Sunday, April 6, 2008

Feasting At The Tree of Knowledge

Thanks to the internet, I believe that cookbooks are going the way of dinosaurs, believable home run records and newspapers. Why buy an entire book for just a couple of recipes? Why pay any money at all when every recipe in the history of man is available for free somewhere on the net? Nope, cookbooks are well on their way to being relegated to the dustbins of history. (Whatever a dustbin is).

SeaShell Sal and I own over 45 cookbooks. This does not include cut up magazines, or stuffed notebooks. We're often asked about them. Which ones we like, which ones we hate. The truth is I've never found the perfect cookbook. Like food, some are too dry, some are overproduced and others are just plain bad.

That said, today they still have some value. For novice, expert, and everyone in between, it's always helpful to be able to quickly pick up a hard copy of something in order to inspire or inform. I mean really, who is going to go over to their computer in the middle of preparing dinner and try and find out the exact measurements for a hollandaise. No chance, you're going to have the book open to the page, ready and waiting to help.

So here are my recommendations for the books every cook should own. I've categorized them into five groups.

Group 1 The Reference Library

"The Joy of Cooking", Irma Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker and Ethan Becker. Anyone who has ever expressed the least amount of interest in cooking has been given this book. It is the reference bible of cooking. A bit like reading the dictionary, but like a dictionary, indispensable when you need it.

"Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1", Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck and Sidonie Coryn. Julia's version and still the best. A bit more interesting to read than Joy, and chock full of useful info.

I've also heard a lot of good things about Bitman's "How to Cook Everything", though I have no personal experience with it.

Group 2 Technique and Cuisine Specific

"Baking with Julia", Dorie Greenspan. A collection of baking recipes from Julia Child's extensive list of friends. SeaShell Sal loves this book.

"The Silver Spoon", Phaidon Press. This is the Italian "Joy of Cooking". Though really I think of it as the Mediterranean Joy. Some poor illustrations and the occasional lapse in measurement detail (probably lost in translation) keep this book from being number one on my list. You could cook from this book for the rest of your life and not be bored.

"Italy Al Dente", Biba Caggiano. Surprisingly more traditional and approachable than Silver Spoon. This book is worth it just for the risotto and pasta recipes.

Group 3 The Everyday Library

"Everyday Italian" and "Giada's Family Dinners", Giada DeLaurentiis. You all know my love for Giada. These are two books that make cooking flavorful meals fast and easy. Recipes are clear and to the point. Ingredient lists rarely get very long and, best of all, she's happy to take shortcuts to make the process even easier.

"The Silver Palate Cookbook", Julee Rosso and Shiela Lukins. SS Sal's favorite to cook from, especially appetizers.

"Slow Cooker Cooking", Lora Brody. A Crockpot book? Are you some sort of crackpot. No. I know that everything out of a crockpot tastes basically the same, wet and stringy. Not with Brody. This is a great book during the long winter months in the upper midwest.

"Weber's Real Grilling", Jamie Purviance and Tim Turner. The perfect book for the spring, summer and fall in the upper midwest. Hundreds of recipes, each one with a photo.

Group 4 The One-Offs

I'm not going to list books in this category. This is the place for cookbooks that have one really great recipe and nothing else. I have a number of these books.

Group 5 What Was I Thinking

This group is a lot like a cowboy hat bought on ski vacation, it seems like a good idea at the time, but just looks really stupid when you get home. This group is populated by books with lots of really pretty pictures with recipes written by semi-literate chefs. If you've ever bought a cookbook at a popular local restaurant, chances are you own a book in this category. I won't be sharing my shame in this category either.

That's it. In the end the true test of a cookbook is are you cooking from it. If you've tried 3 recipes from a new book and don't like any of them, chances are high that it's a loser.

If you want to jump in I recommend The Silver Spoon if you're adventurous, the Giada books if not or Weber's Grilling for the upcoming months. Just remember you can buy them through my amazon link on the left column of this page.

Talk to you soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

More greetings from South Africa.

Boy, am I working by buns off. Today I visitetd, and tasted, eight wineries. And, gee, is my tongue tired.

In the "Why didnt I think of that?" department, tonight I ate eight oysters, but instead of normal red cocktail sauce, or those vinagary thingamajigs, they served Bloody Mary Sorbet and you could add as much Tabasco, yes, American Tabasco, as you wanted, Shear genius!

I also learned I travelled the wrong way to South Afica. Next time, I will go from Boston to London. Spend the weekend in London, then fly non stop to Capetown. ON the return, fly from Capetown to Paris, spend the weekend in Paris and then head back to the home of the bean and the Cod.

Also see if you can get a fish called Kingklip. It is in the eel, ugly deep water fish in the Southern Hemisphere. Nice texture, nice flavor. Holds a sauce perfectly.

Thats all for now!