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I have known
up with someone who reads and
collects cookbooks. I saw the gradual encroachment of cookbooks
on tables, floors, and hallways. I vowed that my cookbook
collection would have to earn its keep. I would get rid of books
that weren't being used regularly, that might be full of nice recipes
but just not quite what I prefer to make, and not feel guilty about
doing so. My current collection has expanded a bit of late to
three shelves at 48 inches, in part because I have been buying more
than cooking lately, and not culling as often as I should.
If I find an interesting book used and cheap, I will buy it to browse
through, not necessarily expecting to keep it. Thus, I have
traded in at least as
many as I have kept over the years, some which were never expected
to stay, and some because my tastes changed, or the recipes just didn't
work for me (like Lord Krishna's cuisine, an award winning Indian
cookbook from a dietary tradition that eschews onions and garlic, which
should have been a red flag right off the bat, and from which I tried
several recipes that just didn't agree with my taste buds--though they
worked well otherwise). These are the
present keepers, and a little
about how or why they've earned their keep.
selection of books is naturally biased towards how I like to
cook. For example, while I do eat meat, I rarely cook it at home,
preferring to consume my fair share of saturated animal fat in the form
of cheese and buttery baked goods rather than in a steak.
And because I always have more things to do than time to do them, I
like to make large batches of soups, stews, and beans on the weekend to
freeze in individual serving sizes to take to work for lunch. So
many otherwise fine books that emphasize meat-based main dishes, or
food that doesn't reheat well, won't stay in my collection for long.
While I am passionate about milling my own grains, I want the
results to have excellent texture and flavor and recipes that put more
emphasis on 'health' than flavor also don't make the cut.
I marked with an asterisk those that are still on provisional status,
relatively recent acquisitions
that looked interesting but I haven't yet made enough from them to know
if they will earn a permanent place. I can't really vouch for
Mediterranean & beyond
I wish it were a book
On food and cooking by Harold McGee,
edition--the why's behind
how cooking works, from why browning increases flavor to the
biochemistry of gluten formation in bread. I read it with great
pleasure the first time around--my only complaint was that it was too
short. This version is completely rewritten and like a new
book. I am in love again.
Jenkin's cheese primer by Steve Jenkins--I
like a little
guidance when I'm contemplating paying a lot of money for an unfamiliar
cheese, since I am still fairly ignorant outside a few types of cheese
that I eat a lot. Why
I keep it: I haven't seen any
other cheese book that is as comprehensive and opinionated. He
tells you what he doesn't like as well as what he does like, and why,
and that helps me figure out whether I will like it.
The complete book
of spices by Jill Norman--a well illustrated and remarkably
comprehensive little book. Why
I keep it: I got it because it talked
about spices I could find no information on in many another similar
book, like long pepper, cubebs, and mahleb, and it still serves as a ready reference with lovely photos of the spices.
amaranth to Zucchini by
Elizabeth Schneider--an amazing book that is quite encyclopedic;
although it does not have all the obscure tropical vegetables and
fruits covered in the book below, it has far more detailed information
on what to look for, and how to clean and use different
vegetables. I moved her Uncommon
fruits and vegetables out to make room for this one. Why I keep it: I'd
seen banana blossoms in the local international grocery and wondered
what to do with them, and she describes exactly how to handle them.
vegetables of the world
by Michel Viard--a quirky book that really covers a lot of ground,
including some information on older or heritage varieties of common
fruits, as well as information about really unusual and exotic produce
that are missing even from Elizabeth Schneider's book---stuff I've not
seen described anywhere else. Why
I keep it: for
info on produce I don't have any other background on--just in case I
see something new and feel compelled to buy it without knowing how to
cook or eat it.
The story of tea
by Mary Lou and Robert Heiss--an introduction to tea history, from the
plant to the plucking to the drying to making a cup of perfect tea.
Why I keep it: a wonderful reference for a variety of teas, a list of sources and infusion instructions.
My cooking notebook--wherein I jot down
things I've come up with that I like enough to make again (and the best
of these are found scattered throughout my recipe index). Why
I keep it: it's
best of the recipes I've made up myself, and that exist nowhere else
(except on my web site). And I've come up with a few worth
remembering, along with some that were made once, written down, but
never quite attractive enough in retrospect to be made again.
from newspapers, copied from books, and from Mom's recipe files.
A mixed bag, with some irreplaceable treasures.
Better Homes & Gardens New Cook Book & Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book--these
two books from the 1950s were my mother's starter set from when she got
married, and were the source of many of our family recipes,
particularly the cookies, pies, and cakes. Why I keep them: the
cookie, pie, and cake sections which provided our family recipes for
gingerbread men, icebox cookies, gingersnaps and snickerdoodles,
brownies, chiffon cakes, apple and rhubarb pie, and the promise of
other treasures yet to be discovered.
every day by Jack Bishop--is not a vegetarian cookbook,
but a book about cooking vegetables. Why I keep it: Like most
people, I really should eat more vegetables. And he does a
nice job of giving ideas for how to use less familiar veggies.
versatile grain and the elegant bean by Sheryl and Mel
London--the first book I ever met that knew about teff, this also
illuminated the relationships between different families of beans--to
better help in substituting one of the "new" heritage beans for
another. It's organized by types of grains or beans, with a
general description, then some creative recipes using the featured
item. It is not a vegetarian book, and some of the recipes are
traditional, some made up by the authors, and they are not all equally
successful in my hands. I have occasionally thought of letting it
go, but when I do, then I take it out and find another good looking
recipe I haven't tried yet, so it stays. Why I keep it: not many
other books know anything about teff! And the skordalia sauce was
killer stuff, not to mention very easy. Plus the reference value.
Zuni Cafe cookbook by Judy Rodgers--I have only eaten at
the Zuni Cafe once or twice, although I lived in San Francisco not so
far away from it for a long time. But it always had a good
reputation, so when I saw this book, I was intrigued. And when I
opened it up and started reading, I decided to buy it on the spot--not
my usual thing with cookbooks. This one, however, just seemed to
have so much good sense, without being dogmatic, and had lots of
recipes that I thought I would make. Why I keep it: the first
recipe I made (lentils with wine) was a pretty good start.
best recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated--fun for
the kitchen geek, with lots and lots of why with each recipe.
