From people who really know how to cook.
The Encyclopedia Bittmanica
- How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman
This was the perfect gift for me two or three years ago, when I was tiptoeing into home cooking and didn’t know how to do anything. This tells you how to do everything. No matter what you want to try, he’s got a great and almost always simple recipe for it. Whether you’re figuring out what to do with the Swiss chard you just got from your CSA or how to make Stir-Fried Spicy Beef with Basil or 16 servings of cheese quesadillas in 15 minutes, Mark is your man. Special Bonus: Each of the books runs about 1000 pages, so if you buy two you’ve got a pair of 5-pound weights for your strength-training routine.
- The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters
The Way I like to eat. When you just want to do the simplest thing with a simple ingredient, she’s got it exactly right. Whether it’s a cabbage that really wants to be sauerkraut or an egg that wants to be poached.
- Salt to Taste by Marco Canora
Marco’s the great chef at Hearth Restaurant in New York’s East Village, where everything just tastes great. If there’s a restaurant you love and the chef has a book, get it. I got Marco’s. I’ll never be Italian and I’ll never be a world-class chef. But I thought if I could make something half as good as Marco does, it’ll still be great. And it is. For Italian stuff that’s always delicious and almost always really easy.
Into the oven
- Roasting, A Simple Art by Barbara Kafka
For people who want to understand how things work and why you should do them – before you do them. Back when I thought I could only fire up the grill or boil water, this book taught me how to use the oven. For cooking, not storage.
- My Bread by Jim Lahey.
This will turn you into a baker. Of profoundly great bread. Without kneading. A real revelation. Once you’re a believer, you’ll work your Way through the pizzas, sandwiches and desserts.
Vegetables with a sense of humor
- The Dirt Candy Cookbook by Amanda Cohen
Unlike any cookbook you’ve ever seen. It’s in the “graphic novel” format, which I think of as the comic book style. Thoroughly entertaining and sometimes hysterically funny to read. Even if you never make a single recipe. But you will. Like her Portobello Mousse, a mind-blowing vegetarian foie gras.