Favorite Cookbooks

For years, I swore I never wanted any cookbooks, since I could just look up recipes online anyway. I've realized that what I didn't really want were all the useless, too-specific cookbooks whose recipes may or may not be any good. Pie cookbooks, chocolate cookbooks, crockpot cookbooks, sandwich cookbooks, tomato cookbooks. All of those things I really can find online, and with user ratings and comments, to boot.

What I do love are well-written cookbooks by wonderful, proven cooks that tend toward my kind of cooking: whole foods, simple preparations, and lots of fresh, seasonal produce. Books that provide reference and kitchen/cooking tips rather than just recipes are a welcome addition.

Now that you know what I look for in a cookbook, here is my current list of kitchen all-stars:

  • How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In addition to fantastic, easy to follow recipes, it includes many sidebars with things like advice for choosing ingredients, illustrations with preparation instructions (for pineapple and plantains, for example), and recommendations for using recipes together. Also, many recipes are followed immediately by a series of variations, and I love that aspect of this book.
  • How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, Mark Bittman. Same fantastic layout as the original, but only vegetarian recipes. Surprisingly little overlap with the original.
  • The Essential New York Times Cookbook, Amanda Hesser. A collection of the best recipes published in the New York Times since 1850. Nice writing, and the 1400 recipes have been tested and updated to work in a modern kitchen. Since each recipe is a teeny piece of history, it's both a great read and a great cookbook.
  • The Flavor Bible, Andrew Dornenburg. Not strictly a cookbook, this book is more of a guide to help somewhat experienced cooks use specific ingredients. Each ingredient is followed by a brief description of its flavor and common uses, and then by a list of other flavors that go well with it. Not ideal for someone who's just starting to cook, but it's been a wonderful source of inspiration for me on several occasions.