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my favorite cookbooks

I buy cookbooks.. a lot. Sometimes I wonder why I buy so many, especially now that you can download more recipes off the internet than you could ever actually make in a lifetime. Perhaps it's because I design books for a living, so I get suckered in by a pretty title page or a really great cover. Despite the plethora of cookbooks that gather dust on my shelf, here are the five cookbooks I reach for the most:

Everyday Food: Great Food Fast  From the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living
Everyday Food, the magazine, launched while I was working at Martha Stewart Living and so all the employees got free issues each month. You can see from my early issues, above, how well-loved they are. Post-its flag the recipes I use most often so I can easily go back and find them. Great Food Fast is a nice collection of some of the best Everyday Food recipes, organized by season. These aren't mind blowing recipes, but they work great for casual dinners at home. (And I should mention that I think the recipes from the early years of EDF are better than the later years..)

Time for Dinner   By Cookie editors Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstarch, and Alanna Stang
If you aren't reading the blog Dinner: A Love Story, written by Jenny Rosenstarch, you really need to be. She's got a great handle on family dinners, especially when it comes to the little people in your life. And she's funny. (I'm still laughing about the memo she wrote to her husband about packing school lunches.) Time for Dinner is a great collection of recipes, but my favorite part is the "I want to use what I already have" chapter which shows recipes that use common ingredients you probably have sitting in your fridge (or need to use before they go bad). And I love the Strategic Sunday Dinner section, a great way to make one big meal on the weekend and use the leftovers for a meal or two throughout the week.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day  By Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois
This book has gotten considerable attention in the blogosphere (and for good reason). My copy automatically flips open to The Master Recipe on page 26, which I make every few weeks. The dough is ridiculously easy to whip up, you throw it in a big tupperare container, then let it rise, then store it in your fridge and grab some dough whenever you want fresh bread for dinner that night. (You just need to remember to take the dough out of the fridge about an hour and a half before dinner... shape your loaf, let it rise and then bake.) The Master Recipe makes 4 small round loaves, and my family of four can easily eat a whole loaf in one sitting. The dough stays good in the fridge for just shy of two weeks, so I usually make 2 loaves at a time, people don't seem to complain when you hand them a loaf of homemade bread fresh from the oven.

How to Cook Everything  By Mark Bittman
I've been a fan of Bittman's Minimalist column in The New York Times for years. Simple recipes, delicious results. He proves that cooking doesn't need to be overly complicated to be good. How To Cook Everything is kind of like my cooking bible. I pull it out for any question I might have, like "What do I do with this kale?" or "I need a different way to cook shrimp" or "What's the best way to roast these tomatoes?". I like to think of him as that really smart friend you often call upon for advice. In fact the motto for my kitchen is often WWBT: What Would Bittman Do?

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook  By Ina Garten
I did a few photoshoots with Ina back when we ran her entertaining column in Martha Stewart Living. It was always nice to get out of the city and spend the day in East Hampton. I quickly became a fan of her cookbooks, and own most of them, but this is the one I pick up most often. Ina's recipes just seem to work for me. They turn out just like I expect them to.. and really, what more do you want from a recipe? My favorites are: Grilled Lemon Chicken with Satay Dip (pg. 48), Sun-Dried Tomato Dip (pg. 54), Turkey Tea Sandwiches (pg. 58), Cheddar Corn Chowder (pg. 74), French Potato Salad (pg. 96), and the Fresh Corn Salad (pg. 101). Oh, and don't forget the Coconut Cupcakes (pg. 175).

The Best Recipe  By the editors of Cook's Illustrated magazine
I was given this book for a wedding present by one of the food editors at work, which is about as good an endorsement a cookbook can receive in my world. It looks like this edition is no longer in print, they've upgraded to The NEW Best Recipe which includes even more recipes, so you'll still be in good shape. Here's what the folks at America's Test Kitchen do best, taking a recipe for something like Strawberry Shortcake and then dissecting every part of it. They try it with baking powder vs. baking soda, they add a little buttermilk or heavy cream, they test the recipe with four different kinds of flour.. and in the end they end up with a recipe they consider "the best". The recipes can be a little time-consuming, and sometimes the ingredients seem a little fussy, but the end result never lets me down. (I've also heard good things about The Best 30-Minute Recipe but have yet to try it.. perhaps my next cookbook purchase?)

