I wanted to make this list ever since I embarked on this cookbook vortex. In pandemic time, nothing has given me this much joy and hope than cookbooks. I buy them primarily for the photography, and secondly the stories and recipes they bring.
Turns out, they are the best armchair travel I could ever hope for. Filled with evocative photos of food and places, they remind me of the things that make me feel alive. And lest you think it’s only about dreamy food and travel photos, cookbooks are also one of the best ways to read about other people’s roots and culture. Most of the time, cookbook writers explore their origins and the idea of home as seen through heirloom and memorable recipes alike. There is always some form of nostalgia somewhere, whether it’s the places they grew up in or a person or group of people who taught them how to make and taste food.
For this post, I’d love to share the cookbooks that I find the most useful, the ones I’ve used again and again, some I even attempted to cook cover to cover. More than just the pretty pictures, these cookbooks have taught me how to be a better cook, some of them introduced me to basic, delicious recipes that build my confidence in the kitchen, while others opened up a new world of innovative recipes which left me pleasantly surprised and more motivated to cook than ever. In case you’re in search of useful cookbooks, here are some I’d recommend earnestly (so far):
1. My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow
This was a pleasant surprise. Given Gwyneth’s reputation, I thought she’d have a lot of fancy, hard-to-find ingredients in this cookbook. Not at all. This is probably one of the simplest, most straightforward cookbooks I’ve ever read (and cooked from). That’s why I keep coming back to her recipes. They’re easy to make, healthier than most, and flavorful. I’m always on the lookout for low effort, high reward recipes, and this one definitely delivers. My favorites from this book are her chicken milanese with avocado salsa and her best stir-fried chicken (it is the best).
2. Cravings and Hungry For More by Chrissy Teigen
Oh Chrissy Teigen! Her fiery personality is written all over her cookbooks. If I want something that will make me go “uh-oh”, I cook her recipes. Chrissy is all about strong FLAVORS! Hot and spicy, sweet and tangy and spicy, salty and spicy, spicy and spicy. She doesn’t shy away from the cheese and the heat, just the way I love it. You will never get a bland dish from Chrissy Teigen (nor a healthy one), but rest assured most of her stuff will make your eyes wide and your taste buds dancing in delight. And she has the best recipe intros, a standup comedy show of filter-less food descriptions. What’s not to love?
3. Dining In by Alison Roman
Alison Roman is the reason I learned how to “cook cook.” I started watching her show last year, just when the pandemic hit. If you haven’t checked out her YouTube channel, you should! I fell in love with Alison’s devil-may-care attitude in the kitchen. She makes cooking look doable for beginner cooks like me, and she does it with STYLE (like that cool friend who just knows the best stuff).I learned to cook from her by simply following through her instructions and tips and joie de vivre of food. She has this “it looks messy, it doesn’t look cure, but I promise it’s going to be great” attitude.
So I then proceeded to cook her first cookbook Dining In. It was a bit of a challenge given that her cookbook mostly caters to the US market and I live in Manila, so some of the ingredients need a bit of improvisation (but Shopee is a haven for specialty ingredients). But most of the time, I’ll be rewarded with fresh versions of classic recipes, one that’s educational to me, DELICIOUS (she loves spicy food too), and inventive! I learn a lot from her. Here’s that time I tried to cook this cover-to-cover.
4. NYTimes Cooking No-Recipe Recipes by Sam Sifton
I have mixed feelings about this cookbook, but the reason I included it on this list is because I found myself returning to the great recipes on it time and time again. It’s that kind of cookbook where if it’s good, it’s really great, but when it’s bad ohhh boy I loathed it. BUT (a loaded but right there), the very good ones are some of my most beloved recipes so far as a novice homecook. Check out Sifton’s puttanesca, skillet chicken with wine and vegetables, all the salmon recipes, tallegio and honey sandwich, weeknight fried rice to name a few. Those are off the top of my head!
Looking back, it’s a great cookbook for new homecooks. The premise is that there are no measurements for the ingredients and the proceeding instructions are more or less loose steps on how to cook a dish. There’s a lot of room for improvisation, and that’s the best thing about it. As you cook through this book, you become more confident about your instincts as a cook. I highly recommend it. Here’s the time I cooked No-Recipe Recipes from cover to cover.
5. Plant Power Bowls by Sapana Chandra
This is my go-to cookbook for healthy eating (mostly after indulging on Chrissy’s naughty recipes lol). This is the cookbook that taught me I could eat vegetarian easily with a little bit of effort. Sapana Chandra simplifies plant-based eating by providing a very workable framework of creating your own plant power bowl—grains + cooked or raw veggies + vegetarian proteins + healthy grains + healthy fats + green leafy veggies + flavorful dressing = guilt-free delicious, filling food. You simply buy complementary vegetables and fruits, the usual suspects of your favorite beans (love chickpeas) and follow the many many flavor combinations Sapana suggests in each power bowl. It’s a fuss-free guide and power bowls pack a flavorful punch!
6. Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz
Everyone is cooking from this cookbook. And I mean everyone! And there’s good reason why. Claire Saffitz makes baking a doable (and very FUN) project. A project! And the pandemic has made it incredibly easy and important, even, to have projects. Claire’s book is a great baking book for new bakers like myself. Her recipes may look complicated at first, but you’ll soon realize it’s because the instructions are incredibly detailed and, in turn, incredibly useful. You’ll get over the long paragraphs eventually and enjoy her hand-in-hand instructions. And the best thing is (if you still need a best thing), almost all recipes turn out fantastic, like “I can’t believe I baked that” fantastic! Here’s my current cover-to-cover cooking of Dessert Person.
And that’s it! In the coming months, for sure I will be sharing a new cookbook list again, possibly about my recent favorites or the most beautiful ones, not necessarily the most useful (this covers it already). With all my heart, I swear by these useful cookbooks. If our taste differs, I’m still sure you’ll learn a lot from any of the cookbooks on this list. Pinky swear!