What are your all-time favorite cookbooks?
In our recent discussion of how to apply the 80/20 rule to cooking, I suggested that you don't actually need that many cookbooks--you just need a few really good ones.
But how do you actually find the really good ones that you should own? In my opinion, one of the key litmus tests for a cookbook is this: does somebody whose taste you trust recommend it to you?
And so I asked three of my favorite bloggers (Kris at CheapHealthyGood, Hannah and Phoebe at I Heart Kale and Meredith at Like Merchant Ships) if they'd be interested in sharing with me their three all-time favorite cookbooks with a few brief comments on each title. I included a list of my own favorites from our kitchen too.
And on top of that, Kris at CheapHealthyGood also wrote up a highly insightful article, in conjunction with this post, on The Dos and Don'ts of Buying a Cookbook.
The exercise yielded an absolute gold mine of cookbooks: some unusual, some workaday, all useful. Have a look, and consider these for your "critical few."
Here are Kris from CheapHealthyGood's favorites:
1) The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten
In the Amazon reviews for this, the word "simplicity" comes up over and over again, and for good reason. Using just a few quality ingredients, Ina creates a solid collection of delicious, gorgeous dishes. Some are meant for parties and gatherings (the brownies), but others (turkey meatloaf) are just fine for the everyday. I haven't found a dud in the group.
2) The Best 30-minute Recipe by the editors of Cook's Illustrated
I received this book for Christmas, so I've only had the chance to make five dishes so far, but they've been uniformly stellar. What's more, they include only whole, fresh ingredients and they can actually be made within the allotted 30 minutes. While the book could use an additional photo or two, the tips, illustrations, and equipment suggestions more than make up for it. Aces.
3) I'm Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
What's best about this cookbook (besides it's awesomely nerdy author) is that it reads like a really great piece of non-fiction. Yeah, Alton's included a few recipes here and there, but mostly, IJHFTF is a nifty explanation of how scientific principles work in the kitchen. I refer to it often when I run into trouble, or when I just feel like learning about convection. The design isn't too shabby, either.
Phoebe and Hannah from I Heart Kale:
Our top three cookbooks are:
1) Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey
This cookbook weighs in at over 600 pages, so we're always finding new recipes! It includes dishes from all over the world with a heavy emphasis on vegetables, grains and legumes, which is exactly how we love to cook. Best of all, it's sorted by ingredient, so if you find yourself with, say, a surplus of yellow split peas or eggplant, you can immediately find recipes with the desired ingredient.
2) Mangoes & Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels Through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
What a gorgeous book--the recipes are interspersed with photos and stories from the authors' years of travel across the Indian subcontinent. We've discovered new recipes and perfected techniques for classic ones, and our South Asian cooking is way more authentic-tasting thanks to ingredients we learned about in this book, like curry leaves.
3) Vegetable Soups from Deborah Madison's Kitchen by Deborah Madison
This one really fits well with our style of cooking because it's explicitly seasonal--vegetable soups are grouped into spring, summer, winter and fall, so they're designed to rely on the natural flavor of an August tomato or some April asparagus. There are also separate sections for grain soups, bean soups, and restorative soups. The photography is drool-inducing and each soup has a suggested wine pairing.
Meredith from Like Merchant Ships says that these are the cookbooks in her kitchen "most spotted with food stains," a clear sign of heavy use if there ever was one.
1) Breakfasts: Sue Gregg's Eating Better Series Breakfasts Book by Sue Gregg
I didn't know what wheat berries were before reading Sue Gregg. Now I whip up blender batter waffles and other soaked grains every week.
2) Recipes from Miss Daisy's by Daisy King
Menus from the now-defunct Southern tea room have saved my sanity while entertaining. Miss Daisy was a Nashville celebrity decades before anyone heard of Paula Deen.
3) The Gourmet Cookbook: More than 1000 recipes by John Willoughby and Zanne Early Stewart
I would have been intimidated by The Gourmet Cookbook had I not just finished Reichl's Garlic and Sapphires. This Salvation Army find has proven its worth with surprisingly easy recipes that turn out right every time.
Finally, these are the three cookbooks that get the most use here at Casual Kitchen:
1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective
This cookbook did more to shape my philosophical approach toward cooking than anything else. It turned me into a part-time vegetarian. It made me realize that vegetarian cooking isn't just for vegetarians, and it's not just food minus the meat.
2) 365 Ways to Cook Pasta by Marie Simmons
I found this cookbook at about the same time I found "Eat to Win," so naturally it was a good fit with a high-carb diet. At first I thought it was a gimmick cookbook, but on the contrary, this is one of the most encyclopedic cookbooks I've ever found. It covers almost every combination and permutation of pasta cooking imaginable, from summer salads, to a puttanesca sauce, to a carbonara sauce, to NINE different lasagne recipes. And at $5.99 in paperback, this has to be the best value I've ever found in a cookbook.
3) Vegetarian Soup Cuisine by Jay Solomon
This is a warhorse in our kitchen. Almost every recipe in the cookbook is excellent and most are highly scalable (assuming you have a large enough soup pot!). And you can cook these meals for very low cost.
Enjoy! And if you have favorites you'd like to add to this list, please feel free to include them in the comments below.