I kept thinking I ought to do a post with reviews of my cookbooks – and I finally got around to it – YAY!
Cookbooks for general stuff
This is a surprisingly decent and solid cookbook – dieting or not. The first time I ever made black bean soup it was from this cookbook, and even though my mother had sworn she’d never met a black bean that was worth eating this soup turned out full of flavor and delicious. It has standard foods and ones with twists that appeal to me – like the mexican ratatouille.
The Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated
Aww! This was a birthday gift from moot, and it was a wonderful gift. This is the book that finally comforted me about my inability to make tasty beef stock (in that it takes almost as much beef as you want stock). This it the book I go to if there is a common recipe that just keeps giving me trouble because these are the people who have taken common recipes and made them over and over again with tiny variations until they come up with a “perfect” version. Now my aesthetic does not always agree with theirs, but they tell you what they are aiming toward and exactly how each modification altered their results, so I can still extrapolate how to tweak my recipes to get the results I want. This is the shortcut to avoid wasting a lot of ingredients on your own.
Better Homes and Gardens (Plaid) New Cook Book (2002 edition)
So I grew up with this cookbook, and I always considered it a staple of a good household. So when my sister and I moved into our own places, my mother bought each of us our own copies of this cookbook and the Joy of Cooking. Only I have discovered that the only recipe I ever used this cookbook for was the banana bread, and the new edition changed that recipe! So it pretty much just takes up space. I does have some good conversion charts, but I have an internet for that, too. (banana bread bitching) So I think I’ll be getting rid of this cookbook as soon as I remember to do so.
Cooking with the Seasons: A Year in My Kitchen by Monique Jamet Hooker
I love the idea of this cookbook, and I even am rather fond of some of the recipes, but I wish it were more a list of tasty foods you can make with seasonal foods instead of trying to offer me organized meals. Nonetheless, I love the idea of certain foods being late summer foods and tailoring one’s menu around that.
Going Solo in the Kitchen by Jane Doerfer
I picked up this cookbook from the library after a discussion about cookbooks for eating in smaller households. It’s a good, solid book with not only simple (but not too boring) recipes, but also a lot of good tips on shopping, meal planning, budgeting, and cooking techniques. And it has a lot of quotes and discussion about how it really is better to get to eat alone
without that bastard of a husband who just left you for some bimbo, and you get a sneaking suspicion that the cheerfulness is a bit forced… which I found pleasantly amusing. YMMV. Most of the tips were things I had already discovered, but they were often the things I was the most proud of having figured out because they were things other people don’t always get (like homemade stock and coordinating lunches with leftovers).
Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker (1964 edition)
This was the other book I got from my mother when I got my own apartment… only this one, I ended up deciding that I really had liked my mother’s enough that when the modern version proved not as useful, I gave it back and we hunted through used books for an older edition that still would tell you how to skin a squirrel and other such handy things. This is the book I use if I want to know the oven temperature for a roast. This is the book I go to when I have a new (not too regional) ingredient or an ingredient I want a new way to cook. There’s an amazingly tasty asparagus recipe (in which the advocate roasting at a much higher temperature than you’d expect, but the results were lovely). Most of the recipes are very simple and necessary. This is a good book for basic sauces – when someone says, “Let’s just whip up a hollandaise sauce,” and you don’t have a packet mix for that, you go to this book. And it tells you how to butcher a pig, dress a squab, and – most importantly – skin one of those pesky squirrels that keeps trying to break into my apartment.
I haven’t opened this one recently, but I should. The recipes in it were pretty good. I got it back in the days when I studiously went through and made little post-it tabs to index every recipe that looked promising, and this one has a lot of post-its. It is, however, one of the diet cookbooks that stupidly confuses spaghetti squash with a spaghetti alternative – and really, it’s much tastier if you let it just be a stringy squash instead of trying to top it with marinara and meatballs.
Cookbooks for entertaining – Appetizers / Parties
This is a fun format, but it’s not as useful as I’d hoped. Most of the recipes are duplicated elsewhere. BUT – and this is a big one – it is the place where I get most of the recipe for my homemade pita chips, which are awesome, if I may be modest for a moment. :)
Finger Food by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen
This is my quintessential book of appetizers and party food. The author appreciates the sexiness of heavy cream and dainty presentations, but the techniques are rarely all that complicated – and there are a lot of options here that travel well. This book has stuff for the gluten intolerant (Mmmm – wild rice pancakes topped with smoked salmon, and cucumber cups filled with smoked trout) and encompasses a wide variety of flavors and techniques. I have been using this book rather hard for several years now, and there are still some tempting and simple recipes I haven’t gotten around to trying (partly because the ones I’ve tried have all worked so well they have become reliable standbys), and it’s only 96 pages.
