Cookbook Corner: Heavy hitters

My name is Grace, and I’m a cookbook-holic.

I can pretty much only cook from recipes; I find improvisation to be annoying and intimidating (I felt the same way about piano improv). But give me a list of ingredients and a recipe and I’m golden (I was never happier than playing a structured Bach fugue). Also, when I lived alone and worked a lot, one way I would relax was to heat up some desperation food and eat it while reading a cookbook that distracted me from my sad, overworked life.

Jens, on the other hand, is solidly improv, and before we met I don’t think he even owned a cookbook. One of the ways he amused himself back when we lived in separate apartments was to look in my fridge, see what measly ingredients I had, and make something delicious. To me, this is nothing short of wizardry.

I own over 100 cookbooks. But as with brainspace and closets, only a limited percentage of these books are actually used. Here’s a list of 5 of the top-used cookbooks.  I’ll post another 5 later. Note: this is actually quantifiable because when a recipe is made, a “post-it of (dis)approval” is inserted into the book with notes about the recipe.

I’m linking to Amazon for the books so you can get more info, but if you can, please buy from a local independent bookseller! If you’re in the Bay Area, Moe’s Books or Half-Price Books always has used cookbooks in great condition at great prices. Or check out Abe Books to find them used.

1. How to Cook Everything, Mark Bittman
This was one of my first cookbooks, bought when I was in college. I’ve actually cooked quite a few recipes from this book, and it’s generally been very reliable, extremely approachable, and also very comprehensive. Now that I know a little more about cooking, I don’t use it as much, but I remain a fan of Bittman’s, and also have his vegetarian cookbook. There’s a new version out but I’m sticking with my old one for now.

2. Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison
Strangely enough, also one of my early cookbooks, even though I had little interest in vegetarianism at the time. I think part of why I bought it is because vegetables were not a big part of my childhood. This is an actual conversation with one of my sisters:

Sister: Did we ever eat any vegetables besides the gulay in sinigang and the carrots and celery in lumpia?

Me: Uh, tomatoes with fried fish?

So this cookbook has been really helpful in expanding my vegetable repertoire, and when I come back from the farmers market and Jens needs ideas for cooking, he’ll even flip open this book for ideas. Which he then riffs on, of course.

Recommended recipes: quinoa with pine nuts and dried fruits (of One Quinoa Salad to Rule them All fame), creamed leeks on walnut toast.

3. Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini, Elizabeth Schneider
Speaking of vegetable ideas – this is it. It’s less a cookbook than reference manual (although it does have some excellent recipes). It tells you a little about the vegetable’s history, different varieties, how to choose and prepare it, and gives a few recipes and then some “recipe ideas” that are sort of a shorthand description of a dish from well-known chefs. If you like shopping at markets but have sometimes felt lost amid the plethora of choices, this is a must-have.

Recommended recipes: oyster mushroom salad with a saffron-lemon dressing (the best salad ever OMG); avocados, salt, yellow corn tortillas (not a recipe really, it’s so amazing in its simplicity; but like ball bearings whoever thought of this is a genius)

4. The Best Recipes in the World, Mark Bittman
Jens hated the title of this book when I brought it home; it smacked of hubris. But it’s become a reference for when we want to try something different than Jens’ usual Cal-Fresh-Health sensibility. Although some of the recipes can be a miss (stay away from the Filipino adobo recipe; and the Janssens Temptation recipe is also a bit of a disappointment), others are a hit. More importantly, it serves as a great jumping-off point for experiments.

Recommended recipes: avocado soup; North African couscous soup (add fried tempeh for extra oomph).

5. 1,000 Indian Recipes, Neelam Batra
I eat lentils now, and it’s because of this book (and Jens stubbornness). Encyclopedic (notice a trend?) and approachable.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

One Comment to “Cookbook Corner: Heavy hitters”

  1. i only like cooking from recipes too.

Leave a Reply