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December 10, 2008

Favorite cookbooks

Ezra compiled a list of his favorite cookbooks, just in time for holiday shopping.

Here are my favorites from my embarrassingly large collection. These are real workhorses that I use all the time. I tend to prefer cookbooks with extended discussions of ingredients and techniques.

The Joy of Cooking, 1997. It know, it's fashionable for foodies to dis the later editions of Joy--because they've eliminated the recipes for whale and squirrel and because they have only 3/5ths as many recipes for scalloped potatoes as previous editions.

The Joy's basic flaky pie crust recipe is still unsurpassed when you make it by hand with lard. Great pancakes, great baking powder biscuits, and foolproof advice for cooking live crustaceans.

Mexico One Plate at a Time by Rick Bayless. The enchilada and ceviche recipes are outstanding.

Classic Indian Cooking, by Julie Sahni. Highlights: Chickpeas with tamarind, chickpeas with tomato and onion gravy.

The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated Magazine. The turkey stuffing recipe is the best I've ever tasted. I never even liked stuffing before I tried this version. Try the butternut squash soup and the pad thai recipes.

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Yoshiki Tsuji. Worth buying for the discussions of bonito and seaweed based broths alone. Sounds weird, but trust me. Your Japanese dishes will start tasting a lot more Japanese. Good recipes for ponzu sauce, fish baked in salt, and other delicacies.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. Favorite recipes: Pink shrimp sauce with cream, tomato sauce with carrots, onions, and celery in olive oil, and simple tomato sauce with onion and butter.

Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer. Contains quite simply the best pizza dough recipe I've ever tried. Good advice on techniques for replicating artisan bakery style breads with a home oven and instant yeast.

Like Ezra, I can't say enough good things about Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking. The ma bo tofu is a standout.

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The books to get and devour, which I know Ezra loves but which I guess he didn't mention because they're not cook books per se, are both of the anthologies of essays by Jeffrey Steingarten ("The Man Who Ate Everything" and "It Must Have Been Something I Ate"). The best cook book I own is Richard Olney's 28 volume Time-Life series from the late 70s, "The Good Cook." Alice Watters was a disciple of Olney. The books are indispensable. Used to be able to pick them off from used booksellers for about $80 a set. More like $400 now. Here's a link with picture: http://www.cookbkjj.com/bookhtml/001909.html Ugly, but beautiful.

Olney's "Simple French Food" is a favorite, I'd also mention Deborah Madison's "Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone". And for something regional, Lois Ellen Frank's "Foods Of The Southwest Indian Nations" is probably the most beautiful cookbook I own.

Love the photo. Attack of the killer tomatoes.


I lost my mother’s old late forties/early fifties copy of “Joy of Cooking” somewhere along the way. I remember reading the whale and game recipes and wishing we still lived in a world where that was the sort of thing a cook should need to know.

I did taste whale meat while aboard a Japanese fishing boat. The Japanese crews being rightly proud of their national cuisine, were always interested in the reaction of this round-eyed foreigner’s response to their often rather curious dishes. One afternoon with nothing to do while the driftnets soaked, half the crew watched my reaction as the cook handed me a tuna fish sized can with liver-colored* meat chunks in a canned ham like gelatin. I was used to these kinds of demonstrations. I’d eat whatever was offered, however strange it might taste, good or evil, smile, and thank whoever had offered me the morsel. Appearance generally offered no clue to taste, but this definitely did not look promising. In this case however I was astonished at how good it was. It was like the tenderest, most delicious beef ever. I didn’t know what it was until I’d finished the can and read the contents label on the side. (Giving thanks again to the ubiquity of English.) The cook observed that my reaction was not feigned and kept the whale meat coming for the rest of the trip, even though I did try to communicate that I was reluctant to eat it.

*Marine mammals dive with their lungs empty so as to avoid nitrogen caused bends during ascent. Oxygen is stored in blood hemoglobin and muscle myoglobin, hence very dark meat, and amazing quantities of blood drained when fresh seal and porpoise carcasses are dissected. Flushing CO2 from and absorbing oxygen into these compounds requires time breathing at the surface; and as readers of Moby Dick will remember, offered time for whalers to kill whales at the surface while the whales were helplessly unable to redive immediately after surfacing from the first dive following the initial harpooning.

Rick Bayless' Everyday Mexican is another great cookbook. He condenses his usual style down to weeknight meals that can be finished in roughly 45 minutes from begginning to end.

No French books?

cfrost

Very interesting detail there. How long ago was this trip?

How long ago was this trip?

Would have been around '87 - '89.

I'd had porpoise jerky on American tuna boats before, but it was no match for the canned Japanese whale meat.

(I DO NOT advocate eating marine mammals, by the way.)

the new best recipes from cook's illustrated is our cooking bible.

the new best recipes from cook's illustrated is our cooking bible.

"Sauces", by James Peterson, changed my life. I like his "Splendid Soups" a lot, too.

You haven't listed Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone? That's one of my real workhorses. If there's some vegetable I haven't cooked before, it's the first place I turn. (And you're allowed to use it even if you're not a vegetarian. The author isn't.)

You haven't listed Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone? That's one of my real workhorses. If there's some vegetable I haven't cooked before, it's the first place I turn. (And you're allowed to use it even if you're not a vegetarian. The author isn't.)

I knew I still had it around somewhere. A gag gift given to me a few years ago. It was behind all the trash my housemate stores in the spare bedroom: Ted and Shemane Nugent’s “Kill It and Grill It – A Guide to Cooking Wild Game and Fish”. That’s right, the Motor City Madman, camo rocker, and second amendment fanatic wrote a cookbook. It’s full of turgid and inadvertently very funny prose about hunting and Nugentist philosophy, but it does include some pretty good recipes.

I read a review of that book once; it suggested reading the contents aloud in a Yosemite Sam voice to get the full effect.

I read a review of that book once; it suggested reading the contents aloud in a Yosemite Sam voice to get the full effect.

I read a review of that book once; it suggested reading the contents aloud in a Yosemite Sam voice to get the full effect.

Sweet photo of those tomatoes. An impressive array that you don't find where I come from.

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