finding peace in the cookbook section

Sitting on the floor in the PSYCHOLOGY section at Borders probably wasn’t the best idea.  I had a heavy stack of glossy travel magazines to manage, so when I glanced down the aisle and saw an available footstool, I made it my new home just down the block from home.  I didn’t bother to take note of my surroundings.  It was all about the stool, a little rest area I could make my own.  That Dr. Phil Love Smart book is everywhere isn’t it?  The odd bit was not that I chose to sit on the floor and put the magazines on the stool–I’ll sit on the floor almost anywhere, even the subway platform if it’s taking too long.  I’m just one of those people who doesn’t fear the floor.  I’ll eat something that has fallen on it, usually.  Not a fried egg or anything else that would pick up too much with it, nothing wet, but a cookie?  Sure. The odd bit was my sitting there must’ve made it hard for people to get the help they needed.  Like someone is really going to grab the STOP CARING SO MUCH WHAT PEOPLE THINK book with me right there watching?  Ah, no.  It’s like the person who decides to do her makeup in the office bathroom when you’re just about to make.  Get out of here!  Now I can’t go!  How is the man with the handle bar moustache going to grab the LIVING ALONE AND LOVING IT! pastel-colored book?  It’s like a nun handing out flyers outside Scores.  CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE MILITARY WIFE’S SOUL went to a redheaded man in his early fifties. He was wearing an overcoat and no socks.  Okay.  I needed to leave the section. 

I found peace in the COOKING & ENTERTAINING section.  Well, almost.  I could seriously spend an entire day thumbing through cookbooks.  So now we need to talk about them.  I’m in the market for a new one.  I’m wondering if anyone has any recommendations for cookbooks that focus on menus. Not a menu for party planning, just a regular dinner at home (for two, but can be more) kind of book. I’ve found there are some that focus on parties… New Years, Fourth of July, etc. I’m hoping to hear what people read/use for daily menu planning. A starter, entree, and dessert for each day of the week. It sounds simple enough… why haven’t I been able to fine any cookbooks like this?  If you pick up any cooking magazine, you’re going to gain eleven pounds because that’s how many things they suggest cooking for each of their party menus.  We’re talking day to day menus.  Themed meals. 

Please tell me what you use to plan your daily menus!



  1. I use Cooking Light magazine because it gives lighter, healthier versions of yummy food. The deserts are light too. I love that magazine.

  2. At Home with Michael Chiarello. Gives complete menus, but breaks down easily individually too. When you want to pretend you're living in Tuscany, it's the best enabler. Available at, but your Borders should have it too.

  3. Rachel Ray or Paula Deen…both ladies quite handy in the Kitchen. Michael Chiarello is another good source for parties. I find than if you are in the mood for comfort food…Paula is your gal, especially if you just have once ounce of southern blood in your system. I think you should have a recipe party. Have everyone make their favorite recipe and bring enough copies of the recipe for every one fo share. Choose your theme: entrees, appetizers, beverages, desserts or whatever your heart chooses…or better yet, choose a theme of a foreign country. You have a great imagination and a huge circle of friends. The possibilities are endless. Have fun!

  4. even though it's not really a "meal cookbook" but my boyfriend and i swear by Cook's Illustrated's website. it costs $20 a year but we think it's well worth it. they have a decent list of menu themes there.

  5. Day to day meals in Manhattan generally consist of take-out or something frozen! However, I do have a quesadilla maker that comes in handy – it takes 5 minutes for a semi-nutritious fully cooked meal!

  6. hi from memphis,
    while i've never used the cookbook, my roommate has me hooked on the food network's 30-minute meals with rachel ray. she has a cookbook available that might be worth looking into. we love you, stephanie!

  7. I'm a vegetarian so I use Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. But I use it rarely since I'm never home enough to cook and I am only cooking for myself. Other than that it's usually salmon and some vegetable with chocolate pudding for dessert.

  8. I came over here from Kristy's site, and thus far I've enjoyed my visit except you are preventing me from grabbing the "Living with Hemorrhoids" book.

    Racheal Ray's 30 minute meal cookbooks have day to day menus in them and are pretty good – and quick – and she has low fat, high fat, low carb and high carb – anything to suit your mood/need. Actually, any of the "quick meal" cookbooks usually spell out a daily menu complete with dessert and a shopping list if you so desire.

