01 March 2014

Weekend Cooking: Another Look at My Cookbook Shelves

Weekend Cooking hosted by www.BethFishReads.comWeekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page. For more information, see the welcome post.

It's been a while since I took a random stack of cookbooks off a shelf to share with you. Because it's way too cold to spend much time outdoors, I've had plenty of time to curl up on the couch with a stack of food books and dream of other places, interesting people, and memorable meals.

This group of twelve books is an eclectic mix of food writing and recipes; some classic and some obscure. Although at least a few of these may now be out of print, any of the titles I recommend can likely be picked up at a library or you can look for them at yard sales, used-book stores, and flea markets.

The Cook's Tales by Lee Edwards Benning (1992; The Globe Pequot Press). This is a fun book that, as the subtitle tells you, is all about the Origins of Famous Foods and Recipes. It's arranged alphabetically from apples to zuppa. Benning's style is casual and light as he busts myths and sheds light on dozens of foods, including creme brulee and peches melba. We also learn about the origins of cookbooks, which now-famous recipes were originally considered flops, and the history of Thanksgiving. Informative, easy-to-read stories and recipes too. Recommended for the curious.

The Art of Fine Baking by Paula Peck (1961; Simon & Schuster). Do you know Paula Peck? She was a beloved and much admired food writer and cook of her day and even taught for James Beard's school. This book is often considered her best, and it's one of my most treasured cookbooks. The recipes cover cakes, cookies, tarts, appetizers, and more. Peck was determined that her readers would find success in the kitchen, and her tips include information on high-altitude baking, how to use your oven properly, how to store your baked goods, and how to decorate your cakes. This is a must-have for any serious baker. Highly recommended.

If You Can Stand the Heat: Tales from Chefs & Restaurants by Dawn Davis (1999; Penguin Putnam). In the late 1990s, thanks in part to the Food Network, the number of celebrity chefs seemed to grow exponentially. Along with this trend came a desire to know more about the kitchen side of restaurants and the personal lives of the famous cooks. Davis's collection of stories gives us the inside scoop about what it takes to be a professional chef, from apprenticeships to schools to the rigors of a restaurant kitchen. She interviewed Rick Bayless, Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, and others, who share their journeys through the profession. Davis includes recipes as well as advice on how to manage a successful restaurant. Recommended for foodies.

French Country Kitchen by Ann Hughes-Gilbey (1983; Artus). I picked this book up when I lived in the UK because I absolutely adore the photos of rural France and the wonderful flavors of the everyday dishes. This book contains my favorite clafoutis recipe along with a few meat dishes we like. I love reading about how to create dishes I'll never actually make myself, such as eels in that creamy green sauce you can get in Belgium. Even though I love this book, I'm not quite sure I can recommend it to the casual cook.

M. F. K. Fisher among the Pots and Pans by Joan Reardon (2008; University of California Press). Two words: Fisher and Reardon. For me, I need not say more. This biography of Fisher focuses on the many places she lived and cooked in California and France. Fisher usually emphasized simplicity and making do with what you have. Photographs, paintings, and recipes round out the text. Recommended for all Fisher fans.

Molly Katzen's Sunlight Cafe by Molly Katzen (2002; Hyperion). Yikes. I totally forgot I owned this book. I bought this because I love Katzen. Thus I'm sad to realize I never cooked out of it and never even really read it. Oops. It's a 300-page cookbook full of breakfast recipes: muffins, eggs, cereals, grains, and more--all vegetarian. Recommendation: unknown, but I plan to read it soon.

The Blue Point Bar & Grill by Sam McGann (1997; self published). The Blue Point is (or was the last time I was there) a great restaurant on the Outer Banks in Duck, North Carolina. Good friends of mine gave me this signed cookbook for a present, and for that alone I cherish it. Fortunately, although it has the quirks of a self-published book, the recipes are good and easy enough to follow. It's organized by season and even includes sample menus. Recommended for those who like regional cookbooks.

The African Cookbook: Tastes of A Continent by Jessica B. Harris (1998; Simon & Schuster). Truly covering the immense scope of flavors from north to south and east to west, this book is a great resource for cooks who like to venture out of their normal routines. I love reading the text and being transported, through food and photos, to another world. Most of the recipes are surprisingly simple but deliver on flavor. Recommended for the adventurous.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventure in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain (2000; Bloomsbury USA). Do I really need to tell anyone about this book? I own the paperback edition and remember devouring it once I got it home from the store. Bourdain's story of his rise from a wannabe to a major New York chef is fascinating and well written. It was one of the first foodie books to cross over to general public. If you haven't read it yet, what are you waiting for?

Food for Friends by Barbara Kafka (1984; Harper & Row). I am a big fan of Kafka's. I like the way she writes and I like her food sense. This is a general cookbook for casual entertaining that I've turned to again and again. Unfortunately, some of the dishes have become dated, and I'm amused to see that she had to explain how serve guacamole and tabbouleh. Probably not worth tracking down unless you have an interest in food history or want fail-safe recipes for the food of the 1980s. I'm glad I own it.

Grill Book by Kelly McCune (1986; Harper & Row). This is a beautiful book with an incredible range of dishes you can make on the grill. I bought this because I fell for the pretty photos. I don't think I've ever cooked out of it. The focus is on charcoal grilling rather than gas. Recommendation: unknown.

