Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Cookbook confidential


When I'm in someone else's kitchen, especially if it's a first visit, I always try to take a look at their cookbook collection, even if it's just a quick peek from the corner of my eye. I'm really fascinated by how other people do daily-life things, as I've mentioned many times before, particularly the basic things like cooking. I love to cook and bake and I often naively assume that everyone feels the same as I do about those tasks, though I know this isn't necessarily true. I certainly don't enjoy every moment of it either; it can feel like a real chore sometimes. I try to stay positive about it, though; it's part of everyday life and it doesn't have to be boring or tedious. Having a good supply of cookbooks on hand helps a lot; I feel I can gather inspiration anytime I need it.

On my kitchen counter, I keep a selection of my favorite cookbooks for daily cooking, the ones I refer to again and again. There are other cookbooks in our home - many of them, actually - but they aren't what I consider daily-life cookbooks, though they can be helpful. They include books such as a hand-me-down 1960's edition of The Joy of Cooking, which is surprisingly useful for making classic dishes like roasted meats and fancy desserts. We have any number of bread-baking books, our favorite of which is Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. We also have lots of books related to smoking and barbecuing, canning and preserving, dehydrating, pressure-cooking, and emergency and long-term food storage (we're quite enthusiastic about this subject, though I don't really discuss it here; sometime I'll tell you more). These types of cookbooks live in our home office where they are accessible when we need them, but they don't need to be in the kitchen at all times, especially because we have very little room for them there.

What we do keep in the kitchen includes Betty Crocker's Cookbook (2000 edition), my absolute favorite one of all and the one I go to most often for the basics of everyday cooking (meats, vegetables, cookies and quick breads, pancakes and waffles). This was my first cookbook, given to me in 2001 just before I got married; I needed a whole lot of cooking help and this book was just right. Cooking Light and America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family cookbooks are next in line for usefulness; I use them when trying to remake a recipe to be healthier or less indulgent; neither one makes the recipes simpler or cheaper, though, so it's not always a better way to do things.


Years ago, I went through a phase of enjoying celebrity-chef cookbooks, amassing a large number of Rachael Ray's cookbooks in particular, but I've become much more selective in recent years, paring down to just my favorite book by each of my three favorite celebrity chefs: Jamie's Food Revolution by Jamie Oliver, Nigella Express by Nigella Lawson, and Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics by Ina Garten. Ina is hands-down my favorite celeb chef and I use that book a LOT. Also in the mix are a couple of kids' cookbooks, Betty Crocker's Kids Cook (2007 edition) and a Weight Watchers publication called Eat! Move! Play!, which we do use fairly often. Both small Bears enjoy cooking and while I don't think they need to be confined to children's cookbooks, it's good to have some simple, easy-to-follow recipes for helping them become more independent in the kitchen.

I also have a Weight Watchers Meals For Two cookbook on the counter; this one was a serious lifesaver when the Bear and I were Weight Watchers members before we had children. The Bear lost more than 100 pounds and has kept almost all the weight off, in large part due to the fact that our Weight Watchers habits became so ingrained back then. We no longer attend meetings (and please know that this post is not a plug for Weight Watchers), but we still do a lot of the things we learned and we probably always will.

The large white binder next to the other books is what we call our "family cookbook." In it, we keep print-outs of all the recipes we've found online, tried and liked. A print-out only gets hole-punched if it's very good and we'd make it again; otherwise, into the recycling bin with the rest of the paper. Some recipes were torn out of magazines, or printed in calendars or handouts from the grocery store. We also have lots of hand-written recipes from our families or friends. When I was first keeping my own house, I only knew how to make about five things. My mom didn't own any cookbooks, she just made the same things the same way, again and again, and didn't need recipes. These were mostly things I enjoyed eating, so I had her dictate them to me and I wrote them down. Obviously, I want to make more dishes than just those, but they've been handy to have around.

I don't buy very many cookbooks these days. I've probably gotten rid of thirty cookbooks over the years because they just weren't that good. Luckily, I bought most of them in thrift shops or at yard sales. I've decided to stop paying full price for a cookbook unless it looks absolutely awesome. I borrow cookbooks from the library fairly often; it's a good way to find something new without spending money. I've scanned recipes and printed them, or just copied them by hand. All of my current celeb chef collection was a result of borrowing those books from the library, enjoying them, and ordering gently-used copies for myself. 


So let's pretend I just showed up in your kitchen. Where do you keep your cookbooks? Which cookbooks do you consider indispensable, and which ones are just good to have around? Do you buy them or borrow them? Which ones have you tried and disliked? Tell me all about your cookbook library.

23 comments:

  1. enjoyed this post! I keep meaning to do more in the kitchen; then husband will have a day where he ends up eating at the office, and other things... I have tons of cookbooks. I love reading them and getting ideas, just doing this gives pleasure and calmness I find. I think I have the same Betty Crocker cookbook; it's wonderful! My chocolate chip cookie recipe comes from there!