    Next time you really want to have fun, plant yourself reading something conservative in front of the nudey magazines. It's a hoot.

  9. As far as themed cooking goes, if are a lover of thai/asian food, you cannot go past Charmaine Soloman's Thai Cookbook (paired with another publication of Charmaine Solomons: Encyclopedia of Asian Food) I have both of these books, albeit stained and a little worn!

  10. My fav is Jamie's Dinners by Jamie Oliver. I spent many hours on the floor in front of cookbooks and found this one to be the best. There are lots of basics with a variety of new ways to use them. He's very into fresh produce and free-range meats so it's fairly healthy without going so far as to call it 'light'. It doesn't break recipes down into themed meals as you're looking for but there are several sections for which you can pick and choose to create your own.

  11. I generally go by what looks good at the store, what I saw someone else eating that looked good or made me think of something, times of year when certain foods need to be eaten (strawberry shortcake in June, cheetos during hurricanes, mint cookies at Christmas, etc.). I like Giada DeLaurentis' book, but I swear this woman has some awful eating disorder and eats none of her recipes. She looks like she has a huge head because her body is so skinny. Right now I mysteriously find myself craving pistachios and pomegranates. I just listen to my body and eat what it wants. It is usually fairly reasonable, thank goodness. Thanks for the scarf tying techniques. I am currently looking for a scarf to use.

  12. Any book by Ina Garten – Barefoot Contessa. I have all of her books and there isn't a bad recipie in any of them – and she cooks a lot for just her and her husband, so there are lots of things you can make for 2 or more people.

    Now I'm hungry…

  13. oh god, please stay away from Rachel Ray. She is so horrible.

    My favorite of all menu books is one called Simple Soirees.

    Really, amazing recipes and menu coordination for 2 – 10 people. (and up!)

  14. Jacques Pepin has a GREAT cookbook called 'the shortcut cook'. As for the kind of format you're looking for, Real Simple magazine always has easy to good recipes that use shortcuts but come out tasty. They even have those little cards in the back.

    As for menu planning, has a great little menu suggestion utility (don't read between the lines- I've seen your pictures and you're perfect as you are.) I love the suggestions for lunch especially (whole wheat pita with hummus, sliced pears, sprouts and cucumbers-YUM). I still refer to it for ideas even though I'm not counting points.

  15. The beau works all weekend, so I watch 8 consecutive hours of food network, mark down the recipes I find intriguing, pretty and/or easy then look them up on the website, copy them, print them, and stick them in a binder.

  16. Even the serious foodies I cook for like the Rachael Ray stuff I make — if I don't tell them first its something of hers. She may be annoying, but she's creative and has an uncanny understanding of how ingredients can complement one other.

    I recommend her 365: No Repeats book. I probably wouldn't make half the stuff in there, but the ones I have done are terrific: the Cuban flank steak with spicy shrimp and black beans, the puttanesca pasta, the arugula walnut pesto, the white pizza with zucchini, etc.

    I also have a tried-and-true Good Housekeeping Step by Step cookbook that has gorgeous illustrations (honestly, shouldn't every single recipe in a cookbook be accompanied by its own glossy four-color photo?). And the Food Network's site is usually decent if I'm feeling uninspired.

  17. Stephanie,

    Check out Everyday Italian by Giada DiLaurentis(spelling might be off) anyway, I am sure if you watch the food network you know who she is, her cookbook is about cooking everyday with simple and fresh ingredients. If your working from home check her out on the food network at 4:30 EST.

  18. I absolutely love "Nigella Bites" by Nigella Lawson. Themed dinners for weekend, after work, rainy days and my favorite, "trashy". She is fun, fun, fun!

  19. My vote is for the new Giada Di Laurentis cook book. Its got all sorts of recipes for home-cookin'. She also gives suggestions for using one recipe to prepare for another. It doesn't have photographs of everything, but I think the explanations are easy to follow. I definitely learned a lot from this one!

  20. Everyday Italian (Giada DeLaurentis), Ina Garten and Cooking Light mag. Rachael Ray is ok, fast meals. Paula Deen's stuff looks good but it's heart attack and BIG muffin top food!

  21. It might be because I'm English, but I loved Nigella Lawson's latest book "Feast". Those are really event menu's but her recipes are great, simple and easy to do. Her other books are also great Domestic Goddess, Forever Summer, etc. Her love of food really comes through.

