The Essentials of Cookbooks

Sunday, June 11, 2006

A good cookbook in my opinion has to have the following:
1) A wide variety of recipes of various difficulties and allowing for almost any possible occassion, and ranging from appetizers, to desserts.
2) Clear directions. Not for only recipes, but for possible ingredients and techniques I may be unfamiliar with.
3) Clear pictures. Not mandatory, I have plenty without, but it's sometimes nice to know what the end product should be, or what the steps in it's production will look like.
4) Information and history about the food. It adds an extra dimension to the food beyond simply the cooking and flavor.

I highly suggest then you go to Borders and check out their Essential Cookbook series. I stumbled on these back when I worked there, and became hooked to them for a variety of reasons. They do all the above and more.

The Essentials were a set of books commisioned by Borders originally for their holiday sales last Christmas. However, due to their ease, design, accessibility, and price ($10 each!!!) they took off, and have comissioned even more to be made!

Each book opens with a clear foreward, artfully describing what you'll find in each book. For example, The Essential Dessert begins-

Sweet food is one of life's primeval joys. We all know that dessert isn;t strictly necessary, life isn't going to end without it, but then who among us would choose to live on bread and water? Dessert gives us something to look forward to as a child when we plow through our worthy meat and vegetables. It brings a lovely prepared meal to a close with a fanfafre, not a whimper.

Afterwards, and this is where the book really shines, is a complete glossary of practically every meat, fruit, vegetable, and spice utilized in the book. It then goes into each ingredient's use, history, flavor, and preparation. This is a wonderful and welcome aid, expecially in the Seafod or Asian Essentials where one might not know hot to prep baby octopus, or know exactly what the difference between various kinds of chillis, noodles, and wrappers are or what galangal exactly is.

Next, it covers various tools and preparation techniques, their history and how and when to properly utilize each one. The directions are simple, and the descriptions and pictures clear. Each book, is essentially a full course class on it's subject.

Each recipe is also scaled on it's number of servings, difficulty, and approximate time of preparation, making menu planning a breeze. The recipes are also clearly organized in set chapters, with little intermezzos of helpful information such as types of olives or creams, quick and easy dipping sauces, and flavorful cocktails.

The Essentials cover a variety of topics. Currently you can find the Essential Rice, Wok, Seafood, Vegetarian, Finger Food, Dessert, Wok, Baking, Mediterranean, Cake Decorating, Curries, Pasta, and Christmas. With all the choices offered, and at $10, there is a perfect Essential for everyone!


  1. Sound like good practical cookbooks. I'll have to check them out...
    This could start an everyone's favourite cookbook series:

    Giuliano Bugialli's "On Pasta" works like a charm. Clear instructions on pasta shapes, ingredients and cooking times with some historical and regional information. Unusual recipes one never sees outside of family kitchens. Also recipes that predate the arrival of the tomato from the Americas which are ancient and savoury but mostly forgotten. Lots of tips about in which order to add and cook ingredients that really make the final flavours special.

    Unlike many cookbooks, not a single recipe has failed (so far at least!).

  2. first thanks for visiting my site Kitchen Inferno and leaving a message. It seems no one visits it or they don't leave a message. I thought your writing about Butch N Nellies and the Mediterranean place was quite good reviewing style. About cookbooks, I feel it's a good book if I get one idea out of it that I can use.

  3. Hey Garrett great post. I will have to take a look at that cookbook series. Often I will preview one from the library before deciding to purchase it.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog recently and leaving a message. I am also excited to find another Sacramento area food blogger! Yay!

    I enjoyed your review of the cheese book too. Lots to read and enjoy here. I've added you to my blog roll and will be back!


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