Ingredients are tossed together and sometimes, if you’re lucky, a wonderful and completely original recipe emerges.

More often, though, recipes evolve from other recipes. I adapt, modify and tweak recipes to make them work for me and my tastes — and hopefully yours. In these instances, I’ve linked to the source of my inspiration, as an appreciative nod to those who toiled with the recipe long before it reached my eager hands.

The shelves of my cookbook library are weighted with inspiration.  I have too many favourites to list, so I’ve noted one ones I simply can’t do without:

    • Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page    If I was stranded in a deserted kitchen with only one book, Culinary Artistry would be it. With few recipes and not a single colour photograph, this fascinating book unlocks the secrets of what ingredients go well with others. If you’re stumped by how to use up all that squash from the garden, Culinary Artistry will tell you all the ingredients that go well with squash, or squid, or any other food you’d like to cook. What’s more, it includes seasoning matches that will inspire you to use those pantry items you bought for a specific recipe — and never used again. You might be tempted to dust off that bottle of pomegranate syrup and put those remaining caraway seeds to good use.
    • Ratio by Michael Rulhman    If I could have two books in my deserted kitchen, Ratio would be my second choice. Again, no pretty coloured pictures — only sound culinary formulas, or ratios, that provide templates for your own recipes. That’s sweet liberation for imaginative cooks.

Cooking trends come and go but classic cookbooks never go out of style. If you want to learn to cook, or to become a better cook, the fundamental books are a great place to start. Here are a few favourites:

    • The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters   Beautifully written and simply illustrated, this cloth-bound book is a treasure for anyone embarking on a culinary journey. I can’t imagine a cook’s library without it.
    • The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Cuisine by The French Culinary Institute  For the serious home cook, this hefty instruction book unravels the mysteries of the kitchen with clear instructions and step-by-step photographs.  It’s like going to culinary school — without the hefty tuition and silly paper toque.
    • Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child   Call me sentimental, but reading Julia’s recipes always make me feel as if she’s in my kitchen leaning over my shoulder, whispering (or warbling, for those familiar with Julia) words of encouragement: “Yes, Dearie, you’ve got it!” I’ll never grow tired of her books.
    • Larouse Gastronomic edited by Montagne Prosper  I carted this hefty reference book off to culinary school and have been consulting it ever since. Over 1,300 pages of recipes, cooking terms, techniques and just about anything you might want to know, classified from A to Z. If you enjoy classic recipes, and have a sturdy bookshelf, this Big Daddy is the authority.
    • La Bonne Cuisine by Madame E. Saint-Ange   “I felt that I had found culinary gold,” is how Paul Aratow, the first chef de cuisine at Chez Panisse, Berkeley, describes discovering La Bonne Cuisine in a little bookstore in the Latin Quarter of Paris. Originally published in France in 1927, and translated by Aratow in 2005, Saint-Ange’s culinary prowess is unmatched.  My grandmother, a French Canadian chef, learned to cook with this book. For me, that’s culinary gold.