Five Essential Cookbooks – And a Giveaway

Update again: We have a winner! Commenter Jen Martin will receive a copy of the cookbook of her choice. Thanks to all who read and commented. Stay tuned, as I’m sure I’ll be doing another giveaway soon.

Update: I’m extending this giveaway until Friday!

The Kitchn has been running a fun column: Their writers are sharing their top five essential cookbooks. I love cookbooks. I have a lot of them, and a constant penchant for buying more. Some people have a one in, one out rule for cookbooks, and while I have tried in the past to hold myself to that kind of a promise, I always knew from the beginning it would be an empty one. But when I started to think about which cookbooks on my shelf are truly essential, I realized that out of all the books I own, only a small handful truly fit into that category.

I tend to pull random cookbooks off my shelf when I’m bored, or when I’m having a hard time pulling together a meal plan for the week. I’ll peruse them, and remember which recipes caught my eye the first time, and which are only catching my eye on another go ’round. I have a few that I turn to as reference sources, when I have a vague idea in my mind of something I want to eat, but not a clear idea of how I might want to produce it. But I don’t often have a cookbook open on the counter when I’m making dinner. The recipes that form the backbone of my meals are much more likely to come from magazines and blogs than cookbooks. I suppose it’s a fear of destroying a beautiful book, but it’s kind of a shame: I have so many great cookbooks full of beautiful recipes for delicious dinners. They just tend to serve as inspiration more than instruction in the kitchen.

Baking is another story. Whether it’s bread, cookies, or bundt cakes, I turn to my cookbooks for recipes, which might explain why I have about five different cookbooks for bread alone. As I mentally pulled together my list of cookbook essentials, I realized nearly all of them were used for baking, or dessert-making generally.

The only cookbook I’d call an essential that isn’t centered around all things dough-y is The Joy of Cooking.

I remember when I bought my copy of this book: I was living in a big drafty house with three girls, and making very little money, and just starting to realize that I might want to learn to cook something besides spaghetti. I thought of this book as my first step into a more grown-up means of sustenance. I pull this book out whenever I want to know more about something: a cut of meat I’ve bought, a type of vegetable I’m pondering, even the correct temperature for brewing coffee. The librarian in me loves this compendium of facts, and the organizer in me loves the menu plans, and the well-ordered nature of the book itself. I believe I have the 1997 edition; Sean has a version from the 70s that is hilariously fun to read through. I suspect in about 10 or 20 years I’ll have to buy myself a new addition, just to make sure I’m up-to-date.

Another book that I think of as cooking bible is Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: From My Home to Yours.

This is my go-to book if I want to make anything sweet. It’s enormous, and I could never in my life cook all the recipes in this book. I love Dorie’s writing; I think her’s are the best recipe headnotes I’ve ever read. And not only are all the recipes in this book easy to follow and a pleasure to read, it’s just beautiful. The photography, the weight and gloss of the pages, the heft of the thing, they all make me feel like I’m about to experience something wonderful, even before I get into the kitchen. She’s got recipes here for every sweet, baked treat you could imagine, and I’ve never had one fail me.

If it’s non-baked sweet things I’m after, though, well, it’s usually ice cream. And yes, one of my essential all-time top five cookbooks is a book about ice cream: David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop.

My parents bought me this book along with a shiny red ice cream maker for my birthday one year. I will admit I don’t get as much use out of the machine as I want to, but generally, the best way to get myself to pull it out of the cupboard is to flip through this book. The techniques are expertly explained, the flavor ideas are brilliant, and, again, it’s a book that just makes me happy to hold in my hands. When I went out to dinner and couldn’t convince the chef to give me his recipe for avocado ice cream, I got home and found it in David’s book, and it was even better than in the restaurant. There might be other, newer and shinier ice cream books with newfangled ice cream techniques in them (ahem), but my heart (or ice cream maker?) still belongs to David’s.

Finally, there are two other books to which I turn again and again when I’m in the kitchen with my mixer (henceforth named Mix Master Mike, thanks to the inspiration from shutterbean). I was introduced to Peter Reinhart when I bought his excellent book on pizza, American Pie: My Search for the Perfect Pizza.

I was on a quest for awhile there to make the perfect pizza at home, and while I’m not ready to say I’ve achieved that goal to my satisfaction, this book brought me a long way. It is thoroughly researched, engaging and fun to read, and the recipes haven’t steered me wrong yet. There is so much more to this book I can’t wait to explore, and not just through the twelve different recipes for pizza dough he offers, but the sauces, relishes, and various other topping recipes provided, as well.

When I decided I wanted to learn to bake bread, my experience with Reinhart’s pizza book convinced me he was the go-to guy for all things dough related. I dreamed of buying The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for months before I finally picked up a copy, and I’m so glad I finally did, as it is absolutely one of my essentials in the kitchen.

Reinhart has a very specific technique for bread baking, and I’ll be the first to admit that his recipes can be challenging if you don’t want to spend three days baking a loaf of bread. But the thoroughness of his description, and the sheer breadth of recipes covered here make this book worth owning. The breads are arranged alphabetically, and many bloggers have undertaken the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, to cook every loaf within. I haven’t even come close to this yet, but I like to think some day, I might. It’s a great reference, and I always feel very reassured (and yes, a little challenged) when I see it on my shelf.

I love all these books, and am grateful that they are here, for me to rely on in the kitchen. And because I also love you, my readers, I am going to propose another cookbook giveaway. Leave a comment telling me what your favorite cookbooks are, and which of these five you’d want to have in your kitchen. I’ll pick a winner by 9 pm Pacific time on Sunday, March 4 9 am Pacific time on Friday, March 9. The winner will receive a brand spankin’ shiny new copy of one of these five cookbooks!

28. February 2012 by laura k
Categories: giveaway, thoughts | 5 comments

Comments (5)

  1. I have a ton of cookbooks that are gathering dust…but have trouble letting go of any of them.
    The first one I love is kinda cheesy-but I started cooking using the Gooseberry Patch books (you find them at crafty stores) The Family Favorites book has my signature Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe. I also like the book Cold Weather Cooking, Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen book, Molly O’Neill’s One Big Table, (mostly just to read-I’ve never made anything from it). My new favorite I bought on the day my little girl was due-it is called “Heartland” and has all kinds of recipes from sustainable cooks and farms from the Midwest.
    I love the Dorie Greenspan book. I’ve checked it out of the library numerous times and would love to make the Blackout Cake.

  2. I have a lot of cookbooks too and it’s always fun just to spend a day dragging them all out and going through them for new ideas to try. My favorites include Marco Canora’s Salt to Taste and Scott Conant’s Bold Italian.
    I would love any of those cookbooks. I guess my top choice would be Bread Baker’s Apprentice with The Perfect Scoop following very closely.

  3. A wise chef named Laura K. gave me the cornerstone to my kitchen: I Like You, by Amy Sedaris. I won’t bother to name four others; this is the only cookbook I trust.

  4. Sadly I missed your contest. However my favorite cookbook is my 5 roses cookbook. It was bought for me when I was very young and given to me when I first moved out on my own 12 years ago. It is my go to book for everything from pancakes to stews.
    my other favorite book is the Canadian Living slow cooker book. the meals are amazing, for the most part. Plus I really like coming home to a meal already made. YUM!

  5. I just discovered you via shutterbean:) I love cookbooks so it’s hard to pick a favorite but the one I find myself going to the most is The Mesa Grill cookbook. It has so many yummy sauces, relishes and dressings. My fav from you list is American Pie because I am always looking for the perfect pizza.