Thursday, January 7, 2010
People often ask me what I think the best cookbooks are, but what I always want to know is, what cookbooks do you actually use. What are your daily, dog-eared, soup-splattered go-to cookbooks? (Please share your own tried-and-true sources of recipes in the comments!)
Now I realize that it's 2010 and all, and most of us are getting a lot of our recipes from the internet. I'll cover my own favorite online recipe sources in another post, but for now I'm going to focus on those old-fashioned tomes of culinary knowledge: cookbooks. Like many people who love to cook, I have a weakness for cookbooks. Especially ones with glossy pages and beautiful photographs, ones that make me dream a little about the cook I could become. Of all the cookbooks that have caught my fancy over the years, these are the ones that get used and abused in my kitchen. (I have included Amazon links to the closest thing available for sale today -- a few of these are ancient!)
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian: Simple Meatless Recipes for Great Food
This is one of those fabulous books that gives you the basics of a particular ingredient or recipe, and then offers lots of options for variation. I have learned so much about cooking from this book. Just today, I was eyeing the acorn squash on my counter and wondering, "what am I going to do with you?" How to Cook Everything Vegetarian was the first place I looked for an answer (the verdict: braised acorn squash with rosemary). This is definitely not just a book for vegetarians -- all of us omnivores could benefit from adding more vegetable-oriented meals to our repertoires.
A book I bought in high school, when I was one of those vegetarians who survives solely on mac-and-cheese, pizza, and spaghetti. I was trying to listen to my mother and "branch out." At the time, it did not make me a bulgur pilaf convert, but it is now quite well-used, and is the source of the zucchini frittata recipe that is a crowd-pleasing family favorite.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1)
Okay, I did just get this book for my birthday last month, so officially I can't declare myself past the infatuation stage. That said, I really do think this is The Real Thing. Julia Child is so beautifully thorough in her instruction, and my love for French food is so great. I have actually only made three recipes from this so far (all fantastic, especially the soufflé!), but I have read quite a bit of it and it's already dog-eared. I can just tell there are many more glorious meals to come from this one!
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking
This is my indispensable bread-baking companion. I've already written about my process for baking our daily bread here, but I can't stress enough how important this little book has been to my life in the kitchen. I make new dough about once a week, and bake bread just about every other day, sometimes more. I have made dozens and dozens of loaves of bread from this book, and virtually all of them have been wonderful.
Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition - 2006
This is where I look for the basic, generic recipe for just about anything -- which I then might adapt somewhat. How long to cook a pot roast? What's the basic meatloaf recipe? Sugar cookie dough? This is the first place I turn for those sorts of things. I have two copies, one slightly more up-to-date, but my favorite is my grandmother's -- complete with her own dog-ears, notes in the margin, and newsprint recipes tucked into its pages. A treasure. Oh, and the recipe for apple spice cake is out of this world.
Quick & Easy Chinese: 70 Everyday Recipes
One of those gorgeous cookbooks that drew me in with its photographs, and the promise of... easy?? Chinese??? Yes, please! It delivers. The sauces are truly easy and authentic-tasting (to my untrained palette, at least), the recipes (so far) fool-proof. The scallion pancakes in particular are extremely popular around here.
Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats--A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook)
I have to credit Rachael Ray with easing my transition from the kind of cook I was 6 or 7 years ago (as in, the kind that can read the instructions on the box) to truly starting to cook from scratch. The "orzo with the works" recipe from this book is a regular on our table, and her recipes for fresh salad dressings are what caused me to stop buying the bottled stuff altogether. Also, her heavy use of fresh herbs was certainly one of the factors in my starting to grow my own (and oh how my modest ambitions for a few pots of herbs on the deck have grown!).
Easy Basics for Good Cooking
Another high school purchase, probably my most butter-smeared cookbook. The sad thing is, I haven't actually made all that many recipes from this book, but the ones I have made have been repeated so many times, I'm surprised I still have to consult the recipes at all. My banana bread, my basic muffins, my crepes (ah, now you see why it's so butter-smeared).
I hesitate to post this, because it's not technically a cookbook. It's a magazine. But I have this one issue that I think I have made every recipe in. These are simple, no fuss recipes out of great basic ingredients, often combined in novel ways. This is a really great magazine especially for those cooking for busy families -- they are fast, and often there's a shopping list combining multiple recipes. I owe the publishers my undying gratitude for bringing the asparagus-gruyere tart into our lives. YUM.
Slow-Cooker Meals, 2008 Issue
Another magazine, and it's one of those Special Interest Publications, so not reliably available. But keep an eye out in your grocery aisle -- this one's a keeper! I have several slow-cooker cookbooks, but this little magazine gets the lion's share of my attention. The recipe for three-bean vegetarian chili alone is worth the $9.95 I paid for it. (Secret ingredient: chocolate sauce!)
I'd love to hear what your go-to cookbooks are. I'm always on the lookout for something new to smear, splatter, and love.