Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cookbooks I have known and loved

As Peter's list of allergies grows ever longer, and the list of foods we are willing to expose him to grows ever smaller, we have begun preparing more and more of our own food from scratch. We try to avoid things that come in boxes, or have been highly processed, because of the opportunity for cross-contamination with one of Peter's allergic foods. This means Peter (and thus the rest of the family) eats a diet heavy on fresh vegetables and fruit, and we make bread and sweets from scratch.  I am not yet churning my own butter, but close. 

You know I detest cooking, right? 

No matter, I like my kid healthy more than I hate cooking.  This means that I am constantly scouring cookbooks for something to make.  My family eats two basic food styles: 1) what I think of as American-ish, like meatloaf and mac'n'cheese, and 2) Italian.  Everything else is met with wrinkled noses and YUCK I HATE THIS.  Thus most of my cookbooks fall into one of these two categories.  

In the American-ish category, we have the Year Around Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase.  

I think this is my favorite cookbook of all time.  My grandmother gave me a copy many years ago, and it has been used and perused and is coming apart at  the bindings. 

The book is divided into summer and winter, with recipes focusing on foods that are readily available or common to that season.  The recipes are rather large; most of them seem to make 10 to 12 servings, so its a good entertaining cookbook.  I frequently turn to this cookbook when looking for something to take to a holiday party. 

The author runs a restaurant in Nantucket, and the recipes are all ones that she has used in her restaurant. Sometimes they are a bit fancy, or have ingredients I can't find easily, but 90% of the book uses easily found ingredients and simple cooking techniques. She usually includes a paragraph or two on where the recipe came from, or why she loves it so much.  Its a toss-up as to whether I love this book more for the stories or for the recipes. 

Every recipe in here I have ever made has turned out delicious.  My only complaint is that there are a ton of dairy-filled recipes that sound incredible that I can't eat.  Boohoo.  The recipe I make frequently--I don't even need to pull out the cookbook anymore--is pasta e fagiole alla Clementine on page 465, although I substitute sausage for salt pork.  

Sadly, this book is out of print, although there are a few used copies on Amazon.

I'm also a fan of Mark Bittman's The Minimalist Cooks At Home.  You might be familiar with Mark Bittman from his NY Times food column.

 Like the title says, these recipes are minimal.  Most of the recipes have less than four ingredients, and the cooking techniques are simple.  There are a few recipes that I have looked askance at (gravlax? really?), and there is also a southeast Asian contingent that my family won't eat (anything with curry or lemongrass or coconut is verboten around here).  The majority of the recipes, however, are simple and what I think of as American-ish, like Chicken with Riesling and Emma's Cod and Potatoes.  

I also like Bittman's Fish cookbook. 

 It has recipes for nearly every kind of fish, and at the beginning of each section, the type of fish is described for flavor and for its similarity to other types of fish, so that you could substitute the other types of fish in that section's recipes.  Again, Bittman's recipes are usually simple and easy to accomplish.  

My one complaint with this book is that instead of giving recipes for tilapia, Bittman notes that tilapia has a "undesirable, muddy flavor" and that he avoids tilapia and you should too.  Since tilapia is one of the cheapest fishes out there and inexpensively feeds a family of five, we eat it frequently, and I'd like some recipes for it.  

In the Italian category, my mother in law gave me two Italian cookbooks when the Mister and I got married, and I have used them both extensively.  She also recently gave me Sophia Loren's cookbook, and it is my new obsession. 

The first is a Barnes and Noble publication that's titled Italian, by Kate Whiteman et al:

The second is Naples at Table (yes, its Naples at Table, there's no "the").  It appears to be out of print, but there are plenty of used copies available.  Many of the recipes are simple, but many are not. There does seem to be a lot of waiting around for things to cook in these recipes. However, everything tastes delicious.  

And lastly, my mother in law just gave me Sophia Loren's cookbook Recipes & Memories for my birthday last month. 

