I’ve been trying to shed all (some?) unnecessary clutter from our lives and now in the age of digital books and digital recipe storage, my bookshelves are getting lighter and lighter. As I cull through our library again and again, thinning things out, the printed books that I still actively use and use often are cookbooks. I try and be a careful cookbook shopper; I want to make sure that a book is something I will use before I add it to the permanent collection. I usually check a cookbook out of the library to give it a test run before committing to a new purchase. I also find that browsing through an actual printed book is very satisfying and it’s sometimes easier to find something to cook when you don’t know what you want. Looking online you almost need a starting point to search for and narrow things down.
And so, let’s look at my cookbook collection:
This isn’t my entire collection, but these are the top 8, the ones that I use regularly and most often. (And, uh, there’s a bit of a skew towards Cook’s Illustrated – even Jack Bishop is a CI contributor.)
If you ever wanted to make your own noodles, or just cook great dishes with store-bought noodles and pasta, this is a great place to start. Detailed instructions, and dishes from lots of ethnicities, not just focused on Italian pasta. My favorites include the basic pasta-making methods and the stir fry recipe.
Truly the easiest way to start making delicious breads. They have simplified the process so that (if you have room in your refrigerator) you can always have bread dough ready to go. In addition to the basic doughs, my favortie is the Spinach and Cheese Calzone recipe.
This is the newest addition to my collection and I wish I had it sooner! Need to know what to do with that new thing that came in your CSA? Or how to make a stuffed pepper? Or any number of variations on these basics? This book has everything. My favorites: black bean burgers and cooking with dried beans.
If you’re a carnivore or omnivore looking to incorporate some more meatless dishes into your life, this is an excellent resource. There are lots of vegetable and bean-centered dishes as well as entire meal plans. The book is organized by season, so if you are trying to eat locally and/or take advantage of things that are in season , you can easily find some suggestions. My favorites: Pan-Fried Noodle Cake with Stir-Fried Bok Choy and Black Bean Enchiladas. The enchiladas are a bit of work to make the sauce and the filling and assemble it all, but it’s sooo good. And it freezes really well, so I make 2 or 3 at a time.
This is a basic, no-frills book on how to cook (most) vegetables. With instructions on the most basic ways to prepare a vegetable along with more variations, I love this book for figuring out simple side dishes. My favorites: the Master Recipe for Steamed Broccoli, and the variations on Sauteed Spinach.
Comforting casseroles. Cheesy, baked, delicious and make-ahead. In addition to more modern adaptations of casseroles, this book also includes recipes for skillet casseroles and slow-cookers. My favorites: Baked Ravioli, Turkey Tettrazzini, and Baked Macaroni and Cheese – this is our family’s standard mac and cheese, it is the best!
This would make a great gift for someone who is just starting out, who may need a collection of basics. Banana bread, varieties of muffins, yeast breads, basic cakes, etc. It’s the perfect go-to when you want something simple. My favorite here: totally random, but there’s a Quick Pizza Sauce recipe that I love.
This is for when you want to take your time, and cook something over an entire day and make your house smell amazing. My favorites: Tuscan White Bean Stew and Hungarian Goulash (in the slow cooker).
What cookbooks are in your permanent collection? Do you have any suggestions for my Christmas wishlist that maybe aren’t published by Cook’s Illustrated (but if you have those too, I’d love to hear it)? (And check out some other cookbooks featured on Food Lush in the past.)