We’re jumping right in today with one of my favorite categories of books—cookbooks! For the record, yes, I sit down and read cookbooks from cover to cover. I highly recommend it! It’s a great way to learn cooking, rather than just following recipes. I’ve picked up tons of great techniques from really well-written cookbooks. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Good + Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day
by Leanne Brown
This book was created for anyone facing the real-life “welfare challenge”—trying to eat wholesome, tasty meals on a government stipend of just $4/day. I turn to it when my own grocery budget is getting out of hand to remind me that delicious and nutritious meals can also be made with inexpensive ingredients. The PDF is available for free to anyone online who needs it; plus, for for every purchase of the cookbook, they give another copy to someone who really needs it. What a beautiful way to use privilege. Everybody wins!
5 Ingredient Fix: Easy, Elegant and Irresistible Recipes
by Claire Robinson
I admire the utter simplicity of this cookbook. Anyone can wrap their mind around five ingredients, even me on my laziest day. Plus, I learned a lot from Claire about making the most of a single ingredient—like garlic infused olive oil, for example—that can do double duty in a recipe. I’m forever grateful for this book teaching me how to make roasted asparagus with brown butter and balsamic.
How To Cook Anything: Simple Recipes for Great Food
by Mark Bittman
I believe every kitchen needs a cookbook like this one—a huge encyclopedia of all the things. The internet could also serve this purpose, but I like having a single, trusted source to consult when I need it. When I need to make a classic recipe—like cornbread, marinara, pancakes or roast chicken—I’ll often start here, then get creative.
Williams-Sonoma Cooking for Friends: Fresh ways to entertain with style
by Alison Atenborough and Jaime Kimm
This is one of the cookbooks I fell in love with for the pictures. It’s absolutely beautiful. And everything I’ve made from it has been extremely tasty and simple, plus it has that added little something that makes my food feel just a little fresh and different, beyond what I’d come up with for everyday. One of my favorite meals out of this is a tart made with tomatoes, feta and thyme on puff pastry dough. I kind of want to go make that now.
The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of Americas Most Imaginative Chefs
by Karen Page and Andrew Dorneburg
This cookbook is an essential for cooking, especially if you seek, like me, to sever your reliance on recipes and really learn to cook creatively and intuitively. The authors asked all kinds of reputable chefs which flavors pair well together. For each flavor, you’ll find the list of cumulative recommendations—the ones recommended by several chefs are in bold, and the “holy grail” combinations, like mint and lamb or tomatoes and basil, are in all caps. I honestly don’t know what I’d do without this book.
One of the things I love about this book is that it not only shares specific recipes—it shares the tools, resources and lifestyle habits to create a pantry that’s actually integrated with your life. It teaches you how to do one of my favorite things: reconnect with nature and the changing seasons around you.
The Soup Club Cookbook: Feed Your Friends, Feed Your Family, Feed Yourself
By Courtney Allison, Tina Carr, Caroline Laskow and Julie Peacock
I’ve recommended this book eleventy million times since I got it. I used to not be that pumped about soup, until I realized it was 1) crazy easy to make, 2) freezes like a champ for easy dinners later and 3) is excellent for using up random ingredients you don’t know what to do with. I typically use the recipes in this book to make huge batches myself (each recipe makes about two gallons) to eat, freeze and share. I also occasionally cook with a friend and we split the yield. Read my review of the book here.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
My aunt taught me how to can. Homemade salsa was my first foray, quickly followed by hot jalapeño jelly and spiced peaches in syrup. This book is one of those classic encyclopedia references for canning whatever you’ve got on hand, to stock your pantry with fresh-from-the-garden homemade goodness, all year round. Also: if you give home-canned goods as gifts, people will treat you like an angel sent from the heavens.
Where the Ball Complete Book has nearly everything, but it’s “classic” perspective often includes loads of sugar. That’s why my other go-to canning recipe book is this one. It reinvents a lot of old favorites with a focus on the actual flavors of what you’re canning, not just sugar’s overpowering sweetness. Plus, it not only has canning recipes and instructions, it also has recipes for using the ingredients you preserved for a variety of different meals and desserts. (Liiiiike, strawberry dumplings: a staple in my hot summer evening repertoire.)
Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce
by FairShare CSA Coalition
This book came highly recommended when I bought my first CSA, and proved extremely useful in teaching me how to cook with a volume and variety of plants I’d never before encountered. It is also a good friend to home cooks who want to use farmer’s market or backyard bounty. Organized by ingredient, it offers lots of tasty ways to enjoy your seasonal produce.
This cookbook is friends with Asparagus to Zucchini. I love it because it has recipes that are often completely new to me—but still simple and very easy to execute—or a really fresh twist on an old favorite. Just flipping through the pages makes me excited about my garden and farmer’s market season, because of how very good the eating promises to be, and how much I want to make the gorgeous photos into a reality…that can then get in my belly. (Also, her Asian upbringing taught her to never waste food, and as a result, her recipes result in less waste than you can even imagine. It makes my heart flutter just thinking about it.)
The Bob’s Burgers Burger Cookbook: Real Recipes for Joke Burgers
by Loren Bouchard
First of all, if you watch the show (like I do), let’s high five for having such good taste in television, and isn’t Tina the best? Secondly, even if you have never seen the show, this cookbook contains some of the best novelty burgers you will ever eat IN YOUR LIFE. Plus, they have fabulous punny names like “Chèvre Which Way But Loose Burger”, “We’re Here, We’re Gruyere, Get Used To It Burger” and “Do the Brussel Burger”—all three of which are among my personal favorites. (Ones I have yet to try include the “Cheesus is Born Burger” and “Every Breath You Tikka Masala Burger”. I could probably just read the table of contents, and you’d want to buy it.) This book makes an awesome gift and grilling companion.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking
by Samin Nosratwith gorgeous illustrations by Wendy MacNaughton
An excellent example of a “how to cook book”. I rented it from the library and took photos of a few recipes I wanted to try. I also came away with new knowledge and appreciation for the roles these four elements play in a delicious meal. If you want to be a better cook, start here. This cookbook makes a great gift for a novice chef who’s interested in why some things work and others don’t. (Pssst, Salt Fat Acid Heat is a show on Netflix now! I haven’t seen it, but I’ve heard great things and it’s on my watchlist.)
Eating from the Ground Up
by Alana Chernil
This is the newest book in my collection. I heard the author on a podcast and was so intrigued I had to check out her book for myself, and I fell hard and fast for her style of preparing garden and farmer’s market produce simply and deliciously. I particularly enjoy her tips for using scraps you might otherwise throw away.
And also…I am a firm believer in vintage and classic cookbooks. Betty Crocker and Better Homes & Gardens have some of my favorites, which I’ve sold on my Etsy shop in the past and are easily found at thrift shops and estate sales. But my real favorites are really old, before advertisers elbowed their way into kitchens and complicated everything. The older they are, the more you uncover the roots of how we once cooked, when mothers taught daughters and friends exactly how much of this and that to add by sight, not standard measurement. Check out this post for details on some of my favorite types of vintage cookbooks. I’d love to see your favorite vintage cookbooks, email me or tag me on social media!