Thursday, October 05, 2006

What's Cookin?

I love cookbooks. For years I collected them, but it got completely out of control when I started working for Borders. Take a walk through the remainder tables at your local bookstore - they are any cookbook junkie's demise.

I bought tons to add to my collection but very quickly ran out of places to put them. They were everywhere: the kitchen, on top of and buried in cabinets; in the living room wall unit; in the piano bench; and I'm embarrassed to say, on a shelf in the laundry room. But when I needed one, I would have to turn the house upside down to find it. And no, the rest of my books are no different. I am coming out, here on my blog: I am an unorganized bibliophile, causing me to have duplicates and sometimes triplicates of the same title and still not being able to grab hold of the book I need when the author comes to town or a friend wants to borrow it or when I want to reread it or refer to it. So sad.

But I digress; back to cookbooks. I've tempered my collecting. For a while, I just collected cookbooks that were put out as fundraisers, you know, Junior League, Cerebal Palsy, B'Nai Brith, your local high school drama club. Which reminds me, my daughter's high school drama club is putting out a cookbook - if you're interested, they will be available in November in time for gift giving. I contributed a recipe for Hot Clam Dip because it is one of her favorites. Just drop me an email if you're interested.

Soon that collection also got out of hand so I just stopped. I have become a discriminating cookbook acquirer, only bringing home those cookbooks that I feel merit the precious shelf space they will take up. They must have recipes I will use - not just one or two, which is what I find with most cookbooks, but lots of recipes I like and want to try. That doesn't mean they have to be big cookbooks, but they have to shelf-worthy.

So what makes a cookbook shelf-worthy? Besides lots of usable recipes, I like pictures, lots of pictures. Tempting pictures. Pictures that let me know that what I just made looks the way it's supposed to. I want a good index. Don't send me scrambling from letter to letter to find a recipe with chicken and wine. I like well thought out directions - don't assume I know every culinary term used at the Cordon Bleu, because I don't. Recipes should use ingredients that I can buy without making too many trips to specialty stores.

That's about it. I can handle days of prep work, hours of chopping, kneading, marinating, what have you. I just wait to make those kinds of recipes until I have a day off. But most of the recipes should be doable in an hour or so. I can't come home from work and start three hours of prep time, I just can't.

That said, a couple of new cookbooks have come out this fall that seem like they will be making the grade. I just got the Bon Appetit Cookbook by Barbara Fairchild. It's a big honker, over 1200 recipes and almost 800 pages. Bon Appetit is my favorite food magazine and I've collected any number of their recipes over the years. Not always easy, but almost always wonderful and that means a lot, especially when you have to work for it. Is there anything more discouraging than slaving over a hot stove for hours and hours to end up with a mediocre dish?

This new cookbook says right on the cover, "easy-to-make recipes" and I will be checking them out. Give me a few weeks, and I'll fill you in.

The other new cookbook that has me excited is Baking by Dorie Greenspan. I haven't gotten that one yet, but I hope to soon. I did take a peek at it - there is an entire chapter devoted to brownies! And I like her style, the recipes are written in plain English with substitutions mentioned right off the bat. And serving tips are also nice, and there are lots of them in this cookbook.

Then there is the Tasting Club: Gathering Together to Share and Savor Your Favorite Tastes by Dina Cheney which is a different kind of cookbook that sounds very intriguing. It offers ten different tastings (parties) all focusing on a particular food along with wine pairings. I will be checking this out for sure.

Happy eating!

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