The Cookbook Guide

I believe there are two types of cooks out there: The Improvisors and the Recipe Followers. My boyfriend is an Improvisor. You could give him a handful of cilantro, a couple bananas, some chicken thighs and celery and he’d have an amazing dinner and desert ready in thirty minutes. I am the opposite. I love recipes, and when one looks promising and well written, I follow it.

The other day, my friend asked me: What’s your favorite cookbook?  It got my mind running, so I thought I’d create a little guide. Here goes…

First, ask yourself if you’re an Improvisor or a Recipe Follower. My boyfriend opens a cookbook, looks at a photo, says, that looks good, and then starts cooking, maybe glancing at the recipe once. For him, a cookbook with lots of visuals usually does the trick, and he loves Jerusalem. For me, I’ve found that not one cookbook meets all my needs. It works out, because I love buying cookbooks. Some of my current favorites:


Everyday Cookbooks

These are the cookbooks that are user friendly for tired Tuesday nights. The recipes aren’t overly involved, the ingredients aren’t extra special and hard to find, and everything sounds appealing. There’s nothing daunting about it — you open up a page, glance at a picture and think, yes, I would like that tonight, and as you keep reading, nothing turns you off. Although there are thousands and thousands of these cookbooks, it’s hard to find ones that actually do this well. My favorite three so far are:

keepers kitchen d

Keepers by Kathy Brennan & Caroline Campion

I love the premise of this cookbook — two home cooks with experience in the kitchen creating and perfecting recipes that they’ve deemed “keepers” — the kind of meals you rely on again and again. I interviewed Kathy and Caroline for Food52, so you can find out more about their cookbook here.

Inside: Lots of useful tips on how to tackle weeknight cooking, how to make grocery shopping easier (and better), and tons of recipes with under 7 ingredients. I love the tasty condiment recipes, too, like “magic miso-mayo” “mustard butter,” and “charred tomato salsa.” There are so many basics that I turn to in this cookbook — like the pork meatballs, warm corn salad, and smoky turkey chili.

Franny’s Simple Seasonal Italian by Andrew Feinberg and Francine Stephens

I don’t usually gravitate towards restaurant cookbooks. I find them to be either trendy or inaccessible to the 20-something home cook. This one completely surprised me — I wanted to make every single recipe.

Inside: PASTA! pizza! A drink section that includes a blood orange grappa and a dessert section with the best looking almond cake! Although some of these recipes are a bit more involved, there are plenty that appeal to me mid-week.

The Kitchen Diaries by Nigel Slater

This one isn’t for everyone — I had a friend flip through it recently and say, “oh, no thank you.” It’s a cookbook in diary form — one complete year of Slater’s recorded thoughts and meals.  “There were beets at the farmers’ market today,” he writes on May 30th, and so on. I haven’t seen another cookbook like this and I actually love how organically it reads, like he’s taking you into his test kitchen and letting you hang out with him while he cooks. You can think, “I wonder what Nigel made on October 2nd” and flip to that page and see. If anything, it’s a fun book to read (I read it in the bathtub) but I’ve also found that the recipes I’ve made from it are wonderful.

Inside: Lots of seasonal, hearty cooking. Some of the recipes are super simple (like roasted chicken wings with lemon and cracked black pepper) and others are a bit more involved (slow-cooked duck with star anise and ginger.) Either way, I’ve found dozens of recipes I love and make during the week, like his bolognese, raspberry ricotta pancakes, and mushroom lasagna with basil and cream.


Dinner Party Cookbooks

These are the cookbooks that may require you picking up that $8 jar of preserved lemons or buying a pound of chanterelle mushrooms. I take these cookbooks out when I’m having dinner guests over  — knowing that whatever I make will be worth the little extra planning and money.

plenty canal

Plenty & Jerusalem by Yotum Ottelenghi

Yotum has a cult following. His cookbooks are vibrant and genius, the way he combines flavors makes you want to smack somebody.

Inside: Color. and lots of herbs and spices. They’re the cookbooks that you can cook from and know you’ll have a killer meal. Even the “lettuce salad” is delicious, with semi-dried tomatoes, capers, radishes, and lemon.

Canal House Cooks by Hamilton and Hirsheimer

Organized by month, this cookbook falls somewhere in between an everyday cookbook and dinner party cookbook. It’s fun to go to the month that you’re in and gather some inspiration.

Inside: Tons of classic, spot- on recipes, like vanilla ice cream, no- knead bread and chicken soup — but also food you’d want to serve a crowd, like hoisin-full spare ribs and sausage and clam stew.

A Girl and her Pig by April Bloomfield

This may be the cookbook that every girl needs. I don’t have it yet (I’ve checked it out of the library three times!) and it’s next on my list.

Inside: A killer caesar salad, good writing, and hundreds of dinner party recipes.


Encyclopedic/ Reference Cookbooks

The most useful and sturdy of the bunch — these come in handy when you have something in your fridge and have no idea what to do with it. (white peaches? Romanesco? A pound of fresh shrimp?) They’re fun to flip through, too — almost every time you’ll find a recipe you want to try. The most important thing: the recipes are reliable and good. 

how to cook

How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman

Surprisingly, this cookbook is great for beginners — Mark walks you through many basics, like how to roll a burrito, cutting up a whole chicken, and slicing fennel. Plus, there are tons of recipes that are endlessly adaptable, like “muffins, infinite ways.”

Inside: About 1,000 packed pages of recipes. No photos, but plenty of handy illustrations and very, very clear recipe writing. Bonus: in the back, Bittman’s included his top 102 favorite recipes in the book. It’s a good place to start.


More Favorites:

Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by Alice Medrich. This woman knows her desserts. One note — many of her recipes call for a food processor, which is great and easy, except when you don’t have a food processor.

Simple Suppers from the Moosewood Restaurant. My mom gave me this cookbook for college and I cooked through the entire thing — it’s a great starter cookbook. (Try the savory bread & cheese bake.)

 Whew! Anyone have a cookbook they’d recommend?

Have a great weekend, see you Monday! 

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