I’ve been busy cooking. And researching, recipe testing, ingredient hunting, and reading. A lot. There have been a few books that have been invaluable. If you’re trying to navigate a restrictive diet, you might want to look for these books at your local library. That’s what I usually do with cookbooks: get them from the library and later buy them if I use them more than once. Well, these three books I’ve gone back to again and again over the past few months.

How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Good Food
by Mark Bittman (978-0-02-861010-8)

Since buying this book for myself a few years ago, I’ve since bought a copy for my friend and a copy for my dad. It’s a great reference, especially when you’re trying to experiment with new ingredients or ingredients you might have pigeon-holed. Here’s a perfect example: I bought three daikon radishes for $1 at farmers market. Although, I consider myself pretty creative in the kitchen, I’ve only used radishes in salads or as a garnish. Cook a radish? Makes sense, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it. Out comes the book: pan fry radishes. Fish is another good example. My nutritionist said I needed to eat more fish. I’m not opposed to eating fish, but I’ve never really cooked it. I didn’t want to deal with the smell (flashbacks of roommates microwaving tuna casserole–yuck) and I really didn’t know how to cook it. This book instantly put me at ease: “We currently eat twice as much fish in restaurants as at home, a statistic which becomes more impressive when you consider that it includes the fish most commonly prepared by home cooks: canned tuna. This confirms that many Americans are reluctant to buy and cook fish for themselves.” Bittman goes on to explain the basics of buying fish, the different types of fish, and how to clean, behead, scale, and fillet fish. Quite an education.

There are a ton of recipes and excellent explanations about choosing, cleaning, and storing ingredients. Though I’m a good cook, I find myself surprised all the time by this book. There’s also a great stash of extras in the index that includes various menus for all occasions (e.g., picnic lunches, indoor dinners, intimate new year’s eve dinner), meals that take 30 minutes or less, a glossary of ingredients, mail-order ingredient vendors, and a list of 50 recommended cookbooks.

The Vegan Cook’s Bible
by Pat Crocker (978-0-7788-0217-4)

This book isn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. I was hoping to get some good whole foods recipes. There are certainly quite a few of those recipes to choose from, but I think there is potentially more value from the information in the first 130 pages of the book. The first 58 pages are all about healthy living and which foods are the best for the various systems of the body. There’s also one section divided into food categories. It lists an entry for many foods with the scientific name, uses, culinary uses, buying and storing tips, and recipes. Unusual foods such as seitan, agar-agar, astragalus, and teff are explained. Unfortunately, the last two parts of this section entitled “Herbs” and “Whole Food Ingredients” don’t list recipes for the ingredient as was done in the other parts.

Much like “How to Cook Everything,” this book also has a mail-order section in the index for people who don’t have easy access to ingredients.

The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook
by Marjorie Hurt Jones, R.N. (1-57954-276-X)

Want to know why I was initially interested in this cookbook? Because this is what’s listed on the cover: “Over 350 natural food recipes, free of all common food allergens. Corn-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, wheat-free, egg-free, milk-free, soy-free, yeast-free.”I even learned a trick in here that I was able to pass along to my nutritionist: zucchini milk (works great to substitute for coconut milk in curries).I haven’t tried any of the baked goods recipes, but they appear to be well designed.