Things I Love: The Cookbook Edition

As I sat on my sofa browsing my favorite cookbooks for next week’s menu, I had a sudden urge to grab my camera and share some of my favorites with you. I’m not good at suppressing urges, evidently. For example, I compulsively collected cookbooks for YEARS, easily amassing 50+ books, some of which I rarely read. I’ve finally gotten a grip on my addiction, clearing my collection down to my Top 20 or so, but it wasn’t easy. Some I can’t part with are in a cabinet, but my favorites are left out on the kitchen counter so I can grab them at will. Here are the best of those I keep within arm’s reach.

The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook

I received this as a wedding present 29 years ago, and it’s still the cornerstone of my cookbook collection. I love the full-color photo index pages. When nothing sounds good, these gorgeous photos help me find inspiration.

In addition, they have illustrations throughout the recipe pages to give you technical assistance if you need it. As a menopausal space cadet, I can use all the assistance I can get. I make no apologies for that. It is what it is.

Cleora’s Kitchen, by Cleora Butler

This is more than a cookbook; it’s the memoir of a beautiful woman named Cleora Butler who worked as a cook in the homes of Tulsa’s great oil barons back in the golden age of oil barons. It’s a tribute to her family history, as well as the history of cooking and entertaining throughout her 70+ years.

What a remarkable woman she was. The stories she shares add a level of depth and clarity to her recipes I haven’t found in other cookbooks. Another thing I love is the structure of the chapters – done by decade. Starting with “The Early Years” of her childhood (pre-1920’s) and taking you through the 1980’s, her walk through the recipes that shaped her career and her life are enlightening.

If you’re into simple, family style cooking and you love noodle casseroles, try this one from Cleora’s collection. It was a hallmark recipe in its day.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks, by Ree Drummond

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I am a Pioneer Woman fan. I love her beautifully executed website, and am an active participant in the Tasty Kitchen recipe sharing page. It should come as no surprise, then, that her cookbook is an extension of her website. It’s colorful and fun, like Ree herself.

It contains the recipes she loves, complete with full-color photos, as well as stories of her life on the ranch and her family, whom she lovingly refers to as The Marlboro Man and her punks. Of course, she also includes her extended family, farm hands, friends and household pets who have also become celebrities in their own right (ie. Charley the Basset Hound). This is home cooking at its best, with a spattering of her trademark humor to keep it entertaining. Anyone who believes food should be wrapped in bacon is my kind of cook.

The Lighthouse Breakfast Cookbook, by Michelle Bursey & Carol Korgan

This little gem is published by the owners and chefs of the Heceta Head Lighthouse Inn on the Oregon coast. We had the pleasure of staying one night in the Lightkeeper’s House B&B a few years ago. It came with a 7-course breakfast that lasted 2 hours. It was without a doubt the most fabulous breakfast I have ever experienced. Hands down. Bar none. Their staff focuses on using the best local ingredients that are available, and the love they put into their food is experienced in every single bite. Buying their cookbook was a no-brainer for me.

See that blueberry smoothie in the middle? It was a life-changing revelation. Made from blueberries picked on the grounds of the lighthouse, it almost caused me to ask a complete stranger if he was going to finish his. Almost.

The Pastry Queen, by Rebecca Rather

I don’t know where to start with this one. I love it so much, I can hardly stand it. If I had to play “Sophie’s Choice” and choose only one cookbook to grab in case of an emergency, it might just have to be this one. Those spiky Texas Big Hair Tarts on the cover grabbed my attention, but the rest of the book had me running to the cash register. If baking is your religion, this could be your Bible.

If you dream of being a baker, you must get to know Rebecca better. If you’re a Texan, you’ll feel like this remarkable woman and her recipes are part of your heritage. If you find yourself anywhere near Fredericksburg, Texas, I command you to go visit her Rather Sweet Bakery and Cafe. It should be at the top of your to-do list. Seriously. While her photos are fabulous, her recipes taste every bit as wonderful, if not better. I never tire of looking through this cookbook.

And I can’t visit her bakery without buying these adorable pink pig cookies for the grandkids. If you have an avid baker in your family, consider picking this cookbook up as a birthday or holiday gift. It’s a winner.

Throw in my two favorite America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks (I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned from them) and you have my list of favorites. What I want to know now is which cookbooks you treasure. Which can you not live without? I’d love to know what inspires you.



Filed under Food & Recipes, Things I Love

19 responses to “Things I Love: The Cookbook Edition

  1. Doris D.

    My favorite cookbook is The Virginia Hospitality cookbook put out by the Jr. League of Hampton Roads. Every recipe is a treasure. And so easy to prepare them.

    • Thanks, Doris! You’re right. Those Jr. League cookbooks are pure gold, just like most church cookbooks. They’re usually filled with tried & true family recipes that have been shared for generations. Good call!

  2. Amy

    I have never bought a cookbook. There. I said it.
    I hated cooking up until a few years ago but I am slowly getting into it. Most of the recipies that I do use come from websites or blogs (like yours). I do love looking at the gorgeous pictures in cookbooks, though. These are making me hungry!

