“Essential” Cookbooks

If you’ve never checked out Food52, you definitely should. It’s a really cool site, nice blog posts, and beautiful pictures. Some of the food is a little, shall we say, fancy, for my tastes at times, but I get pretty psyched about a handful of chocolate chips stolen from the pantry when I need chocolate. My views are bound to be a little skewed.

Yesterday on Food52, they offered a deal on a really cool print called the Ideal Bookshelf. It’s 30% off, so an 8×10 is only $19. The print is a crowd-sourced compilation of the “essential cookbooks that have made us who we are in the kitchen.” They posted the print on Facebook, and I had one immediate reaction:  WANT!

And then I read the comments. The first one:

You missed Saving Dinner! 😦

My initial reaction was one that I find myself defaulting to when it comes to social media. My thought was, hey, it’s crowd-sourced, it’s based on polling, give them a break. If they tailored it to each person, then it would look a lot like this blog post, where I will proceed to outline my essential cookbooks.

In the same way that writers have books that made them the writers they are today, I think cooks, both amateur and professional, have cookbooks that are essential, that have made a major impact on who they are in the kitchen today. Here are a few of mine:

The Joy of Cooking:  I received my volume as a Christmas present from my sister some years ago, but I didn’t learn to use it until I was living by myself, during my final year in graduate school. My friend Mary and I had just turned in final drafts of our theses to our advisor, and we decided to get together for dinner. I bought scallops to cook, got them home, and realized I knew nothing about cooking scallops. I pulled out the heavy volume of The Joy and looked up scallops, and I fell in love with her words on the subject:

The fact that scallops are shucked and cleaned almost immediately is, in one way, a shame, for the red roe and ivory milt of scallops – loosely attached to the muscle and supremely creamy in texture when cooked – are exceptionally delicious.

Admittedly, the words don’t seize me the way they once did, but when first I read about scallops, I thought, “Poetry!” It didn’t take me long to realize that, in The Joy, I possessed not only a cookbook with recipes, but also an encyclopedia of food, its descriptions, its chemical processes, etc. It has been so valuable in teaching me how to cook.

Mrs. Fields Cookie Book:  I don’t own this book anymore, but it was one of the first cookbooks that I owned and cooked from. I really got started with cooking independently on visits to my dad’s house, where I had gotten tired of McDonald’s for dinner, and I started cooking simple dinners. As a treat, my dad would get me Betty Crocker cookie mix so that I could make us a batch of cookies as well. But for Christmas, he got me this cookbook. Give a girl some cookie mix, she’ll cook you one batch of cookies. Give a girl a cookbook, she’ll cook you many, many batches of cookies.

And I did make many, many batches of cookies. The ones I remember most vividly were chocolate cookies, shaped like crescent moons, and coated in powdered sugar. I almost knew that recipe by heart, merely using the cookbook to verify my steps along the way. It was easy to use, and since I was in high school, it was the perfect starter cookbook.

Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury:  Ask anyone who knew me in high school, and they’ll likely remember that I had a bit of a thing about chocolate. I had my senior pictures taken in a Hershey’s t-shirt, so yeah… I was sort of into it. And one of my favorite chocolate-specific cookbooks has always been Hershey’s Chocolate Treasury. This book, which my Granny found for me at a carport sale, was published the year before I was born, but it has been a go-to cookbook for me when I need a chocolate fix. The recipe I return to again and again, for Best Brownies, has been used so many times that the book naturally opens to that spot now. The pages are wrinkled, beginning to yellow, and many of them are splattered with dough or batter. Signs of love.

Bitchin’ Kitchen Cookbook:  Rock Your Kitchen, and Let the Boys Clean Up the Mess:  I’ve written quite a bit on Nadia G and the fantastic cooking show, Bitchin’ Kitchen, and the accompanying cookbook (well, books, but I only own the first one) is just as wonderful as the show. I got my copy a little over a year ago, and it’s the first cookbook I ever sat down and read cover to cover. In that book, I discovered that a cookbook doesn’t have to be a static, clean book of recipe after recipe, with picture after picture of food and no personality. This book bursts with personality, humor, and the tone is similar to that of the television show. And on top of all of that, the food is delicious and the recipes are easy to use.

Cute, clean, and organized!

A Collection of Our Treasured Family Recipes:  The last one isn’t so much a cookbook in the traditional sense. It’s a compilation book, a three-ring binder of recipes my mom and step-dad wrote in, ones that they cooked often (or not so often) that they wanted to hand down to my sister and me. I’ve added recipes along the way – for ginger cookies, meringue, banana bread, etc. – and I love having that cookbook at my fingertips, full of the recipes I love. Also, it makes it so much easier to save recipes. No more scraps of grease-splattered paper floating behind the fridge, its precious recipe lost to you forever. No. This keeps it organized, and since each sheet has a plastic cover, it keeps it clean too.

What are the essential cookbooks that have made you the person you are in the kitchen today?

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