Alright, I guess the title of this post is a little misleading. I suppose that no cookbooks are essential. Our grandmothers most likely cooked without books, written recipes, or measuring cups. The “do it right” part of my personality has a hard time figuring that one out. I don’t mind going without a measuring spoon when I add the vanilla to my pancake batter, but I can’t imagine making bread or biscuits without an exact measurement of flour or yeast.
Whether you’re the measure-every-eigth-of-a-teaspoon-type or the throw-in-a-handful-of-this-and-that-type (or somewhere in between, like me), having some good cookbooks can be helpful. They spark our creativity and give us direction. If you’re just starting out on your homemaking journey, they take the guesswork out of cooking. And if you’ve been at this cooking thing for decades, they add variety to your usual fare.
My cookbooks even tell a story, of sorts. Some of my favorite books easily flip open to my most-used recipes. The splatters of tomato sauce confirm that the meal has been tried, and my penciled in notes remind me of what we liked and what needed changed.
But not all cookbooks are created equal. Features I admire most in a recipe book are:
—Hardcover – While I have a couple paperbacks on my shelf, I choose hardcover whenever possible. Not only are they more durable, they also stay open to my page more easily.
—Photos – Color pics are not necessary, but they sure are nice.
—Accurate recipes – I don’t like recipes that don’t turn out. It’s a waste of my time and ingredients when I follow the directions perfectly, but still produce a flop. I especially don’t appreciate books with difficult to understand instructions. I expect the recipes to be easy to follow and delicious to eat.
—Normal ingredients – I’m fine with trying new things and experimenting with interesting ingredients, but using a particular cookbook shouldn’t involve a treasure hunt every time. There needs to be a balance between challenging my comfort zone and allowing me to use what I can find (and afford!) at the grocery store.
Here are some of my “essential” cookbooks:
The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition
This cookbook is more than a collection of recipes. It’s an education. It’s made by the incredible people at Cooks Illustrated. They make a zillion different variations of each recipes in order to analyze every ingredient and technique. Then, they don’t just tell you their conclusions, they tell you why. This is one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever used. Even if I change a recipe a bit or decide to use another book instead, at least I have a better understanding of what works, what doesn’t, and the science behind it all. If I had to choose just one cookbook to keep from my collection (oh, the horror!), this would be the one.
The Best Make-Ahead Recipe
This book was also made by Cooks Illustrated, using their same meticulous trial-and-error technique. I love that it isn’t a simple compilation of basic recipes that freeze well. The authors have specifically written recipes that work well enough to make ahead or freeze and still earn their stamp of approval.
Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary Edition
This is a classic cookbook with countless basic recipes. It’s a go-to book for me when I need a recipe for just about anything. The recipes are easy to follow and always turn out the way they should.
The Foster’s Market Cookbook
This is one of the most beautiful books I own. The photos are great, and the food tastes as good as it looks. These are the actual recipes she uses in her own restaurants, but they’re wonderfully adapted to fit the home cook. I can always count on the fact that we’ll love whatever I make from Sara Foster’s cookbooks. This is another book that I wouldn’t want to be without.
Fresh Every Day: More Great Recipes from Foster’s Market
Like the title implies, this has even more great recipes from Sara Foster’s restaurants. But this cookbook also includes recipes she uses in her own home. It is packed full of notes and variations, and the recipes are very easy to follow. If I want to make a particular food, my Foster’s books are often the first place I look. Again, the photos and food are both delicious.
What are some of your most loved cookbooks? Share in the comments!
This post is linked to Raising Homemakers.