For a busy working mom like me, these books have proven to be invaluable in helping me make delicious and healthy meals my family loves.
Like most people, I started 2023 with a few resolutions. And like most of you, part of the list was losing weight and exercising more—goals which year on year I spectacularly fail to achieve. But I had one more resolution that, I’m quite proud to say, I was able to achieve by year’s end—and that is to be a better home cook.
I love to eat. I love food so much that when I was a young Catholic school girl, gluttony was a staple on my list of “sins to confess.”
I can also cook but only the usual everyday meals, nothing fancy, nothing elaborate. But something happened in 2022 which compelled me to seek other ways to express my creativity. I thought to myself, why not learn how to really cook? This way, I’m not the only one who stands to benefit, but my loved ones, too, who love to eat just as much as I do.
Since I still don’t have the time nor the means to enroll myself in culinary school, I immersed myself in cooking shows on cable TV and streaming services. And as a bookworm who is also already a tita, I still very much prefer to turn the pages of a cookbook.
Fast forward to exactly a year later, I am proud to say that my cooking and baking skills have drastically improved. I can now bake a lovely banana bread, my husband’s favorite, and cook my son’s favorite pasta dishes. This is in no small part thanks to the guidance of some of the world’s best chefs and foodies through these 10 or so books that have become my regular companions in the kitchen. They may become your steady cooking companions, too, if you have the same New Year’s resolution as I did a year ago.
How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman
If aspiring (even seasoned) writers have Strunk, White, and Kalman’s The Elements of Style as their bible, wannabe home cooks such as myself swear by Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. This voluminous book delivers the goods as promised: It does teach you the basics—and more—making it a must-have in any kitchen.
First published in 1999, How to Cook Everything covers a wide range of recipes and cooking techniques making it not only a cookbook but a reference book as well. Bittman, who is an esteemed food writer, wrote in the introduction to the 20th anniversary edition of the book that the most important aspect of his food philosophy is flexibility. He said that following a recipe faithfully works, but with practice and increased confidence comes the ability to be more spontaneous and creative in the kitchen. This is something I try to keep faithful to as well, and you should, too, if you want to enjoy cooking and not treat it as a chore.
How to Cook Everything has over 950+ pages! I’ve tried some of the recipes already, with Bittman’s chicken recipes already making it to my recipe bank.
Simpol series, Tatung Sarthou
Currently comprising five books, celebrity chef Tatung Sarthou’s award-winning Simpol series is a must-have for any Filipino home cook. Simpol Dishkarte, the first to be published among the five, goes beyond being a mere collection of recipes, it is also a comprehensive guide to fuss-free Pinoy cooking. I love how it provides readers with practical kitchen hacks and easy-to-follow recipes, all of which are accompanied by step-by-step photos and illustrations. The book is so informative and useful that last Nov. 28, Simpol Dishkarte was recognized as the “Best Celebrity Chef Book in the World” at the 29th World Gourmand Awards, with the awarding held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
I recall a conversation I had with the good chef during the launch of Simpol Dishkarte’s third printing under Vertikal Kreatives (it was previously published by ABS-CBN Books), wherein he said that “Simpol” is more than just a brand; it is his life’s philosophy. This focus on simplicity influences how he views and practices his craft, with Sarthou explaining that “By simplifying the way we cook, we can serve our families better meals. It’s simple in the manner that you remove what is not essential without sacrificing what is essential. It’s still nutritious, it’s still delicious, but it’s devoid of ego.”
The other books in the Simpol series are Simpol Kitchen Secrets, Baking Simpol, Simpol the Cookbook, and Simpol: Young Chef’s Cookbook. Each recipe has a QR code which takes you to the corresponding video on Chef Tatung’s YouTube channel, which as of writing, has 975,000 subscribers.
The Tucci Cookbook, Stanley Tucci
I love Italian food and Stanley Tucci, so this book is one of the first cookbooks I bought when I set out on my journey to becoming a home cook. What I love best about The Tucci Cookbook is that it’s very personal; it’s an intimate peek into Tucci’s memories, especially of his mother’s cooking.
