Cookbook Addiction

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The Unyielding has come and gone, its wave of destruction come and gone. After the plague I was left with only one or two good cookbooks left (the indomitable Judy Rogers' is stronger than any paper devouring mold). The cookbooks I lost however were mostly pieces of crap - ones where recipes were poorly tested and didn't taste good. The pictures were lies, pretty, well lit, carefully staged lies that didn't accurately represent the dishes. The Unyielding destroyed it all.

However, it may have been a blessing in disguise.

After I posted about it Kalyn - you all know Kalyn, Demeter of the Food Blog Pantheon - read about my plea and sent me a kind gift. A copy of The Joy of Cooking. A culinary tome which I'm ashamed to say I didn't own before her generosity.

As I pulled Joy out of its packaging and opened the new cover with that ever satisfying crack that comes with popping the cherry of a new book binding. I began to pour through the book page after page, chapter after chapter. Recipes for Kwanza. The temperature to fry chicken at. What to look for in a healthy celery root. The proper method for shucking an oyster. How to properly set a table (I knew that one thanks to mom). It had the answers to everything and a delightfully motley mix of recipes from every walk and culture to boot.

Elise told me that the cookbooks I lost was a karmic favor to me. There was no point in owning anything that wasn't helpful. A good cookbook should inspire, enlighten, educate. A good cookbook should be read cover to cover late into the night with your nightstand lamp burning bright into the wee hours and with a flashlight under the covers after your parents tell you it's way past your bedtime.

It only takes one or two good experiences to cause one to develop an addiction. My few quality cookbooks were soon met with new authors. Tannis, Roden, Ong, Daley, Medrich, and Greenspan now sat next to Lebovitz and Waters. I began to pour through them to learn more about the culinary world like how to prepare Italian food with everyday ingredients, learning about the trials of pumpkin farming in Yolo County, and the alimentary practices of Hmong weddings.

Of course I'm doing my best to only pick the cream of the cookbook crop. Ones that have real soul and passion in them, that have an engaging story, cookbooks that transports me to the author's kitchen or where I can hear their voice whispering in my ear, "Sear the beef on every side. Small batches, and don't crowd them. Then add the star anise so they release their oils. You'll know it's done when it becomes aromatic."

Right now my current read is Andrea Nguyen's Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, a riveting book where every recipe has filled my kitchen with sweet smells of perky lemongrass and air heavy with the sticky scent of palm sugar, the smell luring my roommate down from her room for a helping of whatever perfumed dish I've made. In fact I have some chuck steak marinating right now for her recipe for beef stew with tomatoes, lemongrass, and star anise. Expect a review later on after I try a few more recipes out and finish reading it.

So is there any cookbook you love that I absolutely must check out?
By the way, there is a new post (of sorts) over at The Rhetoric of Rhubarb. Feel free to learn about the Balkan myth of vampire watermelons.


  1. I am a real fan of Ishmael Merchant's books. I wished he had written even more before he died. There is a sweet kind character to his writing.

  2. I love the Vietnamese Kitchen one. Been cooking from it like crazy! I wish I could help with the cookbooks but as an expat I have this habit at collecting most in French. So, unless I give you express tutoring :)
    Enjoy the Joy Of Cooking!

  3. I like Pam Anderson's cookbooks, especially The Perfect Recipe. I've yet to have anything be less than stellar. She also has a lot of good information on why specific techniques work.

    I also like Ina Garten's cookbooks and Roasting by Barbara Kafka.

  4. You must-- absolutely must-- get The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook. The recipes are authentic, yet original. The writing will keep you turning pages, leafing through it because you can't stop reading. It's a James Beard winner, and it's also my favorite. I am also a giant fan of getting cookbooks at the library to give them a test run.

  5. That Medrich one from the last pic is in my wish list. And I think the Vietnamese one is joining it!

    I was going to suggest A Platter of Figs, but I can see you already own it. I'm in love with it.
    Check Piri piri Starfish, also by Tessa Kiros. It's on portuguese cooking (I'm from Portugal) and it's beautiful.
    I would also suggest the Ottolenghi cookbook and Turquoise.


  6. Vegan cupcakes take over the world and veganomicon i am not even vegan and i love all the recipes and they have been life savers for me since i am on such a tight budget.

  7. Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax was my first love (of cookbooks.) It's out of print now. It's not fussy or pretentious and documents home dessert making as opposed to the art of patisserie. Mine's so worn that the binding is broken and the cover is falling off. There are comments filling the pages and food stains on the most regularly used recipes.

  8. I never met a cookbook I didn't love. But for desserts, any cookbook by Maida Heatter is a winner.

  9. I remembered another one. I'm a big fan of Bertinet's Dough and Crust. Both fantastic books, if you're a fan of the delight of making bread.


  10. I always consult Easy as Pie by Susan Purdy and I love all of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford's books (Mangoes and Curry Leaves especially). For Indian, I really like The Tamarind Trail by Rhagavan Ayer.
    I was given 5 BOXES of cookbooks a couple of years ago from my former real estate agent. I have some extras that are doubles, if you want to come browse!