These folks are publishing volume after volume now, and they're getting
pretty specialized, but I'm going to stick with this first one in the
series. You may not always agree with what they do, but you'll
always know why. Why
I keep it: reference and learning, and always handy to loan to someone who wants to learn more about cooking.
Rick Bayless's Mexican kitchen
Bayless--this was the first cookbook that finally convinced me that
pre-roasting and toasting tomatoes and peppers (fresh and dried) was worthwhile, and gave
a simple way to do it without great fuss and mess. That was a big
step for me, but there was more good stuff to come. Why I keep it: the
collection of cooked salsas using a variety of dried and fresh peppers;
runner beans in brick red mole;
Veracruz-style greens and beans with red chile and dumplings;
pre-hispanic style tamales with black beans or yellow mole.
The essential cuisines of Mexico
Kennedy--I had looked at each of her books as they came out--my father
particularly liked and recommended them--but the ones I actually had on
my shelf mostly stayed there. But there was a lot of chapters organized by
the type of meat featured in a main course--just what doesn't excite me
in a cookbook, since I rarely cook with meat. The most intriguing recipes were often long and
involved, and I read them more often than cooked from them. But
this updated edition of her classic includes a wider spectrum of
recipes than before, not just recipes from more different areas, but
recipes for unusual drinks and porridges and more. And my random
pots o' beans have improved dramatically as I've studied traditional
combinations of spices, herbs and peppers in this and Rick Bayless'
books. Why I keep it: Sweet fresh
corn tamales; atoles; the many variations on enchiladas.
Meatless Mexican home cooking by Nancy Zaslavsky
and A taste of Mexico by Kippy Nigh--I got
these two books to serve as references for Mexican cooking without
meat. They're still on probation, and I'd like to see a larger,
more comprehensive book on the same subject to replace
them. The cuisines of Mexico are so creative and complex
that I doubt the meatless daily fare is as limited as the small
collection of recipes in these books. So I keep them while waiting for a
more comprehensive version to come along.
*El arte de cocinar la Quinua by Rita del Solar--my
friends went to Machu Pichu, and all I got was this lousy
t-shirt....er, cookbook. I haven't done much with it yet,
but it is an irresistible oddity that earns its place by featuring one
of my favorite grains.
The book of Latin American cooking by Elizabeth Lambert
Ortiz--as cuisines closer to home are more thoroughly explored, I
expect eventually to see more specialized books on Peruvian and
Brazilian and Columbian cuisine that will displace this from my shelf,
because it can't but be a little superficial covering such an enormous
culinary territory with only one book. But it has served me
well. Why I keep it: an amazingly wide-ranging reference with recipes that work remarkably well.
The complete book of Caribbean cooking
Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz--another book that takes on a wide variety of
cuisines, a thankless task, but does so gracefully. Why I keep it: I've not found anything else that covers the same ground so compactly.
Ma cuisine by Escoffier--I will
probably never make his butter sauce, that starts with a pound of
butter and adds more cream and butter along the way, but it is good to
have the classic original for comparison and understanding when looking
at modern lightened versions of the same things. Why I keep it: more for
reference rather than because I'm likely to cook many of its recipes.
The cooking of provincial France
Fisher--from the Time-Life good cook series, I found this cheap at a
booksale and was quite astonished to find, when I'd gotten it home,
that she wrote it. Why I keep
it: I trust her recipes, though admittedly I've not made
a lot of these yet, because there aren't that many of the
make-in-advance-one-dish-mostly-vegetarian-meals that are my daily fare.
The French Laundry cookbook by Thomas Keller--OK,
even this kitchen geek isn't tempted to purify chlorophyll as part of
my regular kitchen routine, but I enjoy learning from someone who
does. I trust that if I
follow the directions, things will work. Why I keep it: the fabulous lemon tart
with pine nut crust worked exactly right the first
time, and every time, and everyone who I've shared it with loves it.
Classic vegetarian cooking from the
middle east and north Africa by Habeeb Salloum--an
intiguing collection of recipes that happen not to feature meat, and
from cuisines whose meat-based dishes are usually featured in
cookbooks. Why I keep
it: so far I've only made a handful of recipes,
including bean and almond soup, which was excellent, and I will continue to explore.
New food of life: ancient Persian and
modern Iranian cooking and ceremonies by Najmieh
Batmanglij--this is a phenomenally beautiful book, fun to browse in,
and my Persian friends say the recipes look authentic. I have
done little with it yet but browse, but I think it will be a
cooking of the eastern Mediterranean by Paula
Wolfert--although the recipes were intriguing, the emphasis on
intricate meat-based recipes got her Couscous
and other good food from Morocco booted off my shelf, although
it is clearly an excellent book, and the recipes look delicious.
This one has a broader range of recipes that fit my cooking style
better. Why I keep it: hummus;
walnut sauce with pomegranate molasses is a favorite dip to bring to
potluck meals, good with any bread, cracker or raw veggies.
Mediterranean greens and grains by Paula Wolfert--the
very premise--a book about cooking vegetables and grains--was right up
my alley, and I already liked her other books. I was not
disappointed: the recipes are spot on and interesting. Why I keep it: young mustard
greens with pomegranate molasses (which I prefer to make with collard
greens, and which are so tasty that I can eat a large bunch of collards
myself, at once sitting). And one day I will get the chickpea
starter right for the chickpea-leavened bread and rusks from
Greece: she warns you that it is tricky, and I haven't yet
managed to provide the correct, constant temperature for this, but I
adapated the intriguing combination of seasonings--cinnamon, bay,
cloves and fennel--into a delightful chickpea stew.
*The slow mediterranean kitchen by Paula Wolfert--I
just got this one recently, and haven't read through it yet. Why I got it: my trust in
Paula Wolfert to not lead me astray.
*The new book of middle eastern food by
Claudia Roden--because I enjoy middle eastern foods, and it's nice to
be able to compare several versions of a recipe before embarking upon
something totally new. A new addition to the shelf, and I do not
know if I will keep it yet.
*Aromas of Aleppo by
Poopa Dweck--Syrian jewish cuisine, recipes that seemed to involve an
interesting variety of seasonings and ingredients, and recipient of
wonderful reviews from multiple sources.