A little tip for those of you just starting to cook: I write all over my cookbooks, marking in the margins the date I try the recipe along with notes like "Delicious! Try with more thyme." or "Next time add a little more sugar." It helps me remember the little changes I want to try next time I make that recipe. You can tell the recipes I really love because they are covered in notes: ingredients have been slightly altered, measurements changed, and there are little notes next to each step.

I'd love to hear about the cookbooks you use most often, the ones that are spattered with tomato sauce and have wrinkly pages... you know the ones I mean.

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Reader Comments (34)

I love how your Everyday Foods magazine look so used. I also buy more cookbooks than I need since I rarely cook, but I'm going to make this year the year to start cooking. I like Alice Waters and Cooks Illustrated cookbooks.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

I'm a huge fan of Artisan Bread in 5 min/day and have converted so many friends that I should get some kickback, I'm sure. Great Food Fast is well used in my kitchen. But my all time favorite book (the one that is stained and pages are falling out) is The Figs Table by Todd English and Sally Sampson. Top recipes from the book: sweet & savory sauce, gingersnaps, and white bean hummus. Their butternut squash ravioli we made was just as good as what we at English's restaurant, Olives.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKiasa

Thanks for the recs! I ask anyone who is a fan of Barefoot Contessa which of her cookbooks is their favorite--I think I will settle on the one you've chosen. I received The Best Recipe book as a gift but keep forgetting to check it when I want to make something basic (embarrassing to admit).

I have the Healthy Bread version of the Artisan Bread books because we love whole grains here and I highly recommend it.

I have a quick question--do you ever vary or doctor up your Everyday Food recipes? Some of the ones I have tried seem to need a little "something" (maybe I just like spicy) ~ just curious.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

What a great list! One of my favorite cookbooks is The Frog Commissary. We received it as a wedding gift but it has consistently given us great recipes.

I too write in all my cookbooks, including the date I first cooked it. When I first got married my Mom told me the story of a Mom who had to have intensive chemo treatment and was away from home for a while. During that time the family hired a housekeeper who cooked their meals for them. When the Mom was home (and recovered) and the housekeeper left, the Dad asked how she had known to fix all the families favorite meals. The housekeeper told her that it was because the Mom had made notes in all of her cookbooks!

Also, do you have any advice on how to store all the Everyday Foods. I'm literally running out of room! Do you keep each one or just the ones with favorites?

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Wow. I am a HUGE MS Food lover. So cool that you designed them. I love them and use them all the time. Thanks for introducing me to some new ones. Can't wait to find more faves.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLesley

Thanks for the recs! I get Everyday Food magazine and I just reserved the Artisan Bread one at the library. Two cookbooks I can't say enough about are The Six o'Clock Scramble and the follow up one SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble, both by Anita Goldfarb. The recipes are easy, healthy, they don't require any exotic ingredients and I can honestly say every recipe I've made out of either book has been a great success.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart is getting a lot of love lately.
Betty Crocker is my go to basic cookbook.
Whitewater Cooks and Whitewater Cooks at home are local cookbooks that are amazingly beautiful and yummy. Everyone around here uses them so it's fun to compare recipes with people.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterHanna

I love Giada De Laurentiis' cookbooks... and I'm with you on writing all over the pages! Thank you for these suggestions of your favorites. I can't wait to try the bread cookbook!

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa

this was my next post sneaky!! I love Ina as well as she is pure genius - got "how is easy is that?" for christmas and have almost done all the recipes in it. no one can touch martha and all her expertise - as big favorite i keep reaching for right now is great food fast. and i have my own made up binder cookbooks filled with all my recipes from my bakery as well as ones that i have torn from magazines or swindled out of friends! love your picks and thanks for pointing me in the direction of dinner: a love story! inspiring as always!!

02.4.2011 | Unregistered Commenterjen

All of Ina's cookbooks are on regular rotation in our kitchen. Too many favorites to name. I also really enjoy the original Silver Palate Cookbook and Ten by Sheila Lukins. My go-to reference for any culinary question/technique/ingredient is a tie between Joy of Cooking and my grandmother's dog-eared cookbook from the 50's complete with her annotations and index cards of her handwritten recipes stuck lovingly throughout the book. It is barely held together with tape and my most precious possession. And just like Grams, my cookbooks are chock full of dates, notes, and tweaks. But always the first note, like hers, is whether my husband approved!

