A peek at the books I keep in my own cookbook collection. More on the way soon!
One of my favorite cookbooks for savory, soulful food. Every recipe I’ve made from this has been magnificent, due to Mr. Carmellini’s incredible flavor-layering and what I think must be a deep, abiding love for his craft. It’s comfort food in the best way: bold and bright and not at all boring. I’m especially looking forward to getting more into this book during the fall/winter, because the heartier recipes in here look like things I’ll want to eat forever and always. I’m a baker at heart, mostly, but I love books which make me want to make savory food. This one does.
Pros: Well-organized, robust sections, beautiful photos, and something for everyone palate (spam musubi to pierogies to root beer cake, people). Some predominately savory books treat desserts like an afterthought, but not this one; his dessert recipes are as glorious and thought-through as their savory counterparts. It has a very conversational style to both the storytelling and recipes, which I personally enjoy quite a bit. It’s a great read, even if that’s all you do with it for a while.
Cons: The ingredient lists for a good portion of the recipes look daunting, but only on first glance. If you really read through them, you’ll notice that some ingredients are repeated due to, say, the way something is put together (i.e. salad with a dressing may have duplicates for each layer) or that it seems long visually, but a lot of it can be found already in your pantry.
This book was a surprise gift from my mom, and I loved it at fist flip-though. it’s a sweet, down-home celebration of the American South, and I have yet to come across a recipe I don’t want to make and eat immediately. And this isn’t just banana cream pie and sticky buns, either; it’s got a big, big range of interesting treats, including mexican hot chocolate cookies (try them; they’re amazing) and the best buttermints you’ll ever pop repeatedly in your mouth. Not enough for you? Well, surprise: there’s a pretty wonderful savory section as well.
Pros: They love vintage, I love vintage, their aesthetic is adorable, and there’s some great gifting and decorating ideas in here. Easy to follow recipes, some very traditional, some not.
Cons: A massive use of butter. I’m not a big butter-laden person, and there is a big use of fats/butters in the frosting recipes in here. This could just be my issue, but I suspect some people have the same fear I do of over-buttering (and uncooked shortening). However, this is easily remedied by a little common sense and some ingredient-altering.
When this book came out, I had zero interest in it. I respect Bobby Flay, but his style is not typically my style. But he kept showing up on the Today Show cooking recipes from this book, and I kept being in love with them. The rest? It’s history. I made an error in judgement by dismissing this book as something I wouldn’t cook from. My fault; I won’t do it again. Because upon getting this book, I realized that Mr. Flay can do anything with food. Just anything, from sides to salads to brunch and everything in between. I have an entirely new level of respect for his cooking.
Pros: It’s not about grilling. He’s no one-trick pony, and this book makes that abundantly clear. He can whip up a fierce appetizer or soup just as easily as he can smoke a duck, and that takes a wicked amount of talent. He’s also turned me on to a very cool way to dress salads; the duo-dressing method. He typically does it with a light vinaigrette and a creamier dressing, but the result is out of this world.
Cons: I’m not always good with meat. Or cooking meat. I don’t eat a ton of meat, really, and have never taken the time to really know how to grill, or smoke, or do anything beyond stove top or stove-in. So; there are some dishes in here I would love to taste, but will either have to wait for someone to make them for me or summon the courage to learn myself. Meat = technique-y in this book. Also, some ingredients are hard to find (example: tomato powder) in regular stores.
I got this book because of the title: it seemed like a nice, solid all-purpose book to have in my collection. After using it for a few years, I wouldn’t tell you not to get it, but I don’t love it with the fire of a thousand suns, either. I think it boils down to what you’re getting it for, because my experience with the book has been pretty 50/50 in terms of how I like the recipes. Although there are some great things in here, the title is ultimately misleading. It’s not easy. I’ve had both great and not great results, but none of them have been particularly easy to put together. Certainly you can’t just whip one off last-minute and have it work.
