I love cookbooks. They keep me from cooking the same 6 things over and over (here’s looking at you, 2009,) and I’m often inspired to try new techniques or flavor combos that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
In our kitchen, we have a bookshelf that holds our collection of cookbooks, and my husband’s beer glass collection. Our top shelf is the elite of the elite- the ones we reach for the most. Off that shelf, here are the five easily accessible, great for cooks of all levels books I think everyone should own:
1. Live to Cook by Michael Symon. This book is the first book we bought waaaaayyyyy back in 2009 when we first started getting into the idea of cooking. This book has TONS of great recipes. When I first flipped through it, I thought “oh man, there are only two or three recipes in here I’ll do” but as my skills, and my familiarity with ingredients have grown, I’ve come to love this book more and more. This book really got me into the idea of doing everything from scratch. I made my first batch of homemade stock from this book, and I’ve never gone back. This was the first book that convinced me that the effort you put into cooking can really impact the outcome.
Best recipes: The split pea and spare rib soup. Spicy blue cheese tomato soup. Anything with Ya-Ya sauce. THE LASAGNA!!! Pickled red onions. Pork cheek chili (we always substitute pork shoulder). Polenta (GREAT!) Homemade Chicken Stock (my go-to). Braised Greens (the only way I prepare them now) The chicken and dumpling soup (see… the list can go on and on)
2. Ruhlman’s Twenty by Michael Ruhlman. This book changed everything for me. It’s broken down into twenty techniques that address the ‘why’s’ of food. Why do we use salt? Why do we add acid to food? The information in this book is critical for anyone who is a recipe-dependent cook and wants to be more free in the kitchen. I learned about seasoning with acidity. The importance of properly seasoning water. Basically, it took my cooking from good to great. This book is the first one (that I’ve read) that really addresses the importance of seasoning food in all it’s forms. Most people who cook at home are unimpressed with the results because they do not season. Or they do not know how to taste food and recognize its deficiencies. This book is a must. Just read it. You won’t be sorry.
Best recipes: Lemon-cumin dal. THE CHEESECAKE! French Onion Soup. Red-wine braised short ribs (game changer for me. Big time).
3. In My Kitchen by Ted Allen. This is a food-project lover’s dream book. All of the recipes (or most of them) are time consuming, with multiple steps. The results are worth it. This book is great when you have a weekend where you want to try something absolutely new, and you don’t care how many pans you dirty. It’s fun, and each time I flip through it, I’m inspired to try something new.
Best recipes- SALTED CARAMEL ICE CREAM. This one recipe makes the whole book worth it. The Heirloom Gazapacho Salad. Grilled Skirt Steak with Roasted Jalapeno Chimichurri. Belgian Beef Stew (my father-in-law LOVED this one so much I sent him a copy). Homemade Ricotta.
4. Cook Like A Rock Star by Anne Burrell. I think this book is great for anyone looking to learn pasta from scratch. Her sauces are delicious, and her pasta is consistently great. Again, her descriptions are thorough enough that even beginners can follow, and not get lost because there are gaps or holes in steps. As you can see from my very first blog post, I love her recipes. Some of her food includes an ingredient or technique just far enough outside my comfort zone that when I try it, I’m glad I did.
Best recipes: Sausage Ragu (obvs). Lemon Cherry Biscotti. Fresh Pasta recipe. Braised Short Ribs and Horseradish. Mac and Cheese with Bacon. Polenta (another good base recipe). Ricotta and Egg Yolk Ravioli.
5. River Cottage Veg by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Not gonna lie. This isn’t the only River Cottage Book we own. It was a toss up between this one and River Cottage Everyday for the top five, but in the end this one won. We tend to be meat-centric in our food choices. I’m a sucker for wine-braised anything with whatever veg we care to stick next to it. This book really inspired my love for vegetables and definitely broadened my horizons a lot. We’ve taken some liberties and often I’ll cut up chicken thighs or grill pork chops or some sausages to accompany the veg, but everything in this book makes vegetables delicious, exciting and hearty.
Best recipes: PIZZA DOUGH. It’s the best. Seriously. Makes the best grilled pizza’s ever. Can I say ‘best’ enough? BEST BEST BEST. Cannellini Bean Hummus- even my dad ate this like crazy at a family dinner. Chiles Stuffed with Beans. Vegetable Biryani. Curried Bubble and Squeak.
I love to be inspired to cook. These books always get me out of a slump, and they deliver every time.
Here is a shot of our top shelf to have a quick glance at what else made the cut:
Any great cookbook recommendations??