My go-to cookbooks.

My favorite cookbooks | Modern Mrs Darcy

I’ve loved to cook since I was in grade school. As an adult, I go through seasons of creatively experimenting with cooking, and seasons of cooking for survival. (This whole gluten-free business really put a damper on my stress baking tendencies, or I would include that as its own category. Sigh.)

In creative times and dead-practical ones, these terrific cookbooks have been by my side. When I’m in survival mode (in the kitchen, at least) my favorite cookbooks hold sure-fire recipes that will get dinner on the table, fast. When I’m in experimentation mode, these same books are an invitation to explore.

Today I’m sharing my favorite cookbooks. A caveat: I’m really looking forward to the comfort foods that accompany cooler weather, and that may have influenced my choices here. (Maybe I should make another list for spring?) Until April, I’m sticking with these favorites:

Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat

Well Fed: Paleo Recipes for People Who Love to Eat

This is a beautiful, practical, inspiring cookbook for anyone who wants healthy, happy food, and an absolute gold mine for those with dietary restrictions. Joulwan’s recipes are 100% paleo and 99% Whole-30 approved. I might like Well Fed 2 even more. (If you’re debating which one to buy, Well Fed 2 is twice as thick and a dollar cheaper. Hint, hint.) More info →
The New Best Recipe

The New Best Recipe

When I want to find a basic recipe for any imaginable dish, this is the book I turn to first. At 1000+ pages, it’s likely to have whatever I’m looking for. Cooks can be a little high-maintenance at times, but I trust their methods and their recipes, and love the essays that accompany each one describing the dish and how they arrived at “the” perfect method. A great all-purpose cookbook. More info →
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Before I ever visited the blog or saw the cookbook, I heard Deb Perelman speak at my local library. She won me over with her warmth, humor, and kitchen know-how. But then I saw the cookbook and was blown away—gorgeous (and funny) writing, beautiful photos, and recipes that work. She’s yet to let me down, and I’ve cooked my way through a significant portion of the cookbook. I’m thrilled to hear she has another one in the works. More info →
Perfect Recipes for Having People Over

Perfect Recipes for Having People Over

Pam Anderson (not that Pam Anderson) was my first cookbook crush, and not just because her cookbook How to Cook Without a Book helped me survive my first year cooking for myself. She’s a Cooks Illustrated alum, which explains a lot. I love this book for its recipes that can serve a small family or a crowd, its tidy categorization, and its menu planning helps. More info →
Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures: Recipes and Stories

Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures: Recipes and Stories

I randomly found this book in the stacks at my local library years ago, and promptly fell in love with it—possibly because that while I love to cook, I’m no pro, but can handle the stuff culinary legend Rick Bayless throws at his teenage daughter. Fun format and terrific recipes that reflect the culinary interests (and diversity) of a chef’s family. My kids, unsurprisingly, love to browse this book. More info →
Slow Cooker Revolution

Slow Cooker Revolution

Okay, this isn’t actually a favorite yet—but I’m hoping it will be. One of my personal cool-weather resolutions is to use my crock pot several times per week. When I mentioned this in the latest What I’m Into post, several comments and emails told me I needed a copy of this book. I obliged. My copy’s on its way, but I haven’t seen it yet. I’m hoping it’s as amazing as you told me it would be. More info →
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

I love the whole series, but this first cookbook is my favorite, closely followed by Barefoot Contessa Parties. (Although I just pre-ordered Make It Ahead, her new cookbook that comes out October 28, so I reserve the right to change my mind.) My edition is well-loved and shows it: the recipes for family favorites Indonesian Ginger Chicken and Outrageous Brownies (best on the planet, seriously) are notably worse for wear. More info →

I also have a soft spot for the foodie memoir genre. Some of my favorites that I actually cook from are A Homemade LifeBread and Wine, Garlic and Sapphires, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, and My Berlin Kitchen. These all have excellent recipes and make excellent bedtime reading.

What are your favorite cookbooks? Please share in comments. 

