If someone said to me, “Shannon: If you could only shop in one kitchen store for the rest of your days, where would you shop?” I would have a difficult time answering it. I’m a kitchen stuff hoarder. I can’t help it. And I’ve discovered over the years that you do indeed often get what you pay for, especially when it comes to equipment you use repeatedly. Unless it’s something like a mesh confectioner’s sugar sifter (because how hard, honestly, can you use a sifter), I do almost all of my kitchen-oriented shopping at either Sur La Table or Williams Sonoma. Although some stores which carry similar items (as these two do) act very much like warring street gangs when in close proximity to each other, I learned during my stint as a Williams Sonoma elf that these two stores are so genteel that they actually recommend each other when one doesn’t carry something. It’s crazy how loving the food world can be.
Although both establishments hold a special place in my heart, for cookbooks, Williams Sonoma is my clear favorite. Not only do they have a fabulous selection of outside cookbooks from restaurants and chefs, but they also carry an excellent selection of cookbooks from their own editors and chefs; I hope to own them all someday, but cookbooks? Not cheap. So here are some of my favorites so far from the people at Williams Sonoma; I encourage you to check out the entire series some of these come from. The “Essentials of” series, in particular, is one of the hands-down best series of cookbooks I’ve ever seen. It’s like the Encycolopaedia Britannica of cooking, people: get your christmas lists out.
Before we begin: I’ve been collecting cookbooks for a while now: In some cases, my cookbooks aren’t in print any longer or offered through Williams Sonoma directly. In my writing of this page and linking to them for purchase, I discovered they have pared down their cookbook offerings quite a bit. You can still get many, if not all of them, through Amazon.com. If a cookbook I list isn’t offered through Williams Sonoma any longer, I’ll link to it on Amazon for purchase.
This is way more than how to steam carrots, friends. If you have a kid of any size, or are thinking about having one, this is a great resource for children’s meals and snacks. It’s not technically a Williams Sonoma cookbook, but I always associate it with them because it’s one of the few places I ever see it, and it was sold in conjunction with the Beaba Babycook. The book starts from first foods and goes right along until 3 years old. Limited? Not at all, because these recipes are so unique (but not in a scary way) and delicious that even adults will like them. No more relegating yourself to bologna sandwiches, parents. Yay!
Pros: Family-friendly meal ideas that aren’t chicken strips and macaroni: you’ve got everything from chicken curry for baby, whipped ricotta with cherries, and tiny puff pastry veggie pockets. Sound delicious? I know; my favorite thing about this book is that it takes the hassle out of making separate “child” and “adult” meals and snacks. The book is sectioned out by age, with plenty of tips on how and when to introduce new foods to babies and toddlers.
Cons: The recipes are deliciously tempting, but they’re not always simple. Some are easier than others, but this will involve some time and prep on your part. It will, however, be worth it if you find meals everyone loves.
Hold those groans; somewhat-cheesy premise doesn’t always equal cheesy book, and in this case, it definitely doesn’t. This is a solid addition to any cookbook library, and makes a great wedding gift for aspiring cooks who are cooking for two (or more) now but maybe never have before. It’s a fabulous resource for a new life which now may be fraught with in-law dinner visits, friends coming over for parties, and so on. Even if you’ve lived a life of ramen noodles and pizza, this book will make you look like a pro. It’s got everything: solid, straightforward recipes, menus for all types of get-togethers, and tips on how to pull things off without a hitch.
Pros: Solid meal-planning, great recipes to mix and match for 2 or 12, and indispensable tips on planning and presentation. a great “Cooking/Parties 101″ book even for those of us who may be on to the 200 and 300 level classes, if you know what I mean. I don’t always get to throw parties, so when I do, I like to stay calm and collected and not look like a fool. This book will help with that, because you will look like you’ve been throwing meals effortlessly together for an eternity.
Cons: The premise probably puts off some people, but don’t let it. Get it if you’re single. Get it if you’re not. Whatever. The only cheesy theme running through this how, at times, one person should be doing A while the other is doing B. This is mostly ridiculous, and can easily be ignored. If you like cooking with your mate, this book can be (using the A/B way) a nice way to establish a kitchen rhythm so you’re not knocking into them constantly.
The second half of the “Bride & Groom” series – you can purchase them as a set if you’d like. These both came out around my wedding: one just before and one just after, and they were fantastic wedding gifts. I would give this to anyone I knew enjoyed cooking and entertaining. This one includes more party-heavy ideas for year-round entertaining; everything from a classic cocktail party to a fall harvest feast. Williams Sonoma is traditional at its best: never boring, always fresh, but they manage to stay very elegant and classic at the same time. It’s my favorite thing about them, in general.
Pros: You want to party? Let this book handle the details. It has tips galore for everything from wine selection to flower arranging and choosing the correct glassware for your drinks. They don’t miss a thing, and that’s typical for any Williams Sonoma cookbook. These recipes aren’t just group-specific, either; I’ve made quite a few of these for every day, so they translate just fine to ‘real life.’
