4 Books That Made Me a Better Cook

April 22nd, 2014 at 6:06 am

If I had to choose one hobby that has changed my life the most, I’d say reading. Hands down.

My mom taught me how to read in our small Chicago kitchen, plastering index cards that read “CAT” and “THE” on our refrigerator with jumbo magnets. While she would cook, I would read.

After I mastered Dick and Jane, I graduated to Frog and Toad, Henry and Mudge, American Girl books, and The Royal Diaries. I was a pre-teen when I started reading classics like The Count of Monte Cristo, The Scarlet Letter, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby.

Books were—and still are—like another form of food to me. I devour the good ones like a big slice of chocolate cake!

While fiction is my happy place, on any given day you can find me reading about a wide range of topics. (Some recent ones: natural navigation, youthful skin, the gift of fear, and mastering physical endurance.)

And of course, there are the cookbooks. I read cookbooks like I read novels: cover to cover.

Today I thought I’d share four books that have made me a better cook over the  years. (But I will say that choosing just four was a tough job!) I’m a big time believer in life-long learning and taking the initiative to educate ourselves daily about whatever it is we want to learn. Reading is the gateway to unlimited paths of knowledge!

Pull up a chair and let’s dive in.

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook

The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook

Ali and Tom’s first book, The Whole Life Nutrition Cookbook, has now been revised and expanded and will be releasing as a brand new edition next week! (You can pre-order it here.)

It was the original version of this book that introduced me to the world of healing with food. I learned that healthy cooking isn’t all about carrots, lentils, and lettuce. Nutritional diversity is a beautiful thing! This book opened my eyes to see the power of food to restore, energize, and delight all while being good for my food-allergic body.

I highly recommend the new version for gluten-free newbies and health enthusiasts alike.

Martha Stewart's Cooking School

Martha Stewart’s Cooking School

People can say what they want about Martha. I admire her on many levels.

I own several of Martha’s books (is it weird that I think I know her well enough to be a on a first name basis?), one of my favorites being Martha Stewart’s Cooking School. It’s 6 years old now, but every bit as loved as it was when I received it for Christmas. Unlike most other cookbooks, this one is arranged by cooking technique (roasting, braising, broiling, stewing, sauteing, steaming, and poaching). In other words, page by page Martha teaches us how to cook, not just what to cook.

Even though this one has nothing to do with allergy-friendly food prep, it totally made me a better cook and gave me a better grasp on proper cooking methods that can be used every day.

The Flavor Bible

The Flavor Bible

With almost 500 reviews on Amazon, it’s no secret that The Flavor Bible is a beloved book by many a cook!

Cooking from a recipe is great, but what if you want to work with what you’ve got while still taking some creative liberty in the kitchen and turning out a mouthwatering dish? This book is the definitive guide to creating deliciously tasting, flavor-packed food. Thousands of ingredients arranged alphabetically offer a wealth of ingenious flavor combinations.

Intuition and improvisation are two of the least discussed topics in the culinary world, but this book hits on both expertly. I learned to be a more fluid, think-on-my-feet cook from this one.

Chez Panisse Veg

Chez Panisse Vegetables

I had the privilege of dining at Chez Panisse, Alice Waters’ famed Berkeley restaurant, many years ago with my aunt. Prior to the trip, I read everything I could about and by Alice herself. Being the vegetable enthusiast that I am, Chez Panisse Vegetables won my heart from the first page. If our love of vegetables is any indication of our similarities, I think Alice and I would be fast friends.

This book transforms gems from the earth into simple but stylish dishes that nourish the body to the core. Alice helped become what I call a “sensory cook,” meaning that I engage all of my five senses when I’m preparing food. I thrive on smelling the sweetness of just-picked berries, hearing the sizzle of onions in a pan, feasting my eyes on ruffles of fresh lettuce heads, feeling the crinkly edges of kale leaves upon my palms as I massage my salads, and—of course—tasting with great, great pleasure the fruits of my labor!

Chez Panisse Vegetables taught me that when I’m feeling like my creative well is dry, I need to look no further than the earth for an outpouring of inspiration.

Choosing just a handful of books that have impacted me in my food journey is no easy task! It almost feels like trying to pick favorite children. (I know. I’m such a book weirdo.)

It just goes to show you that one small stack of books can change your whole life if you let it. Had I never picked up that first copy of Chez Panisse Vegetables or grabbed The Flavor Bible off the shelf in the library, I may not be where I am today.

The lesson in all this: Never stop reading, never stop learning, and never stop exploring new things you’re interested in! Just like there’s no such thing as a dumb question, there’s no such thing as a dumb hobby or interest if it holds value for you.

I’ll leave it to some of the world’s best writers to sum things up.


Let me know what you’re reading and loving lately. What cookbooks have made you a better cook? Share in the comments.


  1. The Fannie Farmer Cookbook was given to me when I was newly married back in 1981. I now have quite a large cookbook library and have many great books that I refer to, but this is still my first go-to book when I am looking for something new.
    My son now has the Betty Crocker cookbook I received back then. It was hard to give up, but is such a great book for beginner cooking and beyond.

  2. thanks for shareing your fav books with us, I’m going to check them out a bit more fully.

  3. Diane Fuchs said on April 23, 2014 at 12:16 am

    Thanks for the great ideas! I had not heard of any of these books. It is funny how my cookbook shelf is evolving as I delve into the world of gluten-free, paleo, “real” food, clean eating, and traditional foods. Books that were once good ole standbys are being replaced by these newer, exciting books on healing with food, etc.

    • The Fannie Farmer book is one of my favorites. I also really enjoyed The Key to Chinese Cooking by Irene Kuo as it really dives into the history, heart and soul of the culture, ingredients, utensils, and processes involved with cooking this cuisine.

      The Flavor Bible is on my to buy list. Maybe I will get it for Mother’s Day!

  4. This is great Hallie! I should do a post like this.

    First, I have the Flavor Bible and use it constantly! It isn’t has complete as I would like (sometimes it misses somewhat obvious foods), but still so, so helpful.

    Second, Thank you so much for that review on Martha’s book! That is exactly what I have been looking for!!

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I'm Hallie Klecker, a professional recipe developer, author, and passionate gluten-free foodie. As a certified holistic nutrition educator, my goal is to inspire others to live a balanced, nourished life through eating well and living pure—one bite at a time. Learn more.