Sarah McClellan-Brandt: Here are five cookbooks you need in your kitchen

Five favorites

A good cookbook is like a good friend. It’s always there when you need it, and it gives you great recipes. Well, I hope you have friends who give you recipes. 

One of the most common reasons for ordering takeout or not cooking meals at home is being tired of your regular rotation of meals. This is why having plenty of good cookbooks is an absolute necessity. Sure, food blogs and online recipe creators are great, but there is nothing like curling up with a cup of coffee (or wine) and cracking open a beautiful cookbook. I like to keep a pad of paper on  hand to make notes and bookmark recipes I intend to make. In fact, most of my cookbooks have half the pages flagged to revisit. 

Few experiences can top cooking a great meal, and cookbooks play a leading role in making that happen. Whether you follow them word for word, take them as suggestions, or just read them for inspiration, everyone has a favorite (or ten). Here are my top five picks for all around good meals and drinks: 

  1. Best overall: Julia Child anything. I have several of her cookbooks, and, as she is the one of the OG’s of American cookbook writers, she must top my list. Mastering the Art of French Cooking is so iconic, there is a movie based on its creation. Nothing hones one’s patience like attempting her beef bourguignon (I have yet to actually sear all of the beef pieces and set them aside before continuing, as the recipe dictates) and no book teaches quantities and technique quite as well. Her recipes are simultaneously complex and simple, which is a tough balance for a cookbook author.  
  2. Best for food sensitivities and healthy versions of comfort foods: Danielle Walker’s Eat What You Love. If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, gluten intolerance or food sensitivity of any kind, this book is an absolute must-have for your kitchen. Her key lime pie recipe is a favorite at my house and is loved by family members who do not subscribe to a gluten and  dairy-free lifestyle. 
  3. Best for beverages: French Drinking by David Lebovitz. Whether you are looking for good cocktail recipes or something non-alcoholic to serve, this book has options. From traditional French hot chocolate and coffee recipes, to mouthwatering lemonades, to cocktail classics like the French 75, there is something for everyone. My favorite recipe in the book (so far) is the Giny Germain. This gin-based cocktail includes lime, cucumber, elderflower, and an egg white to give it a foamy texture when shaken. 
  4. Best restaurant cookbook: The Balthazar Cookbook by Keith McNally, Read Nasr and Lee Hanson. This book, which catalogs recipes from the storied French restaurant in New York City, is not for a casual quick meal. This book will instruct you exactly how to make restaurant-quality meals, and it will not pull any punches on the ingredients. Want to make a steak? You have to have the best meat. Shepherd’s pie? You just need some moulard duck legs. This book will take you a few trips to Central Market before getting it right, but it will be worth every minute (and dollar). I love the Steak Frites recipe (made with the book’s French fry recipe) for a fancy meal at home. You’ll learn the true value of butter while making this dish. 
  5. Best for reading about food and fun recipes: The Essential New York Times Cookbook: Classic Recipes for a New Century, by Amanda Lesser. This book is an extensive collection curated from the New York Times recipe archives dating back 150 years. If you are looking for a recipe for almost any type of food, chances are you will find one in this book. It’s got James Beard’s  Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic and other notable chef-driven fare, but it also includes recipe submissions from readers like “Eccles cake (1877),” submitted by “Polly.” The author uses history and levity to dive into the intense changes the American cooking landscape has seen over the generations who have lived here. Timelines of various milestones such as the introduction of the boxed cake mix add context and variety. Oh, and the recipes are great. One of the recipes in this book has made my regular weeknight rotation – the Minimalist Paella. It is an easy, filling, delicious, one-pan meal that is genius in its simplicity while packing such complex flavors. 

What are your favorite cookbooks? Tag us on Instagram at at @ModernHippieKitchen and @FWBusinessPress! 
About the cook
Once upon a time, shortly after graduating from TCU, Sarah McClellan-Brandt paid the rent by working as a reporter for the Fort Worth Business Press. Today she’s a social media specialist for a North Texas hospital system and in her spare time shares recipes and cooking tips with devoted followers of her Modern Hippie Kitchen blog.

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