Top 12 Cookbooks I Cannot Live Without
Is it wrong to hoard cookbooks? At what point should I consider it a problem, because I’m pretty sure I have a LOT of cookbooks. Well, let me rephrase that – I HAD a lot of cookbooks over the years. However, moving as often as we do, it’s been rather hard to keep up with my cookbook hoarding tendencies. Having to whittle down my library with each move has not been an easy task. There have been a lot of tears over the year and making Adam swear that this is, in fact, the last move.
The fact is that I can’t live without a much longer list of cookbooks, but these are my go-to’s. They are the ones I enjoy opening up, learning from and cooking from on almost a daily basis. These 12 cookbooks are really, in fact, ones that will ALWAYS go where I ever move to next. So many of them have been there throughout my restaurant and culinary school years. They’ve inspired me to think differently about cooking. Which is why I’m so excited to share them with you as well.
When you want to look like a #boss in the kitchen cookbooks
Having a handful of easy, everyday cookbooks is so beneficial for a home cook. It’s easy to get into a rut of making the same thing over and over again. Trust me, my family can attest to that same issue. For that reason, having a place to turn to for a quick jolt of inspiration or simply to follow the exact recipe is a lifesaver. I also love that these cookbooks below still challenge me. This isn’t your mother’s church cookbook. Some of the recipes require you to get your hands dirty and probably some egg in your hair (don’t ask). However, when you’re done and your family sits down to enjoy your efforts, you’re sure to look like a freaking #boss in the kitchen. What’s not to love about that?
It’s All Good
by Gwyneth Paltrow
Just when you thought Gwyneth Paltrow was already AMAZING, with her great acting career and gorgeous skin, she goes and proves she’s a force to be reckoned with in the kitchen too. “It’s All Good” is overflowing with healthy, easy to make recipes that are perfect for any meal. And talk about stunning photography! With every turn of a page, I’m more and more inspired to get into the kitchen and cook a dinner that is not only delicious but good for me as well! Did I also mention she runs this incredible website called GOOP? It’s packed to the brim with great things such as a beautifully curated shop, health and wellness articles, mouthwatering recipes, city guides and so much more! Is there anything this girl can’t do? #girlboss!
Recipes I love
Mexican Chopped Salad with Mexican Green Goddess Dressing, page 57
Spicy Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle + Coriander, page 88
Salmon with Lee’s Sriracha + Lime, page 137
Buy It’s All Good
Molly on the Range: Recipes and Stories from An Unlikely Life on a Farm
by Molly Yeh
Molly Yeh is one of those people you simply wish was your best friend. She’s warm, charming and a lot of fun. That great personality is infused into every hilarious story she’s included in her cookbook and all of the whimsical, mouthwatering recipes I can’t get enough of. Which happens to include some of those great Midwest hot dishes I grew up eating, only with a more modern twist. On top of that, her food blog “my name is yeh” is by far one of my favorite food blogs to read. Definitely, check it out!
Recipes I love
The Ideal Hole in the Middle, page 6
Schnitzel Bao with Sriracha Mayo and Sesame Pickles, page 73
Funfetti Cake, page 271
Salad of the Day: 365 Recipes for Every Day of the Year
by Georgeanne Brennan
I went through a very long phase where I only ate salads – those years when I attempted to be a vegan but was not very good at it. Anyone else been there before? The main issue I faced was eating the same salad over and over again, resulting in this great disdain towards veggies that was pretty hard to shake. That was until Williams-Sonoma’s Salad of the Day came into my life. 365 unique salad recipes have me loading up on all of the veggies I can imagine, without that bitter feeling of “veggie boredom” building up inside – it’s a real thing, people, I promise. There are so many great recipes in this cookbook, it’s hard to narrow down my favorite ones. However, I’ve yet to eat my way through this entire book, so I have a feeling a fun project like this may be something cool to start come the new year. I will let you know if I decide to make it happen!
Recipes I love
January 8th – Couscous salad with Roasted Chicken & Dried Cranberries, page 17
April 15th – Glass-Noodle Salad with Shrimp, Chicken, and Mint, page 93
May 24th – Tabbouleh with Feta Cheese, page 123
Buy Salad of the Day
Momofuku Milk Bar
by Christina Toni
If I could peek into Christina Tosi’s mind for just a moment or have just one ounce of her incredible talent, my life would be complete. I’m constantly in awe of her no holds barred imagination that crafts these wickedly delicious concoctions of sugar, flour, and goodness. Where does she come up with this stuff? I love it and I’m pretty sure most of the world does too! She’s built quite the empire with the Momofuku milk bar and the five million other things she finds time to get involved with. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
Recipes I love
Birthday Layer Cake, page 102
Liquid Cheesecake, page 149
Crack Pie, page 246
The Model Bakery Cookbook
by Karen Mitchell & Sarah Mitchell Hansen
Whenever we are in St. Helena, CA, visiting my family, we always stop in at Model Bakery for their English Muffins. I’ve never had anything like them, so it’s only natural that I had to own their cookbook to make them for myself. Especially now that I live in Minnesota and a quick trip up to the wine country isn’t as easy as it used to be (sigh). Aside from their AMAZING English muffins, there’s page after page of cookies, muffins, cakes and all of those homemade desserts your Grandma used to bake for you as a kid. It gives me all of those warm feelings I remember growing up.
