I started thinking about this list yesterday when I was writing about Nigella Lawson’s Feast. I have go to cookbooks for certain things and two I use all the time. These 10 cookbooks I can’t and won’t live without, so just in case you have an inkling that I will be stranded on a fully stocked dessert island with a fully functional restaurant kitchen, please remind me to pack these. Okay? Great.
One common theme of each of my favorite cookbooks is that these books contain more than wonderful recipes. These books inform and teach me how to tweak and push and pull a recipe to make it be what I want it to be. Several are just great reading.
- Feast. I mentioned it yesterday, but this book I really do use all the time. Nigella (my imaginary friend so I use her first name) is such a wonderfully evocative and sexy food writer that you WANT to make everything. My favorite recipe is the Gingerbread Stuffing, but following hard are the potatoes roasted in rendered goose fat. That sounds gross, but my love, it is not. Those potatoes are a thing a beauty, sheer beauty. I’ve made them with duck fat, and they are still good. As I said before, the recipe and instructions for a brined turkey are spot on and phenomenal. Just Tasty.
- Betty Crocker’s Cookbook. But, this is important, it MUST be the 1969 version. It has to be that one. This book is amazingly helpful. I’ve made dozens of recipes in this book and never been disappointed. In fact, my sisters and I all used this book. My copy is now falling apart and a few pages are so dirty and sticky some recipes are now obliterated. You can only get this used, it is worth it. Seriously, just get it.
- The Making of a Cook. Madeleine Kamman was my hero, is still. She used to have a show on PBS that was just fabulous entertainment, and she explained things. She would tell you the science behind eggs and why they acted that way. She was Alton Brown long before he was. This book is an invaluable reference explaining the science and chemistry of cooking and the ingredients you use every day. With that basic understanding, you can make nearly everything. Partly because you know what the product does but also you know what NOT to do.
- Baking with Julia. Oh, Julia! She was a wonderful and human influence on cooking. I watched all of her PBS shows with delight. I love the baby cakes in this book, more especially because I can use lemon verbena in them. Oh, happy day!
- Moosewood Cookbook. I love the hummus recipe, but more, this book taught me to cook vegetables and to be happy about them.
- The Cake Bible. This book has the best recipes for cakes in any I’ve come across, along with lots of science about cakes. I’ve made the flourless chocolate cake numerous times. Yeah, that’s good.
- The Crabtree and Evelyn Cookbook. This book has the best art of any cookbook I own. I sometimes just look at it. Just because. It’s pretty. The corn pancakes are a thing to die for. Everything else too.
- The Joy of Cooking. Why? Because, if you can’t find a recipe for something anywhere else, this book will have it. And again, it’s got information. This book has my favorite bearnaise sauce recipe.
- Pleyn Delit. A medieval cookbook, how much cooler can it get? Not. This really is fabulous reading, all the time. Great stuff.
- Transylvanian Cuisine. Seriously, where else do you think you are going to get a recipe to cook a whole sheep’s head? Nowhere. Yes, I really own this cookbook, I’ve read the whole thing. No, I’ve never cooked a whole sheep’s head. Yet. *This cookbook is out of print. As soon as I can find it on line I will. The author is Paul Kovi.