Friday, October 31, 2008

The Best of the Best

I used to have a cookbook addiction. I even joined a cookbook club and bought a whole bunch of them for $1 each. Recently, though, I realized I had two whole shelves of them and limited time to wander aimlessly through the kitchen with a cookbook in hand, so we started paring them down. We traded some and sold some and are now left with those we really couldn't live without. (I do hope the ones we sent on their way ended up in a home that uses them. There's something very sad about a cookbook that never gets to cook.) I've been thinking about posting about my favorites for a while because every time I go to the shelf now I see books I really love. So here they are!

King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking: Delicious Recipes Using Nutritious Whole Grains

This is my new favorite cookbook. It's perfect for me because there are very few recipes that could be used to make dinner. It's all about the extras (and bread). It also helps me use my powers for good since recently I have found myself baking a lot more and with the use of whole grains I can at least pretend I'm making healthy food for my husband and family. (Baking is so much easier than cooking; just mix it up and throw it in the oven!) My absolute favorite recipe is the Chocolate Zucchini Cake (p. 426), which I made with pattypan squash quite successfully. I'm really excited to try baking gingerbread and honey cakes. I also want to tackle graham crackers (no high fructose corn syrup here) if I can ever manage to keep my counter empty long enough to roll out the dough. (Why do counters collect things?)

The recipes range from the very simple to the extraordinary. Instructions are explicit enough for beginners with lots of tips and extra suggestions for the more adventurous baker. Honestly, I've had fun just reading this book and the chapter on breads had made me confident I can bake bread without using my bread machine (though I haven't had the time to tackle that project yet). None of the recipes specify using King Arthur Flour of any kind. (Our preferred whole wheat flour is milled right here in Kansas and is cheaper than any other brand at the store.)

I've considered setting myself a goal to try every recipe in this book. I think that might be a little extreme (there are more than 400), but it's very tempting...

The New American Cooking

Is it wrong to love this cookbook partly because it's so beautiful? We don't actually use this one as much as many of the others because it seems many of the recipes call for ingredients we don't have around the house and would be difficult to attain (either because we can't find them locally or because the expense would be prohibitive, especially now that we're on a tighter budget). My favorite recipe so far is the Indian Tandoori Chicken (p. 315). It was fabulous, but a lot of work. I'd be willing to try my hand at it again, though, if we had a bigger mortar and pestle.

Cover & Bake (Best Recipe)

This cookbook has two of our all-time favorite recipes in it. We don't make them very often because they fall into the "special" meals categories: Baked Macaroni & Cheese (p. 18) and Chicken & Sausage Gumbo (p. 197). The gumbo takes a little time but is extremely tasty. The macaroni and cheese is actually pretty easy, but it's definitely not healthy! Most of these recipes fall into the "comfort food" category, so we bring it out more during the cold winter months. I think we're due for some of that gumbo soon! Kansas Dad is also a big fan of The New Best Recipe: All-New Edition (though we have the older version). It's his "go to" book for just about everything and I have to admit, it's usually very tasty.

The All-American Cookie Book

If you like baking cookies, you have to check out this book. They are decadent and wonderful, though sometimes time-consuming. We've tried a bunch of the recipes and haven't had any disappointments. Ms. Baggett includes a brief history of each cookie which I enjoy. It makes me feel like baking these wonderful cookies is an educational experience, not just a culinary extravagance.

I think our favorite recipe is the Classic Peanut Butter Crisscross Cookies (p. 236) which are, quite simply, the best peanut butter cookies you will ever eat. We also loved the Carolina Stamped Shortbread cookies, which have the advantage of being very easily prepared in a 9" x 13" pan (Fingers variation on p. 47). They are heavenly, melting in your mouth. I've taken them to work and other special occasions to rave reviews, especially when accompanied by some tea.

First Meals (New Expanded Edition)

I used this book a lot when First Son first started eating solids (well, the previous edition, but you probably figured that). Back then I was working full-time and three days a week in the office. I'd cook up batches of food every weekend or so and freeze them in cubes. It was perfect for quick meals for him during the week. They even traveled to restaurants and parks well by just throwing a couple in a container in the diaper bag (hopefully thawed by the time he was ready to eat). I like the recipes the most for the early months when baby hasn't yet been introduced to enough foods to just eat whatever we're having. It's healthier and cheaper to feed baby from your own table and once you get used to it, much easier as well. (No running to the store!) We've used jarred food from the store when traveling (especially by the plane; they don't like you to carry on your own food anymore) and my kids would basically go on an eating strike for the day. They much prefer homemade food!

Our basic cookbooks are How to Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food and New Cook Book (Better Homes and Garden). We're on our third version of the latter. The last time we upgraded to the hardcover binder, but I had to pull out a few pages from the old one because the recipes weren't in the new version. (I couldn't abandon our tried-and-true banana chocolate chip bars!) These are good starter cookbooks. We choose a basic recipe here and then might alter it a bit based on our taste preferences and what we have in the pantry.


  1. Glad to hear you are enjoying the cookbook. Tasting the recipes during testing was wonderful, and I truly love the Peanut Butter Pie.
    Let us know when you finish all the recipes! :)

    Happy Baking!
    MaryJane @ King Arthur Flour

  2. I will definitely put the Peanut Butter Pie high on our list!


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