I’ve been actively collecting new cookbooks for three or four years now, and before that I had a little group of oddball items I picked up here and there. I have a real weakness for terrible vintage cookbooks. For example, I’ve got a recipe book from Benson & Hedges from 1981 that features dishes from famous inns across America, and it is confusing and horrifying. Some things sound decent, like Strawberry Nut Bread, and then some are downright gag-inducing like Arizona Inn Salad, a wedge of cantaloupe topped with a mixture of fruit, mayonnaise, and chilled shrimp (what in the actual hell). The whole thing is spiral-bound so you can have a smoke with one hand while you prepare these, er, conversation-starters, with the other.

I’ve got over 50 cookbooks at this point, and I love all of them, but there are four that are secretly my favorites (sssh, don’t tell the others).

Midwest Made: Big, Bold Baking from the Heartland, by Shauna Sever. There are few things that speak to my midwestern heart like a slab pie, a batch of buckeyes, or a Polish paczki. I got a wonderful surprise once I got into the book: a recipe for Sanders’ Bumpy Cake. I remember visiting Sanders’ Ice Cream Shop with my grandmother when I was little. I can’t remember her ever indulging in sweets, but she treated me to a gorgeous square of ganache-topped chocolate heaven as a birthday treat, and now with this recipe, I can re-create that for my kids!

Fave recipe: Chocolate Bumpy Cake

Delish: Eat Like Every Day’s the Weekend, Joanna Saltz & the Editors of Delish. This is one of the few cookbooks I have that I’ve actually made more than half the recipes in it. My kids and I had a blast choosing and cooking dinners, I’ve whipped up desserts to bring to work, and brought the appetizers to parties. Everything was always a hit. After my son was diagnosed with Celiac Disease I was even able to convert the pasta recipes to be gluten-free so I could still keep them in regular rotation.

Fave recipe: Italian Mac & Cheese

Cooking Comically: Recipes So Easy You’ll Actually Make Them, by Tyler Capps. So you’re looking for a cookbook for people who don’t really “do” cooking? Have I got one for you: This half cookbook/half graphic novel is one hell of a good time. You are guided through this culinary journey by a stick figure dude who likes to use extra time during cooking to do stuff like watch an Indiana Jones movie or hang out at the bar and “put out the vibe.” Check out recipes like Pinterest favorite “2 AM Chili” or “The Greatest Taco in the World – Tribute” which apparently came about when our cartoon host was challenged by a demon. Tune in to find out who was victorious!

The Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook, by Jessamyn Waldman Rodriguez and the bakers of Hot Bread Kitchen. This is my “reach for the stars” kind of cookbook. I am not a baker of breads, I’m a baker of cakes and cookies, so this is out of my wheelhouse. But everything looks so delicious, and some of the recipes don’t look that hard either. I feel like I can BE a baker of breads if I sit at the feet of all the bakers here who contributed the breads of their home countries. I could make homemade tortillas, or a crusty rustic batard, or garlic naan! Oh my god I can almost smell warm bread with butter and garlic. Mmmmmm. I need to get started on this right away.

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