Essential Cookbooks

Here is the second in my series of Thursday “lifestyle” posts. As we get ready to put the apartment on the market again, most of our cookbooks have to go into storage so that the bookshelves don’t look too “heavy” or “intimidating” per our realtor. This means keeping out only my essential cookbooks, so I thought I’d highlight a few.

Tender by Nigel Slater

I have and adore several of Nigel Slater’s cookbooks. Appetite is another one I highly recommend if you are a beginning cook, and also Real Food, from which I got one of my favorite fast recipes. But Tender is the one I open the most often these days. It goes through a long list of vegetables, from A to Z, and gives many recipes and serving ideas.

Like many of Slater’s books, it is as much of an idea book as a recipe book, with helpful serving suggestions as well as written-out recipes. The recipes are vegetable-centric but not all vegetarian. I love ordering a CSA box and using this book to figure out what to do with the haul.

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi

I love Middle Eastern food, and Jerusalem is the crossroads of many cultures. Though with all of Ottolenghi’s recipes I like to use about a quarter of the hot peppers, and half the oil, that he calls for, the combinations of flavors are wonderful, and many of them are new to me.

I make several of the different lamb meatballs regularly. The barley risotto is in frequent rotation, and the desserts have been unexpected and wonderful. Like Tender above, he uses many fresh vegetables, and huge handfuls of herbs, making these dishes very fresh-tasting.


 The Best Recipe by America’s Test Kitchen

It’s not sexy, but you need one good reference cookbook. Once upon a time it was The Joy of Cooking, but now it’s The Best Recipe. America’s Test Kitchen exhaustively tests everything, and while I sometimes find their recipes to be a bit fussy to make and plain to eat, it is an excellent reference for the basics.

Their Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe cannot be improved upon. Their Flourless Chocolate Cake recipe is divine. The Caesar Salad recipe is perfection. If you want to eat a standard American recipe, this is the place to start. I also love their baking book, Italian book, and Soups and Stews book.


What are some of your essential cookbooks?

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  1. Huh. We just got the Jerusalem cookbook as a gift. Thought it was interesting but not really one we expected to use much. Will have to take a closer look.

    I have a Better Homes & Gardens general cookbook from 1998 that answers a lot of my basic cooking questions. Like, how do you make a pot roast? I know I like them but had no recipe. BH&G was there for me.

    Of my cookbooks, I’ve probably made the most new things in the last year out of Chetna Makan’s Cardamom Trail. She was a GBBO semi finalist (?) and it’s a fun fusion of Indian cooking and European baking traditions.

    I’m hoping to get more use out of Duck, Duck, Goose by Hank Shaw when the fucklings mature. His duck and rabbit recipes online are big hits.

    I also have this Soup cookbook that I think was from a run of Barnes & Noble bargain books that I’m making soup from tonight actually. The squash bisque is in constant rotation.

    1. Oh, I am obsessed with duck. Just this afternoon my husband and I dismembeed two ducks. I am making stock and rendering duck fat right now, and will be cooking two of the breasts for dinner. I will definitely check out the Hank Shaw book.

      And I think Jerusalem is great if you like middle eastern flavors with lots of herbs. But I often do view them as jumping off points, if I don’t have all the herbs. And I never use nearly as much oil or hot peppers as he calls for. It’s a bit excessive, even for someone like me who likes heat and fat.

      The Cardamom trail sounds great too!

  2. The Betty Crocker International Cookbook. Every recipe in here is fantastic, and many have made it into my inventory of regulars.

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