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.
How to Cook Everything
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
The Best Recipes in the World
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.
The Art of Simple Food
Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook
Chez Panisse Vegetables
Chez Panisse Fruit
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.