Saturday, November 26, 2011

Top Five Cookbooks

I've said it a few times, but I love cooking, and in the past few years my collection of cookbooks has grown exponentially (I'm not kidding here, either - about three years ago, I owned four, two of which were kids cookbooks). However, even with two shelves of cookbooks, there are about five that I keep coming back to on a regular basis (and I'm not even counting the recipes I've memorized). These five are the ones I now consider to be kitchen essentials:

#1 Jamie's Food Revolution: Rediscover How To Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals
Jamie Oliver

Tied into the show Jamie's Food Ministry, if I'm not mistaken, this cookbook is filled with great recipes using every-day ingredients. I've had the book since the middle of 2009 and there's still recipes I want to try doing. My favourite recipes from here though are the:
  1. Cheat's Fresh Pasta With Cherry Tomato Sauce - pages 54-55
  2. Macaroni and Cauliflower Cheese Bake - pages 48-49
  3. Chicken Fajitas - pages 38-39 (just made these again the other day)
I've made or tasted the fruit smoothies many times too, and I'm now using Jamie's methods for scrambling eggs too. So far, only one of the recipes didn't work out quite as I expected - the tomato soup, but I think I didn't care for it as much because I'm used to making the tomato soup from Mark Bittman's recipes. Besides, with a modification or two (more onion and some ground beef) it made a wonderful spaghetti sauce!

The illustrations in Jamie's Food Revolution are really well done - every recipe has it's illustration(s), as the various steps are shown, as well as the final result. I have to say, they really do inspire me to try some of the recipes.

#2 How To Cook Everything: 2000 Simple Recipes For Great Food, Completely Revised Tenth Anniversary Edition
Mark Bittman
I just call this one the red book, and I'm using it all the time. From just looking something up, for example, to see what capers are (you get an explanation, some recipes to use it in, and how to choose good ones and keep them), to getting inspiration for a meal, to great recipes. To date, only one recipe hasn't worked out, and that's probably more my fault than anything (attempting to make bread for the first time). There's breakfast, lunch or dinner recipes, not to mention dessert, dips and all kinds of odds and ends such as flavoured butter too. Ever thought of making your own cheese? It's in here and it's so simple to do - I've done it twice now. Some of my favourites from this book include:
  1. Cheese Quesadillas - page 109
  2. Tomato Soup - pages 130-131
  3. Beef Barley Soup - page 127
There's also the previous version, which I call the yellow book.  Yes, I do have and use both books in this case. This was actually the first cookbook I bought myself and started using on a regular basis. I still keep this book because, although most of the recipes are duplicated in the red book above, there are a few that I like which are not. Not to mention, the layout is a bit different, and I prefer that for some recipes, such as the turkey.

My favourite recipes from the yellow book are:
  1. Rice Pilaf with Onions, Raisins and Pine Nuts (The first variation) - page 202
  2. Salmon Filet Roasted In Butter - page 305
  3. Roast Turkey and Gravy Without Stuffing - pages 403-404
  4. Buttermilk Pancakes (variation) - page 748
  5. Baked Pumpkin Slices - page 600
Both of these books are unusual in my library in that they are not lavishly illustrated. There are line drawings that illustrate various techniques - knife skills, folding, shaping etc, but no photos. The entirety of the recipe is conveyed through the text.

Regardless of that difference, this is a wonderful resource which for me has taken the place of that kitchen classic, The Joy of Cooking.

#3 The Best of Chef At Home
Michael Smith

This is one of the more recent additions to my collection, inspired by watching the Chef At Home T.V. show on the Food Network. The first episode I saw all the way through was the baked Chicken episode and I just had to try the recipe. As with most of my other cookbooks, every recipe has an absolutely delicious photo included, and that just makes me want to try the recipe.

Admittedly, I haven't tried too many of the recipes here yet, but my favourites so far are the:
  1. Macaroni and Cheese - pages 158-159
  2. Classic Chicken Stew - pages 90-91
  3. Grilled Chicken Ten Ways - pages 96-97
The neatest thing about this book though is that you're really getting twice the recipes you think you are, because each one has a "Freestyle Variation" which you can try as well. Different herbs, cheeses or spices and the effect they have on the cooking and the flavours.

