With my love of print, it should come as no surprise that most of my boxes in storage are weighed by books I’ve collected… the crumbs of passed travels and various interests that bind my identity together. Books have always been my biggest headache while moving, while also providing me a chance to slip away when I need to relax. Yet it’s my collection of cookbooks that I find most enchanting. Together with a few ingredients and a bit of time, the book invites you along for a journey filled with aroma and delicious flavors. And instead of leaving beloved characters behind at the end, the most important part of the cookbook happens after you’ve finished the last line: With friends and family, your life-story’s characters, sitting around the table.
My favorite cookbooks are informative but not condescending, filled with photos while maintaining focus on the recipes, and not worried about my time by providing “shortcuts” at the hands of authenticity or technique. Below are some of my favorites, a mix of old and new that I love keeping handy when I get the sudden urge to whip up something fabulous.
The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan
Anne Willan is known for her prestigious cooking school (now closed) in Burgundy and her delectable cookbooks. In my opinion, The Country Cooking of France is just one of those classic cookbooks you turn to time and time again, whether to cook or to look at the beautiful photography (which earned one of two James Beard awards).
Radically Simple by Rozanne Gold
It takes a skilled chef to make simple dishes that are layered with complex flavors. Rozanne Gold, who has been awarded four James Beard awards, excels at creating simple and amazing recipes in Radically Simple. Many of the recipes are limited to three ingredients, (some) don’t take long and taste fabulous (Fusilli with Braised Escarole, Garlic & Ricotta Salata, anyone?).
Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller
Growing up in Northern California, I knew all about Thomas Keller’s French Laundry but I had no idea it was an international sensation. Flash forward a few years, six-thousand miles away from my roots, and I discover Bouchon Bakery right about the same time I’m learning to bake croissants and macarons. I love both Bouchon cookbooks for their sophistication and for not skirting around technically challenging recipes.
Mouthwatering lemon meringue tarts from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery. Photo Credit
Vedge by Rich Landau and Kate Jacoby
Chef Landau is a family friend from Philadelphia so at first I thought I might be adding his new book Vedge out of biase. But then I was reminded that Landau is shaking the culinary world with his wildly delicious and sophisticated vegan cuisine that even meat lovers, well, love. Even if you’re not vegan, I recommend trying Parsnip and Chestnut Bisque with Mulled Wine-Spiced Onion Confit and the shockingly (enticingly) magenta Beetroot Pot de Crème.
The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo
Rachel Khoo is absolutely adorable and I love her authentically French recipes in The Little Paris Kitchen. The book is so well done, it’s been translated into French and sells quite well in France. I am so excited about her new cookbook (My Little French Kitchen), I pre-ordered it and marked the launch date on my calendar.
Rachel Khoo in her iconic Paris kitchen. Photo credit
Macarons by Pierre Hermé
Do I really need to explain why this book is amazing? I’ve noticed macarons are becoming a whole new trend here in the states (hopefully replacing cupcakes. Yes, that’s right, I don’t like cupcakes), and I’ve heard some pretty wacky ideas about how these should be made. They are a bit of a challenge, but Pierre Hermé macaron cookbook breaks down each step with great photos. Plus lots of recipes for the fillings made with only the finest ingredients, as they should be.
The New Portuguese Table by David Leite
The food in Portugal was by far some of the most delicious I had ever had. The flavors were vibrant, the produce fresh, and nothing was hiding under heavy sauces. It’s no surprise Portuguese culture orbits around culinary experiences. The New Portuguese Table is one of the best Portuguese cookbooks I’ve found and the author puts a modern spin on many of the classics.
Café Beaujolais by Margaret S. Fox
When I think of flavors from my childhood, the Café Beaujolais Coffee Cake comes to mind. My mom used to ask me to make this on Saturday mornings and the old tattered book would fall open to the classic recipe. The book is filled with other delights such as Eggs Beauj-Olé and their famous black bean soup – and though it is out of print, you can still find copies online. Café Beaujolais is still open in Mendocino, the area of California I grew up in, though under different owners. Luckily Fox is still working her magic in Northern California and published a revised edition of Morning Food in 2006 which includes the recipe for the coffee cake.
That amazing coffee cake I was telling about! Now all we need is a fork and a cup of jo. Photo credit
Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Some days I’m up for a challenge, other days I just want to cut corners yet still end up with something surprising and delicious. These are the days I rely on The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I have been eying her Butternut Squash Gratin for weeks and her cookie recipes look fun. And of course you can find many great recipes on her Smitten Kitchen blog, one of my favorites!
Turquoise by Greg and Lucy Malouf
All I wanted to do when I recently visited Istanbul was eat. Feeling my stomach growl was a welcome invitation to find another amazing restaurant and enjoy the most delicious, mouthwatering food bursting with flavor. Turquoise is a captivating cookbook paying homage to the Turkish people and their culinary traditions. Try the pistachio kebabs and green olive, walnut and pomegranate salad.
What are some of your favorite cookbooks?