Naples at Table and Sophia Loren's book are very much the same.  The recipes are mostly simple, use what many people would consider a hellacious amount of olive oil, and frequently involve tossing everything in a pan of olive oil and simmering it for an hour or two.  These recipes are the style of food that we eat when we go to Italy and visit the Mister's relatives.  Without fail, everything in these two cookbooks are delicious, and taste like my inlaws' cooking.  I highly recommend.  

The Barnes and Noble Italian book is along the same lines, although in my opinion it branches out a bit more, with more cream-based and meat and seafood recipes.  Its more American-style Italian, rather than the recipes we eat when we visit the Mister's relatives in Italy.  It has a little bit of everything, and I love that this book has simple step by step instructions with pictures, unlike all of the other books.  

I have many, many more cookbooks, but these are the ones I turn to the most. 


Now I need a cookbook from you. 

As a general rule of thumb, we do not feed Peter any sweets, ice cream or fresh bread that can be bought at a store, as the cross-contamination risk is too high.  We make ice cream at home with our ice cream maker, and we make bread with our breadmaker, and since Peter has a sweet tooth, I make almost every sugary treat that he eats.  He loves cake and cupcakes, and I'm looking for a good baking cookbook.  

Do you have a favorite baking cookbook?  I don't need an allergen-free cookbook, as he is not allergic to gluten and I don't need to experiment with guar gum and the like. I just need your average dessert cookbook; I can avoid recipes that call for nuts or almond extract, etc. (Obviously a book like Your Guide to Baking with Peanut Butter would not be what I am looking for.) 

Tell me your favorite baking cookbook. Actually, I'm always on the lookout for good cookbooks, I'll take your dinner cookbook recommendations too.  


  1. Emily Luchetti's The Fearless Baker is what finally gave me the push to start a baking business!

    I also love Big Fat Cookies, which my mother-in-law gave me at my bridal shower. It's got vanilla extract and burned sugar stains on it now!

    My old standby for everything cooking and baking is The Betty Crocker Cookbook. It was my mom's first cookbook [a gift from the bank when she opened her first checking account in the early 70s], and mine too! I have this version:

  2. I have 2 go-to cookbooks: How to Cook Everything by our good pal Mark Bittman, and Baking Illustrated by the editor's of Cook's Illustrated. I use thes 95% of the time. Good luck!

  3. I just inherited my grandmother's well-loved and taped-up-along-the-binding Betty Crocker cookbook. I mainly took it for the sentiment, but lo and behold, when I finally decided to start baking from scratch last year, the cake recipes are fabulous, pretty easy, and have turned out great. It is now my go to, and I am ready to branch out and try some of the more adventurous "hostessy' cakes (Lady Baltimore anyone?). And the entertaining suggestions are a slice in time gold mine, so you might even want to find a used vintage copy.

  4. Any Maida Heatter cook books are great!

  5. Thanks guys! I agree, I have the Betty Crocker cookbook, it is a great resource, and the one I usually turn to when making basic cakes (and comfort food).

  6. I love reading cookbooks.
    New Classic Family Dinners
    Union Square Cafe Cookbook
    Second Helpings (follow up to the USCC)
    Ina Garten's are good but always have to tweak the recipes because they're really heavy and fattening
    Ad Hoc at Home (Thomas Keller)
    America's Test Kitchen
    Everyday Italian by Giada
    Joy of Cooking
    The Hay Day Cookbook
    NY Times 60 Minute Cookbook
    I'll stop now, sorry.

  7. Try 'The French Slow Cooker' by Michele Scicolone - rustic French cooking is very "American" tasting and easy with the slow cooker. I was drooling in the bookstore before I bought it. Michele Scicolone also did an Italian slow cooker book, which I have not bought yet.
    Rachel Rappaport of Coconut and Lime blog Everything Healthy Slow Cooker is great (not canned soup in any recipe). I had to stop marking pages or I would have marked the whole book. Try recipes from her blog of course.
    And don't forget the A Year of Slow Cooking blog.
    She also has a book out. She keeps the spices low and many are gluten free.
    Anything by Cook's Country, America's Test Kitchen, books or magazines.


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