Cookbooks

I love reading cookbooks.  I usually have several on my living room table out from the library that I read through and then after a couple months if I really do not want to return it, I end up buying a copy for my sagging cookbook-stuffed bookcases.

I especially love reading the introductions in cookbooks, in which the author sets out her philosophy, or view of cooking.  The usual theme is:  be fearless, start simple, and to be a good home cook, cook often.  I agree wholeheartedly and that’s the principle motivating my writing this blog.
THEN I take out a book called Taste & Technique, by Naomi Pomeroy, a restaurant owner.  Starts out with a friendly introduction encouraging folks to cook at home, promises helpful guidance if you follow her recipes in her book, and then proceeds to call for pickled mustard seeds, three different baking dishes for fennel gratin, and a recipe for “Mom’s simple salad” that has 16 ingredients including edible flowers(!) This is NOT weeknight simple cooking.  It is discouraging even for a confident home cook.  It is NOT what I have in mind.

If you’re still timid about home cooking, or even somewhat accomplished, I encourage folks to use cookbooks and not merely grab recipes helter-skelter on the internet.  (One exception: NY Times publishes good recipes.)

One reason for choosing cookbooks over internet recipes, is that getting to know an author builds trust and confidence.  We get to know their voice, their technique, and over time it’s like they’re there with us in the kitchen.

So here are some cookbooks I recommend for home cooks:

Mark Bittman, How to Cook Everything.  (He is annoying and arrogant personally, but he does a good job of guiding one gently in home cooking, including variations.)  Bittman also wrote “How to Cook Everything Fast” which seems like a good idea, though I confess I have not used it even though I own it.

Deborah Madison, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.  This is a bible of good cooking, not fussy.  For example, there is a simple potato soup recipe that everyone who wants to develop soup-making skills should start with. Also, surprisingly good and easy desserts/baking at end of book, including A Little Nut Cookie, long a favorite of mine.

Marcella Hazan, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.  You can live a good, full life cooking entirely from this cookbook.  From her stupendously simple and excellent tomato sauce with onion, to sautes, meats and vegetables.  And she has lots of useful opinionated advice on ingredients (e.g., dried basil is to be shunned). Excellent vegetables. Marcella is a treasure.

Then if you want to also bake, pick up Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home to Yours.  Or a Rose Levy Beranbaum baking book and you’re good to go.  For years probably.

Bonus recommendation:  Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant.  Vegetarian cooking that spans the globe.  The Italian section in my copy is falling apart from use.

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Musings on books of essays with recipes

I think the first experience I had reading musings on food with recipes was Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking.  She wrote about her experiences living in a small NYC apartment up to feeding her young child.  And then after each essay, a recipe.  Like creamed spinach with jalapeno peppers, a classic in my book (literally).  Elizabeth David did that before her in a way, though I recall she wrote about food as part of the recipe/directions.

Then there was Nora Ephron who wrote her satisfyingly ascerbic memoir of her four-year marriage to Carl Bernstein.  Heartburn.  Ephron wrote about finding out about Bernstein’s affair that everyone in DC except her knew about, while she was pregnant with their first child.  And then there would be a recipe.  Her key lime pie is classic.  In every sense. As the Washington Post informed us, this is what she pitched at her wayward husband, though your guests may prefer it on a plate.

Most recently Ruth Reichl explored the form to good effect in her book My Kitchen Year: 136 Recipes that saved my life.  Good recipes and nice story telling.