Cooking the Books

We've talked about books, we've talked about cooking, but have we talked about cookbooks? I have my eye on the new cookbook from Smitten Kitchen (a.k.a. Deb Perelman) and am hoping it shows up under the Christmas tree later this month.

I know that there are approximately a bajillion recipes available on the internet for free, but I do still love a good cookbook. And far better to spill on a book than on my laptop! Do you have favorite cookbooks? Are there cookbooks you're eager to take a closer look at? Do share!

And of course, please share anything else you've been reading lately.

42 thoughts on “Cooking the Books”

  1. We have a whole 4x2 Expedit bookcase full of cookbooks & my culinary school textbooks, now at the point where we need to consider thinning the herd before we add some more. The one we use most regularly is Cook’s Illustrated, which is nearly indispensable. Rick Bayless’ Mexican Everyday is a fantastic cookbook with real-world practicality. The two I most frequently consult when cooking off the cuff are Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page’s Culinary Artistry & The Flavor Bible. The cookbook I’m learning the most from right now is Vijayan Kannampilly‘s The Essential Kerala Cookbook. My most cherished cookbook is a collection of recipes from my paternal grandmother’s family that my aunt gathered & self-published twenty-odd years ago. I keep a collection of recipes that I’ve come across or requested from folks over the years in Evernote, though I think I’ll be shifting to another platform in the next few months.

    I have a few “aspirational” cookbooks that are mostly for inspiration – two by Thomas Keller & Joël Robuchon’s Complete Robuchon – all of which I could certainly cook from, but lack the time to do so any more than sporadically.

    Finally, a plug for a cookbook that’s never given me a bum meal: Br. Victor-Antoine D'Avila-Latourrette‘s Twelve Months of Monastery Soups.

    1. Is The Flavor Bible useful for situations where you have a few random ingredients you know that you can saute, roast, or whatever, but you're not sure what else to add (herbs, spices, etc.) from your pantry to make it a little less boring?

      1. Yes! That’s one of several ideal opportunities to reference the book. It includes a catalog of harmonious flavor pairings for each ingredient with call-outs for the strongest affinities. It also suggests methods for preparing the ingredients. The best way to describe it is that it’s structured like an index of ingredients, which you can cross-reference as you’re planning the entire dish, course, or meal. There is also some discussion of the components of both flavor and wholistic dish construction.

  2. Awesome topic. I'll have more to chime in later.

    My favorite cookbook is Jose Andres' Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America. Living in D.C., his restaurants were everywhere, and I had so many amazing dishes at them that I wanted to explore what I could do on my own. I am reasonably confident that my skill and ingredient levels don't do any justice to Mr. Andres' intent, but I've eaten some really yummy things from this cookbook. Variations on several of his dishes have made their way into our regular rotation too (moving away from tapas and towards entrees.).

    I also have used The Joy of Cooking at some length, especially for baking. It has been great for reference, and is a standard for a reason, I suppose. Still, I prefer a cookbook that I can sit down with and that fires up my imagination.

    A few grilling-specific cookbooks have also gotten a lot of love from me, but I can't remember exactly which ones as they've been packed away for a couple of moves.

    1. The Joy is certainly foundational to my cooking experience, but the missus has specifically requested that I avoid using it. She claims to have no positive reviews for nearly anything I've made out of it. I say, "Don't blame the book!"

      1. It makes sense to me though. Mostly the book strikes me as being packed full of "standards". Almost an intro course to cooking, and when one graduates to the higher levels that's where you can really get into fun flavors. It's incredibly helpful for setting up a base from which to grow in the future.

        1. Absolutely. Until I got a supercomputer in my pocket, I used it as my go-to kitchen reference book for everything from measuring conversions and cocktail recipets to ingredient identification and meat selection (love their renderings of the parts of the cow/pig/etc.).

        2. Personally, I found it awful as an intro course to cooking. Starting out it was the only book I had and it wasn't hard for me to find recipes where I had no idea what they were talking about and there are just so ... many ... recipes. Sometimes more is less.

          I don't know what the right book is for true beginners, but I feel like that one set me back years.

  3. We have a number of cookbooks from America's Test Kitchen that are used. They cover a variety of different things, such as easy weekday meals, healthy meals, or slow cookers. The biggest issue now is getting kids to eat them. They're both "selective"* eaters and it's frustrating for them to skip so much stuff. Another occasional annoyance is they tend to be aimed more to "serious" home cooks so sometimes require uncommon ingredients. Once the kids get older, we'll be able to crack them open more I hope.

    I know we have more, but they are less used and I'm not the primary cook right now. The wife uses several recipes from her mom too, so they're on her phone instead of any physical object.

