I must have more than a thousand cookbooks lining the shelves of my kitchen, dining room and office. But that doesn’t mean I use them all. There are only two shelves, in fact, holding books from which I regularly cook. Here are some of them with notes about others I like to check for reference, specific cuisines or to read just for fun.
The book I use most is the one Julia Child once told me is her favourite of those she’s penned: The Way To Cook (Knopf). This is where I look when checking how to make a cheese soufflé (hers is the best recipe going), various kinds of pastry including puff, and classics like Salad Nicoise (Child has no truck with fancying it up by using fresh, rather than canned, tuna.)
For Italian, I go to that country’s culinary maven Marcella Hazan — in particular, to: Essentials Of Classic Italian Cooking (Knopf). Her Osso Bucco, Chicken with Lemons (by stuffing two small lemons in the cavity, the bird’s skin puffs up and becomes crispy — delicious!) and Pork Braised in Milk (strange but amazingly good) are tops.
For the eclectic genre that is American cuisine, I often check The New Basics Cookbook (Workman) by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins, that now defunct cooking duo of Silver Palate cookbook fame. Sadly, many of the recipes need tweaking because they’re reduced from larger amounts used in the pair’s catering biz, but they have a knack for pairing bold, interesting flavours. See the pizza, meat and pie sections.
I love watching British TV chef Jamie Oliver do his thing. Unlike some I could mention (okay, Nigella Lawson), his recipes nearly always work. His first book, simply titled: Jamie Oliver: The Naked Chef, is the best. Try the Roast Leg of Lamb and Praline Semi-freddo.
I also enjoy British food writer Nigel Slater’s books, more as inspiration than as recipes to follow. His philosophy is to offer guidelines and leave the rest up to the home cook’s imagination, fridge contents etc.
For Indian fare, I turn to Madhur Jaffrey’s many tomes. For accessible Chinese, Nina Simonds, I’ve had good luck with Jewish baking, in particular the Hamantaschen from Jewish Holiday Baking (Doubleday), when using recipes by Canadian author Marcy Goldman.
I am constantly shocked by how often I come across recipes that have obviously not been tested. Or, if they have, have lost something in the translation.
In general, I trust recipes from Canadian Living magazine’s test kitchen, especially for basics like the excellent banana bread I found in The Complete Canadian Living Cookbook (Random House). Likewise for Chatelaine. Any book by Bonnie Stern is also a good bet.
I’m a fan of California cook Diane Rossen Worthington’s books, notably The Taste of Summer (Chronicle Books) and of Hamptons caterer Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa. I like her first book best, The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Potter), especially the Roasted Carrots and Indonesian Ginger Chicken. I’ve interviewed Pam Anderson — the ace American cook, not the other one known for less interesting attributes — and she knows her stuff. One of the original staff at the excellent Cook’s Magazine, Anderson is a thorough, no-nonsense, often inspired teacher. I like CookSmart (Houghton Mifflin) in which there are super recipes for Caesar Salad, easy-to-make French fries, and much more.
I am also a fan of the imaginative but simple, flavourful, fusion-inspired recipes in any of the several lovely books by young Aussie chef Donna Hay, anything by former Aussie now living in the U.K. Jill Dupleix and terrific U.S. chef and T.V. host Tyler Florence. I highly recommend the kitchen bible The New Best Recipe by the folks at super Cook’s Illustrated magazine and, for vegetarians, the Rebar cookbook by Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz.