The Favorite Cookbooks of My Favorite Bloggers

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.


Meredith said...

Goody! A whole new list of books to watch for.

I check out Barefoot Contessa's from the library all the time. Still waiting to find an affordable copy for myself!

The Stepford Stepmom said...

I love the Taste of Home Cookbook, and the Taste of Home Baking Book. And I adore all of their magazines as well. I don't know where I'd be without them. Cooking Light has an annual recpie book that I adore.

One I love that I'm sure you've never heard of is "At Home, At Sea: Recipes from the Maine Windjammer." It's the most wonderful cookbook ever... I absolutely crave cooking from it sometimes. If you can find it, you *HAVE* to check it out.

The Sugar Mill Carib. Cookbook is also great. It has some pretty exotic recipes in there... Not everybody's taste I'm sure, but it is one I love. Perhaps I'm biased, though, as we ate there when we were on honeymoon... :)

Beth said...

I love the good old Betty Crocker. she tells me how to make a pie crust, what temperature my chicken should be and has the best recipe for pancakes, banana bread, and muffins.
I couldn't live without it.

Zombiemommy said...

My favorite cookbook of all time is the "Better Homes and Garden's Cookbook", the red and white checkered one.
Every recipe I ever make (except for the muffin recipes) is a hit. If I have never made a dish before I use this as a base and then branch out. You can't beat the consistency of it.

Also its great for new cooks (mothers buy this for your daughters when they head off to college:)), because it doesn't have complex spices or techniques for cooking and it has everything from pancakes to greek pasticcio.

I have gotten rave reviews from the spanikopita, oven fried chicken, creamy herbed porkchops, coconut macaroons, blue cheese stuffed meatballs and ranger cookies. I highly recommend it.

Daniel said...

Thanks for all the suggestions! This is turning out to be a fun exercise.

Stepford Wife: thanks for all of your titles! I'm quite interested in the At Home, At Sea cookbook and the Sugar Mill Caribbean cookbook in particular--I'll have to check them both out.

JA's Mom: I hear you on the Betty Crocker. There's something about a classic old reliable cookbook. Thanks for your comment.

GRM: I totally agree on Better Homes and Gardens. It's excellent and it also has extra sentimental value to me because my mother gave me a copy just before I went out to live on my own.


Anonymous said...

When I look at the cookbook shelf I always feel like a major league manager in the 8th inning of a 1-run ballgame in October looking out to the bullpen for some picthing help. There are a lot of guys out there but only one or two that you really trust, your go-to guys. And you keep going to them again and again.

Here are my "go-to" cookbooks, tattered, spice-stained, prehaps misrepresented, but loved:

1) Bistro Cooking at Home, Gordon Hammersly: most restaurant cookbooks tend to suck; they spend a lot of time telling you how cool it is to be a famous chef and leave you with a bunch of trimmed down versions of house "specialties," without truly teaching or inspiring. Hammer is humble and talented. Its french bistro, for sure, traditional meat and potatoes, but with a lot of respect for the seasons, the ingredients, the flavors. The braised short ribs are memorable. Cassoulet.... well, I guess I'm still not that ambitious. Thats what restaurants are for, right? Speaking of - If you haven't made the pilgrimage to his restaurant on Tremont St in Boston, hop on the Acela ASAP.

2) The Chefs of the Times: This is another type of book that I usually dont like - a collection of disparate recipes from disparate chefs. This is the type of book you might see at small townlibrary booksale in the summer in Maine or upstate new york for a buck or 2, but you'd pass by it, not expecting much. Drop the dollar, you wont regret it. This one is based on the NYTimes column back in the '90s called The Chef, where each week a famous chef worte a column about his/her inspiration and then included a couple of recipes that showcase their work. I learned a ton reading the stories, how they arived at their recipes, how they even ended up cooking to begin with. Marcus Samuellson's African Swedish fusion... enough said, what a story. Jean-George Vongrichten "poaches" his salmon in the oven on 175 degree heat. I now do this one all the time - my wife and I call it Levitating Salmon. So much here. More about the inpsiration than the recipes, but plenty of both.

Lastly, 3) Passione, by Gennaro Contaldo. This is the guy who taught the Naked Chef everything he knows about Italian. He emmigrated from the Amalfi Coast to London many years ago and opened a restaurant - but the cookbok isnt about the restaurant, it's about Amalfi, the coast, the ingredients, the simple tastes and preparations. Lots of great recipes and reminders about what is important in life - like eating fresh seafood, local ingredients and enjoying some limoncello.

Enjoy, thanks CK.

The Sieve

Daniel said...

Spectacular suggestions Mr. The Sieve. Thank you!


Gen said...

Waaay after the fact....I depend on Moosewood Cooks at Home and (my kids say) the Internet and reliable people like you.


Daniel said...

Gen, thanks for your input! This post gets a good amount of traffic, despite its age, so I'm happy to see new readers supply their favorites too.


Unknown said...

What, no Joy of Cooking fans? For shame! The most recent edition, fortunately, gets back to the roots of Joy, homely basic recipes. But I still have and love the great 1975 version too. What other single book would tell you how much sugar to add when you're freezing strawberries, and how to make cold cucumber soup?

LoriM said...

I like the "More with Less Cookbook" and recently found "How to Cook Without a Book" - by Pam Anderson - already making stuff out of there and learning some good basics that apply to many different situations.

Mattheous @ Menu Musings said...

I am absolutely flabbergaste that The Joy of Cooking didn't make this list. It's the only cookbook you need! The rest is just personal preference!

Daniel said...

Clearly "Joy" is a staple cookbook--that's exactly why I wanted input from readers too! Thanks for adding it to the mix.