Even in this day and age, where everyone just hops on the “interwebs” and pulls up recipes from epicurious or Food Network (like Rachael Ray’s late night bacon…what is that, omg I just can’t…), I still totally love cookbooks. I love looking through them for inspiration, information, and it’s sort of like buying an album rather than downloading one for free. I like to support chefs and writers that seem worthy. Plus, cookbooks tend to have a flow to them; the good ones make a lot of sense as a cohesive unit rather than as a blurb on a website. These days, I am more interested in the ones that are single subject, with plenty of information on a particular cuisine or dietary need or cooking method. It’s always good to keep learning!
So, if you’re curious, here’s a list of my favorite cookbooks of all time and of the present, starting with…
Stop And Smell the Rosemary
Perhaps the reason I am herb-obsessed (oh, you hadn’t noticed yet?) is because the first cookbook I remember opening and cooking from while I was in high school was my mom’s junior league cookbook, Stop and Smell the Rosemary. It’s a lovely book. I loved looking at all the pictures and reading the little blurbs of culinary information that is scattered throughout. The dish I particularly remember making out of here was a tuna steak with a homemade pesto-type sauce of some kind (forgive me, for I am old and my memory is not what it used to be.) But I do remember that it was rather good and I learned that following the directions in a recipe is step one to cooking. Seems rather obvious, though I can tell you that even after my smashing tuna steak success, it took me years to be able to make Jell-O correctly. So…yeah.
Ah, Nigella. You sultry minx. Another cookbook I discovered either in high school or my freshman year of college. I know I took it to college with me because it was a direct contributor into my freshman 15 (read: 25) and my desire to convert my dorm room into a bakery. After all, I did have a toaster oven and a mini-fridge. What more do you need? Anyway, I remember discovering Nigella’s show on the Style Network or something during one of my many bouts of insomnia, and I got hooked. That voice, that food… she made everything look so easy and so darn glamorous! And she always nipped to the kitchen at night to eat her leftovers, which I found awesome and validating. This book has just gorgeous baking recipes and photos, and I still have the buttercream recipe memorized. It’s my go-to. I don’t love baking as much anymore, but a flip through this book still makes me a bit wistful about my lost career as a dormitory baker.
The classic tome of la cuisine francaise. I suppose that this is on many people’s top cookbook lists, but with good reason. It’s just that integral. Julia Child did something that hadn’t been done by translating classic French culinary traditions to the American kitchen. Yes, the recipes are a bit cumbersome and some are totally out of date (I will NEVER make an aspic again) but the attention to technique and flavor is all there, ready to be absorbed by willing minds and cooks who are not afraid to get their hands and kitchens a little dirty. I know Julie Powell and the movie Julie and Julia sort of pounded this recipe into the ground, but if you’re looking for a great place to start with this book, try the boeuf bourguignon recipe. It’s easy enough to follow and teaches you all about searing, deglazing, braising, how to pincer with tomato paste, etc, etc. All in one recipe! Maybe I’ll do a demo of that one day…yes, I definitely will. You talked me into it.
Despite my tendency to eschew any chef who willingly appears on the Food Network, except Alton Brown and definitely NOT except Sandra Lee (she is KRAZY), I rather like Jamie Oliver. He seems to have a pretty good set of priorities. Also, I ate at one of his restaurants in Bath and it was delish. This cookbook, in particular, won my devotion because of the ingenious layout. Instead of organizing by course, each meal is laid out with several courses already. So you choose whatever main dish sounds good, and then he’s paired it with a couple of sides, a dessert or sometimes a tasty drink recipe. Like meatball sandwich with pickled cabbage, chopped salad, and banana ice cream. Then, the cooking instructions are laid out in a way that makes sure you will achieve this in 30 minutes. Instead of a novice cook having to break it down and decide what should go on the stove when, or how to organize their time well, it’s all there in the instructions. It’s a great way to learn how to prioritize in the kitchen. Plus, he uses a lot of little British-isms that are cute, like glugs of olive oil and “veg.” Nice big variety of menus, too.
I still haven’t bought this but I’ve flipped through it dozens of time at work. I’m waiting for some event where I need to make this cake:
But Christina Tosi is an evil genius. I’ve made a bunch of the Momofuku Milk Bar cookies, and I can say UNEQUIVOCALLY that the corn cookies are the best cookies in the entire history of the universe of cookies. Hmm, a universe of cookies sounds neat. Anyway, a lot of these recipes call for things like clear vanilla extract and pure glucose and all kinds of crazy baker things. I think this is definitely a book for advanced bakers, but it’s amazing to look at. If you are in New York, go to the Milk Bar. Have a corn cookie for me.
And finally, not because I am running out of cookbooks I love, but because I am tired:
I even love the title. Breakfast IS comforting. Especially those eggs on the cover. Yum. I taught a class on this book a while back and just fell in love. It’s definitely weekend breakfast or brunch food, or even breakfast for dinner, because I am not waking up early enough ever to make myself buttermilk waffles or a gruyere and mushroom puff pastry braid from scratch. But, if you ever have a hankering for some delicious early morning food, this is where to look, especially if you are feeling adventurous. The recipes are pretty easy to follow, and the payoff is great. Plus, you won’t be hungry at all for the rest of the day if you eat this much for breakfast. It’s a win-win.
Honorable Mentions: The new cookbook series from Phaidon, the people who brought us classics like The Art Book and The Fashion Book. So far I have three of them and they are super chic and have cute, funky covers and layouts. Check out the full list here. I really want this one:
Love the title. So direct!