One of my favorite past times is reading cookbooks. I come by this naturally as my mother and grandmother are equally fond of reading cookbooks.
Reading cookbooks is fun for several reasons: 1. it is fairly mindless...no plot to follow, 2. it inspires creativity...hmmm what am I going to cook tonight?, 3. it is more life-enhancing than reading Cosmo or People....as the Chinese say "The key to a man's heart is through the stomach" (Of course this hasn't worked out so well for me but I can attest it is more due to the men I've dated than my cooking, thank you!).
Here are my favorites:
How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
This is my cooking Bible. I prefer it to The Joy of Cooking and The New Basics Cookbook , which are also very good, because Bittman's style is easy to understand and therefore fool proof! You cannot screw up these recipes. And they are all delicious! If you buy only one cookbook, this should be it. Bittman is a food writer for the New York Times. I depend on this cookbook for several recipes that I cook repeatedly: cream of anything soups, chocolate sauce, caramel sauce, mushroom risotto, lentils with bacon, and bloody marys. There is also a fantastic peanut salad dressing that I like to make. I use this cookbook so much that it looks disgusting. One time I accidentally caught it on fire.
The Best Recipes from Cook's Illustrated
This cookbook is a compilation of recipes from the magazine. These people are geniuses. Each recipe is thoroughly tested in order to arrive at the best master recipe for whatever the dish happens to be. The recipes tend to be a bit more complicated than Bittman's but they are worth it. I depend on this one for things like lemon bars, shortcake, mac &cheese or any other recipe that should be straightforward to make but isn't. For example, lemon bars, in theory, are easy. But in execution they often fail by being too tart or too eggy or not tart enough or soggy on the bottom. This cookbook has the definitive recipe for lemon bars. If you follow the directions, you will have perfection every time! You don't have to experiment, the test kitchen people already have.
How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson
I bought this one about a year ago, and I don't like it JUST because of the title and the pretty pictures! This cookbook emphasizes baking and desserts although there are some nonbaked things like gin and tonic jello (hello!). So far my favorite recipes (besides the jello) are the butterscotch cake, the bosten cream pie, and the better than sex chocolate molten cakes that I told you about in January. Who needs Cosmo?
The Art of French Cooking by Julia Childs
Of my favorite cookbooks, this one has the most advanced recipes. None of them are overly complex but many of them take time and patience. I like to use this cookbook primarily for the sauces. When I have a piece of fish or chicken that I don't know what to do with, I'll put a sauce on it. I also use this for French basics like coq au vin, moules meunieres, and beef bourguignon. This cookbook is a classic. With it, Julia made French cooking accessible to American housewives (yes, housewives. It was published before men learned how to cook).
The Professional Chef is a gigantic tome that is a cooking school text book. I will probably never make any of the recipes (when am I ever going to need to make an aspic?) but it is an interesting read because of it's precision and complexity.
The Joy of Cooking pre-1970s is completely different than the updated version. The older cookbooks have recipes for more old-fashioned things that housewives used to spend hours preparing from scratch. If I ever need a recipe for lobster thermidor or crab louis, I will turn to this one. They also cover all kinds of strange things. So if you need to know how to cook a bear or what to do with a finger bowl this is your book. Bear apparently needs to marinate in an oil-based marinade for 24 hours. Then cook like a pot roast.
Be sure I'm invited for that dinner!