One of my dearest girlfriends, Sara, has been such an inspiration for me in the food department. She's helped me find my way around the kitchen (She's a very skilled at-home chef) and is also responsible for introducing me to some of my now-favorite New York restaurants. Over the past year we've spent quality time together with food always being a focus. We've dined at the finest restaurants New York restaurants, consumed the greatest of wines, spent holidays together and have even hosted a "salmon bake" rooftop dinner together using the salmon I personally caught and shipped back from Alaska!

Sara has also played a special role in my life: She's helped me to hunt down the perfect restaurants to host special events; she taught me how to make gnocchi for the first time; she introduced me to the concept of "Meatless Mondays" and most importantly, she's introduced me to her cookbook collection, something I'll cherish forever. The amazing thing is, prior to meeting Sara, I rarely spent anytime cooking.

Sara's cooking skills and knack for snagging the best restaurant reservations are appreciated on a regular basis by her husband Darren, her family, and her close friends. But just because you don't know her personally doesn't mean you can't have access to her inspiration, her love for food and her cookbook collection. Read below for Sara's favorite cookbooks and the chefs who helped her to perfect her culinary adeptness. Stay tuned for more from Sara, as I'm begging her to share her top New York restaurants with us next.

The Cookbooks I Love Most, by Sara

"I am what you call a cookbook collector. There isn't a cookbook I don't have a deep affection for. I love to flip through them to admire the pictures, the vision of the chefs, the creativity in the recipes, and to pick out possible menus to create for special events throughout the year." - Sara

Best "Overall, Go-To" Cookbooks

The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten. If forced to pick my favorite two out of the series it would be The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa Family Style. From company pot roast to perfect roasted chicken, from tuna tartare to French potato salad, everything you need to impress yourself and your friends are in her books. I learned how much I love roasted vegetables (brussel sprouts, carrots, asparagus), how to make a great vinaigrette (green salad vinaigrette), and how to put together great menus from Ina.


Best "Sick of The Same Lunch and Really Want To Mix It Up" Cookbook

So Easy by Ellie Krieger. Ellie Krieger is a nutritionist and this is a great book for inventive dishes that are both delicious and good for you. Instead of the same old sandwich or unhealthy, heavy lunch that makes you tired shortly after consuming it, try her curried chicken salad, the wheat berry salad with lemon-cumin grilled chicken, or the Greek salad pitas with feta spread and turkey. Her other cookbook, The Food You Crave, is one of my go-to's for Nibbles and Noshes to tide guests over before dinner. Try the grilled zucchini rolls, the Italian sausage skewers, or, my favorite, crab salad in crisp wonton cups.


Best "I Know I Should Eat Whole Grains But I'm Not Sure What To Do With Them" Cookbook

Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson. This is a great book to use as both a reference guide as well as a tasty cookbook. Ms. Swanson does an amazing job describing the foods that you know you should be eating, but haven't had the courage to try preparing yet (quinoa, wheat berry, faro, barley). Try the wheat berry salad with citrus, toasted pine nuts, feta, and spinach, or the risotto style barley with winter citrus and arugula. As a side note, she has just released a new cookbook called Super Natural Every Day. I picked up my copy but haven't had a chance to cook from it yet. I'm sure it's yummy!


Best "I'm New To The Kitchen and I Want To Dip My Toes In The Water" Cookbook

Great Food Fast by Everyday Food, the kitchens of Martha Stewart (Renee speaking here: Sara gifted this book to me for Christmas last year and I've entertained my entire family with some of these recipes - awesome guide!) This cookbook is great for the newbie, as a quick reference guide, as well as for whipping up good, weekday meals. From vinaigrettes to rubs to herb sauces, this cookbook will streamline weeknight meals and provide extra guidance to those who need it.



Best "Italian With A California Twist" Cookbooks

Giada De Laurentis. While I have all of her cookbooks, I tend to cook mostly from Everyday Italian and Giada's Family Dinners. And let me be clear - I cook from them a lot! Some of my favorites are the sea bass with beans and radicchio, the tuna and artichoke panini, the orzo with garbanzo beans, red onion, basil, and mint, and the cannelloni beans with herbs and prosciutto. She does classic "red sauce" Italian-style, too, but I tend to skew towards her brighter, more vibrant recipes.


Additional cookbooks and authors I love are anything by Diane Rossen Worthington, anything by Joanne Weir, and The Splendid Table's How To Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

Last, but not least, don't underestimate the power of Epicurious is the website of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and other publications that have pooled all of their recipes into one portal. The members of Epicurious are very helpful and provide useful feedback and ratings for each recipe. There is likely a recipe for whatever you are looking to make, and if you read the reviews that are included in each recipe you'll discover ways to improve upon already great recipes.

Now go on, and get in the kitchen!

Signing Off Crazy About Cookbooks,

Renee & Sara