My pal once had an unexpected (wink wink) overnight guest, and was kind enough to wake up early and make a romantic breakfast. He busted out the Ina and the Julia and was feeling pretty darned good about his efforts when the lucky fella walked into the kitchen, yawning and stretching. He smiled at him and said, “Oh that’s so cute! You need books to cook.” He was not asked back. No one comes out of the womb knowing how to cook, and not everyone has a relative who was available, qualified, or willing to school them in the culinary arts. That’s where cookbooks come in.
How to Cook Everything the Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food—with 1,000 Photos
There’s an egg on the cover. There are instructions about how to crack it. Cookbooks don’t get more fundamental than that. Don’t feel like staining the pages? It’s available as an app as well, complete with videos and timers for techniques and recipes. It’s like having a personal 24/7 tutor in your kitchen, without the awkwardness of having to make small talk in your PJs.
How to Cook Everything the Basics: All You Need to Make Great Food—with 1,000 Photos by Mark Bittman, $7.99 (app), markbittman.com
The Big Book of Breakfast and Brunch
There’s a reason that red, ring-bound cookbook is so crazy ubiquitous—it just works, and it’s got every kitchen basic a home cook could possibly want. Now there’s a breakfast and brunch-centric version? Rock. Betty packs in 200 recipes, from classic like quiches and French toast to more contemporary options like antioxidant smoothies and green tea granola. Note: Some of the recipes rely on boxed mixes like Bisquick so if you’re into shaving minutes off your morning routine, you’ve found your dream book.
The Big Book of Breakfast and Brunch by Betty Crocker, $19.99, bettycrocker.com
Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient
Dig a little science with your scramble? Let Ruhlman school you. Even if you’ve never cracked a shell, this book—paired with a carton or ten—will walk you through the basics of boiling, pressure-cooking, poaching, frying, coddling, separating and more, via clear, thoughtful, thorough text and a stunningly useful removable flowchart.
Egg: A Culinary Exploration of the World's Most Versatile Ingredient by Michael Ruhlman, $40, ruhlman.com
Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads
Quick breads, yeast breads, culturally specific breads, even English freaking muffins—they’re all within your grasp, even if you’ve never gotten your hands doughy before. There’s a reason home cooks have trusted Bernard Clayton’s books for 40 years (Clayton himself passed away in 2011)—his methods and recipes are pretty much flawless. Master a couple of loaves, and you’ll never go back to storebought.
Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, $22, simonandschuster.com
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Sometimes you’re the Jeffrey and sometimes, you’re the Ina. When it’s your turn to cook, there is no better angel to have on your shoulder than the Barefoot Contessa, herself. With the help of Ina Garten’s 1999 classic, strawberry scones, orange yogurt and all manner of muffins will soon become back-pocket dishes for which company will clamor. Even if the recipes come from a cookbook.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten, $35 signed, barefootcontessa.com