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We all need a little inspiration sometimes. Even as a classically-trained chef, I still get stumped when thinking about what I want to eat for dinner or when recipe testing. But with a collection of some of the best cookbooks written, I have found some of my go-to recipes and always find my creativity sparked after flipping through them.
After collecting many, many cookbooks over the years, I’ve narrowed down my 12 favorites that are the ones I find myself reaching for again and again. From classic family meals to recipes from one of my favorite restaurants, I hope you’ll find something that will spice up your cooking routine, too.
Table of Contents
- My Top Picks
- 1. For the One Who Wants to Spice It Up: The Flavor Bible
- 2. For the One Cooking for Many: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
- 3. For the One Who Eats Seasonally: The Art of Simple Food
- 4. For the One Who Entertains: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
- 5. For the Restaurateur: The Mozza Cookbook
- 6. For the One With Dietary Restrictions: Dinner for Everyone
- 7. For the Vegetable Lover: The Greens Cookbook
- 8. For the Food Nerd: The NY Times Cooking: The Recipes of Record
- 9. For the Novice Mixologist: America’s Test Kitchen How to Cocktail
- 10. For the Pasta Lover: Betty Crocker Italian Cookbook
- 11. For the Cross Country Traveler: Cook’s Country Eats Local
- 12. For the Future Homesteader: America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
My Top Picks
- For the One Who Wants to Spice It Up: The Flavor Bible – $29.43 at Amazon
- For the One Cooking for Many: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook – $60.35 at Amazon
- For the One Who Eats Seasonally: The Art of Simple Food – $18.29 at Amazon
- For the One Who Entertains: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook – $21.99 at Amazon
- For the Restaurateur: The Mozza Cookbook – $31.49 at Amazon
- For the One With Dietary Restrictions: Dinner for Everyone – $22.49 at Amazon
- For the Vegetable Lover: The Greens Cookbook – $39.64 at Amazon
- For the Food Nerd: The NY Times Cooking: The Recipes of Record – $31.21 at Amazon
- For the Novice Mixologist: America’s Test Kitchen How to Cocktail – $14.39 at Amazon
- For the Pasta Lover: Betty Crocker Italian Cookbook – $5.49 at Amazon
- For the Cross Country Traveler: Cook’s Country Eats Local – $17.30 at Amazon
- For the Future Homesteader: America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook – $19.77 at Amazon
Reviews of the Best Cookbooks
1. For the One Who Wants to Spice It Up: The Flavor Bible
This is hands down go-to book for recipe development and inspiration. Instead of being filled with recipes, this book is loaded with explanations of flavor profiles to improve your current cooking skills.
Whether I’m building a salad, pairing sides with mains, or just thinking about variations on a theme, this book points me in the right direction and is such a fun resource to peruse. It is the only book that lives on my desk instead of on my bookshelf because I reach for it so often!
2. For the One Cooking for Many: America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
Favorite recipes: Mushroom and Spinach Lasagna; Classic Pound Cake
This was one of the first cookbooks I purchased and essentially is to me what The Joy of Cooking was to the previous generation. It’s a tome of all the classics with detailed tutorials and in-depth explanations. I was influenced early on by the ATK recipe format and continue to model my own recipe writing after theirs.
I turn to this book as a baseline for recipe development to understand basic technicalities or get a feel for the techniques. It’s a fantastic reference manual and great for recipes everyone will love. It’s no longer being printed, but you can still find a used copy.
3. For the One Who Eats Seasonally: The Art of Simple Food
Favorite recipes: Ratatouille of Grilled Vegetables; Asparagus and Lemon Risotto
This book inspired me to think and shop locally and seasonally in a way I hadn’t before. Alice Waters was integral to the farm-to-table movement and fully explains this cooking mindset throughout this book. Reading it makes me dream of living on a farm and living and cooking the way that she does.
I also love how approachable she makes cooking seem and I love the stories and anecdotes about her life peppered throughout. While she offers some distinct recipes in the second half of the book, her true gift is her narrative around how to create food without a recipe in mind and her ideas around reducing food waste.
4. For the One Who Entertains: The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Favorite recipes: Curried Couscous; Coconut Cupcakes
This was the first Ina Garten cookbook I owned, and she really transformed the way I thought about cooking. Ina is all about connecting with the people you love through food, and she offers so many helpful suggestions around entertaining. She gives you permission to assemble food rather than cook it. For example, buying several desserts and arranging them on a platter and calling it a Country Dessert Platter.
