Happy New Year! 2016 had a wild finish, and we took a bit of a hiatus from blogging as a result. With a trip to wine country and the holidays behind us, it is time for some reflection and goal-setting going into the new year (such as writing more posts on Love & Porc).
We ended the year with some great holiday parties, and that got me thinking – what are some cookbooks I can’t live without? Furthermore, can everyone use them? The list below varies by skill level and genre but are tried and true.
Disclaimer: Since I am talking about cookbooks and where you can purchase them, affiliate links are contained in this post.
10. Julia & Jacques Cooking at Home: This was the first cookbook I ever bought and is written by two legends – Jacques Pepin and Julia Child. While the recipes definitely have French influence they are written for home cook. From how to cook eggs, to using different techniques with meat and fish, and putting together quality desserts, this book is a classic that will be well used in the kitchen.
9. Rick Bayless: Mexico One Plate at a Time. Want to know how to perfect a mole sauce or make amazing enchiladas? Rick Bayless must be your guide. What I love about this book is Bayless’ approach to being flexible with ingredients. This is because some things, such as epazote or pig’s feet, can’t always be found at every grocery store. But this doesn’t detract from the quality of the recipes at all – the depth of flavor in the final dish speaks for itself, along with the minimal hassle it takes to but everything together.
8. Jerusalem: A Cookbook. During college my exposure to middle eastern food was going to Oasis, the local falafel joint in town. You could get delicious falafel, shwarma, and hummus on the cheap. What most people don’t realize though is there is so much more to middle eastern food than falafel and its pretty easy to put together an impressive spread with the right guidance. Yotam Ottalenghi’s book is a gateway to discovering new and delicious flavors that make your friends and family ohh and aww for a long time to come.
7. Franklin Barbecue: A Meat-Smoking Manifesto. My dad has purchased me two smokers, both during law school. That was both a great and terrible thing. You quickly learn that some meats are easier to smoke than others, and leading up to the summer of the bar exam I subjected my wife to the endless pursuit of perfecting ribs. Sometimes the ribs turned out fine, other times they were awful. Too chewy, not enough smoke, etc. Then I purchased Aaron Franklin’s book. This isn’t so much a cookbook (there are only 12 recipes), but more of a guide to understanding barbecue. He breaks down the book into various chapters ranging from the type of smoker, to the type of wood, to heat control, to actually cooking cuts like brisket, ribs, turkey breast, etc. After reading this book and putting it into practice, my wife never complains about having ribs. Neither do our friends.
6. Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. Anna and I love tapas bars. The concept of trying several types of dishes over drinks is the ideal dining experience. Though when it comes to cooking Spanish food at home, Jose Andres is man you want as your guide. With this book it is easy to master the classics of Spanish cuisine (the tortilla, gazpacho, garlic shrimp, aioli, you name it) without breaking a sweat.
5. Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes. Do you ever sit at your favorite Thai, Vietnamese, or Chinese joint a wonder out loud how you could make your favorite dishes at home? Well, if you don’t, its time to learn. Lucky Peach takes the mystique out of creating classics such as pho (you can do it in a slow-cooker), mapo tofu, curries, dumplings, you name it. And better yet, they even provide a guide to the essential Asian ingredients you need for stocking your pantry! Nothing in this cookbook is a bust, and it makes going to your local Asian grocer an adventure.
4. Molto Italiano: 327 Simple Recipes. Mario Batali is my go-to resource when whipping up authentic Italian food. This tome is worth having not because it contains nearly every recipe one could need, but because you can make these recipes in about four to five steps. You can thank me later for having this in your cookbook collection.
However, should you veer more towards Italian-American cuisine, Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia’s Italian-America Kitchen” is quite excellent.
3. The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners. Simply stated, this is the bible for southern food in my kitchen. Beginners, advanced, or professional level cooks can all enjoy this book.
2. Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi. Much like Jerusalem above, its hard to imagine vegetable cookery without this book. Usually, vegetables have their place at the table (pun intended) as a side, never the star. With Plenty one starts to imagine the possibilities with vegetables. Really, I think this has to do with the variety of techniques and flavor profiles that appear in Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes. For instance, you can make something as simple as his “Tomato Party” but then find yourself making cold soba noodles with fried eggplant and mangoes. Weird, right? But it works. And that’s what makes this book magical.
Since its the new year and I’m sure many people are thinking about adding more fruits and vegetables into their lives (myself included), I urge picking up this book (along with the sequel, Plenty More) to expand your horizons.
1. This is difficult – the expectation here would be to list something like Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, which is a perfectly fine and admirable thing to do. There is no doubt the book is a masterpiece, and the fact that people use it some 50 or so years after being published is a testament of its influence and quality. Really, my only complaint with the book is the structure of the recipes – I think it could be more succinct. But, when in doubt, ask Julia.
However, I don’t think a chef has single-handedly influenced my style of cooking more than Jacques Pepin. He is the master. He is driven by technique. If Jacques Pepin says this is the way to cook an egg, you follow what he says. I bet you will have an amazing omelet afterward; provided you followed the instructions. Essential Pepin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food has never steered me wrong, and many of his books are in my library.
That being said, if you believe food is a journey, Thomas Keller’s books are worth checking out. I remember getting The French Laundry Cookbook when I was 12 or 13 years old. If you are not familiar with Thomas Keller, he is the chef at The French Laundry in Yountville, CA. For a very long period of time The French Laundry was considered the best restaurant in the world – its still hard to get a table, trust me, I’ve tried (and was fully committed to paying the bill should I have gotten a table).
Back to The French Laundry Cookbook as a kid. Could I cook anything out of it? Hell no. Did it inspire me to learn more about cooking? Absolutely. Now, can I cook out of this book today as someone with an advanced skill-set? Yes, but certainly not everything (it is rather difficult to procure items such as fresh foie gras, red mullet, and black truffles in the Des Moines area, not to mention it is cost prohibitive). But did it give me an idea of why elite chefs cook the way they do, and does it inspire some journey towards self-improvement? It does, and that’s why its my number one.