely essential reference for anyone who wants to compete with professional chefs. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is stunningly good at presenting cooking with a view towards the science behind what is happening, leading to very specific recommendations on how best to cook a whole lot of different foods, such that the home chef really does understand the "why" of procedures and ingredients, not simply the typical do this, do that non-educational stuff in typical cookbooks. Trot out to your local Barnes & Noble® and buy a copy of Kenji's book, "The Food Lab." It costs about $50 and it is the best money you will ever spend relative to getting a real education about cooking. It is superb. Just do it!
Writers of books about cooking each provide material they believe to be most important, based on their own experiences and in particular, their goals. What I have done with Food Nirvana is attempt to isolate best recipes for a subset of great foods, and I have provided a variety of information about setting up a kitchen and some limited discussion of the science behind cooking. Well, my efforts relative to the scientific descriptions and cooking techniques do not begin to approach the quality or completeness of the material in Kenji's book. Thus, in my commitment to egoless efforts to do the best cooking I defer and refer you to Kenji's book. Have fun!