More than minestrone by Joe Famularo--my
father turned me on to this one. The first soup I tried, barley
soup with mint, was utterly simple, and magnificent. I have a
hard time turning to any other page when I take this book out again,
because the one is so incredibly good. But there are other tasty
Italian soups in there worth discovering. Why I keep it: Zuppa di orzo e
menta: barley soup with mint: take some chicken
stock, boil some barley or better yet some spelt or farro in the stock,
and season with plentiful mint, black pepper, and grated cheese.
If you start with fine turkey stock, and good pecorino toscano cheese,
this is truly sublime. It's a great example of a peasant cuisine
that makes a marvelous dish out of a few select ingredients.
Red White and Greens by Faith Willinger--I
heard her discuss one of the dishes in a radio interview, and was so
intrigued that I looked up and ultimately bought the book. This
came in handy when I was participating in a farm-to-consumer produce
program, and had to figure out what to do with a lot of kohlrabi all at
once. Why I keep it: lovely
recipes that as often as not inspire something else by the time I'm
actually at the stove, but full of wonderful ideas about combinations
of flavors and textures.
In Nonna's kitchen by Carol Field--a
lovely book to browse in, read, and ultimately delicious to cook
from. Why I keep
it: pasta con ceci (a soup with chickpeas and little bits
of pasta) is a favorite, and comes out better than what I had in Rome,
especially when made with really good stock.
Classic techniques of Italian Cooking by Giuliano
Buglialli--I'd started out with Marcella Hazan's books, but found that
her emphasis on the richer foods of northern Italy just didn't fit my
preferences. Then I discovered Buglialli (Dad again) and found
the wider array of traditional dishes more to my taste. The
directions are clear and the recipes simple but simple delicious.
Why I keep it: chickpea
bread; white beans with sage; reference.
Buglialli's Italy by Giuliano
Buglialli--After exploring the first two of his books I encountered, I
was happy to snap this one up too at a bargain price. It is a bit
of a travelogue of Italian cooking, but the key point for me is that he
has a nose for recipes that I think I will make, like pureed
chick pea soup with mushrooms. That is why I keep it.
on pasta by Giuliano
Buglialli--found remaindered, and snapped up because I was impressed
with his Classic techniques of Italian
cooking. Why I keep it: squash ravioli.
*The cooking of Italy by Waverly
Root--from a time-life series, I was curious about it because of the
author's reputation. Though an old book, still new to my shelf, so I
don't know if it will stay, but for the price, it was worth a browse.
*Lidia's family table
by Lidia Bastianich--because it looks like a treasury of
straightforward recipes that I think I will make. My father kept
recommending her books and tv programs to me, and finally I checked one
out from the library, and I immediately decided to buy one to check it
out. I have only browsed in it so far, so its future on the shelf
is still uncertain.
Thai food by
amazing-looking introduction to Thailand and the cuisine. I just
got this one, and am enjoying the introduction a lot. If the
recipes cook as good as they look, it will easily be a keeper, both for
recipes and reference on Thai ingredients and techniques. I've
already found a discussion of fresh peppercorns to help me decide what
to do with some frozen ones I discovered still on the branch in a local
*Real vegetarian Thai by Nancie
McDermott--common Thai curries made without meat or tofu were
appealing; and other intriguing non-curry dishes. I haven't done
much from this one yet, so it's still on probation.
Hot sour salty
sweet by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid--another book by the Flatbreads & Flavors
folks. Another gorgeous book that is a feast for the eye, and the
recipes work as well as they read. The recipes include some
standards, but also the typically eclectic selections I find
delightfully typical of their work. It is a very large
book--coffee-table sized--but I manage to find space in my
postage-stamp sized kitchen to open it up when I cook from it. Why I keep it: Yunnan
greens; Buddhist sour soup; for the eye candy!
encyclopedia of Asian cooking by Sallie Morris and Deh-ta
Hsiung--though it is a large book, it is much too small to really be a
comprehensive encyclopedia of the cuisines of from China to Malaysia,
but it has classic recipes from diverse cuisines. It is lavishly
illustrated, and has lots of reference material. Why I keep it: fish cakes
with cucumber relish worked perfectly the first time I made them, and
were delicious; if the rest work this well, it will be a great treasure.
*Southeast Asian Specialties: a
culinary journey through Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia Edited by Rosalind
Mowe--I think this one was put together by a cooking or travel
magazine from Germany originally, then translated into English.
It has a magazine-like feel, with gorgeous photos, including both
pictures of people growing and cooking food in Asia, and detailed
photographic step-by-steps of some basic and advanced techniques.
Not all the recipes are described in equal detail, however, or the book
would be much thicker than it is. Why I keep it: for recipes
from cuisines lesser known in the US all in one compact source.
And what other book would give you a recipe for fried sago worms?
collection by Jackum Brown--a beautiful book I found
remaindered, and bought to browse through, but it has found a place on
my shelf through some excellent recipes. It is a little skimpy on
recipes--large type, one to a page, fat pages--for its size, and if I
get a more comprehensive Vietnamese cookbook it that has good versions
of a few favorites, it may have to go. Why I keep it: paddyfield
pork; limeade; easy peanut sauce.
*Into the Vietnamese kitchen
by Andrea Nguyen--because I have yet to have a dish I did not enjoy in
a Vietnamese restaurant, or from my cookbooks with Vietnamese recipes,
and this one not only got amazing reviews, but has the sort of detailed
recipes and discussion that I prefer, which is why I probably will keep it.
The key to Chinese cooking by Irene Kuo--this
was my first Chinese cookbook, recommended by my father as his favorite
Chinese cookbook. She gives wonderful lessons on techniques
and ingredients, especially use of the cleaver and stir-frying, with
plenty of why as well as what to do. Why
I keep it: while I rarely make
her recipes unaltered, it is a great reference when I need a refresher
Henry Chung's Hunan style chinese cookbook by Henry Chung--his
Hunan restaurants in San Francisco were where I had my first revelation
about chili heat: it was the first time I understood what my
father meant when he said that peppers can open up your taste buds to
other flavors. I drank several pitchers of water while gobbing
hotter food than I'd ever eaten willingly before, and loving it. Why
I keep it:
Hunan onion cake; harvest pork; eggplant with meat sauce.
