Favorite Things – Let’s Give Cookbooks!

Let's Give Cookbooks!

More Favorite Things. This time – Let’s Give Cookbooks!

Here are a few handy suggestions to get you in the gift giving AND in the cooking mood!

As you know, I am a cookbook addict. I love them. I like to read them like novels, mark the pages with sticky notes, etc. so e-books just don’t do it for me.

I like them big and hardbacked. Stackable!

Here is a short sampling of some of my favorites plus a couple of reader friendly gadgets…

1.) I think everyone needs a few good, general cookbooks for reference. Back in the day it used to be the Joy of Cooking or the big red plaid Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book. (Both of which I would advise you to scour garage sales & second hand shops for early editions.) Now we have the ginormous The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook that pretty much covers all the bases. The folks at Cooks Illustrated get seriously specific and sciency about their cooking. Sometimes they have a bunch of extra steps, but the recipes I’ve tried have ALWAYS turned out great. Another option from Cook’s Illustrated is their (also ginormous) New Best Recipe cookbook. (Best French Toast recipe ever!)

2.) The Big GREEN Gourmet Today cookbook is another good all-round resource. As opposed to the Big YELLOW Gourmet Cookbook which (what a surprise!) I also own, the green book has more contemporary recipes featuring lighter and fresher ingredients. Once again, the book is huge but everything I’ve tried so far has been a keeper.

3.) So, if you’re more of an e-reader these days or if you want to be able to access a particular cooking website (ahem) on your tablet while you cook, this Kitchen Tablet Stand is the way to go. Jim gave me one of these from Williams Sonoma last year and I use it all the time. If you want to spend the big bucks, you can get a stereo speaker to go on the bottom to play your iTunes while you’re cooking your iDinner. Or you can just crank it up from the living room like I do. Worried about splattering on your screen? There’s a handy screen protector sold separately.

4.) Melissa Clark is a food writer for the NY Times and I have 2 of her cook books. I’ve featured several recipes from Cook This Now here at Idiot’s Kitchen and have many more bookmarked. By the way, we’ll be starting a big cookbook project here after the first of the year. Get ready!

5.) You knew I wouldn’t make a list without a Julia Child book on it! Mastering the Art of French Cooking is the book that started it all. While I haven’t made as many recipes out of this book as I would like (see the cookbook project above), this is a book that I go to time and again when I need information on cooking techniques. Need to know how to make a sauce? Truss a bird? Coddle an egg? It’s in there. I have most of Juila’s cookbooks and used to watch her on PBS when I was a kid. By now we’ve all seen the Julia movie but if you haven’t read her memoir My Life in France, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. (PS. they left it out of the movie, but Julia loved cats!)

6.) Like Julia Child, I think I own almost all of Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I had a hard time choosing a favorite, but since Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics has my favorite Ina recipe, Mustard Roasted Fish, it gets the nod. Her recipes always work and are easily adaptable. She often uses more salt than I would like so if you know that going in, you can make adjustments to suit your own taste. In fact, a new Ina recipe is coming next week!

7.) I don’t own this (yet) but when I saw it on amazon, I thought it was a great idea to keep printed recipes from your favorite cooking website (ahem) or pages from magazines from flopping all around on your counter. The Architec Recipe Rock has a magnet that holds your recipe and a shape that keeps the page upright. The gadget queen might need Santa to bring her one this year. Many stylish colors from which to choose.

8.) What Julia is to French cooking, Marcella Hazan is to Italian cooking. Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking is one of those “if you’re only going to get one Italian cookbook…” kind of books. Like Julia’s books, if you have a question about Italian cooking, techniques, or ingredients, it’s likely to be found in Marcella’s Classic Cookbook. The VERY FIRST Idiot’s Kitchen recipe that I posted 4+ years ago, Pork Chops with Tomatoes & Sage was from this book. I’ve probably taught more people to make that dish than any other. On a side note, Marcella used to live just outside of Sarasota and was a big fan of the Sarasota Opera. Sadly, I never got to see her there before she passed away last year.

