|One of my cookbook shelves.|
I have been having an obsessive love affair with cookbooks lately. OK, I have had a long-standing love affair with ALL books, but in the past few years my book obsession has taken the form of anything written about food. Big, glossy pictures of dinner a huge bonus. I cannot get enough. I stalk them. I pour over book review journals seeking out the latest cookbook reviews, or the newest titles in the hip, non-fiction genre of cookbook memoirs, and then I either have the college buy them for the library, (and subsequently check them out to myself with a due date of 2018,) or, I buy them for myself. (A BIG thank you to Amazon for offering the use of credit card reward points to buy books. Genius, Jeff, pure genius.) I buy cookbooks like Carrie Bradshaw buys shoes, clothes, and earrings. And if you see me on a daily basis, you know this to be true by my achingly painful fashion sense. I roughly own only one pair of khakis, two pair of jeans, four polos, five cardigan sweaters, coupled with the acutely limited variety of shoes I own; four pairs running, four pairs very comfortable librarian-esque Mary-Janes, and one sensible black heel for weddings, spouse’s work parties, and funerals. Finally, one pair pearl earrings. To add insult to fashion icon injury, I am content to accumulate said couture catastrophes second hand. As in, poppin’ some tags at the Hospice Thrift Store. (Memo to self, one day write about how I almost bought BACK clothes I had previously donated at said store.) Some of my best cardigans, pearl buttons and all, I can imagine were formerly worn by a 1950’s housewife, AND I think they emit good kitchen karma. People, cashmere lasts for decades, and when you score one for a buck fifty, BONUS! When the average American woman looks at a gorgeous $100 dress and thinks, “Soooo pretty. I MUST have to wear out to that special dinner! ” I look at a $100 dress and think, “ $100? That’s a Demeyere 2 quart sauté pan! Must have to cook dinner in!” What my closet, and other home furnishings for that matter, lack in both style and functionality, my kitchen equipment more than makes up for. Browse through the latest Boden’s Women’s catalog and drool? Uh, no thanks. But hand me the latest E. Dehillerin Catalogue and you can start wiping my mouth off. So if you want to see the latest cookbooks, learn about trends in food publishing, or want to know what is on the horizon in cookbooks, look no further. Ask moi. While I may not be qualified to go into your closet and pick out the ‘what not to wear’ clothes you own, I CAN come over and tell you that your grandma’s red gingham check copy of Betty Crocker’s Cookbook, and that frayed beige copy of Fannie Farmer Cooking, has……uh, GOT TO GO. Like yesterday. As a society, we eat differently that we did in the 70’s and 80’s. We also shop differently, and have access to a variety of foodstuffs we have never had before. Add the internet, food blogs, recipe apps, grocery apps, and the ability to instantly get a recipe for dinner via our smart phone while we are literally standing in the grocery store wondering what the heck to make for dinner, and voila, there is little excuse for not putting a decent, healthy meal on the table for your family.
