My Favorite Cookbooks
This list of my favorite cookbooks was inspired by Pi day. March 14th, you know, 3.14. Pi?
All I can ever remember of the most famous irrational number is 3.1415927 (rounded). What I remember more clearly is the person who sat behind me in multivariable calculus who used to finish his tests early and then write a stream of digits on the back of his exam.
But instead of sharing a post with an endless number of digits, I am going to share ten of my favorite cookbooks.
This blueberry pie comes from the 2010 edition of The Essential New York Times Cookbook, although you can find it online here as the blueberry pie with a lattice top. I added a 1/2 cup of cranberries and cooked down the berries for about ten minutes to try to decrease the ultimate juiciness of the pie. The top is the recipe crust but cut out using a “teardrop leaf” cookie cutter. Next time I’ll decrease the overhang of the “petals.”
In addition to Amanda Hesser’s version, I also have my mother’s Craig Claiborne’s NY Times Cookbook (1961) and the NY Times Large Type Cookbook (Jean Hewitt, 1968), but Hesser’s version transcends both of these. I describe it as the best all-around cookbook, because whatever I make has ranged from absolutely solid to a knock-it-out-of-the-park winner. It’s about to be re-released in an updated edition.
Don’t miss: the hot cheese olives (olive poppers); tomato soup (II); gratin of yams and chipotle cream; pizza with caramelized onions, figs, bacon, and blue cheese; Chinese-styled steamed sea bass (black cod); marinated flank steak with Asian slaw; sage biscuits; brown sugar shortbread; chocolate quakes; and lemon cake.
2) The Complete America’s Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook
I have the 2001-2019 version, but this great all-around cookbook gets updated every year with the new season, and mine already has nearly 1000 pages of recipes. The one thing to know about America’s Test Kitchen is that recipes get tested over and over again until they get it right. Sometimes this simplifies things if they decide that an extra step isn’t needed, and sometimes it means recipes get overly complicated.
Don’t miss: the Greek-style shrimp with tomatoes and feta (saganaki), skillet tamale pie, enchiladas verdes, scallion pancakes, Chinese barbecued pork, spicy Hoisin glaze for chicken, Southern shrimp burgers, fudgy triple chocolate brownies, Key lime bars, or the ultranutty pecan bars.
3) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison
I was an ovo-lacto vegetarian from 1995-2005 and have a good collection of vegetarian cookbooks from that period. This is a great resource when you want to consider all the options for how to cook a particularly vegetable. It’s great for vegetable sides and mains, and it’s the one I go back to most frequently. It makes the list of my favorite cookbooks as the best all-around vegetarian cookbook. It has also been updated since my 1997 version was published.
Don’t miss: the springtime asparagus soup, latkes, lasagne with eggplant and chard, beet risotto with greens, goat cheese flan, or her topping for fruit crisps.
4) Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
If mr. uglyducklingbakery had his way, every meal would include the sumac sauce from Jerusalem. Jerusalem first won my heart because of the pictures and stories about the divided city, but I keep going back to it for the food that evokes memories of my childhood and the months I spent traveling in the region and working on a dive boat out of Eilat.
Don’t miss: the roasted cauliflower and hazelnut salad (add feta and toasted pine nuts), falafel, mejadra (lentils and onions), stuffed eggplant with lamb and pine nuts, kofta b’siniyah, and turkey and zucchini burgers (but really it’s about the sour cream and sumac sauce). Don’t forget the chocolate krantz cakes (aka chocolate babka)!
5) Made in India by Meera Sodha
I thought Indian cooking was too complicated until I borrowed this cookbook from the library and started cooking. It took no time to realize that I needed to add it to my collection. Meera Sodha brings her home to your home. Just be careful if you and your family don’t like things hot! I often have to cut the spice level back by half to a quarter if I want the kiddo to eat.
Don’t miss: the eggplant and cherry tomato curry; Gujarati potato curry; creamy chicken and fig curry; pistachio and yogurt chicken curry; cilantro chutney chicken; mum’s chicken curry; caramelized onion, coconut, and egg curry; chana dal with golden garlic tarka; chana masala; and roasted cauliflower with a cumin, turmeric, and lemon. Really, pick any curry. You won’t go wrong.
