Sunday, January 4, 2009

Best of the best

It happens every new year--all the food magazines comes out with their favorite cookbook list. I was reading over Mark Bittman's "50 cookbooks I can't live without," and realized we only overlapped on one or two books! It seemed almost crazy. I love cookbooks. I taught myself to cook using cookbooks. So I thought the hell with it, I'll write my own. 

Let me know if you have favorites not on my list--I've got some gift certificates to barnes and noble burning a hole in my pocket. ;)


oh and p.s.---my most used resource?
A close second is the newly minted, an on-line cooking school with amazing videos. 

My best friend in college was Italian, and this is the cookbook she uses when she can't ask her mother. Marcella leads you into the Italian kitchen, imploring you to buy good olive oil and real parmigiano reggiano, and practically stirs the pot as you make risotto. Everything I have ever made from here has been exquisitely italian and just perfect.

2. The New Best Recipe (Cooks Illustrated)

From the masterminds at Cooks Illustrated, each recipe is preceded by a 3 page description of the trials and tribulations the authors went through to make the dish. As a result the recipes are incredibly reliable. It appeals to the scientist in me. The artist in me gets a little pissed---it's hard to improvise when someone is telling you to make it JUST LIKE THIS. I turn to it for big events, like Thanksgiving. 

3. Mexican Everyday (Rick Bayless)

You can have your Diane Kennedy, I am a Rick Bayless fan. He manages to condense down Mexican cooking so that it doesn't take days and still tastes amazing. Every recipe I've made has been fresh, easy and impressive...the flavors combine to make something new. 

4. The Herbal Kitchen (Jerry Traunfeld)

The recipes are short and sweet, more home cooking than restaurant cooking, but the flavors are so beautifully combined they never miss. Roasted acorn squash with bay leaves and maple syrup is subtle and beautiful, slow cooked salmon with dill is a revelation, and figs with bacon and goat cheese left me speechless. Beautiful photos too. Very inspiring. 

5. Perfect Scoop (David Lebovitz)

Ok truth be told I have only made one recipe from here, but it was so amazing this has to go on the list. Chocolate sorbet that tastes richer than any ice cream (heaven for the lactose intolerant). Enough said. 

6. Zuni Cafe Cookbook (Judy Rogers)

What pulls me back to this cookbook again and again is the roast chicken. She brines the chicken and then cooks it at high heat and it comes out astoundingly juicy and crispy. Everything you've always wanted in roast chicken. Such a beautiful combination of french cookery with california ideals. 

7. The Original Thai Cookbook (Jennifer Brennan)

This is my go to for thai cooking. If you don't believe that making your own chili paste can make a difference...try this cookbook. It puts most thai restaurants to shame. 

8. Home Cooking and More Home Cooking (Laurie Colwin)

These are less like cookbooks than they are companions, like an older sister telling you about her ups and downs in the kitchen. The bonus is there are recipes interspliced, and the best of those is don't-let-your-yeast-bread-get-the-boss of you. She uses less yeast, lets it rise over night, bakes it when she wants to. It's a revelation. 

9. The Good Food Book (Jane Brody)

This is the cookbook that got me started cooking, back in high school, and even now I am impressed by the reliability of the recipes. It's mostly simple home cooking, but with a healthy bent. She even adapts some of Mollie Katzen's recipes, taking out the bulk of the butter and cream. 

Maida Heatter is like the Marcella Hazan for baking. She tells you exactly how to make each recipe (including which chocolate to use) and the desserts turn out perfectly. The mexican chocolate cake with whipped cream frosting might be my favorite cake ever. 

11. The Way to Cook (Julia Child)

I will never forget this cookbook because it taught me how to make steak au poivre. And perfect bright-yellow-yolk hard boiled eggs. Beautiful pictures, a primer in french cooking. 

12. Culinary Artistry (Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page)

This is the opposite of the New Best's a manual for improvising. The book lays out flavor pairings, literally pages and pages of pairings. Not one recipe, but very helpful when you're standing over your pork loin and trying to decide which spices to use.