My mother’s collection of cookbooks was pretty standard. Better Homes & Gardens. The Joy of Cooking. Various local organization cookbooks with spiral binding. And I used to spend hours flipping through them. The words alone mesmerized me. Mince. Chop. Sauté. Broil. These verbs fascinated me. What did it all mean?
Chef Boyfriend and I have quite the collection of cookbooks too. We have every book we used in culinary school, smudged with butter, notes in the margins. We have barbecue books and cupcake books and surprisingly, three vegetarian cookbooks. We have books about bread and books about tapas and even a book about mead. An IKEA bookshelf stands proudly in our kitchen with just a fraction of the food books we own. We have 86 in total and I regularly add one or two each month.
So why collect cookbooks? Honestly, I’m still that eight year old, paging through the pictures of cookies and list of ingredients to make them. I’m still fascinated with the words: mise en place, brunoise, flambé. There’s something intoxicating about French culinary words. They’re beautiful. They’re poetry. And the photography? Food photography has become high art and I love it. I aspire to it.
Cookbooks inspire my dreams. My ambitions. I rarely cook directly from a recipe but usually spend Saturday morning, cup of coffee in hand, thumbing through a cookbook. Sometimes it’s a new book and I’m scanning for ideas. Sometimes it’s a beloved favorite and I’m reminding myself of its delicious contents.
So here are my top three, in no particular order.
The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger
This is my go-to for bread, pizza dough, biscuits, and the like. And it’s only book where I follow the recipes to the letter. The binding is broken and if you shake the book, flour falls out. Hensperger does a fabulous job of covering all things yeasted and offers a handful of variations for almost every recipe. I’ve used her pizza dough recipe so many times, I have it memorized.
Brioche, page 70
Classic Buttermilk Biscuits, page 182
Banana Bread, page 316
The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
Alice Waters is culinary royalty. The queen of local food. Her restaurant, Chez Panisse, has been dedicated to fresh, sustainable, seasonal ingredients since 1971 and The Art of Simple Food is just one of her fantastic books. It’s half cookbook, half reference text and I’m pretty sure I read it cover to cover when I first got it.
Lentil Salad, page 248
Leek and Potato Soup, page 258
Exploring Wine (2nd Edition) from the Culinary Institute of America
The text book from my favorite class in culinary school. It’s obviously not a cookbook, but it is a comprehensive wine reference and one I reach for time and time again. This book breaks down wine by country/region, covers how grapes are grown, how wine is made, how to taste it, how to pair it with food and how to store it. If you’ve ever wondered about vertical trellis systems or the Minho wine region in Portugal, this book is for you. And if you ever need justification for your glass of Pinot Noir, Chapter 15 covers wine and health.
“A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe” – Thomas Keller