Wednesday, July 27, 2016
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.