I know I’ve brought this up before, but with the holidays coming up, and food lovers making their wish lists, I find it’s time to bring it up again. LA Weekly’s Jonathan Gold wrote about the Top 10 Battered Cookbooks in his kitchen last week, and I love lists like this because I discover titles I’ve never heard of before.

From what he says in the descriptions of his top 10, Gold owns hundreds of cookbooks. I own about 20, or exactly one shelf's worth. When a new one comes in, I have to chose one to throw in the donate pile. So knowing my most used cookbooks must not be nearly as hard as it is for someone like Gold.

Looking at Gold’s list, I own one of his top 10, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” He has an Alice Water’s cookbook on his list, “Chez Panisse Cooking” co-authored with Paul Bertolli. One of her cookbooks is one of my most used, but it’s not the same one.

I have been asked by my wonderful husband to start putting together a Christmas wish list, and Gold’s list has given me a few ideas for a cookbook or two to put on it. But, I’d like your suggestions, too.

What is your most used cookbook and why? Let me know in the comments, please.

I’m going to list my top five for you.

“Chez Panisse Vegetables” by Alice Waters. I bought my copy of this cookbook in a used bookstore. It has notes in the margins by the previous owner who cooked for someone named Bunny. So in addition to introducing me to new ways to cook vegetables, I also get the privilege of knowing that on 10/1/96 the book’s previous cooked Celery Root, Potato and Olive gratin for Bunny, and Bunny called it a “fancy dinner.” I leave my own notes in the margins, and I hope that someday the book makes its way into the hands of someone who enjoys reading the comments.

“The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart. I made an attempt at cooking every recipe in this book last year, but I didn’t get very far. I still use it to make bread from all the time, though. I have yet to attempt to make my own baguette from it, but lately I’ve been thinking I need to take up the challenge.

“Morton’s Steak Bible” by Klaus Fritsch. Years ago, I told me husband to pick out a cookbook from the store that he would like to me to cook from, and he chose this. It includes recipes from the Morton’s Steakhouse restaurant chain. The Beef Filet Diane is out of this world, but it’s the Black Bean Soup recipe that I make the most from this book. You can see by the photo above, it's been well-used. 

“Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book.” You see this red-and-white checkered book in kitchens all the time, and there’s a good reason why. The recipes for tried and true standard dishes are really good. I’ve tried dozens of fancy lasagna recipes, but the one my family likes best comes from this book. This is a great first cookbook — one that will never get bumped off my shelf when a new book comes in.

“How to Cook Everything” by Mark Bittman. This is the first book I go to when I say to myself, “Hey, maybe I should try making …” Whatever it is, it’s almost always in here. I use it at least once every week and always for basics like pizza dough, pancake batter and risotto. It's the one I couldn't live without.

MNN homepage photo: Gezellig-girl/Flickr

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What's your essential cookbook?
Of all the cookbooks on your shelf, what’s the one you can’t live without?