In one of my other lives, I was the book buyer for the largest collection of cookbooks in the United States. Our books weren’t on database, so I was a kind of culinary librarian. I lived and dreamed cookbooks. It was heaven. It’s been a few years since I was the cookbook maven at the Peppercorn in Boulder, CO but I still have favorite books. Here are my recommendations for the cooks on your holiday list.
#1 The Silver Palate by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins
Let’s start with an oldie but a goodie.This book, which is recipes from the legendary Manhattan gourmet food shop, is accessible, full of interesting but not too “busy” and fun recipes. I use the salmon mousse recipe to wow and amaze all the time. Plus it has menus and tips, covers everything from hors oeuvres and vegetables and brunch! And it’s fun to read even though there are no sexed-up food shots!
While you’re at it, check out their The New Basics Cookbook (#2), which to my mind, is the best contemporary basic book out there (no Fanny Farmer, no Joy of Cooking). It uses fresh ingredients, and has all the things you need like roasting times, a section on how to stock a basic kitchen and pantry, how to buy meat, a glossary of cooking terms and even “microwave miracles.” Along the way you’ll also get pastas, pizza, grains, veg, grill fish, eggs, cheese and dessert!
#3 Granny’s Muffin House by Susan Ashbyhis book is cute, kitschy and hard to find, but it’s the best muffin cookbook out there. Who needs muffin recipes? You do! Check out the Parmesan tomato muffins. You’ll become a believer. I found my copy on alibris. The book is written with words like “bakin’ soda, ” but it is bar none, the best.
#4 The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum For the serious baker who wants to learn the precise art of baking without having to throw down for the Professional Pastry Chef or try to understand its chef-ese. Berenbaum is particular in her instructions, but her cakes are FOOLPROOF. And I cook at altitude. In addition to wedding cakes and recipes for real butter cream, this book has sections on equipment, decorating, baking at altitude and has recipes for things like down-home chocolate mayonnaise cake that will knock your socks off.
Likewise, The Pie and Pastry Bible (#5) by Rose Levy Beranbaum has at least nine crust recipes, including one that uses goose fat, and sections in each recipe labeled “understanding” where Beranbaum explains why things work the way they do. In addition to pies and tart, there’s fillo, strudel, puff pastry, broche, and sections on techniques, ingredients and equipment.
Both of my copies are ravaged from use.
Speaking of Bible. Check out James Peterson’s Sauces (#6). Again, it’s comprehensive and accessible and guaranteed to kick it up a notch for those dabbling in cooking. I cut my bordelaise teeth on Peterson’s book, falling in love with making lovely, clear, complex tasting sauces (even if it meant standing over the stove for an hour and a half).If you’d like something easier, try James Peterson’s Splendid Soups (#7), one of the most comprehensive soup books around. Look for basic technique and master recipes on everything from consume and clear broth soups, all the way through vegetables and meats (8 kinds!) to bread, fruit and dessert soups.
Because it’s the entertaining time of the year, I’ll also suggest Martha Stewart’s Hors D’oeuvres Handbook (#8)which is worth it for the pictures and the section of all the fun food items you can use to serve sauces, salads, dips and more in (fried lotus chips!). After you see this book, you’ll be making tiny bite-sized food for months!
#9 Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking – Marcella Hazan
The bible of Italian cooking for me is Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.The recipes are simple, like all Italian food, which features flavors that are in season. Hazan will tell you things like crushing basil ruins the flavor and that you need to add it just before you serve the dish or sauce to preserved its lovely pungent flavor. Get this Italian cook book. Ignore the rest. For the vegetarians out there, I am going to suggest Annie Somerville’s Fields of Greens (#11), which is, yes, complicated (she suggests you make your own stock for the soup recipes), but the flavor combinations are fabulous and the recipes show that vegetarian cooking doesn’t have to be thick and cheesy and starchy.
#11 and #12 The Way to Cook – Julia Child
This book should be first on the list of someone who is wants to learn more about cooking, so I’m giving it two spots. French-based, these recipes will give a good idea about ingredients and technique.And it’s much less technical (and intimidating for those so inclined) than Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes 1 and 2. Plus, it’s Julia and we love her. I’ve made her tart tatin recipe a thousand times. Hint: buy this book in hardback. It’s so big, the paperback will break its spine when you use it. The other Julia cookbook I love is Baking with Julia, which is where my legendary galette recipe comes from.
And, because I can’t end it there, here more: La Technique by Jacque Pepin (THE technique book as far as I’m concerned, besides Anne Willan’s La Varenne Pratique), On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee (everything you ever wanted to know about ingredients and how X came to be in the kitchen), Cookwise by Shirley Corriher (the science behind cooking complete with trouble shooting charts for things like why your cookies fall when you bake them), Lord Krishna’s Cuisine (Vegetarian Indian Food by Yamuna Devi—a bible in itself). For Mexican cooking, go with Diane Kennedy or Rick Bayless, for more vegetarian, check out Debra Madison’s Vegetables.
What about the love? I promise, a good cook spreads love and happiness. And we need more of that, right?
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