The Reading Life: Essential Cookbooks

A while ago, Karen regaled us with her favorite cookbooks. It got me thinking about the cookbooks I rely on, the ones I pick up and flip through if I have no idea what to make for dinner, and the cookbooks I couldn’t live without.

The Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker

The edition of The Joy of Cooking that I own is pretty new. A lot of the recipes have been revamped or lightened up, but at its core, this is the same cookbook your mother (and maybe your grandmother) used. The edition my mom still has is fantastic because it still instructs the home cook on the proper preparation of bear meat and groundhog. Sadly, mine only covers rabbit and grouse. The Joy of Cooking isn’t just a collection of tried-and-true recipes; it is a cook’s instruction manual. If you don’t know how to poach an egg, or flip a pancake, or make a simple gravy, this is the first place you should turn. Sure, the Internet has that information, too, but there’s something about The Joy of Cooking that makes cooking seem culinary. When your first homemade cake turns out moist and delicious, you can thank the three generations of home cooks that lent their expertise to this wonderful resource.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois

I could go on and on (and on) about how this book has changed the way I eat carbohydrates (but I already have). My copy of this book is smeared with oil, flour, honey, and who knows what else; it’s a working cookbook, which is the best kind. It’s also the first cookbook that made me feel empowered. If you have ever had homemade bread, you understand how magical it is, especially if you were the one who combined flour, water, yeast, and salt to make it.

The Moosewood Cookbook

The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen

Get over the fact that this is a vegetarian cookbook right now. Then turn the pages and take in the lovely illustrations and handwritten text. Think about making your own yogurt cheese to add to a vegetable curry. Imagine making the best lemon pound cake ever. What about carrot soup? Mollie Katzen has a way of explaining recipes that reminds me of a seasoned storyteller. Whenever I flip through my copy, stained with sauces and dog-eared, I get really excited about the recipes again. It might be a vegetarian cookbook, but it’s not devoid of character, flavor, or substance.

Vegetables Rock!: a complete guide for teenage vegetarians by Stephanie Pierson

Vegetables Rock!

Another vegetarian cookbook, but this time, with a lot of useful information for teenage vegetarians. I used to be one of those. I wasn’t a picky eater by any means, but I didn’t really know how to create meat-free meals that were satisfying and delicious. Enter this great book. It’s where I got the recipe for macaroni and cheese that I still make, and a tasty recipe for rice and beans. Teenage and twenty-something vegetarians (and vegetable lovers) will get a lot out of this slim book.

Saucepans & the Single Girl by Jinx Morgan and Judy Perry

This one is here almost purely for kitsch, but it’s actually a pretty decent cookbook on top of that. I received this as a tongue-in-cheek birthday present from a feminist friend a few years back. She said, “You obviously need to know how to make a good lasagna if you ever want to get married, you know.” I laughed, took the book, and started flipping through it. It’s pretty laughable. I have the 1965 edition, but it’s been updated a few times since then. The general idea of the book is to give young 1960s women, who are independent and have jobs, a basic guide to cooking, with an ulterior motive of catching themselves a man. There are even various menus for different types of men, from young lawyers to old sad guys that you keep around because they buy you things. The lasagna recipe is solid, as are some of the other entrees. I’m willing to look past some sexism if delicious pasta is involved.

I’m Just Here for the Food: Food + Heat = Cooking by Alton Brown

Alton Brown is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s like the Bill Nye the Science Guy of food, plus he uses puppets to explain things. In this book, which won the 2003 James Beard Award, Brown explains a) how cooking works, b) how good cooking works, and c) how to use these skills to make delicious things. It’s like the show Good Eats in book form. This is more of a technique book than a cookbook per se, but it’s still wonderful.

What books do you rely on to create kitchen witchery? Let us know!

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About Amanda K

Amanda K holds a master's degree in Library and Information Studies. She's a housewife, a Planned Parenthood volunteer, a sewist, and an aspiring gourmet home cook. View all posts by Amanda K

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