Pros: As I said, there are great things in here, but it is section-dependent. Want a great salad or starter idea? i love the both those sections, and several of these recipes have turned into staples around my house, like the Stilton walnut crackers. If you buy this book, head for the cocktails, starters, and lunch sections, which make up approximately half the book.
Cons: The other half of the book. I find the dinner, vegetables, and dessert sections to be pretty boring, to be honest. I’m not just starting out, so maybe if you are, it’s a good “101” type of book, but I’ve seen better “101” books, as well; do yourself a favor and head to Williams Sonoma; they have the whole “introduction to your kitchen” concept mastered. I already told you that I didn’t find the recipes particularly easy, but you know what else isn’t easy? the fact that at times, super specialized ingredients are called for. Decidedly NOT easy. What’s more, the “easy tips” which run throughout are 25% helpful and 75% commercial-ish. I don’t need to feel like i “need” the entire Le Creuset line to get through my day.
I resisted the urge to make a special section for my Nigella collection; certainly I could have, but I didn’t want to complicate the cookbook library. She deserves a special place, because I credit her for helping me to really love cooking and baking. Food-making seemed a little ho-hum to me, mostly because I wasn’t that good at it and had had far to many failures to want to pursue it. Then, I saw Nigella on the Style Network (she started there in the US and moved over to the Food Network later on); it was like a bolt from heaven. I still remember the episode: it was the one where she makes guacamole. Pedestrian? Not if you saw it; she made it look sexy, and interesting, and relaxing, all at once. I was hooked. I wanted to be her. Still do.
Pros: Express is exactly what it says it is: fast, good food with little effort. The effort you DO put forth will come back to you tenfold in spectacular, family or crowd-pleasing results. There’s something for every food mood here: sections for mexican food (entitled “Speedy Gonzales”), parties (“Razzle Dazzle”), and plain old everyday (“Workday Winners”). You’re not getting boring stuff here, either: you’re getting thoughtful, practical recipes.
Cons: Nigella cons, for me, are difficult to come by. If you’re a Nigella newbie, her sectioning can take a bit of getting used to. She organizes it really well, but you need to understand that she’s awesome, so sections called “Hey Presto!” mean that’s where the Italian dishes are, and that “Get Up and Go” is breakfast. And let’s be honest; I don’t even think cheeky titles are a con. But maybe it is for you.
Technically, the cookbook which started my entire culinary life. This is the first book I purchased of Nigella’s (and I think the first cookbook in my collection, ever) and it is as well-loved now as it was years ago. I don’t even have the dust cover anymore, as you can see. It’s long gone, but my thankfulness for this book is still going strong. I consider this one an absolute essential to any library, even if it’s just to read and dream and look at the photos. It’s like a year-long fireworks display of incredible food, both sweet and savory.
Pros: It’s perfect. There’s easy recipes (like the always-popular banana breakfast ring, which I have made approximately 4 million times and could get me into any brunch party on Earth) and more involved ones, but nothing is out of reach or particularly difficult. It’s organized by year and holiday, beginning with Thanksgiving, and I’m a huge fan of that. If I continue on about the way this book is written, and the photography, and the recipes, I’ll go on forever. So I won’t. You should have already ordered this by now, so you’ll know soon enough.
Cons: Nothing. Not kidding. There is nothing whatsoever to report on this front.
There’s a quote on the front of this book from Gourmet Magazine which states the following: “In Nigellaworld, the kitchen is not a science lab with rigid rules and formulas to follow. It’s a place to play, sometimes with your friends and kids.” There’s a reason Gourmet is a household name and A Periodic Table isn’t; I couldn’t have said that any better, and I’m not about to try.
