I’ve been thinking lately about the way tastes change over time. Whether due to lifestyle changes, your growing family’s needs, or simply a shift in mood, what we like from year to year (or month to month) continues to evolve. That’s true of so many things: food, books, clothes, you name it.
Several years ago I shared a list of my go-to cookbooks. I love a good cookbook: there’s something special about tech-free meal-planning from the comfort of my couch. I love to curl up with a good cookbook and read it like a novel—although if I come away with recipes I actually want to make for weeknight dinners, so much the better.
When I recently revisited my list of old favorite cookbooks, it brought me back to that very specific time in my life. My kids were younger and had different food sensitivities. (SO MANY food sensitivities, it felt like then.) The cookbooks in our regular rotation reflected that state of being.
I still rely on many of those cookbooks, but I’ve welcomed additional ones into our kitchen since then. The kids are older now—one is IN COLLEGE, for goodness’ sake—and my teenage kids have favorite cookbooks of their own. We have different favorite meals these days; we no longer need to avoid gluten or dairy like we once did. It’s no wonder I rely on a new rotation of cookbooks right now. (And let’s not forget how many fabulous new cookbooks have been published these past few years!)
Here’s what hasn’t changed: I still have seasons of creative kitchen experimentation and seasons of cooking for survival. I’m especially grateful to have go-to recipes for those stressful seasons, as well as new-to-me recipes to try when we’re in the mood for something we haven’t had a billion times already.
It doesn’t hurt that my favorite cookbooks are both beautiful and practical. I hope you’ll see some of your own favorites here and maybe a new one or two to add to your kitchen. And, of course, you know I’d love to hear all about YOUR favorites in comments—and so would your fellow readers!
8 beautiful, practical cookbooks you’ll turn to again and again
My introduction to Deb Perelman of the fantabulous food blog smittenkitchen.com wasn't via the usual route: I found out she was speaking at my local library, a friend told me I should go, I took her advice and found Deb and warm and funny and smart, and only then did I look up her website and her first cookbook, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. This follow-up contains more than a hundred real recipes for real people, gorgeously illustrated. Family favorites include her versatile party cake recipes, magical blueberry muffins, and spinach, mushroom, and goat cheese slab frittata. More info →
I’m a big fan of Ina's approach to cooking and resultant recipes. My Barefoot Contessa cookbooks are well-loved and notably worse for wear. I still can’t believe she had a book on comfort food ready and waiting for a pandemic-induced return to home cooking. We love the giant crinkled chocolate chip cookies and chicken pot pie soup. I can vouch for it being a great book for home cooks, from beginners to pros. Hearty dinner dishes like cheesy chicken enchiladas and perfect beef stew are fabulous, but we've pulled this off the shelf most often for the giant crinkled chocolate chip cookies and applesauce cake with bourbon raisins, two dessert recipes we've made again and again. More info →
Fans of Rosenstrach’s cookbook Dinner: A Love Story will love her latest offering. Her family decided to limit their meat consumption to the weekends and turn to plant-based meals during the week—reducing meat intake is an easy way to combat climate change. This cookbook contains 100 recipes, as well as what Jenny and her family learned along the way. This cheerful cookbook contains great ideas for approaching dinner as well as recipes to prepare. Our hands-down favorite recipe is the leek and mushroom tart, which we make for weeknights and served as part of our Thanksgiving spread. More info →
If you enjoy sitting down with hefty cookbooks and reading them like novels, it’s especially easy to do here. The first half of the book consists entirely of enjoyable stories and explanations about the cooking process, as Samin examines how each of the key elements—salt, fat, acid, and heat—affect a dish. I especially enjoyed the way she drew from her experience at Chez Panisse, sharing stories of kitchen disasters that happened because one of these elements had gone horribly awry. Once you understand the essentials, Samin leads you into the recipes held in the book's second half. This book made me want to get cooking, and the gorgeous illustrations and flavor wheels make it particularly fun. Favorites include garlicky green beans, slow roasted citrus salmon, and panzanella variations for all seasons. More info →
When we discussed cookbooks worth of completely cooking your way through, Indian-ish ranked multiple mentions. Inspired by her mother's creative recipes that combined the traditional Indian recipes of her childhood with American favorites (like spaghetti), Priya Krishna shares fun, everyday recipes that can only be described as "Indian-ish." I love reading my cookbooks like novels, and Krishna shares funny and endearing family memories in between recipes. Favorites include roasted Aloo Gobi, Malaysian ramen, and garlic and ginger chicken. Will is dying to try the white bean stuffed poblanos soon. More info →
Like many cooking enthusiasts, we met Vivian Howard through her Netflix series A Chef’s Life, “a show about people, place, tradition and family told through the lens of food.” Howard's newest cookbook, filled with simple recipes that highlight the way she actually cooks at home every night, as opposed to at her fancy award-winning restaurant, caught my eye at the local bookstore. She’s insistent these simple recipes will change the way you cook. She made a believer out of me: I especially love her methods for spicy tomatoes and preserved lemons—and her style is just plain FUN. I most often cook the core recipes for her "flavor heroes," they're perfect every time and do, in fact, make everything else we make taste better. More info →
If you’re familiar with Chungah Rhee’s blog of the same name, you know this is aptly titled. After discovering her site years ago, it quickly became one of my go-to destinations for dinner recipes because her recipes are always tasty, and they always work. This cookbook includes the recipes she’s most well-known for, as well as new ones created for this print edition. This is my go-to whenever I’m looking for something quick, easy, and full of flavor. Favorites include one-pot garlic parmesan pasta, bang-bang chicken, and slow-cooker french dip sandwiches. More info →
I was thrilled when Sam Sifton released this collection of the best recipes from the NYT Cooking website and app, which he founded. This cookbook is all about the principles behind cooking. There’s an ingredient list but no measurements. The instructions are easy to understand, leaving you free to adapt and adjust the components of each recipe to your taste. I made the grilled broccoli weekly during the summer months, and we also recommend kitchen-sink rice and beans, multiple grilled cheese variations, and instant ramen, back-of-the-fridge style. More info →
What are your favorite cookbooks? Tell us in comments!