Recipes I love
The Model Bakery’s English Muffins, page 35
Cinnamon Rolls, page 79
Red Velvet Cake, page 113
Ad Hoc at Home
by Thomas Keller
When one of America’s best chef decides to create a restaurant serving finger-licking, family-style comfort food in the heart of Napa, there’s a good chance it’s bound to be insanely good! So when that same chef, Thomas Keller, decides to take those same mouthwatering recipes and use them to inspire a cookbook for the home cook, then having that book in my life is a no brainer! There’s so much in this book, from Buttermilk Fried Chicken and flaky biscuits to Quinoa with Duck Confit or Blowtorch Prime Rib.
Yeah, there are over 200 recipes in this book, but at the current moment, there’s only one thing wrong with this book. It’s stuck in a storage unit in Charleston, SC. Which is why there’s no photograph above or worst yet, any recipes I can list below. After a long 5 years, attempting to name my favorite recipes without seeing them is near impossible. That’s right! We’ve had that storage unit for 5 YEARS, haha! However, if you saw my last post and have followed me on Instagram, I’ve been in Charleston this last week and a half! Eek! I’m so excited! This cookbook and so many other cooking things I’ve missed are on their way to me right now! I know I’m crazy, but I cannot wait to be reunited with this book!
Buy Ad Hoc at Home
When you want to make that “holy crap, jaw-dropping dinner” cookbooks
Okay, in all honesty, a lot of these cookbooks are packed with recipes that likely take 3 days and 10 different exotic ingredients to make. I’m not even sure I know the first place to go looking for something such as Hato Mugi or Ultra-Tex 3. For me, that’s not the point of these books. These books are a valuable resource because they make me look at cooking in a different way. It stretches my imagination, makes me take a second look at unique flavor combinations or cooking techniques I would usually never consider. These books are my inspiration and I couldn’t imagine not having them in my life.
Manresa: An Edible Reflection
by David Kinch
Every recipe in this book is a magical representation of what farm-to-table embodies. David Kinch is hands down one of my favorite chefs in the world. I think the way he cooks is purposeful and thought provoking. He guides you through this experience that makes you look at nature and the food it provides us as this masterpiece just waiting to be savored. His passion for cooking is beyond contagious and unstoppable. This book not only inspires me to think outside of the box but look at the way we prepare our food as something that should be given the highest of respect. If and when I make it back to Los Gatos, CA his restaurant will definitely be one of my stops. How I didn’t eat there when I lived there is far beyond me, haha!
Recipes I want to try
Like a Menudo: Cuttlefish, Pancetta, Marjoram and Tripe, page 32
Striped Jack, Sashimi Style, with a Radish and Chives, page 62
A Real Coq Au Vin; Rooster in Zinfandel, page 118
Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes
by Dominique Ansel
I’m naturally drawn to cookbooks with stunning photography and mouthwatering recipes I will most likely never make as they are far too complex. Not to mention the difficulty of sourcing some of those wild ingredients. It’s a curse that I whole heartily accept. Good thing they look good on a shelf! However, every so often I come across a book whose photography is magical and their recipes are still a bit more complex but perfect for that special occasion.
What sets these cookbooks apart are the stories that fill up the pages. These stories are a brilliant window into the heart of that chef. I find myself reading the cookbook from cover to cover with a new found respect for that individual who’s put their heart and soul into their craft. Dominique Ansel’s book is one of those instances for me. He brings you into his world and hands you the keys to his craft. I love that he’s never afraid to break the rules when it comes to baking.
Recipes I want to try
Cotton-soft Cheesecake, page 141
Frozen S’mores, page 176
The At-Home Cronut Pastry, page 201
Buy Dominique Ansel
Michael Mina The Cookbook
by Michael Mina
In the beginning of our relationship, Adam whisked me away to Las Vegas for a weekend getaway, which almost gave my parent a heart attack when I called them, already in Vegas. Their first question was – “are you guys eloping?” A sur-of-the-moment elopement was definitely not on our agenda for that weekend, but what did take place was one of the most memorable dinners we still talk about from time to time. Every dish served at Michael Mina’s was impeccable and the restaurant itself classic and elegant.
