When I was in college, my diet consisted of eating quesadillas at the dining hall everyday or ordering grilled cheeses from the deli by my school. But thankfully, I’ve grown and spread my culinary wings since then. I’ve learned to cook at home without embarrassing myself or poisoning my guests. I couldn’t have done it without YouTube clips and Food Network shows, but I also did it by amassing a serious collection of cookbooks that I’ve stained and bookmarked and loved. We’ve come so far!!
Whether you’re just starting your stack or always adding to it, here are some cookbooks I think you’ll enjoy and will get some great use out of. I’ve also narrowed it down for you—if you’re a veggie lover, a wannabe baker, or barely know how to use a microwave, I got you. You’ll be the next Ina Garten in a matter of days. I BELIEVE.
If You Don’t Know How to Cook at All
1. The I Don’t Know How to Cook Book: 300 Great Recipes You Can’t Mess Up!, by Mary-Lane Kamberg. If you need a crash course on the basics of cooking, get this bad boy. Featuring step-by-step instructions AND a glossary of culinary terms, you’ll finally be able to whip up some pancakes or even shepherd’s pie if you’re feeling bold.
2. How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman. It’s a booster seat of a book that will teach you how to make everything from steamed asparagus to whole roasted chicken. (It also makes a perfect newlywed gift.) Bittman said it best: “Everyday cooking is not about striving for brilliance but about preparing good, wholesome, tasty, varied meals for the ones you love.” And his book will show you the way there.
3. Joy of Cooking, by Irma S. Rombauer. This is an 85-year-old classic that you may have already because someone in your family passed their battered copy down to you. The numbers don’t lie: More than 18 million copies of this book have been sold since it was published in 1931.
4. Barefoot Contessa at Home, by Ina Garten. You know Ina Garten. Food Network star, beloved wife of Jeffrey, idol of Taylor Swift. She’s written many cookbooks, but I find the recipes in this one to be especially yummy. The roasted pepper and goat cheese sandwich is an all-time favorite recipe.
5. Good and Cheap, by Leanne Brown. Brown wrote this book especially for people on SNAP/food stamp benefits, who have to eat on $4 a day. But the book, which you can download as a free PDF, is for everyone. It will teach you how to plan, shop, and cook on a budget — important life skills to have no matter your circumstances.
If You Mostly Like Vegetables
6. The Plant-Based Diet for Beginners, by Gabriel Miller. Whether you’re a huge veggie fan or wanting to stray away from meat and dairy, you’ve come to the right place. This is the perfect guide and smooth segue into cooking only with plant-based foods. I know it seems a lil scary, but you’ll love it!! And it has amazing benefits for both your health and wallet.
7. Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. I remember feeling astonished the first time I cooked from this book. The flavors were so new and bright and vibrant and delicious. It hasn’t failed me yet. Ottolenghi, a London-based chef, has several other incredibly popular cookbooks, including Jerusalem, which is another favorite of mine.
8. Martha Stewart Vegetables. You’ll learn a lot about vegetables when going through this book — bulbs, roots, tubers — and about how to get the most out each when it’s in season. There are unexpected ingredient pairings that make for exciting meals, like a free-form lasagna with edible weeds.
9. Sprouted Kitchen: Bowl and Spoon, by Sarah Forte and Hugh Forte. The recipes manage to be healthy and comforting at the same time. You feel enveloped in goodness every time you eat something from this book. Definitely try the Hippie Bowl recipe; it will change your life.
10. A Modern Way to Cook, by Anna Jones. There are 20-minute meals like a one-pot kale and cherry tomato pasta that I’ve made too many times to admit (and the book just came out in August), and a chapter of “super-fast breakfasts” in addition to “investment meals.” It’s a practical way of organizing a cookbook that speaks to how people live their real lives.
11. The Forest Feast, by Erin Gleeson. This book is a visual feast, full of beautiful photographs and illustrations that will make you want to get out into nature and make a pretty meal. And everything in the book is very approachable and tasty.
