I use cookbooks for almost every meal preparation, so I keep them in plain sight in the kitchen where they’re easily accessible. I usually scan the fridge a few hours before dinnertime, see what looks good (like that bundle of leeks here, and those nicoise olives over there) and then flip through the Index of Ingredients to find a match. Rick is always amazed that a meal can come out of what appears to be an ‘empty fridge’. So, our favorite cookbooks are those that can really deliver on this more spontaneous style of cooking, and of course, a good Index is key!
On the shelf right now is as follows, in order of preference:
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison: Although we are occasional meat-eaters, this is one of my favorites. Incredible recipe combinations that often pair heartiness with piquant flavors, like the spanish Potatoes with Saffron, Almonds, and Bread Crumbs and the Artichoke, Pepper and Chickpea Tagine with Olives and Preserved Lemons.
Marcella Cucina by Marcella Hazan:
I love that Marcella includes a page-long summary about how to correctly use salt. I appreciate her clarity of instruction, and no-fuss preparations. This book is where I turn for most of my favorite pasta dishes, as well as some comforting braises, like Fricassed Chicken with Bay Leaves.
Kitchen of Light: New Scandinavian Cooking by Andreas Viestad: This recent acquisition blew me away with its four (!) chapters on fish: gravlax & salmon, cod & bacalao, halibut & mackerel, and pollock. The Rosemary Cod with Vanilla-Scented Mashed Rutabaga was quickly a favorite, and I’m still waiting to try the Svalbard Beet Soup with Duck Stock. Accompanied by lovely images of Norway and its beautiful blonde people.
Breakfast – Lunch – Tea: Rose Bakery by Rose Carrarini: Rose Bakery is a wonderful-looking place near the Gare du Nord in Paris. I even fantasized about opening one like it in Austin after getting this book… but then came back down to earth! However, I can keep dreaming as I bake Rose’s gluten-free Lemon, Rice and Polenta cake and Maple Syrup Scones. The Lunch section is fantastic, and I’ve cooked the Cod in Tomato Water, Salmon with Broccoli, and Quinoa and Pepper Salad so many times I’ve lost track.
The Splendid Grain by Rebecca Wood: I developed an interest in whole grains last year when I started making food for the baby, and this one produced some great new tastes in the kitchen. The Mango and Wild Rice Salad and the Miso-Glazed Halibut with Radish Rice have a complexity and sweetness that give a lift to the hearty grains.
Speaking of cooking for the baby, The Baby Bistro Cookbook by Joohee Muromchew is great! If you want your child to (eventually) have the taste buds to handle the recipes listed above, then this is a good place to start.
The Art of Peruvian Cooking by Tony Custer: We travelled to Peru in 2003 for our friends’ wedding, and this book came home with me. The sauces that the Peruvians invent are so elusive that you could never try to replicate at home without a good recipe. So, we occasionally enjoy Anticucho (chicken skewers with pepper sauce) and Papas a la Huancaina (potatoes covered with a sauce of aji pepper, queso fresco, soda crackers and milk). My edition is in Spanish, so this means some extra brain power is required!
Nuevo Tex-Mex by David Garrido: We got this cookbook as a wedding present, and have been enjoying it for the past 8 years now. The recipes tend to be about five lines long, with as many ingredients. In other words, a lot of reward for your effort! Last year Rick made me the Goat Cheese Enfrijoladas Negras and a white gazpacho for my birthday – what a treat!
The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen: I love spanish food, and definitely don’t get enough of it. This book covers some of the more exotic flavors of spanish cuisine, but also makes great combinations of common pantry staples, like Grilled Skirt Steak with Almond and Caper Salsa, and Baby Carrot and Chard Stew. Have your paprika on hand!
A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg: What a lovely, sentimental memoir by the author of the ‘Orangette’ blog. I just bought this book a few weeks ago and have already made three recipes: Sliced Spring Salad with Avocado, Radishes & Feta, Ginger & Lemon Scones, and Sweet Potato Pound Cake (OK, that one’s from Orangette).
All About Braising by Molly Stevens: I bought this one while gearing up for winter, except I think we had a total of 5 wintery days in Austin last year! So, I didn’t get to cook from it as much as I would have liked, but I did greatly enjoy Braised Cauliflower with Capers & Toasted Bread Crumbs, and Monkfish Braised with Cherry Tomatoes & Basil. This book is kind of a new take on a traditional cooking method, and describes the braising process in scientific terms. Very educational!
Vegetables Everyday by Jack Bishop: This book is broken down so that each vegetable gets its own chapter, so it gets props from me as a ‘buy-it-then-figure-out-what-to-do-with-it’ sort of cook. I usually end up seeking this book when I have bok choy (Sesame Glazed Baby Bok-Choy) or Celery Root (Celery Root and Apple Salad with Creamy Mustard Dressing). It’s great because it offers both simple and more complex preparations for each vegetable, so it’s very handy when you’re staring into an empty refrigerator.
Bistro Cooking at Home by Gordon Hammersley: Written by a Boston restauranteur, and coincidentally, a guest chef at the Central Market cooking school when I volunteered there. So I have a signed copy – woohoo! Gordon puts together the best of French cooking, using some more familiar ingredients (i.e., not pig’s feet). My favorites are the Trout with Brown Butter and Curried Zucchini Risotto. A great compendium for dinner party fare.
Soup Yourself – Recipes from the Eastside Cafe: If you can track down a copy of this spiral-bound booklet, you will not be disappointed! Broken down into seasonal soup recipes, this is where I look when I’m in a 4-quart soup kind of mood. The best is Cream of Chicken Soup with Herbs, made with white wine and leeks. Also has a great array of fruit-based soups, like Blueberry Ginger Mint Soup.
Good Housekeeping Baking: Kind of looks boring sitting there on the shelf, but trust me, this one has some of the most reliable baking recipes I’ve seen. The Banana Nut Bread has a perfectly browned crusty exterior and moist interior. I also love the Leek Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart.
Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten: I don’t cook very regularly out of this one, but the Salad Nicoise recipe is fantastic. She uses a champagne vinegar, dijon, & olive oil dressing, and a whole handful of herbs – I usually use dill, tarragon, parsley and basil.
World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey: I think I love the idea of this book more than the actual recipes… if I could do it again, I would buy Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking instead, since I think her strength is with Indian food (and mine is not). That said, World Vegetarian has some of the best recipes for using okra, a late-summer harvest in Austin.
That’s it for now! I’ll post more as I acquire new cookbooks.