Thinking about the bare essentials for the best kitchen got me looking at my cookbook shelves, too. I love ANY cookbook (just about), but there are plenty I have not opened in a while.
That said, which cookbooks are most important to me? A year or so ago, this short list showed up and I promptly bought myself Martha Stewart's Cookies Book and James Beard's Beard on Bread book--because that meant I had all the books on the list.
In writing this post today, though, I have come across Mark Bittman's 50 Cookbooks he couldn't live without (he links to his list from this link). I think I only have 10 of his 50. He also has a second list of some underrated classics he thinks every good kitchen should have. I think I only have one of those...
Here, in no particular order, are books I go to often:
Julia Child, Volume 1, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I can't quite believe I didn't buy this until Julie Powell was blogging her way through this. But I'm glad I found the blog way back when and I'm glad I bought the book. I now have Vol. 2, as well. For technique, these books are hard to beat.
Best Recipe: This series (Best Recipe, Best International Recipes, Best 30-Minute Recipes, Best Soups and Stews) come from Cook's Illustrated. Again, technique is reviewed, reasons some methods work better than others are discussed. Geeky cookbooks for geeky cooks. I love these.
Silver Palate. Okay, so maybe we cut back on the butter and cream since these came out, but my Silver Palate books are well-used. I have The New Basics, the original white and red books AND the 25th Anniversary Edition.
Trattoria Cooking by Biba Caggiano. Everyone in my family (mom, siblings, I think an aunt and uncle) owns this book. Talk about word of mouth. I don't know who got it first, but every recipe is a hit.
Essentials of Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. I don't know why I didn't cook more from Hazan's books sooner, but at least a friend, Brian Sherry, introduced me to her books and now there's no stopping me. Another one where I have not had a miss. True classics, great technique. Check out All In on Lasagne, my post to which Ms. Hazan actually commented! Made my culinary year.
The Italian Baker (Um. So there's a bit of an Italian bias, here, isn't there? Well, that's a good thing!) by Carol Field. Again, best breads, pizza doughs, focaccia...no misses here.
Baking from My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. I got this book after meeting Dorie at a food writers' conference, and tried to keep up with the Tuesdays with Dorie bakers. While I couldn't keep up, at least I know that if I ever want a dessert on the table, I'll find something here that I love.
On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. Why things work. Another geeky book that stays on the shelf.
Food Lover's Companion defines food, food terms, etc. Essential for any food writer.
Delia Smith's Complete Illustrated Cookery Course. All things British. This way, when Mr. Babette Feasts says how much he loves a Bakewell Tart or English Christmas cake, I know I can make a great ...whatever. In this book? Best butterscotch sauce ever.
I am pretty sure I'm adding The Essential NYT Cookbook (just won the James Beard Award) and Tartine Bread (because I knew Chad way back when) and Tartine (their desserts) (because I knew Chad way back when and that means I love Elisabeth, too...)..oh, and Tartine in SF has a James Beard Award, too, btw....
What books do you go back to over and over?