New Vegetarian Entertaining by Jane Noraika
This one looked a lot like finger food in the way the recipes were presented, but they really aren’t very similar cookbooks. I hardly ever find something I decide to make in this book, but I keep it around because I do run into a decent amount of vegetarians and you never know.
Winterthur’s Culinary Collection compiled by Anne Beckley Coleman
This is a book I bought after having looked through the copy at the library. It has several recipes that I were common around the town where I grew up (e.g. proper Chadd’s Ford stuffed mushrooms), and is full of tasty food, but it’s in the appetizer category in my head because those were the one’s most familiar and evocative.
Betty Crocker – Soup, Stew, and Chili (Feb 2004 magazine, #205)
This little pamphlet is so wee that I keep forgetting I have it when I want to make soup. And then I find it and go, “Hmmm, I should use this someday.” And so the cycle continues.
Glorious Stew by Dorothy Ivens (1976 edition)
This stew is, indeed, glorious. I looked through a copy at the library and liked it so much that I bought my own copy. Okay, so that’s a lie: I still have the library’s copy, but I talked my mother into buying the book. It has a recipe for goulash that it the closest I have seen to Cee’s authentic recipe picked up in a little place in Slovakia. It separates stews by main meat product and then by whether it it browned first or cooked unbrowned. This cookbook makes the winter pass more easily.
New England Soup Factory Cookbook by Marjorie Druker and Clara Silverstein
On the other hand, this cookbook does not impress me. My mother bought it for me because she knew I made a lot of soup, but (and I may be judging it too harshly here) I already have all the soup recipes I need, and this one didn’t seem to have anything particularly new or interesting to contribute. At some point, I might give it another chance.
The Soup Bible by Debra Mayhew
THIS! This is the best soup cookbook ever. Actually, this is the best / most-used cookbook I own. Every single time I go to this cookbook, I find a couple things I want to make. There are recipes that will use up random extraneous ingredients (green bean soup – which I have not yet been bold enough to try). There are light soups and heavy soups, exotic soups and homey ones. There are exotic homey soups (garlic soup!). This is the best cookbook ever – and I found it randomly on the clearance rack of crappy books at Barnes and Noble.
Cookbooks for Miscellaneous Food Types
The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Chicken contributing editor: Linda Fraser
All chicken all the time. I’m really not short of things to do with chicken, but every now and then I am so hungry that nothing sounds right and I’ll turn to this book. This is where I started when I wanted to experiment with coronation chicken and needed a recipe from which to start.
Filo! by Jan Nix
MMmmmm! I want to use this cookbook more often, but I’m not usually willing to go to the effort to clear space to work with phyllo. But still, I like that I have this book
checked out from the library.
Great Bread Machine Baking by Marlene Brown
It’s a good book with clear directions, and I think I might get better results from it now that I know how important it is to check the temperature of the water… only now I’m kind of dieting a bit, so I haven’t been making bread. But for special occasions, yeah.
World of Dumplings by Brian Yarvin
Includes: Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Uzbekistan, Georgia, the Middle East, Turkey, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Ashkenazic traditional, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Great Britain, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, United States, and Canada. I saw this book in the library and coveted it. And then a friend got it and was experimenting with it a bit and having issues with the author, so I was thinking of not getting it… and then my mother bought it, so I stole it from her. And, yeah, the author is talking our of his ass rather frequently, but if you skip the storytelling sections and go straight to the recipes, it’s pretty decent. I’d love to use this cookbook more, but like Filo!, it’s more effort than I usually spend. Hmmm… maybe I could have a dumpling stuffing party sometime (I did have one friend over to make things in phyllo before, and I got a whole pirogi lesson when I visited another friend, so it’s not inconceivable). But in the meanwhile, I have discovered the joys of frozen dumplings bought from the asian grocer.
Regional cuisine: Chinese, Thai, and other countries in eastern Asia
Classic Chinese Cuisine by Nina Simonds (1994 edition)
I love this cookbook. It has clear directions and beautiful pictures and a confidence about the recipes that makes me think that cooking from these recipes will produce foods with authentic flavors… now the reviews on Amazon keep praising the availability of the ingredients they call for, so that might be a delusion, but it’s a delusion that makes me happy. There are very few true vegetarian dishes – most vegetable heavy dishes still have meat incorporated, but that makes me perfectly happy. This has become my primary Chinese cookbook, and it might stay that way.
