A CTbites Holiday Cookbook Guide

Amy Kundrat

Dozens of cookbooks may line your shelves, but chances are there are a few that are a bit more "loved" that the others.

Their soiled, dog-eared pages and long since discarded book jackets reflect the patina of a cookbook worth its weight in kosher salt.

And if you're like me, chances are good that you may even know some of the recipes by heart, but you'd never dream of getting rid of them as their mere presence acts like a culinary confidence placebo.

We decided to compile a short list of some of your most well-soiled and thus well-loved cookbooks. Don't worry, we didn't ask anyone to give up their actual copies (we'd sooner ask for your first born), we simply paired a list of your recommendations your words as to why it's in heavy rotation in your kitchen, and thus would make a great gift for any food lover's cookbook collection.  

Also, don't miss our recent CTbites Shout Out "What's Your Favorite Cookbook?" for more great suggested reading. 


Medium Raw 

Book: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook
Author: Anthony Bourdain
Recommended by: Leeanne Griffin, CTnow's A La Carte and Fun With Carbs

While not a "cookbook," Bourdain's latest  (subtitled "A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook") is a supremely entertaining work of nonfiction. He isn't afraid to skewer highly visible food personalities like Alice Waters, Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee and GQ restaurant critic Alan Richman (who warrants his own must-read chapter, "Alan Richman Is A Douchebag.") But other chapters highlight his humble respect for Thomas Keller, David Chang and Justo Thomas, the man who fillets and prepares Le Bernadin's fish with uber-efficiency. For proof that Bourdain has truly transformed in the decade since he first penned "Kitchen Confidential," read the chapter "I'm Dancing," a heartwarming and introspective love letter to his three-year-old daughter Ariane.

The Food I Love

Book: The Food I Love
Author: Neil Perry
Recommended by: Chris Grimm 

The Food I Love by Neil Perry is a general cookbook by Australian chef Neil Perry, of Sydney's Rockpool restaurant. The Food I Love is full of straightforward recipes with a Mediterranean slant and hints of the Asian influences that inform much of Perry's cooking.  And at 400+ pages, it is akin to the books of Mark Bittman of James Peterson.  So why go to Australia for a book of simple recipes?  Neil Perry's genius comes through not in the "how's" but in the "why's."  With each chapter and recipe you get not only precise instruction, but clear background and explanations of technique that you can apply beyond just the dishes at hand.  This is one beautiful book, but the lessons learned can fill volumes

Harvest to Heat

BookHarvest to Heat
Author: Kelly Kochendorfer & Darryl Estrine
Recommended by: Analiese Paik, Fairfield Green Food Guide

Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America’s Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans is as much a storybook about some of our country’s best chefs and the farmers and artisan food producers that inspire them as it is a recipe book. The candid photos are so beautiful and capture the spirit of their subjects in such a way that I felt drawn in, compelled to turn the page to continue the adventure ... This is a book you will want to purchase for yourself and as a gift for your favorite local food lovers.  Over 55 of the country’s best restaurant chefs, including Westport’s own Bill Taibe of LeFarm restaurant, and the farmers and artisan food producers they work with are profiled in Harvest to Heat.

Everyday Mexican

Book: Everyday Mexican 
Author: Rick Bayless
Recommended by: Liz Dorney, Twilight at Morningside

If you've ever tried to prepare an authentic Mexican meal, you've likely encountered time-intensive recipes, dependent on a long list of ingredients. Enter Chef Rick Bayless, James Beard winner, Top Chef Master, and owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago. In 2005, he published Everyday Mexican, his answer to those wondering how to get easy, full-flavored meals on the table during the  already jam-packed work week.

Besides enjoying his simplified dishes still infused with vibrant, traditional flavors, I love that most recipes come with a few "riffs" that provide extra options if you're feeling experimental. For those unfamiliar with the ingredients common to Mexican cooking, there's a chapter on pantry basics. This introductory section includes helpful photos, descriptions and the occasional brand-name product that adds flavor, while reducing your prep time. If you can find salsas from Bayless's Frontera Kitchens in your local specialty store, they make a fine accompaniment to many of the meals you can create with Everyday Mexican.

Ad Hoc At Home

Book: Ad Hoc At Home 
Author: Thomas Keller
Recommended by: Stephanie Webster, CTbites

Ad Hoc At Home reflects Thomas Keller's wonderfully accessible collection of "family meals and everyday staples, delicious approachable food." Given the complexity of his previous cookbooks, one may doubt his intentions, but these dishes deliver layered complex flavors without a 3 page ingredient list and days of prep. This book also approaches recipes with hands on technique and insightful tips that further assist to decode this excellent group of recipes. Every dish we have made from this book has been not just good, but outstanding.

660 Curries

Book/site: 660 Curries
Author: Raghavan Iyer
Recommended by: Nick Caito

I call this my curry bible. Some of my favorite recipies come from it, and it's got plenty of tips on using 'unorthodox' ingredients, a glossary of common indian ingredients and their names in both english and hindi, and more recipes you can shake a stick at. In fact, sometimes the sheer number of recipes may be overwhelming or seem quite similar. however you can find anything you could possibly desire, with any number of ingredients, in this fabulous tome.

The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without

Book: The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without
Author: Mollie Katzen
Recommended by: Salem Vouras

Seductive and sophisticated this book is not, and its pages of earthy, hand-illustrated vellum are set in a font so twee that even the most enthusiastic herbivore might wince.  But ah, the Artichoke Heart and Spinach Gratin! The Roasted Asparagus with Pomegranate-Lime Glaze!  Nearly a hundred such simple revelations from the woman who put forth the hallowed Moosewood Cookbook over 30 years ago.  The typesetting may be baffling, but the title is right on the money.

Sustainably Delicious  

BookSustainably Delicious
Author: Michel Nischan
Recommended by: Westport Country Playhouse 

"More than any other chef at work today, Michel Nischan creates sophisticated, modern food by embracing the food tenets of the past: Use what’s readily available, celebrate variety, respect the land, and eschew waste. Whether it’s explaining the virtues of secondary meat cuts, which fish are in least danger of overfishing, or how heritage bean and grain varieties help to support biodiversity as well as healthy diets, Sustainably Delicious proves that the most satisfying food comes from a passionate respect for America’s culinary and environmental legacy." Description via Amazon.com

Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

Book: Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook
Author: Martha Stewart
Recommended by: Amy Kundrat, CTbites

As soon as the weather turns cool, I find myself doting on my Kitchen Aid mixer, oven and sheet pans.  For those of us hibernating indoors during New England winters, I am pretty sure I am not alone. This book was given to me as a gift several years ago and I find myself recommending or gifting it for it's clear and solid recipes for breads, cookies, and pies and some killer crusts. This book is a classic every baker should own.