Sunday, April 02, 2006

Cookbook Query

Food bloggers occassionally tag each other with a meme, a series of questions to answer and post on their blog. This is my very first, relating to one of the tools of the trade—cookbooks.


If only I had more room! The bane of my existence is not having enough storage, particularly in my kitchen. I have nowhere to put my cookbooks in there and had to install shelves that are up above window height, just for my teapot collection (only part of it) and serving bowls. Consequently, my office shelves, which I thought to be plenty when I bought them, currently share space between my personal books, research and professional books, the travel books from the publisher I work for (over 90 now), my cookbooks, and various other odds and ends (like my Sherlock Holmes collection). In fact, as much as I like bookstores, I try not to go into them for fear that I will buy more books that will come home with me and have no shelf space to share. I’m tapped out. (In my next house, I am going to build one whole wall, floor to ceiling, of bookshelves with one of those sliding ladders.)

Given my space considerations, I only own 85 cookbooks, plus 2 shelves of saved back issues of Gourmet, Bon Appetit, and other food mags that I felt were worth saving for their recipe content. I also have one small recipe file, which holds 3x5 cards. I started this in college and some of my oldest recipes are here. And last, I have a large standing file which holds recipes from newspapers & magazines, from cooking schools I have been to, family heirlooms, etc.


The Best Recipes in the World by Mark Bittman . I will admit that I read quite a few reviews on this book which persuaded me to add it to my collection. It is a weighty tome, almost intimidating. I haven’t yet made anything from it. But I promise it will get grease smudges and chocolate drops on it soon enough. (The signs of a well-loved, and oft-used cookbook.)

I was also given two beautiful cookbooks at the same time. My dear friend, in Vegas working on a guidebook, received two huge hardback cookbooks from one of the hotel PR departments: Great American Food and The Art of Aureole , both by Charlie Palmer. She graciously gave both to me. Great American food is one gorgeous 4-color hardback book that makes you drool as you flip through. It is easy to read, the recipes are not as difficult as one might think, and there are wine pairings with most every recipe. This book will definitely get some use. The Art of Aureole has a unique cover, but opening it up, I was immediately turned off. Each recipe is printed in white text on black background and is very difficult to read, and if that weren’t enough, each graf of a recipe is angled a different way. Argh. I think I might have an easier time recreating the dishes myself from the beautiful one- to two-page 4-color spread that each items gets. (Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, mind you, but this one is not likely to get many grease smudges.)


Sorry to say that this was work-related. I read through African Cooking by Laurens van der Post (Time-Life Books, 1971). I needed to understand more about African cooking—the ingredients, history, influences—for my upcoming anthology The World is a Kitchen. I got one great sidebar out of the book and marked a few recipes to try as well.


Betty Crocker’s Picture Book, 2nd edition (1956). The introduction proclaims that the 1st edition sold over 3.5 million copies! This edition does not vary signifcantly from the first but it contains the basic, tried and trued, recipes everyone needs, from biscuits to cakes to sauces. I know you must think this is corny, but this was my mother’s first cookbook, and the one I grew up with. My mother graciously parted with it a few years ago, not realizing what a treasure it is, and it is regularly consulted.

McCall’s Cookbook: The Absolutely Complete Step by Step Cooking and Serving Guide. This was my own very first cookbook. Twice the size of my mother’s aforementioned first, it contains all that and more, including education on cuts of meat, entertaining, international cookery, leftovers, and low-cal cooking. It is missing the covering on its spine and is held together tenuously, but will always remain one of my favorites, as it helped to set me on a course of food appreciation.

Lemons: Growing, Cooking, Crafting by Kate Chynowieth and Elizabeth Woodson. Well, if you have read anything on this blog, it is the overabundance of posts on citrus, particularly the Meyer lemon. This book allows me to use the fruit in a variety of wonderful ways, thereby depriving my friend Tea
of some of the lemons she wishes would be sent in her direction. In addition to delicious recipes, there are pages devoted to balms, salts, cold remedies, pomanders, and more.

The Taste of Thailand by Vatcharin Bhumichitr . Fourteen years ago, when I went to work for a travel publisher, I had really no travel experience. While I learned a lot about the country working on that first book on Thailand, I had trouble connecting to the place, not having been there. After reading a piece on a Thai cooking school, I realized I could connect through the food. So I went out and bought this book, poured over it, learned about the ingredients, and to celebrate the publication of that first book, I cooked a huge Thai meal for the staff. It was delicious. I have been cooking Thai food ever since, and even got to go to that Thai cooking school for myself. And, we celebrated all those early books with celebratory meals, allowing me to learn more about food from Mexico, India, Spain, Italy, France, Nepal…and the list goes on.

The fifth cookbooks, is not really a cookbook at all, but a collection of recipes that gets used more than any cookbook I own. Back in the day, before I could afford cookbooks, I would find great recipes in newspapers, hand-me-down magazines, and other unusual places. I started building a collection, sorted by topic, in an accordion folder. That original accordion folder has since died of overuse, and now the recipes reside, again by topic, in file folders in an upright standing file. Also included in this file are recipes from my husband’s side of the family—Lebanese mainstays—as well as recipes from the cooking schools and culinary classes I have attended.

No comments: