I love cookbooks! I have two cabinets in my kitchen filled with them, and I recently gave away some that I don't use. I always have a bunch on my Amazon wish list, and when I get one, I read it like a novel.
Some cookbooks are aspirational: fun to look at and imagine cooking from, but not practical for every day. Some cookbooks I trust: I take them down again and again, knowing I'll love whatever I make. The cookbooks here are missing dust jackets and their spines are broken - a testament to their well-loved status in my kitchen!
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
Mark Bittman is very popular now: he writes the Bitten blog on the NYT, and he is influential in the local food/pure ingredients movement. I've had this book for a long time, and I remember a reviewer saying it should be called How to Cook Everything We Cook Right Now. It's our generation's Betty Crocker or Better Homes and Gardens. My copy is the older yellow edition pictured above, but Bittman came out with a popular anniversary edition (red) pictured below.
There are no pictures, but the writing is clear and opinionated. If I want to know how long to cook a certain vegetable or a cut of meat, this is where I go. There are multiple variations for each main recipe, like sauteed pork chops eight ways. I also love the lists throughout the book: 10 dishes to serve with soft polenta or what to make for a birthday party for a 40 year old.
Notable recipes: Shrimp My Way; Broccoli Raab with Sausage and Grapes; Sauteed Fish with Curry and Lime
I also have The Best Recipes in the World. Other books by Mark Bittman :
The Perfect Recipe by Pam Anderson
Pam Anderson is my favorite cookbook writer. She has a Cooks Illustrated approach to her recipes: try a couple dozen variations and find out what works the best. Her food is excellent and crowd-pleasing. And she seems like a lovely person: a pastor's wife with two children who is highly successful at something she loves to do.
I use all of her cookbooks so often that it's hard to know which one to highlight. In the book pictured above, I love her recipes for blueberry muffins, stir-fry, roast chicken, chicken pot pie, and brownies. In the company version pictured below, I love her baked beans, pork barbecue, mixed grill, make ahead pizza, breakfast casserole, and molten chocolate cakes. This book is especially good for entertaining because she gives advice on what can be made in advance, the key to hosting a low-stress gathering.
The Losing Weight book is fascinating: she lost 50 pounds after coming up with a plan that let her eat without deprivation. She went from looking like Ina Garten to looking like Rachael Ray. And How to Cook Without a Book is great for someone who wants to know how to cook without poring over recipes. She teaches techniques, like sauteeing and searing, and gives endless variations so you'll always know what to make for dinner.
Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten
Saying I like Ina Garten's books is kind of like saying I like chocolate - not many people would disagree. The biggest complaint with her cooking is her "first, soften two sticks of butter" approach to recipes. However, they are not all ultra-fattening, and when you need a recipe to impress a group, go to the Barefoot Contessa. Here mantra is that it doesn't matter how simple the recipe is, as long as you use great ingredients.
I only have two of her books: Parties and At Home. I've heard great things about her Paris, family-style, and back to basics books, though. And you can also find many of her recipes on the Food Network website for free!
Notable recipes: Carrot Cake Cupcakes, Orzo with Roasted Vegetables, Strawberry Country Cake, California Pizzas, Roasted Shrimp and Orzo, Chocolate Cupcakes with Peanut Butter Icing, Peach and Blueberry Crumble, Apple Crisp.