There is, though, something about a real print cookbook, above its digital counterpart, that stands out. Maybe it’s the dog-eared pages, the notes in the margins, the oil stains on the pages. Or, the polished, perfectly photographed pictures of food that seduce our taste buds. For me, and many foodies, it is the combination of short stories and recipes that captivate me. What in the publishing world is now termed ‘foodoir,’ these cookbooks incorporate recipes with stories, often told in memoir form. I love these. I love sneaking a peek into someone’s daily life, and how a simple meal, once forgettable, somehow becomes memorable, sometimes totally unforgettable. Maybe it was the first meal a newly married couple cooked on their first night in a new home. Or the way their grandpa taught them how to roll meatballs and pick out tomatoes for Sunday sauce. Or watching Grandma toss flour, eggs, butter, and sugar into a bowl, (sans measuring cups or even a recipe,) licking the beaters, and an hour later eating her buttery yellow cake. “Gram, how do you know how much to put in there?” I had asked. “Oh, I just know.” Impossible, I thought. How can you NOT measure? These days, I can whip up a mean batch of chocolate chip cookies with no recipe, and no measuring cups. I, too, can look at the dough and, well, just know. I long to write a foodoir. I long to share the recipe and tell you about how on the morning of September 11, 2001, at roughly 9 a.m., I was rolling out cinnamon roll dough, with two babies underfoot. How that perfect fall day which was meant for sweet icing and fellowship with my mommy neighbors, turned into our generation’s D-Day. And how now, whenever I make cinnamon rolls, when I smell the sweet dough and sprinkle the brown sugar, every single time I roll the dough out, I recall details of that day. I want to write about the first time I made jam, and what a colossal fruit massacre it was. How the boiling, sticky, red soup-like creation was literally bursting splatter onto the ceiling, and on every square inch of my kitchen. How I did everything in the wrong order, and how I swore (literally, SWORE. A LOT,) up and down that I would never, ever, make jam again, and that whoever invented canning was some sick, sadistic woman from the Oregon Trail who fancied first degree burns on her forearms. And how when my husband, who had left a seemingly normal household just that morning, walked in from work and appraised the jam debacle, he didn’t bust out with a “What on Earth are you trying to make? Have you NOT heard of SMUCKER’S?” Instead he looked around, smiled, and asked what’s for dinner. He would later confess to me that when he opened the front door that day, and inhaled the sweet, seductive strawberry aroma, he knew before looking what I was doing, and it took him instantly back to his childhood kitchen, watching his mother make jam. She had recently passed away, so walking into his own house that day and smelling that smell made him both sad and sentimental. When I opened that first jar of jam, and I tasted what I can only describe as a strawberry jam orgasm, I proclaimed right then and there I would get this right. And I did. Now, I ‘can can’ (HA!) quickly, efficiently, barring burn scars. Man can I can! Sam I am!
I want to tell you about the first time I made bread and witnessed the dough rise and double in size. I had two thoughts. My first was, “Well, when the world comes to an end, I know if all I have is flour and water, I’m good, ” followed by “Holy carramba bread baking makes the house smell friggin’ AMAZING! Who needs Febreze? I have DOUGH!” Little did I realize that I would later birth three more males, and together the four of them would possess a carb addiction that would rival any endurance athlete’s. Good thing I figured out that whole bread thing when I did.
Those are some of the recipes stories I would tell you about. When I have time. Like, 20 years from now. In the meantime, here is a little rundown of a few of my favorite cookbooks by subject area, (Sorry, I have to classify, it’s in my blood) and some of my favorite foodoirs;
King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking by King Arthur Flour
Gigantic, encyclopedic type book, excellent if you want to start incorporating non-white flours (think white-wheat) into your baking. F.Y.I. loads of awesome recipes also on King Arthur Flour’s website.
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg
This book changed the way I bake bread. Simple, without all the science of pre-ferments, bigas, and poolish (if you have no clue what these are, that’s ok, you don’t need to for these recipes.) It will get even the beginner bread maker on the ‘roll’ to turning out hot, fresh bread at dinnertime. Hertzberg has gone on to publish several more artisan type bread books, and they are all great.
Peter Reinhart’s Artisan Bread Everyday
Reinhart’s bread making method is similar to Hertzberg’s, and this book includes more varieties on bread types, think flatbreads, and focaccias. Another great choice for beginner bread bakers.
Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza by Ken Forkish
In a word, gorgeous. Not for the beginner, though its title might lead you to think so, this book includes some heavy science behind break making. And remember those terms you didn’t have a clue about? They are in here. This is for the more serious baker who is deeply interested in the craft of bread baking. Includes Ken’s story about how he became a master bread baker.
Joy the Baker Cookbook by Joy Wilson
Good, basic stuff. You know, like cake. Pics of every recipe, no out of reach ingredients.
Pie it Forward by Gesine Bullock Prado
I LOVE GESINE (see why when I tell you about her foodoir) Excellent intro to pies. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE her cookbooks.
