Top 5 Favorite Cookbooks

Jennifer Woods

We wanted to remind you that we've started our Chow Bella Book Club in partnership with Changing Hands Bookstore. This month (October) we're reading the new book by Kathleen Flinn called Kitchen Counter Cooking School. If you still need a copy, you can get a discounted one from Changing Hands, just use the coupon at the bottom of this post. We'll be discussing the book online November 1st at 7 p.m., we'll "see" you there!

Since we're going to be talking about books more on Chow Bella, we wanted to start with my list of favorite cookbooks. Firstly, I want to give thanks to my husband, who has sampled all of my food over the last 12 years with a great big grin even though we both know that there have been some wildly disastrous meals -- but, hey, that's how you not do that again.

Get the coupon from Changing Hands for the first book, the selection itself AND my top five cookbooks after the jump...

I'm also grateful to the cookbooks for being there to inspire and guide me through the kitchen process to a successful meal, creating memories and filling my belly. My grandmother pretty much exclusively used recipe cards and I've since started making digital copies because all the good ones were worn (some written in pencil and almost completely rubbed away), and splattered with food like a mini Jackson Pollack. While I cherish those, it's comforting to know that you can always count on books from folks like Martha Stewart, Ina Garten, Alton Brown, Jacques Pepin and Christopher Kimpball because their recipes are easy to read and just about always work. There are some historically important and eternally useful books like Mastering the Art of French Cooking and The Joy of Cooking but if you ask me what books I use the most, those aren't it. Here's a list of what I always have stacked right now in the kitchen or on the nightstand, in order of handiness:

5. Interesting, inspiring, old, historically or culturally significant educational read of the week: I'm always so interested in what have eaten in the past and in different parts of the world. This week picked up Hungry Planet: What the World Eats from the library. My eyes have been glued to this book all week. It's a full-color coffee table style book that shows what families all over the world eat in a week. Each family is posed in their kitchen with all the food splayed out decoratively in front of them. There loads of photos, stories and recipes from each family and a run down of the sources of the food and the relative cost. Guatemala, Australia, Greenland, Chad..absolutely fascinating!

4. The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg: I'm the first to tell you that you can make anything delicious with salt, pepper, olive oil and high heat. My son likes to think that cooking is throwing a handful of every single herb and spice in the cabinet. When I first started cooking, I wanted to make up recipes and use loads of different seasonings but it was always hit or miss. However, if you've already learned that less is more and you're pretty comfortable in the kitchen and want to take your cooking to the next level, check out this incredibly detailed and interesting encyclopedia of common and interesting flavor combinations and applied techniques. This is the perfect book to use when inventing recipes. All professional chefs should have a copy of this book in their office. This is the Flavor Bible, indeed.

3. Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin These are the recipes for the food I most crave. French inspired slow cooked balanced (in flavor and texture) and perfect placeholder recipes for all Sunday suppers in my own home. I especially love the vegetable dishes like Roasted Beet Salad with Fried Chickpeas Nyons Olives and Ricotta Salata or James's Broccoli with Burrata, Pine Nuts and Warm Anchovy Vinaigrette. After reading this, you'll start all meals with garlic, rosemary and chile and you'll start making creme fraiche at home because it will appear atop or within all desserts. Love this book.

2. SOS! Six O'Clock Scramble by Aviva Goldfarb While I love high end fancy eats, I have to remind myself that I actually have to feed people, all the time, for every meal. If I get lost in my daydreams of Sunday Supper recipes, it usually means that I have a cranky family because I've asked them to wait too long to eat and I've also end up with wasted food at the end of the week. Not good. This is coming from the gal who works for a CSA farm and already knows how to prepare just about every piece of seasonal produce under our sun. The Six O'clock Scramble is designed for busy working people (that's everyone, right?) by gathering up seasonal recipes into weekly meals with accompanying one-pager grocery lists listing all the ingredients. Then, when you get ready to shop, all you have to do is make a small list of your sundries, grab that and the the Scramble weekly list and head out to the store. It's so nice to be a little mindless in your planning since sometimes we just don't have the time or mental capacity to try that hard -- but you want to avoid steering the car toward the nearest fast food joint when hunger strikes. I actually use the online service but this is the accompanying cookbook with the same recipes and weekly lists. Sometimes my food nerd cravings aren't exactly what my family have in mind. All of the recipes here are family tested and approved -- that's the key. Plus, I can just sub out the protein and veg in the meals with what I actually have at home. Meals at Casa de Jen have gotten along much better since implementing this strategy.

1. Kitchen Express by Mark Bittman

This is probably the most useful book if you feel pretty comfortable in the kitchen, are ok without precise measurements and have a fairly stocked pantry. The recipes in this book are written in short paragraph form and organized by season and main ingredients. I can't tell you how handy it is to know you can grab this when your're stumped for what to make for dinner, walk into your kitchen and know you'll have a meal done in a jiff. Let's test it out now. I know I have chicken in the freezer. Hold on, I'll grab the book. I have it. It's Fall and...flip flip flip...Braised Chicken with Olives and Raisins, Stir Fried Chicken with Nuts, Chicken with Sweet-and-Sour Sherry Sauce or Chicken Curry in a Hurry. All sound like winners, right? And did I mention, they're all 20 minutes or less? Thank you Mark Bittman. Looks like I even have time to make one of the quickie desserts, too. Brown Sugar Apple in the Microwave, oh yes.

Jennifer Woods is a freelance food writer -- an Arizona native who has lived and worked in the food industry (in one way or another) in the Valley for the last 11 years. She is currently a work-from-home-mom who loves to cook, eat, read about food, support local food producers and share that love with her husband and two small kids.

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Jennifer Woods
Contact: Jennifer Woods