what your cookbooks say about you

Upside-down Bing Cherry Cake

It’s no secret that I’m addicted to cookbooks. I have zero desire to go cold turkey or even curb the habit. Cookbooks bring me joy, much more so even than cooking. They’re inspirational and hold promise and satiety. So when I received an alert about Eat Your Books, a new site offering users the ability to catalog their cookbook collections, making it ridiculously easy to plan menus and search all the recipes on your shelves at once, I clicked at the chance.

I unplugged the laptop and headed to my kitchen, entering the titles of all my 97 darlings. Upon completion, an overview of my cookbooks accosted me. Holy balls, my virtual bookshelf pigeonholed me as a “Restaurant whoring, diet wannabe, entertaining-for-friends obsessed, baker.” How very push-pull. And how very astute of them. You are, after all, what you eat. Or at least what you read.

you are what you eat

Just thought I’d share. Now share yours, please. Because what I’ve realized in cataloging all my cookbooks is that I’m hardly an addict. There are some who hold over 700 cookbooks on their shelves. I’ve got some cookbook shopping to do, and I’m looking for easy-ish family meals that don’t involve frying a chicken. There will be no lacquering of ribs, no dredging, but also no Splenda. We’re talking recipes I can knock out without Phil wanting to knock me out because it’s taking me too long to get things onto the table. Point me in the direction of your favorites please. And when I say favorites, I don’t mean the books that inspire you. I mean the ones you actually use, even if it is rare for you to use a cookbook at all, given the epicurious online world in which we live. Still, I can’t help but pry. I’m really leaning toward New Classic Family Dinners.

A YEAR AGO: New Orleans Photos and Foodie
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  1. I get my paper doilies at various dollar stores around town.

    And yes, have sent my contribution to the Haiti people. Hope lots of your other readers do too. A whole lot of little bits can make a fair sized chunk.

  2. My two favorite books that I use over and over again:
    Celebrate The Rain, Junior League of Seattle
    The Herbfarm Cookbook, Jerry Traunfeld (I just got The Herbal Kitchenfor Christmas – so far I’m favoring the original but the new one does have some interesting new information related to creating recipes with herbs)

    I would love to see your top 5 favorite cookbooks from your list of 83.

  3. My very favorite cookbook, hands-down, is one I once read like a text book, yellow highlighter in hand, on a 6 hr. cross-country flight, Classic Home Desserts by the late Richard Sax. With only one exception (the molasses marble cake), every recipe I’ve chosen to make has been a winner. I have many books for “fancy” baking and have no problem executing the recipes, but Classic Home Desserts beats them all by a country mile.

    Three others: Cooking Provence by Antoine Bouterin (available on Amazon), The Union Square Cafe Cookbook , and Second Helpings (the follow-up to the USC Cookbook).

    I also like Ina Garten’s cookbooks, but almost without exception have to adapt each entry for a less fat/sugar-intensive focus. Her chicken chile, apple cake tatin, & wheatberry salad recipes are terrific.

    P.S.: Cooking Provence, almost without exception, contains very healthy, absolutely DELICIOUS flavorful recipes, most of which came from Bouterin’s family archives. So far there hasn’t been a loser in the bunch.

  4. I’ll second Ina Garten’s cookbooks. She is my go-to for almost everything, and I’ve never been disappointed by a single dish. I own everyone of her cookbooks.

    Very simple ingredients = good food.

  5. America’s Test Kitchen has fantastic cookbooks. I have made probably a hundred different dishes out of their cookbooks and have only been disappointed in 2 or 3 of them. They are fairly simple, almost never require odd or expensive ingredients, and always turn out wonderfully. Their pecan pie recipe in particular always gets me rave reviews. Maybe you have them already, but if you don’t, buy them and I guarantee you won’t regret it!

    1. Totally disagree. Those Pioneer Woman recipes should come with a warning from the Surgeon General: so so unhealthy.

  6. Any Ina Garten book – I’ve torn through them all in regular rotation. But also the Houston Junior League cookbook, Stop and Smell the Rosemary. It has completely splattered and many, many dog-eared pages. I give it as shower gifts constantly.