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterEmily

My FAVORITE cookbooks are The Best of America's Test Kitchen. They explain in great detail why each recipe works. They review ingredients and cookware to find the best brands. Seriously, this cookbook rocks.

It's not necessarily an everyday cookbook, but I attempt a nice meal from it about once a week. So far they have all been over-the-top fantastic!

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlie

This is perfect timing for me! I am really trying to get on top of my whole meal planning/shopping/cooking routines, and I am in the market for a few new cookbooks. I have Fresh Food Fast and turn to it constantly for good basic weeknight dinners. Love Ina too, and now I really want the other books you've mentioned! The Complete Italian Vegeatarian Cookbook was one of my first cookbook purchases that I still own and use all the time - the recipes are all delicious and have been foolproof for me. Others I love are Nigella Lawson's How To Eat, and the Gourmet cookbook.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLaura Gaskill

I would only add "Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys" by Lucinda Scala Quinn (another Martha Stewart alumna), but don't let the title put you off if you don't have many males around. It's a fantastic "real food" cookbook, with some simple and quick recipes, and some more involved but WORTH it recipes. She, also, is a family dinner booster, with lots of hints and tips scattered throughout the recipes.

02.4.2011 | Unregistered CommenterFran

I also love EDF and have every single issue. I search for the recipes online and then find that issue and use the recipe. I don't know about you but I hate reading a recipe off my laptop in the kitchen.
I like all of your favorites as well but one of my loves is How To Eat Supper by Lynn Rosetto Kasper. I have learned so much from her and it is one of those cookbooks that is just a great read as well. Perfect for the nightstand.

Perhaps you'll do a separate post on your favorite food/cooking websites, but I love the Smitten Kitchen blog. I also like to use my freezer, so the book "Don't Panic, Dinner's in the Freezer" and the follow-on "Don't Panic MORE Dinner's in the Freezer" are good for making a large batch of something and freezing it. I love EDF too, but there are so many issues now, it is hard to find all the good recipes that I saw over the past years, even thought I folded down the pages!!

02.5.2011 | Unregistered Commentermeanders

Thanks for the great recommendations! Would you ever consider sharing some more of your favourite recipes? I'm in a rut and would welcome some inspiration!!

02.6.2011 | Unregistered CommenterShelley

Thank you for this.....my Amazon "Add to cart" button has already been pressed once ore twice or more ;) I cook a lot from recipes found in MS Living magazine as I find it useful for following what's in season. Since I tend to love one or two recipes from each of my many cookbooks, I photocopy them and keep in a ringbinder. Recently I have been obsessed with my "Moro" cookbook (from the London retaurant with the same name).....chorizo and spinach paella etc etc.

I would LOVE if you have any tips to share on how to encourage (...and succeed) as regards toddlers and healthy eating. I am struggling BIG TIME with my strong-willed two-year-old. Anything green or vegetable is resisted unless it is sneakingly & desceptively camouflaged as a 'meatball' or something....

02.6.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarianne

Oh forgot to say that my alltime favorite cookbook is a legendary 800-page Norwegian one (I am Norwegian...) which was a gift from my mother when I left for college. It is encyclopaedia-style and covers everything as regards basics and technique. It is dear to me because it helped me past that scary 'oh my God I can't cook' phase when I needed somewhere to look up how to boil and egg or make pancakes.

02.6.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarianne

Thank you for sharing that with us, it's awesome to know where people find their favourite recipes. I love cookbooks that have pictures of food in, none of these ones without pictures... I tend to flick through them in bookshops but I'm afraid tosay most of my recipes are from online sites nowadays!

02.6.2011 | Unregistered CommenterSammi

Brooke, I showed my husband the picture of your EF magazines, and he said, "Another Everyday Food hoarder!" I have moved my Everyday Food magazine collection with us across the country twice and cook from them every week. I just let my subscription go, since I think our six year stash will hold us for a lifetime!

I got Mad Hungry for Christmas and use it at least once a week. My Joy of Cooking is in tatters, and I still schlep it around my kitchen all the time. I am with you on How to Cook Everything. You know that there is a HTCE app? Pretty slick. I'm off to plan some meals...

02.6.2011 | Unregistered Commenterbecca l.

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