There are tons of awesome cookbooks out there. The library's collection on the second floor is proof of that. Spend five minutes browsing it, and I challenge you not to come away with your arms full of diverse, beautiful, glamorous titles to borrow. But what if, like me, you love cookbooks but don't have the patience, courage, or finesse to actually make any dishes? Just like that old adage, "those who can't do, teach," my motto is "those who can't cook, read!"
Knowing the story of why a dish is the made – the secret behind a special ingredient, the origins of a family tradition, the length a chef will go to perfect a special technique – is sometimes as satisfying a part of the experience of food as taste, smell, or sight. It also helps to make the recipes more possible and realistic for those who aren't natural chefs. Here are my recommendations for cookbooks that are as delicious to read as the recipes are to eat:
Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes From My Table to Yours
by Dorie Greenspan
Each recipe is incorporated into a larger story in order to provide context for the recommendation. For example, we learn that while Dorie Greenspan baked biscuits often during her time in New York, she never dreamed to give them a try while living in croissant-laden Paris. That is, until she hosted a New Year's Eve party several years ago. A guest informed her that he would be bringing a "good ole Carolina ham" and asked if biscuits could be served on the side; they turned out to be a huge hit among the Parisian party-goers! For those who want to give the recipes a try, Dorie makes modern French cooking approachable in the same way that Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" did for traditional dishes.
Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys
by Lucinda Scala Quinn
This is the first of two books in the Mad Hungry series, which has also branched into a tv production and weekly radio show. As Martha Stewart's executive food director, Lucinda Scala Quinn knows her stuff. In "Feeding Men and Boys," she shares recipes, strategies, and what she refers to as "survival techniques" for getting the pickiest eaters to love, appreciate, and crave food. In a vignette about moving her eldest son into his first apartment in Vermont, Lucinda tells the story of the family passing a stand of fresh, locally grown meat on their way back from a trip to the lake. They bought tons of free-range beef, chicken, and pork from the stand for her son's freezer, and these few ingredients jump-started his interest in cooking his own well-rounded meals.
Dinner: A Love Story
by Jenny Rosenstrach
A spinoff of the hugely popular blog of the same name, this cookbook is above all a visually-appealing memoir about how the daily ritual of the family meal has evolved in the various stages of author Jenny Rosenstrach's life. Divided into three phases (Just Married; New Parenthood; Family Dinner), Jenny presents her experiences trying to shape this meal at every stage. Some recipes are presented in the traditional listing format, while others are built into the narrative and read more as conversations among friends. Readers will find tips presented in various ways – Venn diagram strategies for getting kids to eat what grown-ups eat, personal letters to her husband (always followed by his lengthy response), and diary entry-like stories that set up the recipes to follow. And did I mention there are also over 100 recipes in this book?
(Photo courtesy of Flickr user melodramababs.)
Back to the Blog