Sugar Baby: Confections, Candies, Cakes & Other Delicious Recipes for Cooking with Sugar by Gesine Bullock Prado
For the aspiring candy maker (don’t even THINK about attempting anything in this book without a highly accurate candy thermometer) this is a decent primer for all things sugary. Think caramel, and anything sticky that can be derived from the caramel family. Photographs are beautiful. Recipes notes are hilarious. Have I mentioned I LOVE HER COOKBOOKS?
Bake it Like You Mean it by Gesine Bullock Prado
OK, I am a Gesine stalker. But this is another winner. Basic to utterly superb cakes in here for all levels of bakers. Includes great baking techniques and tips.
Southern Biscuits by Nathalie Dupree
Seriously, did you say a 200-page book full of biscuit awesomeness? A pimento cheese biscuit? WHHHAAAAATT? This should be the first item on every southern bride’s registry. Forget 800 thread count sheets, the ability to produce a damn good biscuit will do wonders for your marriage.
The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook: Sweetness in Seattle by Tom Douglas
After reading the first couple chapters of this book, I didn’t even care if it included recipes. I loved hearing Tom’s story, and how he runs his bakery. The incredible recipes were a bonus, and not only include baked goods, but excellent lunch fare.
The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook by Griffith Day
All crazy good stuff, all very bad for you. Whatever. Sometimes you gotta say screw it. And when the recipe is called “Drunk Blondies,” you really have to say screw it. And then bake it. Witty with a very down home feel, this little gem I just adore.
Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry
If you are just starting to home preserve, start here. Detailed how to instructions and very basic recipes will have you ‘jammin’ in no time.
Putting Up: A Year Round Guide to Canning in the Southern Tradition by Steve Dowdney
The tomato sauce recipe in here alone is worth the price. Twangy southern humor combined with peach chutney and very ‘pur-tee’ pictures, and you have a winner.
Tart and Sweet: 101 Canning and Pickling Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Kelly Geary
For low or no sugar jelly and jam recipes, plus creative killer sauces, syrups, and condiments (yes, you can make your own ketchup,) these recipes marry the traditional with the creative. And I am always happy when a cookbook includes a recipe using kumquats. I live, and my husband grew up a stone’s throw from, the kumquat capital of the world.
The Preservation Kitchen: The Craft of Making and Cooking with Pickels, Preserves, and Aigre-doux by Paul Virant
For the record, aigre-doux translates to bitter sweet. And this book is soooo sweet. This exquisitely photographed book, a world away from your grandma’s jam, includes recipes for preserves to pair with poached fish and braised meat. Uh, YUM!! Captures the seasons in a jar!
Sweet Cream and Sugar Cones: 90 Recipes for Making Your Own Ice Cream and Frozen Treats by Kris Hoogerhyde
Drag out that old ice cream maker you got as a wedding gift, or treat yourself to some new stand mixer swag (think ice cream bowl attachment) and then pull out this dreamy delight. It takes a little skill, but after a few practice rounds of base/custard making, I was ‘churning’ out some frozen heaven. And, as it always happens when you make your own stuff, Breyer’s tastes like crap to me now.
Vegan Pie in the Sky and Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
I bought the cupcake one first, then had to have the pie one. My husband can’t do dairy, and both of these provide yummy dairy, as well as egg free options. My kids ate up the vanilla cupcakes and had no clue they were vegan.
Chloe’s Vegan Desserts: More Than 100 Exciting New Recipes for Cookies and Pies, Tarts and Cobblers, Cupcakes and Cake and More! By Chloe Coscorelli
Coscarelli is a graduate of the Natural Gourmet Institute of Health and Culinary Arts NYC, the University of California, Berkeley, as well as Cornell University’s Plant-Based Nutrition Program. ‘Nuff said. Awesome vegan treats from mega experienced chef.