The modern art of Chinese cooking by Barbara
Tropp--some less common chinese and chinese-inspired recipes from the
China Moon restaurant, along with excellent reference material. Why
I keep it:
szechuan pepper salt; spicy szechuan style peanut sauce; dry-fried
szechuan string beans.
Land of plenty by Fuchsia Dunlop--a
szechuan cookbook. This new addition to the collection I think
will be a keeper, because
so many of the dishes I really like in Chinese restaurants are Szechuan
this and Szechuan that--probably due to the abundance of garlic and
peppers. I haven't done enough from it yet to have favorites yet.
*Revolutionary chinese cookbook by
Fuschia Dunlop--because she wrote Land of Plenty, and because I love
Hunan restaurant in San Francisco so excessively. I've not ready
such amazing things about it as Land of Plenty, but since I expanded
the cookbook shelves a bit, there is more room for books on trial.
*New Chinese vegetarian cooking by Kenneth Lo--I
found this one used, and it is still provisional on the shelf, Why
I keep it: it has a lot of
vegetable dishes that do not include tofu, which are hard to find in
may chinese cookbooks.
*Memories of Philippine kitchens by
Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan--a major cuisine about which I know nothing,
and should know more, very well reviewed, and with interesting recipes
that I am eager to explore. Still on probation.
Moghul microwave by Julie Sahni--I do
not make as good use of my microwave as I ought to, and in fact I've
done some of these recipes on the stovetop rather than in the microwave
just because. Why
I keep it: spicy whole mung bean
stew; almond rice pudding (which works well with fresh milled brown
rice flour, and is a great recipe for alternative seasonings, such as
cinnamon and orange or cardamom and mace).
*Classic Indian vegetarian and grain cooking
by Julie Sahni--I
have not made many recipes from this book yet, but since I've liked
her recipes in the Moghul microwave, I think I will like these
I keep it: it's still on
probation until I've tried more recipes from it, but I think it will be
recipes by Neelam
Batra--another relatively new addition to my shelf. I like
the extensive introductory section on spice mixes, and that the
non-vegetarian recipes are a minority in the book. Why
I keep it: Tangy sweet potatoes
were a good start; and the soupy pigeon peas with south indian sambar
powder were terrific--the sambar mix was so good I had to invent
another recipe to take advantage of it (Curried
parsnip carrot soup).
A taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey--I
don't think I've made any recipe from this book twice, not because they
weren't good enough for a repeat, but because I find so many quite
appealing. That's why
I keep it.
*Food of Japan by Shirley
Booth--after my trip to Japan I wanted a good introduction to Japanese
cooking, but I had not been excited by the recipes in th only other
Japanese cookbook I've owned (Japanese
cooking: a simple art). I think the problem
was not so much in the book as in my dislike of most things
pickled, and I prefer to eat beans rather than tofu. The recipes
in this book appealed to me more than the half dozen or so other
Japanese cookbooks that I looked at when shopping for this one. Why
I keep it: in case I finally get
around to making a Japanese meal.
Sundays at the Moosewood restaurant
by the Moosewood collective--a collection of recipes for festive ethnic
celebrations from around the world, great foods that happen to not
include meat, rather than recipes substituting tofu in a favorite meat
dish. I have tried other books from Moosewood, but this is the
only one that stays. Why
keep it: West African
groundnut stew is flexible and always wonderful; hernerakkaa
(Finnish split pea soup) is so rich that I don't miss the ham version I
grew up with; I like those two recipes so much that I rarely get
beyond them when I open it. But every recipe I've made from it
has been good.
by Deborah Madison--Modern version of many standards
with more seasoning and a little less fat, which happen to be
vegetarian. Very few recipes look like a meat-based recipe was
just rewritten with tofu or cheese subbing for the meat. I have
made soups, pancakes, and sauces from this one, all good. Why
I keep it:
(lentil-rice salad with fried onions); buttermilk pancakes; red chili
mole (which was really superb made with a some added vanilla bean); and
under pressure by Lorna Sass--I
love my pressure cookers (I have
four, including a 22 quart pressure canner, and have had all 3 of the
smaller ones on the stove at once on more than one occasion). She
has interesting recipes, which often just needs a little increase in
spicing to make me very happy. Why
I keep it:
timetables for pressure cooking beans including
variations for different soaking times; timetables for cooking rice and
other grains; Thai chickpeas (a simplied coconut-curry with chickpeas);
Georgian kidney beans with walnut-coriander sauce, wonderful served
over Collard spaghetti; swedish brown beans with pears; pasta e fagioli
(wonderful with a little chipotle chili); squash risotto (in the
pressure cooker, this works beautifully with brown rice too).
by Deborah Madison and Edward Espe Brown--although some recipes are a
bit richer and heavier than I like for everyday, I like get inspiration
for soups & stews and enchiladas and more here. The amazing
section on making stocks is worth its weight in gold: most meat
stocks are pretty basic--meat, onions, carrots, celery and it
works. Vegetable stocks are more variable and it can be trickier
to determine which vegetables will and won't work, in what
combinations, and why. Why
summer vegetable stock; wild mushroom stock; black bean chili.
by Annie Somerville--more excellent vegetarian cooking, lighter than
the recipes from the original greens. Why
I keep it: enchiladas;
ratatouille (a very flexible recipe that is superb made with some
moderately hot peppers and a lot of extra basil, and also freezes very
by Deborah Madison--I've enjoyed everything I've made out of this
one. The food covers a wider spectrum than the restaurant-based Greens
I keep it: Ellie's
rusks; sorrel lentil soup; chestnut and lentil soup; Anasazi beans with
The Millenium cookbook by Eric Tucker &
John Westerdahl--an amazing cookbook from a vegan restaurant. I
have only tried a few things from this one, mostly because they so
often require several complicated preparations for one dish. But
the few I've tried have been good. Why
I keep it: for inspiration,
especially regarding ingredient combinations and flavor ideas.
