Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Discussion: Cookbooks

One of my clients texted me with a question that ended up consuming my thoughts.  Simple to answer at first, but after thought, it now seems more difficult.  Her nephew has become very interested in cooking, so she is planning to find him a few essential cookbooks for Christmas.  I would like to know: Which cookbooks would you label essential?

Cookbooks are treasured by many. Sauce-splattered pages evoke vivid memories while blurring into haze at the same time.  They are collected, shared, loaned, battered, and often barely bound. 
Interestingly, premium cookbooks still sell well.  There was a time a few years ago when their extinction seemed imminent.  After all, there are millions of free recipes posted everywhere on the internet.  Martha Stewart gives away her recipes on her website.  Her newest book, One Pot, sits comfortably as a best-seller.  While I'm no longer remotely enchanted with Ina Garten, her books trump all.  Why? There is still an irreplaceable magic in the pages of a cookbook.  If a strawberry bleeds on your iPad, you instantly clean it off.  There is no cranberry stain from 1997,  no dog-eared page from that awful party with these fabulous muffins, no fingerprint smudges from years of checking ingredients line by line. This article may be of interest
Cookbooks are portals.  Glimpses into times we can only visit via nostalgia.  Because food is at the center of existence, cookbooks are at the center of the minutiae that becomes memory. 
I allow anonymous comments on my blog; even if you don't often comment on blogs, I would love to have a broad discussion on which cookbooks you deem essential?
Precious to me.  A gift from my Aunt Patti.  The front page with a sweet note fell out one day while cooking.  Thankfully, I had the sense to tape it to the interior cover so it would never be lost.  The note has faded significantly, but is always a warm memory of my aunt now that she is gone.
Top: Larousse Gastronomique, the bible on which Mastering the Art of French Cooking, below, is based.  Heavy on wonderful writing on technique.  No pictures, though. 
 
How important are photos in a cookbook? 
Interchangeable? 
Not up for discussion: if my Santa face is creepy. I love him. 
My excuse for poor photography, Barbie doesn't share the spotlight well. 


54 comments:

  1. The Joy Of Cooking is a staple in many, many kitchens-mine included. It has every sort of recipe imaginable and answers all kinds of questions that cooks might have. I also have an old Pillsbury Cookbook that I have used until the pages are falling out. So nice to see a post from you, Stephen! xo Diana

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Diana! Can you believe I don't have a copy of Joy?! I'm always looking for an early addition at antique and thrift stores. I want one that looks like my mom used it for decades. Even though my mom only cooks popcorn! Haha

      Delete
    2. I am mortified! Edition! Haha what was I thinking?!

      Delete
  2. Hi Stephen, Joy of Cooking is the one my mother gave me in my 20's and I still use, have given to our kids too. It was my teacher. Also think the BH & G is excellent and thorough. I love Ina 's books, they are so beautifully photographed. You don't like her recipes? Your Santa is sweet! The Fannie Farmer is considered a classic too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello! I have a few of Ina's books and like them. My issue with her is how her show has been dumbed down so far! I LOVED her first few seasons. I'm sure it's more to do with the powers of food network than her. But the show just annoys me now. Too much "how easy was that?!". I really need to get my hands on Joy. Love the legacy of your book! I need to check out Fannie Farmer. I've heard about it, but never really researched it. Thanks!

      Delete
    2. Agree about Ina shows but love her homes and gardens which they show a lot of. Etsy always has old Joy of Cooking books. Also Fannie Farmers.

      Delete
  3. 'The Cook's Companion' by Stephanie Alexander, as it says on the cover 'The complete book of ingredients and recipes for the Australian kitchen'.
    It has pictures but not of food preparation!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I was hoping for some international input. I'll look into it!

      Delete
  4. Depends on the country. Delia smith is a uk staple. Elizabeth David is a classic that spawned so many other chefs and cooks. Nigella laws on in her style and language and approach. Nigel slater in his simplified consideration. Heston blumenthsl in his techniques which may not be used by most, there are one or two tips that change everything. Also it depends which level of cooking you are at. I would never give a serious cook a book by Jamie Oliver.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ooooh I have heard of Nigella (and Jamie Oliver) but none of the others! Can't wait to research! Thank you. And welcome!

      Delete
  5. My favorite and most reliable source for recipes is Everyday Food magazines (a former Martha Stewart publication, no longer in print). I have all 98 issues and have tried hundreds of recipes from the little magazines. I can honestly say that only a handful were "thumbs down" recipes -- the rest were good to fantastic. Many EDF recipes can be found on Martha Stewart's website.
    Claudia

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Claudia! Hope you're doing well! I loved Everyday Food, too. I miss the good old days of MSLO. I was sad when Everyday got scrapped! I also miss Gourmet terribly.

