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.

5. Sauces
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!


  1. I’m so glad you posted these. I have “Les Halles” and agree it’s wonderful. Many of those recipes are either already low-carb or can be adapted easily. And I love his writing style too. Nothing like being scolded and sworn at in a cookbook!

    One other cookbook I like is “The Best Recipe” by the Cooks Illustrated folks. Almost nothing I’ve made from that book has been disappointing, and I love the long, informative bits about the science of cooking or ingredients. It’s definitely not a low-carb book, though.

    I’m on my way to Amazon to get some of the books you mention. Always happy to have a new, good cookbook on my shelf, too! Thanks!

  2. The Mark Bittman book was the first cookbook I bought to learn to cook stuff my parents hadn’t taught me. It proves invaluable. Now that I’m married my wife noticed how much I would look something up in it, she’s started using it. Highly recommended. I saw he has a vegetarian one now.

    I’ll have to get some of the others.

    Thanks, for the list.

  3. thanks, now I know what to buy everyone for christmas!

    btw, thanks for the heads up – I have the Aidells/Kelly book on meat – didnt know they had one on pork, gotta get it.

  4. I love this book I copied below. How many times have I bought a strange looking vegetable that I don’t know – in Chinatown or othe ethnic stores, only to throw it out later.

    This book is great and helps my adventure in low carbing. Do you know it?

    “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: by Elizabeth Schneider”

    “The Essential Reference is at once an encyclopedia, a produce market manual, and a treasure trove of recipes. With produce specialist Elizabeth Schneider as your guide, take a seed-to-table voyage with more than 350 vegetables, both exotic and common. Discover lively newcomers to the North American cornucopia and rediscover classic favorites in surprising new guises”.

  5. Excellent list and works for the cooks who don’t like to cook, like me! I have found a book “Pasture Perfect” that has lots of recipes for cooking grass-fed and pastured meat. I found it does need to be cooked slower at lower temps, at least when I cook it.

    I’ll be looking for the books you listed.

  6. Hmmm…I really like Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” — I’ll have to add “Les Halles” to my list next time I’m out cookbook hunting!

    I really like Madhur Jaffrey’s “World Vegetarian” but for a basic reference vegetables/vegetarian cookbook, my long-time hands-down favorite is still Mollie Katzen’s “Moosewood Cookbook” — the original one written in the 70s with all the full-fat recipes. Fully half of the recipes are low carb without any modification at all. It’s still the cookbook I go to first when I’m looking for something wonderful to do with a vegetable.

    I stopped counting the cookbooks I own a couple years ago…it’s enough to say that there are four bookcases in my dining nook, and they’re all crammed with cookbooks.

  7. I found the Aidells cookbooks at a used book store last week and was pleased with the recipes when I looked though. Especially the pork carnitas, my midwestern variation involves broiled pork steak that I have seasoned with salt and ancho chili powder.

    I wonder, in protein shakes, have you ever used flavor extracts? I find these much more economical and less sweet than the s-f flavor syrups.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Yes, for years and years and you’re right; they’re more economical. On line you can get every flavor imaginable. I just happen to usually have some caramel or hazelnut syrup on hand for use in coffee treats for guests and sugar-free black cherry or raspberry that I like to use over berries.

  8. I got How To Cook Everything as a wedding gift and have since gifted it to other newlyweds. Even the biggest kitchen doofus can get something out of it and yes, it is definitely the desert island cookbook.

  9. Thank you for this excellent list! I wanted to share with you one of my all-time favorites:
    “The Horizon Cookbook and Illustrated History of Eating and Drinking Through the Ages” (2 vols., hardcover in a slipcase)

    It’s out of print, but easily available through Amazon, Alibris, and Ebay.

    One volume is history (fascinating!) and the other includes over 600 recipes from cuisines around the world, many from centuries ago. The recipes are really good and have been adapted for today’s kitchen and modern ingredients. For me, it’s made great cooking very easy and I get rave reviews whenever I serve something I’ve made from this collection.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks! It sounds fascinating. I’ll certainly look for it.

    Happy New Year!

  10. Dr Eades Hello..
    I met a Dr once who told me exactly why singing was efficacious for the immune system and i can’t recall what she said.

    As you’re a Dr and a singer could you please enlighten me again ?

    Rather strangely the lady in question bore a striking resemblance to you.
    She also had a husband called Michael but no matter.

    All good things in 2009 and HNy to you and yours.
    Simon (Fellows)

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Hey, Simon! The lady in question believes (with naught but common sense to guide her) that any purported immune system and longevity benefits of singing, like exercise, occur because of the deep breathing it inspires. When we breathe deeply, we create a negative pressure in the thorax, which draws lymph through the thoracic duct. More breathing, more lymphatic circulation. Moving the lymph through the lymphatic system is the key, IMHO, to health. All good things back at you!

  11. Hi MD~
    What a great list of cookbooks. Thanks so much for sharing it. I do enjoy your blog. It is an inspiration to me.
    I would love it if you would do some similar type blogs and show us a few things like …Oils and fats you consider essentials in your cupboard or basic pantry items you consider essentials to have on hand.

  12. Dear MD
    I am astounded that you don’t have the “All New Easy Low-Carb Cooking” by Patricia Haakonson on your shelf.
    Never has cooking been such a pleasure.
    The recipes use real food.
    The results are tasty, elegant, and beautiful.
    I love that there are few ingredients and that the directions are well tested and not at all complicated.
    It has become my #1 cookbook.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: If you’ll go back and read the blog, it specifically says I was omitting low-carb cookbooks, including my own.

  13. “How to cook EVERYHING.” Haaaa-haaa, love it! Love the audacity. Couldn’t you just get rid of the others then?? 🙂

  14. Just wanted to say thanks for the recommendations. I ended up buying Cooks Illustrated Best Recipes – Chicken (I assume that it’s the updated version of the poultry cookbook) and agree that it’s “the single most useful cookbook for making chicken”.

  15. Low Carb diet is really the best diet if you want to reduce weight and also to maintain a healthy body.’:`

  16. Beef steak has always been my all time favorite dish and i am always looking for some new recipes that has steak as the main ingredient.::.

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