Monday, January 19, 2015

Winter Cookbook Challenge

Earlier this month, an online community to which I belong posted a winter cookbook challenge: 

You might set a goal to read a cookbook memoir (or two); or you could plan to try some recipes during these winter months; or you could decide to purge your cookbook collection, organize your online recipes, or invest in a new cookbook you’ve been drooling over and immerse yourself in it.

I'm eager to to take up all parts of this challenge! Whose cookbook collection and virtual recipe boxes couldn't use organizing and refreshing? Whose home cooking repertoire couldn't stand to be revitalized? And, what a great time of year to shed off some of the old and bring in some new.

To jump start inspiration and goal creation, we were asked the following:
What cookbooks do you recommend? It may be a straightforward one, with just recipes and guidelines, or it may be a combination cookbook/memoir. Or maybe you just want to recommend some good food writing with us. 

I love big, colorful cookbooks and take a lot of inspiration and motivation from them. Typically, I will check them out from the library, often as many times as necessary, although sometimes I know from that test period that I will need to own a copy at some point. It seems like every chef- or personality-driven cookbook these days also offers stories, which makes them great for reading even if I never cook from them. My cookbooks favorites of the 2014--for cooking experiences or just for armchair travel/cooking--are pretty multicultural:

Jerusalem and Plenty (Middle Eastern)
The Lee Brothers Charleston Kitchen (Southern)
Around My French Table (Dorie Greenspan)
Momofuku (Japanese)
The Slanted Door (Vietnamese)

My “go to” cookbooks, however, are not colorful. There are three: Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything, Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe, and Cook’s Illustrated Best Recipe Vegetables. These are the cornerstones of my cookbook library and provide solid recipes and techniques. They have been instrumental in helping me gaining confidence in the kitchen or for simply giving me reminders for things like preparing a steak, which I do super infrequently, or the ratio of water to couscous. My copy of Bittman is so worn that they book falls open to his homemade-pancakes-are-so-easy-you-never-need-use-a-mix-again recipe.

Last week, I packed up my cookbooks temporarily to clear space for a remodeling project. While packing up I set aside a couple books that I either bought on impulse or received as a gift but haven’t given them their proper due: Momofuku, Ivan Ramen, Thug Kitchen, A Tale of Twelve Kitchens. When the remodel is finished, and I unpack the boxes, I would like to give special consideration to which cookbooks go back on the shelf. Years ago I had to come up with some clever stacking solutions because the collection had grown considerably and no longer really fit on the shelves in a conventional manner. We'll see. 

Also, years ago, I created accounts for "recipe boxes" on various websites--Epicurious, Food2, Martha Stewart, and Fine Cooking, to name a few. This has proved to be a clever way to flag and store recipes online. So clever, in fact, that I often forget about these recipe boxes exist or that I can't remember where I saw a particular recipe I want to try. Some of these sites are more robust than others. Fine Cooking, for example, will let you upload your own recipes. Epicurious has an app so you can access the recipe box when you're at the grocery store. I'm sure there is an app that would allow me to manage all my online recipes, and that could be a goal.

Finally cooking essays are among my favorite nonfiction narratives. MFK Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, Calvin Trillin and Laurie Colwin are among my favorites. Currently, I am reading Anya von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, which is one part memoir and one part history set within the framework of Russian cooking. This is true comfort reading to me.

Here is my goal for this winter:  I want to read more food essays and to that end will finish reading Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking and start (and hopefully finish) Kate Christensen's Blue Plate Special, which is on the side table next to my reading chair, conveniently. Also, I will peruse some shelf-sitter cookbooks: Momofuku, Ivan Ramen, Thug Kitchen and A Tale of 12 Kitchens and pick a recipe from each to cook.

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