      Delete
  6. That's easy. I have three. First, Joy of Cooking, which is hands-down the book I use the most. Second, Jacques Pepin's Complete Techniques, which I consider the bible of gourmet cooking. Then, Joan Nathan's Holiday Kitchen for Jewish cooking. Those are the three I have used most in my life. Interesting question (and answers)!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I guess I simply need to get a copy of Joy. I'm going to take Cindy's advice and look for an old one on Etsy. I'll just pretend it was given to me as an heirloom! I will definitely look into the Jewish holiday guide. I have almost no frame of reference on cooking Jewish food. I've tried to make challah a few times, but my braiding is atrocious!

      Delete
  7. Hey Stephen...I'm not into using cookbooks very often, but there are a few things that I need help with. My old standards (and they are old) are Better Homes and Gardens "New" Cookbook and The Redbook Cookbook. The pages are full of splatters and tatters. Of course I have many others that just sit there...the French Chef, Southern Cooking, For Goodness Taste and a couple dozen more. For years I saved Cuisine
    and Gourmet magazines along with a couple others. Do I refer them? They sit there. We have just basic cable and the PBS Channels so I only watch a limited number of cooking shows (Jacques Pepin is one of my favorites). Love them tho.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! I'm like you. I'm more of a do my own thing cook, but I do love cookbooks for entertainment and reference for very specific things. Then there are some that have inspired me to no end. I'm so glad for the cooking shows on PBS, they are so much better than Food Network anymore. One of my favorites on PBS is John Besh. Love him.

      Delete
  8. There's an aussie chef called Stephanie Alexander and her Cook's Companion is my bible- spattered and all. I read it in times of stress. So comforting. Is barbie named Barbie after Barbie Doll? xxx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I must look into this book! Barbie is half named for Barbie dolls, which I, predictably, loved when I was little. She is also named for Barbara (Barbie) in the Birdcage, one of my favorite movies. If you haven't seen it, you must watch ASAP. Timelessly hilarious.

      Delete
    2. Second Stephanie's book , it is $$ but worth every cent.

      Delete
    3. I love it that you donated your hair to cancer kids for wigs and I want to be your real life friend. Please blog more often and visit here soon. You would luff Mr FF and my kid and I have someone in mind for you x

      Delete
    4. Me too!! Haha Mr FF is a man after my own heart. My tv show would be House of Carbs. Oooooh I'm interested!

      Delete
    5. slightly older, very successful.

      A continent divides you.

      For now.

      Delete
  9. I love Ina Garten's FOOLPROOF. Its a must!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have that one! Don't have much love for Ina nowadays, but her books are very pretty. And I do like that she keeps ingredient lists short.

      Delete
  10. I can't quite answer which cookbooks are essential for me, because I have a few favorite recipes in every cookbook I own. Perhaps I haven't come across the right one yet. My recent favorites are Ina Garten & Giada De Laurentiis's books. But after trying Ina's baking recipes and realized she uses TONS of butter (even my husband, who is a butter lover, raised his eyebrows), and Giada's recipes seems to be tad too salty to me (and I'm a salt lover), I'm not sure... I strictly follow bhg's apple pie recipe though (I love the cranberries and lemon juice in it), but I don't care for any other recipes in the book. I've wanted to buy Mastering The Art of French Cooking for quite some time, but I'm not sure if I can handle a cookbook without a picture (I'm a very visual person), and tell me, does the recipes use lot of butter? Well, I'll stop rambling now :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha yes Ina loves her butter. There are a lot of Ina recipes that are basically Martha Stewart recipes from the '80s and '90s just with more butter to "turn up the volume". Which Giada book do you like? I agree with you on the BH&G. I love that book because my aunt gave it to me, but the recipes are soooo boring. I often use recipes in there as a base and then add about 5x more seasoning and acid via wine or vinegar.

      Delete
    2. Oh my, you think some of Ina's recipes are "basically Martha Stewart recipes..."? In the early 80's I tried several recipes from Martha Stewart and had no success at all in fact they were dismal failures. Conversely I don't think I've ever tried an Ina recipe (and I've tried 100's) and not loved it enough to make over and over again. My other go to cookbook is the old Fanny Farmer Boston Cooking School Book. I have a 1940's edition that I love.

      Delete
    3. That's so interesting. I didn't start cooking until 2000, so I suppose the Martha recipes had their kinks worked out by then. I don't think I've ever had a Martha recipe fail on me. I've always seen a huge resemblance between Martha and Ina recipes. I figured Martha's version came first. But I could be wrong.

      Delete
    4. PS-anon: that's so cool that your version is from the 40s? Who gave it to you?

      Delete
    5. Steven, I found it at a garage sale many years ago. :) aloha!

