Recent cookbook acquisitions and inspiration.

My blog-friend Kim recently mused on what makes a good cookbook, and for her it’s one that can be a big cookbook that’s not only chock full of recipes, but also of guidance. I’m inclined to agree, but I don’t necessarily need a “big” cookbook to do the job–just one that gets the importance of header notes and can provide direction on what level of heat to use during the cooking process. I think the absence of the latter is the single-most important reason why so many people I know like slow-cookers so much: they don’t have to worry that they’re going to mess something up by not heating the pan up enough or too much or cook it for too long or not long enough, and they don’t have to stand sentinel over a pan to gauge something like doneness. I can’t say that I love that uncertainty myself, but I’ve made peace with it over the years as I’ve practiced and asked M and others for advice and pored over the most helpful cookbooks.

Meat thermometers help, too.

So when I allowed myself to go off a months-long, self-imposed cookbook purchase ban a few weeks ago, I had it in my head that any substantial purchase had to fit the bill of being useful as well as inspiring. The two little cookbooks I bought in Spain technically count as recent purchases but were gotten as souvenirs rather than to be folded into a regular cookbook rotation–that is, until my Spanish improves–but the three larger books pictured above were acquired under more rigorous standards.

I first encountered Made in Sicily way back in the springtime when I was waiting to check out at Williams-Sonoma: a stack of books were strategically placed near the registers and practically begged to be thumbed through, but at $45, was a bit too steep for an impulse purchase. It never was far from my mind, however, and so I stalked it on Amazon, using the Search Inside feature to test out as many recipes as I could before deciding if it was good enough to end up on my wishlist. It did and ended up making for a fantastic birthday present from my brother, and my first two proper forays in to the book have left me nothing but satisfied in making this book a recent addition. The only real downside is that this book is perfect for summer, so it will have to sit out for a bit as we plunge into the dark depths of late New England autumn.

If I spent months dawdling over Made in Sicily, it only took a matter of a few days to decide whether I should get the companion to José Andrés’ Made in Spain series. After dabbling with a few of the recipes contained therein over the past two weeks and gorging on the first season during the hurricane, the decision was pretty clear that we needed to have this cookbook in our lives. One of the reasons I like it so much is that while it’s filled with recipes that can be considered perfect projects for the weekend, there are also many simpler dishes that can be made for weeknight meals too. The real recipe I’m dying to make, however, is the mimosa made with cava and clementine air.

And then there’s Hawksmoor at Home. As mentioned in an earlier post, this book came into our lives as a result of the enthusiastic recommendation from close friends who visit the London steakhouse frequently, and after spending an hour this afternoon with it and a stack of little Post-Its, this book is now covered in pink scraps of paper of all the things I want to try. Unlike Made in Sicily, this is an appropriate choice to take us into the colder months and I’m excited to ward off chilly nights  with dishes that include Beef Shin and Macaroni, Tamworth Belly Ribs, and Cured Beef.

Have you found any new and noteworthy cookbooks lately? To borrow a question from Kim at Rustic Garden Bistro: how do you define a “good” cookbook?

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3 comments
  1. I’m so happy you guys made it through the power outage okay! And, thank you for the shout-out. :-)

    Is the mimosa you referenced above the same mimosa that was from the video link (from a few posts ago?)??? Because I’m dying to make that, too.

    You are absolutely correct in that level of heat is important. And that the book doesn’t necessarily have to be big.

    I recently found myself cruising the cookbook aisle of the local bookstore (the ONE remaining bookstore in town). I didn’t buy anything that day (also a self-imposed moratorium), but I DID spend some time leafing through Elizabeth Falkner’s new cookbook, Cooking Off the Clock. At first, I was thinking, “another celebrity chef, Iron Chef contestant, TV person, blah blah blah… coming out with ANOTHER cookbook, blah blah blah.” But because I had some time to kill, I sat down and went through a few pages. And I was honestly impressed. The headnotes were fantastic, there was a history behind the recipes, clear direction on what to do, and even some photos of her dogs. (Big win for me.) It wasn’t a big book, but I could tell it was packed with information. It was about the size of David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke (another winner for me). Someday, I’ll go back and buy the book. Once I’m able to try a couple of recipes, I’ll be sure to report back and let you know how it actually went. :-)

    Another new cookbook that I’m very fond of is Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking. Sounds basic, right?! But if you’re just getting into Vietnamese cuisine (the food of my people!!!) and want to do it right, I think this book is MANDATORY. The thing about Vietnamese cuisine is that it relies on ingredients an American home cook does not have the ability to create from scratch. To be specific, I’m talkin’ fish sauce. Nuoc mam. It’s just not feasible to make your own, so you have to buy it. And the brand you buy will make or break you. There is no in between… So if you’re looking to prepare Vietnamese food, where the hell do you find the RIGHT bottle of fish sauce? (Because seriously, you’re so screwed if you buy the cheap stuff.) If you own this book, there’s a brand resource in the back that guides you to the GOOD brands. I personally can vouch for these brands because I use them myself. (I have also used off-brands and can vouch for their nastiness.)

    So, in short, another sign of a “good” cookbook, especially for the ethnic/non-American cuisines, is a book that shares specific information on ingredient resources. Very critical in situations where these ingredients paly a vital role in the composition of what you’re making.

    [K]

    • And just like that, Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking is now on my Christmas wishlist–the combination of the bitter cold weather and recently re-watching the Vietnam episode of No Reservations had me craving some delicious Vietnamese food, and with this I have not only great recipes, but a list of brands to take along when I make my visits to Chinatown to stock up on the essentials. Thanks!

      You are so spot-on about cookbooks needing reliable resource and brand recommendation lists in ethnic/non-American cookbooks (or even some American cookbooks for that matter). One thing I really like about Made in Spain is that Jose offers both, but in the recipes themselves he will also offer much more accessible ingredient substitutions if you can’t get the specific Spanish ones, like dried beans.

      You and I should become cookbook reviewers–I think between the two of us we’d have the most helpful ones out there! :)

      • I agree! We should totally become cookbooks reviewers. :D The bonus being we get to keep the good books and “donate to the library” the “other” ones.

        Thanks for getting me into Jose – I love that man. I can YouTube him for hours.

        [K]

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