Thursday, July 26, 2007


7 Random Cookery Books

I don't know where your cookery books are, but - more often than not - my cookery books are in piles on a sofa, on a bedside table, or in the kitchen. It was with great satisfaction to put them all on the bookshelf, for my good friend, the talented and quick-witted Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook, tagged me to participate in a meme that is meant to showcase seven randomly selected cookery books. How one randomly chooses from books piled up in two houses that are in two different countries is a bit of a problem because it eliminates some possibly whacky combinations. On the other hand, at least I don't have to get all of my cookery books into one room before randomly selecting seven of them. That presents a methodological issue anyway, for pile-making is not necessarily amenable to random selection on account of stabilising the piles by putting the largest on the bottom, thereby eliminating some books on account of where in the pile they fall. Instead of following any scientific method for random sampling (taking statistics papers at university has its upside), I went for an artistic approach. I went to the lounge, where the grand bookcase is, and just grabbed seven cookery books. I didn't really look or think - a blur of book spines passed before my eyes.

This is what I came up with:

Field Guide to Herbs and Spices by Aliza Green - A compact book that gives information on the general description of, season for, purchase information about, and storage ideas for all the herbs and spices you can think of - and then some. There are recipes, too, though not many for main courses. There are photos of the herbs and spices in their various forms and recipes for spice mixtures also. If it wasn't for this book, which my angelheart Eric came across, we would not have fallen in love with allspice and would not have made Green's recipe that features this unique spice in a vinaigry Jamaican Jerk-Spice Chicken. The information is dense and broad - if you ever wanted to make Moroccan majoun, which requires cannabis, there is a recipe for you, or if paprika is more your thing, try Ms. Green's Hazelnut Romesco Sauce. It is a handy and easy-to-use go-to book.

Sunday Suppers at Lucques: Seasonal Recipes from Market to Table by Suzanne Goin with Teri Gelber - Well, you have already seen some of my results from using this book with the Sweet Cherry Compote and the Braised Chicken with Saffron Onions. Largely informed by her Southern French proclivities, this chef creates rich and tasty dishes with seasonal Californian produce. The chapters are divided by season and the content for each is divised by menus, preceding which are details on what to look out for at farmers' markets. This book taught me how to make good use of the Long Beach and Santa Monica farmers' markets, and every time I flip through the book, there is a new recipe I want to try, like her kabocha squash and fennel soup. The menus make you feel sophisticated, but, more importantly, they teach you how to combine and highlight different flavors.

How to Eat: The Pleasures and Principles of Good Food by Nigella Lawson - This is the British cookery book that defined a generation and got the kitchen shy X-generation into the kitchen. With her gift for prose, making even the lengthiest recipe seem achievable, Ms. Lawson writes like your best friend - full of advice and tongue-in-cheek laughs, she is there for you every step of the way. This is the first cookery book my angelheart Eric and I received - from the sassy sauciere queen Lily - and the first thing I made was the 7-Minute Steamed Chocolate Pudding, which was made in a microwave (I was a kitchen virgin, after all) and taught me that not only was chocolate messy to cook with but I might actually enjoy myself in the kitchen. The next baby step I took was in the salad direction, Chestnut and Pancetta Salad. There are classic recipes, seasonal menus, tips for entertaining and pantry-filling success. If not within grasp in the kitchen, this book is found on the bedside table. A must have. Really.

Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks by Linda Carucci - When I first started cooking at home, I thought I had best learn some of the principles to cooking. I didn't want to burn the house down, and I didn't ever want to serve inedible food. Though recipes tell one what to do, they don't often say why one should do it. This book is packed with cooking methodologies, "recipe secrets" (such as how to make the perfect hard-cooked eggs, which cream cheese is best for cheesecakes, and how to make the perfect risotto, to name a few) and information on how to make the most of your palate, kitchen equipment, and produce. Dense and interesting reading for those with inquiring minds.

Eat This Book: Cooking with Global Fresh Flavors by Tyler Florence - I am indebted to this man for his Roasted Chicken Stuffed with Lemon and Herbs. This is the method that really works well for me and my angelheart Eric, though we have since changed the citrus and herbs out for others that we prefer and we use less oil. I know that 'roast chicken' are fighting words in the world of cooking, but this recipe is a great introduction for those who don't know how or are afraid to make one - this is indeed the very recipe I taught to my galpal, the cocktail-swilling and sparkling Sarah. Otherwise, the book features largely Chinese-inspired twists on food, with forays into the territories of Argentina, Spain, India, and Mexico, to name a few. This is the go-to book for big flavors, whether you're making sauces, spice mixtures, vegetables, poultry, meat, seafood, or dessert. Mr. Florence's Curried Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Tomatoes and Argentinian Gaucho Steak (which first introduced me and my angelheart Eric to chimichurri) are swoon-worthy.