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  1. Nikki says:

    My absolute go to book is Baking Day by The Australian Women’s Weekly- never had a failure and I have cooked alot of the recipes. It also has a fantastic retro layout using Lauren Child-style collage throughout the book. I love Stephanie Alexander’s A Cooks Companion for different ways to use ingredients. I have been using the online database program Eat Your Books to get the best out my expanding recipe book collection.

  2. Sara K. says:

    Sigh…sometimes I miss the years when I enjoyed cooking. I’m in a season where my daughter is extremely picky and refuses to try ANYTHING new! I remind myself to be grateful that she eats her vegetables without a fuss, but otherwise it has drastically limited my cooking. I just don’t have time to cook one meal for her and one for me, and I don’t want to set that expectation with her. My rule is if I make something I know she will eat, then that’s dinner. If I make something I know she doesn’t like (beef stew for instance), I make something else for her. Gives me the freedom to eat what I like occasionally 🙂

    Someday I hope she grows out of this phase so that I can easily try new recipes again!

    As far as favorite cookbooks, one of my go to baking cookbooks is called the Mom’s Big Book of Baking by Lauren Chattman. I haven’t used all the recipes yet, but I have tried quite a few and they always turn out great! I recommend the sprinkle cookies 🙂

  3. I don’t absolutely love cooking, but I love reading about food. Besides the ones you mentioned, one of my favorite food memoirs is Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. I love her recipes and regularly make her black bean burritos and spaghetti with caramelized onions.

    • Ruthanne says:

      Dinner: A Love Story, is a fabulous family friendly cook book. Interesting for parents but great ideas on feeding littles, especially the picky ones. Jenny has a great website too with many recipes in addition to those in the book. Good food, easy to get on the table.

      • Heather says:

        Another vote for Jenny Rosenstrach’s cookbooks but my favorite is Dinner: The Playbook because it’s full of easy weeknight meals that my whole family likes. Our favorite is the slow cooker Korean short ribs.

    • Anne says:

      I’ve read her book and made a few of the recipes (although all these enthusiastic comments about Dinner: A Love Story have me wanting to revisit the book) but I’m certain I’ve never tried those two recipes. Thanks for the nudge. 🙂

  4. Laura says:

    I love any cookbook with PICTURES. No picture and I think I can’t do it…..I need to know where I’m going with the recipe…have some idea via a picture to gain my confidence. I guess this is why I love watching INA on the food network!!

  5. Quen says:

    I also love all of the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks. I love making her roast chicken for the rest if the family (I’m vegetarian), and so many other wonderful recipes that I can eat, too. Other favorites are Smitten Kitchen (such a beautiful book), anything in the Giada series. All if of the Chloe’s Vegan a Kitchen books (amazing recipes….you won’t miss the meat or dairy), Oh She Glows, and anything in the Happy Herbivore series. I can’t wait to checkout the Rick and Lanie cookbook. My husband and I used to watch his PBS cooking show when his daughter was young.

    • Kate says:

      Oh She Glows is my new favorite, especially now that I’ve cut out dairy and am trying to eat less meat. I’ve also had great success with Peas and Thank You and More Peas, Thank You by Sarah Matheney.

  6. Amy S says:

    The Slow Cooker Revolution 2 is actually my favorite. The recipes require less prep work than the first book, which is what I am usually after when using my slow cooker.

    Anything by Cooks Illustrated is usually a winner! I have the family cookbook and the cooks country one, along with the best recipes you have listed above. We watch the show on PBS all the time, and my husband is always on me to make whatever they are making!

    • Heather says:

      Amy, someone pointed out your post to me because I posted below how I have the Slow Cooker Revolution book and I felt like it was too much work! I felt like I had to cook a whole meal before even using the slow cooker. I did two recipes and looked at a couple of others and decided it wasn’t worth it. I’m interested now in the second book since it seems like it doesn’t require as much work, which is nice for me!

      • Amy S says:

        Oh good! It’s one of my favorite cookbooks. It still isn’t a super easy crock pot recipe book, but most of the prep work is simple. Two of my favorite recipes are the chicken lettuce wraps and the mexican shredded pork tacos.

