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?