As I’ve mentioned in these pages many times, I have an extensive cookbook library that takes up several bookcases in our homes–duplicated in many cases, since we split our time between two houses. I’m not sure of the exact count, but it’s up there. Guests to our home often ask if I really use them all. The answer is that while I enjoy them all for different reasons, out of that huge collection, there are but a few that I just couldn’t live without. A handful that I would call must-haves any kitchen library. I often give one or more from this group as a gift to a newly married couple and have made sure my own children’s kitchens have them, for my own use when there as well as for their edification.
I thought I’d share them and my reasons for thinking them essential, since beautiful,useful books make great holiday gifts. I’m not including low-carb specific cookbooks, of which there are many I’d recommend, and I’m leaving our own cookbooks off the list purposely, since it goes without saying that I use those recipes often. What follows are the essential core of my collection, the ones with the splatter stains on them, the ones sporting the dozen sticky tags, the ones without which, I’d be lost as a goose!
MD’s Seven Essential Cookbooks
1. How to Cook Everything
Mark Bitman’s indispensable book is the first place I look to find a recipe for most everything I’d ever need to cook. Everything pretty much describes the contents. If there are gaps in this font of culinary how to, they’re few and far between. I don’t know how many copies of this one I’ve bought over the years, but it’s a lot. If a kitchen is to have only one cookbook, this one is it. The new edition just came out and my sweet husband bought me a copy to update my library. I love Mr. Bitman’s common sense cooking style; it jibes with my own way of doing things and it’s all delicious. I’ve never made anything out of it that hasn’t turned out well.
2. The Complete Meat Cookbook
Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly’s meaty masterwork contains exactly what the title implies. And there’s simply nobody who knows meat and how to make it delicious, flavorful, and succulent better than Bruce. Chock full of easy to follow techniques for how to select and prep; how best to season; which cooking method works best to get the most out each cut. Filled with tantalizing recipes for primarily beef and lamb. For more on pork, see below.
3. The Complete Book of Pork
Again, Bruce Aidells at work, promoting that meat about which he is most passionate…pork. We traveled with Bruce and his lovely wife (and noted chef/owner of Boulevard in San Francisco) Nancy Oakes. Throughout our travels in Campania, he nibbled and sniffed the fabulous food we shared and often would smile and quip, “I think there’s some sort of pork product in this.” He and Emeril Lagasse agree: pork fat rules!
4. The Complete Book of Poultry
From the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, the single most useful cookbook for making chicken, turkey, duck, game hen…you name the feathered friend…delectable.
James Peterson tells all about that which can make or break a dish–the sauce. I attended a cooking demonstration he gave when this book came out at Cookworx in Santa Fe, NM. The basics are simple and the results so worth it in making a mundane piece of meat glorious.
6. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
This fabulous book from Deborah Madison will make that which accompanies the meat as good as the meat! When a vegetable gets into her hands, it just knows what to do.
7. Les Halles Cookbook
Anthony Bourdain at his Confidential best! It’s not just that the recipes in this book are wonderful; they are. It’s the writing, the wit, the humor, the personality of the author. Hard to imagine a laugh out loud cookbook, but here it is. That and the recipe for the best steak tartare ever!
May the joys of cooking good food for family and friends be an integral part of your holiday this year!