I've only tried a few recipes to date, but there are some other ones that I really want to try in the future, like some of the other pastas, particularly the Fettuccine Alfredo. I have this thing about raw eggs in things, and this is the first recipe for this that I've seen that doesn't include an egg yolk in the sauce. Then there's the fruit crumble recipe and the mushroom stew recipes to try.

Michael Smith's style comes through in the writing of the recipes too - each of the descriptions is amusing, entertaining and inspires me to want to try the recipe.

#4 Jamie Oliver's Meals In Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach To Cooking Good Food Fast
Jamie Oliver

The most recent cookbook to join my collection, and also the one with the most different approach to the other ones - Meals in Minutes doesn't just have you making one dish at a time, but a whole meal: main dish, dessert, salads. To be honest, when I first looked at this book, I found it downright intimidating. I'm used to doing one major dish and maybe something simple like frozen vegetables or rice. Now, it's teaching me how to time things to do several dishes at one.

I have to admit that I've been encouraged in using the Meals In Minutes book by watching the 30 Minute Meals show that's on the Food Network. It really does help to see the recipe, then do it from the book. Still, I've done three of the full meals, plus a couple of the different individual dishes. The starring dish so far has been the Fish Tray Bake from pages 168-171. However, the Sausage Cassoulet and the Wonky Summer Pasta meals were both delicious as well.

In terms of the individual dishes, to date I've tried two of the frozen yogourt desserts and they've both been good. As has also the Tuscan Tomato Salad.

The neatest thing about this cookbook is the way it's gotten me trying new things: capers and anchovies both come to mind, as do a whole host of new recipes and types of food. I'm going to say that I suspect that Meals in Minutes is likely to move it's way up my favourites list.

#5 Everyday Food Great Food Fast: 250 Recipes For Easy Delicious Meals All Year Long
From The Kitchens Of Martha Stewart Living

How many recipes do you generally use from any one cookbook regularly? Three? Four? More? I seem to find that it's generally about three. This book though, is the exception. To date I've tried at least six, and half of those have made their way into my regular use category. Some, I tend to save for specific circumstances, but they've all been delicious. And, there's more that I want to try. My favourites are:
  1. Pasta With Easy Italian Meat Sauce - pages 242-243
  2. Sloppy Joes - pages 216-217
  3. Grilled Peaches With Sweetened Sour Cream - pages 174-175
  4. Rhubarb Crisp - pages 88-89
I love the approach they've taken with this book, splitting it up by seasons, so the recipes suit the weather. Not that you're limited to following those seasons, but generally, they're what you'll want to eat at that time of the year, or the ingredients are more seasonal - for example, rhubarb (spring) or peaches (summer).

This is one of those cookbooks where the presentation constantly inspires me to try something new, and also where every single recipe I've tried has turned out wonderfully.

Of course, I have other favourite cookbooks, and limiting this post to just five was a real challenge, and that's with sneaking in a sixth by combining the two Mark Bittman books into one. Besides, this doesn't even begin to cover the fun you can have by modifying recipes or inventing your own.

I'm always on the lookout for new cookbooks, so tell me what your favourites are too. I love recommendations!


    Jamie Gibbs said...

    Anything by the Hairy Bikers is a must have for any cook shelf. One of theirs "Food Tour of Great Britain" has a recipe for an awesome Somerset Chicken (that I'm trying to make as my signature dish). Give it a shot :)

    Unknown said...

    That's quite the name for a group. I'll have to look into them, just out of curiosity.

    Thanks for letting me know about a new (to me at least) cookbook, Jamie.

    re said...

    I want those Bittman books!!

    redhead said...

    I want those Bittman books!

    Unknown said...

    Those two are incredible! Tonight's dinner is coming from the yellow book, the Salmon Roasted in Butter. It's such an incredibly easy and quick dish to make. Thanks for commenting, Redhead. Hope you get one or both of those books, too.

    Marg said...

    I am definitely going to try a couple of the Jamie Oliver recipes that you recommended from those two cookbooks.

    Unknown said...

    I hope you like them as much as I do, Marg. Thanks for commenting. If you try something new, think you could let me know what you think of it?


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