The oats, peas, beans & barley
cookbook by Edyth Young
Cottrell--a fascinating book from a vegan home economics
professsor. Like the previous book, it often asks for several
base recipes to make a dish--a soy dairy substitute in a bread, for
example. But it also has some absolutely unique and wonderful
things that are quite simple. For example, the chapter on waffles
is a revelation and a marvel. She has you soak
beans and grains overnight, then zap them in a blender to make the
waffle batter, and it works. Why
I keep it: cashew-oat waffles;
pinto bean-wheat waffles; and because I never know when I might want to
try making my own soy milk or other soy dairy product.
*Olive trees and honey
by Gil Marks--a lovely book full of jewish vegetarian recipes--I look
forward to it as a treasury of traditionally vegetarian recipes from
around the world, rather than of recipes converted to be made without
meat. Why I bought it: if
what I already mentioned wasn't enough, my first perusal discovered an
interesting recipe that seemed a model for one I'd eaten in a
restaurant a long time ago and tried several times, unsuccessfully, to
recreate since: a cooked apple and cabbage salad with poppy seeds
and a tangy dressing.
I have to preface
this section by saying that I bake almost exclusively with fresh milled
whole wheat flours, and I have for many years. But most of the
books that tout baking with whole grains usually either use a token
amount of whole wheat flour in each recipe; or use only whole wheat but
don't pay enough attention to taste and texture for my taste. So
I get better results by substituting my flours in recipes written for
white flours. I
generally use a 150gm whole wheat to 1C flour substitution formula for
recipes not written for whole wheat, and adapt the ratio of soft vs
hard wheat, or proportion of rice or oat or other flour to serve the
needs of the recipes. So there are not many book here that
put whole wheat first--the Laurel's kitchen bread book and Peter
Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads are notable exceptions because they
put in the time and detail to help you get both great taste and texture
and great nutrition from your whole grain baking, when using their own
or converting other white-flour recipes.
Sweet & savory baking
Home baking around
the world by Jeffrey
Alford & Naomi
Duguid--another gorgeous book, and with interesting, off-the-beaten
path recipes. They tend not to collect the richest celebratory
recipes, but foods for everyday (that are probably healthier in the
long run anyway!). Why I keep
it: because I know, based on past experience, that it is
full of interesting recipes that will work and I will like. My
only problem with this book is trying to narrow down the number of
recipes to try to just one or two per baking day!
Farm Journal book of cookies, pies, and breads by the
editors of Farm Journal--all three volumes in one. This is a good
source of old standards, and minor variations that make all the
difference vs the old standards, and a few things best forgotten
(potato chip cookies, anyone?). I freely update with butter vs
shortening, and my home-milled flours vs their all-purpose. The
recipes are generally good enough to stand up to that easily. Why
I keep it: Tawny
pumpkin pie; oatmeal cookies (the big recipe with many variations);
fudge nut bars; buttermilk biscuits.
crackers from the Time-Life good cook
series--I acquired it for the cracker recipes, since I love crunchy
savory baked things but would rather not eat as many store bought
versions, full of excess salt, trans fats, and the like, as I do.
I keep it for the cookies, which include some surprising treasures from
around the world. Why I keep
it: anise caps; sesame seed cookies with olive oil and
Pies & Pastries from the Time-Life
series--another bargain purchase, because of the good stuff I've found
in the cookies & candy volumes. I anticipate some interesting
recipes from places not covered by any other books in my collection.
The Fanny Farmer
baking book by Marian Cunningham--a wonderfully eclectic
collection of recipes, not all the plain-jane standards that I'd have
expected from a traditional classic. It uses mostly simple,
standard ingredients but manages to
achieve very diverse results with them through an eclectic collection
recipes. But I also I first learned about
the use of rice flour to add crunch from one of her shortbread
recipes. Why I keep it:
I use this book more for reference when I want to create a particularly
type of cake or cookie and want to find a base recipe starting point,
rather than to make the recipes as written, not because there is
anything wrong with them, but because I am an inveterate recipe
tinkerer, and she provides sturdy springboards for my fancies.
The Italian baker
by Carol Field--a wonderful collection of sweet and savory recipes,
including ideas for leftover bread that go beyond bread pudding. Why I keep it: grissini
(breadsticks); cornmeal cookies; tarts; pizzas & topping ideas.
*Bob's Red Mill baking book by
John Ettinger et al--a whole grain baking book that does succumb to the
typical temporizing with unbleached flours, but has a wider range of
sweet and savory recipes than most books like this I've seen. Why I keep it: the
broad range of recipes making use of alternate whole grains beyond
wheat--I haven't yet made enough to know whether the recipes work as
well as they read, but for now it has a home on the shelf.
Flatbreads and flavors by Jeffrey Alford
Duguid--this book was a revelation: not all bread has to be baked
in a pan or as a baguette. I fell in love with it at a time when
the freedom from trying to match the perfect oven spring of commercial
sandwich loaves was particularly appealing. The authors describe
breads from around the world that are yeasted or unyeasted; based on
rye, oats, corn, rice, and teff in addition to wheat; that are festive
or everyday; and they include equally wonderful recipes for things the
breads would accompany. Why
keep it: Madnakash (which
introduced me to
Mahleb, a now indispensable spice in my kitchen); Uighur naan with
cumin and onion accompanying chickpea and onion stew; sprouted apricot
bread; bulgur bread; and pine-nut breads to go with pumpkin stew.
And I've bought all of their subsequent books too.
The bread baker's
apprentice by Peter Reinhart--a tour de force of bread baking
information, a course in bread baking--as the title suggests. I
read it through as eagerly as a novel. And the recipes work, even
through my inveterate insistence on whole wheat--which does require
some minor adjustments. The emphasis on cold fermentation was a
revelation to me, and I make most of my breads that way now. Why I keep it: Pain
l'ancienne is spectacularly good, and spectacularly easy. It's
not the only good recipe by any means, but it alone is worth the book.
Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads
is the first book on whole grain bread baking that steps beyond what I
learned from the Laurel's kitchen bread book. It is entirely
unique. Unlike most "whole grain" baking books, which take
standard recipes and simply substitute 1/3 to 1/2 whole wheat flours,
this one starts with the premise that 100% whole wheat bread can be
light and tasty and delicious all by itself. Why I keep it:
the flawless technique for a reliable sourdough starter, the
discussion of technique that I will browse over and over, and key
recipes that offer lots of opportunity for variations.