  22. i go to and type in an ingredient that Im craving, and then see what comes up and what sides they suggest. Then I buy the ingredients and inadvertently mess with the recipe and usually something great emerges. Im afraid to get those glossy recipe book pages dirty when i could just click from one recipe to another… ; )

  23. This will probably be of no help to you, i'm afraid, but i pretty much wing my home-cooked meals, unless i'm cooking something out of my grandmother's cookbook of "Favorite Family Recipes" (special occasions only, though, for the Crawfish Ettouffee, or Turkey and Andouille Gumbo!) A little olive oil, chopped green onions, & Tony Chachere's go a long way for most everything!

  24. This may not be of much help to you, but i mostly wing my weekly cooking regime. Some kind of baked or sauteed fish or chicken together with some combination of the following most versatile ingredients of olive oil, lemon juice, crushed sea salt, Tony Chachere's unsalted seasoning, chopped green onions and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese make for the tastiest and easiset meals at the end of the day…when i'm not cooking some Italian dish, or something out of Grandma's cookbook of favorite family recipes…Turkey & Andouille Gumbo and Crawfish Ettouffee are for extra special occasions!

  25. A great simple Australian cook book would be anything by Donna Hay.

    She does simple, easy stuff without anything too consuming or complicated, plus it's delicious. You can get it on Amazon, try here

    At the moment there's "Off the Shelf : Cooking from the Pantry" and also "New Food Fast".

    Simple and easy meals that I use nearly daily.

  26. Steph, I am wondering the same thing re: day menus found in a cookbook. However, I do use a magnificent weekly menu spreadsheet. That's a start.

    It goes like this: Print 1, Copy 6, hang on fridge. 1 sheet per week. Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner, Snacks, Beverages, Special Event (like hosting a dinner party). I put exactly what I'm going to have that day in the appropriate slot. Below, the shopping list to be picked up on Sunday. Prepare what I can that day then move according to the spreadsheet from there on in. It means that it's easier to see for example, the avacado dip from last night's dinner can also be used as the spread for today's sandwiches at lunch. It's mind-boggling to plan but such a delight for this type A.

    Email if you want the spreadsheet. It's divine.

  27. Everyday Food Magazine has excellent menus for weeknight dinners. Did you check out any cookbooks at Williams Sonoma? Those are fantastic, too. Cheers!

  28. I have a cookbook called "Italian Dinners 1,2,3"…the author is Heriteau. It is kind of like a three-ring binder, with each ring holding a set of 3" x 5" cards. One set consists of appetizers, another of main courses, and the third of desserts. You can make the entire meal as it is presented, or you can flip the cards to create different combinations. It is – I believe – designed mainly for day-to-day use, rather than as a party planner.

  29. At the risk of being predictable, I stick with the modern old reliables: cookbooks by Rachel Ray, Emeril and food-related gadgetry by Alton Brown. Then again, I've yet to use any of them in any meaningful way; it usually winds up being a roast chicken from Gristedes, Freshdirect or Associated with stir-fried veggies or pasta or a phone call to Texas, Blockheads or Sushi.

    The Rachel Ray books are prolly ideal for what you're looking for, assuming her cooking style and yours are compatible. She has good ideas for quick dinner menus, her ingredients are available, and the books eliminate the whole excruciating experience of having to listen to her while she's cooking on TV.

  30. Well if Stephanie doesn't eat she won't be able to blog Papa Doc! Hmm!

    I second Donna Hay!

    The binder idea works great. Also, Martha's website has some great recipes. Although I have 50/50 success with them. You have to go Rachel Ray for quick and easy and delish.

  31. EVERYDAY FOOD magazine
    i love having it come to my mailbox every month. it always gets me cooking again if i've gotten lazy and have been only ordering in.

  32. Nigella's books focus on complete menus, and they're really wonderful to read. If you're down with British food, she's delightful.

  33. Oh! I have the perfect book for you… Dinner Dates: A Cookbook for Couples Cooking Together by Martha Cotton. An old boyfriend gave it to me for Valentine's Day many years ago. It has 12 different menus that can always be modified, but go great together already. Its fun because the various cooking "tasks" are assigned to Chef Numero Uno and Chef Numero Due. Plus the first part of the recipes include "Marinating the Chefs"!