Mexican Everyday by Rick Bayless with Deann Groen Bayless - In California, the Mexican food is great, but this book is designed to show that there is more to this cuisine than pork burritos and guacamole, though I happen to love both. Mr. Bayless' recipes constitute the great Mexican food found predominantly away from the tourist traps. There is an excellent introduction to Mexican ingredients, and his "riffs" peppered throughout the book provide good alternative methods or ingredients to his recipes. I cooked a lot from this book last Summer, particularly when my good friend, the cocktail-swilling and sparkling Sarah stayed with my angelheart Eric and I for one month - and her view of Mexican food was transformed. Mine has been, too. I have had incredible and repeated success with Sinaloan Grilled Roadside Whole Chicken with Knob Onions and Roasted Tomatillo Salsa .

The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey From Samarkand to New York With More Than 800 Ashkenazi and Sephardi Recipes by Claudia Roden - This book is a carefully documented text that examines various aspects of Jewish life all over the world - from history (the 'discovery' of Jews in China), to cultural insights (how gefilte fish came about), to recipes (including an account of bagels). The recipes are divided into two sections: first presenting Ashkenazi recipes, then those Sephardi. This is not a book for those who need photos, though there are black and white stills of people (as opposed to food). Ms. Roden's prose is engaging and precise, painting a better and more erudite picture than any photo could. This is the book I use for Chicken Stock and Knaidlach, and there are hundreds more incredibly interesting recipes (from Plum Soup to Lokshen Kugel to Trieste Yeast Roll) to follow. This book will expand your culinary repertoire whilst giving you superlative cultural insight.

This is a really fun meme for foodies, who are usually known for constantly reading cookery books. I have decided to pass the baton to:

Freya at Writing At the Kitchen Table
Cenk at Cafe Fernando
Jasmine at Confessions of a Cardamom Addict
Pille at Nami-nami
Sara at i like to cook
Emma at The Laughing Gastronome
Joe at Culinary in the Country

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What a fantastic collection! I really should follow your lead and put mine on the shelf finally!
Shaun, I love the "madness" in your selection method. Sometimes the less you think about something, the better the results. And these are excellent results. I've none of these, but, of course, want them all now. How will I go about doing this? The first book I happen upon at the bookstore is the one that comes home with me.

Thanks for the great ideas, discerning descriptions and a guided tour of the words you have laying around the house.
Oh, lovely! I really enjoy reading about other persons choices in cookbooks - it's very inspiring. And yours sound great, all of them! :)
I love that Claudia Roden book - I learnt so much both about Jewish food and culture when reading that. And Nigella's prose is addictive, although my favourite book is still How to Be a Domestic Goddess:)
Truffle - It is quite scary to have them all on the shelf, for then one realises just how many one has! Right after posting this meme, the cookery books soon "found themselves" elsewhere. It's a nice way to take stock, though.

Susan, lovie - I really love all of these cookery books. In fact, leafing through them briefly to remind myself of what I have made left me feeling very nostalgic. Last Summer was really when I decided to cook properly, and all of these books were around then. They all have different perspectives and are reliable.

Anne - I, too, love seeing what other people have on their shelves. It is especially good when one is wanting to shop for a new book but not sure what to get. Relying on foodies is often better than relying on mainstream critics.

Pille - Claudia Roden has made an incredible contribution to the world of cookery, and her books bled into so many other aspects of life. I have a sentimental soft spot for Nigella Lawson's "How to Eat"; it really has helped me out a lot. I find great comfort in her prose, often choosing to curl up with her work than many other books before going to bed. Of course, "How to Be a Domestic Goddess" is an outstanding primer for baking, full of many interesting and tasty ideas.
A great collection! "How to Eat" is an interesting book. I don't cook from it, rarely have, but I love to read it over and over again!
Great selection Shaun.

With a Jewish partner and Jewish stepsons, Claudia Roden's book has been a life-saver for me. As usual her research is magnificent, but it's warm and friendly too.

Ah, yet more books I 'need'.
I have never in my Texan life ever heard of a cookbook being called a cookery book. That is just a cutest term ever. Jancd
Wendy - Yes, I think the writing in "How to Eat" is what sets it apart from so many other cookery books. It is intelligent and witty and moves with a great energy. A great bedside table companion.

Lucy - Roden's tone is indeed serious but warm and inviting, which is why it is probably so revered. It won stacks of prizes, if they mean anything, and many foodies seem to have it on their shelves somewhere. Though not Jewish myself, I love the diverse flavours embedded in the recipes. There always seem to be more "must haves" don't there? I find trusted food bloggers' revelations of what they have on the shelves often more reliable than book reviews.

Jancd - Thank you for stopping by this blog. Cookery book is indeed a Britishism. My angelheart Eric, too, thinks it is cute when me or my friends say it.
I was going to say I like the term cookery book as well, but someone beat me to it.
Randi - I suppose they don't call them that in Canada either, eh? The term is a Brishism, and I just figured if we say it in New Zealand, you would in Canada, too. What remains and what changes when languages are transplanted make for interesting evolution.
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