    • No worries, Amy. There’s no judgement here. {wink}
      I have to agree that I’ve been getting a lot of recipes from the internet lately, especially from the Pioneer Woman’s website. The Tasty Kitchen recipe sharing part of her site is amazing. But I’m still addicted to gorgeous cookbooks that I can put my hands on and browse through, especially if they’re loaded with color photos. I blame it on my mother. She’s a lover of great cookbooks and always had a collection of them. I’m afraid it’s part of my DNA now. She also had us cooking at an early age so we could help out. Remember, there were 7 of us. Cooking and baking were required skills. Along with laundry, cleaning, yard work, etc.. I still hate to iron, though. Ugh.

  3. KJ

    I just love this post! I took about five of my fav cookbooks to bed the other night and just looked at them until I got sleepy. The one I enjoyed the most was Cristina Ferrare’s Family Entertaining – I think you’d like it. It has menus for holidays/special occasions along with stories from her childhood (I cracked up at her mother making them wear napkins on their heads at the beach b/c she was afraid they’d get heat stroke).

    I also am going to get America’s Test Kitchen cookbook/DVD series soon! LOVE that show and learn so much from it, too! You have good taste, Missy! :-) I wrote down three of your cookbooks and they are going on my “to get” list. I love the Kindle but I’ll never get rid of my cookbooks (I do need to weed throught them, too…but…). :-) Love cookbooks!

    Did I tell you I FINALLY met Ree when she was in Houston signing her new Charlie book?!! She was just as beautiful and funny in person as she is on her website. Actually, she’s even prettier! I had just gotten my stiches out a few hours before and stood in line for 2 hours (had a time slot but I was in the front of the purple line, so…). It was worth it! The young lady behind me was with her husband and two sons (1 & 3) – I could tell her husband knew how important it was to his wife so he juggled the two boys for the whole two hours…they all three got cranky but were real troupers! Joy!

    • I love the America’s Test Kitchen books. They don’t just give you a recipe. They tell you what methods they tested in their effort to perfect it. Then they tell you what didn’t work and what did. That’s what I love best. The recipes are all fabulous, but they teach you HOW to cook by sharing their successes and failures and sharing the science behind how it all works. Those books will make you a better cook and/or baker, and I love that. How exciting that you got to meet PW! I don’t know how she does all that she does and still manage to keep her sanity, but I sure am glad she does!

      • KJ

        I watch ATK almost every Saturday morning on PBS. You are right – they teach you a lot! Love it.
        Personally, I think Ree has a twin sister, Bree…one is Type A (Bree, of course), one is Type B (Ree). Mystery solved!
        Just saw your latest recipe – kill me now. I’m making it for a pool party on Saturday! Easy and yummy – just what I need for that day – it’s going to be busy! Thanks!

  4. I simply and utterly ADORE my America’s Test Kitchen cookbooks and magazines and DVD’s hahah. And PW holds a special place in my heart.

    Those books area a cacophony of culinary excellence! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I adore cookbooks! Funny that you put up this post, because I started jotting down my favorites for a similar post! I have learned a tremendous amount from Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here For…” cookbooks. He is great at explaining the science behind the cooking. That, and he makes a subtle This Is Spinal Tap reference which makes him beyond cool in my eyes.

    I also love the The Best Recipe cookbooks by the Editors of Cooks Illustrated. Their approach sounds similar to the AMT cookbooks. I also have a thing for vintage cookbooks for the stories and culinary anthropology aspects.

    • See? Great minds really do think alike! I can’t wait to see your post and your favorites. I’ve never really followed Alton Brown, mostly because we don’t have cable and he’s not on PBS. But America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country are under the umbrella of Cooks Illustrated, so it’s no surprise they’re similar. It’s all one big happy, cooking family. And I adore their shows, cookbooks, magazines and website because I learn something new every time I cook with them. I love that! For readers who aren’t familiar with them, visit

  6. Kat

    I was practically shrieking throughout this – your selection of cookbooks spoke to my soul :)

    I would say my can’t-live-withouts are The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, Nigella Kitchen and Nigella Express.

    • The Joy of Cooking – that’s an oldie but a goodie! Did you know that it is one of the most published cookbooks in the US, and that the first edition was printed in 1936? If ever there was a US cooking reference book, that would be the one. How to Cook Everything by Bittman looks pretty good, too. TCP loves that guy. And Nigella’s cookbooks are always gorgeous. Thanks for sharing your favs, Kat!

  7. I just made that exact meatloaf from the exact PW’s cookbook! Added a little extra hot sauce, and it was so very good on a chilly, rainy night. The best meatloaf yet. How did you like it?

    • I think I prefer the meatloaf base my husband makes better. It’s really good. But that bacon smothered in spicy sauce topping Pioneer Woman uses is awesome. Especially when you load it with Chipotle Tobasco sauce. I couldn’t get enough!

  8. I’m glad I’m not the only one that has a cookbook addiction. Most of my recipes come from the internet, but my book collection continues to grow.
    My favorite at the moment is How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman.
    I need to buy myself something by Ina Garten because all of her recipes are dangerously good.

    • You’re the second person to mention “How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. It must be a good one! I’m also thinking about getting an Ina Garten cookbook called “How Easy Is That?” That one sound right up my alley. Let me know which one you pick.

  9. Pingback: Cooking 101: Instructional Cookbooks « Comfortably Domestic

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