Inspiring Cookbooks

I’m not a big collector of things. In fact, I am awesome at getting rid of things. All it takes is an email or a call from a charity asking for donation items and I’m signed up. I’m instantly looking through the closets, drawers and the basement for things I can give to those who may need it, or who at least will remember it’s there! Clothes, toys, decor items, forget it. Gone. Books, however, are another matter. Books are handled with more nostalgia and grudging detachment. I mean, I can still get rid of them, I swear! It’s just more difficult.

And cookbooks have a place all their own in our house. A safe place, away from the prying eyes of my constantly home-editing self. As such, I’ve amassed quite a few. Here are just some of the books I turn to for inspiration. If there’s a dinner party coming up, or Sunday dinner with the family, or even if it’s just a weeknight and I need something to spark my imagination, I turn to these books. I realized how much of a habit this has become when my 3-year-old son said to me the other day, “Mom, are you going to make dinner now? I’m going to pick out a cookbook from the shelf for you.” 

The Top Five Cookbooks I’m Obsessed with Right Now:

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbookby Ina Garten

I love Ina Garten. Simple, right? Pre-kids, Mike and I would curl up on the sofa and watch her show on Food Network, and we would make up reasons to try her recipes. Saturday night? We absolutely need caramelized onion dip! Post-kids, I still cook her recipes and appreciate their simplicity even more. She has tested and tested her recipes so they can truly be followed for excellent results. I also love her approach to food. It should be simple, it should make you feel like you’re giving people a big hug, and you as the host should be at your own party, not stuck in the kitchen all night. This is the original cookbook of hers based on years of experience as a caterer and specialty-foods store owner. The photography is vivid and ingredients are accessible. I’ll talk about her other books, which I also have, sometime soon. But this one is a fantastic start.

Tyler Florence’s Real Kitchen, Tyler Florence

You can tell Tyler took some good time to put this book together. Every recipe I have tried from this book has come out great, a great sign that the recipes have been tested and re-tested. I’m a big fan of cooking from all around the globe, and this book covers a lot of flavor ground. Spaghetti with peas and pancetta, Hong Kong crab cakes, even blueberry scones with lemon glaze, they are bursting with freshness and zest. There are many more recipes from this book I can’t wait to try.

The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, Revised Edition

This is the book that I reach for when someone asks me to cook something, and I want the official word on how to cook it best. It has recipes for hundreds of classic dishes, from chicken parmesan to homemade ranch dressing to pizza dough. I also love the Emergency Substitutions section on the inside cover–you can make your own buttermilk in 10 minutes from milk and lemon! And it’s worth it because their buttermilk biscuits come out flaky, airy and addictive. I find myself gravitating to their recipes for baking and dressings/dips over and over again. If there is only one cookbook you can have in your kitchen (which makes me shiver, but still, this is the hypothetical), this is a great choice.

Bobby Flay Cooks American, Bobby Flay with Julia Moskin

Bobby Flay and I go way back. I say that like he would even remember me…ah, a girl can dream. When this cookbook was coming out, it was soon after 9/11 and Bobby was doing some press to promote the book and the concept of cooking with flavors from all over our great country. I was the lucky girl assigned the task of interviewing him for the magazine I worked for at the time, and he was amazingly gracious, open, friendly, and funny, everything you see on his shows on Food Network. It was my dream interview because he is the chef that I always tell Mike could cook for me every day! After the interview (which I reserve the right to talk more about in future posts someday…) he signed this book for me and it is truly one of my favorites for inspiration. Keep in mind, Bobby is a talented restaurant chef first and his dishes are complex, but the ingredients (chorizo, tomatillos, clementines), combinations (blue corn muffins, goat cheese enchiladas) and photography of this book can inspire delicious adventures. I would suggest taking a trip through this book and trying out your own edited-down versions of the recipes. Bobby won’t mind.

The Baby Bistro Cookbook, Joohee Muromcew

One of the transitions I have enjoyed the most as I have cared for my sons has been their introduction to “real” table food. It fills me with such satisfaction to make something for the whole family that both my 1-year-old and my 3-year-old eat with us. Now, that doesn’t happen every night, and often I set things aside as I cook so my little guys have things without too much spice or crunch, but this book provided some great ideas and comfort as their palates change. From homemade applesauce (so easy) to quesadillas, corn chowder and even Swedish meatballs, there are great things in here to whet the appetite for moms, dads and their lucky kids. Oh, and her take on chicken nuggets is just brilliant, a must try. One of my favorite lines in the book is about how her son will eat a whole bowl of soup and ask for seconds one night, and the next night he will want only a piece of cheese. Doesn’t that say it all? I read this book and think, she gets me!