Cons: I like to have choices with menus, so I do wish that this book allowed for a little more “mix and match” than it does. The menus flow very well, but they’re a little immovable from menu to menu. I’d like the book to have a few more choices, especially for sides and salads, to sub in if you wanted to. Certainly, the other Bride and Groom Cookbook would add some variety to this one, so they make good companions.
One of the books I began baking with, and I credit it with teaching me some big foundation stuff I needed to know at first. If you’re just starting out, the wrong type of cookbook can frustrate the daylights out of you; this one will do the opposite. It seems serious, but it’s a great beginner’s guide to baking, with entire sections devoted to how-tos. You’ll learn how to make and handle pie and tart crusts, how to brown butter, what different egg white peak levels look like, and so on. In general, I think Williams Sonoma’s line of “Essentials of” cookbooks are exactly that; completely essential if you want to learn more about a specific topic.
Pros: An essential; lots of photos, how-tos, and tips designed to help you succeed and be confident rather than fail and never bake again. Most of the recipes give “by hand” and “mixer/processor” instructions, so even if you don’t know how to translate one to the other, the book will do it for you. If you want to bake the classics, you’ll have them all here: my vanilla wafers come from here, as well as one of my first and favorite recipes for a classic sponge cake. The tart dough in here has never given me trouble, either, and that’s saying something.
Cons: I have the first edition, and I am proud of that. My mom has the revised edition, which is what is currently available, and it’s definitely a case of ironing out the kinks and making it even more practical. The sections in the revised edition are slightly more reasonable, and there’s an entire chocolate section which is not to be missed; sadly, I don’t have that one in mine, although some of the recipes carry over. In mine, the breads section seems a little more advanced and specialized that it needs to be; in the revised version, that’s been eliminated and troublesome recipes have been replaced with simpler, more classic counterparts. Although I’m happy to own the first edition (and it’s still available through Amazon sellers), I’d get the one currently out through Williams Sonoma, which I’ll link to.
I know nothing – nothing – about grilling, and yet looking through this cookbook, I feel like I could learn. Perhaps more importantly, I think I could learn how to do it with finesse. This isn’t the Big Dude’s Guide to Grillin’ Stuff; this is Williams Sonoma, so you’re in good hands in terms of it being filled with normal, not slathered with anything crazy recipes. Nor is it just about meat: it has some of the best recipes for grilled fish and vegetables I’ve seen.
Pros: I can understand it, which means anyone can understand it. It’s got a good read-through at the beginning about grilling techniques, and the recipes are all coded at the top with which heat method you’ll use, how high your heat will be, and if you will or won’t be marinating it; I find that extremely helpful, because you can commit to a dinner recipe at first glance, only to find out you have to marinate it for a day and a half beforehand. This book will make you go from zero to grillmaster in record time.
Cons: i haven’t familiarized myself enough with it yet, which seems like a HUGE con, personally. I need to work more out of this book, and when I do, I’ll report any cons. I’d like to say that will be this fall, but we’ll see; it may need to wait until next spring. Certainly at first glance, it doesn’t look like there will be many. Next time you’re at Williams Sonoma, flip through this book. Most libraries also carry the Williams Sonoma cookbooks, so check it out if you want to make your own call; you may know better than I would what to look for.
From what I call the superfood series, these came out a few years back when the “eat the rainbow” thing really began to take hold. This one is a great go-to for relatively healthy dessert recipes; something we could all get behind, I think. And it doesn’t sacrifice flavor, either; there’s a cornmeal-crusted apricot and vanilla tart in here that’s divine. You can find some great, lightened-up alternatives to some of your favorite decadent dishes in here.
Pros: organized in color order, which makes for a fun read and makes sense, too, for what this book is about. Each color section has a few “fresh ideas” pages, made up of simple throw-togethers with ingredients you probably already have. The book centers around simple, elegant ingredients, with lots of fresh fruit; I find myself using it quite a bit in the spring and summer.
Cons: Although there are plenty of recipes to use in cooler months, it leans a bit more towards seasonal fruits, which leaves me wanting a bit during the winter. That being said, most of us are busy scarfing down the full-fat desserts in the fall and winter, so maybe we don’t need as many alternatives during that time of year. It’s basic, so I find myself using it more for inspiration than for line-by-line recipes, but it’s good for both.
Another “superfoods” one, this time centering around healthier grilling options. how can you eat a grilled rainbow, you say? Evidently it’s not as difficult as you thought. Lovely ideas in here for grilling meats to top salads, veggies to use as main dishes or sides, and some really stellar sauce and salsa recipes as well.
Pros: Inspiration central for me when I’m looking for a light lunch or dinner option. Quick, too; I find myself running around more at lunch and dinner than I do breakfast, and it this book can make the difference between grabbing a granola bar and a yogurt or eating a proper meal.
Cons: I’m not sure true grill-enthusiasts would love this. I see this as more of a “hey, maybe your husband likes to grill but you don’t feel like a side of beef tonight: how about having him grill you up an eggplant rollup?” sort of book. At least that’s what I use it for. This one is more about grilling in a general sense; you could do most of these inside just as easily (perhaps more easily, at times) than outside.
