Thursday, April 10, 2008

Cookbook Junkie

I’m Shari, and I’m a cookbook junkie. Here’s another secret: I’ve never been one who can cook without a recipe. I’m always checking and re-checking the method to make sure I’m on track. Either I need a better memory or I need to understand what I’m doing so that I can cook without recipes. I’m hoping that by learning the fundamentals, I’ll have the confidence to go it alone.

There’s a wonderful food blogger, Heidi Swanson, whose blog is called 101 Cookbooks. She decided that she owned enough cookbooks and started chronicling her effort to work through these cookbooks. I was curious to see if I too had 101 cookbooks. I found out I had 195! I guess I should stop this addiction, have a garage sale, and get rid of the less-used cookbooks. Nice idea, but I probably won’t go through with it.

For awhile, I stopped buying cookbooks and relied on magazines and clippings and my old standby recipes. My current magazine subscriptions include Cook’s Illustrated, Fine Cooking, Gourmet, and Bon Appetit, and I often buy Saveur at the grocery checkout. The stacks of recipes and ones to try keep piling up. In fact, I have a thick binder of recipes I haven’t tried yet but want to and a pile of papers and clippings to go through. I know I can find most, if not all, the recipes from these magazines online, but I like the tactile nature of looking through a magazine, folding the corner of the page over for a recipe I want to try, and reading the magazine in bed.

I’m always getting cookbooks out of the library too. I’m sure the librarians roll their eyes when they see my list of hold requests: Bouchon to Chez Panisse Café Cookbook to all the other cookbooks that I haven’t added to my shelf yet. I walk out of the library regularly with arms heavy-laden with cookbooks and books about food.

From Anne Willan to Culinary Institute of America’s The Professional Chef to Le Cordon Bleu at Home to Julia Child, my “favorites” shelf holds all the heavyweights and the cookbooks I turn to most often. Cookwise gives me the whys and wherefores and Knife Skills Illustrated gives me the hows. Heston Blumenthal’s In Search of Perfection is an interesting and different cookbook. He explores eight classic recipes, such as roast chicken or fish and chips, to come up with the perfect combination of ingredients for the perfect recipe. I like Martha Stewart’s cookbooks for their presentation ideas. I’m always on the lookout for great cookbooks, and I usually end my day by browsing through a cookbook or food magazine. It’s so relaxing and inspiring.

If I had to choose one cookbook from this “favorites” shelf, I would choose Le Cordon Bleu at Home. It covers every aspect of cooking from sauces to desserts to meals. It’s organized around meals in an order that goes from easier (“getting started”) to harder (“professional”). There are cookbooks on my shelf that I want to dust off and use more. But right now, I’m in a stage where I’m not interested in a book full of recipes. I want to know more about how and why the recipe works.

I’m a cookbook junkie. And proud of it!

What’s your favorite cookbook that you would take to a desert island (assuming the desert island had a professional kitchen and groceries shipped to you daily)?!?


Gretchen Noelle said...

Wow! 195 cookbooks?!? You could be the library I check books from! Ha! I am currently enjoying several Peruvian cookbooks and learning so much about the food and techniques here.

Anonymous said...

I'm a totally recipe user too, and I have the same hope that you described - one day I'll be comfortable enough with the techniques that I won't need to reference the recipe. But I have a feeling that it doesn't work that way. I think some people are just natural recipe (and maybe, more generally, rule) followers and some wing it.

I am not a cookbook buyer, however. I used to be, but my guilt over too many unused cookbooks has kept me in check for the last several years.

Anonymous said...

Really. I think we were separated at birth. I, too have over 150 cookbooks and can't bring myself to cook without a recipe! I went to pastry school, so I am so stuck in baking world.

Everyday Food recently came out with a little article: "50 no-recipe meals", and it has become a personal project for me and my poor husband. It has been quite liberating! And frustrating...and very fun.

Love your blog!


amycaseycooks said...

I love cookbooks too. Even with so many recipes on the internet, I still love reading my cookbooks like novels. If I haven't used a cookbook in a while, I will read it again. I don't know if I could ever pick a favorite from my collections though.

June said...

I know I'm WAY late here but I, too, am a cookbook junkie. I'm pushing 300...