Favorites (and why I love cookbooks)

Even with all the amazing recipes available online (and they are endless), if I had to choose, I prefer cookbooks. Turning to a cookbook you know and love and have cooked from is like getting advice from your most capable and trustworthy friend; the best ones reveal a personality and ethos that you just don't get from googling "best chocolate chip cookie." Reading a good cookbook reminds me of listening to a whole album -- it gives you a more complete statement of what the writer is trying to say. Though I certainly do search for recipes online often, I love my (oversized) collection of cookbooks, and often flip through favorites. Here I wanted to share some of those favorites that I've had and cooked from for years, and to which I seem to always return.



This was one of my first cookbooks, and was given to me by my cousins Alec and Rachel when I was just out of college and had my first apartment. It's one I still come back to again and again because everything in it is wonderful and trustworthy, written from years of Gourmet Magazine's experience and testing. It's endlessly useful, a great reference book for whatever you want to make, and not too complicated to be a great everyday cookbook. I'm shocked and saddened that it's not still in print, but used copies seem to be pretty readily available online.

Favorite Recipes: Island Pork Tenderloin (pg. 475), and Cranberry Coffee Cake (pg. 643)

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I love this cookbook for many reasons, not least because it's so beautiful, both on the shelf and to flip through. It's inspirational and aspirational but also totally doable and delicious. Every recipe and ingredient list seems so simple, and that makes the deliciousness of the final product so much more surprising.

Favorite Recipes: Chili, Texas Style (pg. 157); Buttermilk Cornbread (pg. 205); and Fennel Slaw with Pickled Red Onions (pg. 120)



This beautiful cookbook from Jody Williams is the perfect dinner party cookbook to me. The recipes are simple and elegant, just like her restaurants, and it's full of ideas that are more than the sums of their parts. Side note: if you ever have a chance to eat at her other New York restaurant, Via Carota, do -- it's one of my all-time favorites.

Favorite Recipes: Walnut Pesto (pg. 137), and Meatballs (pg. 194)

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Julia Turshen's beautiful cookbook represents such a great version of what home cooking can be. It's a wonderful book for new and/or insecure home cooks because it gives you a "small victory" with each recipe, a sort of aha moment that will really help you learn to cook and grow in confidence and cooking skills. But it's also really great if you're not as new to cooking -- Julia has so much cooking wisdom that you will most definitely learn from her expertise and her clear and wonderful recipes. It's a definite keeper.

Favorite Recipes: A Nice Lasagna (especially with meat!) (pg. 145), and Julia's Caesar (pg. 83)



Ok, so this is sort of cheating because it's a collection of cookbooks rather than a single book, but I couldn't pick a favorite; they're all so good. They come from the owners of the popular Brooklyn bakery, and are a great resource for cookies, bars, and especially celebration cakes. These have some of my favorite, go-to baking recipes, like the sweet and salty brownies that I have made many, many times. The recipes are super solid and well-tested, with usually just enough of a creative twist to make them interesting.

Favorite Recipes: Sweet & Salty Brownies (Baked Explorations, pg. 93), Simple Chocolate Whiskey Tart (Baked Elements, pg. 85), and Chocolate Mayonnaise Cupcakes (Baked Elements, pg. 173)

    Ellen CutaloComment
    My Favorite Christmas Cookies

    I've been making these cookies every Christmas since I was about 12, and came across them in an old Martha Stewart holiday cookbook. They're a favorite in my family, with perfect Christmas-y flavors. These keep well, but are especially delicious the day they're baked, when the sugar tops are nice and crunchy. Adapted from the original Martha Stewart recipe here.


    • 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon (188 grams) all-purpose flour
    • 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger, divided
    • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
    • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 1 stick (112 grams) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1/2 cup (106 grams) packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup unsulphured molasses (not blackstrap)
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 6 ounces dark chocolate chips
    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

    In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, 3/4 teaspoon of the ground ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cocoa powder, and salt.

    In the bowl of a stand mixer (you really need the power of a stand mixer for this dough), beat butter well. Add brown sugar, and beat until lightened in color, about 3-4 minutes. Add molasses and mix well.

    Place baking soda a small bowl, and pour 1 1/2 teaspoons of boiling water over to dissolve. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter and mix until just combined. Mix in baking soda, followed by the rest of the flour mixture. Again, mix just until combined. Stir in chocolate chips with a wooden spoon. Wrap dough in plastic wrap, and chill until firm, at least 2 hours.

    Preheat oven to 350°. Mix granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of ginger together in a small bowl. Roll cookie dough into 1 1/2-inch balls, then roll in sugar mixture to cover. Place on a baking sheet, 2 inches apart, and chill for 20 minutes. Bake cookies for 10 to 12 minutes, until the surfaces are just starting to crack. Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

    Gift Guide #3: Kids, Grandchildren, Nieces, Nephews

    This is our last gift guide for the holidays - you can find the others here.  Happy gift shopping!

    Christmas gift guide for kids

    1. A beautiful wooden puzzle  2. Living room bowling (for the whole family!)  3. A kid-sized guitar to start their love of music early  4. A lovely picture book about kids around the world  5. The cutest backpack (available in so many colors!)  6. A sweet stuffed   7. An adorable winter hat, with whiskers and ears  8. A rainbow-full of colored pencils in a cute carrier  9. A pair of binoculars for their adventures  10. A poster-sized coloring page - the perfect project for cold winter days  11. Cute new pajamas  12. Adorable, bright city building blocks

    GiftsEllen CutaloComment
    Gift Guide #2: Wives, Mothers, Sisters, Girlfriends

    This is our second gift guide of the week; you can check out the men's guide here. Tomorrow we'll have one last guide with some fun things for kids!

    Christmas Gift Guide Women

    1. A fun purse in a beautiful color (on sale!)  2. The best, warmest slippers  3. A sweet bud vase  4. A set of birthday cards for her to send all year  5. A book of the best travel guides for weekends away  6. A practical but cool leather backpack  7. The cutest hat to keep her warm all winter  8. A beautiful baking dish she'll use forever  9. A pair of the cutest blush tubes (I love these!)  10. A gift subscription to Bon Appetit (my favorite)  11. Sweet stacking rings  12. A beautiful tea towel to brighten the kitchen  13. Socks for Christmas are the best (especially these pretty ones)

    GiftsEllen CutaloComment