I could do pages and pages of these, but will spare you my obsession. Here are a couple of titles I just adore;
This is a Cookbook: Recipes for Real Life by Eli Sussman and Max Sussman
Just released, I knew it would be good because of the authors; two guys from Brooklyn who grew up cooking. Max, deemed by the James Beard Foundation as a rising star, together with his brother have published a collection of straightforward and hip recipes. I left this book out on the kitchen counter and it instantly attracted the attention of one of my sons. That day he had already chosen three things to make for dinner from it. Guy friendly foods (like meatball subs,) crafted with whole food ingredients; this is my family’s new favorite.
Dinner: A Love Story: It All Begins at the Family Table by Jenny Rosenstrach
This could fall into the foodoir category, as it tells the story of new parents who decide to make dinner a priority. There are a plethora of recipes that follow, all very doable, even when time crunched. Healthy, simple, and tasty stuff in here.
The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chirnila
If you are on a mission to kick the packaged food habit, buy this book. I currently use several of her mixes (pancakes,) and the maple caramel popcorn is like crack. Also, after reading how easy it’s supposed to be, I might actually try to MAKE my own mozzarella cheese. At home. Like from whole milk. I am losing my mind. I luuuuuuv this book.
Not Your Mother’s Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook by Jessica Fisher
No cream of chicken soups here. Just good stuff, and good meal planning ideas for busy families including proper freezing and thawing techniques. With four boys, the freezer has become my new best friend.
Now Eat This! Italian: Favorite Dishes from the Real Mamas of Italy—All Under 350 Calories by Rocco DiSpirito
Confession: I do not like cookbooks from cheesy Food Network stars. Sorry, but I just can’t handle Rachel Ray. Which is why I was super hesitant to even pick this book up. But I did. And I am glad I did. Low fat Italian that actually uses substitutes other than, well, low-fat ricotta. Rocco, let’s move in together and make lasagna from zucchini ribbons and live happily ever after. Bring your Italian grandma. I have one too.
From Mama’s Table to Mine: Everybody’s Favorite Comfort Foods for 350 Calories or Less by Bobby Deen
Let’s get one thing clear. It is only 350 calories or less if you actually eat ONE serving. I can eat three. Ok, four. So, thanks to Bobby, I can eat four servings, and it’s like one of his mama’s servings. So all is good. I love ya Paula, but sometimes you gotta go light and your son does it right.
The Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte
Inventive, fresh, a bit fancy. Think dinner party recipes. Fantastic pictures. Might not attempt these on weekdays, but these recipes are great weekend cooking indulgences.
Confessions of a Closet Master Baker: One Woman’s Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado.
You know when you read a book and instantly think that you and the author could be best friends? Hey Gesine, call me. Let’s have a GNO. We can make macaroons. This is one of my favorite food memoirs. She is hilarious. I saw her in person do a class at King Arthur Four in Vermont. It was like I was watching a superhero. A super-baking-hero. That’s my kind of woman. You will love this story.
A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg.
This book began my love affair with foodoirs. It was like an epiphany. Wait, I like to eat. I like to write. Wonder twin powers….ACTIVATE! There are people who can blend rich, moving, life stories with the food they cooked or ate and it actually makes for a terrific book. Also, this began my recent infatuation with all things Parisian . See below.
Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard
American writer marries French guy, moves to Paris, learns to cook. Add funny situations and a little family drama and let’s go find some croissants. Pronto.
The Sweet Life in Paris: Delicious Adventures in the World’s Most Glorious, and Perplexing City by David Lebovitz
He is Will. I am Grace. We move to Paris. I crack up. A LOT. I love David and any and all of his food writing. One day I will go to Paris. With him.
My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story with Recipes by Luisa Weiss
See above Lunch in Paris. Change city to Berlin. Add German food. Delicious writing.
52 Loaves by William Alexander
Laugh out loud funny story of man baking his butt off trying to produce the perfect loaf of bread. He could be my best friend too.
Clearly, I could go on and on and on…….told you I was obsessed. So many books, so much food, so little time. So make the time. Get in the kitchen. And come over for dinner, will ya?