Our Family’s Favorite Cookbooks
I really like your family’s approach to food: container gardening, composting, eating organic, no GMOs, wide range of ingredients, etc. I also love that you enjoy a variety of cuisines (Thai, Indian) and, while you try to keep things healthy, you also appreciate that there’s a time and place for indulgent comfort foods — with all their inherent Cheesey Goodness — as well!
I’m on board with all that and would like to know, just out of curiosity, what are some of your favorite cookbooks?
Oh goodness, cookbooks! I love cookbooks. My husband loves cookbooks. I am pretty sure that not a single holiday — Christmas, birthdays, Father’s and/or Mother’s Day — goes by without SOMEONE getting a cookbook around here. Jason gets me the latest Top Chef volume, I get him books about homebrewing and grilling, we are such, SUCH nerds.
That said, our number-one recipe source on a day-to-day basis is probably Epicurious.com, which pulls recipes from Bon Appetit, Gourmet and hundreds of Random House cookbooks. Search for an ingredient, sort by user rating — and going with something highly rated by the site’s users has rarely let us down. (It also helps to scan the user reviews for suggestions on substitutions and tweaks.) I prefer Epicurious over some of the other big recipe sites because the recipes tend to be 1) CORRECT, the vast majority of the time (we’ve only encountered one or two true lemons among the dozens we’ve tried) and 2) avoid using “suggested” supermarket brands and processed shortcuts. When I decide to make something, I cook and bake from scratch — it’s not nearly as hard as the Big Food manufacturers would like you to believe, so I have no interest in cookie recipes that start with partially-hydrogenated pre-made dough or sauces that mostly involve opening a can of super-salty preservative-laden creamed soup.
/gets off high horse. Ahem.
(Oh, and Smitten Kitchen is my favorite cooking blog. You will never, ever find a better slow-cooker brisket or ratatouille recipe, and you will want to make both of them on a weekly basis. Just mentioning that for the sake of Internet Completeness before I move on and ACTUALLY ANSWER YOUR QUESTION.)
Our cookbook collection is really not that unusual or specialized, now that I’m thinking about it — when you’re confident that your fridge and pantry are stocked with good, quality, non-mucked-around-with or homegrown ingredients, I don’t find it’s necessary to find recipes and cookbooks that subscribe to any particular food “philosophy.” Just cook what sounds freaking delicious, you know? Life is too short, so add some butter and enjoy. If you asked me what books I thought belonged in EVERY kitchen, I’d have to go with How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman and Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. These books provide you with that essential foundation of How To Follow A Recipe & Cook Something That Will Turn Out The Way You Want It At The End.
When I bought How to Cook Everything early in my 20s, I seriously did NOT know how to cook. At all. I used that thing to teach myself to scramble eggs. And yet I STILL use that cookbook at least once a week — only now I’m looking up techniques and recipes for an unusual produce find at the farmer’s market, how to shuck an oyster, a refresher course on the perfect roux, etc. It’s part food encyclopedia/reference guide, part “I impulse-bought some artichokes and don’t know what to do with them now,” and part “I feel like making biscuits that don’t come from a mix” general-do-everything workhorse of a book.
And Julia…well, that’s just self-explanatory. Her recipes are longer and more involved and the first time you make one of her entrees you will have dirtied every pan and bowl you own and be terrified that it doesn’t “look” the way it’s supposed to because there are NO PICTURES…but your creation will be amazing, you will have definitely learned at least one or two vital fundamentals, and did I mention the “amazing” bit? That, and Julia’s recipe for braised carrots is the only way my children will eat them.
We own The French Laundry Cookbook (by Thomas Keller) for similar reasons — it’s even more aspirational and challenging, but if you’re looking for impressive party food or simply want to make the Greatest Meal Ever for someone special when you forgot to make a reservation for Valentine’s or your anniversary, it’s perfect. For more day-to-day cooking, we go with Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home cookbook — everyone should probably own this one simply for the chapter on homemade stocks. Changed our lives.
Let’s see…for specific ethnic cuisines, we go with the free offerings on Epicurious more than anything. Lidia Bastianich is our favorite for Italian. We’ve had some very good results with Tagines & Couscous by Ghillie Basan for Moroccan food. As for Indian (our favorite-favorite)…well, we use a hodgepodge of recipes from The Indian Slow Cookerby Anupy Singla, recipes and video demos from ShowMeTheCurry.com, and asking our Indian friends for their recipes. (That’s usually the best way to avoid creating something bland and Americanized, rather than trying to guess and doubling spices randomly. We’ve learned that one the hard way.)
And lastly: Kid’s cookbooks. Meh. Thanks to the fact that I exist on the Internet, I have, over the years, received a TON of baby-and-kid-focused cookbooks. I bought one for myself, back when I was pregnant with Ezra (Cooking for Baby by Lisa Barnes), and I did in fact use that book a LOT. Money well spent. I was unsure of myself when it came to homemade purees and first foods, so having a guide gave me invaluable confidence that I wasn’t going to give my baby scurvy or food allergies or poison. (Baby Love is another nice one that I’d recommend as a shower gift.)
But I also quickly figured out that it ain’t rocket science, this whole adapting real food for new eaters, or hiding veggies or fruits or beans/lentils/etc. inside your typical kid-friendly fare. So even though the cookbooks kept arriving in my mailbox, I’ve rarely done much with them beyond a quick scanning through the contents before filing them away, because yeah: YOU CAN PUT PUREED SPINACH OR KALE IN THEIR TOMATO SAUCE. GARBANZO BEANS OR CAULIFLOWER IN WHITE MAC-N-CHEESE, SQUASH OR CARROTS IN THE YELLOW. Steamer basket + blender = baby purees. Frittatas! Veggie burgers! Banana pancakes!
(And my favorite life lesson from kids’ cookbooks: My picky eater is a hell of a lot pickier than the “picky eaters” targeted by a bunch of these books, because seriously, if I could get Noah to eat “pulled pork barbecue sandwiches” in the FIRST PLACE, I’m not sure I’d really give a crap whether or not I could hide some extra tomatoes in the sauce.)
Now that Ezra is super into “helping” in the kitchen, I generally just let him help with stuff I’m making anyway. He loves pouring and stirring and counting out measurements (provided it doesn’t need to go over five or six). No specifically-targeted-for-little-chefs book required. At least not yet. Someday, I hope we’ll be including HIM in the holiday cookbook-swap. Heh. NERDS.
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