My Favorite Cookbooks

January 29, 2008

I've mentioned my love of cookbooks before. Admittedly, I generally do not create many meals from their pages, but I often sit for hours perusing them for inspiration and oohing and aahing over their photos. I thought I would share a list of my personal favorites. Some of which I do cook from, some that I use as a starting point for my own dishes and some that I just drool over.

Which brings me to my first drool inducer: The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller. I love reading through this book as it always brings back such a pleasurable memory. For Valentine's Day three years ago, Barnaby surprised me and took me to The French Laundry in Yountville (Napa Valley). It was the most exquisite culinary adventure I've ever experienced. Nine courses of perfection that left me crying, "Uncle!" but smiling and happily rubbing my belly. Keller makes his dishes approachable by giving them such names as "Chips and Dip," which are truffled potato chips with a black truffle crème fraîche dip. His recipes are ambitious, but doable. Oh, how I love you, Mr. Keller!

The newest addition to my collection is Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food. All of her cookbooks are wonderful, but this one is all encompassing and as the title states: simple. Going beyond recipes she includes lessons, menu planning, what to cook at what time of year, how you should stock your pantry and more. Her principles of good cooking lay not in the techniques and recipes but in the quality of ingredients, particularly locally grown and raised. Food just tastes better when it hasn't traveled far, don't you think?

In Seattle I had the opportunity one summer to work for James Beard award-winning chef Tom Douglas in his bakery and catering department. With six restaurants, including the bakery, Douglas successfully captures Seattle, rolls its flavors in his studied hands and presents his art on beckoning plates. His philosophy is: "Eat it when you've got it, enjoy the harvest when it's here." In Tom Douglas' Seattle Kitchen he sets the stage with Pacific Northwestern staples such as salmon and Dungeness crab, while also infusing recipes with tastes from the city's other multi-ethnic cultures. Tom's Big Dinners: Big-Time Home Cooking For Family and Friends is also a favorite as well as a must for creating the whole Pac NW shebang!

I salivate over Gourmet magazine and they kindly compiled over 1,000 recipes for us in their Bible-thick cookbook aptly named The Gourmet Cookbook. While it's not a basic cookbook per se, one can, with not an insignificant amount of effort, feel confident in producing a dish from this book. You can find everything in this must-have kitchen reference. Over 200 dessert recipes, more than 100 hors d'oeuvres, sauces, soups, vegetables, brunch name it.

There are many more that I could go on about but I'll spare you with a very short list:

The Produce Bible by Leanne Kitchen (what a great name for a culinary enthusiast!)
Sauces and Fish & Shellfish by James Peterson
The Way to Cook by Julia Child

Check out 101 Cookbooks for great reading, beautiful pictures and delicious recipes.