Includes: Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, Hong Kong, and Japan. This cookbook is so over the place that it’s hard to predict what will be in it and use as a reference. Instead, I have to be perusing the cookbook and construct meals around it. On the other hand, this has one of the best section on ingredients that I have found – lots of pictures and clear descriptions and storage instructions – and it is very good at disambiguating similar sauces across cuisines. From this book, I learned how to easily find the right kind of rice to make sticky rice. This was (I think) a gift from the moot people as well, but if I am wrong, it has been a very long and useful loan.
Real Thai: The Best of Thailand’s Regional Cooking by Nancie McDermott
YAY! I looked long and hard for a Thai cookbook that would appeal to me, and this is the only one I have found. It is a lot of text and no pictures, and it is broken down by region. The only problem with this cookbook is that right at about the same time I found it, I also found wonderful canned Thai curries that had wonderful fresh flavors that made it unnecessary to make the pastes from scratch. Still, this is a very good cookbook, and I have made several of the recipes. Oh, and this is the source of the recipe for the awesome Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce.
Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller
This is a big heavy book that looked quite promising. Now, I just go to it if I can’t find the answer elsewhere just because this book has so many recipes – but the recipe it has is not guaranteed to be good.
Regional Cuisine: Indian
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julia Sahni
Found this recently at the Free Library’s book sale, and it looks very useful, but my other Indian cookbook is so good that I haven’t even really cracked this one yet.
Indian Epicure: Classic Recipes from North India by Meera Taneja
The grumpy guy surrounded by spices on the cover looks so trustworthy that I was completely suckered into this book (which was totally not written by the random guy pictured on the cover). This book completely reshaped my taste in cookbooks to the standards I have been talking about above. It’s all text, and very reliable. This, and the cooking class on the Bend It Like Beckham DVD, has taught me how to make Indian food that is decently passable as possibly authentic. Also, I am lucky to have plentiful access to good Indian groceries. I love the eggplant recipe. From this cookbook, I successfully made a five course Indian meal for my parents’ vegetarian house guests (plus a small family recipe beef curry for my emphatically non-vegetarian father). Good times.
Regional Cuisine: Mediterranean
The Food of Greece: Cooking, Folkways, and Travel in the Mainland and Islands of Greece by Vilma Liacouras Chantiles
My kind of cookbook – all text, convincing backstory, and divided by region… but I just haven’t found myself using it much.
Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Bastianich
So I kinda like cooking shows, but not usually for the recipes (more for the warm fuzzy glow of people being dynamic in the presence of food: +4 to charisma) (But not Emeril – for some reason, he annoys me no end). But Lidia’s show had me wishing I had written down the recipe because it was something I really wanted to eat, thought I could make decently easily, and could not remember how to make it – Eggplant Rollatini (or something like that). So I started watching her show whenever it was an option, and I really enjoy the foods she makes. Just last weekend, I watched a show where she made olives look tasty to me. So I love this cookbook and use it a decent amount relative to how infrequently I eat Italian food.
Regional cuisine: Mexican
Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (1976 edition)
Here’s another book from the library that I liked a lot. The authorship is somewhat suspect, as she’s a rich diplomat’s wife spending her time in another country learning to cook from the help, and having them make fun of her for wanting to do this herself. But despite that annoyance, this is actually a good cookbook that has gotten me several steps closer to authentic-tasting food. Which is fairly impressive. I love how different it is from what I grew up calling Mexican food. I use this cookbook in fits and starts because most of the recipes I have tried have been pretty heavy and required washing a lot more dishes than usual (i.e. required using a food processor or blender). Still – yay!
Regional Cuisine: Middle East
The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos
Includes: Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Armenia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, the Gulf States (Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman), Yemen, Egypt, Iran, and Afghanstan. This one is also hard to use as a reference because even though this is a thick book rather full of recipes, I keep feeling as though there should be more. That said, it does a nice job of showing (perhaps too simplistically, but it acknowledges the problem) how these different countries treat similar foods without creating too much duplication of similar recipes. This book really makes me want to make egg and lemon soup someday. It’s also a library book.
Things I have left out
Note: I have left out both translations of Apicius because I have reviewed them before, and I have left out the books about booze (Mr. Bostons, a scotch book, and a new cocktails book) because I haven’t used them much