Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Best Everyday Cookbooks

(Sweet readers! I was all set to discuss Nutritionism and Your Money today, but the response to yesterday’s Ask the Internet question was so solid, Imma gonna postpone the Pollan discussion until next week.)

When it comes to eating healthfully and frugally, one of the very best things you can do for you and your family is to cook at home. Serving meals from your own kitchen not only allows you to control ingredients and portion sizes, but keeps household expenditures way down.

Of course, if you endeavor to cook, it helps to know how. And that’s where cookbooks come in.

The internet is helpful for research and recipes and such, but there’s nothing quite like holding a well-loved cookbook in your hands; gazing at the pretty pictures and flipping through food-stained pages for a favorite dish.

Yesterday, we asked CHG readers to name their favorite everyday cookbooks, and then describe why each was so useful. Certain titles (revealed below) were name-checked over and over again, largely for the following reasons: they were well written, easy to understand, good for general reference, and included tons of never-fail recipes. Vegetarians and vegans were well represented, as were the classics, PBS, and Mark Bittman.

So, whether you’re just starting out in your kitchen, looking to give a cookbook as a gift, or searching for the ultimate in food tomes, this list will give you a kick in the right direction.

[And hey! It’s an obligatory plug! You can buy all of these through mah Amazon store! (But you don’t have to. But you can. But you don’t have to.) Incidentally, all photos are from Amazon.]

1) Joy of Cooking by Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, and Ethan Becker (7 mentions)
Seventy-nine years old and still going strong, Joy of Cooking is full of fail-proof recipes to satisfy folks across the generations. Can a book actually teach you to cook? In this case, yes.
  • Jennifer: It is the only one I own.
  • Denise: I still have my 20 year old copy of The Joy of Cooking which I still refer to.
  • K. Tree: When I need information about anything, I go with my Joy of Cooking.
  • c.r.a.: It's got a good recipe for most anything you might want to cook.

2) How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman (6 mentions)
A relatively new entry, at least in terms of the other veterans on the list, Bittman's massive, exhaustive, award-winning book could have been called Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Food (But Were Afraid to Research). Containing literally thousands of recipes, it has a place in every kitchen.
  • Debbie Koenig: I don't necessarily cook from it directly, but I consult it practically every day.
  • MS: [It] makes so many appearances that I might as well just leave it out.
  • Leigh: I have the cookbook and then I got the $5 app for my iPhone which is the ENTIRE BOOK. ON MY iPHONE. It has repeatedly saved dinner.

3) Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book (5 mentions)
We own this one at home, and I'm consistently wowed by the breadth of recipes. While the paperback version could use a few more pictures (IMHO), BH&G has been indispensable for decades.
  • Myrnie: For basics like canning, breads, breakfast, "base" recipes like frosting and whipped cream and eggs ... it's always Better Homes and Gardens.
  • drphibes: I was in a bookstore once and a Czech couple approached me and asked what would be a good source of American recipes. Without hesitation I pulled down a copy of BH&G.
  • Anon: The three ring binder set up is great, and all the ingredient info and substitution suggestions make it handy even when I'm winging it... Which is most of the time.

4) Moosewood Cookbooks - various, but mostly Moosewood Cooks at Home (5 mentions)
I think every vegetarian I know owns at least one Moosewood book. The Ithaca, New York, collective seems to publish them by the boatload, and Simple Suppers is a personal favorite.
  • Charlie: The Moosewoods! I have the original, plus New Classics, Cooks at Home and Low Fat Feasts. I think I probably use Cooks at Home the most but they are all great.
  • Anna N: I have fierce love for all the Moosewood cookbooks, especially Sundays at Moosewood, Moosewood Cooks at Home, and New Recipes from Moosewood.

5) Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (4 mentions)
Another vegetarian standard, VCfE is practically a produce encyclopedia, as valuable as a reference guide as it is a cookbook. 
  • Kristin: It has great general info on how to cook every possible vegetable or grain.
  • Diane: I've never made a dud recipe from it - ever.
  • Anna N.: Apple upside down cake, I love you 

6) America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (3 mentions)
Really, you could stick about anything from the America's Test Kitchen or Cook's Illustrated crews in this list, but a few readers mentioned this one as the best all-around book.
  • Suzanne: I rarely cooked American food until I found this book.
  • Peggy: [It has] everything I need: tips, techniques (with pictures of same) product testing results and recommendations.

7) Betty Crocker Cookbook: Everything You Need to Know to Cook Today (3 mentions)
I've owned this since I was 17, and life would be weird without it. Someday, it will have to be replaced, and I'm not looking forward to that day.
  • K. Tree: I still have my very first cookbook which is the 1976 version of the Betty Crocker's Cookbook

8) Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz (3 mentions)
Moskowitz has become a veritable vegan guru the last few years, between this 2005 cookbook and 2007's Veganomicon. Whether you're interested in or already neck-deep in non-animal foods, this is the place to be.
  • Leslie: Lots of delicious recipes, especially the tofu scramble.

9) How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman (2 mentions)
It's like How to Cook Everything (meaning: huge, helpful, heavy), but without the meat.


These cookbooks all received one vote, and could be worth checking out, especially if you’re interested in a particular kind of cuisine.