She also considers the entire scope of a party and believes that the host’s job is to be among the guests, chatting and making introductions, so the menu should allow that! I read and re-read each of her words and appreciate her insights every time.
5. For the Restaurateur: The Mozza Cookbook
Favorite recipes: Nancy’s Chopped Salad; Fried Squash Blossoms with Ricotta
After eating in her restaurant Mozza in Los Angeles, I really wanted to own a book of chef Nancy Silverton’s recipes and ideas. Nancy is an icon who is incredibly knowledgeable about authentic Italian food, and I love to page through her book and ideate about my next great meal. I especially love her section on cheese, and she gets me excited about seeking out the best buffalo mozzarella and the creamiest burrata. Everything is delicious and picture perfect! There’s never a bad bite.
6. For the One With Dietary Restrictions: Dinner for Everyone
Favorite recipes: Sausage Cassoulet; Hearty French Onion Soup
Mark Bittman has written numerous cookbooks, but this one is my current favorite. He starts with 100 classic recipes and then creates each one three ways: A quick version, a vegan version, and a “company’s coming,” pull-out-all-of-the-stops version. It’s a tremendous volume of tasty recipes, clever ideas, and massive inspiration. When the book was released, I bought several copies as gifts for some cooks in my life, and I recommend it for the home chef in yours.
7. For the Vegetable Lover: The Greens Cookbook
Favorite recipes: Fresh Egg Pasta with Tomatoes, Tarragon, and Cream; Filo Pastry with Goat Cheese and Spinach
This book is an ode to vegetables and so many imaginative ways to cook with them. Deborah Madison founded the vegetarian Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, and many of the recipes in this book were her biggest hits. From soups, salads, sandwiches, pastas, casseroles, and desserts, vegetables are the star in every recipe, and you don’t need to be a vegetarian to love everything about it.
8. For the Food Nerd: The NY Times Cooking: The Recipes of Record
Favorite recipes: Lobster Roll; Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew
Like all the recipes on the New York Times Cooking website, the recipes in this book are creative yet professional, expertly written, and easy to follow. There is a lot of history to read and the notes are full of anecdotes and tips, and I love how “favorite” recipes are highlighted within each chapter.
It’s a great book to peruse on a slow Saturday when you just want to dream about food. Fair warning that it’s massive—one of the biggest cookbooks I own!
9. For the Novice Mixologist: America’s Test Kitchen How to Cocktail
Favorite recipes: Ombré Sling; Chocolate Amaretto Milkshakes
This book is an excellent intro for any novice mixologist. In typical America’s Test Kitchen style, the recipes are explained with historical context when applicable and methods and techniques are described in detail. They feature a mix of classic cocktails and creative twists. The photography is absolutely stunning and the drinks are mouth-watering, imaginative, and clever.
I also love the slightly compact size of the book and it feels like something I could tote along to a doctor’s office for impromptu study.
10. For the Pasta Lover: Betty Crocker Italian Cookbook
Favorite recipes: Pork Tenderloin with Prosciutto; “Jump in the Mouth” Veal
I got this cookbook in college and it’s one of the first cookbooks I ever owned. I was a novice cook then, and the recipes were full of friendly, easy ingredients, simple techniques, and delicious results. I learned a lot about myself and cooking with this book, and I still refer to it for inspiration now. I’m not certain if Betty Crocker released a truly authentic Italian cookbook, but the recipes are all tasty, if nothing else. It’s one of my very favorites.
11. For the Cross Country Traveler: Cook’s Country Eats Local
Favorite recipes: Pork Tenderloin Sandwich; Buttermilk Pie
Go on a journey through the United States with 150 regional recipes organized by geography. It’s so fun to see the recipes you know and love (for me, it’s the Midwestern recipes) and explore other places through a similar lens. Like all America’s Test Kitchen recipes, they are clear, easy to follow, and expertly written. Who knows? It may inspire a road trip!
12. For the Future Homesteader: America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook
For those of who use cooking as therapy, a weekend DIY project is always a good idea. I love this book because it’s full of classic pantry staples, different types of pickled things, snacks, sweets, and spreads that rival what you can buy in any store. Even if I don’t settle into a routine of always making my own jams and jellies, it’s fun to try sometimes.
There are surprises, too, when you realize how easy some things are to make (looking at you, ricotta cheese). Their recipes are clear and easy to follow, as always, and it makes the whole process very relaxing and joyous.
Prices were accurate at time of publishing.
Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.
I’ve really enjoyed the recipes I’ve tried. 5-stars.
So glad you’ve loved them, Curtis! Take care! – Meggan