Sunday, February 6, 2011

Weekend Cooking: Cookbooks I Couldn’t Live Without

I have a LOT of cookbooks, collected throughout the years, on a bookshelf in the dining room. Yesterday, one of my daughter’s friends asked a reasonable question: “Do you use all those?”

The answer was, not surprisingly, “No.”

Some cookbooks were gifts from friends who think of me and think “cookbook.” Some of the spines on those don’t appear to have been opened, although some others have a recipe or two that I go back to over and over again. Stephen Langlois’ Prairie: Cuisine from the Heartland is one of those, a gift from my Midwestern mother-in-law when I joined the family. The book opens automatically to Kansas City Strip Steaks with Herbed Maytag Blue Cheese Sauce. That one recipe secures its place on the shelf forever.

Other cookbooks were souvenirs of trips where the local cuisine had a dish that we wanted to be able to make at home. I bought Jan Robinson’s Ship to Shore after a trip to Barbados. I bought it for the Vanity Punch recipe – it’s a classic rum punch – but found the recipes from ships’ galleys fit my little Manhattan apartment so perfectly that it got a real workout for a while. Now it only comes off the shelf for cocktails and appetizers, though. Time has marched on.

So which are the work horse cookbooks of my current kitchen? Looking at the shelf, they’re easy to locate, battered and splattered and loved to dog-ears:

Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker’s Joy of Cooking. This is the present I give as a shower gift to young couples who are just starting out in the kitchen, because it has a basic recipe for virtually anything you bring home from the market.

Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. That book is out at least 2 or 3 nights a week. I love how every Bittman recipe is a starting point for endless variation on a theme. Having the book in the house helps me face the farmer’s market without fear, knowing that whatever beautiful veggie I bring home, I’ll have a recipe for it!

Anne Sheasby’s The Ultimate Soup Bible. This gorgeous Barnes & Noble title looks like a coffee table book, but has 400 soup recipes from around the world. It’s the kind of book you love having when your kid grabs “Malaysia” for the school’s international food fair. It even has a brilliant section of cold soups for summer. Sadly out of print now, if you find a copy, buy it!

Diane Seed’ Top 100 Pasta Sauces and Andrew Schloss with Ken Bookman’s While the Pasta Cooks share the pasta work horse chores. Seed’s book is a thin but comprehensive look at Italy’s regional pasta sauces – traditional and superb. Schloss’ book is the opposite – he often turns to non-traditional ingredients in his quick-fix dishes. It’s a great way to reduce your meat budget, while still getting the flavor, as in a pasta dish ½ pound of fish easily feeds a family of four.

Finally, Lorna Sass’ Pressure Perfect, recommended by a colleague when I invested in a pressure cooker, has become my go-to weeknight comfort food guide, for things like ribs, or stew or bean dishes. I cannot believe I lived without a pressure cooker for so long. Sass’ comprehensive guide to dried beans in the pressure cooker – which are so much tastier than canned – have earned it a place on my dining room bookshelf.

So how about you? What cookbooks can’t you live without? I’d love to hear about them!

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. Thanks to Beth Fish Reads for hosting!


  1. The Vegetarian Cookbook looks right up my alley - I've even been trying to go vegan as well, fingers crossed that I can keep it up :)

  2. Bittman says he eats vegan during the day, and is an omnivore at dinner. There are lots of vegan recipes, and tips for making recipes vegan if desired. I'd definitely check it out, CaaBC!

  3. Great topic! Those sound like some useful cookbooks. Joy of Cooking would make my list, too. Also, oddly enough, the little pamphlet cookbooks that came with my wok and my bread machine. I use Bittman's Food Matters book in the same way as you do, but have been a little daunted by his thicker books.

  4. I like Joy of Cooking, but I don't love it. The one I go to for unfailingly delicious and fairly simple meals is The Creme de Colorado Cookbook (OMG! fabulous!) and sadly, the Simply Delicious from Weight Watchers. We're at that point now, hubby and I, where we are what we eat. Or, ate last night. ;) I've always wanted to dive into Julia Child's cookbook, but I think that must wait for a summer project.

  5. Joy -- Nice to meet you! I have never needed another fondue recipe aside from the ones that came with my Cusinart fondue pot, so I know what you mean about pamphlets.

    Bellezza -- I have never heard of The Creme de Colorado Cookbook, but I will look for it. Julia Child's Cookbooks are on my list as well -- perhaps I should remind my husband what a lovely Valentine's gift a cookbook makes :-)

  6. Here's the link, Col, and I've NEVER made anything that wasn't to die for from it. Ever. XOXO

  7. Those cookbooks look great; the soup bible especially appeals to me this cold winter.

  8. Bellezza -- Thanks so much -- you are wonderful.

    Diane -- It's a great book! I highly recommend it.

  9. Lorna Sass is my all-time favorite pressure cooker cookbook author. I have four of her books. She is absolutely the queen of the pressure cooker.

    Joy of Cooking and Julia Child's How to Cook are two of my favorite reference.

  10. I just ordered the 20th Anniversary edition of Cooking under Pressure for my mother-in-law -- I may need it myself.

  11. What a great post! I too have a few cookbooks that I go to again and again and then I have a lot that I bought thinking I would use and just don't!

  12. Yes, it's funny that many of my virtually unopened cookbooks are from chef personalities I love on TV -- but the first few recipes didn't work out, and I gave up on the books!


I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col