  7. liz n. says:

    Cooks’ Illustrated consistently publishes excellent cookbooks! And one that I think should be a standard in every kitchen, especially for young men and women living on their own for the first time, is Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here For The Food.” I also love James Beard’s books, “Beard on Bread” and “The New James Beard” being two that I’ve used most often. “The Silver Palate Cookbook” is another good, general-purpose primer, and “Maida Heatter’s Cakes” is such a classic.

    I also love cookbooks created by church groups, service groups, and those that are regionally specific. You learn so many new things from them, and find so many culturally traditional recipes that otherwise you might never know of.

    • Anne says:

      I’ve never used a James Beard cookbook, even though I was inspired to find out more about him and his work after his significant role in Ruth Reichl’s novel Delicious! Thanks for the recommendations.

  8. Betsy says:

    Oh how I love cookbooks! The one I use/reference most is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. It’s great because it always has an answer for the question, “now what am I going to do with these [fill in the blank — chicken breasts, blueberries, fresh pumpkin, etc.]”. This book is chock full of great ideas.

    I also find the recipes in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook are flawless, and I’m a big Ina Garten fan. I’ve also found many new favorites in the Food 52 cookbook(s) and website.

    • Tracy S. says:

      How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is also very good. I love How Mark Bittman does riffs on basic recipes–once you have the basics down he gives you twenty variations!

  9. My absolute favorite cookbooks are:
    1. Against All Grain by Danielle Walker- so many beautiful pictures and every single recipe is delicious. Every single one of them.
    2. Meals Made Simple by Danielle Walker- I’ve only had this one for a few weeks but it’s quickly become a go-to book in my kitchen. Lately, I’ve really liked the meal plans that she added to the book.
    3. Betty Crocker Cookbook

  10. Sarah H. says:

    Thanks for the recommendations! Most of these are new to me, but I do love love love the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I didn’t know the author was working on another one, but that made my day. 🙂

    • Anne says:

      Your go-to cookbooks are completely new to me, which is delightful, because I adore cookbook browsing. The one exception is Cooks’ Illustrateds’ Make-Ahead cookbook, which is what I used to thoroughly stock our freezer before the birth of our last baby. Between those meals and the food people brought us, we ate great for months. Those were the days. 🙂

  11. Ana says:

    I like The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters, and Practical Paleo by Diane Sanfilippo. On Rue Tatin by Susan Loomis is also an excellent foodie memoir.

  12. Leigh Kramer says:

    I didn’t know Rick Bayless did a cookbook with his daughter! That’s fantastic. Among my go-tos not mentioned here: Dinner: A Love Story, Homemade With Love, and Pioneer Woman. I still need to get a copy of Smitten Kitchen!

  13. Jessica says:

    Oh, interesting on Well Fed 1 vs 2! I just bought one and started my first Whole 30 yesterday (gulp). I also LOVE Smitten Kitchen and Deb but can’t bring myself to even think about opening it this month 🙂

    Some of my other faves are Jerusalem by Ottolenghi, Essential Pepin, and Dinner a Love Story.

  14. Nancy B says:

    Hi Anne–I’m so excited to see you like one of my favorite cookbooks–Rick and Lanie’s Excellent Kitchen Adventures. I met them when they were promoting the book. It was my daughter’s very first book signing. She was six weeks old and cried when I tried to sit down. I stood in the back doing the mama sway. Why do babies want us to stand up? Anyway, when I got to the signing table, I said, “sorry about my crabby baby.” I felt bad about how noisy she was when he and Lanie were speaking. He said, “Oh, your baby is great!” and Lanie reached out and stroked her little foot. Awww! Rick brings chips and guacamole to his book signings and sometimes gives away jars of his salsa. He’s so nice. I blogged about this book, too, here:

    So my go to cookbooks are Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for More Food and all his Good Eats books. I also love love love America’s Test Kitchens Best Make-Ahead Recipe book.I have many other faves, but I this comment has been long enough already.

    By the way, I went to a couple of Alton’s book signings, too. He tells the audience that families with small children should come to the front of the line. Isn’t that nice?

    • Anne says:

      I love that story about Rick and Lanie! (Now I’m wondering how old she is now….)

