Thursday, September 8, 2005

Eight Cookbooks and Their Stain Factor

Ed at Tomatom recently started a very fun meme. The rules are easy (or so I thought). Take a picture of your cookbooks, blog about the most significant titles, and give each a stain factor on a scale of 0 – hardly used, to 10 – “filthy and always open in the kitchen”.

Foodblogscool has more details if you’re interested.

Since I have around 150 cookbooks and probably as many magazines, I thought this would be fun. It’s not as easy as it sounds though, and it made me realize a few of things.

1. Most of my cookbooks that are really filthy are old. They are the ones given to me many years ago by my mother when I was first married and didn’t really know what I was doing. They are still with me and used infrequently, but their sticky pages always bring back wonderful memories.

2. Many of my new favorites are used mostly for inspiration and the recipes are not followed to the letter, so they are not really messed up, although most of them have at least a few pages that are quite grungy. I tend to use the ones I bought most recently until the next batch of new books arrives and then move on. I know - I’m fickle. I admit it.

3. When thinking up a meal, I refer less often to my cookbooks and more often to current magazines (I even have some that go back to the early ‘90’s and am not quite sure why I keep them around).

4. When looking for something new to do with a specific ingredient, I run to the internet.

5. I can’t believe it but I do not own one book dedicated to desserts -shocking!!!

That said, I love my cookbooks, even the ones I don’t use very often. And I most particularly adore them at various holiday and other celebratory times during the year. Nothing is more wonderful than sitting on my living room floor surrounded by books and making piles – maybe; absolutely; not for this party. The joy of flipping through them, looking for stains and notations – reminders of past events help me plan my feast (My daughters still love searching for comments like “Awesome” and even better “Gross, so disgusting”). Whenever I use them I always add notations about what I added/deleted/changed for the next time I might be in the mood for that specific recipe - of course, I'll probably change it up again. Sometimes my daughter, who lives in Halifax, and I go through cookbooks together over the phone. It’s a fantastic way to stay connected even though we live so far apart.

So, in no particular order, here are some of my significant cookbooks.

1. The Doubleday Cookbook Complete Contemporary Cookingthe second cookbook my mother bought me years ago to help me figure out the difference between boiling and broiling. It still is the best cooking encyclopedia I own with many delicious recipes including the very best chili in the world! Stain factor: 11

2. Second Helpings Please, the first book my mother bought me. It’s filled with traditional Jewish recipes and I still thumb through it around Jewish Holidays. I have to be careful, though, it no longer has a spine. Although many people have offered to buy me a new copy, I wouldn’t part with this one. It’s filled with history along with the smudges and globs of batter. This is the only recipe for challah that my family uses. Stain factor: 11

3. Donna Hay collection – I have 5 of her books, The Instant Cook (the newest and as yet unread), Modern Classics 1 (my favorite), Off the Shelf (second favorite), Flavors (pictures are great, but the recipes never inspire me), The New Cook as well as 13 magazines. Her simple and simply gorgeous recipes plant the seeds for my own creativity in the kitchen. Stain factor: 1, inspiration factor: 10

4. Quick Vegetarian Pleasures, although I am very much a carnivore, this is one of my most used books. It’s so good that I’ve given copies to my daughters and many friends (I include my comments in the margins). The couscous and vegetable salad with orange and garlic has this note in the margin “unbelievable!!!” along with orange zest and juice. Stain factor: 10

5. The Jewish Holiday Kitchenis written by Joan Nathan who is a wonderful writer. This isn’t just a collection of Jewish recipes, it’s also a superb digest of a people scattered around the world absorbing the various local cultures and merging them with Jewish traditions. You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy the spinach gnocchi or the ghouribi (Moroccan sugar cookies). Stain factor: 8 Thumbing through factor: 10

6. I’m going to cheat again and combine two of Bonnie Stern’s cookbooks: Bonnie Stern's Essentials of Home Cooking and HeartSmart Cooking for Family and Friends. The recipes are easy to follow, the photos (particularly in Essentials) make your mouth water, and she also gives nutritional values and tips. The spine is broken on the HeartSmart book and falls open at Cilantro roasted sea bass. The Thai carrot and ginger soup in Essentials is outstanding. Stain factor: 7

7. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbookis a joy to read. I love how Ina Gartner chats with you through the book. Naturally I also adore the recipes. A particular favorite is Parker’s split pea soup. Stain factor: 6

8. Jacques Pepin's Tableis a beautiful book. I coveted it for quite a while before I finally got it as a birthday present a few years ago. In addition to the photos, I find his side notes very helpful. The book automatically falls open to the potato and spinach galette. Stain factor: 3

So if you want to write about your favorite cookbooks. Link here for all the details.


Shauna said...

Oh Ruth, I so enjoyed reading this. Particularly the idea of you and your daughter reading cookbooks to each other over the phone! Amazingly, even though we have similar tastes, I don't own a single one of your cookbooks! Great, more to buy.

Ed said...

I think you are right about thumbing through and the Internet. I should post the stain/crumb factor for by keyboard. Somebody once told me that on average people use less than one recipe per book. I'll try and post my third shelf this wekend.
cheers Ed

Ruth Daniels said...

Ed, I think the "one recipe per book" is probably true. In looking through my books I found quite a few I've never used (or maybe once) and thought I'd do a post on some of those....why/when I bought them and maybe even try some out.

Joycelyn said...

hi ruth, what a lovely post...i find it impossible to believe you don't own any books dedicated to dessert, given the gorgeous sweets you posted about before! amazing...

Ruth Daniels said...

Shauan, I've picked up a few titles to buy on your site as well. Don't know where I'll put them since my bookcase already looks like it's about to explode.

Ed, I love this idea you started. My next post will be about the ones I bought and never/hardly ever use.

Joe, while it's true I don't have one book that is devoted to desserts, at least half have some amazing ones. I'll be making some from the cookbooks I'll be writing about next.

Stay tuned all

tanvi said...

Oh I love Donna Hay's books as well- they always generate ideas in my head. I havent heard of some of your favorite cookbooks, but since you recommend them, Ill look for them when Im at the bookstore.

DeBorah Beatty said...

One of my first cookbooks was my mother's copy (shhh-she may find out) of Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Book. That and Joy of Cooking taught me to cook in my college days.