OK, I admit it. I am a cookbook junkie.
I have a boundless curiosity about cooking and thumbing my way through a new cookbook is my favorite way to spend some free time.
My cookbook collection outgrew the two shelves that were allotted to it in my old kitchen and when we remodeled in 2008, I asked my husband, Aaron, to set aside a fairly large space for it. My cookbooks are some of my most prized possessions, and I wanted them on display and easily accessible.
Now I’ve managed to cram all of my old cookbooks along with several new ones on the four shelves in my new kitchen. Some are in terrible repair, a few are pristine, but all are loved, referred to frequently and have given me joy, inspiration and a few laughs over the years.
Here is one of my favorite excerpts from a tattered 1963 paperback copy of “The Joy of Cooking.” It is held together with packing tape and the pages are yellow and brittle. On page 380 there is a recipe for turtle soup that has some unforgettable preparation notes:
ABOUT TURTLES AND TERRAPIN
“The terrapin is a freshwater snapping turtle: our children bring them home from the creeks in our neighborhood as yours may, too. If you cannot use them at once or wish to keep them at least long enough to make certain that they are rid of waste or pollution, you may put them in a deep open box – and don’t forget a wire screening on top – give them a dish of water and feed them for a week or so on 3 or 4 small handouts of ground meat.
To cook, place in a pan of cold water:
A 7-inch terrapin…”
In spite of my groaning cookbook collection, I still love buying new ones and would rather read a new cookbook than a mystery or sci-fi thriller. I like learning stuff.
My mother, Gertrude, once expressed her disapproval over the number of books spilling out of my bookshelves. When I ordered “How to Cook Without a Book” by Pam Anderson, she said:
“That better be the last cookbook you buy….”
But I couldn’t stop.
Here are some favorites from my collection and why I love them:
- Shirley O. Corriher’s “Cookwise, The Hows and Whys of Successful Cooking” for straight-up food science. Every Easter, I read a paragraph from the chapter on eggs to Aaron to explain why fresh eggs are harder to peel than older ones. It’s all about the pH!
- Deb Perelman’s “The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook” for her incredibly entertaining, personable writing style and her own wonderful food photos described in one of the reviews as “food pornography.”
- Mark Bittman’s “The Minimalist Cooks Dinner” for his concise, short recipes and clever technique notes.
- Martha Stewart’s “Quick Cook Menus”—one of my first “gourmet” cookbooks with beautiful naturally lit photos by Christopher Baker. (This was before she became a celebrated domestic goddess.)
- All of Yotam Ottolenghi’s books (thank you Kirsten and Rita!) that inspired a visit to his restaurant in Islington during my first trip to London to visit my daughter, Erika. I love how the covers of the books are kind of plush and squishy,
- “The Frog Commissary Cookbook” by Steven Poses, Anne Clark and Becky Roller for its amazing carrot cake recipe and anecdotes about the running of a super-creative group of restaurants in Philadelphia in the 1980s.
- The “Cooking of Italy” volume from the Time-Life: Foods of the World series, for the picture of the handsome Italian boys on page 58.
- Barbara Tropp’s “Modern Art of Chinese Cooking: Techniques & Recipes” for the wealth of information about ingredients and in-depth explanations of cooking techniques down to your posture when you wield a cleaver.
There are a million food blogs out there—Lord knows I follow a ton of them on Instagram, but to me there is nothing more inspiring, enjoyable or satisfying than sitting down with a great cookbook with a pad of Post-it notes at the ready.
Below is a recipe for a raw beet salad that I’ve adapted from Bittman’s “The Minimalist Cooks Dinner.”
1 pound beets
1 large shallot
2 teaspoons grainy mustard
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar*
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Whole milk plain Greek yogurt or sour cream
- Peel the beets. (I do this with rubber gloves on to prevent my fingers from getting stained.)
- Peel the shallot.
- Install a grating disc in your food processor and then whiz in the beets and the shallot. You can also use a box grater, but I don’t—my knuckles can’t take that kind of punishment.
- Right in the work bowl of the food processor, add the mustard, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper, stirring well to blend.
- Scrape the mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with the chopped parsley.
- Serve over a scoop of Greek yogurt or sour cream.
*Don’t substitute—sherry vinegar is really nice and sour.
Published: Memorial Day 2019 Vol. 11 No. 2