Cooking has been a passion of mine since childhood. One of my favorite hobbies is collecting cookbooks. Over the years I have built a collection of hundreds of cookbooks. I thought in this post I would share some of my favorite and most cherished cookbooks. So welcome to part 1 of the guide to my all-time favorite cookbooks.
Of course, with the Internet, cookbooks may be seen as hopelessly old-fashioned. I admit I now get about 70% of my recipes online. However, nothing can beat the joy of reading a cookbook that creates a connection with the author and can provide you with stories and inspiration that I feel the Internet never matches. So it is appropriate that we start with the Joy of Cooking.
The Joy of Cooking
Author: Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker
Year: 1997 (original edition 1931)
This was my first cookbook on moving out. I love it not only for sentimental value but also because it has all kinds of recipes. The version I now have is the controversial 1997 edition. Many people complain about this edition because it got rid of some of the old-fashioned recipes for meats like racoon and squirrel. Myself I am now a more modern cook, so I appreciated these changes. There is an even newer version that supposedly goes back to the original tone but I do not see the need to acquire that one.
What makes the Joy of Cooking a classic is it has recipes and instructions for almost every type of dish or cooking technique you want to learn. It is as much a reference tool as a cookbook. The back section (pages 1050-1087!) include a guide to cooking methods, ingredients (including Asian spices and sauces), measurement charts and a comprehensive guide to the nutrients in various ingredients. For example, one slice of Melba toast has 16 calories, 1g protein, 3g carbs, 0.2mg iron and 1 mg calcium.
The book has 38 chapters divided by subject such as soups, beans & tofu, poultry, stuffing, meat, cookies, candy and so on. Basically, there is at least a starter recipe for almost any type of food you can imagine in the U.S. This book taught me how to make Crab Louis.
Of course, if you are really into something like Mexican or Chinese food you will want to expand beyond the Joy of Cooking. For example, the recipe for a pulled pork taco (carnitas) simply basically tells you to fill a taco shell with pork from the North Carolina Pulled Pork recipe. To expand on the concept of authentic dishes from America’s ethnic groups I recommend the next book on our list, It’s All American Food.
It’s All American Food
Author: David Rosengarten
I used to love David Rosengarten’s TV show back when the Food Network was actually about food and cooking. That show ended in 2001. I missed him so much that for a year or two I subscribed to his fairly expensive newsletter, the Rosengarten Report. Of course, I bought his cookbook as soon as it came out. I am happy to report it has become a favorite of both myself and my husband.
It’s All American Food is exactly that, a guide to the many types of food people eat in America. The book is divided into 3 sections: 1) Ethnic America; 2) Regional America and 3) Classic America. Ethnic America has recipes from many nationalities such as Italian, French, Chinese, and Mexican. There are also more obscure areas such as Mittel European, Moroccan, Scandinavian, Central and South America and more.
The ethnic section is the one we use the most and this is where we get our go-to recipe for German Potato Salad and Sauerbraten. Dave was really impressed with the recipe for meat filled ravioli and has adjusted it for those rare occasions when he is willing to go through that labor-intensive process (thankfully he leaves out the chicken livers).
The shorter Regional America section has recipes from 14 different regions of America such as New England, New York, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Dutch, Chesapeake Bay, Florida, Midwest, Texas, California etc. I don’t use this section as much but when I have the results have been excellent. The red bean and rice recipe from the Cajun/Creole section revived fond memories of my grandmother in New Orleans. At the very least, this section (and the rest of the book) make for fun reading.
The last section on Classic America is very short (about 60 pages out of 460). Basically it is recipes for classic dishes from breakfast through dessert. I don’t think I have tried any of these recipes. I already have my own recipes for Ranch Dressing, Mashed Potatoes and Grilled Cheese so I feel this section could have easily been deleted. No big deal as I am happy if a cookbook can give me 2 or 3 regular recipes. It’s All American Food has done that and more.
Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook
Author: Better Homes and Gardens
Taking a step back in time, Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook is where I learned to cook some of my core dishes. This book gave me some of my basic recipes for fish and my favorite Tuna Noodle Casserole. Many of my early dishes were straight from this book. This includes Beef Stroganoff, Sweet and Sour Pork, Salad Nicoise and Sugar Cookies. Every year I have made the cookies for my nephew’s birthday. He just turned 21 and commented how he looked forward to those cookies as far back as he can remember.
Favorite Favorite Recipes of California Winemakers
Author: Wine Appreciation Guild, Lee Hecker Editor
This was one of the first books I bought at the age of 21. This reminded me of my parents and made me feel cool at that age. I think of it as a flashback to the 1960s and 1970s. This is more about my interest in cookbooks as history and nostalgia. The only recipe that truly stands out is the Pot Pie, but I still love this book for the memories it provides.
Speaking of nostalgia and collecting cookbooks I need to mention my collection of Sunset magazine cookbooks. These thin books (usually about 100 pages) have been published for years. I collect them at used book stores and swap meets. Currently I have about 60, but this website lists 148 titles so I have a ways to go. (I don’t think this list is comprehensive).
Of the Sunset cookbooks the one we have used the most is the Mexican Cookbook. I actually have three Sunset Mexican Cookbooks (published 1973, 1975 and 1991). The 1991 one was where both my husband and I really got started with Mexican cooking.
Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen
Author: Rick Bayless
Speaking of Mexican, Rick Bayless was one of my first introductions to more specialized ethnic food. Growing up I have learned to love Mexican food, but more of the SoCal Mexican variety. Watching Bayless’s PBS TV shows, is where i really learned howmuch more complex Mexican food is than the tacos and burritos I was used to.
One of my all-time favorite dishes is his Broiled Chipotle Chicken with Creamed Spinach. I like to cook extra and the next day add pasta to the leftovers. The Red-Chile Beef Stew with Vegetables is another dish I have been doing for almost 20 years now. My husband even tried making one of his complicated Mole recipes. These can be complicated recipes that really test my skills as a home cook.
Author: Nina Simonds
My Chinese cooking comes entirely from this book. As many have noted, the food found in most Chinese restaurants in the U.S. bears little resemblance to the food from China. Many of the Chinese dishes that Americans are familiar with were created in the U.S. by Chinese immigrants. They tend to lean towards the love of sweet and fried food popular in this country. Chinese restaurant food is frequently cited as some of the most unhealthy you can find.
In San Diego there are many authentic Chinese restaurants, but another issue we face is severe food allergies. Dave in particular is allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. Just peanut particles getting into a dish can cause a deadly reaction. Several times during our relationship, Dave has become seriously ill from peanut contamination at a Chinese restaurant.
With Nina Simonds China Express, both Dave and I have learned to make healthy, safe and delicious Chinese food. Our copy of this book is weathered and covered with stove side spills. That is the sign of a good cookbook.
Some of our favorite recipes include Spicy Lamb in Lettuce Packagers, Spicy Black Bean Chicken, Chinese Barbecued Chicken, “New” Potato Salad with Scallion Oil Dressing, Spicy Tangerine Pork, Sichuan Sweet-and-Sour Spareribs, Chile Pepper Beef, Garlic Broccoli……I could go on but you get the idea. This cookbook is amazing!
Did I mention I have a lot of cookbooks? I couldn’t possibly cover all my favorites in one post so be sure to come back for part 2.