  34. I have to second the mention of The advanced recipe search is absolutely addictive, as is reading the recipes and the reader reviews. You can search by cuisine, part of menu, wine pairing, prep time, ingredients, etc.–and even if you don't search by "part of menu," you usually get suggestions for complementary dishes from the reader reviews. And did I mention the reader reviews? They're great because they'll save you from wasting time on a dud recipe, or give you a tip that'll make a good one better.

  35. It think my all time favorite has to be Nigella Lawson's How to Eat. I can read it as a book, I can cook from it, and there are menu plans in tehre for all sorts of nights (including just for 2)

  36. Jamie Oliver's book "Something For Sunday" is really quick easy stuff. I also recommend the William Sonoma Taste cookbooks (I used to get them for like $5 in the B&N discounted books section…you can probably get them for as little on Amazon). It's probably more your speed; lamb stuffed with feta and japanese eggplant, cornish hen baked in this really amazing flour crust. The chapters are organized by cocktails, appetizers/tapas, starters, main courses, desserts, etc.

    But for desserts, I always go to my Nigella.

  37. As much as i love cooking, i have found that few cookbooks do menus (everyday ones) well, or rather, to my liking. I do like Jaime Oliver's stuff and the Good Housekeeping cookbook, as unglamorous and housewifey as that brand sounds, the book is solid on basics and a far better reference to have than the Joy of Cooking, which I really dislike. All in all, you might have to get a few good cookbooks and put your own menus together. Oh and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is an absolute must if you enjoy vegetables!

  38. I agree with most of the Rachel Ray accolades – great recipes that are easy and, for the most part, healthy. I also love Pepin, Nigella, Cook's Illustrated, Everyday Italian, Ida, Deen, Chiarello…
    Not to get too preachy about diets, BUT…I've been on South Beach for about a month now – there are three cookbooks I've been using (blue, orange and yellow) – the recipes are EASY, fast and healthy. The weight has been coming off without even trying, and you never feel hungry (which is a HUGE feat for me – I'm not a "diet" person). If you're willing to pay $5/month, you join online and can plan your whole week of menus and it even helps you make a grocery list.
    I would encourage you to browse through the first book – the blue one – next time you're in Borders. For me, it's a lifestyle that just makes sense. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised…

  39. I use, they have every recipe you can ever want. There is even Copy Cat recipes…ex. P.F. Changs Lettuce Wraps…French Fries from McDonalds…Cheddar Cheese Bicuits from Red Lobster..and much more. They also have menu plans…and they catergorize everything from Main Dishes, Side Dishes, to Soups, and Crock Pot recipes. I enjoy this site and Im sure you will do the same.

  40. The Mark Bittman cookbooks-seriously. How to Cook Everything and the even more humbly titled Best Recipies in the World (more international choices) are fantastic, fantastic, and exhaustive menu sections (and many other useful indexes) in the back.

  41. I second ladypants' recommendation of Mark Bittman. He has a fantastic minimalist series of cookbooks called things like The Minimalist Cooks at Home and The Minimalist Cooks Dinner. (And The Minimlist Entertains, for when you decide you do want a party.) There are individual recipes arranged by course and then suggested menus. They're all aimed to be simple but delicious and not use too many ingredients, and they lend themselves well to personalization and improvisation.

  42. I second Jamie Oliver's "Jamie's Dinner's"…. he's fantasmic. Rachel Ray, on the otherhand, is so unconscionably annoying she makes me never want to turn on the Food network again.

  43. Heather B, at 1:23… (hey that rhymes! ahh…I love giggling to myself)
    I'm curious why you eat salmon if you're a vegetarian.
    And, now that it's obvious that I'm a vegetarian (well, vegan), might I suggest I have found only success by reading and learning from the comments on each recipe; I usually go for the 4- or 5-starred ones though. Delicious! And for meat-eaters, it's a great way to go for something on the lighter side.

  44. Nothing beats home cooking to me.

    Have your family and friends give you their own personal recipes. It could be for anything- drinks, snacks, dinner, dessert. Put everything in a book. Years and generations from now, it's amazing to look back on it.

    ps. buggy, I asked myself the same. I don't quite understand how people say they are vegetarian, but eat fish and/or chicken. Sure, technically there are different types of vegetarian, but someone eating ANY type of animal that was living is not (my definition of) a vegetarian.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.