Although I’m currently in the middle of about five different books, my reading for the last month hasn’t been particularly blog friendly, as it’s been heavy on sequels, things Anna or Rebecca have already reviewed, and books that I didn’t like enough to spend any time writing about. But was thinking about cookbooks recently when I gave a couple of new ones as birthday presents (It’s All Good by Gwyneth Paltrow and the Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson–I’m hoping Anna or Cara might pop into the comments to report on how they like those). Considering that I don’t actually cook all that much, it’s possible that I have a small cookbook problem, since I have two shelves full of them and another box in storage. I love getting them as gifts, I love browsing through them, and on occasion I even cook things. Despite my small cookbook library, there are few key ones I come back to again and again.*
More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre
My family calls this “the Mennonite cookbook” since it’s really a collection of recipes from Mennonites around the world. These are very basic, hearty, healthy recipes that focus on economy, using what you have, and feeding the world. (The Mennonite were into sustainability and unprocessed foods before those things were cool.) And because Mennonites so often work as missionaries, there are a surprising number of recipes with Indian, Asian, or South American origins. This was the first real cookbook I ever used as an adult, and the easy curry, golden eggplant casserole, and eggplant Parmesan recipes were standbys in my early 20s.
Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor by Anne Byrn
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Mennonites. Byrn has a whole series of books on how to use modern convenience foods as shortcuts in recipes. I know that sounds a lot like Sandra Lee (and not in a good way) but her cake mix books are quite smart. All the recipes start with a cake mix, but then add things like sour cream, yogurt, fruit, flavorings, puddings, etc. The processed cake mix makes the recipes practically foolproof, but all the additions make them taste fabulous. I’m quite a good baker and I don’t have problems making cakes from scratch, but I will admit here and now that this book contains the recipe for the single greatest cake I have ever baked or eaten–a white chocolate lemon cake with lemon curd filling.
The Homesick Texan Cookbook by Lisa Fain
I’m from Texas, so I can tell you with authority that the things you cook from this book taste right. I am a particular fan of the cheese enchiladas with chili con carne, the Ranch oyster crackers, and the Texas sheet cake.
How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
The pictures in How to Be a Domestic Goddess or Forever Summer might be better, but Lawson’s first book is packed with not just recipes, but ideas for how to put food together. This is the book that helped me figure out how to roast vegetables, and her sticky toffee pudding is so, so good. I am big Nigella fan and have lots of her books, but this is my favorite.If you have a cookbook that you love, tell me about it in the comments!
*My actual favorite cookbooks are those Kinkos-produced, spiral-bound ones that churches sell, where each recipe lists the name of the nice church lady who contributed it. I have a collection of those dating back to the 50s, and I use them more than you might think.