Among the cookbooks on this list, I’ve tried the most number of recipes from this book. Among my favorites are Tucci’s recipes for Spaghetti alle Vongole (which is my favorite pasta dish!), Zeppole (fried dough), Rosemary Focaccia, and Beef Tenderloin with Prosciutto. His pizza dough recipe is my go-to every time I’m in the mood to make our own pizza.
Another Italian cookbook which I find helpful is Fabio’s Italian Kitchen by Top Chef alumnus Fabio Viviani. His nonna’s (grandma) meatballs is my go-to recipe for when we’re craving that dish.
Pro-tip: Except for some local titles, cookbooks are usually priced at over P1000, and most of those in this list cost north of P1500. They’re expensive because they’re usually hardbound and in full color. They’re quite sturdy, too! If you’re looking for bargain cookbooks, though, some good titles can be found in BOOKSALE. I bought my The Tucci Cookbook for only P399 and Viviani’s for only P135! Older Ina Garten, Nigella Lawson—and if you’re lucky, stray Gordon Ramsay—cookbooks can be purchased for a fraction of their original price.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat
If you’re a Netflix junkie, chances are you’ve come across a four-part docu-series of the same title. The cookbook from which the series was adapted has been one of the most awarded of its kind in recent memory. Aside from being a New York Times bestseller, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat was named “Food Book of the Year” by The Times of London, won the 2018 James Beard Award for Best General Cookbook, was named “Cookbook of the Year” by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, won the 2018 IACP Julia Child First Book Award, and in 2019 was named one of the ten “Best Cookbooks of the Century So Far” by The New Yorker—phew! That was a mouthful!
All these accolades are richly deserved, with American chef, writer, and teacher Samin Nosrat (who also stars in the docu-series) able to condense the many complexities of cooking into just the four pillars used as the title of the book. Each pillar is given its own chapter with corresponding recipes where you can apply the principles. As per Nosrat, master these four elements and everything you cook will be delicious. Like Bittman, she arms readers with more than enough information to help them become more intuitive in the kitchen without them having to cling blindly to recipes.
Reading this book has not only helped me understand ingredients better but also enjoy cooking without being too tied up to a recipe. The docu-series is just as delightful and informative. So far, my favorite recipes from the book are Nosrat’s famed Buttermilk-Marinated Roast Chicken and Slow-Roasted Citrus Salmon.
Cooking at Home (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Recipes and Love My Microwave), David Chang and Priya Krishna
I’m a huge fan of Priya Krishna—in fact, I subscribed to NYT Cooking just so I would always have access to her recipes and writing. Chang, on the other hand, I’ve loved since I first watched him in the Anthony Bourdain-executive produced and narrated series The Mind of a Chef. So when I saw this cookbook at a local bookstore, I didn’t even have to read the blurb—I knew it must be good.
Chang and Krishna didn’t disappoint. This cookbook has no recipes. Yep, you read that right. The authors took intuitive cooking to the next level, saying that recipes are “limiting,” at least to them. In the book’s preface written by Chang, he advised to, “Take in the sensory cues, not the measurements. That’s a better way to learn.” And just like Nosrat, they believe that what should be studied are the principles behind the dishes—“what makes them work, how they can work for you, if they can work for you.”
But what is a cookbook without recipes, you may ask. Fret not, because the book has over a hundred of Chang’s and Krishna’s favorite dishes, but instead of recipes with precise measurements, in their place are guidelines on the different ways you can cook a particular dish, with an emphasis on the same principle Bittman’s holds dear: flexibility.
Using the guides, I’ve so far cooked up Cacio e Pepe (the Italians’ version of mac and cheese, only infinitely better), Chicken Coconut Curry, and Pulled Pork Sandwich.
Chef RV’s Cooking Secrets, Rudolf Vincent T. Manabat
I don’t spend a lot of time on YouTube. It was only when I started taking cooking seriously that I started spending more time on the platform to watch a video or two a day, usually when I’m planning more complicated dishes like Paella Valenciana or Chicken Biryani. And this was how I chanced upon RV Manabat, a soft-spoken chef who has one of the biggest social media following among our local culinary gods. On YouTube alone, his channel commands a whopping 1.86 million subscribers. This comes with little surprise because chef RV has all the makings of a YouTube celebrity chef: charismatic, funny, and relatable.
