As you can tell by my post on Monday, we’re planning to spend a couple weeks on the blog talking about cooking. We’re thrilled to have Elsa back to share about some of her favorite cookbooks!
I’m sure I’m not the only one who uses the the internet for recipes, meal planning, and cooking instruction. Keyword searching is an amazing tool. Still, I have a shelf of cookbooks. Flipping through a cookbook can introduce me to recipes I never would have thought to Google. It’s also good to have some references more authoritative than allrecipes.com.
My favorite cookbooks suit my cooking style. I consider myself a good cook, I seldom follow a recipe exactly, and I like to try new things. I’m confident that whatever I do will turn out at least edible, and I can cook by “feel.” So I like cookbooks that are more than instructions, ones that tell me how and why and what I could do differently.
The cookbook I reach for ninety percent of the time is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It really does have everything. I have a chicken ready to roast, but how long and at what temperature? How do I prepare a leg of lamb? What on earth do I do with parsnips? Can I make horseradish at home? Frozen yogurt? Ketchup? Bagels? My husband is tired of me saying, “Let’s ask Mr. Bittman!”
I particularly like the versatility of Mr. Bittman’s recipes. Many of them have a number of variations, so it’s easy to tailor to what I have in my pantry or to our tastes.
Having a thousand-page tome can be daunting, but it’s well organized by category and then by main ingredient. Each ingredient section starts with a description of the item, from how to shop for it to the best ways to prepare it. There are guides to cooking techniques (last week I looked up how to fillet a fish) and kitchen implements. The recipes are indexed by ingredients and techniques, and there are lists of recipes by categories like vegetarian, make-ahead, and 30-minutes-or-less.
There’s also a “good parts edition” called How to Cook Everything: The Basics, which is designed as a complete cooking tutorial. It also has lots of photographs illustrating kitchen techniques. It would be a great living book for training an older child to cook.
The other cookbook I’ve found helpful is one I don’t even own (but I do check it out from my library from time to time): Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It confirmed for me a theory I had been slowly feeling my way toward for years. Every bread recipe starts with water, flour, yeast, and salt. Everything else is just window dressing. Artisan Bread is the best, simplest, dead-easy bread baking method out there. I don’t follow it exactly (we don’t go through quite that much bread), but I do something very similar. Many people seem to be intimidated by yeast bread, but Artisan Bread simplifies everything to the essentials and then offers plenty of extras in case you want to fancy it back up.
The rest of my cookbook collection covers slow cooker recipes, New Mexican cuisine, German Mennonite cooking, Thai food–in other words, it’s geared toward my interests and the needs of my family. But I think the two books above would benefit any kitchen.
Elsa is a mother, a wife, and a reader. She lives in the Sonoran desert and dreams of moving back to the Midwest.
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