Welcome to another Cocktail Hour! Today I want to talk about my favorite cookbooks. I thought it would be a good time to do this considering the holidays are coming up, you can use this as a gift guide. Also, it’s the time of year when people do the most cooking at home and it’s always nice to have a few good cookbooks on hand whether it’s an ultimate guide like The Complete America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook or something with more fun, unique recipes like Summers Under The Tamarind Tree.
Mastering The Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Mastering The Art of French Cooking is THE classic. You can find a recipe for pretty much anything and everything in this book. But what’s really amazing is the extensive knowledge of ingredients and technique along with conversion charts. I’ll admit I had some trouble with this book when I first got it, I found myself constantly questioning the techniques and reading things over and over because honestly, it’s a little hard to follow at times. There’s TONS of detail, Julia Child thought of everything. At times it was so much detail it was almost confusing. But once you move past that, it’s a really amazing book. Not to mention it’s basically an introductory French language book. Anytime I’m not sure about how to do something I refer to this book. It’s an amazing tool to have in the kitchen which is why it never leaves mine, I literally carry it back and forth from Qatar to the United States with me. Maybe I should just get a book for each place, it would be worth it. If you’re looking for a more modern version of the book there’s also volume II, same book and recipes, updated for the modern day home cook.
If I was stranded on a deserted island and I could only bring three things it would be bug spray, a fishing net, and this cookbook. It’s basically all the recipes, tips, and tricks from every season of the show. Yep, that’s 18 seasons. This book is massive. It’s basically just a life guide at this point. If there’s one cookbook everyone should have, it’s this one. If I can’t find what I need from Julia Child, I can always find it from ATK. It includes conversion charts and techniques along with a “Why This Recipe Works” for every single recipe. There’s also a guide to the best ingredients and tools with a budget and a splurge option. It’s a wealth of knowledge. ATK also has tons of other cookbooks including What Good Cooks Know (a book I read cover to cover when I decided to start working in restaurants), Cook It In Your Dutch Oven, and The Complete Young Chefs Cookbook.
Lidia’s Mastering The Art of Italian Cooking is another great guide, this time to Italian cuisine. This is the book that taught me to make pasta and pizza and it has the best cacio e pepe recipe in the game. There’s a wonderful guide to Italian wines and cheeses. Lidia Matticchi Bastianich is basically the Italian Julia Child. Anything I could say about Julia Child, I could say about her as well.
Sauces by James Peterson
I never realized the importance of having a sauce cookbook until I checked one out of the library. Sauce is one of the most important elements in food but also one that requires far more technique than I ever realized. Sauces, a James Beard Foundation Cookbook of the Year Award Winner, is an exceptional guide to those techniques. It covers everything from basics to Asian style sauces and dessert sauces, yes DESSERT SAUCES. The two best parts of a meal in one. Beyond that it’s a very comprehensive guide, Peterson describes every technique and why he uses the ingredients he uses. The recipes are exceptionally delicious and the ingredients and tools are easy to find in any grocery store.
Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes For Every Day of the Week by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
The title of this book is a mouthful, yes, but the recipes are a mouthful of pure heaven. If there’s one thing this book does, it proves that a vegan diet can be just as satisfying as a carnivorous one. It simply blows any skepticism towards vegan food out of the water, from “vegan food doesn’t taste as good” to “it’s not filling enough” and it banishes the idea that you’d even miss eating meat. Not to mention the recipes are specifically for EVERY day of the week. That means the excuse that cooking vegan is too much work or takes too much time is no longer valid. I personally am not a vegan, but if I was, this would be my go-to cookbook. It’s bright, colorful, and cultural. with recipes from Morrocan Harira to Vietnamese Bahn Mi, there’s a recipe for every single craving.
Opposite of Isa Does it, this book is completely centered around meat. It’s a great gift for the grill master in your life. It’s not only full of delicious BBQ recipes but a guide to all different cuts of meat and how to prepare each one for the best results. There’s a chapter full of mouthwatering sauces and rubs to slather your meats in, a chapter all about the best sides to go with your BBQ, and even a section on what to drink with your feast. If that wasn’t enough its a YEAR-ROUND guide! That means there are recipes for rainy days, snowy days, and perfect summer days. Not to mention its full of info on smoked meats, which is a skill that not many have mastered.
