Cookbooks I have known

I grew 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.

The 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 them.

Mediterranean & beyond
Others recommended
I wish it were a book


On food and cooking
by Harold McGee, revised 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.

Steve 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.

Vegetables from 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.

Fruits and 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 the 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 got the 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.

Clippings binders--recipes 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.

Vegetables 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.

The 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.

The 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. 

The 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
by Rick 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
by Diana 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, 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
by 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
by MFK 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.

Mediterranean and beyond

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 keeper. 

he 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 or turkey 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.

Buglialli 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 David Thompson--an 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 thai market..

*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!

The practical 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?

The Vietnamese 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 about something.

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 too.  Why I keep it:  it's still on probation until I've tried more recipes from it, but I think it will be a keeper. 

1,000 Indian 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 I 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.

Vegetarian for everyone 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:  Mujadarrah (lentil-rice salad with fried onions); buttermilk pancakes; red chili mole (which was really superb made with a some added vanilla bean); and for browsing.

Great vegetarian cooking 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).

The Greens cookbook 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 I keep it:  summer vegetable stock; wild mushroom stock; black bean chili.

Fields of Greens 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 well).

The savory way 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 cookbook did.  Why I keep it:  Ellie's rusks; sorrel lentil soup; chestnut and lentil soup; Anasazi beans with juniper.

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!

The 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.

Cookies & 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 lemon.

Pies & Pastries
from the Time-Life good cook 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 of 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 & Naomi 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 I 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.

Brother Juniper's 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 as described.

The 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 I keep it:  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 bread; inspiration.

Bernard Clayton's 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.

Bread science 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 else.

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.

Artisan baking 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.

World sourdoughs 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 yeasts.

Breads from 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.

Classic home 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 rate.

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.

Paris Sweets 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.


by 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, simple perfection.

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. 

Bittersweet 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
my tropical chocolate torte with vanilla-habanero sauce.

Chocolate obsessions 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 dishes.


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 treat.

The rice bible by Christian Teubner--a  guide 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 I 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.

Exotic Ethiopian cooking by Daniel Mesfin--unique resource for 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 I keep it:  injera the traditional way, made with teff, and a full complement of wats for an 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.

Books I have enjoyed but do not currently keep

The 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 books. 

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.

The Il Fornaio baking book by Franco Galli--a lovely little book, with 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.

The 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 lovely recipes, 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 Vegetables 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 these, 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.
Laurel's 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.

The 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.  .

New Recipes from Moosewood Restaurant by the Moosewood Collective--I looked again at this one after my sister 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

Gernot 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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