9.) How do I love Jacques Pepin? Let me count the ways! A friend and colleague of Julia, Jacques is still going strong at age 78. You can find him regularly on his cooking shows on PBS and lately he’s been making the rounds with his daughter Claudine (which is very hard for me to type correctly) in support of his many cookbooks. Essential Pepin is another one of those huge cookbooks that I’ve been cooking out of for well over a year and have barely scratched the surface. Every single recipe I’ve made has been straight forward, simple, and delicious. I’ve been stuck in the fish section for quite a while because every recipe I’ve made was just SO GOOD. And if you have some spare time and love a handsome man with a French accent (and really, who doesn’t), there are tons of divine Jacques videos on youtube. Le sigh…

10.) Every Night Italian is a nifty little cookbook by Marcella Hazan’s son Giuliano. Primarily pasta dishes, these straight forward recipes can be made with only a handful of common ingredients and usually in 45 minutes or often much less. I have a hard time moving away from the shrimp pasta dish on the cover since it is my favorite. During zucchini season, I ALWAYS make Creamy Zucchini Linguine several times. It’s one of my all time favorite pasta dishes.

11.) The fact that I don’t yet own Gran Cocina Latina is more a testament to how busy I’ve been than to my outstanding self control. I put this big cookbook of all things Latin on the TOP of my Christmas wish list this year. My equally cooking obsessed flute friend Paula even brought her brand new copy to the opera pit for me to peruse last week. After spending the bulk of November playing and eating in Miami, I need this book so I don’t go into withdrawal from lack of slow roasted Cuban pork and potatoes.

12.) I bought an Original Hinged Cookbook Holder with a gift certificate when Jim and I got married. This is one of those items you don’t realize you’ve been missing until you own one. It has a sturdy acrylic shield that covers and protects your cookbooks from splatters. The best feature though is that the back of the holder is easily adjustable to fit fat or skinny, large or small cookbooks without either crushing them or having them slip and slide out of the holder. It folds down flat for easy storage. I think everyone should have one of these!

13.) The Essential New York Times Cookbook is another one of those huge, encyclopedic books that is great for reference, recipes, and not surprisingly since it comes from a newspaper, great stories. This is the cookbook I reach for the most often when I have something like boneless skinless chicken breasts sitting in the fridge and absolutely no inspiration for cooking them. Where this book is different, and I think more interesting, is that it is compiled from the complete 150 year history of recipes from the Times. Feel like a soup recipe from 1860 or a funky raspberry dessert from 2001? It’s in there. My copy is currently overloaded with post-it flags for recipes to try. Stay tuned!

14.) Last but certainly not least is the sweet, sweet book The Gift of Southern Cooking. The story of these two great cooks, Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock far exceeds the exceptional recipes in the book. Yes, you should make these recipes (and we will definitely be making a big batch of Blackberry Cordial soon) but you should also read the story between the recipes of two cooks from vastly different backgrounds and life experiences who went on to become such close friends that Miss Lewis lived with Scott in his home outside of Atlanta for the last 6 years of her life. I love this book for so many reasons. (Blackberry cordial.)

We’re obviously just barely scratching the surface here.

I didn’t get to any of the asian cookbooks, the baking cookbooks, the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day cookbooks, the Giada, Mario, Jamie Oliver, and Alice Waters cookbooks, the restaurant cookbooks (Tra Vigne, Tartine, Bouchon, Common Grill). Dorie Greenspan!

See why we need a cookbook project?

What are your favorite cookbooks? Which ones do you turn to over and over again?

Which ones can’t you live without? Which cookbooks do you give as gifts?

Leave a comment and we’ll make a list!

Happy cooking & Happy shopping. Try not to make yourselves too crazy.

Back to recipes next week!

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8 Responses

  1. Call me crazy, but sometimes those church (and other groups) fundraiser cookbooks are my favorites: recipes from people I may or may not know, foods that I’ve eaten at potlucks. When feeding a family these are often my go-to cookbooks.
    I do have an old copy of the big red plaid and it never fails to humor me with suggestions and sketches about taking care of my family (esp. my man).

  2. Just made a triple batch of Blackberry Cordial. I used a potato masher for stirring/mashing per Kenji (seriouseats.com); works much better than a spoon.
    Also, don’t forget Julia Child, Edna Lewis, Joyce Chen, James Beard and some guy I’ve never heard of are currently featured on a sheet of USPS forever stamps.

    1. YES YOU DID!!!! I remember that amazing dinner so well…the cranberry pork chops, that ridiculous braised cabbage. Wasn’t there sweet potato soup? And of course, blackberry cordial! I have to go find small bottles and get to work!

  3. I have a cabinet dedicated to cookbooks in the kitchen….and I’ll never part with them!
    One that gets used over and over is the cake Dr. cookbooks. Ok, perhaps it’s not a TRUE cookbook, but it gets used and abused in this house around the holidays.

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