  11. I'm a huge fan of Rhagavan Iyer's _660 Curries_. I find myself thumbing through it on the couch all the time, constantly folding over pages and reading his stories. I also adore the recipes. Dal is my new favorite food.

  12. i've read your blog a lot but this is the first time i was prompted to comment, mainly because so many of those books are ones i own and/or want desperately :)

  13. "Savoring the Spice Coast," a collection of recipes from Kerala, India. YUM

  14. "Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Cookbook" is almost as corny as it is fabulous, sourced from a country inn that the author (Crescent Dragonwagon) used to run in the Ozarks, and incredibly fun to read. And you'll be making soup out of it every chance you get:

  15. I love that Vietnamese cookbook you wrote about. I got it last year and have made many of the recipes. My go-to book is the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book. It teaches me how to incorporate whole grains in to baking, and the end results are really tasty.

  16. Simply In Season, written by Mennonites (previously in the "series"---More With Less and Extending the Table) and so very practical for a home gardener.

  17. I'd suggest Paul Bertolli's "Cooking by Hand," and Paula Wolfert's "Cooking of Southwest France."

  18. I have a slew of random cookbooks, and one by my favorite fiction author that's for pure reading enjoyment: Nanny Ogg's Cookbook.

    It best if you've read the rest of the author's work.

    After that, I have a fabulous chocolate cookbook a friend from Australia sent me. Delicious!

  19. Michael Lee West's Consuming Passions just absolutely starves me to death. It's more a memoir with recipes thrown in. But I love a book which can make me drool for fried chicken in one chapter and coconut cake in the next.

  20. The French Laundry...I couldn't put it down. It's not that I have made lots of the recipes..but it is the best cookbook I've ever read.

    I recently got "From Farm to Table" by John Ash. He has a fantastic restaurant in Santa Rosa and the book is great. Also cheap..from Beers books!

    I understand your plight..I have over 400 cookbooks and I still can't stop getting them.

  21. I have recently fallen into mad mad love with Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts. It's available on Google Books to preview, and used for a song.

    I also love Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking, though these are more books with recipes, rather than recipe books.

    And I know it's kind of passe to like a "celebrity chef" but Nigella Lawson's first cookbook - How to Eat - is one of my favorites and most used. It's not heavy on technique, but her approach to cooking as something that should be enjoyable is something I recognize.

  22. We recently moved into a new house, blessed with built in shelving in the living room. From one corner to another, maybe about 20-25 feet, 10 foot high, a veriatable blank canvas of which someone with a book fetish can cast upon it the delight of a cookbook collection that rivals the best.

    I can sympathize with you on the loss of a loved one (your fav cook book). A cookbook that was carried with me most everyday in culinary school, notes written, pages worn, flour still in the seams, was wrapped and given to my mentor -- the person that pushed me into following a dream. She suffered a horrible house fire and for a while was afraid to tell me that the book was lost. She one day fessed up to the disaster, and with burnt book in hand, came to me crying that it was lost.

    That book got me thru a lot of sleepless nights and her too and it's amazing how attached we become to these things. As I look to build that canvas presented to me i think about my friend and that book that was lost. Those recipes, that inspiration that you mention, comfort to a chef like warm milk. I still have that burnt book. Proudly sitting on the shelf to remind me of her, who unlike the book, is no longer around to enjoy the replacement that I bought her.

    I wish you luck on replacing those that were sacrificed. By all means, post the ones that you are missing. I'm sure that there are plenty of people that would be more than willing to help you locate or provide you with said copies.

  23. You have my foundation (Joy), but I have also found myself opening up these gems on a regular basis:

    Molly Katzen - Moosewood Cookbook, Enchanted Broccoli Forest

    Grace Young - The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen

    Jacques Pepin - Today's Gourmet, w/ Julia Child - Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home

    I also have an assortment of cookbooks put out by church groups that I just love, but they are old.

    Currently, I am lusting after The Flavor Bible.

    Also, feel free to edit this part out - but check out Better World Books. They fund an assortment of literacy foundations around the world. If you aren't in a rush, basic shipping is free (domestic only, with a $.05 charge for carbon offset).

  24. I once heard a chef say that as long as you find one recipe in a cookbook that you enjoy it is worth the cost. I have many cookbooks like that, but in two of my cookbooks the majority of the recipes I have tried have been very good. They are The Cuisine of California by Diane Rossen Worthington and Baja! Cooking on the Edge by Deborah Schneider. The former contains recipes that are well-tested, delicious, easy, and oftentimes unique, like the corn, red pepper, and leep soup. The latter's recipes are authentic (as verified by my Baja loving son) and easy. The fish tacos - both versions - are delicious. Also try the Tacos el Pastor. Both have great summertime grilling recipes.

  25. You absolutely have to read Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Juilia Child's.

    It's like having her whispering in your ear little tasty morsels of wisdom.

    Best french cookbook hands down.



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