Six Cookbooks That Should Be the Foundation of Your Cookbook Collection

Are you looking for a list of reasonably priced cookbooks that can be the foundation of your cookbook collection?

I'm often asked to recommend cookbook titles, and today's post is a brief list of the six cookbooks I would recommend the most highly out of the dozens of cookbooks I've bought, borrowed and used over the past 20 years. Today's six recommendations are our "foundation cookbooks" here at Casual Kitchen.

It's all too easy to have many of the cookbooks you buy just sit on your shelf, wasting space and money. That's why it's so critical to get trustworthy recommendations, so you can be certain that the cookbooks you buy will be a part of your critical few. I hope you enjoy these cookbooks as much as we do.

Readers, what are the foundation cookbooks in your kitchen?
Six Foundation Cookbooks:
1) Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant

This is our favorite cookbook here at Casual Kitchen, and in my humble opinion, it's one of the best cookbooks in existence. It contains some 500 recipes across 18 different ethnic cuisines, and after more than ten years of cooking from it we've still barely scratched the surface of what this book has to offer.

2) The Vegetarian Epicure

A classic work of the vegetarian cookbook canon. Even if you're just part-time vegetarians like we are, or if you're just looking for ways to cook great recipes at reasonable expense, this is an exceptional cookbook that I recommend highly. It's filled with straightforward and delicious recipes of all types, and it includes highly informative chapters on vegetarianism, as well as a discussion of issues surrounding processed foods and food additives (given that the book was written in 1972, this book was far ahead of its time in addressing these subjects). Still more amazing is the fact that author Anna Thomas was only 24 years old when she wrote this treasure of a cookbook.

3) Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook

Don't expect to see exotic ethnic cuisine in this warhorse cookbook (although the book tries valiantly on occasion), but do expect to find all of the information you'll ever need to know to cook every meat, vegetable, casserole, bread and cake under the sun. In short, for under $20, it's all you'll ever really need to master hearty American cuisine.

Also, for supporters of breast cancer awareness, there is a limited edition "Pink Plaid" version of Better Homes, which contains the full Better Homes cookbook with bonus feature recipes from a variety of female celebrity cookbook authors.

4) Vegetarian Soup Cuisine: 125 Soups and Stews from Around the World

Jay Solomon's cookbook is unfortunately becoming more and more difficult to find on bookstore shelves, but you can still get plenty of copies at Amazon. This wonderful, modest little cookbook opened an entire new world to me of simple one-pot soups and stews, most of which are easy to make and laughably cheap. If you're looking to make an investment in reducing both your food bill and the amount of time you spend cooking, this book is an excellent place to start.

5) 365 Ways to Cook Pasta

On a per-dollar-spent basis, I've found more great recipes in this cookbook than in any other cookbook I've ever purchased. By far. I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a big selection of affordable recipes, most of which are extremely easy to make.

6) Chef Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen

The least healthy, but the most fun, cookbook on this list. This cookbook is suitable for intermediate-level cooks, as some of the recipes in here can be a bit involved and complex. But if you've mastered the basics of cooking, this book will teach you how to make exceptional Cajun and Creole food and blow away your family and friends with what is arguably America's greatest cuisine. Just take one look at the picture of chef Paul on the cover and you can tell that there's gonna be some great recipes in here.

Related Posts:
How to Get More Mileage Out of Your Cookbooks
Cookbook Review: The Cornbread Gospels
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
The Most Heavily Used Tool in Our Kitchen--Our Rice Cooker.

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* A note to readers: As always, along with each book title, I've included links to Amazon for your convenience. If you are interested in buying any of these cookbooks, you can help support Casual Kitchen by using those links to visit Amazon. I will receive a small affiliate fee based on your purchases, and it will not cost you anything extra. I thank you, readers, for all of your support!


Amanda said...

I do own quite a number of cookbooks that I've used and cooked from a number of times, but more often than not I refer to, or just make things up as I go along.

