The 10 Cookbooks I Use Most
I married in 1964, which means I’ve been cooking for over 50 years.
My first real cookbook was the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook you see in the picture. It’s the third printing of the Revised Edition. I got it for a wedding present. It was the first in a collection that now spans three bookcases. That’s a lot of cookbooks! Obviously, I don’t use all of them equally. Some are very specialized and some no longer fit the way we eat. But I still use this first one, even though I’ve added more recent editions to my collection which include microwave, crock pot, and food processor recipes.
The other two books below I also refer to constantly. I will tell you more about them and the other seven I’ve used a lot through the years. You can see how I’ve marked them up with sticky tags and bookmarks to help me find my favorites easily. Though some of these books are now out of print, they are well worth owning if you can pick them up. I know one can find lots of good recipes on-line, but somehow having them in a book that’s all mine is different. I can open them whenever I need inspiration and see the delicious looking pictures, look over the ingredients, and see if I want to try something new. As I discuss my top ten favorite cookbooks, I will also point out which recipes are my favorites. Please follow me down this culinary trail.
Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Bookby Better Homes and Gardens
This loose-leaf binder edition is designed to hold any recipes from the magazine you want to add to the recipes it contains. It also lies flat and allows for easy page removal so you don’t have to have space for the whole book where you are cooking. Here are some of my favorite recipes in this book:
p. 71 Steamed Brown Bread
p. 86 Swedish Rye bread. I’ve been making this for years and everyone begs for more
p.131 Molasses Taffy — the kind you pull at a taffy pull
p. 191 Baked Custard: the ultimate comfort food for sick people
p. 165 Italian Meat Sauce: This is the sauce that gets oodles of compliments, the simmer for hours kind, but it’s worth it.
Besides my favorites above, you will find plenty of your own. And, of course, it has all the basic information you would expect from a good general cookbook — helps on meal planning, nutrition, ingredients, measuring hints, substitutions, etc. I highly recommend it or any of its later editions. I just know where my favorite recipes are in this edition, and I don’t mind the vintage illustrations.
New Cook Book, Limited Edition “Pink Plaid” : For Breast Cancer Awareness (Better Homes & Gardens) For the Way We Cook and Eat Today
If you aren’t a fan of vintage cookbooks, or you are just beginning the cooking adventure, this is the book for you. It was updated in 2005 and takes into account all the modern conveniences we have now. It has detailed information on cooking equipment every kitchen needs, information on cooking at high altitudes, explanations of all the important cooking terms and ingredients with great color illustrations. It has nutrition, food safety, and storage information, entertaining basics, and even how to properly set a table. I love the color illustrations for the pasta, and the beans, rice, and grains chapters.
There’s a whole chapter on crock pot cooking — such a convenience for those who work all day and want to come home to dinner. Recipes are also labeled if they are no fat, low-fat, or fast, so that you can see at a glance what meets your needs. Many recipes use fresh ingredients, though you can also find lots of recipes that use convenience or packaged ingredients. There’s a great section on how to choose fresh fruits and vegetables in their peak seasons and how to best store them. There’s a beautifully illustrated section on the more unfamiliar fruits and vegetables, as well, that includes the same information on peak seasons and how to choose and store. Directions are given for cooking vegetables either conventionally or in the microwave. In fact, whenever microwaving will work in a recipe, the alternate instructions for microwave cooking appear.
One of my favorite sections is the pink section at the back for breast cancer awareness. This 66-page section has the most up-to-date recommendations on lowering your cancer risk through diet, exercise, screening, and keeping a healthy weight. The recipes in this section make the most of the foods that are associated with lower cancer risk. The illustrations will make you want to fix these recipes right away. I highly recommend this book.
