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this may be opening a can of worms... ;-)

but, what are your staple cookbooks? i've collected, over the years, random, and usually-from-the-budget-section cookbooks that i have to say, i've rarely even used. don't know why. perhaps because the recipes don't, for the most part, excite me. plus, i tend to print recipes off the internet, before i leave work, so i know what to pick up on the way home. so! i'd like to overhaul my cookbook collection with a few gems: books with lovely (and hopefully, not too difficult), gourmet-ish recipes. i've heard nigella lawson's 'feast' has some nice recipes, but i'm wondering if you all might suggest some that you really cherish. i'm heading to borders this weekend with a gift certificate, so i'd like to pick up one or two. to help narrow this down a bit: i love to cook with things i can pick up at a farmers' market, and i love goat cheeses, baguettes, nice wine. so, i guess i'm looking for sort of 'artisanal' cookbooks, but for someone who's not a great cook. perhaps a tall order! can anyone help out?


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  1. i've just noticed the 'new bride' cookbook post, so have gotten some good tips there, but i'd be open to any other ones!

    1. I just wrote this in the new bride post but will repeat here: Appetite by Nigel Slater. One of my all-time favourite cookbooks!

      The River Cafe cookbooks by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers are also lovely, there are several to choose from. Anna Olson's "Sugar" is good for sweets, and "Anna and Michael Olson Cook At Home" is good for other parts of the meal.

      1 Reply
      1. re: WineWidow

        I wouldn't bother with the River Cafe cookbooks. Been there, done that. Borrow a used copy from your local library before you spend a small fortune for mediocre recipes that are better described eslewhere for less.


      2. melle 76, I'd like to suggest you visit your public library and browse before buying your books. There are many choices and you may be able to narrow your wish list.

        For Farmes' Market ideas, Deborah Madison's "Local Flavors" is terrific. Her recipes are not difficult to execute for a beginning cook and the book format follows the seasons at various local markets.

        I'll second the Nigel Slater recommendation from WineWidow. I have several of his books and have never had a dud from any of his ideas.

        A piece of free advice -- often the so called "bargain" books are nothing of the sort. They were not good to begin with, which is probably why they did not sell, and they don't get better just because they're cheap. They take up space in your house and do nothing in return. Clear them out, scour these boards for recommendations, check out the recs at the library and buy treasures. Your treasures will be different from my treasures.

        Good luck and have a wonderful time on this great adventure.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Sherri

          Absolutely! Cookbook preferences are as individual as people; recommendations should just be a starting point. A test run by borrowing from the library is my modus operandi. I get to keep the book for three weeks: if I find myself making several of the recipes right away, if I find myself constantly flipping through and bookmarking recipes, if I need to renew the book because I just don't want to part with it, I know I've got a winner.

          I'm always shocked when people don't have library cards or don't use the library for this purpose. That's why they're there! (Your tax dollars support them and your patronage keeps them funded by politicians who want to cut their funding.)

          As for a rec, my latest purchase that I really love is Melissa Clark's Chef, Interrupted. For seasonal, my newly purchased Sunday Supper at Lucques is delightful.

          1. re: Pupster

            I borrowed a copy of the Goldbecks' American Wholefoods Cooking from the library once. I wanted to own a copy of it, but wanted to make sure there was enough in it that I would like before I put out the money. It was very good, and I used it nearly every day the whole time I had it. But I'm a little bit of an absentminded cook, and I had the book sitting on the stove while I cooked. (It was a very, very small kitchen, and an electric stove.) When I turned the burner on, I apparently turned on the wrong one (back instead of front), and the next thing I knew I had burned a hole in the back of the book!

            I went down to my local bookstore and bought another copy of the cookbook, and took it to the library to replace the one I had set on fire, and they let me keep it. (It was well-used, so it lays open flat even though it's paperback.) I patched the cover, and it's one of my favorite cookbooks.

        2. I love Nigel Slater. I also recommend Real Fast Food and Nigel Slater's Real Good Food (the only cookbook I've got with a chapter devoted entirely to the joy of potatoes, and another to cheese).

          Laurie Colwin's books are a delight, and I use them often.

          I read Nigella Lawson, and love her books, but don't actually cook from them that often.

          2 Replies
            1. re: lissar

              I also love Nigella and I use her recipes frequently, from the almond flour whole tangerine cake to chicken tikka and tomato/onion/cinlantro salad to her marzipan coconut cake to her fabulous sweet potato or squash and garbanzo bean curry one dish meal....and on and on. She also has some wonderful fritters. I DO need to say that her book (can't remember the name but it has the Elvis sandwich in it as well as deep-fried candy bars) is not that great and I've only cooked a couple to recipes.

