Stocking the Kitchen Bookshelf

21 Dec

I get a lot of questions about cookbooks–which I like, which I use, which I’d recommend for beginning or advanced home cooks. So in the spirit of my Mom Cook’s Christmas List, I give you my list of cookbooks I have that I recommend for different things, and the cookbooks I’m wishing for these days.

If I had to pick just one cookbook that everyone should have, it would be Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It is the one I turn to when a food idea pops into my head and I need some direction, and the one I open when I need a specific recipe for something. I know most people recommend Joy of Cooking or the Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book as their first go-to. I have both, and they’re good cookbooks. But Bittman does what he says–he teaches you how to cook anything. I picked up my copy at a yard sale for $1, but full price is a bargain. It’s a fantastic book.

For those who like to entertain, even if it’s just for themselves and their families at home, you cannot go wrong with Ina Garten’s books — the Barefoot Contessa series. I have all of them (her newest was my gift at last night’s bookclub holiday exchange and I nearly jumped right out of my seat for joy!) and they are both beautiful and useful books. Her recipes are no-fail. Follow them and you’ll have delicious food, without fail. Almost no weird or hard-to-find ingredients and lots of great tips.

Another kitchen Bible you should seriously consider is Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. I love this for two reasons: first, the recipes are authentic. You won’t find anything from the Olive Garden’s menu here–it’s real food as you’d eat it in the old country, and it is spectacular. And second, there is a ton of fantastic information here for beginning cooks. Lots of techniques. Lots of facts. Lots of hints and tips, And the narrative is really fun to read.

If you walk into my living room and glance at the coffee table, you’ll find one of my most prized possessions: a signed copy of Happy in the Kitchen, by Michel Richard. The recipes are absolutely divine. No other word. Some are really easy (try the chocolate covered grapes for your next party–people will *flip* over them) and some are very difficult and require special equipment that most of us don’t have. But again, fantastic technique, wonderful writing and commentary, and stunningly beautiful photography. Michel Richard thinks food should be fun above all else, and this book puts me in the spirit every time I pick it up. I’ve read it over and over, like a favorite novel. It is fabulous–a true showpiece. This is a fantastic gift for the amateur cook in your life, and he or she is sure to treasure it.

My final go-to is the Cooking Light Holiday Cookbook, which I use all year for all sorts of things. Yes, these are light recipes. But they are delicious. Every one is a hit, and the directions are simple. This is another one with great photographs and it matches main dishes with sides and beverages seasonally. A great gift and something that should be in your kitchen.

If you have a harried mom or dad in your life (or you are one!), I’m having a great time with Aviva Goldfarb’s SOS! The Six O’ Clock Scramble To The Rescue, which came out earlier this year. Quick meals that are healthy and wholesome and filling, and that my entire family will eat. She includes all sorts of tips about planning and shopping, and the book is easy to follow. A great one for the family’s library.

Some of the best recipes in the whole world come from churches and schools and community groups, who collect family treasures and compile them into spiral-bound references as fundraisers. One of the very best of these is the Junior League of Annapolis’ Tide & Thyme. These are real recipes from real families, and while many of them are regionally appropriate to the mid-Atlantic, where I live, they can all be adapted or made as they are anywhere in the country. Great ideas and wonderful recipes in here–I turn to it regularly.

Now–my wish list at the moment includes:

Sweet Magic: Easy Recipes for Delectable Desserts, by Michel Richard. More amazing recipes from my favorite chef, with paintings he’s done of the dishes. I cannot wait to get my hands on this.

Gourmet Today, by Ruth Reichl. I miss Gourmet magazine with every ounce of my being–its monthly thunk through my mail slot meant an evening or two of pure joy and weeks of fun in the kitchen. This cookbook brings together recipes from that magazine that are designed to work with our busy lifestyles. How can it be anything but wonderful?

Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan. I so enjoy her recipes online. A cookbook of them is absolutely on my list for the future.

Dessert University, by Roland Mesnier. Mesnier was the White House pastry chef for decades, and his memoir, All The President’s Pastries, is among my favorites. His reputation is amazing, and I plan to learn from this one soon.

So there you have it. And now I want to know: What are your favorite cookbooks, and which are you wishing for? Leave a comment!


4 Responses to “Stocking the Kitchen Bookshelf”

  1. Amy December 21, 2010 at 3:23 pm #

    Some of my faves:

    “In the Sweet Kitchen”, Regan Daley
    “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice”, Peter Reinhart
    “Conscious Cuisine”, Cary Neff

    I totally agree with you on “How to Cook Everything”. Love that book…

    Would love “Good to the Grain”, Kim Boyce, but that will have to wait til I get work!

  2. Aviva Goldfarb December 21, 2010 at 3:29 pm #

    I am so flattered to be included on your wonderful list of best cookbooks–Mark Bittman and Ina Garten are two of my favorites, and I’m looking forward to trying the Cooking Light holiday book.

  3. Arlene Howard December 21, 2010 at 7:21 pm #

    I just got Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. It is my new go to cookbook. I am going to make at least 10 recipes out of it in the next 5 days.

  4. Gayle Haeffner December 21, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    My go to cookbooks are the 1990 New York Times Cookbook (I learned to bake bread from this one) great for everything from appetix zers to desserts, The Martha Stewart Cookbook with very detailed recipes you CAN be like Martha (or her staff), and Trader Vic’s cookbook, the birthplace of the Mai Tai. I totally agree about Michael Richard. He is so great! And I also love Church cookbooks. I have several from all over the country.

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