We all have our favorites…the ones with dogeared corners, food stains that make the pages stick together, and the cracked bindings that show how often they’ve been used. Those are the cookbooks with our favorite recipes…the dishes we like to make over and over again because they are so good.
I decided to go through my shelves and pick out my personal choices…those same books that I go back to again and again for inspiration and great flavors. So here is my list of favorite cookbooks, the reasons why, and a few of the recipes that are my go-to’s.
Bistro Cooking, by Patricia Wells
This book has some of the best of France’s bistro recipes. Think home-style, simple, fresh and delicious dishes that your best friend might have just cooked for you in his or her own kitchen. Each recipe is introduced with a story – either of what makes the dish special to the author or of the chef that originated the recipe.
Some of my personal favorites from this book are the Café des Fédérations’ Rabbit with Mustard Sauce, Baker’s Wife’s Potatoes, and Roast Lamb with Monsieur Henny’s Potato, Onion and Tomato Gratin. Awesome dishes that are crowd pleasers, and really make you feel like you’re in France.
Ad Hoc at Home, by Thomas Keller
Thomas Keller is one of the most renowned chefs in the world, and is particularly known for his creative, high end food. He’s won just about every award there is in the culinary world and was the first American chef to ever have two restaurants both awarded three Michelin stars (the French Laundry in Yountville, CA and Per Se in New York). Trust me, his food is impressive. The 15 or so courses that make up his tasting menus are each refined, unique, creative and delicious…not to mention beautiful. Typically, when Keller has released a cookbook, it’s been associated with one of his restaurants and the recipes are as intimidating as you can imagine. I have read the French Laundry cookbook a number of times, but have never made a single thing from it. But then he opened Ad Hoc (also in Yountville) and later, the cookbook from that same restaurant. And suddenly Keller’s food became approachable.
Ad Hoc is a family style restaurant with one menu a day. No choices. No debate. You get what he and the staff are making that day. The cookbook is a beautiful representation of that same concept — family style dishes that are relatively simple, but wonderfully delicious. It’s rare that a dish I’ve made from that book doesn’t turn out just right. In fact, it’s the #1 cookbook for me to recommend to someone looking to buy someone else a cookbook!
My favorite recipes include the Nantes Carrot Stew, Braised Beef Short Ribs, Buttermilk Fried Chicken (truly the best I’ve ever had), the Whole Roast Chicken on a Bed of Root Vegetables, and so many more. I also made Keller’s Chicken Pot Pie recipe, for which I have some suggested changes…see my post on that one for more details.
Modernist Cuisine at Home, by Nathan Myhrvold
This book is more a scientific instruction manual than your typical cookbook, but I love it nonetheless. Not only does it teach great technique (in particular, some of the more approachable and easier molecular gastronomy methods), but it also has recipes that have been tested every way possible…so they work. Many of the recipes suggest using a pressure cooker to boost moisture in the food and shorten cooking times, and there are a ton of other gadget recommendations. In fact, this book inspired a whole host of Christmas gifts for me this past year…check out my post on that to see all the fun kitchen tools I got as gifts!
Favorite recipes from this book include the Pressure Cooked Carnitas recipe, along with all its variations (Korean-style beef (Bulgogi), Vindaloo curry, and more), the mac and cheese recipes, and the Braised Short Ribs. I’ve also been really thrilled to learn how to use a whipping syphon, the pressure cooker and various other tools and techniques.
Savoring India, Williams Sonoma
This book is amazing. Most Indian cookbooks are written by Indian chefs (I’m a huge fan of Madhur Jaffrey), and I’m not usually a fan of books by cooking stores but this is an exception. Every recipe in this book is a winner…I’ve yet to try one that didn’t turn out beautifully and with authentic flavors. The book is now out of print, by the way, but you can generally find used copies for sale on Amazon and eBay. Try the recipes for dal, cabbage with coconut, eggplant curry, and the shrimp masala. Amazing.
The Barbecue Bible, by Steven Raichlen
If you want to anything about grilling, and I mean anything, this is the book for you. Not only are there great recipes from all over the world, but there is also great advice on barbecuing technique, when to use direct vs indirect heat, and so on. There are also terrific recipes for sauces, mops and glazes. My go-to recipes in this book are: Bistecca alla Fiorentina, North Carolina-Style Pulled Pork, Suser Lee’s Chinese Barbecued Pork, and Piri Piri Chicken from Portugal. We also regular consult Raichlen’s Ribs, Ribs, Ribs! and Sauces, Rubs and Marinades.
Smoke & Spice, by Cheryl & Bill Jamison
This book is a wealth of great advice on how to smoke on any type of grill, and how long to smoke different kinds of protein. The Renowned Mr Brown recipe for slow-smoked pork butt is the most amazing for pulled pork sandwiches…the crust alone will make you drool. Other great recipes include Kansas City Sloppy Ribs, Smoked Snapper Toastadas with Sangrita Sauce, Creole Classic Barbecue Sauce, and the Cowpoke Pintos.
The New Basics Cookbook, by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso
This is one of my “always go to” books when I’m looking for a solid recipe that will result in a classic, simple, full-flavored dish. Every recipe is straightforward and reliable, and every resulting dish is approachable and delicious. The roasting charts for all kinds of meat and poultry are invaluable…I consult them all the time, even when not cooking from the book. Fave recipes are Morel Mushrooms in the Square, Beet and Coriander Puree, Roast Filet of Beef with Black Peppercorns, Spring Lamb with Fresh Mint Vinaigrette, and Rack of Lamb for Two.
Asian Dumplings, by Andrea Nguyen
The instructional quality of this book is amazing. Very thorough, with excellent pictures to show you exactly how to shape, fold and create the various styles of dumplings. The book also does a great job of covering dumplings from all the different Asian culinary regions — Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai, Tibetan, Nepalese and many more. It’s literally a treasure trove of all the yummy little bit-sized morsels called dumplings!
Some of my favorite recipes in this one include: Japanese Pork and Shrimp Potstickers, Shanghai Soup Dumplings, Siu Mai and the Spicy Potato Samosas. So many fun ones to play with!
Despite how much I love all of these books and use them frequently, cookbooks aren’t the only source of great recipes. Epicurious — a web site that aggregates recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet, Food and Wine and a few other magazines — is a wonderful site that has good search tools and also lets you save your favorite recipes to your own online recipe box. Of course, the source magazines Bon Appetit and Food and Wine are also fantastic themselves. Saveur is also a great magazine with lots of culinary articles as well as recipes. And there are a wealth of TV shows that I find inspire a lot of creative cooking: Top Chef, Chopped, MasterChef, and a ton of shows by individual celebrity chefs.
I’d love to hear about your favorite sources for recipes and cooking inspiration…please share by commenting below!