My 12 Favorite Cookbooks

From left to right: The Essential New York Times Cookbook (Hesser), Ottolenghi (Ottolenghi and Tamimi), Japanese Cuisine (Moriyama), and The Art of Simple Food (Waters)

If we are what we eat, then cookbooks help define who we are and who we want to be. Cookbooks are much more than just a collection of ingredients and techniques, cookbooks provide a food history. They can offer windows and glimpses into other worlds — including other countries, other cultures, and other times. Cookbooks catalog my formative experiences: from living overseas in Japan during college, travels through Italy, first dates, cooking for (or with) the In-Laws, New Years Eve dinners, and even help in deciding the first solid foods to feed our growing babies. Cookbooks can also be deeply emotional. I remember distinctly reading an article in ‘The Washington Post” how after Hurricane Katrina:

When the city’s bookstores began opening after [the] floodwaters receded, the first volumes residents bought to replace their waterlogged, moldy collections were often beloved cookbooks.

So here in no particular order is a list of my 12 favorite cookbooks, as well as some go-to dishes. I hope this helps define a bit more about who I am. I would love to hear about you and some of your favorite cookbooks too!

  1. The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century by Amanda Hesser. Mark Bitman’s Pizza Dough, and Maida Heatter’s Cuban Black Beans & Rice are both well worth the extra effort.
  2. Blue Ginger: East Meets West Cooking with Ming Tsai. Formative in my appreciation for Asian-fusion cuisine, the Tea-Smoked Salmon with Wasabi Potato “Laktes” and Fuji Apple Salad really is ‘over the top.’ It’s a great way to impress friends, and set off the home fire alarm.
  3. It’s All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great by Gwyneth Paltrow and Julia Turshen. Please don’t judge me (smiles). The recipes really are creative and delicious, and offer choices to feed my vegan and gluten-sensitive friends. The Posole is super easy, and the Lamb Tangine with Squash & Chickpeas is comfort food for a cold winter evening.
  4. Mastering Pasta: The Art and Practice of Handmade Pasta, Gnocchi, and Risotto by Marc Vetri and David Joachim. When I decided last year to learn how to make pasta by hand for the first time, this was my DIY guide to what led to a terrific Tagliatelle, and later making Farfalle together with my two kids. I would love to be an Italian nonna in a next life!
  5. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamami. The flavors are inspired by the chefs’ roots in Israel and Palestine. I love the Cauliflower & Cumin Fritters with Lime Yogurt, and the Zucchini-Wrapped Lamb Kabobs.
  6. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee. While not technically a cookbook, it’s more a bible for cooks everywhere to “explore the biological and chemical insides of foods.” Immediately after the birth our first child my wife had a strange hankering for onions in any and every form. We conferred McGee’s book to learn that perhaps calcium leeching was at play. Our takeaway was listen to your body and what food it tells you to eat!
  7. Japanese Cuisine for Everyone: Quick and Easy by Yukiko Moriyama. When I first started studying Japanese in high school more than 25 years ago, this book provided my introduction to the fundamentals of Japanese cooking. The Green Beans with Sesame Seeds is super easy and one of my daughter’s favorites.
  8. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. As I’ve lived for many years in Washington, DC, I love the fact that Ina used to work as a budget analyst in the White House before pursing her personal dream to open a specialty food store in the Hamptons. Three words: Perfect Roast Chicken; it’s become our Sunday evening family dinner standard.
  9. The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes for a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters. Perhaps more than anyone else, Alice Waters has changed the way I think about food. Alice led the farm to table movement from her homebase and restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA. The Apple Tart or Onion Galette are perfect for a dinner party and look beautiful on the table.
  10. Simply Classic: A New Collection of Recipes to Celebrate the Northwest by The Junior League of Seattle. Over the years, I’ve come to love Junior League cookbooks. As a collection of tried and true favorites, these books capture the generations of regional cooking in the U.S. like none other. Having married into a family with roots in the Seattle-area, this cookbook was an early gift from my Mother-In-Law. The Baked Curry Brie, Dungeness Crab Cakes, and Apple Blackberry Crisp make for particularly Puget Sound flavors.
  11. Extra Virgin: Recipes & Love from Our Tuscan Kitchen by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar. You might remember Debi from the movie Goodfellas and a distinguished movie and TV career. Teaming with her husband to capture their mutual love for all foods Tuscan, I fell for their milk Braised Pork Loin.
  12. Macrina: Bakery & Cafe Cookbook: Favorite Breads, Pastries, Sweet & Savories by Leslie Mackie. This Seattle gathering spot offers a delicious Squash Harvest Loaf. While it can be prepared with canned pumpkin, I prefer to use fresh roasted butternut squash, Japanese kabocha, or Hubbard. It’s fun to experiment and try different squash.
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