As my husband would probably attest, my love for cookbooks has taken over the house in such a way that we had to build an addition this summer. He's an avid collector of travel, fishing, and hunting books , so he can't give me too much grief.
My very first cookbook, "The Peanuts Cookbook", was acquired when I was 8, and still gets heavy use (see Pumpkin chocolate chip cookies in the sidebar). I have handed that one down to 10 year old Nick. He uses it to make Red Baron Root Beer and Security Blanket Cinnamon Toast.
When you start collecting something at a young age, by midlife it can be tricky to keep it all organized and accessible. Over time, I have unofficially divided my cookbooks into the A list, the B list and the C list.
The A list gets the most use, and has an honored spot in the bookshelves of my kitchen desk. As you can see, an A list cookbook is easy to spot. My unscientific compilation of the A list consisted of pulling down the most ragged, splattered, stained and torn books. The A list books are shelved by category: Italian, Barefoot Contessa, Asian, Baking, Breakfast, and Mexican.
Others are nostalgic members of my collection, like "Budget Gourmet", the book I used in college to make Coq au Vin and impress my then boyfriend (now husband). Or the "Italian Cooking Class" cookbook that taught me how to make gnocchi in the 1980s when only the true Italians knew what gnocchi was.
Any of these cookbooks would make a great gift for the cook in your life.
Annie's Top Cookbooks
- "The Tra vigne Cookbook" by Michael Chiarello. This cookbook makes Chiarello's Napa Valley restaurant food very accessible for the home cook. Pumpkin polenta, eggplant lasagnette, Sicilian harvest salad, I've make them all.
- "Nigella Christmas" by Nigella Lawson. This is a fun book for someone who loves to cook for the holidays. Her food is easy, beautiful, and she has a thing for cocktails.
4. "The Barefoot Contessa" by Ina Garten. This is the original cookbook and probably the best. You just can't go wrong with these recipes, they are all good.
5. "The Barefoot Contessa Parties" by Ina Garten. Also a great book for any collector. Easy party food. Don't be alarmed that Ina keeps getting larger with each book; you can cut back on the butter and cream, and the recipes will still be good.
6. "Jamie's Italy" by Jamie Oliver. Gorgeous pictures of Jamie traveling through the south of Italy cooking with the locals and soaking up the culture. Pasta all Norma, insalata di farro, sausages with lentils. Great to read and to cook from.
7. "The Ski House Cookbook" by Tina Anderson and Sarah Pinneo. Warm winter dishes for cold weather fun, right up our alley in Jackson Hole. Fast, east recipes to help you feed guests while maximizing your time outside.
8. "The Italian Grill" by Mario Batali. I was so hooked on this book last summer, that I grilled everything from polenta to radicchio to pizza. His other book, "Multo Gusto" is also a lot of fun, especially if you want to master pizza for a crowd.
9. "Rick and Lanie's Excellent Kitchen Adventures" by Rick Lanie Bayless. My favorite Chicago chef and his teenage daughter have written a darn good cookbook, which would make a perfect gift for a teen. Lanie provides musical playlists for cooking, and stories about their travels. Many of these recipes have become staples in our family: Chinese potstickers, Nutella crepes, Thai chicken and rice soup, Peruvian shrimp ceviche, Moroccan meatballs in tomato sauce. This book gets used.
10. "The Moosewood Restaurant Celebrates" by the Moosewood Collective. Great holiday food like Chocolate waffles and pan de muerto.
11. "Mexican Everyday" by Rick Bayless. Since I don't live in Chicago any longer, I can't eat at The Frontera Grill whenever I want. This cookbook is the next best thing and the recipes are easy, healthy, and kid-friendly. Bayless talks about how he battled the midlife-bulge with yoga and changes in his diet. Most of his recipes are designed to be thrown into a crock-pot or quickly sauteed.
12. "Quick and Easy Thai" by Nancie McDermott. I love this book because it makes Thai food easy. She also wrote "Quick and Easy Vietnamese" and "The Curry Book", which are great books for the Jacksonians who miss the ethnic take-out food of their former city lives.
13. "Giada's Family Dinners" and "Everyday Italian" by Giada de Laurentis. I know she is a big TV star, and there are gazillions of photos of her looking beautiful while she slaves over the stove, but her food is really good, really easy, kid-friendy, and mostly healthy.
14. "A Homemade Life" by Molly Wizenberg. This is the book I should have written when I was too busy being a doctor. In her memoir with recipes, really great recipes, Molly writes about her family's relationship to food, and how losing her dad impacted her life. Molly and I should get together: her Dad was a physician who died of kidney cancer; my Dad was a physician who died of kidney cancer. (Neither of us have fully recovered). Molly gave up an academic career to be a writer; I retired from my career in medicine, and find myself writing all the time. Molly is obsessed with food, and so am I. We both have a thing for brussel sprouts, cabbage, cookies, cakes and banana bread. We both eat granola every day. I love her book, and her blog orangette.com. Check it out.
15. "The Breakfast Book" by Marion Cunningham. Making breakfast is not may favorite thing to do, and this book gives me lots a new ideas. A classic.
16. "Biscotti" by Mona Talbott and Mirella Misenti. A primer on making all sorts of biscotti from the American Academy in Rome, whose kitchen was revamped by Alice Waters. My new favorite cookbook.
17. "Favorite Recipes from the Fenn Ranch" by Annie, Jon, Jack and Nick Fenn. This is the book that I did write, with the help of online publisher Blurb.com. I love this book because it has all my favorite recipes in one place, and I can throw it in my purse when I go to the grocery store. It's falling apart and has a few mistakes, but I it still gets almost constant use at our house.