  7. When I got married, my mom gave me the “cookbook with the lady on it” which translates to Betty Crocker Cookbook. It is an absolute standard. I remember as a little girl, my mom and I going through that cookbook, pie crust, fruit canning recipes, cookies, bread, pancakes, casseroles…most of all, I loved the time with mom.

    I have a good crock-pot cookbook too, and one that goes into great detail about how to use all the herbs we grow in the garden. But I only look at that one for show.

  8. Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Express. I love Nigella’s cookbooks because her recipes are a little loosey-goosey and very forgiving of variation, of which she provides plenty. Her cookbooks are also delicious to read. How to Cook is my ultimate reference for basics.

  9. Any cookbook by Ina Garten.
    Southern Living: Slow-Cooker Cookbook– perfect for me who loves good food but doesn’t have time at night to cook, what with working a full time job and with a hungry 14 year old son who is hungry. And then hungry some more. And who needs to eat Right! Now!

  10. For me, any cookbook by Bill Granger (an Aussie chef) does the trick, but in particular Bills Food, Bill’s Sydney Food or ‘EVERY DAY‘. The recipes are really fresh, light, simple and delicious. The breakfasts are fab – we have the ricotta hotcakes almost every weekend. Perfect food for warmer weather. Can be made easily with a toddler (or two) underfoot.

  11. Whole Foods is accepting donations for Haiti, will add the amount to your bill, and pass the designated money on to a service organization whose name escapes me right now. All will be delivered post haste.

  12. I love Everyday Italian by Giada. I find her recipes easy, healthy and really really savory. If you want to get local, there are a few Austin cookbooks including Eating in Season: Recipes from the Boggy Creek Farm

  13. Tired of trying to find something entertaining on TV, and I’m too fat to cookbook stalk. Any good movies out?

  14. I have been subscribing to Cooking Light for years and at the end of each year they offer the entire set in one cookbook. I have 8 of them. Their recipes are light without being composed entirely of splenda. And the pictures are just fantastic, I’m a huge sucker for photos and won’t buy a cookbook without them. They also offer quick fix meals that take 30 to 40 minutes to prepare as well as gourmet items. Having the magazine come every month helps to have inspiration to cook with what’s in season. Happy eating whatever you choose!

  15. This will dry you crazy because I think it would be very hard for you to get: The Hay Day Cookbook. This is probably out of print. It was put out by a high-end grocer in Greenwich, CT, that has since been acquired. More recipes – all healthy and pretty easy – have gone into our rotation from this book. Another good one is the NY Times 60 minute cookbook. I believe it is a Craig Claiborne book?

      1. Here is a recipe that is a favorite from the book: for Thanksgiving I make a side dish that is wild rice, with dried cranberries plumped in wine, little cubes of comice pears, toasted nuts, and a dressing with a touch of mustard. It’s fantastic. Glad you found a source for some copies.

  16. Stephanie, The Farm House Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis. It’s both inspiring and pull off the shelf and use. I’ve read it cover to cover more than once, and she has the best recipe that she collected while driving around the country visiting farms. Love. it. It’s on amazon, but I don’t know how to make it link :) I also second the America’s Test Kitchen people, love the show and love Cooks Illustrated.

  17. We’ve enjoyed every dish we’ve made out of Allysa Torey’s “At Home with Magnolia”. And I have tough critics, 3 kids and a husband who could eat meat and potatoes every night of the week.


  18. Been looking for a great Vegetarian cookbook. I’ll have to try out Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. Thanks Lena!


  19. Yeah I was looking forward to recipes for Irish Soda bread, Irish coffee, Corned Beef & Cabbage……Come back soon..!!

  20. I get most of my recipes online these days, but I still find myself going back to my Joy of Cooking quite often. It’s got tons of information in addition to the recipes, and it’s got a recipe for just about everything. If I go crazy at the store and buy something i’ve never made before (most recently a leg of lamb), I know I can go to that book for a good basic recipe.

  21. ANYTHING, and I MEAN ANYTHING from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa series. Her food comes out perfect and delicious.