The Bread Exchange by Malin Elmlid
The Bread Exchange is an amazing book beyond just recipes. Milan Elmlid says “Share with me. And I will share my bread with you.” That’s the bread exchange Elmlid has literally thrown cash currency out the door and exchanges her bread for other peoples stories, recipes, knowledge, and skills. She has traded bread all over the world starting in Berlin and now all over the United States where she lives in San Francisco. Elmlid shares her stories and the stories of others she has met along the way. It’s a cookbook that reads like a novel. But with amazing bread recipes. My favorite thing about the book is something that both Elmlid and myself have learned through travel, bread is an international language. Each culture has its own style of bread and how it’s eaten the New York bagel, San Francisco white sourdough, Iranian clay oven baked bread, the French Baguette, and Italian focaccia. She shares her experiences eating the best bread from around the world and recipes from each country she visits. The Bread Exchange is possibly one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever read, both in and out of the culinary context.
Summers Under The Tamarind Tree: Recipes and Memories From Pakistan by Sumayya Usmani
If there’s one cuisine that’s underrated it’s Middle Eastern cuisine. My father grew up in Sudan, though Sudan is in Africa, the food they eat is similar to the food eaten in the Middle East. My dad used to cook biryani, kufta, and lamb for us often, but I never really appreciated it until I lived in Doha. The way spices like cardamom, clove, and cinnamon are used to make savory rice and stews is something you don’t find in many other cultures. The pillowy, fresh bread cooked in fiery hot clay ovens is unlike any other bread in the world. Most things are cooked in small pieces over very high heat, everything is fresh, especially the fruits and vegetables. In the Middle East, pickling is not common, hot sauce is simply blended hot peppers and garlic. Vinegar is not a staple in cooking everything is served with fresh lemon slices, pomegranate seeds, and cilantro. There’s a juice culture unlike other countries because there is no wine in Muslim countries. But the fresh juice is enough to make you not even miss it. Middle Eastern culture is unique to every other culture in the world and that is reflected in the food.
Sumayya Usmani does an exceptional job of sharing that culture with the world. Summers Under The Tamarind Tree is authentic, there’s no sugar-coating the recipes for the American cook. It is what it is. She shares her recipes of fresh sugar cane juice, the produce and meat markets of Pakistan. She shares the unique flavors of saffron, nuts and rose. It’s a spectacular book for anyone interested in world cuisine or looking for something new to try. Also a great read for anyone interested in Middle Eastern culture.
Nashville Eats by Jennifer Justus
I bought Nashville Eats a couple years ago when I was going through what I thought was a phase of constantly craving southern food. The phase never ended and this cookbook has been by my side ever since. This is another book full of stories and recipes but in my opinion, those are the best kind of cookbooks, they give the food purpose beyond sustenance. What I love most about this book and what sets it apart from many other cookbooks is the acknowledgment of all the different chefs and farmers that made these recipes possible. The recipes are unique, they use ingredients and techniques that were new to me but that I now use in my everyday cooking. But they all go together in the sense that you could easily plan an entire dinner using just this one book all the way down to cocktails. And you couldn’t possibly write a book about Music City without talking about the music, there’s a recommended playlist for each chapter of the book.
Cravings by Chrissy Teigen
Just when I thought the world couldn’t love possibly Chrissy Teigen anymore, she came out with Cravings. I don’t think I know a single person who doesn’t own this cookbook. It’s branded as “the food you want to eat” and that couldn’t be truer. Much like Christina Tossi (must be a Christine/Christina thing) Chrissy Teigen isn’t trying to be the next Dominque Crenn or Thomas Keller, they’re just cooking delicious food in its truest form. She uses ingredients that you know and love like bacon, scallops, sweet corn. Recipes for wings, pad thai, gooey mac and cheese are all included in this book. It’s great for any age college students to grandparents. Not to mention it’s full of pictures of Chrissy and John and that alone is a reason to buy.
Milk Bar Life by Christina Tossi
Speaking of Christina Tossi, she’s also written one of my favorite cookbooks, Milk Bar Life. I don’t usually go out of my way to purchase dessert cookbooks, mainly because almost every cookbook includes a desserts chapter. But when it comes to Christina Tossi I’ll pretty much buy anything. This book is full of great recipes from Milk Bar and techniques from a professional baker on how to make the simplest desserts even better. The recipes are easy as can be and everything you’ll ever need can be found at the most basic grocery store. Along with tons of dessert recipes, she also shares a few of her favorite savory dishes. It’s a must-read for anyone who loves to bake and it’s so simple to follow you could even gift it to a child in your life who loves to cook and bake. Unfortunately, the recipe for Crack Pie isn’t in this book but you can find it on the Bon Appetit website. It may also be available in her other two books All About Cake or Momofuku Milkbar.