    * As a True Selective eater, they're both posers.

    1. My neighbors gave me an unused copy of 'America's Test Kitchen - The Complete TV Show Cookbook' last year that I've really enjoyed, but I've had the same problem with Kernel re: selectivity. That kid would will eat only PB&J w/ Nutella 6 days-a-week.

      My favorite canning/preserving book is still the first, entry-level, book I ever picked up - 'Put 'em Up!: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook, from Drying and Freezing to Canning and Pickling' - Easy to execute recipes, that are also interesting and delicious.

      I'm interested in getting a look at 'In Winter's Kitchen: Growing Roots and Breaking Bread in the Northern Heartland' By Beth Dooley, and 'Lake Fish: Modern Cooking with Freshwater Fish' By Keane Amdahl, which I found while trying to see if my eccentric uncle Mike's cookbook was available online (didn't find it).

      Just finishing 'The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass' by King, and 'Beat to Quarters' by C. S. Forester, the 6th of the Horatio Hornblower novels, chronologically, but the first to be published.

    2. I definitely relate to this issue--I love Indian curries, for instance, but neither boy will touch them. I will say, though, that in the last year, the jalapeño (who is 7) has noticeably broadened his palette. He now likes things he never did before, including fried rice with tofu and rice and beans. So I'm at least encouraged that things are going in the right direction.

  4. I read books for the first time in forever.

    The Hike: I like Magary's writing in general, so it seemed like a it could be a fun read, and I suppose that's what it was. Pretty easy (finished it in 2 days), interesting ideas, though nothing earth shattering.

    Inherent Vice: My first Pynchon. Surprisingly fun read for a book in which not a whole lot happens. That man can certainly turn a phrase.

    1. Oh man, welcome to Pynchon!

      The Crying of Lot 49 and V. would be next on my recommended list (assuming you're not quite ready to bite off Gravity's Rainbow or Against The Day). So much awesome.

  5. So one thing I wanted to mention was that I have, over the years, received so many terrible cook books. I am amazed at how many awful ones there are out there. And how is someone supposed to really know? A few nice photos, an easy layout... right?

    I had a slow cooker one where literally every dish tasted the same as every other dish, regardless of the ingredients. Both grill and diet cook books that were basically just advertisements for Kraft of somesuch. "Weekday meal" cook books where every recipe requires unusual ingredients, etc.

    So much bad.

  6. Just bought the tenth anniversary edition of How to Cook Everything Vegetarian for the Girl.

    I have a middlingly substantial collection. Increasingly, however, I find myself looking more to teh Interwebz than to my cookbooks for inspiration.

    1. I like using the internet for recipes, just as long as I don't actually use a search engine to look for them. I've had some good luck with recipes from the New York Times, and also from sites like Serious Eats and Amazing Ribs. I have read my books more than I have cooked from them, which is a bit sad for cookbooks.

    2. Related, a friend had the good idea of getting cookbooks from the library. For the most part, I think this is a good strategy. I find myself not cooking more than a few recipes from a given book, so if I just get the book and copy what I'm interested in, I save money and shelf space.

      1. I second this strategy. I use the library a ton anyway (as AMR can attest, it's less than 2 blocks from where I work), and it's a nice way to get a sense of the full range of recipes in a book before deciding if it's worth purchasing.

    1. When you get it, you should immediately make that chicken chili verde zack linked to the other day. It was mind-blowingly awesome.

      What you shouldn't do is try to make Swedish meatballs in it, as I learned last night.

  7. Not a cookbook, but a book: I am reading Brandon Sanderson's Oathbringer. It is the 3rd book in the Stormlight Archive. I am about 78% through the Kindle version, and it is excellent. With 10 total books in the plans, I looked at this 3rd book as the "make or break" book for me on this series. Sanderson is putting the Epic in Epic Fantasy.

    Also, last week I finished the first 3 books in the Benjamin Ashwood series of books by A.C. Cobb. I tend to browse fantasy books on Kindle and have stumbled across many that are either poorly written, or have poor grammar, spelling, etc. Since many of these I guess are aspiring, self published writers, I give a pass if the story captures me. This series by Cobb is one of the best I have stumbled across in quite a while. Not quite Sanderson, but pretty darn good.

    In regards to cookbooks, I have not picked one up for years. I tend to watch a lot of the Food Network type cooking shows, or I surf the interweb for inspiration. Last night, for a company Holiday party that I catered, I made a Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with craisins, pecan-crusted goat cheese, and a warm cider vinaigrette. Holy crap was that good!