      Alton Brown came through town last year and I missed him! Blast. But you reminded me that I haven’t looked at any of his cookbooks in ages, and haven’t ever seen I’m Just Here for More Food. Thanks for that; I need to check it out.

  15. Corrie Anne says:

    I think you would love The Zenbelly Cookbook (paleo cuisine) and Gather is another beautiful paleo book, but that one I would just check out from the library. I love the Well Fed cookbooks and her whole attitude of “let’s try it like this.” I want to check out the Smitten Kitchen cookbook for sure!

    • Anne says:

      Thanks for the recommendations! (And YES to Smitten Kitchen. It’s so well done. But not anywhere near paleo, so prepare yourself for skipping or heavily modifying some recipes.)

  16. Beth says:

    10 Dollar Dinners by Melissa d’Arabian, The recipes are quick, she gives tons of advice, and everything I have made from this book has been a hit

    • Laura says:

      thanks for sharing! I love cooking but my kids don’t always appreciate the fancy stuff and I’m in need of easy, practical recipes occasionally.

  17. Heather says:

    I like the America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks. I thought that I would like the slow cooker one that you mentioned above since I love their other books, but I don’t. I honestly only tried a few recipes and then quit. The recipes that I tried I felt like I had to cook the whole meal then just place it in the slow cooker for a couple of hours to cook a little more. It was too much work for me when I was looking for something easier to do. I’ll be interested to see what you think about it. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I really liking the Vegan Slow Cooker cookbook by Robin Robertson. The recipes have been easy to do and they have tasted good. I’m not vegan, but our family is trying to eat less meat 🙂

    • Bonnie says:

      Somebody commented above that Test Kitchen’s second slow cooker cookbook had recipes that require less prep. I’m with you: the beauty of slow cookers is just throwing it all in there.

  18. Corby says:

    I’m cooking my way through The Ultimate Southern Living cookbook. Love trying new thing. Also use Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, Sweet Serendipity, At My Grandmother’s Knee, Southern Living Slow Cooker Cookbook.

  19. lehall says:

    I’m feeding a family with different tastes and food approaches, and I LOVE Ellyn Satter. She talks about raising healthy eaters and helps diffuse the “my kid doesn’t like it” thing. Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family combines lots of information about working with different eating styles with practical tips and some recipes. Some foodie types are shocked by her insistence that we should loosen up about our food rules, but she has brought a huge dose of god sense to our family and we can modify her suggestions to fit our life and family.

  20. I’m contemplating this phrase “stress baking” that you used. What does that mean? Do people bake things when they’re stressed? I’ve been known to eat horrible-for-you baked goods when I’m stressed, but that usually takes the form of running to the Wawa for a doughnut. I think I would find the baking more stressful than whatever is stressing me out in the first place!
    I don’t have a favorite cookbook (I’m not really trying a lot of new recipes right now) but I did get the new Martha Stewart one pot cookbook, and it seems promising.

    • liz n. says:

      When I am overly stressed, I bake and/or clean. I think it’s both a way to physically work out mental tension and introduce order and results when other things have you wound too tightly.

    • Tracy S. says:

      When we stayed at the Ronald McDonald House for several weeks during my daughter’s surgery, one woman baked cookies every night to deal with her stress. She timed it so that they were coming out of the oven when the other exhausted parents returned from the hospital around 9 PM. My younger kids who were with me still remember her fondly.

    • Anne says:

      I’m surprised you’ve never heard the phrase before! Maybe it’s a regional thing?

      It’s a cousin to compulsive cleaning: baking (NOT cooking, that’s an important distinction!) is a formulaic activity that requires focus but no decisions, and yields a predictable result. It’s tactile, which is important. (I personally took out my stress on my kitchen walls this afternoon, and as a result they’re now a lovely pale blue-grey instead of the ugly brown they were when we moved in. Different format, but largely the same: requires focus, but zero decision making, tactile, and the outcome wasn’t in doubt: those walls were going to be blue when I was finished!)