Skinny on South Beach said...

I would have to add Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. Great basic recipes, such as roast chicken, but with an emphasis on whole and organic foods. Also, can I ask why you chose to put Louisianna grub in there?

Liz T. said...

No Mark Bittman? I love me some Mark Bittman.

I did buy Jay Solomon's book after you mentioned it awhile back. Good stuff!

Daniel said...

Hi Amanda, yep, there are certainly plenty of great recipes on the 'net. In many ways cookbooks are becoming less of a necessity than they once were, but I still like the feel and familiarity of a physical cookbook at times.

NF: Admittedly, the Paul Prudhomme book is an outlier here, but it is a great one. A keeper. And thank you for the additional title!

Liz: Glad you are enjoying Jay Solomon, and thanks also for your thoughts on Bittman. I know lots of people really like him.

Thanks for reading!


uncanny said...

You have been awarded a blog award! Swing by if you'd like to see it!

MCM Voices said...

Dan, thank-you for this list! I use the Better Homes cookbook for one recipe (banana bread) but have never explored the other recipes. I'm going to take a look.

I have to tell you - I had a cooking meltdown a few weeks ago - was constantly burning stuff as I tried desperately to get all my work done AND get dinner on the table for my family. I've always done well with improvising and making things up but I went too far in my attempt to do too many things at once and scan recipes online while also working. What helped me tremendously was to stop, take some deep breaths and go back to the cookbook I used as a child - the old Betty Crocker cookbook. The one my mother had was the first edition, the 1950 one, although I've come to prefer the 1956 edition. It's a hoot to read the little blurbs about where the recipes came from. And if you're stressed and desperate, just reading the table of contents can calm you down - doesn't "Simple Sweets for the Very Young" sound comforting? The first thing I made after my meltdown was a cheese souffle with ham. Hadn't made a souffle since I was a kid, and the whole family loved it.

So, if you do most of the cooking in your house and find that it's getting to be just a relentless chore, try going back to a simpler time, get off the computer and pick up the cookbook (whatever it might be) that taught you to cook. It may be all the therapy you'll ever need.


Daniel said...

Mary, thanks for your insightful comment. You are so right... sometimes simpler is much MUCH better.

Thanks as always for reading!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendations! I like to peruse, but often there are so many recipes for the same thing, it's hard to predict which will be the best. I'll definitely check out the Soups cookbook you recommend.

Anonymous said...

Every kitchen should have a copy of The Joy of Cooking - it even tells you how to fix 'possum!

Alyson Button Stone said...

Daniel, I so enjoy your blog, and I wanted to tell you about something I'm involved in, in hopes that you might write about us and help us spread the word. I manage a market at, called The Village. It was an idea I had that artisans in the handmade movement could have a more enjoyable experience if they participated together in a "real" virtual community. We are about 60 strong, and celebrate life in a village of our own design. At Josie's Cafe, we exchange recipes and partake of Josie's Scandinavian delights. We don't gain any weight, and we can unleash our imaginations. We are now planning a Winterval, with lots of community activities, an Art Walk, and a bonfire finale. There will be barbecues, lots of food booths, and lots of camaraderie. I wish I could tell everyone about how this group found each other, and how that together we will weather the economic adversities to come. I hope you will visit, search on "The Village," and celebrate our little Brigadoon!

Sally said...

The only one of your choices I agree with is the Better Homes & Gardens cookbook -- or another basic cookbook (Betty Crocker, Joy of Cooking, Bittman's How to Cook Everything and others). After that it's a matter of personal preference, and your food preferences are different than mine.

I like Pam Anderson's How to Cook Without a Book very much and I'm looking forward to the release of Cook Without a Book: Meatless Meals this fall.

I've owned three of the cookbooks you mention and sold them because I didn't use them:, Sundays at Moosewood, Jay Soloman's soup book (and I LOVE soup), and The Vegetarian Epicure.