Megan's 5 Essential Cookbooks

It was a true challenge choosing only five cookbooks for this post. I own more cookbooks than I'd care to admit (or count). But then there are the handful that I return to week after week, day after day.

My favorites lean towards baking books and really solid all-purpose cookbooks with impeccably tested recipes, relatively simple ingredient lists, and beautiful photographs. So here are my current list of essential, favorite cookbooks. I'd love to hear what you've been cooking from lately, too!

1. Good to the Grain: It's no accident this book is first on my list. It is possibly my all-time favorite baking book, and one that I turn to often for inspiration, ideas, and information on baking with whole grains. Kim Boyce has taken the concept of whole-grain baking, something not all that familiar for many folks, and made it accessible, intriguing, and delicious. She goes far beyond just whole-wheat flour, highlighting grains like amaranth, barley flour, oat and teff flours. I've learned that she just opened a little bakeshop in Portland where she sells many of the baked goods highlighted in the book and I'm already planning a pilgrimage. Up first: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Hazelnut Muffins, Figgy Buckwheat Scones.

2. Cook This Now: Melissa Clark's wonderful cookbook has helped me break out of many a dinner rut, with seasonal cooking ideas and recipes (organized by month) and charming notes on shopping, cooking and eating. The headnotes for each recipe are long, offering insights on why she likes the dish and how it came to be. Like Good to the Grain, Clark's recipes are impeccably tested; it's the kind of book you sit down with and are really unsure where to start because everything sounds so darn delicious. Up first: Figgy Demerra Snacking Cake and the White Bean Stew with Rosemary Garlic and Fennel).

3. Super Natural Everday: Heidi Swanson has a very clear point of view when it comes to food. She cooks wholesome vegetarian dishes using whole grains and legumes, great spice profiles, and incorporates tempeh and tofu in a very modern and delicious way. Heidi's recipes are approachable and have become staples in my everyday kitchen repertoire. When I'm looking for a relatively simple weekday lunch, I always look to Heidi's book or blog first. It's organized logically with sections for Breakfast, Lunch, Snacks, Dinner, Drinks and Treats but my favorite section might actually be the Accompaniments chapter. In it, Heidi details how to make simple pantry staples from scratch, including Whole Grain Mustard and Red Chile Oil, but she also discusses simple kitchen skills that are good to have under one's belt including poaching an egg and cooking a simple pot of beans. It's instructive, inspired and beautiful, and has recipes you want to cook right this second. Up first: Baked Oatmeal, Farro Soup, White Beans and Cabbage, and Macaroon Tart.

4. Flour: Joanne Chang's Boston-based bakery, Flour, now has three locations and incredible fanfare. I went to graduate school in Boston and would often make a pilgrimage to her South End location for a double chocolate cookie, cup of tea and a pop-tart to take home for breakfast the next morning. So I'm biased with very fond memories of a very sweet bakery, but I've also come to respect Chang's recipes and turn to them frequently for any American baking I do in the kitchen. Simply put: each and every recipe works, is clearly written, and comes out just like I remember in the bakeshop! You won't find delicate french macarons or step-by-step instructions on making your own filo dough here, but you will find fluffy layer cakes, chewy cookies, rich brownies, and nostalgic sweets like housemade Oreos and pop-tarts. Up first: Butterscotch Pudding, Homemade Nutella Tart, Lemon Lust Bars.

5. Tender: Nigel Slater's books are a feast for the senses, and that's before you even begin prepping or cooking. And Tender is one of my very favorites. It's organized by ingredient so you can easily refer to it when you come home from the farmer's market with something you're not quite sure how you'll use. The book was born from Slater's move into a small city house with a little backyard and a promise to himself that he'd try to grow some of his own produce using that bit of land. He kept that promise to himself, and offers everything he's learned in this book: how the ingredients function in the garden (when to plant) and how they function in the kitchen (preparation hints). Then Nigel Slater carefully selects recipes for each ingredient that leave you excited about seasonal produce and itching to get into the kitchen. Up first: Potato Cakes with Chard and Taleggio, Chocolate Beet Cake with Creme Fraiche and Poppy Seeds

Related: My Favorite Baking Tool: The French Rolling Pin

(Image: Megan Gordon)

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Megan is a freelance writer, recipe developer and cookbook writer. Her first book, Whole-Grain Mornings, (Ten Speed Press) is available in bookstores nationwide. Megan also owns the Seattle-based artisan cereal company, Marge Granola.