  21. Grace says:

    Interesting! I’ve never been one to buy cookbooks at all. With the internet, and especially now with Pinterest, I don’t see the need. I also follow blogs like Minimalist Baker, Oh She Glows, and Green Kitchen Stories. I love trying new recipes and experimenting in the kitchen, but I find all the info I need online.

    • Anne says:

      No, I don’t suppose one “needs” cookbooks anymore. Even though the recipes from, say, the Smitten Kitchen cookbook aren’t available online, goodness knows there are plenty of other good recipes to choose from on the web! I love cookbooks for their browsability. Cookbooks are inspiring to me and make me want to get into the kitchen; websites get the job done, but it’s not nearly as much fun.

  22. 'Becca says:

    Better Homes & Gardens New Cookbook from the 1960s, picked up at a yard sale for $1, is our go-to cookbook for typical American foods. The cake and cookie recipes are especially good.

    The Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen and the one sequel we have, The Enchanted Broccoli Forest, are charming handwritten vegetarian cookbooks. We love the gazpacho, baked beans, and yogurt-herb bread recipes especially.

    Best Recipes from the Backs of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and Jars by Ceil Dyer contains some gems (along with many recipes that use a stupid amount of processed junk but can be adapted). Honey Bear Brownies are awesome! This book also was my source of inspiration for Raisin Bran Bread which I now make in a much healthier and cheaper way that does not involve cereal flakes.

  23. Betsy says:

    This is eye-opening for me since I don’t use recipes to cook, really (only for baking.) I look at a recipe as a point of departure. And I’m still stuck in the past (probably) using the Rombauer classic, Joy of COOKING. What I like is that it has info on everything from making jelly to how long to cook a turkey to how to blanche green beans. Tons of info. And it has great basic cake recipes. I’m dying to look at some of yours. Maybe I need to treat myself to a new cookbook. 🙂

  24. Laura says:

    My favorites are The Moosewood Cookbook (or any Mollie Katzen), Great Easy Meals -Food Network (although sometimes the “easy” part is debatable), and From Asparagus to Zucchini- which gives preparation instruction, uses for, and good recipes for all manner of vegetables. Very helpful when you’re not quite sure what to do with that rutabaga from your CSA box. Any suggestions on recipes that both kids and adults like?

  25. Virginia says:

    I’m a cookbook collector (as I see you are too!!) and I don’t have any of the ones you mentioned! I shall put them on my endlessly long amazon wish list. 🙂

    I have always wanted a Barefoot Contessa cookbook. I just love her show and would probably faint if I could get her in my kitchen and have her teach me all her ways.

    My favorite cookbooks are all three from Pioneer Woman, the Betty Crocker cookbook we got for our wedding, and Giada de Laurientis’ pasta cookbook. Ooh, my sister in law just bought me a cookbook for my birthday called The Book Lover’s Cookbook. I haven’t made anything out of it yet, but oh my goodness, reading it has been so much fun!!

    • Anne says:

      My kids adore The Pioneer Woman’s books! (I like them, but not as much as they do.) And I need to know more about this Book Lover’s Cookbook. Off to look it up…. 🙂

  26. Joelle says:

    I love that you still use physical cookbooks – I tend to print recipes off the interwebs far too often, though I have pulled out a few of my cookbooks lately. There’s just something about fall that makes me love to cook!

  27. Tracy S. says:

    Moosewood Restaurant: Simple Suppers has been my go-to for about the last four years. It is mostly vegetarian with a few fish recipes and they are all meant to be real-family weeknight meals so they are not too fussy. I have made almost everything in it and some recipes my children have made so often that they have changed over time into their own creations. I always pull it out when I plan the week’s meals.

    • Anne says:

      I’ve looked at that cookbook before but it’s been years. Thanks for the reminder. As I recall, it’s especially well-suited to the cooler months.

  28. Anne says:

    My husband bought me the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, all 13 seasons (or something). I cracked it open to find something, and the preciseness of the ingredients kind of stressed me out. My maximizer nature thought it was the *perfect* thing to ask for because the recipes are so tried and true! But they are so tried and true that they ask for odd things you might not have on hand, which makes making things on the fly not so easy. I need easy. Thus, I do not use it much! Ha!

