Some cookbooks help you get dinner on the table tonight. Others help you become a better cook for the rest of your life—every recipe teaches you something fundamental.
James Peterson's 560-page Cooking (Ten Speed) is a great choice for anyone who wants to become a smarter cook.
Spain is the new Italy, at least to judge by the tapas bars sprouting on every corner. Explore its cuisine at home with 1080 Recipes (Phaidon). A best-seller in Spain for over 35 years, this book is filled with gorgeous, splashy pastels.
Pure Dessert (Artisan) offers lovely antidotes to the supersweet treats craved by overstimulated palates. Alice Medrich's pared-down recipes—for buckwheat strawberry shortcakes, for example—let the pure flavors of great ingredients shine.
Parents tired of trying to coerce their kids into eating vegetables will welcome Deceptively Delicious (HarperCollins). Jessica Seinfeld (Jerry's wife) wrote this clever guide to sneaking fruit and vegetable purees into everything from brownies to macaroni and cheese.
Chinese food, American-style, once meant chop suey in a can. In 1961, Cecilia Chiang opened the Mandarin restaurant in San Francisco, bringing pot stickers and hot-and-sour soup to our tables. If The Seventh Daughter (Ten Speed) were filled with only her delicious, doable recipes, it would be a wonderful book. But it's also a moving memoir of a plucky woman who grew up in a Beijing palace and has witnessed everything from foot binding to free love (John Lennon was a regular, and Jefferson Airplane once tipped her a joint).
A good restaurateur is as smart about people as he is about food. Michael McCarty, owner of the popular Michael's in Santa Monica and New York, shares his secrets and recipes in Welcome to Michael's (Little, Brown).