Editor's Picks: Top Ten Cookbooks

Editor's Picks: Top Ten Cookbooks

Reviews

Editor's Picks: Top Ten Cookbooks

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The Food Channel has a very large cookbook library. It’s a resource that we started more than 25 years ago; that’s a lot of books flying on and off the shelves. And, between e-books and “regular” books there doesn’t seem to be any slowing down of the popularity of a cookbook.

For some, reading a cookbook is like reading a good novel. It’s pure fantasy—something you enjoy reading about but will never really act on. For others, it’s serious business, a manual of chemistry that creates magic.

Because there are so many choices out there, we try periodically to point out some of our favorites, both new and old. This time it’s my turn, as The Food Channel editor, to make the picks. The editorial staff challenged me with the question, “What have you liked well enough to buy for yourself lately?”

So check out my current favorites and see where I spend my time (and my own money). Follow the links for the full story on each book!

How to Cook Everything
By Mark Bittman
Illustrations by Alan Witschonke
Wiley Publishing, Inc.

This is the book I liked well enough to buy twice. I have a hard copy and an electronic copy. I love the electronic copy because I can do a key word search and find just about anything I want quickly. (It really does hit on “everything.”) I have the hard copy because it’s great for simply perusing for ideas. I like picking it up on the weekend in my home kitchen and just randomly reading tips and tactics. Some of them I knew, some of them I have observed but never properly learned, some of them are new ideas that motivate me to get out the utensils and ingredients and start cooking!

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Sweet Chic
By Rachel Schifter Thebault
Foreword by Isaac Mizrahi
Ballantine Books

The author is the owner and head confectioner at Tribeca Treats, a Manhattan bakery that appeals to the sweet tooth of New York celebrities and celebrity-watchers. This book is enough to turn any home baker into a celeb, with recipes that are both interesting and doable. Some basic batters are included with lots of opportunities for creativity and flair.

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La Cucina Di Lidia
By Lidia Bastianich and Jay Jacobs
Broadway Books

I found Lidia’s restaurant in Kansas City long before everyone found her on PBS. And her cookbook, full of her personal memories of Italy, has long inspired me to take my own eventual and extended trip to that country. In other words, like any good cookbook, this one makes you want to taste everything in it. Lidia Bastianich is billed as the first lady of Italian cuisine, and her marketing includes a third QVC appearance on March 9, where she will be unveiling some new kitchen products on “Cooking with Q.”

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Alain Roby’s American Classics
By Alain Roby
Photographs by Dave Monk
Hadley Media, Inc.

For a thin volume, this cookbook gives you a huge amount of creativity. It’s divided by season, with an Apple Butter Pumpkin Pie for Autumn and an Orange Sponge Custard for Spring. Most of the recipes come with beautiful photos and range from the everyday (Chocolate Brownies) to the unusual (Brioche Pizza) to the nostalgic (Peach, Nectarine & Plum Cobbler with Spoon Biscuits) to the elegant (Chardonnay Poached Pear Tascido with Goat Cheese). One of the best parts, though, is the preface, where you learn more about Alain Roby and his adventures on the way to becoming a pastry chef.

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The Pioneer Woman Cooks
By Ree Drummond
Photos by Ree Drummond
William Morrow

We received an early copy of this book prior to full publication. I knew then it was one worth having. For one thing, it is a true success story of a food blogger who gained widespread attention. For another, it’s simply a great story, well told. So forget the recipes when you first get the book, and sit down to get acquainted with its author. The recipes aren’t bad, either. After all, who can argue with Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes or a dish called Chicken Spaghetti?

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Morning Glory Farm
By Tom Dunlop
Photos by Alison Shaw
Vineyard Stories

Some of the best cookbooks are tied to a memory or a story. This one is about Martha’s Vineyard Island . . . a favorite destination of my family. The Morning Glory Farm cookbook takes me back to a place where priorities are straight, where people are rooted and secure, where intelligent conversation prevails, and where good, locally grown food is part of it all. This book gives you the recipe for Mom’s Bread and Butter Pickles, Curried Butternut Squash Soup, and Morning Glory Zucchini Bread.

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Commander’s Kitchen

By Ti Adelaide Martin and Jamie Shannon, Photography by Eugenia Uhl
Broadway Books

Talk about an icon. Anyone who visits New Orleans knows that Commander’s Palace is at the top of the list when considering the many fine dining choices you have there. And the release of the Commander’s Kitchen cookbook takes you deeper into its history while giving you some of its most famous recipes, like the one for Turtle Soup. Do you have what it takes to try that one in your home kitchen?

The restaurant is the flagship property of one branch of the renowned Brennan family. Ti Adelaide Martin, a daughter of that family, got with the former Executive Chef, Jamie Shannon, to create this book—and continues to carry out many of its recipes with current Executive Chef Tory McPhail.

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Gale Gand’s Brunch
By Gale Gand with Christie Matheson
Photographs by Ben Fink
Clarkson Potter/Publishers

I think it was the Almond Ciabatta French Toast that first sold me on this book. Well, that, and the fact that I had several other Gale Gand books that I loved. But the picture of this French Toast, heavily littered with sliced almonds, just sums up the twists and turns that this cookbook takes you through. Of course, when I turn the page, it’s the Baked Cinnamon-Apple French Toast . . .and 98 other recipes for what this former TV host calls “the weekend’s best meal.”

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The Good Stuff
By Spike Mendelsohn with Micheline Mendelsohn
Photography by Joe Shymanski
John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

When you’ve had enough fancy food and are looking for something to satisfy your cravings for a hamburger, here’s the cookbook for you. This one is all about “burgers, fries, shakes, wedges, and more.” It’s 120 recipes that the author calls “a rallying cry” for all-American food.

This cookbook is full of full-page, decadent, amazing looking photos to go along with many of the recipes, so you know just how the Toasted Marshmallow Shake should look. You’ll see Mendelsohn at work at the toasting station (and read his rule: “You cannot eat hamburgers without toasted buns.”). And just try looking at the photo next to the recipe for Baked Sweet Potato fries without checking to see if you have any sweet potatoes in stock!

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Mexican Everyday

By Rick Bayless, Photography by Christopher Hirsheimer
W.W. Norton & Company

You can’t be in the business of food and not be a Rick Bayless fan. He’s approachable, social media-savvy, always has a story, and creates great food. I picked up my copy of Mexican Everyday while in Xoco, one of three restaurants he has on the same street corner in Chicago. [For our review of Xoco, click here.]

This is a cookbook that offers insight into another culture and, beyond that, gives  you the rules for operating within that culture. So you’ll find the pantry basics for Mexican cooking, illustrated, with directions on how to choose everything from chiles to limes to tostadas. Did you know there was a Mexican oregano, not related to Mediterranean oregano, for example?

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