  8. Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. Novel. Hey, I read a book! For adults, even! This review caught my eye and honestly, the novel was even better than I was expecting. This story of Frances, a young woman who a university student in Dublin who, with her charismatic friend (and former girlfriend) Bobbi, becomes acquainted with a couple in their 30s—the woman is a respected photographer and writer, and the man is a sort-of famous actor. Complications ensue.

    The characters are all very verbal, and the conversations they have move seamlessly between face to face, emails, IMs, and texts. Yet this is handled quite naturally—I’ve not seen a novel do this to such an extent, but it felt completely authentic.

    I really connected with Frances’s (mistaken) believe that because she’s young, nothing she does is important and she holds no power. She enters into an affair with the actor guy, yet she insists she’s only doing it ironically and when does does things that hurt him, insists that because she’s young and unserious, it is not possible that she’s capable of hurting him.

    The novel completely sucked me in, and immediately after finishing, I got Julien Baker’s album Turn Out the Lights. I daresay if you like one you’ll like the other, but someone here please test this hypothesis and get back to me.

    Actual Spoiler SelectShow
  9. I finally realized the local library has a good system for borrowing e-books, so that is making it easier for me to get some reading done for the most part (the three books I have on hold right now are taking forever to get to me). I started the Farseer trilogy, read the first book and am waiting on the second. In the meantime, I'm gonna read The Fall of Hyperion. I loved Hyperion so I'm not sure why I hadn't gone back to that world. I'm definitely feeling more in a sci-fi mood these days.

  10. Doc mentioned how to cook everything vegetarian, but the original was my first course on cooking. I still use an number of techniques from that book, but mostly from memory now. I’m looking for a good middle eastern cook book, and have considered Jerusalem but haven’t pulled the trigger yet.

    Down south and real Cajun have been indispensable for learning how south Louisiana flavors work. (I’d link but on phone, so..)

    I read artisinal breads everyday this fall and have made some killer bread because of the techniques in that book. But more and more I’m using serious eats and the nytimes as my go to.

    1. I have the original Everything as well, and an Alton Brown that I have used a lot, and James McNair's Pizza, and a handful of others I have used frequently. But for the last ten years, I have relied more on the NYT, Serious Eats, and Manjula's Kitchen (and a couple other sites for Indian recipes).

  11. Earlier this year, EAR and I realized that AJR (7.5yo) and LBR (5.5yo) sharing a room made their falling asleep harder, as they talk and stuff.
    So AJR gets her own special story after LBR's, on my bed, and I carry her to her bed in the dark on my back.
    I've read her a few books from the reading list EAR has, but lately I've been reading more from Andrew Lang's Rainbow Fairy books
    I've read her all of Olive (our copy bought new), the first third from Lilac (printed from the internet), and now a few stories from Green (our copy bought used).
    We've recently learned that it's hard to tell when burning the cast-off animal skin of a person cursed to spend the day as a beast while that person sleeps at night will break the curse ("Jack-my-Hedgehog"), or bring upon a greater curse ("The Brown Bear of Norway"). Maybe the greater curse happens when the animal-during-daylight curse is time-limited (to a set number of years).
    We've also learned that "Cockshoes" (what a blacksmith will make for the cock-rooster you ride on) look funny.

  12. I read The House of Tomorrow by Macalester prof Peter Bognanni. It had a lot of similarities with A History of Wolves (set in Upper Midwest, teenager raised in very unusual circumstances trying to fit into the broader world, a health crisis for a major character that the teenager struggles to handle), and I can't really figure out why Wolves is universally loved and was a Man Booker finalist while this one didn't get much traction. Frankly, I can't even remember how I stumbled onto it. Anyway, it was pretty good.

    I on the final chapter of Stalin: Volume 1: Paradoxes of Power, 1878-1928 by Stephen Kotkin. Trotsky was just banished, and he's working on mass collectivization of the farms. There was a LOT about the maneuverings of all the people during the Russian Civil War as well as the same people to grab control after Lenin's death. Definitely too much for someone like me with a little background, but who is not looking for a Ph.D. in the subject. Still, there's some great stuff in here, too, and at some point in the next year or two I'm sure I'll tackle the recently-released Volume 2.

    As for cookbooks, Sheenie collects them (we just had a new built-in bookshelf installed next to the stairway to our basement that is pretty much entirely filled with her cookbooks). In years past, most of my Hannukah presents to her have been finding old cookbooks for her (she's especially into ones focused on baking). One year, I found about ten different years of the finalists for the Pillsbury bake-off in the 1950's and 1960's (I also found a Land 'o Lakes Chicken and Seafood cookbook that is, quite frankly, gross).

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