12 Days of Christmas: Cooking Inspiration

When I’m planning a big holiday meal I love to sit at my dining room table with a steaming mug of coffee and a stack of cookbooks.  This is where I often find my inspiration for holiday menus.  I imagine the flavor of each ingredient and how different combinations will work with each other.  And when I’m putting together a menu for a special occasion, i.e. birthday dinners or holiday menus I also take into consideration what I can get locally at my farmer’s market.  Food is so much more fun when it’s seasonal!

As with most cooks, I find myself turning to the same cookbooks every time – even though I own over 50.  However, I’m proud of the fact that each of my cookbooks serves a specific purpose.  For example, I still refer to the first cookbook I ever owned, “Meals in Many Lands” to make sure I’m setting the table properly.  And I have a wonderful bread book that my good friend Rob gave me when I was living in Portland and every time I need to make a good bread to go with soup, I turn to it.

I’d love to share the details of every cookbook I own, but for posterity sake, I’ll just share my favorites.  Here are my Top 7 Go-To Cookbooks:

The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

This cookbook literally IS my bible when it comes to making fruit pies.  Everything I’ve learned about making pies (except my crust which comes from a recipe passed down from my great-grandmother) has come from this book.  In fact, I still get requests for the Triple-Berry Pie I made seven years ago for Thanksgiving.

The Joy of Cooking, by Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker

This was the first REAL cookbook I ever owned and the cracked spine shows how much I love it.  The best part about this cookbook is the introductions in each chapter – it’s basically an encyclopedia of ingredients, techniques and cooking methods.  Before the Internet, this was my go-to source whenever I had a question.  And most of the time, it still is.  The baking chapters get the most use, (cookies, cakes, etc.) but lately I’ve been turning to the front of the book for soups and sauces just as often.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, by Marion Cunningham

I ordered this cookbook years ago when I belonged to the Cookbook-of-the-Month Club.  It took me a little while to begin using it, but it’s every bit as good for basic family recipes as The Joy of Cooking.  My lasagna, beef stew, chili con carne, and several quick bread recipes come from here.

Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmers’ Markets, by Deborah Madison

Another Cookbook-of-the-Month Club purchase, I had already been cooking from Deborah’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years – love the pesto recipe.  (Ha, see what I did there?  I slipped #8 in without you even noticing.)  But it wasn’t until I made the commitment to start eating more local and sustainable food that this cookbook became a great source of inspiration.  I rarely make any recipe exactly as it’s written (which is the beauty of this book) but it provides a wonderful springboard for so many things I have made – the persimmon pudding being one of them.

Barefoot in Paris, by Ina Garten

I fell in love with this cookbook the minute I opened it.  Thanks to Ina’s straightforward, simple style every recipe is always easy to understand if not as easy to execute (and only because of my skill level, not her instructions.  Ina, I bow at the alter of your awesomeness!)  In fact, the recipe for roasted chicken (so simple, I know) helped make it a staple on the family menu.  For holidays I’ve made the cauliflower gratin, green beans, caramelized shallots, palmiers, and so much more!

Desserts and Comfort Food, by Martha Stewart

These special edition cookbooks were part of a series Oxmoor House produced for Martha Stewart in the mid-90’s.  (How I get on all of these book-of-the-month-pay-as-you-go lists I’ll never know.)  Anyway, I was flipping through Comfort Foods a few nights ago and realized that I’ve made every recipe in it and it has become a staple of my Fall cooking.  It includes recipes for chicken pot pie, chicken noodle soup, meatloaf and French onion soup.  The Desserts cookbook is equally inspiring.  Check out yesterday’s post to read about the yumminess I’ve discovered in this book.

So there you have it – the main sources of my meal planning inspiration!  I’ll talk more about some of my favorite specialized cookbooks in future posts, promise!

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