1000 Vegetarian Recipes by Carol Gells
660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer
America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
Betty Crocker’s Big Book of Baking
Clueless in the Kitchen
Complete Vegetarian Kitchen by Lorna Sass
Cook with Jamie: My Guide to Making You a Better Cook by Jamie Oliver
Cook’s Illustrated Best 30-Minute Recipes
Desperation Dinners by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross
Essential Dinner Tonight by the editors of Cooking Light
Fannie Farmer Cookbook
Farm Journal cookbooks
Good Food Book by Jane Brody
Good Housekeeping cookbook
Great American Favorite Brand Name Cookbook
How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson
How to Eat by Nigella Lawson
Jamie’s Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver
More with Less and Extending the Table by Doris Janzen Longacre
Not Just Beans
Real Thai by Nancy McDermott
Tassajara Bread Book
The Clueless Vegetarian by Evelyn Raab
The Complete Family Cookbook
The MediterrAsian Way by Ric Watson and Trudy Thelander
The Silver Palate Cookbook
The Victory Garden Cookbook by Marian Morash
Victoria Boutenko’s books

And that’s it. Readers, any other cookbooks you’d like to add? What do you think of this list? Would you start your own collection with any of these? Do tell.


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Coldsong said...

The one cookbook I have been using this summer is `Clean Food' by Terry Walters. It isn't so much of a reference like some of the classics mentioned above, but I have found it incredibly inspiring!

All of the recipes are vegan, but the book isn't Vegan. It doesn't even mention the word. Maybe because of this, reading it encouraged me to move towards eating the majority of my meals composed completely of plants (and bacteria and fungi!).

The second thing that I have found inspiring is that the recipes are grouped by season, and this has really encouraged me to focus on seasonal cooking. Easy in the Summer... not so easy in the winter in Finland : P

So, this has been my favorite cookbook for at least this summer- but be warned: no pictures!

Kristine said...

For me, my 4 most important books are:
Joy of cooking (good explanations, great recipes) - the first one to be opened when looking for a recipe or if we have a question
Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (as in the 50's version!)
Fannie Farmer (don't own, but photocopied a few pages from my mom's copy)
Better homes and Gardens (to be honest, I have to think about he title on this one - I had to recover it years ago to keep it from falling apart)

All the others I have are really just for fun.

Bethany said...

Re: The Joy of Cooking -- the calorie count of the recipes varies depending on what edition you have. The most recent edition has 63% more calories than the edition from the 1930s.

Eyebrows McGee said...

I suggested "More with Less" (and Extending the Table) and people are missing out by not cooking from it! (Has excellent vegetarian food, too.) I'm a little surprised that Cheap Healthy Good doesn't use it, since its whole manifesto is that food should be inexpensive, nutritious, tasty, and light on the earth. All y'all cookbook fans should at least give it a look at the library!

wosnes said...

Funny how different cookbooks speak to each of us. I grew up using my mother's 1940s Betty Crocker and a 1950s Better Homes & Gardens cookbooks. I lost them during a move as a young adult.

Joy of Cooking never "spoke" to me. It's my ex-husband's favorite.

When I read "How to Cook Without a Book" I realized that I knew how to follow a recipe, but I really didn't know how to cook.

Our daughters received "How to Cook Without a Book" from me and "Joy" from their dad. I also started a binder for each of them with their favorite recipes from my binder. I periodically get requests for other recipes.

wosnes said...

@Eyebrows -- I also have both of those cookbooks and they're well-used, but not the ones I use most. There's no way I'd part with them!

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one who loves "How to Cook a Wolf" by MFK Fisher? It is not just a cookbook, per se, and is by no means my most-used volume. I do pick it up from time to time for a shot in the arm because I love her spirit and language, and her appreciation of the importance of cooking and eating.

Mary said...

The Supper Book by Marion Cuningham.

Jenzer said...

I'll throw in another vote for the "More with Less Cookbook" -- it's one of my all-time favorites. I love the combination of easy-to-find, minimally-processed ingredients and tips for thrifty cooking. Three-Grain Peanut Bread, Spicy Split Pea Soup, Granola Apple Crisp ... yum!!

Eyebrows McGee said...

@wosnes, I also have "Cook w/o a Book" and it was invaluable for me in learning how to actually COOK, not just follow a recipe with no idea what I was doing.

And I cooked almost exclusively from More w/ Less and Extending the Table for nearly five years! I was a late bloomer when it came to cooking and those two cookbooks saved me!

wosnes said...

@ Eyebrows (and others) -- Pam Anderson is working on another cookbook to be published next fall (2011) called Meatless Mondays. It sounds like it's going to be in a similar format as How to Cook Without a Book.

Emily said...

Everything in the "Great Taste, Low Fat" series from Time-Life. See

I'm not worried about low fat, but the vegetable is the best VEGETABLE (not necessarily vegetarian) cookbook I've ever read. Bonus points for nice pictures, lay-flat spiral bind, and all super-easy.

Jaime said...

I feel like such a weirdo, but I have NO cookbooks. Well, I own a couple - one from Amy's in New Haven, and maybe a couple other veggie books I've picked up from bookstore clearance - but I never use them. I baked from cookbooks a bit when I was growing up, but I learned to cook for real from the internet, and that's still my go-to resource. Whether I'm looking for a recipe or basic info, it's foodblogs and google, all the way.

Anonymous said...


Anna said...

I am way behind here, but I think the BH&G cookbook is *terrible*. It can be very vague about cook times and temperatures, it skips over steps that are assumed by an experienced cook. I got rid of two copies without a second thought, and why would anyone EVER get rid of a cookbook? :)
I do love my Betty Crocker cookbook, but the ones I turn to most are a collaboration of my own friends, printed by lulu.