January 11, 2007
Kiss the Cook
Good food has a magical appeal. You may grow old, even ugly, but if you are a good cook, people will always find the path to your door. (James Beard)
As many of you already know, I have a separate blog (Kiss the Cook) for my favorite recipes. Next to reading, I love nothing more than to spend the afternoon in my kitchen, trying out a new recipe or making an old favorite. Nothing gives me greater joy than to cook a nice meal for my friends and family, and if someone were to ask me what my dream job might be, I'd have a tough time choosing between working in a bookstore or working as a personal chef for a dual-income family (with a large, modern kitchen, of course!).
For today's Thursday Thirteen, I thought I'd share some of my favorite cookbooks. I love all sorts, but my main requirement is that they have color photographs -- the more the better. A cookbook with a half-dozen pictures just isn't going to make the cut. My cookbooks are well-loved, full of splatters from various sauces and olive oil, dog-eared pages, and handwritten notes in the margins. Some people say you can learn a lot about a person by the books (or record albums) they own. I suspect it's also true of what their cookbooks reveal between the covers.
Let's start at the beginning, shall we?
I'm not quite sure when I received The Pooh Cookbook, (or from whom, for that matter), but I'm pretty sure it's been in my possession since at least 1968 or so. After thumbing through this lovely children's book, I'm not sure if I ever attempted any of the recipes, although "Popovers for Piglet" sounds a bit familiar. As you might guess, most of the recipes include honey in the list of ingredients. I like honey, but it's not high on my list of favorites (nor is marmalade!). Maybe that's why I never worked my way through each and every recipe. Today, however, I enjoyed reading dozens of quotes (from the Winnie-the-Pooh tales) that are included in the cookbook. Not sure if I ever bothered with them when I was 7 or 8!
Sunset's Easy Basics for Good Cooking isn't necessarily one of my current favorites, but it's the first cookbook I used frequently as a young bride. I discovered lots of cooking basics that I'd either forgotten or never learned during my junior high cooking class. (This was long before The Food Network!) I like the full-page step-by-step photographs, showing exactly how to make a flaky pie crust, how to devein shrimp, truss a chicken, separate an egg, or the four stages of beaten egg whites. One of my favorite recipe adaptations (Oven-Barbecued Ribs) comes from this cookbook. Delicious! Note: I have a different edition than the one in the above photograph. Mine is spiral bound, which I find extremely handy (it doesn't flop shut in the middle of a critical step) and wonder why more cookbooks don't go this route. Guess they wouldn't look as pretty (or fit as well) on a bookshelf. This would make a great gift for a college graduate, as well as a young married couple.
The Joy of Cooking Standard Edition is not only a classic, but an invaluable reference book for all cooks. While I haven't used this book recently, I have several pages marked for quick reference (Table of Equivalents and Conversions, deviled eggs, gravy, banana bread, etc.). Who knows? I may need to make Melba Toast someday. And I'll know exactly where to look.
The Mast Farm Inn Family Style Cookbook brings back such wonderful memories. My husband and I have stayed at the inn (located in Valle Crucis, North Carolina) on two separate occasions. It has since changed ownership, but judging by the website, it's retained all of its beauty and charm. One of the reasons for our second visit was the memory of the delicious meals we were served by Sibyl & Francis Pressly. Breakfast AND dinner were included in our room rate and, boy, was it ever worth it! I've tried several of the recipes from this spiral bound book and they were just as delicious as I remembered. I'll have to get cracking and get them posted on my blog. Of course that means I need to prepare them so I can include photos. Won't my hubby be happy! Especially when it comes to the Strawberry/Raspberry Shortcake. Mmmmm-mmm.
Somewhere along the line, I stumbled upon Jamie Oliver's "Naked Chef" program. I don't think it was on The Food Network, but I could be mistaken. It was back in the mid-90s, as I recall. Other than a passing glance at Julia Child or The Galloping Gourmet, I'd never really watched a cooking show. Little did I know this would become a huge industry and that I'd become a big fan of several shows. Not only can you discover a lot of great recipes, but you can learn a lot simply by watching an experienced chef in action. So of course, after watching Jamie whip up some decadent looking dessert for his pals, I had to get a hold of one of his cookbooks. I hate to admit it, but I don't think I've tried any of the recipes in The Naked Chef cookbook. As I looked through it this afternoon, I did see a couple of risotto recipes that sound good and will have to give them a try.
The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa Parties! are two of my absolute favorite cookbooks. They have an abundance of vibrant full-page photos that make me green with envy. I've recently discovered how difficult it is to take a beautiful picture of a plate of food. (Maybe I should just stick to making the plate of food, eh?) In addition to the wonderful pics, I like the inclusion of helpful hints noted in the margins. I've tried several recipes, but so far only a few (satay dip, Rugelach and a Chinese Chicken Salad) have been worth repeating (many, many times!). But, of course, that won't stop me from trying. Or from buying more of her books.
I love shopping at Williams-Sonoma and especially LOVE their cookbooks! Williams-Sonoma Simple Classics Cookbook is an oversize book with gorgeous pictures and gastronomic quotes in the margins. I've found a few delicious recipes that are not only simple, but elegant enough to serve at a dinner party.
My hubby gave me a copy of the William-Sonoma Kitchen Companion, not as a hint to improve my cooking abilities (although that might have been apropos when we first met!), but as a loving gesture, as he knows how much I love to cook. This "cooking encyclopedia" would also make a great gift for a college grad or newlywed. I frequently turn to it for clarification of an unfamiliar term or to see a line drawing of a particular herb. It's full of helpful glossaries for a variety of foods such as apples, beef, creams, etc. A definite "must have" for every cook.
I received Julia and Jacque Cooking at Home as a gift a few years ago and while I haven't made more than one recipe (Julia's Stuffed Tomatoes Provençal), I have flipped through it to compare directions for a recipe I'm working on from another cookbook. Do other cooks do this? This is a well-documented cookbook with detailed pictures and one I need to spend more time perusing. Maybe I'm just a little intimidated?
I first heard about Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family on Oprah. Art Smith was (still is?) Oprah's personal chef and appeared on the show, back when I used to watch. He made a dish of scalloped potatoes with sun-dried tomato pesto that looked absolutely divine. I had to get the book! I love potatoes. Well, as you can guess, I've never made them. Or the chicken tamales or crab cakes that sounded so good. I have almost every single page dog-eared with dozens and dozens of recipes waiting to be tested in Lesley's kitchen. I did make the Gulf Shrimp Stew, which has become a favorite of ours. I'm sure there are others that will eventually wind up on my blog. So many recipes, so little time.
Martha Stewart's Favorite Comfort Food: Classic Favorites and Great New Recipes is another great "picture" cookbook. You can't help but feel like you're dying of hunger while perusing this book of simple comfort foods. She's got all the basics: scrambled eggs, soft-boiled eggs, fried chicken, pizza, peanut butter cookies, brownies, and THE ABSOLUTE BEST macaroni and cheese I have ever tasted! Just say no to Kraft. You'll never go back, I promise.
And finally, Susan Branch's The Summer Book. I love the carefree artwork in all of Branch's books and don't particularly care if I haven't found any recipes worth trying (a first or second time!). I simply like to flip through her books, reading all the personal notes and admiring her colorful drawings.
So there you have it. Just in time for your Christmas shopping. Oh, wait. Christmas is over, isn't it? Oh, well. You'll have a great list to choose from next year. And, come to think of it, maybe I should put together a wish list of 13 cookbooks I'd like to own. Hmmmm.