Like many people in quarantine due to the coronavirus, I’ve found myself spending more and more time in the kitchen. I’m dusting off cookbooks I haven’t opened in years, bookmarking new recipes on my favorite food blogs and swapping sourdough tips with strangers on the Internet. Here are a few of my favorite timeless cookbooks that have been getting me through quarantine, for home cooks of any level.
If you were like my bachelor uncle and relied on takeout and restaurants for two out of three of your meals, welcome to the kitchen. It’s fun in here, I promise. For newbie cooks, I recommend Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, which will teach you how to cook, as the title suggests, pretty much everything. In addition to hundreds of recipes, Bittman’s cookbook outlines essential equipment and basic techniques necessary for home cooking success.
The Flavor Bible is an essential book for those who want to cook without a recipe but are filled with anxiety when they don’t have rules to follow. The premise of the book is simple - look up an ingredient, any ingredient, and see what flavors pair well with it. Most of the suggestions are pretty obvious if you’ve ever read a recipe, but it’s a good book to have in your collection if you feel like you need some training wheels.
I once tried to read Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking cover-to-cover, but realized about fifty pages in that it was better treated as a textbook. This 800+ page book will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about food, and then some, from how soy sauce is made to why we get hangovers when we drink too much alcohol.
Because I can’t foster a pet, I adopted a sourdough starter from a local bakery instead. (Pro tip: if you don’t want to go through the fuss of making your own, most bakeries will give you one for free). With yeast out of stock in most grocery stores, it’s not surprising that people are turning to sourdough bread baking.
I won’t pretend that making sourdough is easy — it’s fussy, time consuming and can be frustrating, depending on your level of anxiety. The Tartine Bread book breaks down the science and process of sourdough baking in a way that is approachable and easy to understand. I used their techniques to bake my first loaf and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t suck. But don’t take my word for it; check out the beautiful loaves posted in the customer reviews.
Alana Chernila’s The Homemade Pantry contains 101 recipes for basic pantry staples, like granola, crackers, beans and ketchup, and things you didn’t even know you could make at home, like chicken nuggets and amaretto (ingredients: brown sugar, vanilla bean, cheap vodka, almond extract). It also includes a guide to canning, should you find yourself with an excess of fresh produce. The recipes aren’t entirely ground-breaking, but it’s comforting to know I’ll be able to provide for myself in the case of a total economic collapse.
I’ll be honest — I’ve never cooked one recipe from this book, but maybe now’s the time to try my hand at Boeuf a la Catalane or a cassoulet (anyone else stock up on dried beans with no plans for their use?). I shouldn’t have to convince you to buy Julia Child’s Mastering The Art of French Cooking, you’re probably already well acquainted with its legacy.