Cookbooks I Know and Love

At last count, my cookbook collection numbered 141. I’ve received a bunch from friends in publishing and family members over the holidays, so it’s likely closer to 150 now. An entire wall of our kitchen is devoted to shelves for them. Some I use weekly, others sit unopened and unloved, relics of a time when I had more enthusiasm for, say, fish, or unusual techniques to save a few grams of fat. Several are strictly for reading, set aside in a basket next to the bed. A handful are so well-loved that I don’t really need to open them anymore; it’s as if the cherished recipes seep into my body when I touch the cover.

For the last few months S and I have been fixing up our kitchen—tearing down wallpaper, painting, making pot racks (!!!)—and during that time my shelves were dismantled, their contents divvied up between my home office and our bedroom. It was a challenge to me, both because it made life slightly more difficult—browsing for new recipe ideas isn’t so easy when you have to move things around to reach your cookbooks—and because I missed seeing their colorful spines lined up along the wall. But this week we’re finishing up the work, finally, and my cookbooks are back in place. It seemed fitting to me, then, to look them over, to reacquaint myself with them. You’ll see that I’ve added a new section to the sidebar on the left of this page, a listing of Current Favorite Cookbooks. These are ones I turn to over and over, ones I’ve only recently acquired and find intriguing, and ones I’ve cooked from (with success) recently. A couple of notes:

  • I own all four of Ina Garten’s books—I was lucky enough to meet her and work on a few of them while I was a publishing person—but the one I turn to again and again is The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. The turkey meatloaf, the red pepper-eggplant spread, the barbecue sauce
  • When I’ve got some chicken to cook but I can’t think of what to do with it, The Cook’s Illustrated Complete Book of Poultry is always the first book I pull off the shelf. Most of the time I don’t follow recipes exactly, but there are more techniques and interesting ingredient combinations in here than I can count.
  • Though I’ve owned it for less than a year, The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion is far and away my favorite baking book. The sheer variety of the selections, the impossible-to-mess-up instructions, and the reliably delicious results give me high hopes for The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, which I received as a gift recently but haven’t yet used.
  • Martha Rose Shulman’s Mediterranean Light : Delicious Recipes from the World’s Healthiest Cuisine is a fabulous cookbook, filled with tasty and inventive—and healthy—dishes that are impressive enough to serve to guests. Grilled zucchini with lemon, basil, and hot pepper. Rice-and-tomato-stuffed vegetables. Garlic and chicken kababs. They’ll never guess it’s good for them.
  • An awful lot of people swear by The Joy of Cooking. Not me. My standby, it’s-got-everything-a-home-cook-could-ever-want cookbook is The New Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson. I’ve had it for nearly twenty years, and it’s never steered me wrong. Incredible versions of the basics in here, as well as some more interesting stuff. This Friday I’ll be posting about some Sugar & Spice Pecans I adapted from its pages (just one part of my Sugar High Friday: Nuts post).
  • And one book I neglected to include in my list on the left, which has saved my ass time and again: Sharon Tyler Herbst’s The New Food Lover’s Tiptionary, an alphabetical compendium of ingredients and terms, with basic recipes and discussion of techniques. For example, the “sugar” entry alone is three or four pages, and that doesn’t include the candymaking aspects (caramelizing, etc.) When I find myself in trouble half-way through a recipe, this is the book I pull out. Nine times out of ten I find my answer. If I’m lucky, six times out of ten it’s in time to fix it.

Well, those are my current favorites. What are yours? I’m always looking for a hot tip on a cool cookbook.