Thyme & The River Too by Sharon Van Loan and Patricia Lee (1993; Graphic Arts Center). This cookbook returns me to the Pacific Northwest, where I was lucky to live for a couple of years. The recipes come from the Steamboat Inn, located in southwest Oregon. (It's a lodge that caters to fly flisherman.) I love the photos, the artwork, and the food. My favorite recipes come from the breakfast, lunch, and picnic sections (muffins, tarts, sandwiches, hearty salads), although the desserts and dinners are also appealing. Recommended for foodies who like regional cookbooks.


Marg 3/1/14, 6:04 AM  

That's an interesting mix of cookbooks you have there!

justabookworm.com 3/1/14, 7:14 AM  

Wow what a varied bunch! I love cookbooks with lovely photos, even if I never make the recipes, so I'm adding some on to my list for my next library visit.

Tina 3/1/14, 7:20 AM  

Oh my no, you need no introduction to Kitchen Confidential! Loved that one. You have quite a few listed I would like to check out. Always love Molly Katzenjammer.

rhapsodyinbooks 3/1/14, 7:28 AM  

I have Molly Katzen's book on my wish list. Can't wait to get it and try it out!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 3/1/14, 7:43 AM  

Great post! I, too, loved Kitchen Confidential and have been wanting to read something on Fisher, so maybe Among the Pots and Pans is a good place to start.

Trish 3/1/14, 7:53 AM  

Food of the 80s? I think that deserves a post of its own! I would love to hear what food trends belong in each decade. I know the old Betty Crocker cookbook I have has a section on microwave cooking. Ha!! These all sound so interesting (I still haven't read Boudain) I imagine your kitchen to be lined with cookbooks!

Lisa (Southern Girl Reads) 3/1/14, 8:34 AM  

What a great selection of books! I love flipping through cookbooks. I get so many ideas from them.

wordlily.com 3/1/14, 9:01 AM  

I have a couple recipes in my regular-ish rotation from Africa; that book looks very intriguing!

bermudaonion 3/1/14, 9:03 AM  

Carl would probably like Grill Book - he's all about his Big Green Egg.

Janel Gradowski 3/1/14, 9:52 AM  

I loved that little glimpse into your collection. Cookbooks are such a wonderful thing, who wouldn't want to collect them?

jama 3/1/14, 10:14 AM  

Such a pleasure to read about these! Will have to look for the Paula Peck book. I've also been curious about Katzen's Sunlight Cafe. Guess I should borrow it from the library. Also adding Reardon's Fisher biography to my wish list.

Kailana 3/1/14, 10:54 AM  

That is an interesting pile! I really really must pay more attention to mine.

lawstudentscookbook 3/1/14, 10:55 AM  

I'm going to have to get my hands on Katzen's book..!

Nan 3/1/14, 11:48 AM  

I'm interested in the MFK Fisher biog. I'd like to see more pictures of her life.

Gilion Dumas 3/1/14, 12:26 PM  

I love browsing through your cookbooks!

I've been missing for a while, so it is nice to be back!

Carole 3/1/14, 1:19 PM  

I'm ordering up French Country Kitchen from the library. We are currently planning a trip to France so this will be perfect. Cheers

(Diane) bookchickdi 3/1/14, 1:19 PM  

I'll say that's an eclectic collection. There are more that a few here that have caught my eye.

Rachel 3/2/14, 10:16 AM  

I love your breezy, witty capsule reviews of these cookbooks.

Jackie Mc Guinness 3/2/14, 10:44 AM  

Loved Kitchen Confidential!

I really weaned my cookbook collection when we downsized a year or so ago.

Laurie C 3/2/14, 10:46 AM  

I did a post about Mollie Katzen's Sunlight Cafe a little bit ago. I love her books, too! I never cooked that much breakfast food, but plenty of the recipes in that cookbook are great for other meals, too. I don't have any of the other ones you mention, but I like the sound of all of them!

Melynda Brown 3/2/14, 12:07 PM  

I need to investigate MFK Fisher and Among the Pots and Pans. I became interested in MFK after meeting her daughter a few years ago. I even wrote a blog post about it all.

Sue Jackson 3/2/14, 1:38 PM  

Wow! As always, I am in awe of your cookbook collection plus all the other food-related books! I feel like a foodie newbie next to you - lol

One author I really want to get to is M.F.K. Fisher - can't believe I've never read anything by or about her, though I've heard about her frequently.

Thanks for sharing all your books!


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Cecelia 3/2/14, 7:00 PM  

I need to search out a copy of that Peck book - I'd like to one day consider myself a serious baker. *grin*

Tanya @ Moms Small Victories 3/3/14, 7:40 AM  

What a great glimpse into your collection. Interested in the baking and Kitchen Confidential. Thanks for hosting this linky!

Julie Goucher 3/6/14, 11:27 AM  

I always love your posts about cookbooks or your cookery journals.

We have had a couple of difficult months and I hope to be back to weekend cookery in the next few weeks.

Megan Peck 6/14/14, 5:56 PM  

Paula Peck was my grandmother. Thanks for mentioning her and her book!

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