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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)

This was a great post, Brooke. I'm always interested in what cookbooks people gravitate toward. I love "A Homemade Life" because the recipes are so approachable and reliable. Not a cookbook, but I also am an avid Smitten Kitchen blog reader, (although Deb is coming out with a book soon!)

I love that you write notes in your books. Your kids will cherish these words when the books inevitably end up in their hands. Some of my most favorite posessions are recipes hand written by my Mom and grandmother. Treasures!

02.7.2011 | Unregistered Commenterhayley l.

I have a pot of Ina's Cheddar Corn Chowder sitting in my fridge right now! We made it just the other night. It's one of my go-to soup recipes. Have you ever tried her banana crunch muffins? Also very good.

Canning for a New Generation is quickly becoming one of my most used cookbooks. I've made the french bread recipe twice in the last week and the salsa is flat out amazing. I also always turn to Farm Journal's Homemade Breads for their buttermilk pancake recipe.

02.7.2011 | Unregistered CommenterMeredith

I love Everyday Food Great Food Fast, Ina Garten, and How to Cook Everything! Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian is a marvelous cookbook even for non-vegetarians, full of great ideas for things to do with vegetables that are a little more exciting than Bittman but hardly more complicated. Sunday Suppers at Lucques is great for special meals...definitely not weeknight material, but shows you how to make incredible food at home. Oh, and I love Mad Hungry, too!

02.7.2011 | Unregistered CommenterRobin

I'm a fan of each cookbook you specified, but should add that I also adore "The Joy of Cooking." It never, ever (really: never) lets me down.

Great post. I can absolutely recommend the Test Kitchen Best 30 Minute Recipes, it is our go-to on weeknights whomever is cooking and we haven't had a 'fail' yet.

02.8.2011 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

thanks for these recommendations. i love cookbooks as well. my most used is my mom's recipe book she put together, but after that i find myself needing new inspiration. one of my favorite recipe blogs is www.melskitchencafe.com

02.8.2011 | Unregistered Commenterjulie

We're very much on the same wavelength when it comes to cookbooks. Those I use the most are Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, The (New) Best Recipe, Barefoot Contessa Family Style and the 1997 Joy of Cooking. I also date my recipes and scribble notes in the columns (except when I think the paper is too "nice" and don't want to ruin it by writing on it -- then I take notes on a large index card that I keep between the pages of the cookbook) -- glad to know I'm not the only one!!!!

02.9.2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke

Thanks so much for sharing!

I second the earlier comment -- would love to know what your favorite foodie websites/blogs are.

We are also loving: Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies by Alice Medrich Got it for Christmas and everything just looks so yummy!

Happy Cooking!

02.9.2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly

I have both of the Everyday Foods (Great Food Fast & Fresh Flavor Fast)...those are both pretty worn in. I also love Martha Stewart's New Classics cookbook, The Blue Chair Jam cookbook, and when I am feeling healthy...The Moosewood Cookbook (vegetarian).

02.10.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah B

I love the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the version that was edited by Marion Cunningham. I almost always find a receipe for whatever it is. My only problem is that I don't eat any dairy products.

02.10.2011 | Unregistered CommenterLeah

Our cookbook shelf looks similar, but Julia Child's The Way to Cook was the book that actually did teach me to cook, and it is written on, dog-eared, and splattered like the Velveteen rabbit version of a book. Great illustrations and photos were so essential to me at the start (and still are!).

I was gifted The New Best of Cook's Illustrated in 2009 and LOVE it. It converted me from a long-loved corn muffin recipe (theirs really is better) and I love just reading it.

I just recycled my large collection of EDF...it was time to let them go, but maybe one book by them would be a good replacement.

Love Mark Bittman & Alice Waters. Love DALS web site. I'd love to know your favorite kitchen prose books---like Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and Too Many Cooks by Emily Franklin. I'm in love with those reads as well.

02.12.2011 | Unregistered CommenterDeirdre

The phrase "What does Bittman say" is uttered so often at our house that my husband joked today that he likes to think we have a miniature Mark Bittman living in our kitchen cupboard, ready to hop out and be consulted at a moment's notice. Such a handy little man to have around!

02.12.2011 | Unregistered CommenterErin

I came across your website through Martha Stewarts web site. My very favorite cook book is one I used as a teenager that my mom, friends and bowling mates all put together. That was thirty years ago! It has some of the best recipes that come out perfect everytime. Its called the Buzzard Club Cookbook, by Tyler, Texas Chapter Buzzard Clubs of America.

04.21.2011 | Unregistered CommenterTania Charlebois

I appreciate the links. I only have one cookbook at home. I hope to buy more since I was inspired by this :D

07.5.2011 | Unregistered CommenterCindy

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