If You Only Cook on Sundays
12. Food for Life, by Laila Ali. Hearty foods, but make it healthy. Laila Ali has put more than 100 of her favorite recipes, including The Greatest of All Time Burger (which is her father’s favorite), into her cookbook. Like she says, “Nutrition is King, but flavor is Queen!” If you live by the same mantra, then this needs to be in your home ASAP.
13. Jamie Oliver’s Comfort Food, by Jamie Oliver. I love all of Oliver’s cookbooks because he has such a fun personality that pops off the page. But more than that, the recipes taste bomb. This one is truly for when you have days to spend in the kitchen not looking at the clock.
14. The Mozza Cookbook, by Nancy Silverton. If you’ve ever eaten at L.A.’s Osteria Mozza, then you know. You won’t get anything done easily with the recipes in this book — you’ll have to plan way ahead and cook the sauce on page 23 to make the relish on page 115 that you use to top the crostini on page 86 — but the payoff is real good. I promise.
15. Gjelina, by Travis Left. The dishes in this California-centric book are also work (somewhat), but worth it. Bust it out when you have someone you want to impress, especially if that someone is yourself.
16. Big Bad Breakfast, by John Currence. Two words: Monkey bread. Thank me later.
If You Love to Read Your Cookbooks
17. The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater. Organized by months, this journal/cookbook takes you through a year in the life of the English food writer. “There is a single rose out in the garden, a faded bundle of cream and magenta petals struggling against gray boards.” That’s the first line in the book. Are you swooning yet?
18. The Taste of Country Cooking, by Edna Lewis. Known as the Grand Damn of Southern Cooking, this chef and cookbook author was an authority on America’s homegrown culinary traditions. It’s fun to read about how things used to be done, like when she describes how she would scramble eggs by shaking them in a covered jar.
19. Cravings, by Chrissy Teigen. You really do feel like Teigen is talking to you when you’re reading this cookbook, which isn’t just a vanity project created by a ghost. Teigen’s outsize personality is great company while you’re making her version Chinese chicken salad.
20. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman. The blogger’s voice is what draws so many to her site, and it’s there in her cookbook, which has the added benefit of featuring very accessible recipes.
If You Like to Bake
Beginner’s Baking Bible: 130+ Recipes and Techniques for New Bakers, by Heather Perine, May we present to you: Baking 101. Are you someone who loves baking, but baking doesn’t really love you back? We feel that. *I* feel that. This baking bible will show you all the tips and tricks and teach you the basic “building block skills” that goes into the art of baking.
22. Easy Baking From Scratch, by Eileen Gray, Trust, after you get this cookbook, you’ll be making e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g from scratch!!
23. Momofuku Milk Bar, by Christina Tosi. You must know by now about Milk Bar’s famous cake truffles and compost cookies. If you’ve ever want to try making them yourself, there are detailed instructions and Tosi’s reassuring, optimistic voice to guide you through. This isn’t a slice-and-bake scenario, but when you bring that apple pie cake to your next Thanksgiving dinner, people will never forget you or your cake for as long as you live.
24. The Perfect Finish, by Bill Yosses. The former White House pastry chef brings an elegance to every dessert, even something as simple as a ginger molasses cookie. You can trust these recipes to not let you down.
25. Art of the Pie, by Kate McDermott. McDermott is a pie guru who has been baking pies her whole life and teaches workshops at her Pie Cottage that people make pilgrimages to. She knows all there is to know about baking pie and the book is the closest thing to taking one of her workshops without actually getting to the Pie Cottage.
26. Flour, by Joanne Chang. I’ve probably made everything in this book at least once and I’ve made the carrot cake dozens of times. The chef-owner of Boston’s Flour Bakery has so many yummy recipes to share and it’s hard to resist a single one.
*I also highly recommend subscribing to a food magazine. It doesn’t matter whether you’re more of a Food Network Magazine person or a Bon Appetit person — you’ll be getting quality recipes that have been tested and have to pass a pretty high awesomeness bar in order to make it in each issue. It’s like getting a mini cookbook every month!
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