With such a wonderful memory in our lives, so new into our relationship makes this cookbook that more special for us. I especially love the Trio section in his book that highlights a certain ingredient and presents it in 3 unique ways. A perfect option for the first course in a dinner. At the end of the book, each Trio dish is beautifully photographed so you get a full visual representation of what they look like.
Recipes I want to try
Trio – Torchon of Foie Gras with Foie Gras Gastrique, page 27
Black Mussel Souffle with Chardonnay-Saffron Cream, page 178
Miso-glazed Chilean Sea Bass Tagine with Pepper Crab Broth and Israeli Couscous, page 203
Buy Michael Mina
by Grant Achatz
There’s a good chance I may have a very slight chef crush on Grant Achatz. I’ve already warned my husband and told him he’s just going to have to accept it, haha! All crush feelings aside, Chef Achatz is an unstoppable, culinary beast. His dishes defy the very nature of how we think food should be consumed and experienced. Alinea has been rated as one of the best restaurants in the country time and time again. The pages in this cookbook are a solid proof as to why.
This cookbook may be a bit above most peoples cooking abilities, mine included as I usually don’t have hours to spend on one recipe. But that’s not why I own and deeply value this book. There’s a wealth of knowledge and creativity splashed all over these pages. I love this book because it teaches me a new way to approach the way I cook. Pulling elements such as flavor combinations or a delicious sauce I may use for a different recipe is the beauty of this book. For example, there’s a recipe for Squash Soup (page 225) that’s part of a much more complex dish. I can guarantee you, that simple recipe for the soup probably tastes really great on its own. That’s my way of simplifying a more complex cookbook that I would most likely never cook from.
If you haven’t watched the Chef’s Table episode on Grant Achatz, then I highly suggest it as I’ve already watched it a dozen times myself… yeah, not obsessed at all.
Recipes I want to try
Kuroge Wagyu, Cucumber, Honeydew, Lime Sugar, page 78
Transparency of Manchego Cheese, page 82
Bacon, Butterscotch, Apple, Thyme, page 116
The French Laundry
by Thomas Keller
Thomas Keller and his restaurant, The French Laundry, was a pioneer for California haute cuisine. He changed the game and basically put Napa cuisine on the map. Every chef I knew aspired to work there – I know I did! Since the moment I received this cookbook, I’ve spent hours upon hours studying every recipe; gazing over each glossy, beautiful photograph; and at the time, finding ways to incorporate elements of the recipes into the dishes I cooked at various restaurants.
This book was my life blood! But just like Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home book, this one has been stuck in our Charleston storage unit as well. But I’m looking forward to having it back into my possession again. I think this time I will challenge myself to cook more of the actual recipes instead of gathering elements from it. Unlike Alinea or Manresa’s cookbooks, these recipes are a bit more approachable for in terms of gourmet cooking.
by Charlie Trotter
This last cookbook is incredibly special to me, mainly because it was my first experience eating at an Haute cuisine-styled restaurant. For my 16th birthday, my uncle took me to Chicago to show me the city and introduce me to more “cultured” experiences. At the time, Minnesota was nothing like what it is now. We didn’t have sushi restaurants or high-end dining experiences. I was a shy, 16-year-old, homeschooled girl, so trust me when I say that I didn’t get out much and growing up in the Midwest kept me rather sheltered. That trip to Chicago changed my life. We stayed in this beautiful hotel, I had sushi for the first time and LOVED IT, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago and I was blown away by so many amazing artists.
But the one thing that topped that entire trip was our dinner at Charlie Trotters. I never knew such food existed and I soaked up every single moment of it. The entire night was a finely tuned performance, from sitting down at our table, to the ordering of wine (which I was not able to partake in at the time), to each course so precisely timed out.
During the dinner, I stepped out to use the restroom. I later found out that even little things like this even affect the process. The kitchen is notified of said person using the restroom, therefore putting a hold on the specific course for that table. If the kitchen has already plated the course and was about to bring it to the table, it’s very likely they dispose of the food and start again. That’s how maniacal they are towards every single detail and making sure each guest has the best experience they can possibly give them. Nothing short of excellence was Chef Trotters mantra.
I later found this to be the case, when I landed a stage at Charlie Trotter’s restaurant almost 5 years later. Little did I know that my uncles amazing 16th birthday gift to me would change the course of my life and find me back at the very restaurant where it all started. To this day I regret not accepting their job offer to work full-time there. I always wonder where I would be today, but hey, at the time I didn’t feel right about it. You’ve got to trust your gut in the end.
So it’s safe to say, this cookbook holds a lot of meaning for me. It’s probably one of the more dirtier of books as I’ve dragged it into every restaurant I worked at and pulled recipes from it with flour covered hands. I’ve dropped sauces on it. Yeah, I love this book! And just like the Thomas Keller books, I will be reunited with this well-used beauty any day now!
Buy Charlie Trotter