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Friday, July 30, 2004

A Cookbook "Meme"

This was a recent post by the fabulous Deb of In My Kitchen. Since I had a few minutes to kill, I answered them. As she says, "Please don't feel you have to answer all the questions, this is not as easy as I thought and no worries if you can't name three in every category or even one in every category, I only suggested three because it was my favorite number yesterday."

1. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection that you consider good general cookbooks.

Joy of Cooking (1975), Fannie Farmer, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. I also have to put in a plug for "How to Cook without a Book" as a technique type book with very helpful hints for getting dinner on the table consistently in not a lot of time. I don't have a lot of technique books and I am heading in the direction of applying principles, not recipes, to food. A recipe I can follow but technique will get me fed at 7 pm on a Tuesday night.

2. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider all-time classic favorites.
Fannie Farmer, VCfE, hard to decide on another at the moment. I'd have to look at all the books and that would make me sad to consider just how many I have!

3. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider terrible now but not at the time you purchased them.

I've purged a lot of those. The original Moosewood cookbooks went. I am also not as fond of JoC as I used to be, although I wouldn't call it "terrible". Just a bit boring.

I will probably purge more once I get the one or two possibilities from the books into the binder I'm assembling (which already has Mom's typed out recipes and some print outs). The bookshelf in the kitchen is very full and some of the food writing has already had to move to another room.

4. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider current favorites, but not necessarily all-time favorites.

The late lamented Laurie Colwin's two cookbooks are among my all-time and current favorites. I have only had one problem with a recipe from those books and I have done a lot of the recipes (and I know how to fix the problem, too). I recommend them to those who wish to become Good Home Cooks with a minimum of fuss.

I haven't had a new cookbook for a while, except for Cooking for Mr. Latte, and mostly cook new stuff out of my magazines or the occasional blog post that catches my fancy as I have even stopped reading the food newsgroup these days.

5. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider great reference cookbooks/books.

CookWise, How to Eat a French Fry, tie between Fannie Farmer and VCfE for general information.

6. Name 3 books in your collection you consider to be terrific (or not) food writing.

I have a lot of food writing. Elizabeth David (from when I lived in England two decades back), Jeffrey Steingarten, MFK Fisher, John Thorne, Calvin Trillin ... you get the idea. Colwin's books are precious to me because her recipes are (almost) never-fail, her enthusiasm is infectuous, and her prose is delicious. I am still sad that she is gone, because I so wanted her to do more, more, more. And I was as interested in visiting her foodie landmarks in NYC on my visits as I was in seeing sites of literary, artistic, and general tourist value. (I paraded around the Episcopal Seminary in her honor last time I was there.) Teresa Lust does pretty well in "Pass the Polenta", as does Peter Reinhardt in "Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe" (special sentimental connection as I ate at the order's SF restaurant a lot). I think Amanda Hesser might be taking on the mantle with "Cooking for Mr. Latte".

7. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider the best of international cookbooks.

I seem to not have a lot of those dedicated to a particular other country's cuisine these days, except for Mrs. David's, and "Mediterranean food" I hardly consider "foreign" considering where I live. I have Rick Bayless' "Mexico, one plate at a time" and it seems to be a good book, although I haven't cooked from it much as I know a lot of the principles. I do have quite a collection of historic food books, though, does that count?

8. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider terrific single subject cookbooks.

Williams Sonoma Soup, Williams Sonoma Muffins, Luscious Lemon Desserts. Chocolate I can take or leave, but I LOVE lemons!

The WS Dessert cookbook is also very good as a way to build a classic dessert repetoire, although I have not cooked out of it much.

9. Name 3 cookbooks in your collection you consider must have baking cookbooks.

I don't have a lot of baking books. I do have a good cooky cookbook from Sunset and use Fannie Farmer a lot, if not relying on Tested By Mom recipes. I am baking some out of "How to be a Domestic Goddess" - the banana bread is ace and I like Nigella's style - and I recommend it for the hesitant home baker.

My baking experiments seem to be fueled by the "daily reads" (magazines, newsgroup, blogs). I do have a small repetory now, mostly cookies, muffins, and some cakes, although with all the beautiful artisan breads here, I'm not much inspired to bake bread.

10. Name your 3 favorite cuisines and the cookbooks devoted to them that you can't part with.

I am a Home Food cook. My definition of Home Food has expanded a lot since I was a kid so Cal-Mex, Cal-Med, and Cal-Asian all count now. That is why I adore Laurie Colwin. I do, however, love Michele Anna Jordan's "California Cuisine" (it's home, baby!) and Peter Reinhart's "Sacramental Magic in a Small Town Cafe".

I might start on more Asian (Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese) foods because I like them, but it's not like I can't do stir-fry at home or get reasonable-to-great Asian food out around here. I can do a couple of my favorites (pad thai and hot-and-sour soup) at home. I should take a class or something.

11. Name three biographies or autobiographies you found fascinating, boring, influenced you or whatnot.

About Elizabeth David: "South wind in the kitchen".

Otherwise see food writing above.

And Finally:

Name 3 favorite chefs or cookbook authors that had the most influence on your cooking and why.

Since my mom has never written a cookbook all her own ...
I was never of the Cult of Julia. I started out with Elizabeth David. I lived in the UK at the time and she was the reigning goddess.
My next major influence was the warm-hearted folksiness of the Joy of Cooking. By that time I knew enough to tweak when I felt like it. It felt like Mom Food and answered some of the questions I would otherwise have needed to ask my mom ("how long do you cook artichokes for?").
Laurie Colwin has to be next: an omnivore in the city, someone who experienced the joy that good home food has to offer. Also a necessary antidote, in my opinion, to the super-produced Martha phenomenon.

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