The Only Cookbooks You Need

Cover of "The Art of Simple Food: Notes, ...

Cover via Amazon

This week, as I was developing my weekly menu, I got to thinking about the cookbooks I have versus the cookbooks I use. Like many home cooks, I have acquired more cookbooks than I can ever possibly use on a regular basis. I love to browse through cookbooks, especially those with beautiful photography, even if I don’t make very many recipes from them. I have noticed that I used to buy a lot more cookbooks than I do now, because I used to experiment a lot more. Now, I’ve settled on the kinds of dishes that I like to cook at home and that my family like to eat, which keeps me returning to the same cookbooks again and again.

If I had to ruthlessly pare down my cookbook library, I think I could easily make do with just eight cookbooks and spend a lifetime happily cooking from them. These are the four basic cookbooks I consider essential:

  • The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
  • How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
  • The Joy of Cooking
  • The Foster’s Market Cookbook

The Waters book is essentially a home-cooking course for beginning cooks, and I return to its classic, simple recipes again and again. The other two contain pretty much every recipe I’d ever want to make, and they offer lots of variations so I don’t get bored. However, these all-purpose cookbooks tend to skimp on categories that I consider essential: breakfast, easy entertaining and cookies. Luckily, the Foster’s Market cookbook does a terrific job filling in those gaps (especially cookies).

Every now and then, I like to cook something more elaborate, from one of the four basic food groups: Italian, French, Mexican and Southern. I could buy hundreds of cookbooks in each of these categories, but I really only need one that’s definitive and comprehensive for each style of cooking I want to do. Over the years, I’ve settled on these four:

  • Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • Bistro Cooking by Patricia Wells
  • Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless
  • Sara Foster’s Southern Cookbook

Of course, your favorite regions or types of dishes will be different than mine, so I would suggest researching the cookbook offerings and locating that one definitive cookbook in each category. It’s so much easier cooking out of just a few books and getting to know them very well than it is trying to find that one recipe you want to make from among hundreds of cookbooks.

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8 thoughts on “The Only Cookbooks You Need

  1. queenjeanne 8 February 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Although I own hundreds of cookbooks, I considerJoy of Cooking and The Art of Simple Food essential.

  2. Shannon 8 February 2013 at 4:20 pm

    They are both endlessly useful, and used.

  3. karen 8 February 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I would add America’s Test Kitchen to the mix..it offers true recipes alongside streamlined versions

  4. Country Lady 8 February 2013 at 8:44 pm

    I love cookbooks! I have to ad that here in PA the state grange has cookbooks and they have the best recipes in them. They have tried and true recipes from women who have raised families and been cooking for many years. I have all of those cookbooks!

  5. Shannon 9 February 2013 at 9:55 am

    I love those kind of cookbooks. The recipes remind me of my grandma’s cooking.

  6. Shannon 9 February 2013 at 9:57 am

    I have the cooks illustrated cookbook. There are a lot of good recipes in it, but many of them are so fussy. They don’t match my style of cooking.

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