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This group contains an eclectic mix of books I haven't used in while, so I hope I'll be inspired to get reacquainted them. I'll start at the top and work my way down.
1. Diana Shaw's The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook (Potter, 1997) is more than 500 pages of everything a vegetable lover needs to know. Of course, there are tons of recipes, but Shaw also talks about buying, prepping, and storing ingredients; provides sample menus; and clarifies nutritional information. I've cooked out of this one quite a bit. Recommended and useful.
2. Who could resist The Sopranos Family Cookbook, compiled by Artie Bucco (AOL Time Warner, 2002)? I've never cooked out of this book, but I love the photos, information about the show, and fun layout and design. The recipes, as you might expect, are very Italian, and none of them looks too difficult. If you were a fan of the HBO show, you should at least check this one out of the library. Fun reading.
3. I'm not quite sure why I bought Pam Anderson's How to Cook without a Book (Broadway, 2000) because the vast majority of my cooking is done without a recipe. I guess I thought I might learn some new tricks. Perhaps I could have. I don't remember ever reading this one. Unknown recommendation.
4. Beth Hensperger is one of my go-to bread sources, and I just love her Breads of the Southwest (Chronicle, 1997). Recipes include tortillas, flat breads, sour doughs, and the breads of the many different cultures native to the American Southwest. I think I'm going to put this one in the kitchen for a while. Highly recommended.
5. Jeffrey Alford and Namoi Duguid's Homebaking (Artisan, 2003) is mostly a bread book but also includes chapters on pastry and cakes/cookies. The recipes are from around the world and each one looks better than the last. This is an oversize book with glossy pages and stunning photography. Recommended for baking from and for reading.
6. I bought Spirit of the West by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1996) after it won a IACP Cookbook award. The focus of this book is, as the subtitle says, on the ranch house and range. I absolutely adore this book. It takes a historical perspective, describing foods (and providing recipes) from the cowboy tradition, homesteading, early cattle ranching, and even dude ranches. The flavors have a Mexican influence and are heavily meat oriented but oh so yummy. The information, photographs, and resources are invaluable. Recommended for anyone interested in the Old West.
7. Marlene Sorosky's Cookery for Entertaining (HP Books, 1979) is one I've had since it came out. I don't think I'll ever let it go. It has a photo of a carved-out watermelon whale on the cover (filled with fruit salad), and the recipes preserve a piece of Americana. Although I never did and never would shape liver pate into a football for a fall Saturday party (yes, that's in the book), I recall that the recipes were easy to make and fit my graduate student budget. Recommended for nostalgic purposes only.
8. Finger Food by Elsa Petersen-Schepelern (Ryland Peters & Small, 2002) is a beautiful book filled with all kinds of fantastic ideas, like cold soups served in liqueur glasses and tiny radicchio leaves filled with yummy goat cheese spread. It's not that I couldn't re-create these pretty dishes in my kitchen, but when it comes down to it picking an appetizer, I seem to look elsewhere. Unknown recommendation.
9. Another beautiful book is Cool Cocktails by Ben Reed (Ryland Peters & Small, 2000). If you're into colorful and delicious cocktails, this a book you might want to check out. From classic rusty nails to the New Orleans sazerac, you'll find something for everyone's taste. Unfortunately for this book, I tend to stick to wine or scotch. Recommended for classic drink lovers.
10. Madur Jaffrey's gigantic World Vegetarian (Clarkson Potter, 1999), contains about 650 recipes from (yes) around the world. Jaffrey's is one of my dependable cookbook authors, and this book doesn't disappoint. The recipes feature rich, full flavors and are easy to follow. Unsure cooks will appreciate the tips, techniques, and buying guides. Highly recommended.
11. I love Japanese food, but I bought Shizuo Tsuji's Japaneses Cooking: A Simple Art (Kodansha International, 1980) because the foreword was by M. F. K. Fisher. Really. Someday when I have the time and if I ever live near the ocean, I may actually tackle one of these so-called simple recipes. Not for the casual cook.
12. One of the gems in my collection is Joel Patraker & Joan Schwartz's The Greenmarket Cookbook (Viking, 2000). The photography, stories, and recipes from Manhattan's Union Square market are fantastic. The cookbook is divided by season and focuses on fresh vegetables and fruit (though it is not a vegetarian cookbook). From ice creams to hearty soups, this book has you covered no matter what your mood. Highly recommended.
13. And finally, in the unlucky 13th place, is the famous French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 1999). Have I ever cooked out of this book? No. Will I ever? Maybe. Am I sorry I own it? Absolutely not. The immense amount of information in this cookbook makes it worth every penny. There's a section on the importance of trussing a chicken, information on how to make the perfect cheese plate, and a discourse on the different kinds of chinois (known as sieves to us regular folks). Plus, let's face it, what cookbook collection is complete without it? Recommended for cookbook fools (like me).
I hope you enjoyed this trip through one small section of my cookbook collection. If you want to see the watermelon whale, you can find a cover shot over at Amazon. I have no idea how many of these books are still available in stores, but you can always look at used book stores and flea markets.