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.