Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Favorite Things: A Good All-Purpose Cookbook

Inspired by Oprah's "Favorite Things" and the holiday season, I thought I'd do a series of posts with some of my favorite food and cooking-related gift items.  Of course, I can't hand out free items like Oprah can, but hopefully I can inspire a few gifts for the foodies and entertainers in your life.  Enjoy!

If you know someone who just bought a home, just moved out on their own, or someone who just needs a little help in the dinner department, a good all-purpose cookbook makes a wonderful gift.  If you're looking for something more, give it alongside a quality nonstick skillet or a set of nested mixing bowls.

Here are a few of my favorites...

The Better Homes Cookbook - This is the cookbook I had around when I was learning to cook (my Mom's 1970's edition).  This book is made for the everyday home cook.  The recipes are no-frills, require very few special ingredients, and they're simple and easy.  This book will show you how to make everything from a basic egg to pancakes to pies, cakes, and classic meals.  Definitely spring for the binder version over the paperback.  It lays flat, making it easier to read the recipe while your hands are otherwise occupied.

The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook - This book is more or less a knockoff of the Better Homes book and it's a great collection of basic recipes that work every time (that's the ATK promise).  Its only flaw is that, typical of most ATK recipes, it often uses ingredients that your average person just doesn't keep on hand (like buttermilk).  If you're not afraid of trips to the store for recipe extras or you like to know your recipes are going to taste the best, this book is for you.

The Joy of Cooking - This is the classic tome that should be in everyone's kitchen.  It's a bit more advanced in some ways than the two books above but it's handy to have around when you need a very specific recipe (chances are, it's in there) or you want to know about certain ingredients.

The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook - This is my go-to book for entertaining.  All of Ina Garten's recipes are simple to make and she gives tips for making ahead when planning a party.  She truly is the diva of simple entertaining and her first book is the most valuable in her my opinion, of course.

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