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  2. Hey Jennifer,
    I keep my cookbooks ob a high shelf in my kitchen. I had a massive cull earlier this year. I am left with baking books, Nigella and some Jamie Oliver. I use the web for inspiration a lot. And like you, I pull recipes from magazines and the like. My most used recipe books are Delia Smiths' Complete Cookery Course and Mary Berry's Baking Bible.
    Loved this post!
    Leanne xx

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  3. I have that Nigella as well, and some of her others. I quite often write recipes down from blogs in a notebook (I have a couple of yours in there) and also I print them off from various websites - Delia Smith has a very good one. I'm enjoying Nigel Slater's two volumes of Tender at the moment - the books he wrote about his vegetable garden and his fruit patch together with seasonal recipes. I have a couple of his Kitchen Diaries from the library as well. I have an old Cadbury's book full of delicious chocolate cake recipes. They look a bit retro now, but really, who doesn't like a cake with Flakes on top of it (do you have Flakes? I'm not sure) or studded with chocolate buttons. It's all good. CJ xx

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  4. I have w-a-y too many cookbooks and really need to go through them with a view to getting rid of some. Sometime ... maybe! I have a few that I turn to time and again like Delia Smith's Complete Cookery Course and I have a few of Mary Berry's baking books. I also have the Good Housekeeping Cookery book which I got before we got married (in 1979!) and it has been well used over the years.

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  5. Good collection, I mostly get my recipes from the internet now and I keep them in a binder. Though I too have a Weight Watcher recipe book that I dip into from time to time.

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  6. I love cookbooks just to read, but my go to books are:
    Delia Smith's complete collection for basics - my copy is falling apart and opens easily at certain pages.
    Leah Leneman's Vegan Cooking for One - wore out my first copy.
    Sichuan Cookery by Fuchsia Dunlop.
    Vegan Richa's books on Kindle
    and a huge variety of others that I dip into for favourite recipes (oops, nearly forgot Rose Elliott)

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  7. I hear you on loving to know how people do daily life, it is what makes us tick don't you think! I haven't done a kitchen/cooking post for a while now I have been so busy, maybe I could take you for a tour round my recipe books next! Mine are all on three short shelves in my kitchen, I don't have any anywhere else. When I want to buy a new one I have to get rid of an old one to make space! My favourites are Leiths Vegetarian Bible, Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian and Salad Bowl by Nicola Graines.

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  8. I really like Nigel Slater's books, especially his Kitchen Diaries series, as much for the prose as the recipes. I have a couple of curry/Indian recipe books that I use a fair bit as well: Anjum Anand's "I Love Curry" and "Made in India, Cooked in Britain" by Meera Sodha, which is Indian family recipes. I particularly like Meera Sodha's "Mum's Chicken Curry" (available online - http://thehappyfoodie.co.uk/recipes/mums-chicken-curry) which I've adapted slightly so I can make a batch of the sauce and freeze it for future use, just simmering chopped up chicken in it (I've also tweaked it to make it dairy-free for DD2).

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  9. I love cookery books too, and love to scan the bookshelves of friends to find out what books they have. I crane my neck and screw up my eyes lookimg at magazine articles if there are cookery book shelves in a photograph of someone's kitchen, and have lots of cookery books myself. I am currently picking one book every month and makimg two new recipes from it, then blogging about it, and this has really helped me to make lots of new recipes for the family, as well as help me decide books to donate to the charity shop. I keep my mostly-used books in the kitchen, and have more stuffed in the sitting room bookcase too. X

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  10. I absolutely love cook books and will pick them up from everywhere!! Then when I've exhausted them, or them me, I hand them on!! I'm addicted to Mary Berry who helped me enormously when I first had my Aga! I love Nigella especially her quick thai curry in a hurry at the back! My mum was a great cook and that's where the love starts as with your baby bears! It's lovely if everyone's involved and before you know it, they're doing all the cooking! Lol! X love your posts by the way! I'm glad I found you! X

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  11. Such fun to get a peek at (some of) your cookbook collection! I used to love to read cookbooks as some would read novels - cover to cover. I've tried to limit our collection to what will fit in a crate on top of the fridge, and mostly succeeded. I still use the Good Housekeeping cookbook we were given as a wedding gift 30+ years ago. After that my favourite is probably The Italian Baker by Carol Field. It's a great reference book and always inspiring. Rodale's Basic Natural Foods Cookbook is also a wonderful reference, with charts and cooking methods for nearly everything. Mr. M gave me a copy of Larousse Gastronomique which also makes for fascinating reading. I guess I like books that give me a good feel for the "bones" of cooking, so I can take off from there and execute variations on culinary themes. (Horribly mixed metaphor.)

    It's a good thing to purge unused recipes - I should work on that. :)

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  12. A great post. I'm a bit like you, I like to hear about other people's collection of cook books and find out how they use them. I don't have that many any more, I've had lots over the years but I just keep my favourites now, not that I use them really, I get more recipes off the internet than anywhere else these days. The main ones I use are Nigella's and Jamie Olivers, I have a few of theirs.

