Friday, October 8, 2010

Talking Cookbooks

I had a friend in college whose vice was vices. You name it, gambling, drinking, drugs, reality tv, he was addicted to it. He has since cleaned up and turned into a fine man. Point is, we all have vices. Food and wine are two of the most addictive and expensive vices on the planet. And certainly both Peter and I battle with these diseases all the time.

But my most intense and burning vice is buying cookbooks. It doesn't even have to be a good cookbook. I own scores of Low Carb, No Fat, No Fun cookbooks whose spines have never been cracked. There are cookbooks from restaurants, I'll never visit; chef's who will never cook for me. There is even a cookbook for cooking with kids. We don't have kids.

Cookbooks can be divided into two main categories: 1) those you can cook from and 2) those that inspire or show you possibilities. The two categories are not mutually exclusive, but by way of illustration any of Ina Garten's amazing books would fall into the first, while A Day at El Bulli falls into the later.


Every few weeks, Lindsay and I will get the urge to head to a bookstore, plop down in the cookbook section, and just start pulling books from the shelf like an addict searching for a fix at a methadone clinic. Our cookbook collection spans two areas of our house. Downstairs in a nook just pass the kitchen is four shelves of cookbooks we thumb through at least once a month. The books in this book nook number about 65 and are comprised of both Category 1s and 2s. Upstairs on two bookshelves that used to house history or law books are the books that have fallen out of rotation like last season's fashions. This is where many of the low carb, healthy cooking options live.

Most Saturday mornings begin with a walk around City Park. This is followed by a cup of coffee on the back deck, WWOZ (pledge drive going on now) on the old vacuum tube radio, and a gaggle of cookbooks. A week's menu is set and off we go. Rarely do I follow a recipe's instructions from start to finish with the rigidity of a recruit in the Marines. Here are six great cookbooks that are both a 1 and a 2 and that generally their recipes are followed. This is by no means exhaustive, just what I find myself reaching for time and time again.


1) Frank Stitt's Southern Table - A few years ago at a party, a few chefs from town were talking about cookbooks. Finally, the tone hushed and one of them reverentially said to me, "Do you have Stitt's Southern Table?" "I do not." "Go home and buy it, it is the best New Southern cookbook."

He was right. Stitt blends his youth in Alabama, and the traditions therein, with the sensibilities of the cuisines of Europe. So you will find pork seared and topped with a pecan and mint pesto or hearty bean stews equally adept at combating the Mistral as the North Wind off Lake Pontchartrain.

2) Donald Link's Real Cajun - How much more can I say about this cookbook. Trust me, if you don't own this, you are either a fool or dead.

3) Loukie Werle's Italian Country Cooking - In this book Loukie Werle captures what makes Italian cooking so special: simple reliance on the best ingredients, unfussed with and a minimal amount of steps. Her white bean soup with olive oil is one of the first things we cook when the weather turns cool.

4) David Watluck's Staff Meals - Sadly Chanterelle closed this past summer, but for over 30 years it was one of New York's favorite restaurants. Luckily for you, this cookbook details what Watluck and his staff served to each other at staff meal. This cookbook spans the cuisines of the culinary world; you will find Hungarian dishes, Asian comfort foods, American classics like hamburgers, and even a roast chicken recipe.

5) Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite - I know, I know, he is a mean guy. But occasionally we like to eat healthy. And this book is one of the few that is neither preachy, scolding, nor devoid of flavor. There is a summer asparagus salad with shaved fennel, poached egg, and pancetta that is one of the best salad recipes I've ever run across.

6) Susan Spicer's Crescent City Cooking - See #2.

11 comments:

termite said...

i've been collecting cookbooks for 30 years now. i'm somewhere up to 3,500. my favorites ones are the hard to find.

top of my list:
"Welcome To My Kitchen" - by V. Gillen Nettleton 1980
this cookbook is outstand!

also:
"La Meilleure De la Louisiana" by Jude W. Theriot 1989
it's chalked full of good ole Louisiana recipes
i believe you can order this cookbook online.

Bugeyed Lindsay said...

i need these. thanks!

Cat Lady said...

After returning from Paris I was obsessed with pastries (who wouldn't be) and found a great book by Michel Roux called Pastry, Savory and Sweet. It's got great photos (big on my list, I like to see the finished product) and it's very easy to follow. (My kids were impressed when I whipped up a batch of profiteroles as an after school snack!) I also love John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Great history and great game recipes...

Cat Lady said...

After returning from Paris I was obsessed with pastries (who wouldn't be) and found a great book by Michel Roux called Pastry, Savory and Sweet. It's got great photos (big on my list, I like to see the finished product) and it's very easy to follow. (My kids were impressed when I whipped up a batch of profiteroles as an after school snack!) I also love John Folse's Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Great history and great game recipes...

candice said...

The problem with Real Cajun (I haven't bought it yet) is that most of the food in it, I already know how to cook, since I have a french-speaking cajun grandmother. Clay was describing the recipes in it to me when asking if I wanted it and I was like, "know that, know that, know that..."

I hear the sausage-making stuff in it is good, though, so the book might get bought for that? Is it?

My most used cookbook at the moment is Molto Italiano, from the sheer depth of the thing.

robert said...

We need to compare cookbooks at some point, Louapre. I don't have quite as many as Termite, but I've got a ton. Perhaps I'll take some pictures tonight and put them up in a similar post...

QB said...

After the Hunt

Pontchartrain Pete said...

I've commented about this every time the subject of cookbooks comes up on a blog. If allowed only one cookbook, it would be The New Orleans Cookbook by Rima & Richard Collin. It's heavy on the old-line restaurant Creole restaurant-type dishes but they've also included their versions of outside the city dishes, like a Gonzales-style jambalaya recipe (drier, no tomatoes or seafood) next to the Creole version. They did the same with gumbos, having different versions of chicken & andouille and seafood gumbo and a gumbo z'herbes recipe. It's just a winner all the way around even though it hasn't been updated since 1987.

I still would like have Link's book, and have given Susan Spicer's and John Besh's books as Christmas gifts in the past.

NOJuju said...

My collection is only beginning and totals about 20 at the moment (just enough to span the length of the fireplace mantle in my kitchen). I'm about *this* close to buying Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc. I ogle it at a friend's house and it seems indispensable. Love both Link and Spicer's books.

Anonymous said...

does anyone have the lee brothers first cookbook. I have their new book and really like it. Was thinking about buying the first one.

Nola said...

Scored "Welcome to My Kitchen" today at Jefferson Parish book sale! LOVE IT! Still on the hunt for "La Meilleure De la Louisiana."