              Paula Wolfert's Food of Southwest France, Middle Eastern Greens and Grains and her early Morrocan cookbook. I also really love the new slow food one.

              Bittman's How to Cook Everything. Fun to read and great to cook from.

              Deborah Madison's Green's cookbooks and Madhur Jaffrey's giant veggie world cookbook.

              Ken Hom's East Meets West - where he pairs seasonings from other places with Asian ones (his chicken wings with Mexican and Asian spices are amazing!)

              Bert Greene's books - Greene on Greens, Greene on Grains, and Kitchen Bouquet. Marvelous.

              I also use an oldie (don't know if it's still available) Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni. Gorg. pix and great receipes.

              My, how I do go on!

            2. The Silver Spoon, Italy's answer to Larousse Gastronomique. If it's not in there, you don't need it!

              1. Wonderful project - I am sure you will enjoy the research! 2 of my favorite books at the moment are:
                San Francisco Flavors - favorite recipes from the Junior League of SF.
                This book has beautiful recipes, a serious farmer's market bent, great photos, and also wine recommendations. The ingredients can be expensive but this is a fabulous book for entertaining, and some of my weeknight standards are from here as well (Spicy Thai Prawn Soup, Grilled Coriander Chicken with Walnut-Cilantro Pesto, and Chicken Breasts with Wild Mushrooms and Balsamic Vinegar).

                Savoring Southeast Asia - this is one of the Williams-Sonoma series, which I normally don't think much of, but this one is really worth it. You can get it new or used on Amazon, although I don't think WS sells it direct anymore. The flavors from these recipes are suprisingly authentic (at least the Thai ones are - I haven't been anywhere else in Asia so I am really not qualified to say, but they sure do taste good!) and the pictures are great too! Good reading between recipes.
                Favorites from this are: Clay pot catfish (to die for), Goi Cuon or fresh spring rolls (amazingly tasty and juicy and fresh; the sauce is suprisingly good!), Yam Woon Sen (delicious, even better the next day), and Khao Tom Moo (rice soup with little balls of ground pork, perfect food for when you're sick and can't handle tremendous flavor variations but still want something that tastes good).
                Let me know if you find/like these!

                1. LOVE Nigel Slater. Another beutifully written book by him which I use constantly is 'The Kitchen Diaries'. Its fab. You can just sit down and read it like a novel. Its definitely my favourite.
                  Another good collection is by Delia Smith: (hey, I'm English!!) - she has done about seven to date - Chicken, Pork, Italian, Baking, Fish, Soups, Chocolate, and I use them a lot too. Organised by the title ingredient or type of food, they are an easy way to choose something to cook and while she has a tendancy to the fussy, the recipes never fail, in my opinion.
                  Finally, Ken Hom Cooks Thai is a good basic Thai book.
                  Have fun!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: claireh

                    The best thing to come out of one of Delia's books "How to Cook: Book One," is where she spends about 7 pages on "making the perfect omlette." She's right though, as her technique will work every time!


                  2. Of the recent stuff out there, Tony Bourdains "Les Halles Cookbook" is great. Simple, straight forward and annotated with some raunchy humour. Good recipes that work and please just about everyone. One step further is the Bouchon book by Thomas Keller, but that makes too much work for my days off!!

                    Sipping Viogner in Simcoe County

                    1. I do the same thing- have lots of cookbooks that I rarely use... like to 'wing' it!
                      The one I refer to the most, however, is the good old "Joy of Cooking". I have both the original and 'new' version.
                      If you need a reminder of something like basic polenta (liquid to cornmeal ratio), Joy is the place to look. Need to make icing and haven't done it in a while? Check Joy to get a refresher... etc...
                      Happy Cooking,

                      ps I agree with rumbelly above on Les Halles- good info on basic roasting, etc...

                      1. I second Les Halles, but only because I love Bourdain.

                        Also, there is a very good book out called Leith's Cookery Bible by dining doyenne Prue Leith.


                        It's been recently updated, has a co-author, and deals with the basics and gives very good tips!


                        1. I think you have to notice the difference between books that show you a lot about cooking and have good standard recipes and books that just have a certain number of outstanding recipes.

                          Joy of Cooking is clearly a standard of the first type. If you want the other type, at least look at “All About Braising.” It’s a big, handsome book that’s well written with an introduction to each recipe and wine recommendations. Browning something, putting it in a pot with a braising liquid, and cooking it for a long time might just fit what you want.

                          1. Nigel Slater, all his cookbooks are a delight to read, and the recipes are relatively easy. Appetite, the Kitchen Diaries are on my shelf. The only other is Joy of Cooking, the old version.