So when it was announced that he would be releasing a book, I knew I had to buy it. Published by Anvil, Chef RV’s Cooking Secretshas over 60 of his most popular recipes on YouTube. Just like chef Tatung’s books, each recipe has a QR code which leads to the full video demonstration on his channel. I’ve already tried making Chef RV’s Beef Pares, Easy Paella, and Black Sambo, among a few others, and these recipes have never failed to make my loved ones happy.
Milk Bar: Kids Only, Christina Tosi
I have never been to New York. And in the future, if I get the chance to fly out to the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, I’ll make a beeline to The Strand, buy me some books, and then proceed to Milk Bar’s NYC Flagship Store and treat myself to their famous desserts. I love their ice cream, three flavors are thankfully available in SnR, and I’ve always wondered what their cakes and other treats taste like. So, if I can’t fly out to New York just yet, then I’ll bring Milk Bar to our kitchen with this book by Milk Bar founder Christina Tosi.
This colorful book with the most appetizing food photos is a must have for all you dessert lovers out there, young and old alike—nevermind the title. The recipes are not only quite easy but also a lot of fun to make! My son Nico and I have already bonded over a handful of them—Monkey in the Middle Muffins, Bird Bread, Really Good Flapjacks, White Chocolate Blondies, among others—and each time we’re pretty satisfied with the results.
The Step-by-Step Instant Pot Cookbook, Jeffrey Eisner
Last year, in my quest to become the best home cook for my loved ones, I spent an insane amount of money on small kitchen appliances. A La Germania oven, a KitchenAid food processor, and yes, I gave in to the Instant craze, of which my favorite is my Instant Pot pressure cooker which I use almost every day.
As a busy working mom, time is always of the essence. In between deadlines, I have to prepare my family’s meals among other chores, so having this nifty contraption really helped me save time while also multitasking. With the Instant Pot, I can cook entire meals in a single pot, making meal preparation and cleanup much faster. It also reduces the amount of time needed to make family favorites like Kalderetang Baka, Nilagang Baka, and Pata Tim by as much as just ⅓ of the original cooking time.
In the world of Instant Pot cooking, Jeffrey Eisner is *the* man. He is the creator of the popular cooking blog and YouTube channel called “Pressure Luck Cooking” which focuses on recipes and tips for cooking with the Instant Pot. His book helped me make quick yet mouthwatering meals for my family such as Ikea-style Swedish Meatballs, Dijon Dill Pork Tenderloin, and Spiced Short Ribs, and Orange Sesame Beef.
Everybody Can Bake, Dominique Ansel
Best known as the creator of the cronut, Dominique Ansel has received numerous accolades for his innovative pastry creations and has expanded his brand globally, with bakeries in different parts of the world. My family and I used to visit his eponymous bakery’s Omotesando branch every time we were in Tokyo—which is now, sad to say, already closed because of the pandemic. I have fond memories of Nico and me downing a Cookie Shot each, seeing who can finish the entire thing first, no leftover crumbs allowed.
With the Tokyo branch permanently shuttered, his book then allows me to try and recreate some of his simplest go-to recipes in the comfort of my own kitchen. I love how the book is divided into three sections: bases, fillings, and finishings, with each recipe starting off with a “baseline” which you can perfect and use as a jump-off point for more innovative creations once you’ve gained more confidence. So far, I’ve tried his go-to Banana Bread, Ladyfingers, Chocolate Brownies, and Chocolate Cake with varying levels of success.
The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs, America’s Test Kitchen
My son loves eating and cooking as much as I do. In fact, I bought this book with him in mind, only that I ended up using it more than he does. What I love about this book is that it’s as fun to read as Milk Bar: Kids Only. It also comes with helpful illustrations that work well not only for kids but also for fledgling home cooks like me.
If you have a child who also wants to get into cooking and baking, this book is highly recommended, especially because the recipes are kid-tested and kid-approved by 750 young chef testers. The recipes are pretty straightforward and make for great family bonding moments in the kitchen. Most—if not all—of them are not only yummy but healthy, too! And because many of the recipes are relatively easy to make, Nico and I have already tried making several of them like the Apple Cider Glazed Pork Chops, Sesame Noodles with Snow Peas and Carrots, and Stir-Fried Tofu with Green Beans. We’ve also made our own Hummus and Guacamole following the recipes in the book.