For cooking well.
I used to have a lot of cookbooks. Sadly, I left them in Texas years ago. I have them all as ebooks now. But it’s not the same. I’ve found cookbooks are best as physical objects. I used to write notes on the recipes—what I changed, and if it made the dish better or worse—and I liked opening to a recipe I’d made many times and seeing my saucy fingerprints on the page. These days, I mostly cook by feel. But I would be lost had I not read these several cookbooks once upon a time.
An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
This is the most important cookbook to me. Well, it’s less a cookbook and more a book about cooking; full of methods, philosophy, and how food intersects with life. It’s the most recent book I’ve read on this list. But if I could do it all over again, this would be my first.
Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell
This is my next most important cookbook. And coincidentally—or maybe not—the author of the first book on this list and the author of this book have spent a lot of time in kitchens together. (At least, I think they did. I might be misremembering.) Twelve Recipes was written as a guide to a young adult going off to college. This book teaches almost all the cooking technique and theory a home cook could ever need. I love this book and it’s the first one I turn to when I need a recipe for something.
Every Grain of Rice by Fuchsia Dunlop
This was the first cookbook I cooked all the way through, only skipping a handful of recipes. It was also the book that I learned most of my cooking methods and techniques from. (I blame this book for all the garlic I burn—it’s not my fault.) It’s kind of specific, being only one region’s cuisine in one country. But it’s very worthwhile.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child
Here’s a classic. And a fancy one. This book teaches the “correct” way to cook a dish, the “impressive” way, the French way. Some of the recipes are even usable once you've translate them from nonsense. Whenever I want to try cooking something new, first I check to see if there’s a recipe in Twelve Recipes. Then I check this book. (Lastly, I’ll search online and usually find something on Serious Eats. And then I’ll make the dish using a combination of whatever I’ve found. (Apparently, there is also a sequel. But I’ve never read it.)
Bonus: Home Made, Home Made Winter, and Home Made Summer by Yvette van Boven
I love these three cookbooks. Especially Home Made Winter. I never used them as often as the others, but they contain a lot of fun recipes that I’ve found myself coming back to again and again.