Yes, I love The French Laundry Cookbook, but it is not my go-to tome for weeknight and special event dinners. What I seek out when needing reliable, tasty, appealing, healthy dishes is found in the following cookbooks. In reviewing these selections, I am struck by the fact that, with the exception of Julia’s book, all are cookbooks with narratives—with Jacques and Dom’s books being more in the memoir genre. I hope you enjoy. What are your top five cookbooks?
- The Silver Palate Cookbook (Rosso and Lukins): My copy is old and splashed with food, especially the pages about the layered vegetable terrine. BTW, that recipe is incredibly complex, but it is also incredibly tasty and impressive. Ditto for the Big Bread sandwich. In between these catering feats, there are some truly great weeknight chicken dishes, salads, soups, and desserts. And, if you need inspiration for menus, there are plenty of suggestions. I particularly like the suggestions for picnics.
- Les Halles Cookbook (Bourdain): If you want to master bistro cooking, this is the source. Recipes for big cuts of beef are here as well as simple fare. This is the only cookbook I’ve ever used for rillettes, that scrumptious porky treasure. Old School skills are highlighted. With Bourdain’s intelligent and engaging intros, each recipe is a reward, and all are very accessible to the home cook.
- The Way to Cook (Child): I know, everyone wants to forge their way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia’s oeuvre to authentic French cuisine. (If you are like me, just watch the movie Julie and Julia and cry your eyes out. . . then eat a cube of butter.) However, you can get the best from her stove out of this book. Here you will find master recipes that you will adapt to other popular variations under her direction. I love her steamed eggplant and her fish dishes. Plus, all manner of breads, pies, desserts, and soups to nuts. If I am stranded on a desert island, this would be the cookbook I would choose to bring (in that case, it would be a dessert island).
- Chez Jacques: Traditions and Rituals of a Cook (Pepin): I used to be in love with Julia. But now I think my fickle heart has turned to Jacques Pepin. Like Julia, he has the entire traditional French culinary world covered. Interspersed with recipes, are Jacques’s recollections about his family and life in the kitchen. In classic Jacques style are dishes that are unpretentious, yet elegant. Happy Cooking.
- Eat This . . . It’ll Make You Feel Better (DeLuise): Rounding out my favs is a celebrity cookbook. Please don’t hate me. It’s hard to not love a guy who calls eggplant the nectar of the gods. This is like your best family recipe book collection, except your family members are Nancy Reagan, Burt Reynolds, Dean Martin, and Dinah Shore. If you are younger than 50 you probably have no fricking clue who Dom DeLuise is. (If you do, you have special parents.) There is absolutely nothing in this cookbook that is out of reach of the average home cook. Add to this Dom’s priceless stories about his family, and you will be ready to buy Brooklyn Bridge for a taste of his Momma’s Homemade Sausage. Favorite story: “Oh, Jesus, Where’s Your Face?” Amazing recipe: Momma’s Sunday Sauce. If you can get your hands on this out of print cookbook, go for a mortal (sin, that is).