Pros: It’s NOT rigid; not in the slightest. It really does ease up on the “gently-sift-your-flour-onto-parchment-paper-of-French-origin” mentality and lets you relax into baking. If I take after her, it’s in the way that she tries to make things easier (example: food processor Danish pastry) and not harder. I love that, because baking can be frustrating and filled with tears. I have cried myself to sleep over burnt Bundts and un-fluffed meringues. This book gives you reason to dry those tears, kick back, and try again. And it really has everything; pavlovas, gelatin molds, and bread puddings galore. plus exceedingly beautiful recipes for loaf cakes, cupcakes and cookies.
Cons: The photos are stunning, but I want there to be more. Mostly because I want to look at them, but also because lots of us really use the photo to compare our final results to the original, just to see how we did. Other cons? No. I consider this another essential book, especially for bakers.
This is the first cookbook I read through like a novel. And happily, I might add. I was feeling a little food-bluesy back in January, not really knowing where to go after the hullabaloo of food that is the Winter Holiday Season (no matter what or how you celebrate). It was a few weeks into the new year, and I was perplexed. So I began reading this book, and it’s one of the best and most inspirational things I’ve done in my culinary self-education. It’s at least as good a read, if not better, than it is a cookbook. And it’s a very good cookbook.
Pros: Some recipes are organized as menus which you can mix and match. They’re also organized within each section by season, so it’s easy to get ideas for what to cook on a lazy Sunday afternoon in February (and indeed, I think there’s a menu entitled just that). I especially like the “weekend lunch” and “dinner” sections.
Cons: Unless you really are looking for sunny saturday Summer lunch, the organization can be a little confusing. it’s not intuitive (or maybe it’s too intuitive and I overthink it) but it’s a mystery as to how to get to some things. Also, the beginnings of recipes are thrown out in the side margins, so you have an idea of where they begin, but it’s still visually complicated to look through. Worth it? Totally, but she’s not handing it to you on a silver platter; you have to work for it. This is arguably the most “British” of all her books, in my opinion, so some recipes may call for things which are unfamiliar if you’re living in North America, as I am. Nothing crazy: think Jamie Oliver or Gordon Ramsay.
In typing these out, this was the only one I didn’t need to double-check the published date on. Why? Because this book is how I met Nigella Lawson. Because I haven’t sounded stalker enough when talking about her, I’m going to tell you about the time I went to her book signing, for this book (as you can see in the photo), at Williams Sonoma. It was 2010. The Wee One was just barely 3 months old. I still had post-pregnancy poof and it was very cold outside. But Nigella Lawson was coming to Frontenac Plaza (my guilty-pleasure haven of a favorite place to shop, take in a movie, and listen to the 104-year-old piano dude in the lobby. And yes, of course he wears a tux). I knew I had to go.
It was the first time the wee one had really been out of the house, save for our daily walks when it was warm enough. My mom was in town, so she helped me with my still-frantic new-mother issues, and we stood in line with the tiny baby, who was a dream and didn’t even cry, not one time. I knew Nigella had arrived by, no kidding, an epic, hushed gasp which went up from the people in line with me. Soon after she had disappeared into the store to take her seat, whispers of “she’s so beautiful! oh my goodness!” started…and didn’t stop. They just got louder. Mostly, it was the women; I have never in my life seen such an outpouring of un-cattiness from a group of women than of those huddled unashamaedly around the window that day, staring at Nigella. They were impressed.
And I’m here to tell you; she. is. gorgeous. in. person. You almost can’t look directly at her, because she’s sort of like a chestnut-haired beam of light. A short beam of light, at that: she’s like 5 feet tall or something. So I make it through the line, stroller in hand, baby now sleeping, and I pull my post-baby tushie up to Nigella’s table so she can sign my book and I can try to smile and say something witty (that didn’t happen). I think for my part, I eeked out a peepy little “I love you,” but she was all awesomeness and fun. She looked at my Wee One, smiled, and said “Is that a fresh one?” like my baby was a still-warm pain au chocolat. I said yes, and we had a mini-conversation where I found out that she almost named her daughter the same name as my Wee One has. I know. Obviously I remember nothing else after that; it is a cinnamon-scented blur.
