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.