With Love from Darling’s Kitchen: Treasured Recipes for Family and Friends With Love from Darling’s Kitchen: Treasured Recipes for Family and Friends If you buy this in paperback, as I did, I suggest you reinforce the cover and spine with clear contact paper at the beginning. This is the only cookbook I own that is literally falling apart with use. It has some of my absolute favorite recipes that I use over and over. Here are some of them:
p. 67 Broccoli & Cauliflower Crustless Quiche with Onions, Cheese, and Bacon
p. 261 Royal Chocolate Fudge Gateau with Chocolate Rum Buttercream — You make this in a food processor and you can have it made in an hour. I don’t even bother with the buttercream for family use. I just sprinkle with sifted powered sugar
p. 274 Company Fudge Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Mousse Frosting. I used to make this every Christmas Eve because it was Rich’s absolute favorite cake. You have to separate the egg whites on this one, so I probably won’t make it anymore now that Rich is gone. The recipe above this one is almost as good and much easier to prepare. But if you want a cake that will really wow people, this is the one to make — especially if those people love chocolate.
There are many other great and uncommon recipes in this book, but you will have to explore the rest yourself. Since the book is out of print, you may want to check out this link to it on eBay.
Some cookbooks are just lists of recipes and you refer to them. Others have stories with their recipes and you want to read them. This is one of those, since each recipe has a personal note from the baker, and the recipes are grouped by baker. Most recipes use whole grain flours.
If you have never baked bread before , this book will explain the things you need to know about equipment, ingredients, and technique. There are pictures to show you how to knead, when a loaf has risen enough, and how to shape loaves. Most pictures are in black and white, but there is an occasional color picture to make you drool. Here are some of my favorite recipes in this book:
p. 64 Ever-Ready Bran Muffins. Makes about 7-dozen. You can make the dough and store what you don’t use in the refrigerator — then take some out whenever you want to bake them fresh before breakfast.
p. 85 Corn Bread. This is made with whole wheat flour and cornmeal.
p.245 100% Whole Wheat Bread. Makes 4 large loaves
This book has an array of sourdough recipes, including several different starters. You will want to try many of them. You can find this book on eBay.
This is another one that’s falling apart from use. It has a special section at the front with dietary guidelines and menu plans for healthy eating , as well as a great section on making homemade substitutes for the convenience package mixes for quick breads, dressings, and sauces you may buy at the store. It has recipes for making your own relishes, salsa, ketchup, Dijon mustard, mock sour cream, mock mayonnaise, and mock sour cream, as well.
It has a lot of good soup recipes, and my favorite is on p.56 — Hearty Black Bean Soup. Whenever I’m in need of really quick hot meal I can make in a flash, I turn to page 67 and make Quick Steak Pizzaiola. It uses minute steaks, garlic, and canned tomatoes. I try to keep minute steaks in the freezer, just in case. Add a baked potato or heavy bread and a big green salad and that’s dinner.
The color pictures of meals will tempt you, and you will want to explore this book on your own to find your favorites. Recipes list their nutritional breakdowns per serving for cholesterol, fat types, protein, sodium, carbohydrates, added sugar, and fiber.
This book is arranged by the month of the year so that each month you can find breads appropriate for the season. From pancakes, bagels, and donuts to all kinds of raised and sourdough breads, this book has it all. It’s a book you will want to own if you bake any kind of bread. The edition I have is pictured above. Amazon did not have my book as their default picture.
This book begins by giving you reasons to make bread, a list of bread-making necessities, a list of nice things to work with (both ingredients and equipment) and a list of options. Instead of having general bread-making instructions at the front, it covers the basics by using a basic easy white bread recipe and telling you all the important stuff you need to know as you go through that recipe. This is followed by a brief checklist to help you review the directions in a quick summary. It’s a very practical book.
Also at the beginning you will find information on the basic types of bread: quick breads, corn breads, steamed breads, little breads, fired breads, sweet and festive breads, and sourdough breads (with five different starter recipes) Here are some of my favorite recipes from the 1979 edition I have.
p. 139 Cream and Honey Whole Wheat Bread
p. 164 Sourdough Prune Nut Bread
p. 166 Walnut Oatmeal Bread
I have the original spiral edition of this, but it’s no longer available. This new edition has been updated for the way people cook and eat today, but still puts an emphasis on eating more plant foods and fewer meats and balancing amino acids to make sure the right amount of protein is in the diet. The recipes focus on health, economy, and saving world resources, but they are also very tasty. Some of my favorites come from this book. The edition I have and love is the 1976 edition, spiral bound, with the white cover and red title. The recipes I share below are from that one.
p. 78 Basic Corn Bread
p. 270 Apple Crisp
p. 283 Roman Apple Cake
p. 285. Oatmeal Cake — the cake I most like to make
p. 292 Date or Prune Bars. Easy and nutritious
This comes in both paperback and Kindle edition. I can’t imagine cooking from the Kindle. You can read the first few pages when you follow the link to Amazon’s product page to get a feel for the author’s philosophy and motivation for writing.
