Looking for cooking inspiration? Grab your favorite cookbook

Get a little kitchen inspiration from these cherished cooking guides

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

In this period of quarantine, people are doing more cooking and baking than ever. Most of us are used to serving up one or two meals a day — with family members at school or at work grabbing lunch and snacks elsewhere. But, here we are, stuck in our homes with cries of "What's for breakfast (lunch or dinner)?" and "Where are the snacks?" echoing off the kitchen walls.

We could all use a little inspiration and some new ideas. Why not turn to your trusty, old cookbooks? We asked fellow foodies in Berkshire County what their favorite cookbooks are, and why.

It would be "Marcella's Italian Kitchen" by Marcella Hazan.

Marcella is a great teacher, who gives background and context for many of her recipes and reasons for her methods and choice of ingredients. I've used it both professionally and for cooking at home.

Her recipe methods are lucid, detailed and they work! Her broad range of recipes and insights transport you to her cooking school in Bologna for the taste of authentic Italian cuisine. It's a cookbook to read.

Finally, I had the good fortune to attend a cooking demo of hers and my copy is signed by one of the great chefs of my generation!

— Robert Luhmann, Berkshire Eagle food columnist

Funny you should ask that. I just this weekend decided to cook a new recipe every third night during this period, and both expand my repertoire and also do something creative. I started with my favorite cookbook "Plenty," by Yotam Ottolenghi, which makes vegetarian cooking interesting, thinks creatively about ingredients and flavors, and yields such colorful dishes.

(That said, my first recipe was a mushroom ragout that frankly didn't turn out all that well, but I still love the book. I suspect the problem was mine, not the author's!)

— Jennifer Trainer Thompson, cookbook author and president and CEO of Hancock Shaker Village

I have two favorite cookbooks. One is my own "Pudding Hollow Cookbook," not really because of my recipes (although they are, of course, excellent) but because of the bright color illustrations by the late Judith Russell. She was a folk artist who saw sunshine, happiness and beauty everywhere. We all need more Judys in our lives, especially now. My other standby is "The Fannie Farmer Cookbook." I inherited my love of this book from my mother and my grandmother; the latter actually studied at the Boston Cooking School when Miss Farmer ran it. It abounds with New England standbys. In these days when the world is moving so very quickly around us, I am drawn to basic, eternal recipes.

Happy spring! Stay healthy, and don't forget to sing a song as you cook.

— Tinky Weisblat, food writer and cookbook author

My favorite cookbook is "The Victory Garden Cookbook." It was from the original PBS gardening show of the same name that started back in the 1970s. With what I'm guessing will be a surge in vegetable gardening this summer, this well laid out book presents each vegetable in alphabetical order and every recipe is fantastic. My favorites are the slightly sweet and savory Cabbage Strudel and the Sweet Potato Chocolate Bundt Cake. This is definitely not a vegetarian cookbook. It was published in 1982, so I believe it is out of print, which is a shame, but used copies are easily found online.

— Robin Anish, Berkshire Eagle food columnist

Article Continues After These Ads

The most reliably beloved book in my kitchen is the original "Moosewood Cookbook" by Mollie Katzen. I was raised on the recipes in this book, and I continue to go back to them again and again. The book is both creative and essential, and Mollie's handwritten recipes and illustrations are such a joy to read.

Another favorite of mine is Laurie Colwin's "Home Cooking," a collection of essays with recipes by a brilliant food writer who died in the early 1990s.

And finally, for these times in particular, I've been going back to "Extra Helping," a beautiful little book written by my friend, Janet Reich Elsbach, who also lives here in the Berkshires. "Extra Helping" is all about bringing food to those who need it in times of crisis (big and small). The recipes are particularly nourishing, as is the writing itself. Even right now when we might not necessarily be able to cook for our community, Janet's advice on how to show up for people is so poignant. I find myself reaching for her recipes when I need a soup to soothe frayed nerves in our house, or a treat to perk everyone's spirits. She also has a number of great recipes geared toward nursing sick people back to health, a category which may be useful to many of us in the coming weeks.

— Alana Chernila, cookbook author and marketing and events manager at Guido's Fresh Marketplace

The "Joy of Gardening Cookbook" by Janet Ballantyne, 1984, Garden Way.

This cookbook is organized by vegetable. The mainstay of our meals is the vegetables we grow and eat fresh, as well as preserve for consumption through the winter. As such, this is our go-to cookbook. It is perfectly organized for others who rely a great deal on their garden harvests. Each chapter contains information on harvesting, storage, basic cooking instructions, and then recipes organized by course, i.e. appetizers, soups and salads, side dishes, main dishes, and, when appropriate, desserts. Another very useful feature is "Yields." For example, "1 pound of carrots equals 3 cups sliced or diced, or 4 cups grated or processor ground, or 3 cups cooked and pureed." Though the copyright is 1984, the recipes in this book are never outdated.

— Ron Kujawski, garden writer and author

In these times, I'm finding I'm reaching for "old reliable," the beloved red-and-white gingham of the "Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook." I find the tried-and-true recipes are always a hit as they are the very definition of "comfort food." Back-to-basics, straightforward recipes can be found inside. As we all try to reduce waste and be more sustainable, I appreciate the no-fuss recipes. You don't need to go buy a special ingredient or two that you'll never use again and then end up tossing into the garbage.

Most of all, the cookbook brings back warm memories of flipping through my mother's and grandmothers' well-worn copies. Theirs had pages falling out or notes paper-clipped to the pages about what holiday, birthday or family get-together the recipe had been made for, as well as the general consensus on the result. I remember feeling very grown up when I received my own copy for Christmas when I was a teenager.

No surprise, but some of my favorite recipes feature dairy! After all, my parents and both sets of grandparents were dairy farmers. In particular, the macaroni and cheese recipe is one of my "go to's" when a comforting meal is called for. And yes, the page has fallen out and it has a paperclip!

— Diane Krol, RD, LDN, manager, Youth Wellness, New England Dairy

Deborah Madison has been my idol. I recommend her book, "Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone." I value her as one of the pioneers of farm-to-table cooking at her restaurant, Greens.

The book is very well-organized, full of imaginative, versatile, mouthwatering, fool-proof, and at the same time, simple recipes, including a chapter on baking at the end.

You can learn from it and expand your skills cooking easy, health-promoting, immune boosting meals.

— Anna Gershenson, caterer, educator, consultant, cooking show host and producer


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions