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 Proven├žal), 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.


  1. Oh Les....I'm so hungry now!

    I learned 2 recipes lately that featured kimchi. One is kimchi chicken. You fry the kimchi then stuff a chicken with it. Rub the outside of the chicken with cut lemon then the spices you like. Bake for 1 hour. The mixture of the meat cooking and the kimchi smells are terrific.

    Kimchi pancake: 1 cup of water & 2 cups of flour. Add a third of a cup of kimchi any extra raw veggies you might have in the fridge. chop the kimchi and vegetables up well and mix in the flour mixture. This is usually served with a sesame flavored sauce that's really nice.

    Don't know if you like spicy food, Les, but I guess your cookbooks put me in the spirit to get all culinary! Thanks for sharing! Great Thursday 13!!!

  2. Stephanie6:29 AM

    OK, I just love staying at bed & breakfasts, have made the peanut butter cookie recipes from the Martha Stewart cookbook, love to flip through Susan Branches lovely books, have most of the Barfoot Contessa books, have a cute (but crazy orange cat), love to cook for other people and love to read. Are you sure we aren't long lost cousins or something?
    - Stephanie

  3. Jamie Oliver's adorable, isn't he? I used to love his show. He's such a bundle of energy.

    I also like the Barefoot Contessa. She makes food that actually doesn't look impossible to replicate. I like that in a cook.

    Very nice list! I wish I could say it made me get back to cooking again, but these days I'm pretty much a cooking slouch. Oh well, I still love watching others cook...

  4. Les...I love to cook too (you and I seem to have a lot in common!). After reading your reviews, I know I would love to get the Winnie the Pooh book *smile* If you like to bake bread in a bread machine, or use a slow cooker, I can recommend two books by Beth Hensperger (Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook AND The Bread Machine Lovers Bread Machine Cookbook). They don't have lots of pictures, but they are awesome cookbooks. Finally, Laurie Colwin has two cookbooks that I adore...Home Cooking AND More Home Cooking. She does all comfort food types of things, but what makes her cookbooks so wonderful is that for each recipe she writes a story.

  5. I love cookbooks. I love to sit for hours and browse through them, adding bookmarks, making notes to myself. Sometimes I even try a few of the recipes. More often than not, I have to pull all the bookmarks out before returning it, overdue, to the library. I own more cookbooks than I can believe, but they are so tempting, aren't they? I love the Pampered Chef cookbooks because they have great recipes and pictures of each one.

    Very fun post, Les. I'm feeling like making dinner tonight. My family thanks you.

  6. I love the fact that you remember your first cook book. That is amazing. Considering I get dizzy seeing a stove, I have an immense amount of respect for anyone who can do more than boil water.

  7. Only two days late in responding! Good list...I would add How to Cook Everything by by Mark Bittman and Alan Witschonke. It's my go-to resource when I'm looking at a hunk of pork tenderloin and don't feel like using the recipe on p. 14 of Cooking Light 2004 for the 536th time.

    Question...with the Book Nook in your title, I was wondering if you were ever a participant in any of the AOL discussion groups Book Nook, Book Nook People or Favorite Fiction back in the later 90's. I thought I remembered a Lesley. But then again, I haven't looked at your profile, so if you are in your early 20's and you are now saying, "Huh?"

  8. I own three of those cookbooks, Les. A dear friend gave us a used copy of the Pooh Cook Book the year our daughter was born. My then boyfriend, now husband gave my mother The Joy of Cooking almost 40 years ago. And Martha, what can I say? My favorite pages are 98 and 99.
    Signed the potato girl :<)

  9. Bybee - Thanks for the two kimchi recipes. I've never tried kimchi, but you never know. I may just have to give it a try someday. My understanding is that it's quite spicy, right? Glad you enjoyed the post. I had a lot of fun putting it together.

    Stephanie - We do have a lot in common, don't we? :) But you're much more crafty than me! This blog is about as artistic as I get.

    Lisa - Yep, he's pretty darned cute, although the lisp started to annoy me after awhile. I kept wondering if it was an affectation.

    I like the Contessa's cookbooks, but her show makes me dizzy. Something about that handheld camera style - blech!

    I'm glad you enjoyed the list. I've been a bit lazy with my cooking lately and it helped inspire me to dig out some new recipes. If you're interested, head over to my cooking blog. Maybe you'll discover something too tempting to pass up.

    Wendy - Ah, but you have the best (new) kitchen to cook in! Our house was built in the '30s and the kitchen needs a total makeover. We updated the stove and microwave, took down the ugly wallpaper and painted it a pretty sage green, but someday soon I'd like to put in new cupboards, counters, lighting, and hardwood floors. Until then, I try not to grumble too much about the lack of counter space.

    Thanks for the book recommendations. I haven't used my bread machine in years (thanks, South Beach Diet), but you've tempted me to get it out, especially with our cold weather. Homemade bread is heavenly with stews, soups and chowders. Off to Amazon to look at these titles. Thanks for helping my wishlist grow. :)

    Booklogged - Isn't it fun to sit and peruse the pages of a beautifully designed cookbook? I never think to look for them at the library, but I really should. They're not cheap and sometimes I may just find one or two recipes I like out of the entire book. Not very cost-efficient that way.

    I'm so pleased you enjoyed the post. If I can't invite all my blog-buddies over for dinner, I can at least share my favorite cookbooks and recipes, right?

    Nessie - The only reason I remember my first cookbook is because it's in my bookcase. Otherwise, I'd have no idea!

    Di - Hey there! Glad to see you again. Oooh, I remember shelving that huge book of Bittman's when I worked at Borders. Maybe I'll look for it at the library one of these days. Just to see if it's one I'd like to own.

    You know, I used to belong to a group, back in the mid 90s. It started out as Bookstacks and then became Books.com but it's no longer around. I don't remember being in the AOL group (Book Nook), but who knows, I may have signed up briefly and just don't remember at this point. It does sound familiar, though.

    Nan - Oooh, I love those two potato recipes, too. :)

  10. Hi, Les!

    I'm so very glad you did a post on cookbooks! Ever since I discovered food and recipe blogs I hardly follow the recipes in cookbooks anymore, but I do love reading them. Many are so interesting giving the history of food along with culture, family stories and other interesting tidbits.

    From your terrific list, I have to say that "The Naked Chef" is my favorite - I am partial to him only because I recently bought some "Jamie Oliver" cookware (on sale)! ;)

    But I have heard that "The Joy of Cooking" is a must for all kitchens.

  11. Hey, Lotus. Glad you enjoyed the post. It was great fun (but a lot of work with all the links and photos!).

    Oooh, I didn't know Jamie Oliver had cookware! :) Off to Google...

  12. les, when I first saw your post a few days ago (and was unable to get verification to leave a comment) I wanted to say these brief things:
    1. I've always loved Winnie The Pooh, and didn't know he had his own cookbook. What a treasure!
    2. My very first cookbook as a married woman was The Sunset book you've pictured. I remember taking it to Germany with me when my husband and I moved there a few months after our wedding. Everything that I make from there is yummy. In fact, I still make the Giant Oven Pancake almost every Sunday.
    3. I wonder if you own the old Betty Crocker cookbook, with loose-leaf pages. My mother used it constantly when I was a child, and she bought me my own copy when Restoration Hardware re-released it a few Christmases ago. It's a great classic as well.

    I love how you tied books and cooking in together in this post.

  13. I have quite a collection of cookbooks and the only ones I ever use are the old standby, "Betty Crocker's Cookbook," and one we put together for a family reunion. All my sisters, aunts and cousins contributed our favorite recipes and we printed it up and made copies for all. Great recipes. My confession is that I hardly ever cook, so why all the cookbooks? Who knows??

  14. Bellezza - Glad you were able to finally post a comment here! Yes, the Pooh Cookbook is quite a treasure. I wish it still had its dustcover. That's long gone, I'm afraid. What a coincidence that you had the same Sunset cookbook as a young bride! I don't think I've ever tried the Giant Oven Pancake, but I'll have to give it a try one of these weekends! It sounds like you were like me, going through each and every recipe in the book. You know, I've never owned the Betty Crocker cookbook you mentioned. I do have a Betty Crocker International Cookbook, though. It was a wedding gift, too. I'm so glad you enjoyed the blog entry. :)

    Framed - What a treasure to have a family cookbook! And I don't see anything wrong with owning a lot of cookbooks. I find it very entertaining to simply flip through and look at all the pretty pictures.


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