                            1. #1 -
                              The two wonderful cookbooks from the Junior League of Palo Alto: Private Collection 1 & 2
                              These are "never fail" recipes that I have used for parties for years. Really delightful stuff.
                              #2 -
                              James Beard's The Theory and Practice of Good Cooking
                              Will teach you how to use any ingredient in the best way. A lot of text that gives you real insight into cooking staples.
                              #3 -
                              The Silver Palate Cookbooks
                              Fun and lots of explanations.

                              1. A well-thumbed, ear-marked, second hand edition of Fannie Farmer is a beautiful thing. The recipes are fairly simple and easy to add to or upgrade with more 'artisinal' ingredients (though I'd stay away from the microwave cooking section). I tend to go there over Joy of Cooking, which is still fine.

                                And I have to second NeNePie, pretty much anything from James Beard is excellent.

                                1. I use Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian religiously, and i am far from vegetarian. Really informative, recipes from around the world, and a good basis for cooking with more unusual grains spices, etc.

                                  I like most of the james peterson books for beginners, step-by-step guides to everything from veggies and sauce to fish fabrication. They have great photo guides, too, so you can see what your supposed to be doing.

                                  Some of my favorite books, though, are the small ring-bound ones published by community groups. I have several from around the country, and find alot of recipes that can easily be updated to use fresher ingredients, but the cakes and breads tend to be delightful.

                                  1. My Joy of Cooking from 1972 is pretty beat up and I view this as my referee in cooking plus has thirty plus years of notes in the columns. Silver Palate collection is probably my next most often used books, with Hazan for Italian and Child for inspiration.

                                    1. Earlier this year I looked over my cookbook collection and found I have a whole lotta books given to me that I don't like and don't use. I decided it's time to overhaul my collection. I read recommendations on this board, checked out Julia Child and IACP winners, and started reserving books at the library with dozens at home at a time. When I found I was reluctant to return a book, I purchased online. The books I am most pleased with are:
                                      Mark Bittman, How to cook everything
                                      All about braising
                                      The complete meat cookbook
                                      Spices of Life
                                      Rick stein's complete seafood
                                      Frank Stitt's southern table
                                      Recipes (by Susan Spungen -- a Martha-ite)
                                      San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook
                                      Peter Berley -- Modern Vegetarian Cooking, and Fresh Food Fast
                                      Fresh Every Day
                                      CIA's Cooking and Home, and baking at Home
                                      Sunday Suppers at Lucques
                                      Pie & Pastry bible

                                      In addition to these books new to me, my staples are:
                                      White Dog cafe cookbook
                                      Vegetarian cooking for everyone (Deborah Madison)
                                      Essentials of classic Italian cooking (Marcella Hazan)

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: NYchowcook

                                        I recently picked up White Dog Cafe (in remainders, for Book Fair folks.) What have you loved from this book?

                                        1. re: mirage

                                          White Dog is my reliable -- everything I make has been delicious. The meat/fish dishes w/ sauces from stock and demi glace are great -- rosemary-mustard london broil w/ wild mushroom glaze, tarragon-braised lamb shanks, pork tenderloin w/ caramelized shallots and apples, chicken & mushrooms in marsala-sage sauce, salmon w/ burgundy-rosemary butter (served over lentils). I make the corn salsa a couple times a week as a saute, stopping short of adding the ingredients to turn into a salsa. I wowed guests w/ curried chopped vegetable salad w/ pesto pita wedges. Also: cabbage w/ pancetta & oyster mushrooms, potato gratin, sesame roasted asparagus. A friend says the vegetable tian is the best ever. I like the suggestions for a complete menu.

                                          1. re: NYchowcook

                                            Thank you for responding! I'm looking forward to delving into this cookbook, especially your recommendations.

                                      2. THE Joy of Cooking is a kitchen's BIBLE. Thorough instructions and flawless recipes. Not much to look at, but chuck full of essential information for the novice cook.

                                        1. I'm a fickle cookbook reader, flitting from one to another depending on what I'm currently passionate about. So what I recommend now may not be what I like inn 6 months. Here goes:

                                          For California-type cuisine: Judy Rodgers Zuni Cookbook
                                          Suzanne Goin Sunday Suppers at Lucques
                                          The Chez Panisse books - CP Cooking, CP Menu, CP Desserts, CP Fruit etc.

