While I haven’t always been a huge fan of cooking, it has blossomed into one of my favorite hobbies since getting married. However, though I usually enjoy cooking more than the average person, I also have my moments of pre-dinner panic, when I realize that everyone is expecting to be fed sometime within the next hour, and I have nothing in mind to serve them. Since ordering takeout and going out to eat is a pretty rare luxury around here, I’ve had to beef up my cooking game so that I can be ready with something to serve every night to my hungry family (and often in a half hour or less!).
Many of my favorite places to look inevitably include recipes that call for ingredients I will readily have on hand, will not take a super long time to make (or a lot of energy), and that will include a familiar enough blend of flavors that everyone will be excited to eat whatever I prepare (including the toddler in our house!). I can say without hesitation that of all the recipes I’ve made from these five resources listed below, easily over 95% of them have been winners, most of which we’ve made again and again.
My Top 5 Resources for Finding My Next Favorite Recipe
1. The Complete Vegetarian Cookbook by America’s Test Kitchen
While I am not, in fact, a vegetarian, I do try to consciously eat meatless meals a few times every week, and this cookbook (which came highly recommended by some of our closest friends) has not disappointed. This cookbook is a hefty one, containing over 700 recipes for everything from pasta to pizza to rice/grains to salads, and it contains numerous step-by-step visual tutorials on things like the best way to chop and prep ingredients and short descriptions and brand recommendations for more unfamiliar ingredients.
I particularly like that this book covers a wide variety of different cuisines too, which means we never have a chance to get bored with our meatless options. This is one of my more newly-acquired cookbooks–which means I haven’t made as many recipes out of it as with some others–but everything I have made has been FABULOUS, like the mushroom-and-spinach pizza I could eat every Friday night for the rest of forever, or the Thai Red Curry with Cauliflower that comes together quickly (in under 30 minutes) but that tastes like you spent a lot longer on it.
Even if you’re not vegetarian, this book definitely deserves a spot on your shelf.
2. The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner
I got this as a wedding present back when we were married in 2011, and it has been one of the most well-loved books on my shelf ever since! I have yet to try a recipe from here that wasn’t a total winner, and this is the book where I found my now-favorite crescent roll recipe, which I’ve made pretty much every year for our Friendsgiving. I like that this cookbook is structured after the author’s own approach to making meals, with each night of the week having a different “theme” (Monday = Comfort Food, Tuesday = Italian, Wednesday = Fish/Meatless, etc.). In fact, I liked this cookbook so much, it was the one I chose to cook my entire way through as one of my 101 in 1001 goals.
Hers is the only recipe I use for German pancakes (a staple around here), and we love both versions of her mac & cheese so much that I did a post with the recipes so you could love them, too!
Seriously, this one would make a GREAT wedding gift for just about anybody!
(I also loved this one so much that I asked Matt to buy me its sequel for Christmas a couple years ago–The Food Nanny Rescues Dinner Again, which branches out a bit into different regional and international cuisines more.)
3. Cooking For Two
Another wedding gift, this cookbook’s only downfall is that there are no pictures of the delicious food (cue sad face). What I DO like about this one is that the recipes are often very simple and almost always call for stuff that I already have in the pantry anyway. While I love to cook really fresh when I can, sometimes at the end of the month, I’ll really be struggling to pull together a meal from pantry ingredients, and this book is my go-to for that, as many of the recipes call for canned goods.
I like to think of this cookbook as the perfect “beginner” cookbook for someone just starting out—most of the recipes are pretty foolproof, and most rely on easy-to-throw-together ingredients that even the poorest newlywed couple is likely to have. Since I’ve become a much better cook over the years I’ve been married, I now will use many of the recipes from this book as a sort of “blueprint,” and then add things or modify them according to our personal tastes.
This book would make a great gift for a kid about to leave home for the first time or for a newlywed couple that doesn’t have much experience in the kitchen!
4. Our Best Bites
I ALSO got this one as a wedding present (can you sense that our generous friends and family have good taste for great wedding gifts?!), and I can credit this book as the one that finally gave me the recipe for perfect, goes-with-everything dinner rolls that I’d been searching for for so long (something I mentioned in this post highlighting another great roll recipe!). Other favorites I’ve found in this are my go-to recipe for making my own pound cake (when I don’t want to go to the store to buy an angel’s food cake for serving with strawberries and cream), my favorite beef stroganoff recipe, and a particularly scrumptious version of chocolate zucchini bread.
Also, funny story—I once was invited to a brunch with some ladies in the church youth leadership I was then serving in, and the host served the most scrumptious syrup I had EVER eaten over the crepes we had that morning. When I asked for the recipe, I was delighted to find that it was the one for buttermilk caramel syrup that was found in my very own Our Best Bites cookbook!
I loved the flavors from this cookbook so much that for my second Christmas with my husband’s family, when my mother-in-law asked me for some gift ideas, I told her that I wanted their follow-up cookbook, Savoring the Seasons (which has recipes featured by time of year/availability of produce/certain holidays, etc.), which she so kindly bought for me! I also have been eyeing their third cookbook for awhile now (400 Calories or Less with Our Best Bites).
5. Mel’s Kitchen Cafe
This list would be grossly inaccurate if I didn’t include a link to my favorite recipe blog of all time! I have made more recipes from this blog than I can count, and I seriously get on it almost on a daily basis for everything from dinner ideas to baking tips to cookie recipes. Most times when I make a killer recipe for someone, it’s almost always from her site, and I have yet to encounter a dud from it! In fact, my husband, whenever I’ve just made a new recipe, knows that he can proceed with 100% confidence if the recipe is from her site (and looks forward to trying it with gusto!).
Some of my favorite recipes from her site are her sweet and sour chicken (a little time-consuming but sooooo worth it), her Asian chicken wraps, her eggless double chocolate chip cookies (I crave these ALL. The. Time.), and her Mexican haystacks, which is one of my go-to 30-minute meals.
While I only included my most-used cookbooks/cooking sources above, I also own several other cookbooks that I’ve been impressed with (but that I haven’t cooked as much out of, mostly just because they’re newer). I’ve liked nearly everything I’ve tried from these ones too, though!
- Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis (I was especially blown away by her mushroom risotto)
- Six O’Clock Solutions: 30-Minute Meal Plans for Delicious Weeknight Meals (I like their shepherd’s pie recipe a lot)
- A Year with Six Sisters’ Stuff (I’m a fan of the caesar salad and the honey roasted carrots and can’t wait to try some of the desserts!)
Note: This post contains affiliate links, but as always, I only recommend things that I personally own and love or that I honestly am thinking of buying for myself!
Now it’s your turn to dish—what are YOUR go-to sources for finding what you’ll make for dinner?