  22. I suspect that this may not be so relevant in the States, but here in the UK there’s a TV programme called River Cottage; the programme focuses on cooking seasonally and sustainably with a great importance placed on a good standard of animal welfare etc. I’ve recently bought one of the books by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall who is the cook from the programme. Its called River Cottage Every Day, and has a really good cross-section of recipes. It is fast becoming my go-to book when I want to learn how to cook anything or when searching for ideas. Maybe a bit too British-market focused though? I also regularly turn to Tamasin Day-Lewis’s Cookery Bible, although I always halve or quarter the amount of fat, oil or cream in every recipe!

  23. Hi Stephanie – I have a question about making Chocolate Pots De Creme…can you use Nestle Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips and just melt those, then add them into the creme and milk mixture? If not, how do you do the chocolate part of the recipe? I knew you would be the BEST person to ask! You’ve really inspired me to jump into my cookbooks, and search for more to add to my collection. Thanks!


  24. Solo Suppers by Joyce Goldstein

    It has a sad title, but great recipes. It’s where I discovered creamy marscapone polenta – heavenly.

    It’s just a great resource for smaller meals (solo or duo).

  25. donna hay – her books are full of ‘easy to make easy to impress’ recipes. the cooking bible is “the cook’s companion” by stephanie alexander – written like a food dictionary. got an artichoke – look up 12 things to do with it. every home chef needs a copy.

  26. I seriously cannot count how many cookbooks I own but I can tell you that I adore each one of them. Once on a flight back from Boston, I read from to back, a book on The South End Italian cooking – loved it! Each of my cookbooks are my babies. I’ve had fabulous, themed and exquisite dinner parties and hope for many more. There’s nothing more thrilling than cooking a fabulously thought through meal where your guest oohs and ahhhs at each and every bite.

  27. As a fellow, but less avid collector of cookbooks, I have to admit I probably have more cookbooks than the number of meals I have actually created from them. Taste of Mexico by Patricia Quintana is great and you can find it on amazon for cheap.

  28. For easy family meals made from whole foods, I really enjoy Jaime Oliver or Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Cookbook.

  29. First, found your blog because I did a “well read” post asking readers fave blogs, tweeps and news outlets and your blog was suggested. I love cookbooks too. I will agree with others regarding Ina Garten’s recipes. I love Sally Schneiders “A New Way to Cook” sort of a recent Silver Palate. I love Veganomicon for veg recipes and Ellie Krieger for weekday healthy-ish recipes. I also love Eating Well and Veg Times’ recipes.

  30. I love King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. It’s a huge tome, and so I don’t recommend it to everyone, but if you are looking for something just like it, it’s perfect (lol, duh!). Before this book, I loved to bake, but hardly anything had any fiber in it. Just that rare occasional “whole wheat bread” recipe. Now it’s about 50%. This book has everything from cobblers, biscuits, pies, cakes, brownies, yeast breads, sourdough breads, pizza dough, tortillas, pita bread, crackers, scones, pancakes, waffles, and more. If you just own whole wheat flour you can make maybe half the recipes; past that, you have to venture into new territory with flours like barley, spelt, whole cornmeal, whole wheat pastry, rye, pumpernickel, oat flour, etc. All available at their website or any natural foods store. My freezer is stocked with them. Not for everyone, but it has some amazing recipes and it has been an adventure baking my way through it! I’ve made just over half the recipes in their now (351 recipes!).

    I just wanted to vouch that http://www.eatyourbooks.com is an awesome website! It has a very personal feel as the staff Jane etc. are interactive and respond to emails. More importantly, it is great for getting way more use out of your cookbooks. I have a gift subscription to a friend who is vegan, and a LOT of her vegan cookbooks are on there. Magazines too! In fact, I will give out more gift subscriptions – thanks for the reminder! I also use http://www.bigoven.com to organize my recipes. It’s my all-time favorite, if you have a smaller collection of favorite recipes, because it has a very handy grocery list and menu planning feature. I still use eatyourbooks as a back-up. Both sites are very user-friendly and I’d recommend checking them out if you like to cook!

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