      Delete
  11. I love Michael Ruhlman's cookbooks, especially, Twenty, Ratio and Charcuterie - highly recommend them! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahh yes! Charcuterie certainly has a place among the classics. I want to check out his other books!

      Delete
  12. I'm going to echo other comments when I say Joy of Cooking, but I am also a fan of Nigel Slater, his instructions are so simple and to the point.
    My very first cookbook was the Moosewood and I have used it to teach my older daughter to cook... my younger daughter is a fearless slap-dasher in the kitchen and will only use the ipad for recipes.
    Guess what I found duck eggs on Saturday, very excited! xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Never heard of Moosewood! I love hearing about all these books that are sacred to some and unknown to me! It's funny because I love my cookbooks, but have to admit that I use my iPad when I'm in the kitchen following a recipe. I am so jealous you found duck eggs!!! I'm having trouble sourcing them for Christmas.

      Delete
    2. The Moosewood Cook Book is very popular in our neck of the woods.

      Delete
  13. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything or any of his other 'How to Cook' titles.

    Also like The Bon Appetit Cookbook and Bon Appetit Fast, Easy, Fresh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oooh that's a good one. I have HtCE and learned a lot. Mark Bittman is such a wonderful writer. He only came onto my radar a few years ago when he wrote a piece about our diets and Alzheimer's.

      Delete
  14. I also find “How to Cook Everything” the ideal cookbook for the beginner. It covers details often overlooked in other cook books when you start cooking. I bought it for my daughter in college who was done with the DC and she loves it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure she'll use it forever! I love it as well. I like it better than the old NYT book.

      Delete
  15. The SILVER PALETTE.............has everything and I love it!Have had for 30 years!
    I do enjoy the BAREFOOT CONTESSA'S books too....one page recipes and easy!
    My latest and newest is A KITCHEN IN FRANCE by MiMi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The Silver Palette! I was so surprised no one mentioned it until now! Thanks so much for stopping by.

      Delete
  16. Mastering the Art of French Cooking - Julia Child. My copy is dog-eared. A family favorite is her Biftek Haché à la Lyonnaise which is a dressed up hamburger if you can believe! Her beef stew (Boeuf Bourguignon) is phenomenal.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. . . . dressed up burgers is what I truly meant to say. I love to serve them on tiny (what Minnesotans call "dollar buns" or Hawaiian buns) white buns. Not my white buns. It is Minnesota after all.

      Delete
    2. Oooh I've never made that! Sounds good. Thanks! Haha I love that almost everything has a different name in Minnesota and Wisconsin!

      Delete
  17. Delia Smith is the UK version of Martha, but more likeable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes! I must look into her. One of my clients had told me I would love her, but then I forgot her name! Thank you!

      Delete
  18. I don't cook, but I luvvvvvv looking at a beautifully photographed cookbook.....thinking someday I'll make that. Haha. Ok, off to check out your sous vide post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The pictures are the best part! Which book has your favorite photos? Haha. I love the photos in the newer Martha Stewart Entertaining.

      Delete
    2. Merry Christmas, Stephen!! We're all set.....just waiting for my family to arrive with the food :) Jingle, Jingle!!
      PS - I love all the books from Ina Garten and Martha Stewart.

      Delete

  19. Te animo a echar un vistazo a mi post verás algunas ideas realmente interesantes, que creo te pueden inspirar y harás un paseo por los mercados de Navidad de Barelona. Deseo que pases un buen rato y espero que te guste y si es así y no eres seguidora espero que te hagas, gracias por visitarme. Elracodeldetall.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  20. he's BACK!!!
    and having just read every post i missed . . .
    better than ever!
    so good to see you posting again.
    i don't even know if you'll see this comment . . .
    i'm something like number 50!!!
    anyway.
    i cook like your mother. i make really cool popcorn.
    but i dearly LOVE cookbooks. food. and presentation and elegance in life style. ditto on stemless wine glasses.
    and darling boy. you DO KNOW . . . you have a book in you about all that just waiting to happen. OMG.
    i will buy it hot off the press.
    as per your requests for cookbook ideas . . .
    i remember a favorite chef i used to watch.
    Michael Chiarello. of Napa Valley.
    his book is Michael Chiarello's Bottega Cookbook.
    if the book is anything like his show . . . it would be superb. might be fun to just check him out.
    you can use this website to see . . .
    http://www.napastyle.com
    the pictures are so beautiful here at SAJ . . . as always.
    and i thought barbie would be in college before i got to see her again!
    have missed you. this comment is going on too long.
    but one more thing!
    the glimpses of the salon . . . the tree . . .
    as i would have expected. OH MY.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Team "Can't Cook Won't Cook" here, I have officially liberated myself and given up trying!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.

    ReplyDelete