As you may have gathered, Mr. Magpie and I are cooking enthusiasts. Or, I should say, Mr. Magpie is an excellent cook, and I ride on his coattails, serving as his sous chef and contributing straight-forward sides like steamed green beans with heaps of butter. (P.S. — Plugra butter is le best — try swapping it for standard issue grocery butter and your eyes will be opened to a whole new world.)
OK, OK, I’m being a touch over-modest — I do enjoy cooking and am passable at it, though Mr. Magpie is the real star of the show. He has more patience than I do when it comes to cooking and will happily take on hours of research to find THE BEST dried pasta or to blend a few different recipes for a classic dish like cacio e pepe or to make sure we have the absolute creme de la creme when it comes to cooking gear (BTW, our all time favorite kitchen implements). I tend to go to one of two extremes, either favoring unfussy weeknight meals that take no longer than an hour to prepare OR going all-out with a meal that takes me two days to put together, with multiple complex sides and a trillion and ten ingredients.
Today, I thought I’d share our 10 absolute favorite cookbooks — the ones that are dogeared and sticky from years of heavy use. I should also mention that I strongly recommend buying a cookbook holder, as it really saves you real estate in your cooking space — we own this one, which I like because it protects the pages from splashes and spills, but Mr. Magpie feels it doesn’t tilt the cookbook back at a sufficiently inclined angle. If I didn’t think it was a little ridiculous to own two cookbook holders, I would order this one instead, which gets great reviews, looks a little more elegant on a kitchen countertop, and reclines to several different levels of incline.
Cookbook Pick No. 1: Garden + Gun’s The Southerner’s Cookbook
Are y’all tired of hearing me talk about The Southerner’s Cookbook ($21) yet? It is absolutely incredible. We’ve made nearly everything in this book and have been highly impressed with the results. I especially enjoy their hush puppies and kil’t geen beans with bacon jam, but they also have an excellent (and easy) biscuit recipe. Biscuits are honestly hard to get right; these are light and fluffy, with a perfect crumb. For fall, DO NOT MISS their sweet potato casserole with sorghum (holy hell is it good — an upgrade from that weird sweet potato-with-marshmallow dish people serve that I’ve never quite cottoned to).
Cookbook Pick No. 2: Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc
Alright, before you roll your eyes, hear me out. Yes, Thomas Keller is known for his incredibly intricate and refined dishes at the ultra-famous French Laundry restaurant (another entry on my bucket list, BTW), but his Ad Hoc cookbook ($27) is meant to be the more approachable little brother to his French Laundry cookbook. (We own both.) I’d be lying if I said the recipes were “easy” in Ad Hoc — they’re still very Thomas Keller-y, with lots of separate steps and sauces — but the dishes are absolutely magical. We go insane over his creamed corn recipe, which he cuts with lime for the most unexpectedly mouth-watering result. (Incidentally, the creamed corn recipe is, in fact, pretty easy.) This book is also great if you’re looking for lessons in technique — we’ve fully adopted the way he prepares his fish, for example: over medium heat in a pan and then transferred to the oven to finish, yielding the crispiest crust and flakiest texture.
Cookbook Pick No. 3: Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Speaking of technique, Judy Rodger’s The Zuni Cafe cookbook ($26) is less about recipes and more about the nuts and bolts of preparing excellent, simple food. Mr. Magpie and I had the most dreamy lunch at Zuni in San Francisco years ago when one of our dearest friends was living out there. We drained several bottles of rose, split their famous roast chicken, died, and went to heaven. Ever since, we’ve roasted our chickens according to her preparation, which is not complex, but requires planning: you dry-brine the chicken in your fridge for two days prior to cooking it. We’ve learned a lot from this cookbook and it’s full of great, if rather unsexy, basics. I’ve used her pork tenderloin brine recipe, for example, countless times — it’s an easy but exceptionally toothsome dish to serve guests for dinner (and cheap!) Though we own other classic cookbooks like The Joy of Cooking and tomes by Jacques Pepin and Julia Child, I find that we use this book as our cooking encyclopedia when we want to know, for example, how to prepare hashed potatoes.
Cookbook Pick No. 4: Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings
At the entirely opposite end of the spectrum, when I’m looking for fun party food, I turn to Chrissy Teigen’s Cravings cookbook ($21). The Zuni cookbook is to Cravings as a pair of basic black flats is to a pair of Aquazzura powder puff mules ($650). The former is a tried-and-true, timeless must-have, while the latter makes a big splash. I love especially her scalloped potato recipe, which could seriously serve a party of 20 people (heads up), but have had a blast with her “party time” recipes — great finger food that always goes over well with a crowd, like her Hawaiian BLPTs (bacon-lettuce-pineapple-tomato sandwiches), her chicken lettuce wraps, and her frito pie. Also, she’s hilarious, and I had a lot of fun reading her comments throughout the book.
Cookbook Pick No. 5: Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano
Mario Batali’s Molto Italiano ($18) is a fantastic primer in Italian cooking, with some dishes more complex than others, but everything approachable and traditional and absolutely delicious. I love the way he describes each dish in the head notes — my mouth always waters. Also, we are huge Batali fans in this family: my sister and brother-in-law were married at his stunning NYC restaurant, Del Posto; one of our very dearest friend is head baker for Eataly, his incredible chain of Italian food markets; and my sister once ran into him in NYC and made him laugh, an accomplishment she has never let the rest of us forget. Don’t miss his Gramigne con Salsiccia, or “Weeds with Sausage,” pasta recipe — we make it at least once or twice a month in our Magpie Nest. It’s a great weeknight meal and we nearly always have the ingredients on hand (we buy Italian sausage from our butcher in bulk and store it in our freezer). There’s nothing more satisfying than a big bite of toothsome, curled pasta coated in sausage ragu on a cool evening…
Cookbook Pick No. 6: Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook
Aha, the one area of cuisine that I own in our household: baking. Mr. Magpie’s never taken an interest — except for in bread, which he makes every few months from scratch — and it’s been my domain since before we were married. Martha Stewart’s classic basic handbook ($22) is my go-to. Her recipes are fool-proof and consistent. I love her pound cake, rugelach, and biscotti recipes in particular — and have also had incredible success with all of her pie recipes. But if you want to really wow your guests at your next dinner party, try her parker house roll recipe, which is super easy but yields the most buttery pull-apart rolls on the planet.
Cookbook Pick No. 7: America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook(s)
I believe that America’s Test Kitchen has come out with a number of cookbooks featuring the recipes and products they showcase on their TV program — ours is the 2006 edition? — but this version ($30) claims to include every single recipe on the program from 2001-2017, so it should cover all your bases. The program is sort of The Wirecutter of cooking: it tries a bunch of different recipes and products to determine the absolute BEST for the everyday cooking, i.e., “If I need to buy jarred marinara from the grocery store, what’s the best option?”, “If I’m in the market for a skillet, which is the best?”, “What’s the best way to prepare baked beans?”, “I want to make traditional jambalaya and there are 23988 recipes online — what’s the best way?”, etc. Their recipes are great for weeknight meals; we make their beef taco recipe ALL THE TIME — at least twice a month, no joke — with classic hard shells and crispy iceberg and it is OH SO SATISFYING. A childhood classic, but with fresh ingredients and a hand-mixed spice blend.
Cookbook Pick No. 8: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem Cookbook
My mouth waters when I think about the recipes in this Middle-Eastern cuisine cookbook ($20) by famed chef Yotam Ottolenghi. I especially love simple but — for me, unexpected — recipes like roasted butternut squash with tahini and za’atar, and have had great success with his recipes for various rice dishes and kofta meatballs. Super yummy when I’m looking for something a little more out of the ordinary. I like his recipes when entertaining a crowd — a lot of his dishes are great for parties.
Cookbook Pick No. 9: Jasper White’s Summer Shack Cookbook
A great pick for seafood lovers like us Mid-Atlantic folk, Jasper White’s Summer Shack Cookbook ($18.50) covers basics like how to prepare live lobsters, steam mussels, and mix up your own batch of cocktail sauce. I like the way this book is organized: you can go to the fishmonger, find something that looks good, and then come home to this cookbook and see a few different suggestions for preparing it. We love his version of mignonette for raw oysters, and his clam chowder is delightful, too.
Cookbook Pick No. 10: Steve Raichlen’s How to Grill
I’ve probably mentioned this grilling cookbook ($16) a dozen times in my posts on Mr. Magpie, as he has used his since he was just starting out as an amateur cook back in college. (Incidentally, this book would make a great gift for a husband/boyfriend/brother or — hell! we’re in the 21st century! a wife/girlfriend/sister who has just expressed interest in the grill. Check out Mr. Magpie’s grilling must-haves under pick no. 2 here.) This is full of exceptional grilling recipes, but my absolute favorite is his tuna preparation, which he marinates in the most delicious citrus-and-basil concoction and kisses on a hot grill. SO GOOD.
What are your cookbook go-tos?
P.P.P.S I think I need this monogrammed gingham apron!