NB: On Saturdays I share five things around a theme. Maybe it will be five books I like, or five funny cat videos, or five Saturday morning cartoons I miss.
I have more than 70 cookbooks in my house. I really don’t need that many – nobody needs that many, but I love them. To share a meal with others is the purest form of love I know, and all cookbooks are, then, is potential love – the plans for meals to share with people you love, like a battery of love just waiting to be tapped.
But I regularly only use about 10 of them, and five of them I use at least once a week. These are not the best cookbooks I own (however you would judge that) or even the most useful, but instead are the ones that best reflect the style of food I like, the way I like to cook, and the ones I use most often. I have links to them on Amazon for your convenience.*
More-With-Less: This is the book that made me Mennonite. Imagine a cookbook written in the 1970’s that emphasized reducing our meat and sugar consumption, that was concerned about the environmental impact of our diets, that promoted communal meals, that featured foods from around the world from myriad cultures, and that did all of that as a result of the author’s faith. The book you just imagined is this book.
How to Cook Everything: This was Mark Bittman’s first big hit, and is probably the single most used cookbook I use over the course of a year. While the title is hyperbolic, it does cover many, many recipes, but much more than that is the emphasis on the theory of why you do something, so that you not just learn how to make a cheese sauce, but you learn ways to change it (try adding a bit of chili powder, for example) and countless variations (leave out the cheese and you have white sauce, which is an excellent substitute for Cream of Something soup in any casserole, for example).
Everyone should have at least one “reference” cookbook, and while I have more than one, this is the one I use the most. I also like that he tries to create recipes for the home cook, and is more concerned with taste than being fancy. (If you can get the old 1998 edition, I much prefer it over the later revision, but either of them is excellent.)
New Complete Techniques: I love Jacques Pepin. I love his theories on eating together, I love his emphasis on fresh ingredients, and I love that his recipes just work. I probably use this one more than any other cookbook of his (I own 7, I think) because this is literally the encyclopedia on how to do anything in the kitchen. Wanna truss a chicken? Carve a ham? Make sausage? Cook Brains? It’s all here.
Mastering the Art of Southern Vegetables: Honestly, I have trouble with side dishes. I grew up in a Meat and Two sort of household, and this is really helpful to me as I try to get more creativity in my side dishes. As I try to introduce more vegetables and plant based foods in my diet, I have found myself turning to this book more and more. These are the tastes of my people, and I love the variety and fresh slants on old favorites.
The Southern Pantry Cookbook: I don’t really like “gimmick” cookbooks, but I love the premise of this one – building meals from staples in your pantry. With a focus on the busy home cook and the regional tastes I grew up with, it makes life easy and tasty. The food is good and has ample shortcuts – 30 minute red beans and rice for when you don’t have 4 hours to do it “right”, for example. We eat something out of this weekly.
No doubt you have your own favorite cookbooks – I would love to know about them, so please share them in the comments.
(If you liked this, you may also like these 5 things that make me a better cook.)
*I am a member of the Amazon affiliate program, so if you buy any of them, I get a small commission.