Pros: A well-organized assortment of totally go-to recipes. it truly is a family cookbook, in every sense of the word. It’s for families on the go, families with small and big kids, and families who like to hang out on Saturdays watching sports together. It’s soul-warming food for any time of year. I particularly like that most of the recipes have a footnote entitled “Making Leftovers Right” which gives ideas for how to use what you just cooked the next day as something different (and still delicious).
Cons: Sorry; still glowing over my “how I met Nigella” re-telling. no cons. You can check back later, but I doubt this will change. And in reality, I see none. It’s easy – but not boring – stuff; what more do you want?
This cookbook is a beautiful and extremely informative look at how to make all things pastry, as well as more normal things like muffins, cookies, and the like. Also included is a beyond-gorgeous section devoted to cake decorating. It’s very French-centric, with flawless photos (you know how much I adore Quentin Bacon) and stop-you-in-your tracks recipes. This is a newish addition to my library, so i haven’t spent much time with it. What I can tell you is that this is not one for the baker who’s just starting out. Welcome to Advanced Baking, people; sometimes fun, sometimes a disaster.
Pros: It’s as stunning as any coffee table art book. And it’s got some really good step by step instructions accompanied by step-by-step photos on how to do complex French pastry. I’m going to need those, because reading instructions on how to fold and turn croissant dough is enough to make me curl into the fetal position on my kitchen floor. If you’re ready to tackle pastry and you have basic baking pretty much down, this is a great book to have.
Cons: If you are a complete and utter baby who has basic baking pretty much down, like me, you’ll get this book and subsequently be scared out of your mind to begin making things. I’ve tried to warm up with things like chocolate chubbies and a few other things, and none of these recipes seem to come out as perfectly as in the book. it’s a little frustrating, to be honest. Truth? This book makes me feel a little bit like an idiot. So I’m going to keep going, but so far, I want to like this book more than I actually like this book. Because I want to be the type of person who can whip out a choux pastry at the drop of a hat. And right now, I’m not.
I love this book. I still remember when I saw it as I meandered through a bookstore one day; I fell in love with the spiky, meringue-topped mini lemon tart on the cover, took a quick fan through the pages, and the rest? History. It’s very rustic/elegant, and filled with things you’ll want to make over and over. You’ll read my thoughts on their second book in a minute (or maybe you have already), and you’ll wonder if I like these guys as much as I say I do. Wonder no more; because I do, and if you don’t have one of their books yet, get this one. You’ll fall in love just like I did.
Pros: The recipes are fun, new, and modern without going overboard or being crazy about it. The twists on things are subtle but impactful, and the results you’ll get are spectacular. This is full-flavor dessert heaven, but there’s a magnificent section on breakfast pastries that I don’t think I could do without, either. A wonderful source of inspiration when you’re bored and looking for something new (but still classic) to try. Both my recipes for millionaire’s shortbread (aka the homemade Twix bar) and the summer (s’mores) bark came from here, both very good examples of what’s in here.
Cons: As with the second book, they’re not the easiest recipes to execute properly, at least not all the time. For instance, the summer bark was a breeze, but the millionaire’s shortbread took some work. If lengthy ingredient lists are a deterrent for you, in this case, I’d still give this book a chance; I think in this case it’s very much worth any extra shopping you may need to do. I find frequent ways to shortcut some of their steps, so don’t let the length of the instructions put you off; you can work out your own ways of completing some of the steps.
I love the first book from the Baked guys, so this purchase was a must-have. The third book is coming out soon, and I plan to give that one a home in my little library as well. I love what Matt and Renato do with desserts; There’s something about them, like a simple glamour, that makes them different from just an ordinary cake or cookie. Like the first book, this one takes common desserts and elevates them to a different level. This time, however, it’s a trip through the American baking landscape; a fun, and often quirky, trip to take.
