With restaurants closed for dine-in service, everyone from shaky-legged Gen Z college grads with nothing to their culinary CV but boxed mac ‘n’ cheese to busy New Yorkers accustomed to eating out eight nights a week has had to adjust to the new reality of confinement. A study released April 15, which surveyed 1005 Americans, found that 54% of respondents are cooking more and 46% are baking more. Among countless other things, the COVID-19 pandemic may just be the cataclysmic catalyst that births the next generation of home chefs.
But if you didn’t know how to cook pre-pandemic, you’ve gotta learn somehow. And if you’re a bit rusty, or tend to run on auto-pilot in the kitchen with three to four go-to dishes, now is the moment to build your skill set and broaden your recipertoire (see what I did there?). To help you stretch your kitchen fairy wings, we reached out to Hudson Valley chef/restaurateurs to ask what cookbooks they recommend. Here are their top picks, plus a couple from our staff, just because we can.
Got your own favorite recipe book? Leave it in the comments below.
Brian Arnoff, Kitchen Sink and Meyer's Olde Dutch
This is my go to baking book, I think Stella Parks will probably end up being my generation's Maida Heeter. The book is full of foundational items including great recipes for a variety of basic cake styles that can be adapted a million different ways. My only recommendation is when you go on Amazon to order it, also pick up a digital scale, baking without a scale is like driving without a seatbelt, reckless.
I love cooking traditional Jewish staples passed down in our family, this book by Michael Solomonov fuses those traditions with beautiful and fresh cooking of Israel. The recipes in Zahav make me hungry and excited to cook, the flavors are bold and the ingredients widely used in the book are well suited to taking advantage of all the great spring and summer produce we have in the Hudson Valley.
Bryan Calvert, Binnekill Tavern
Binnekill Tavern is currently closed.
3. The Gourmet Cookbook
One of my favorites is The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Riechl and Gourmet magazine. It is written like an old-style cook book with tons of recipes and no glossy photos of food porn and celebrity chefs. It’s a nice combination of classics and modern recipes for the home cook, all well tested by Gourmet Magazine.
Hannah Black & Carla Perez-Gallardo, Lil' Deb's Oasis
4. Aveline Kushi's Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking For Health, Harmony and Peace
My go-to cookbook is my family's torn up copy of Aveline Kushi's Complete Guide to Macrobiotic Cooking For Health, Harmony and Peace. I brought it down off the shelf, as turning to recipes that feel comforting and familiar is especially calming during this time of global uncertainty and upheaval. The recipes in this book are meant to ground you, and create inner harmony through a careful and delicious balance of flavors and ingredients. This food is very unlike the racy, upbeat, punchy flavors of our restaurant, but they never fail to make me feel held and centered. I especially love the chapter headings, each with a careful illustration and soft haikus that speak to the chapter's themes.
5. Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking
I've been cooking a lot from Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking, from the Portland, Oregon restaurant. My husband is Ukrainian, so for him comfort is anything with dill and sour cream. I've made the mushroom and barley soup twice already (which is a big deal, since I usually prefer trying new things, but it is that good!). With all this extra time on my hands, I've been into dinners that are a little more process-oriented like their Siberian Dumplings. I also love the "Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes" cookbook because it has so many preserving techniques, from dehydrating to fermenting, and recipes for pantry staples since we have the time to make more dishes from scratch!
Josh Kroner, Terrapin
The books I would recommend are Home Cooking with Jeans-Georges: My Favorite Simple Recipes by Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Ad Hoc at Home by Thomas Keller. Both are great books by super star chefs and restaurateurs that focus on easier at-home recipes.
6. Home Cooking & Ad Hoc at Home
Aaron Lacan, Farmers & Chefs
7. Pairing With The Masters
8. The Forgotten Skills of Cooking
This is the most wholesome, hearty, yummy, full-fat, from-scratch cookbook you could ever want. Written by Darina Allen, founder of the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Cork, Ireland and champion of the Slow Food movement, this book offers a return to more traditional methods of food preparation from butchering to baking, cooking to preservation using farm-fresh ingredients. It’s the type of food your grandmother would make you, if your grandmother lived on an organic farm in the Irish countryside, with limitless access to just-picked herbs, still-warm eggs, and milk fresh from the cows. Written in the devoted, sweet, sometimes wry, never condescending tone of someone who has dedicated their life to sustaining these foodways, Forgotten Skills is an excellent foundational manual for someone just finding their feet in the kitchen. The Quiche Lorraine recipe is a particular favorite.
—Marie Doyon, digital editor
9. All-Time Favorites: A Lifetime of Recipes for the First-Time Cook
Originally published in 1990, Irena Chalmers’ All-Time Favorites was a kind of precursor to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, a collection of well-known recipes and the tips and techniques one needs to pull them off with simplicity and grace. Compiled from her decades of experience as a food retailer, restaurateur, chef, and instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, Chalmers’ recipes are tried and true standards—baked acorn squash, a dozen recipes for varieties of bread and muffins, coq au vin, quiche Lorraine, apple pie. These are the types of recipes that we now Google with our laptop on the counter next to the cutting board. What elevates Chalmers’s recipes above the Googleable for me are three things: I trust her judgement as I know her pedigree (and once had the privilege of sharing a cocktail with her in her home). Her directions are descriptive, informative, and instructive without being stuffy. And, her writing makes me want to spend time with her. Here’s a vignette from the introduction to her book:
“Many years ago, I was invited by a gorgeous man to have dinner in his Manhattan brownstone apartment. I was rapturous with anticipation. I arrived tarted up to the gills and was greeted by Himself, dressed in a decrepit old sweater and jeans and bare of foot. He led me to his garden where we drank vast quantities of champagne and smoked innumerable cigarettes, depositing the ashes in a rolled-back sardine can. Dinner was delivered from the neighborhood Chinese take-out store. We married briefly, and though I have forgotten most of the details of that particular dinner and exactly what delicate morsels we extracted from the little metal-handled boxes, I remember the dear little sardine can with great affection.”
Irena Chalmers died on April 4 at her home in Kingston at the age of 84. She lives on in the simple, delicious food her cookbook provides the blueprint for.
—Brian K. Mahoney, editorial director