I put some photos from a class Peter taught on recipes from this book on my flickr site here.
bread book by
Peter Reinhart--I loved reading this wonderful
little gem, and enjoyed his breads when I made his recipes or bought
them at the grocery store. Another great book for demystifying
the process of baking bread, making it less intimidating and
friendly. I first made a really fine, crusty loaf with a perfect
crunch from this book. I would definitely recommend this one as a
first bread book for anyone. It does not have the technical
detail of his later books, but it is also smaller and perhaps less
intimidating for the beginner who is not sure if they are really ready
to try bread, and it includes
some good recipes for quickbreads and other baked goods. Why I keep
it: I love it, like to browse in it, and although I spend
more time with the recipes in his more recent books with their emphasis
on artisan hearth breads, you'll nevertheless have to pry this one out
of my cold dead hands.
Crust and crumb by Peter Reinhart--I like this one,
but bake less out of it now that I have The bread baker's apprentice. Worth
picking up, but if you have limited resources, I'd start with apprentice instead. Why I keep it: hmm.....if I
had to, I probably could do without this one, as long as I had his Brother Juniper's and the apprentice, but my space is not
quite so tight, and though none of the recipes have had as much
of an influence on my baking as Pain l'ancienne, they're still
excellent platforms for innovation and play.
American pie by Peter Reinhart--a
meditation on pizzas around the world--or at least in Italy and the
US--just about pizza, and all about pizza. Why I keep it: I like pizza
to have a good balance--thin crispy crackery crusted pizza should have
light toppings of olive oil and herbs and a dusting of cheese, if any;
thick hearty crusts are needed to support thick sauce, cheese and
sausages, and Reinhart has a good sense of balance in the recipes here,
plus some interesting topping combinations. I trust them to work
Laurel's kitchen bread book by Laurel Robertson,
[etc]--my real introduction to baking bread by myself, to working with
whole wheat, and a very useful set of miscellany like lecithin-oil mix
for greasing pans. Why
to reread and learn from a loaf for learning; the
troubleshooting guide; greasing without grease lecithin/oil mix for
greasing pans; buttermilk bread, featherpuff bread (especially as
cinnamon rolls), potato buttermilk bread (especially when made with a
dollop of sesame oil and sesame seeds), best bran muffins (which really
are the best, when made with currants), and buttermilk scones.
English bread and
yeast cookery by Elizabeth David--a history of baking in
Britain, from stone age to present. While I take issue with her
dismissal of whole-grain baking and "wholemeal cranks"--I do not agree
that healthy food has to taste bad--I love the historical
approach. I was inspired by the range of yeast-leavened baked
goods before the standardization of baking powders, and have played
with sweet yeasted cakes and muffins with middling success. Why I keep it: browsing,
inspiration, especially for yeast-leavened treats.
The breads of
France by Bernard Clayton--a wonderful collection of recipes,
and a pleasant travelogue to accompany them. This is a great
introduction to the varied results that you can achieve with just
flour, water, yeast and salt, as well as a collection of enriched
celebration breads. Why I keep
it: little salted biscuits; pepper cakes; Normandy beaten
new complete book of breads by Bernard Clayton--is a good
collection of recipes, but not a patch on The breads of France.
It is a good resource for celebration breads from around the world,
basic everyday breads, quickbreads, and crackers. I could do
without it if I needed to make space. Why I keep it: Recipes for
everything from sandwich breads to crackers to dog biscuits--it's got a
little bit of everything.
The pizza book by Evelyne Slomon--a treasury of different styles of pizzas and toppings, a wide range of lovely things. Why I keep it: I have rarely been satisfied with my tomato-based pizza sauces, and I needed to start afresh.
The taste of bread
by Raymond Calvel--the professor's theories of breadmaking kept popping
up in quotes and teaser in other books--especially Peter Reinhart's--so
I was very happy to find this one directly from the source. It
does not in any way replace the other books, but has even more
technical information that a baking geek like me cannot help but
love. It's not a great source of recipes, but of reference
information, naturally with the focus on French bread traditions. Why I keep
it: a fundamental reference.
by Emily Buehler--an interesting discussion of the chemistry of bread
and baking, complementary to Calvel's book, with more biochemistry
applicable to breads in general. Why I keep it: again,
fundamental reference. I think it will stand the test of time
because it has information that I have not seen so clearly put anywhere
The bread bible by
Rose Levy Berenbaum--I was skeptical when I read her dismissal of whole
wheat flours; but then I saw the pretzel recipe--which described in
detail how to use lye to get the right taste to the crust--and tried
it, and was convinced that I could work with this book. I just
use my fresh whole flours, and adapt the water ratio slightly, and the
recipes work. I was pleased to find out that she has since
changed her mind about whole wheat after discovering hard white wheat
flours. Why I keep it: the
pretzels are addictive, and I trust that there will be other wonderful
surprises to come.
The Cheese Board
collective works by the Cheese Board Collective--I love their
pizzas, and their cheese, and indulge in both when I'm back in
Berkeley. I bought this one expecting to read it, but not really
expecting that it would live on my shelf long-term. But it has
some quite interesting recipes and techniques, including a large
collection of small breads and rolls that do not overlap entirely with
recipes in my other books, and great discussion of cheese with bread
and cheese in bread (naturally enough!). I think that iswhy I will keep it, but it is still on probation.
across America by
Maggie Glezer--I was not expecting to find another keeper breadbook
when I already had quite a few, but the introductory material about
wheats was wonderful and worth the price of admission. Why I keep it: the
collection of different baker's techniques is wonderful inspiration.
from antiquity by Ed Wood--although the author of this
self-published book keeps multiple sourdough cultures going, most of us
do not have the equipment needed to really keep up pure strains of any
one sourdough. I like this book for the descriptions of
traditional baking around the world before the availability of
standardized yeasts. Why I
keep it: as a reference on everything leavened with wild
the Time-Life Good Cook series--acquired cheaply from a library book
sale, because I have found some really good stuff in the Candy and
Cookies & Crackers volumes. The recipes provided are an
interesting mix that I'd call broad but deep: not as many
different french breads as, say, the Breads of france above, but those that are there are likely to be classics.