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  13. What a fun post! I love cookbooks and have some of the same ones that you do. Ina is my all-time favorite and I have all of her earlier books. Her later books aren't really my style -- I think she's running out of good solid recipes LOL!

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  14. I thoroughly enjoyed your post about cookbooks! There is a wonderful old book you need to add to your arsenal.. the Fannie Farmer Cookbook. It's a classic! I also love my Better Homes and Garden, Betty Crocker, Pioneer Woman cookbooks.. and I love my Cajun cooking bible - "Talk About Good!" by the Junior League of Lafayette, Louisiana. I've also compiled two cookbooks for the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) and had them printed. So, as you can see.. I love cookbooks!! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

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  15. You probably already know that I love to cook and bake, so it's probably no surprise that I have a lot of cookbooks. I've weeded many out though, so I don't have as many as I used to (well over 100). I find I don't use cookbooks as much as I used to since everything now is pretty much online. I have 30 cookbooks in my kitchen (on an antique cart, in a small china cabinet, and on top of my fridge), and then I have 40 more in my office. Like you, Ina is my favorite celebrity chef.

    Some of my favorite cookbooks are the ones from Food & Wine (I've found them all at Goodwill - I don't think I've ever paid full price for a cookbook), King Arthur Flour, and Cook's Illustrated.

    That's incredible that your husband lost over 100 pounds on WW and kept it off, too! I first went on WW as an older teen - back then (late 70's) it was horrible. Joined again in my late 20's and lost weight and kept it off. After I had kids, when they were about 3 & 5, I was at my highest weight ever. I remember stepping on the doctor's scale and said out loud, "I weigh as much as a Chicago Bear's football player!" That was my breaking point. Went to WW the next day and lost 33 lbs. Fast-forward to now (22 years later)...I'm at the lowest weight I've been since before having kids, even while going through menopause! Several years ago, I took charge of my health and started eating clean. I read ingredient labels on everything I buy - which is mostly whole foods, anyway. I don't eat anything with excess sugar or sodium, no nitrates or nitrites, no high fructose corn syrup, no food colorings, no preservatives, no "bad" oils such as soybean, palm and canola, etc. All meats, dairy and produce are organic when possible. Not only have I lost weight, but my blood pressure dropped and even the psoriasis on my knees (which I've had since I was 16!) totally cleared up. I also exercise by walking, doing yoga, and lifting light weights.

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  16. I always feel very tempted in bookshops by the cook books, but have bought many over the years that I haven't had much use from. I do try and be more selective now, you have a lovely selection xx

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  17. Cook books seem to be addictive in our house, our bookshelf is bursting. Love Nigella Express - particular favourites are the chicken cacciatora, rocky road and doughnut french toast. I was once told that you can learn alot about a person by looking at their book shelves. Have a great weekend Jennifer xx

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  18. My interest's have change from Vegetarian, to Vegan, to Paleo (Vegan-Paleo) and now has settled into a happy combination of all of the above with a strong slant towards lots of veg and very little grain. I look online or in bookstores for cookbooks then order them from my library. Most I can get. Then if I really like them and have tagged number of entries I will go on Amazon and buy the book used, or used - like new if possible. It's $3.99 always for postage and I spend about $5 or $6 per book after postage. But I know what I'm getting. I don't charity shop much or go to garage sales so this is the best way for me. Over time I will decide which recipes I like the most, copy them out and send the book to charity. I could resell them on Amazon but found that is more trouble than it is worth and besides I can deduct charity from my income taxes each year. I live in the US. I've always like your blog and it's on my list of regular favorites. Thanks for having an interesting blog.

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  19. I have a substantial collection of cookbooks that have been gifts from the family over the years or picked up from charity shops and car boot sales. I am particularly fond of books that include preserving food, loving to try different recipes and ways of making jams and chutneys. I have just started to clearout a lot of books but struggle with the cook books as I like at least one in each book.

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  20. Really enjoyed this. I have a large collection of cookbooks but am definitely guilty of forgetting to actually use them. It doesn't help that I don't have anywhere to store them in the kitchen, so they're a bit out of the way. One of my favourites though is Comptoir Libanais Express - if you like middle eastern food I'd highly recommend it, everything I've cooked has come out perfectly!

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  21. Cookbooks make interesting reading for me, too. As basics I was given The Joy of Cooking and Fanny Farmer's Cookbook, but really used and appreciate the format of the Betty Crocker cookbook the most. I really like the More with Less cookbook, too. Since I have been cooking gluten and dairy free food for myself in recent years, I have been looking for good Paleo cookbooks...no favorite yet :) xx

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  22. oh how I love cook books and seeing which other people own. I read them like novels but am guilty of rarely using a recipe exactly...........

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  23. I enjoyed this post so much Jennifer. I too love cookery books, it's one of my biggest indulgences, and whenever I've given one away I've generally regretted it. I always look through copies in friends' houses. I love Ina Garten, although she's not as popular here in the UK as other well known cooks, but I always enjoy her shows whenever I happen upon one on a random cable food channel. Thank you for sharing your favourite cookery books with us. xx

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