My Top 5 Favorite Kitchen Books
Story by Lisa A. Listwa
If you love food, chances are you love books about food. I read cookbooks like novels. I’ve often said that cooking is a love letter to the people I love. If that’s true, then food books are the romance novels of my kitchen. Over the years I collected many cookbooks. I realized at some point that while I definitely enjoyed them, I didn’t regularly go back to them for recipes. The books that emerged as my favorites are the ones that tell a genuine story in addition to giving great recipes, and ones that are more of a resource rather than a straight-up recipe book. I’ve purged my shelves in recent years and now keep very few that I return to again and again for kitchen wisdom and ideas. I offer my top five favorites here in no particular order of preference.
My Top 5 Must-Have Cookbooks:
1. Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book by the BH&G Editors & Test Kitchen
You know the one. This iconic red and white plaid classic has graced kitchen shelves since 1930. My grandmother had one. My mom had one. I have one. Pretty sure I’ll get my daughter one for her own kitchen when that day comes. Whether you’ve been cooking for five minutes or five decades, this book is for you – and it’s not just your grandmother’s cookbook anymore.
Why I love it: Two words – ring binder. (Although rumor has it the latest edition did away with this feature.) I love a cookbook that lies flat and stays open. Then you get tabbed dividers to organize sections. Bonus that these also serve as a handy index. But physical features aside, I love that this book gives you solid, practical basics throughout. You’ll find the classics you love and remember alongside fresh and up-to-date offerings to reflect the interests of today’s cooks. The Cooking Basics section offers up just about everything you need to know to find your way around a kitchen. Everything from stocking the pantry and fridge to meal planning and time-saving tips. It’s all in there. No wonder it’s America’s #1 cookbook for nearly a century.
2. The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters
This book was given to me as a gift right around the time I was focused on keeping our family’s daily diet (and our lives, really) clean and simple, so the word simple in the title caught me right away. The book is divided into two parts. The first part covers Waters’ food philosophy and simple “foundation” recipes. The second part includes recipes for everyday cooking and expands on the techniques presented in the first half.
Why I love it: Inside these pages, you will find fun and interesting lessons about food items or preparation techniques. The recipes in the book are very user-friendly and accessible for new and experienced home chefs. My favorite thing about this book is probably that Waters’ approach to good cooking – simplicity – fits with my personal philosophy regarding simplicity in all areas of my life. If you love preparing simple, delicious food for yourself and your loved ones, give this book a read.
3. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler
The title on this one caught my eye. A meal that just goes on and on? I’m in! Seriously, though, I was intrigued and wanted to know what that could possibly mean. The foreword is written by Alice Waters, author of one of my all-time favorite food books (see above). Waters beautifully describes how An Everlasting Meal approaches cooking as a way of thinking. Cooking as philosophy? Oh, yes.
Why I love it: This book changed the way I think about cooking at the same time it reinforced what I was already doing. Chapter titles introduce mystery with titles like “How to Catch Your Tail” and “How to Make Peace.” The material in this book touches on how to live and be and folds these ideas gently into a discussion of everyday kitchen practices. I discovered new and interesting approaches to food and yet those “new” ideas seemed very familiar. Adler’s stories and techniques are compelling, the recipes and tips are simple, quick, and easily transferred to any kitchen. I probably re-read this book more than any other; it is a dish that should be savored and served often.
4. The Deluxe Food Lover’s Companion by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst
This is the best food book I bought that I didn’t know I needed. The cover is gorgeous and it has the words food lover right there in gold on the front cover. There was no way I was going home without this, whatever it had inside. But as it turns out, this book has indeed become my companion and my best kitchen friend.
Why I love it: This is a food dictionary. No kidding. Nearly 800 pages of gold-edged pages filled with more than 6,700 entries about food. Deluxe indeed! What’s not to love? Entries are arranged alphabetically and cross-referenced. There are 40 glossaries in here, a pronunciation guide, tips on how to use the book, and a bibliography for your further reading pleasure. This book is not only for cooks but truly for anyone who loves food.
5. The Rodale Whole Foods Cookbook: With More Than 1,000 Recipes for Choosing, Cooking, & Preserving Natural Ingredients by Rodale, Inc.
Yeah, the title is a mouthful, but so is the wealth of information you’ll find in here. An up-to-date revision of an earlier title, this book is an encyclopedia of knowledge about natural, whole food ingredients that were once thought of as strange and exotic.
Why I love it: To put it simply, this book has everything. Before you even see a recipe, you get an easy-to-follow primer on eating for your health and setting up your kitchen. The next section takes you to the market and details what you need to know about the ingredients you’ll find there from purchase to home storage. The rest of the book is dedicated to recipes, food preparation, and even preserving. If there’s something you want to know about wholesome, natural food and what to do with it, you’ll want this book at the ready on your kitchen counter.