If I were stranded on a deserted island and could only have five cookbooks (er, deserted except for access to any and all ingredients, kitchen supplies and cooking implements) one book that would definitely be among them is How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.
You may know Bittman as The Minimalist. He has a number of cookbooks, writes cooking columns and had a TV show on PBS. I really enjoy his work and his simple but quality approach to culinary delights.
In How to Cook Everything, Bittman offers recipes for, well, just about everything as the name implies. It has an absurd number of recipes for a single book (although it is over 1000 pages) and covers the whole spectrum, from salads to seafood to baked goods to meats and soups to desert, he really does have it all.
What do you want to make? English muffins? Got it. Clafouti or burritos? Yep. Roast saddle of lamp? Uh-huh. Teriyaki chicken or bruchetta? Yes, indeed. Brioche and quick breads? Of course. Potstickers, mayonnaise, Pina Coladas and chocolate layer cake? Yes, yes and yes. In a single book Bittman provides tried and true recipes for thousands of staples. It is my go-to book whenever I decide to make something I’ve never made before and for those recipes I make again and again. Some of my favorites that I’ve had marked with sticky tabs for years are his quick bread recipes, tomato sauces, beans and rice and fish en papillote (fish in packages).
Voluminous? Yes! But not as bad as cluttering your bookshelf with 18 other cookbooks to cover the same recipes. In fact I’ve used mine so much it’s starting to come apart and I need to replace it. I will get the hard cover version next time so it can stand up to my abuse.