                                          For Middle Eastern/Mediterranean: anything by Paula Wolfert
                                          Claudia Roden's New Book of Middle Eastern Food
                                          Ana Sortun's Spice

                                          Asian: Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking
                                          Fuchsia Dunlop Land of Plenty
                                          Kasma Loha-Unchit Dancing Shrimp

                                          I'm having a lot of fun with these this summer. Hope you find something that suits your style.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: cheryl_h

                                            I have to dissent about Sunday Suppers at Lucques. The pictures are gorgeous, the recipes look fabulous, but i haven't enjoyed cooking from it much. I find that even though i'm reasonably comfortable and experienced cooking, i want more detail in the directions--that may be because the other book i'm using these days is the Zuni cookbook which is persnickity and compulsive in its directions! That being said, i have learned little tips from using the book that i think have made me a better cook.

                                          2. wow! thank you all for really stepping up to the plate here! this is great. the library tip is a good one- i might head over tomorrow. but my borders gift card is really burning a hole in my wallet! ;-) i've heard good things about the zuni cafe cookbook, so that might be one of my purchases, for sure. i have the bittman book, as well as the joy of cooking, and i really should give those more use than i do...

                                            thanks again!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: melle76

                                              I have all sorts of cookbooks, but seldom use any of them, but would suggest that a basic kitchen would be incomplete without the following:

                                              Fannie Farmer's Cookbook -- old and out of date, but it's such a standard it's a must-have.

                                              The Way to Cook, Julia Child -- very solid basic recipes that you can adapt to whatever you want to cook.

                                              Paul Prudhomme's Louisiana Kitchen -- Long, detailed, ingredient-intensive recipes that turn out the best tasting Louisiana cooking you've ever made.

                                              Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking -- Just what the title says it is.

                                              Good hunting!

                                            2. Fannie Farmer (my mom's copy, published in 1946 to which I turn when the Joy of Cooking lets me down, which is seldom)

                                              The Joy of Cooking, next to most recent version (maybe 1972?)

                                              Julia Child and Company

                                              Mastering the Art of French Cooking

                                              Soup of the Day, by Lydie Marshall (my current favorite)

                                              The I Hate to Cook Book, The Appendix to the I Hate to Cook Book, The I Hate to Housekeep Book (which has a few recipes), by Peg Bracken, who can be depended upon to keep it simple and unpretentious.

                                              1. I've been getting a lot more use out of my Moosewood Low-Fat cookbook here lately. That's one to use for fresh ingredients.

                                                1. I'll put in my .02...

                                                  Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison, and I am not a vegetarian. This is an excellent reference and recipe book. You can look up most any vegetable and find loads of creative ideas on what to do with them. Her gratins... wow, homey heaven in Fall and Winter.

                                                  If you live in a warm climate - Bobby Flay's Boy Gets Grill (or his others). His sense of flavor is wonderful. Excellent meat dishes right off the grill. Love his hearty hand at seasoning.

                                                  I have to second and give my "ay" to the Joy of Cooking as an essential American reference. Everyone needs a book where they can look up a basic recipe for bisquits, sloppy joes, the cut of beef best used for Sunday's roast dinner, etc.

                                                  I have the Fanny Farmer and a Good Housekeeping basic cookbooks as well and can give them a good nod as secondary essential references. They offer a few more ethnic twists than Joy and round out the home library quite nicely.

                                                  I love my Pasadena Junior League cookbooks (California Heritage, Heritage Continues, California Sizzles). I believe that in general Junior League cookbooks are the creme de la creme of local specialty cookbooks without the "frito pie" kitsch of the plastic bound community cookbooks (of which I have a few and NEVER use). Check out a few from your environs and see if they turn you on.

                                                  I could go on, but I won't.


                                                  1. The Bed & Breakfast Cookbook of the USA has a soup to nuts collection of recipes tested by Chow palates across the country at B&B's large and small. It's a keeper and a great gift idea.

                                                    1. I have my mom's Better Homes and Garden Cookbook and also her Culinary Arts cookbook from the 1970s.Only other cookbooks I have are from the 1920s and 30s.
                                                      I make something out of them once in awhile,and since there is just me,i don't need a lot of books.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: HollyDolly

                                                        I second Better Homes and Garden. I have the newer one, and my mom has the old one, and the new one is just as good. Very good basic information for the new cook!

                                                      2. BEST RECIPES IN THE WORLD by Bittman is great.
                                                        Larousse Gastronomique(reference and recipes)
                                                        Oxford Companion to Food(aka Penguin Companion to Food) by Alan Davidson (reference, and just amazing)

                                                        1. If I was on desert island:

                                                          Joy of Cooking, next to the last edition.

                                                          Anything by Marcela Hazan

                                                          Anything by Jacque Pepin

                                                          Julia Child's Mastering

                                                          1. In the last year, I have been obsessed with Mango & Curry Leaves, Molto Italiano, and Marcela's Essentials. And, I always use Joy a fair amount.