Candy from the Time-Life
good cook series--it covers basic techniques, and has a very good
collection of candy recipes in the back. I like to make candy,
and have had several other candy books over the years, but none had as
interesting a collection of candies as this. Why I keep it: for
the very finest vanilla caramels--rich, buttery, and far superior
enough to any I have ever bought to be worth the hassle of making them
from time to time; and for nougats, and fondants, brittles, and more.
The complete book
of pastry by Bernard Clayton--from basic pie crust to real puff
pastry, with enough detail to get it right even for the beginner.
I am more careful with the basic pastries than the fillings, which I
like to play with more. But what's here works, even with my whole
wheat flours (carefully adapted to match the right protein content of
the recommened white flours, of course). Why I keep it: even the
quick puff pastry is still quite impressive for turnovers and snails,
and no one would ever guess how easy it is to make.
Pies & pastries
from the Time-Life good cook series--after good results from the
cookies & crackers and candy volumes in this series, I picked up
this one used for a song, to expand my pastry repetoire. Why i keep it: because the Complete book of pastry, while
excellent, is not entirely complete, so they complement each other well.
desserts by Richard Sax--an absolute gem. He has done
wonderful, meticulous culinary detective work, to ferret out original
antique recipes and restate them or reinterpret them for a modern
kitchen. And the emphasis here is on home cooking, delicious but
rarely elaborate dishes for everyday. Why I keep it: I've made
probably two dozen things from it so far, and have had mostly stellar
results--and only one disappointment. That's a pretty good hit
The cake bible by Rose Levy Berenbaum--I grew up
making cakes from mixes, so didn't have a large repetoire of reliable
cake recipes (except for chiffon cakes). This fills that gap,
giving a comprehensive collection of utterly reliable recipes, plus it
is a great resource for understanding cakes and recipes to use as a
springboard for inspiration. Why
I keep it: buttermilk country cake; perfect all-american
chocolate butter cake, which adapated gracefully to carob when I was
still not eating chocolate; the buttercream frosting/filling chapter.
by Dorrie Greenspan--recipes the author collected from bakeries in
Paris. I saw this one first at the bookstore, and dismissed it as
a dinky collection of very rich, difficult recipes that I would not
often make. Then I found it at the library, checked it out, and
tried the Korova cookies. I then went out and bought a copy the
next day. Why I keep it:
Korova cookies are addictive dark chocolate chocolate chip
icebox cookies from Pierre Hermes; Madeleines; I have yet to have a
disappointment from this book.
Alice Medrich--I was allergic to chocolate for many years,
just in time to miss the truffles and the flourless chocolate cake
revolution. A few years ago I discovered that I could eat it
again, without breaking out in hives, and I've been making up for lost
time ever since. After years of cooking without chocolate, I have
a large repetoire of dessert recipes featuring nuts, spices, and fruits
rather than chocolate, and I find I mostly prefer to continue to make
those and eat my chocolate straight--in the form of high-percentage
bittersweet bars. But when I want to wallow in wonderful rich
chocolate desserts, I wander in here. Why I keep it: the lovely
bittersweet chocolate truffle tart that is just chocolate and cream,
The new book of
chocolate by Maricel Presilla--a colorful book about chocolate
history, manufacture, and recipes for chocolate that range from how to
make your own drinking chocolate from cacao beans to a multistage, all
day tour de force of pastry making--chocoloate croqueettes with
coconut, pistachio and pearl tapioca sauce from Pierre Hermes. Why I keep it: chocolate
reference; inspiration from the very modern recipes.
by Alice Medrich--I think this looks like a better book than Cocolat, and I will make more
things from it. She describes discovering how less can be more in
allowing the chocolate taste to come through with less distraction from
butter and cream, which fits with my bias for making my food healthier
and less rich when I can do it without sacrificing flavor. Why I keep it: the chocolate
torte, which was indeed as flexible as advertised, morphing into
chocolate torte with vanilla-habanero sauce.
by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage--after eating my first of
Recchiuti's chocolates from the shop at the Ferry Plaza in San
Francisco, I was so in love with the pink peppercorn and star anise
chocolate that I decided to play with those flavors myself. I
found myself going back and forth to the library to refer to the recipe
in the book and after the third or fourth time checking it out decided
I needed to own it. I am unlikely to ever go after the full
invert sugar-based chocolate confections, but it is a treasure
nonetheless that led to these experiments in hot chocolate, which is why I keep it.
The true history of chocolate
by Sophie and Michael Coe--a neat treatise on my favorite subject.
Since my chocolate allergy abated a few years back, I have been
doing my best to make up for 25 chocolate-free years by learning
everything I can about the subject, while eating as much as possible.
Why I keep it: discussions
of ancient and modern ways of using chocolate, from aztecs forward,
delightfully written, that are bound to inspire new ideas for other
The seductions of rice
by Jeffrey Alford & Naomi
Duguid--a beautiful book about rice, rice-based cuisines around the
world, and great recipes--paella, risottos, rice cakes, . I
bought it the first time I saw it,
without needing to open the cover, based on their previous book (Flatbreads
& Flavors), and it
lived up to my expectations. Why
I keep it: for the guide to
different types of rice,
helpful when buying unusual rices at international groceries with
minimal english labelling; shrimp gumbo; Thai sweet black rice
The rice bible by Christian
to the varieties of rice and things people cook with it. It is
not as rich in detail as The
seductions of rice, but complements it
well, because it includes
some more standard preparations that the other book might pass in favor
of a more unusual dish. And I got it used cheap. Why
keep it: it is a little more
open to brown rice than Seductions
of rice, but
it may well move out when I need more space on its shelf.
Ethiopian cooking by Daniel
ethiopian cooking. It is a deceptively simple book, which
includes an excellent introductory text, some color photos, but a
limited number of recipes (178). It doesn't have dozens of
different wats, but it does include even the most basic recipes for oat
porridge and injera bread amid the fancier fare. The recipes I've
tried have all worked pleasantly. Why
the traditional way, made with teff, and a full complement of wats for
Ethiopian meal. Meantime, the stews and soups are quite in line
with my habit of making sturdy meals that will freeze and thaw
well, for cooking ahead of time.
Joys of Nepalese
cooking by Indra
Majapuria--a delightful oddity I found in a used book store, this is a
very simply designed book--minimal introduction to the
straightforwardly presented recipes, in the style of the old Fanny
Farmer books, but the recipes are from Nepal. The recipes have
not been "adapated" for the American kitchen--there are recipes for
water buffalo, not commonly seen in Amercian markets. Although I
have never been to Nepal, my impression from the unadorned nature of
the recipes and the presentation is that of utter authenticity.
Why I keep it: for the
glimpse of an unknown cuisine, and because of the many
interesting-looking vegetable dishes and curries. The first dish I finally was inspired to make from it was Kwati,
a sprouted bean soup, and after a bit of research online I found the
recipe from this book to be quite typical, and it was simply delicious.
*Recipes 1-2-3 by Rozanne Gold--I
heard several interesting interviews with the author on NPR when the
book came out, and read numerous additional recommendations over the
years, so when I saw a copy at a library book sale--quite cheaply--I
looked again and picked it up. I do not know if I will keep it, as
the 3 ingredient bit seems like a silly gimmick that unnecessarily
limits you, and it doesn't have a specific focus that is likely to make
me pick it up when, say, I want to browse for a thick winter stew.
On the other hand, the recipes in there do look good, and I am
more likely to try a very simple vegetable side dish than a complex one
that hides the flavor under a lot of different steps and ingredients.
I have enjoyed but do not currently keep
best bread ever by Charles Van
Over--I use his food-processor technique almost exclusively now for
making my bread, although his white-flour based recipes were not
otherwise so unique or
compelling to keep its place permanently in my crowd of bread
from La Brea Bakery by Nancy
Silverton--many things that sounded wonderful, and the sourdough
chocolate cherry bread is a marvel, but I have not been disciplined
enough to stick with the sometimes complicated timetables and starters
she features, and many of the recipes otherwise were quite similar to
those I already had in other bread books.
Il Fornaio baking book by Franco Galli--a lovely little
beautifully written recipes, but not so many or so unique that I
offered it a place on my shelf; if I hadn't already had The Italian Baker,
I would have kept it. As the baking shelf expanded a little, it may yet sneak back into place.
village baker by Joe Ortiz (breads) and The
village baker's wife by Gayle Ortiz (pastries and other
treats) are very nice baking books, but I already had plenty of
those. I did copy down some recipes from these before returning
them to the library, and especially love the lavender shortbread from
the latter book.
Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters had
but I like plain fresh fruit so much that I rarely take time for the
more elaborate preparations in this one, although the recipes worked
beautifully when I made them. And Chez
Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Shere left the collection simply because
I didn't find myself using it enough. I was quite excited too
when Chez Panisse
came out, but again the recipes were fancier and more
involved than I preferred for everyday. For example, I almost
never do anything more elaborate with asparagus than steaming it,
because I never tire of eating plain asparagus, steamed just so.
And even when I found myself with a fig tree in the yard, I preferred
to eat as many as possible out of hand to finally trying a fig tart or
fig preserves. I do highly recommend getting and reading through
and the rest of the Chez Panisse books, however, even if they don't end
up on your permanent shelf, because they're full of good
information. And not everyone lives in Berkeley or can get
reservations for dinner in paradise.
Green on grainsby
Bert Greene--taught me a lot about cooking different grains, and I
always make my quinoa by his technique. It got pushed off the
shelf because his recipes, though always delicious, tended to be very
rich and heavy, and once I had a good handle on what I was doing with
the different grains, I preferred to use them in lighter recipes.
It remains an excellent introduction, however, if you want to know what
to do with the quinoa or teff you've just brought home. Greene on
greens also had to move on, when I got a larger
selection of books featuring vegetables with less rich recipes. There was just too much butter and cream for my taste.
kitchen by Laurel Robertson etc--a good introduction to
vegetarian cooking, with solid but unadventurous recipes. It
moved out to make space for other vegetarian cookbooks when I found I
was rarely cooking from it anymore.
Diet for a small
planet by Frances
Moore Lappe-limited in the end by a adherence to the "complete protein"
within one dish formula, but still remembered fondly, especially or the
carrot and onion soup. I recently checked out a copy to get that
recipe again when I realized I hadn't written it down before passing
the book on. The seasonings were relatively plain for my palate as well.
Alaska sourdough cookbookby Ruth Allman--a fun read, and
good basic recipes for everything sourdough. I eventually put it
aside when I had a good starter going and a collection of less
specialized books that nonetheless featured plenty of sourdough recipes. .
Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant
by the Moosewood Collective--I looked again at this one after my
served me a bowl of fabulous Armenian Lentil Soup. There are many
good-looking recipes here, and that soup was just marvelous. It
has not earned a place on my shelf, however, not because there's
anything wrong with it, but because I already have recipes for most of
the things covered in this book. I would heartily recommend it
for someone with a less jam-packed cookbook shelf, as it has a nice
balance of familiar and exotic recipes, and the Moosewood folks write
reliable, delicious recipes. I have posted Carol's variation on
their Armenian Lentil Soup here.
The Silver Spoon
by the editors
of Phaidon Press--this one got a tremendous amount of good press when
it was released, but after perusing a library copy for a few days, I
did not decide to give it space on my bookshelf. It looks like an
excellent primer on Italian cooking, but I already have a fairly nice
of Italian cookbooks, and this one has a high proportion of
fussier recipes than I like. My father's take on this one is that
this book may be more biased towards such recipes because most Italians
traditionally had such good grounding in the basics that they'd only
need a cookbook when they wanted to make the fussy version for special
occasions, and I suspect he may be right.
The joy of cooking
by Rombauer and Becker--finally left my shelves in my most recent move,
because I almost never used it for the recipes (I know I made some soft
custard for eclair fillings a few times) but rather as a reference for
substitutions and the like, and now I go to the internet first when I
have that sort of question.
Wish it was a book
Katzner's Spice Pages
are simply phenomenal, and my only fear is that someday he'll tire of
keeping them up and they'll vanish without a trace. He gives
comprehensive and detailed descriptions of various spices and some
herbs along with descriptions of how they're traditionally grown, harvested, and used in cooking.
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