6) All About Braising by Molly Stevens
Winter isn’t over yet. Braising has to be one of my favorite hands-off ways to cook a meal, and Stevens’s recipes put together flavor combinations that are anything but dull. Make them in your slow cooker. Make them on your stove top. Make them in your oven. Just keep it low and slow.
Don’t miss: the creamy braised Brussels sprouts; Indian style cauliflower, peas, and potatoes; chicken fricassee with artichokes and mushrooms; steaks smothered in mushrooms and onions; short ribs braised in porter with maple-rosemary glaze; Caribbean pork shoulder; and the sausages & plums (or grapes) braised in red wine.
7) Dinner by Melissa Clark
This cookbook caught my attention because what I really need after a long day of work and a kiddo about to melt down is a meal that is ready in 30 minutes. Melissa Clark brings a variety of recipes to the table that are both delicious and can often be made quickly on a weeknight.
Don’t miss: the Vietnamese ginger chicken, ginger pork meatballs, Japanese omelet, fusilli & roasted cauliflower with capers, pasta carbonara torte, spicy pork noodles with ginger and baby bok choy, maple-roasted tofu with winter squash, sweet potato dahl, olive-oil braised chickpeas, sausage polenta with red cabbage and caraway, and the skillet brown-butter cornbread. omg the cornbread.
8) How to Bake Everything by Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman does a bit of everything, and so does this general baking cookbook. What it lacks in pretty pictures it makes up for in lists of variations, ways to mix and match, and a figure with things to try so you can get your chocolate chip cookies and other drop cookies to be the cookie that is perfect for you.
(Some people like their cookies flat and crisp. Others like them chewy and soft. It’s what you like. So if someone tries to tell you that they have the “perfect chocolate chip cookie,” they’re just selling something. Run as fast as you can the other way/rant over.)
Don’t miss: that “Drop cookies your way” figure, fig Bittmans (aka fig newtons), baked apples, chocolate puddings (particularly the chocolate-peanut butter pudding), pita, flaky caramelized fennel and sausage tart, dulce de leche, and the chocolate-hazelnut spread (aka nutella).
9) The Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
So many of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s cookbooks could have made this list of my favorites cookbooks, but I’m including the Pie and Pastry Bible because it really changed how comfortable I felt baking pies. If you are afraid of pies because you think pie crust is challenging, you should try RLB’s flaky cream cheese pie crust. You won’t buy another store-bought pie crust again. If you are looking for a gift for a baker just starting to make pies, this is the one.
Don’t miss: this cookbook has too many out-of-the-park winners to list each of them. I reach for this cookbook for almost all of my pie crusts, fruit pies, chiffon pies, chocolate-peanut butter pie (ok, that one needed to be listed), quick puff pastry, traditional puff pastry, gougeres and other choux pastry, and scones.
10) The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
I have a few bread-focused cookbooks, but this one wins for me for being accessible to beginner to master bread-bakers with great information and instructions for shaping. It doesn’t win the record for number of recipes – recipes start on page 105, but it includes a variety of styles that will make you happy regardless of the type of bread you love to eat.
Don’t miss: the three brioche recipes with their varying quantities of butter, casatiello, challah, cinnamon raisin walnut bread, kaiser rolls, marbled rye, Portuguese sweet bread, Vienna bread, and of course all of the sourdough.
Now I want to make all of these things.
Obviously there a lot of fabulous cookbooks that I didn’t include in the top ten list of my favorite cookbooks. Irma Rombauer, Julia Child, Marcella Hazan, Diana Kennedy, Madhur Jaffrey and many others have filled my shelves with years worth of cooking. Each of them has a recipe or two that I go back to occasionally. You can tell me I’m wrong, and I should spend more time with any of them. April is unscheduled…
If you have or buy any of these cookbooks and make one of my suggestions, please comment here or share a pic with me on Instagram!
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