    • Anne says:

      I love America’s Test Kitchen and Cooks’ Illustrated—and yet I hear what you’re saying. I think sometimes their very perfection plays into my perfectionist tendencies, and bad things happen as a result. (One of which is me not opening their cookbooks!)

  29. Jenna says:

    I have many of these on my shelf as well. One series that I turn to very frequently as well are the Everyday Food books. They are all wonderful with straightforward recipes, many of which can be easily put together on a weeknight.

  30. erin says:

    when you mentioned foodie memoirs, i immediately thought, “a homemade life! bread & wine!”
    and then looked at your list…
    bam! right at the top.
    both awesome…though i loved b & w considerably more.

    loving following along. new here.
    so glad i found you.

  31. Ariel says:

    As a New Orleans native, my personal favorite cookbook is Cooking Up a Storm, a compilation of recipes from the Times Picayune post-Katrina. It has the best jambalaya and red beans and rice recipes I’ve found. Some of the recipes have become ones I make all the time, and some are just really interesting (like rosemary cookies)!

  32. Mary B. says:

    My go-to cookbook is “A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen” by Jack Bishop. I have made dozens of the recipes out of it, and literally every single one has been exceptional in every way. We are not professed vegetarians, but since we live on such a tight budget we only buy meat once or twice a month. Bishop;s delicious recipes make going without meat much less painful!

  33. Faith R says:

    Oh I LOVE my smitten kitchen cookbook!! The pancakes recipe is AMAZING, even if you make it without the peaches. I love that her kitchen is tiny and the way she writes about her recipes is so endearing.
    I wish I could think of another one to recommend. Simple Fresh Southern (by the Lee Bros) is fun. Even if you don’t ever make the recipes just reading the cookbook is an enjoyable experience.

  34. Stephanie says:

    So many great ideas here! This is the perfect time of year for this post, too–I have plenty of time to check some interesting candidates out from the library, bake/cook from them for a couple of weeks, and then put the most promising ones on my Christmas list! =)

    One cookbook that’s already there is Keepers: Two Home Cooks Share Their Tried-and-True Weeknight Recipes.

    • Sandi says:

      I have to second “Keepers.” This one is my go-to book when I’m struggling to find something yummy and quick (and I just started thinking about supper an hour before I need to serve it.) Most of the recipes are fairly healthy (as someone who eats grain-free and sugar-free, I can utilize all the recipes except for the pasta ones.). It also focuses on being resourceful, using what you have. It is very family-focused as well.

  35. I had to look up the recipe for Indonesian Ginger Chicken right away. Looks wonderful and simple! I’ve pared down my cookbooks considerably since I use recipes online at least 75% of the time. When I am in the mood for cookbook browsing, my go-to ones are Rachael Ray 365, the Betty Crocker Big Red Cookbook, Food That Says Welcome (Barbara Smith), and an old community cookbook, The Stuffed Cougar.

    Chattavore (local food blog!) has raved over and over about the Smitten Kitchen site and cookbook, so it’s one I may ask for at Christmas. I have tried several recipes from her site with great success – especially the delicious all-butter pie crust.

  36. Laura says:

    Laurie Colwin’s “More Home Cooking” is of the Cooking Memoir genre and my favorite. I LOVE reading it and have loved the recipes from it that I have tried. I’d love to find the first one, presumably named “Home Cooking” someday! She had a terrific voice and sadly, passed away too young.

  37. Sara says:

    I cannot believe there weren’t more Mark Bittman “how to cook everything” fans. I often reference that and the New Best Recipe (my #2) for a particular dish, and then end up with a hybrid…personally I find the extensive notes in New Best Recipe gives me the confidence to pare down the extra steps and know exactly how it will affect the dish. Their meaty lasagna is A-mazing!!

  38. Jere says:

    I have been reading all of the comments and stopped to say aloud.. “Jere you are 91 years old. Why are you reading 87 comments on favorite cookbooks?” I didn’t answer because I knew why..I love Cookbooks (like about a 100) and love to cook. It’s a good thing. Thank you Anne for this list. Jere

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