Pros: Delicious recipes, just tweaked enough to be individual, but not tweaked so much you don’t recognize them. The book has an overall throwback quality to it, giving you traditional New York crumb cake (a cake my family has made for generations and one which I am currently working on a muffin tribute to), pretzel jello salad, and Mississippi Mud Pie, but done in a mostly modern way. I love their aesthetic, too, so the decorating tips and end results, even when simple, are some of the best I’ve seen.
Cons: You don’t see enough of those end results; I want more photos. It’s not even so much of a want as an actual need; these recipes can be complex and a little difficult to follow, so photos would assist so you get an idea of what you should be aiming for. The recipes I’ve tried I have ended up loving, but they took some work to get right. Although I adore this book, I would only recommend it for bakers with some experience and patience; this one isn’t a confidence-builder for beginners. Also frequently problematic are the extensive ingredients lists and the sneaking (and often true, in my experience) suspicion that there are easier ways to complete the recipes than the steps listed.
They could just as easily have subtitled this “Shannon’s Guide to Learning How to Buy a Proper Peach, Among Other Things She Had No Idea How to Do Correctly.” I have never seen such a user-friendly, practical guide on how to buy everything food-related. Period. As if detailed descriptions of how to buy and store things weren’t enough, the cookbook part of this book is as awesome as the resource part. Another essential of mine; I can’t tell you how much this has helped me since I purchased this a few short months ago. I never knew how much I needed this book, but I did.
Pros: that upside-down nectarine cake? this is where it came from. And there’s so much more good stuff right alongside it. All the recipes are fresh and relatively easy to prepare, and oh, you don’t know how to pick a tomato for that romesco sauce? This book will tell you, along with giving you that romesco sauce recipe you’ll end up loving.
Cons: I wish there were more recipes in this, because the ones I’ve tried so far have been incredible. Also, considering this is primarily a resource book, the recipes are organized appropriately, but it’s not the easiest in terms of trying to find something by flip only. Use the index unless you want to spend some time perusing, which is also fun.
I enjoy Gordon Ramsay quite a bit. If you’re an American (as I am) and are put off by his yelling, cursing and seemingly abrasive personality, I urge you to give him another shot via his BBC America television shows. This book is a compilation of recipes from his “F Word” series on BBCA, and it is probably one of my favorite shows on television, ever. I’ve probably see all of the episodes, and it’s the best example of the night-and-day difference between Americanized Ramsay and Euro Ramsay. I would love to meet him, because he cooks pitch-perfect, beautiful food with very simple ingredients. And I find that continually stunning.
Pros: The simplicity. I don’t mean mac-and-cheese simplicity, because there are some hard-to-find ingredients you’ll need to locate; I mean simplicity like Mr. Ramsay doesn’t believe in covering up food with ingredient lists a mile long. If i have a chef in my library who really showcases the thing itself, it’s him. He’s the best at it, in my opinion. Because it’s crazy how spectacular a four-ingredient with a light vinaigrette can be. Or how awesome roasting a peach and then serving it with a simple cream tastes.
Cons: I mentioned this, and I can’t speak for everyone worldwide, but some of these ingredients (for Americans) can be hard to find, simply because there are components to European food we don’t always have access to. With a little research, you can either find what you’re looking for at places like Whole Foods, or try to find a reasonable workaround. Worth it, and you won’t have to do it as much as you think.
For whatever reason, I have quite a few black or dark-background cookbooks, which muddles my organizing technique (rainbow order) a little bit. I can always locate this book, however, by its colorful collection of sticky tabs sticking out of the top. I wasn’t going to take the time to remove them for the photo, because it would have taken forever and I would have lost places for all the things I plan to make. There’s so much in here I can’t wait to make or have made and loved, I can hardly tell you. Every recipe has been a raving success, and I need to make some of them for the blog (because I think I haven’t yet) so you can share in my joy over this book. I consider this an essential.
