At this point in life I own dozens of cookbooks. Admittedly, several of them I have never even tried a recipe out of.
(This is why I love getting cookbooks as gifts- I don’t like spending my own money on them, because I feel I should try more recipes from the ones I have first. But other people spending money on them for me, that’s okay. Feel free to recommend your favorites to me, and I’ll put them on my Amazon wish list!)
Although some haven’t been opened in a couple years, there are a few cookbooks that I keep coming back to.
I discovered the website before I discovered the book.
What I really like about this guy’s style is how he breaks down the exact nutrients of foods for you in a more detailed way than anywhere else I’ve seen. It’s like the descriptions are intended for an audience of medical professionals, but they’re in layman’s terms enough that it’s easy to follow.
In addition to the plethora of health information, there is also usually a brief history about the food; selection and storage tips; and, “quick serving ideas,” such as “add raisins and almonds to brown rice to make a tasty side dish.”
I admittedly use this book more for food information than food recipes, however, there is no shortage of recipes.
Mateljan provides several to coincide with the foods he’s writing about, and they’re always extremely simple: minimal ingredients and little time. Some examples: “5-Minute Healthy Steamed Corn,” “3-Minute Avocado Dip,” and “Goat Cheese and Pear Salad.”
Okay. This one is not technically a cookbook.
But it can aid other cookbooks – and by extension, your dishes – so significantly that I think it should count as a cookbook in and of itself.
This book is exactly what it looks like. Look anything up and see the possible substitutions and suggestions. Anything at all. I can’t think of a time I looked something up and it wasn’t there. There are also very brief but specific explanations of each food item.
Let’s pick something at random – garlic.
(There’s also black garlic, garlic blossom, garlic butter, garlic chives, garlic greens, garlic mayonnaise, garlic mustard, garlic oil, garlic press [yes, the kitchen tool], garlic salt, and garlic scapes.)
Possible substitutions for 1 clove of fresh garlic:
- 1/2 tsp jarred minced garlic or liquid garlic seasoning
- 1/2 to 1 tsp roasted garlic (mellower, sweeter flavor)
- 1/2 tsp garlic chives (less pungent; adds green color)
- 1/2 to 1 tsp minced shallots (less pungent)
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/4 tsp granulated garlic
- 1/2 tsp garlic flakes or instant garlic
- 1/2 tsp garlic salt (omit 1/2 tsp salt from recipe)
- 1/2 tsp garlic juice (less pungent)
- 1/8 tsp asafetida powder (more pungent; combines onion and garlic flavors)
They’re admittedly not all that detailed, but you get my point. Everyone needs this book in their kitchen.
As with the above two books, this one is a plethora of information. As implied by the title, you can look up nearly any dish you want to make and will find an adequate way to do so.
Additionally, we are often provided with a description or background of the dish or food item, as well as several other helpful tidbits.
In the introduction, under “How to Use This Book,” Bittman describes how each chapter is organized:
There is Chapter at a Glance – a miniature table of contents; Essential Recipes – the most important ones being listed first; Charts; Variations; Lists and Sidebars – offering more ideas, similar to the Variations; Lexicons – ingredients-in-a-nutshell; and, Icons. The Icons that coincide with some recipes are Fast, Make Ahead, Vegetarian, and Essential (the Essential Recipes mentioned prior).
I really like the charts. For instance, there is an “Everyday Beans” chart that lists 21 different kinds of beans and legumes. For each one, there is a description, forms and varieties, and cooking times.
This is the cookbook I go to if I want something solid and surefire. This is not a risk-taking, exotic, go-for-something-different kind of a cookbook.
This is the basics, the home cooked straight from Grandma’s kitchen, kind of a cookbook.
For some reason, I usually turn to it for side dishes when company is coming for dinner. I plan what I hope is a great main dish, and then I’m stumped for a side dish. I don’t want to just go with whatever is in the fridge, because we’ll have guests.
Just Chapter 1 alone, The Basics, provides us with the following helpful data: Cooking at High Altitudes; Glossary of Cooking Ingredients, Terms, and Techniques; Seasonings (and spices); Nutrition Basics; Keeping Food Safe; and Food Storage and Make-Ahead Cooking.
Like Bittman, our Better Homes and Gardens folks are a fan of charts. However, where they really excel is at the visual pictures.
I’m not talking about the photos of the dishes, which are decent, but the pictures of different types of foods they’re differentiating between. There is a picture for each type of herb, each type of mushroom, each cut of pork, etc.
When I first started learning how to cook this was the only cookbook that I would use. Even as the years have gone by and I’ve improved in my culinary skills, I find it is the one I go back to more than anything else.
What this cookbook does differently is it holds your hand a little bit.
For instance, instead of saying “cook pasta according to package directions” it will say “cook macaroni in boiling water in an uncovered pot for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender but firm.”
One of the “coaching tips” is: “To get the best results from baking, always preheat the oven to required temperature before placing any food in it.”
I needed that sort of information back in my early twenties.
Also included is a chart of Essential Equipment in the beginning. This was helpful for me.
I recall saying to someone at one point, “Do you know what a skillet is, and do you think my parents own one?”
Anywho, my point is that even if you’re not a beginner cook, this is a great cookbook for the sole reason that it just has darn good recipes.
Many times, I’ll make a recipe and think, “That was really good!” and my husband will say, “Put it on the list!” and I never make it again. The recipes from this cookbook, though, I always end up making again and again and again.
On a related note, I also own Slow Cooker Recipes by the same Company’s Coming people, but that’s one of those cookbooks I mentioned earlier that I sadly just haven’t gotten to yet.
Remember, this list is only based upon cookbooks I actually own and have personally used.