Williams Sonoma, a few years back, had a whole line of these “food made fast” cookbooks for everything: upon looking through their website, it turns out most of these have become extinct. This one is one of the goners; the pasta book. It’s organized by time (30 minutes from start to finish, 15 minutes prep, etc) and contains a library of easy pasta favorites (carbonara) alongside some not so normal offerings (pasta with chickpeas).
Pros: I’m not a pasta pro, and my brain can only house so many options for things. Mostly, I’m too busy thinking about everything else to come up with anything beyond marinara, so this book helps me think outside my box. There’s some great, brain-jogging ideas in here for making pasta a little more exciting than Prego and some meatballs.
Cons: I want to say it’s awesome, but there’s nothing crazy inventive in here. It’s fine, and I tend to open it, look for something new, and then I’m off to throw things together. I don’t love the way it’s organized, but to be fair, I don’t typically subscribe to the “I must have this done like, NOW” way of cooking, either. My life doesn’t typically demand that, and if it does, I’d be much more likely to make something I already have in my head.
Another one time forgot, it seems, this one perhaps doesn’t deserve it as much as the pasta book did. It’s got some good ideas for parties and simple appetizers, and as far as I’m concerned, you can never have enough books filled with ideas of that variety. You have to keep things interesting at get-togethers, and this is a nice book which can save you from showing up with the same white bean dip as your cousin.
Pros: I can’t say it enough: books with good appetizers WILL be used at some point, and you will be grateful you have them. This one is also organized using the whole “30 minutes/20 minutes/etc” method, but for small plates (especially when you’re making several at a time) I don’t mind this so much. Given the nature of the book, it’s pretty easy to flip through and look at the photos to determine what you’d like to make, where the pasta book didn’t always allow an easy breakdown of ingredients with one glance.
Cons: Again, nothing earth-shattering here, but that’s more okay when you’re dealing with party food and small plates. If you’re wanting people-pleasers for a wide variety of tastes, there’s some solid ones in here that are sure to make everyone happy. Including you, because I see nothing in here which would be cumbersome to put together. I do look for starters which travel well if need be, and there are several in here that maybe wouldn’t; I consider that a con, as I’m invited to things more often than I entertain here (and that’s sad, and should change, yes.)
There are two versions of this on Williams Sonoma’s website for purchase, neither of which is mine, but are indeed Williams-Sonoma weeknight cookbooks. I’m happy to see they still offer something along these lines; fast, i-can-whip-this-together dinners and weeknights seem to go hand in hand. This is a great family cookbook, too: nothing too extreme for kids. Lots of main-dish meat and vegetable dishes, sandwiches, savory frittatas, quesadillas, soups, warm salads; you want it, they will give you a recipe for it. Pretty beautiful stuff, too, for being so simple and quick.
Pros: Duh; weeknights are busy. This book keeps you from going over the edge, but gives you different options than peanut butter and jelly or takeout. Simple, easy-to-find ingredients plus minimal equipment equals no one doing dishes at 9:30 at night, and that’s great. Even if you don’t follow these recipes word for word, it’s nice to open a book and see “chimichurri steak” or “chicken and mango salad” without freaking over how many ingredients you’ll have to buy. everything is simple and straightforward, with no long grocery lists needed.
Cons: I don’t know; it’s difficult for me to give a true “con” for this one, because everyone should have a “fast, thoughtful meals” book in their collection. No matter how prolific any of us are, staples aren’t always something you can think on the fly about. For my money (and my style of cooking/food philosophy), I’m going to own this book way before I’m going to be buying a Rachel Ray one. I’m not trying to knock Rachel Ray, but everyone has a style or a type they gravitate towards. I like riding boots, long cardigans, vintage dresses, and Williams Sonoma. What can I say.
I can’t for the life of me determine which series this comes from, nor does it look like this version of the book exists on Williams Sonoma’s website. I see something similar, but the contents are slightly different, which could mean it’s just an updated version. No matter what the situation, everyone should own a soup cookbook. Period. You should know how to make the classics, because soups are easy to build on once you have the basics down. I love a simmering pot of soup on the stove; if you do too, this is the book for you.
Pros: All it is is soups, all for you, organized by giving you a “classics” section first, then dividing them out by season (handy, especially when you know it’s winter and you want something warm, but you’re not sure what to do beyond that), and also by “dinner party” and “simple,” etc. Now, quick: name any soup you can think of in a can. Great job; they’re all in here and they’re all much better than the canned variety. If you still eat canned soup, you won’t after making a few of these. Bonus: a great little mini-section on basic stocks and soup accompaniments. I can honestly say I would happily cook my way through every soup in this book, and indeed this winter, I may do just that.
Cons: One man’s dinner party soup is another person’s everyday soup, so it’s not the most intuitive cookbook for everyone; I’ve just gotten used to the way it’s sectioned out. It’s less of a con when you see the 2-page spread in the front laying out all the sections with soups listed for you.
Now, to serve as a postscript, I offer this confession; these aren’t all my Williams Sonoma cookbooks. I simply can’t find some of them. I’ve looked, they’re nowhere, I can’t remember where I put them. When I do locate them, I’ll be happy, and there will be more reviews up, as there will be when I buy more.