I love cookbooks. The best gift Grant ever gave me was twelve months of cookbooks for Mother’s Day one year. I was allowed to buy a cookbook a month for an ENTIRE YEAR. Hint to Grant: you can do that again anytime. Well, except that I’m running out of room to store them. I will admit that I do more recipe-hunting online these days than I do referencing my cookbooks, but I love to read through the cookbooks for ideas and techniques. As a cook and booklover, I don’t think there is a more thoughtful gift to receive than a well thought-out cookbook. Here are some of my favorites, with some suggestions from friends and family too:
- How to Cook Everything or How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman: I have both of these, although I think his newest one, How to Cook Everything Fast, looks great as well. I’ve read several of his other books, and I love how Bittman thinks about food (check out his sadly retired The Minimalist column in the NYT for some great reading). I bought these two books when I really first started caring about where my food comes from, which meant that I had to do more cooking from scratch. I’ll be honest – I don’t reference these as much anymore, but I use the techniques they taught me every day. They are foundational books for any cook. Both of these are also great for beginner CSA shareholders because they give great preparation ideas for every possible fruit and veggie. Side note: these would make great wedding gifts.
- The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook: This is another one of those that I would consider a “foundational” cookbook. I have the original, but the new version claims to have 1100 new recipes, which seems like the way to go. The cookbook is huge, and packed full of simple tips with tons of variations. You can’t go wrong with anything from ATK’s line-up (I regularly check out some of their other titles from the library. I have especially liked this one and this one lately). Someone gave me a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated, which is written by the ATK folks, several years ago, which I loved. I put all of the magazines in a binder, wrote my favorite recipes on the front, and use it like any other cookbook.
- The Dairy Hollow House Soup & Bread: This one is a little tougher for you because it isn’t published anymore (some publisher should do us all a favor and re-print this thing), although it does seem pretty easy to find used versions (our library also has a few copies, so there seem to be lots of these floating around). We make a ton of soups at our house, and I reference this cookbook often. Some of our favorite soups started from Dairy Hollow versions. It was obviously written in the early 1990s when low-fat was all the rage, but I just ignore that part and up the healthy fats in most of the recipes.
- Good to the Grain: I’ve mentioned this book here many times before, but I credit this one for getting me back into baking. Some of the whole grains she uses are a bit difficult to find, but once you find them, there are plenty of recipes to make with them. I think most of our family’s favorite baked goods come from this cookbook.
- The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Nobody does comfort food like PW, if you ask me. This definitely isn’t clean eating, but I do appreciate how she uses real food ingredients in all of her recipes. PW has my go-to recipes for meatloaf, chicken pot pie, and this chocolate cake that I make for Oktoberfest every year. My pet peeve with this cookbook is that she has since published many of the recipes on her blog (see links for the recipes above), so you probably don’t need the cookbook. She has a few others out now that might be worth checking out at your local library, and I always feel good about supporting a food blogger that I like by buying her (or his) cookbook.
- The Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving: My mom gave this to me for Christmas a few years ago, and I use it so often that I store it in my cookbook holder (which, incidentally would make a great companion gift to give with any of these cookbooks). With our backyard garden, I often have stuff trickling in throughout the season whereas some things come in hoards all at once. Since this book is focused on small batches, it helped me realize that even putting up a few pints of something is worthwhile if it means 1) making sure we’re not wasting food and 2) we get so much satisfaction out of it in the middle of February. It is also helpful because it gives me the chance to try a small batch recipe to see whether or not we like it or what tweaks I want to make for a bigger batch.
- Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home: I bought this at a garage sale a long time ago. It’s now falling apart and has my notes and spills throughout. I don’t think you can go wrong with any Moosewood cookbooks. If you have any vegetarians on your Christmas list, they need a Moosewood cookbook in their collection. But even non-vegetarians will find some great gems for Meatless Mondays in 2015.
- The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: Smitten Kitchen is one of my favorite food blogs. Deb has never led me astray, she uses real ingredients, and tries to simplify rather than complicate all of her recipes. Her cookbook is more of the same (and doesn’t duplicate the blog, which is really saying something since SK has been around for a looong time).
- Real Food Fermentation: This is another one my mom gave me (thank you, Mom!) a few years ago when I first started preserving stuff. I like this book because it’s super easy to follow, has great pictures, and is very flexible, meaning it gives you plenty of substitutions if you don’t have an ingredient or two. This is a great introduction to fermentation.
- Super Natural Every Day: Heidi Swanson’s 101 Cookbooks blog is another one of those food blogs that has been around the block – it has been around since 2003, which pretty much makes it ancient in interweb years. She really got me thinking about new and different flavor combinations – and therefore being more adventurous in the kitchen. This would be a great gift for a more experienced cook.
- Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking: I really tried to keep this list to ten, but I couldn’t narrow it down that much. I had heard about this cookbook for years, and I finally picked it up after Hazan died last year. One of my resolutions for 2015 is to work my way through this cookbook more thoroughly, but everything I’ve made from it thus far has been so delicious – and so simple, which are basically my two favorite characteristics for just about everything. It’s a classic, and the Italians definitely know how to enjoy their food.
The following are a few that have been on my wish-list for some time – I’ve heard or read enough great reviews that I think they all need to be in my collection too:
- Simply in Season: My friend Jenny raves about this cookbook every chance she gets, and it seems to have my name written all over it.
- The Art of Fermentation: Sandor Katz is THE fermentation guru. I’ve read Wild Fermentation (which is more of a defense of fermenting than cookbook), and I’ve heard great reviews of his newest book.
- Plenty: Most of the food blogs and food-related sites that I peruse rave about this cookbook and the follow-up, Plenty More. Supposedly, Ottolenghi is a genius with vegetables, which means that I obviously need to get my hands on his book (oh and Grant – you could take me to his restaurant in London!).
Ok, your turn. Add your go-tos in the comments. I’ll be back with my favorite food blogs and websites after Christmas for all of those new year’s resolutions!