Sunday, March 7, 2010


I have a truly disgusting number of cookbooks. I keep hoping that I will find the ULTIMATE cookbook that will address all my needs and wants. As I continue what is becoming something of a pointless search, I keep returning to the tried and true. It's a small and elite group; let me share them with you.

I have basically one thing to say about Martha Stewart: she puts on a good show. Her recipes aren't particularly innovative or unique, but, man, can she orchestrate a photo shoot. If you want ideas about presentation, she's the only game in time. Her books are worth buying solely for the photographs.

The Silver Palate people, books one and two: I use these books constantly. The recipes successfully combine both the classic and innovative (the best of both worlds).

Nancy Silverton's books. All of them. Yes, she's brilliant. Buy them. I don't care what the title is, bread, pastry, sandwiches, whatever; the woman knows what she is doing.

Cucina Fresca by La Place and Kleiman. Where I live it gets hot during the summer. Last summer we had weeks of unrelentingly blazing days where cooking was about as appealing as lighting one's hair on fire. Except the family insists on eating, the sods. Anyway, this is an SUPERB book for summer fare. I use it from May until September and it never disappoints.

Your basic dessert book: she is now out of fashion, but you cannot go wrong with Maida Heatter's books. The recipes are extremely detailed and yet simple; they are geared for the ambitious novice. See Nancy Silverton's dessert books as well .If you're looking for something much more challenging, Rose Levy Barenbaum has a number of books out that are exacting and foolproof. And I mean exacting.

If I had to choose a cuisine that I had to dedicate my life to it would be Italian cuisine (my love for Julia Child notwithstanding). Of course, the Italian answer to Julia is Marcella Hazan (as stern a task master as Julia). I would also recommend three additions: Biba Caggiano books are a delight, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers' "Italian Two Easy" is good, as is James Beard's "Beard on Pasta." In the hype for the search for the latest "star," he's being eclipsed by others, which is a shame because he was a damn good cook.  His "Beard on Pasta" is a no-nonsense basic primer on pasta. The mac and cheese recipe is to die for.

So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!

What cookbooks do you return to again and again?


Culinarychiq said...

I love anything that covers international cooking and the two books I'm always going back to are The Columbia Restaurant cookbook from the restaurant in St. Augustine and Around the World in 450 Recipes. It covers cuisines that aren't normally covered like African and it even offers desserts like profiterols and zabaglione:)

I've always loved Japanese cuisine but suck at duplicating any of it. There's a book I want to pick up though called Japanese Hot Pots by Tadashi Ono.

Elizabeth said...

I'm sorry to tell you (because I know you met and loathed the guy) Ken Hom's first book. I think it's just called Chinese Cooking or some such. Simple, clean, fresh, elegant food. His later cookbooks aren't as good, but that first one is perfect!

The Silver Palates, of course. For bread, I really like the Tassajara Bread book, and (embarrassingly) I cannot do without that old inelegant standby The Joy of Cooking. Not the updates, but the one I grew up with. I turn to it when all my specialty cookbooks can't give me the basic recipe I want.