Cook's Illustrated/America's Test Kitchen. Outside of my top 4, which are just as much reference as they are recipe, this is the only strict-recipe cookbook I'd have if I could pick only one. America's Test Kitchen is in the business of exhaustively testing and perfecting master-recipes for all the American classics, from lasagna to Key lime pie to homemade French fries to fried chicken. They have a legion of test cooks that toil in their massive kitchens, finding the PERFECT way to make each dish, then doing blind taste tests with both chefs and everyday folks, to make sure they've created the best possible version. This massive compendium of their history will consistently win you major "WOWs" from your friends and family, wondering how on earth you pulled off a cheesecake better than their Grandma's. Absolutely a must.