The New Greengrocer Cookbook This is an updated version of the cookbook I have and love, The Green Grocer Cookbook by Joe Carcione. It has been expanded to include even more seasonal recipes to help you figure out what to do with the fresh produce you have delivered or pick up at farmers market or grow yourself. My version doesn’t have any gorgeous photos, and this one may not have them either, but you will find delicious recipes and ideas for how to use the fruits and vegetables you get in season. It’s arranged by season, and then by the fruits and vegetables that are ready to be picked during that season. My book begins in September with pears, grapes, pomegranates, persimmons, cauliflower, sweet potatoes and yams. It continues in the same vein month by month until August. In my edition, there is also a section at the end for soups and stews, and a section each for exotic and endangered fruits and vegetables. Among the endangered Joe lists the fig, crab apples, white corn and green celery and rhubarb. You can find both the new version and old edition that I have if you click through. I’m very tempted to get the newer edition to add to what I already have.
The Joy of Cooking
You know I couldn’t leave it out.
This was my mother-in-law’s favorite cookbook, so , of course, I got a copy, too. I guess this is the all-time cooking reference, and if you don’t have a copy, you should get one. Were I buying mine today, I’d get the latest edition so that it would include, I hope, instructions for microwave and crock pot recipes and a greater emphasis on healthy eating.
The Joy of Cooking I use this primarily for reference. It covers just about everything, and the section on ingredients is well worth the price of the book. I have the Bobbs-Merrill 10th printing, June 1978, so I won’t even try to give you page numbers. The reviews say this new anniversary edition has slow cooker recipes included for the first time. It’s tempting, but my husband doesn’t think I need any more cookbooks since I hardly ever have time to cook anymore.
Barb’s Absolutely Essential Personal Recipe Notebook
You can’t buy it in any store.
This is the best one of all and I use it several times a week. This contains all my tried and true, tested in my own kitchen recipes. To keep everything in one place, I scan my favorite recipes from all my cookbook collections and paste them into here. I also put all those recipe clippings I’ve tried and we’ve liked in this book. Sometimes, rather than making a copy, I just write the name of the recipe and the book and page number of where to find it on the first page of every division. It’s a loose-leaf notebook of manageable size. I have four notebooks, actually. Three volumes hold recipes I haven’t tried yet, and this last one is where they go after they’ve been tested.
Having this book was very useful when we had to live temporarily in different places when my husband worked on contract. It’s also useful if you are sometimes at one house and sometimes at another. You just pick up one book and go. I do suggest you get a notebook of manageable size. The paper in mine is about 9.5 x 6.5. I also have some recipes from cooking classes that were regular binder size, and it’s much more awkward to use those notebooks.
Amazon has a binder just a tad smaller than the one I use that will do just as well as long as your paper matches. This one is red, just like mine. You can get it along with the matching paper and dividers here.
This lovely book is just the right size to be most useful. It has lined paper and is divided into twelve handy recipe categories so there is a place for everything. Fill it with your own recipes and it makes a great gift for someone just setting up housekeeping. The only problem some might have with it is that it is spiral-bound instead of loose leaf, so you can’t move the pages around or add to it. Click the book if you would like more details
Do you want your personal recipe book to look like mine?
I didn’t think so.
If they had been available back when I was getting started, I would have chosen one of these. It’s too late for me now. But maybe it’s not too late for you — or your daughter, or that friend who’s just starting to cook. Get someone off to a good start with one of these.
This would be a great bridal shower or house warming presents for someone who likes to cook. They can be personalized at no extra cost. Available as large notebooks that will contain computer printouts, as well as pocket folders you can add. They already come with four pockets to hold clippings until you can paste them in.