Pros: I feel like there’s approximately one million recipes in here, and indeed there are quite a few. Like my other Ramsay book, they’re all simple, elegant, and although they look fancy-shmancy, they aren’t at all finicky or difficult. Hence the title, I suppose. My favorite ever lemon tart resides in this book, as does the only individual chocolate fondant cake I’ll ever make. There’s also a butternut squash puff pastry throw-together pizza I can’t imagine living without in cooler months; I’ll be making that one for you soon.
Cons: I’m struggling to think of any, aside from the obvious “sometimes the ingredients are British and difficult to locate for me” one. Because with a few exceptions, I’ve had no problem locating things, you just have to be specific with your butcher or grocer with what you want. And I don’t mind the sort of extra work someone else is doing for me, if it means I get to eat the food in this book. That’s basically a half-hearted con; I strongly recommend this book.
I was being ambitious when I purchased this book. I really want to be the girl who can whip out a quince and do something wonderful with it. Turns out, I’m not that girl. But Sarah Raven is, and she wrote a gorgeous book that I’ve not familiarized myself enough with yet. If you’re into uber-seasonal cooking and love yourself some vegetables and fruits, or if you own an acres-long garden you rotate with seasonal produce year-round, this book will be right up your alley. If you’re like me, and have a mini-garden you half-murdered this year, you’ll be slightly intimidated by this book, but will enjoy it as a resource for someday. When you feel the need to make fresh tarragon vinegar or you know how to identify plum types without using grocery signs. I’m getting more comfortable with this book as I learn more about food, but I’m not there yet.
Pros: If you’re a veggie/fruit lover, this whole book just existing is a pro, especially if you like rustic recipes. It’s filled with farm-fresh ideas for whatever is in season at the time; so much so, in fact, that it is organized by month and the fruits and veggies (also nuts and herbs) in season during that time. I love that; I’ve never actually seen a book organized this way.
Cons: I must be put off by it enough to never pick it up and browse though. On the rare occasion I do, the recipes look delicious, but I never find myself taking the next step to making them. I suppose that’s the long way of saying that although I find the recipes solid, I don’t find them as interesting as I should. To be fair to this book, I know some of you who are more “rustic” than maybe I am (and you know who you are) would probably love these recipes.
Chances are, if you’re reading my cookbook section, you know how I feel about this book. I love it more than almost any other book, for two reasons. First, it changed the way I look at baking. Secondly, it’s changed my life in the way that it’s the reason many of you even know who I am. Somehow I started working these recipes and figuring out their little tricks, and you liked it. And so although my love for Nigella and her books knows no bounds, Christina Tosi will always have a special place in my heart, because she taught me how to bake. Again. This time, like a rock star.
Pros: Beyond-fun recipes to make. Crazy things to try, fail, and then get right. Tricks to figure out. Riddles to solve. If you buy this book, be prepared to pile flavor upon awesome flavor until you have some skyscraper of indescribably good end result. It’s super-baking, and it’s not easy, but in this case, the difficulty is half the fun. You’ll find recipes and inspiration in here you’ll never get anywhere else. And I hesitate to even call it difficult; it’s only difficult at the beginning. Once you get comfortable with the mother recipes, it’s a breeze.
Cons: You have to work to get comfortable with those mother recipes. And that part is difficult for some. I didn’t struggle as much as I’ve heard some people have, so I can appreciate why maybe this book isn’t for total beginners or for those who aren’t into problem-solving. if you want to be able to make something from a recipe and have it be a no-brainer success story right away, that’s cool. But chances are, you’ll be frustrated by this book a little. Another con (and one which I’ve had a bit of difficulty with) is obtaining hard-to-find ingredients. Although I have really great access to many things others don’t (I can now get freeze-dried corn at 4 places locally, compared to earlier in 2012 when I could find it in exactly 1 place), some things aren’t even easily ordered from Amazon.com. Sure, they exist and are order-able, but I don’t want passion fruit puree which costs $25 for the product and $80 for shipping (true story). Obviously shipping costs aren’t the book’s fault, but it is a roadblock to making some of the recipes.