Go-to cookbooks

If I have an evening to myself (“if” is the operative word here), ideally I would stay home, pour a glass of wine, and grab a stack of books. Cookbooks, that is.

If I have an evening to myself (“if” is the operative word here), ideally I would stay home, pour a glass of wine, and grab a stack of books. Cookbooks, that is.

Yes, I’m serious. I love to read cookbooks — don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Mine are stored in my kitchen, just above my fridge. The selection has evolved some over the years, but there are some tried-and-true gems on that shelf. Let me tell you about my favorites.

I’m not a Junior League gal, but these volunteering-socially-active women know how to cook. Better yet, they like to show off their skills, and so the JL puts out cookbooks all the time. In fact, since their initial publication in the 1950’s, more than 18 million copies of local Junior League cookbooks have been sold. Most of them are short and sweet, and they’re typically themed. I hit the jackpot in 2001 when my parents gifted me The Junior League Centennial Cookbook. It’s over 750 of the most treasured recipes from 200 Junior Leagues. Their recipes are simple and just good — I use this as my go-to entertaining source and I’ve never made something here I don’t love.

I watch my fair share of Food Network, and of course all of the featured chefs have cookbooks out. It’s hard for me to want a cookbook by just one person, if you want to know the truth, but I’ve tried several of the network’s stars books out. I can recommend two…

Ina Garten’s The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook is one of my favorites. This is Ina’s (that’s right, when she is on my kitchen TV a few times a week, we’re on first name basis) first cookbook, and I’d say her best. Her recipes use familiar ingredients, but always taste surprisingly unfamiliar and stylish. Most of her recipes can also be made ahead of time, which makes it all the better in my world.

Giada (De Laurentiis) has several books out, but her Everyday Pasta is a must-have if you want to ever cook Italian and look like you know what you’re doing. Her recipes are healthy and taste good, ranging from light and delicate to rich and hearty. She’s got all the Italian classics in here, plus seasonal choices, one-dish dinners, and recipes for delicious sauces. Her “basics” section also includes instructions for making fresh pasta, marinara sauce, and flavored oils and vinaigrettes. (Your husband may thank you for the book, too… do all men love to look at this lady, or just mine?)

Have any of you mamas out there tried Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious? I’m pretty lucky that my kids eat healthy stuff, so I don’t really use her book for what it’s meant to be (a sneak-attack method for parents to be sure that their kids have something healthy in their food). I actually cannot even recommend the recipes -– I’ve tried a few, mind you, but can’t necessarily place them in high esteem. However, this book is an awesome resource for ways to introduce healthier eating. It’s given me loads of tips and tools to pull from to add to dishes, and even simplify ones I’m already accustomed to making. It’s taught me some good time management tips so that cooking is simpler when it’s go-time.

The New Best Recipe (from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated) is another cookbook essential. It’s got 1000 recipes and every one of them comes from America’s Test kitchen where each is completed 50 times to evaluate temperatures, mixing methods, technique,s and equipment. This cookbook is uber-comprehensive, which means you don’t just MAKE the best Apple Crisp, it explains how and why the recipe works, helping you become a better, more knowledgeable cook.

So these store-bought options are wonderful, but may I make one more cookbook suggestion? A few years ago, my friend (Hey, Tracie!) gave me a binder with tabs, dividers, and some clear sleeves. She put in a handful of her favorite recipes that I love, and I’ve added to it ever since. I have a tab for Starters, Breakfasts, Poultry, Pasta, Beef, Seafood, Sides, Appetizers, Gluten Free, Dessert, Drinks…you get the idea. Whenever I see something in a magazine, I rip it out and throw it in. When I get a recipe from a friend, I stick that in there, too. I’ve found it’s so much more useful than a box, and I love watching the recipes pile up and the un-uniformity of it all — different pages, styles, sources, handwriting, but my favorites all together in one spot.

Now you tell me: What are your favorite go-to cookbooks or sources for recipes? I’d love to know what is missing above my fridge.

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Kelly Blanchard

Kelly Blanchard loves thinking about, preparing, consuming, and serving good food. Believing that life is to short to eat the same stuff over and over, she loves to test new eats on her friends and family. Kelly loves her coffee-addicted hubbie, her two little blonde-haired babes, all things sweet, black tshirts, and the color pink.

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