Our NYC Holiday Market is open—this weekend only! Come see us »
🔕 🔔
Loading…

My Basket ()

All questions

How do you read a cookbook?

I've always wanted to be a person who used cookbooks, but I just don't know what to do with them sometimes and they end up collecting dust on my shelf. How do I stop relying so much on the Internet for recipes and start using cookbooks?

asked by Chris Seefeldt 9 months ago
14 answers 1030 views
8bbce907 3b5e 4c8c be5c c64e6c780d63  birthday 2012
luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Maybe look through a book for recipes that you might want to cook. I bookmark the page or pages that I like, make a shopping list and voila!I

695013bb 6175 44d4 9967 d3fa0ab27033  stringio
added 9 months ago

I don't know that there's any real "how to" to it- the recipes are there, just do them. The advantage to cookbooks-well, one of them- is that they give you an opportunity to get to know a single person's tendencies and how they correspond to yours, as well as any quirks to their methods (though it is evidently common practice for celebrity chefs to have their books- including the recipes- ghost written). They also will usually contain a section detailing such things as the writers preferences for measuring methods and that sort of thing. And the big advantage- avoiding the randomness of internet recipes; there are a zillion people posting recipes, and they're not by any means all to be trusted. With a book, you can get to know how you feel about the author's work much better.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 9 months ago

for day to day cooking, i don't use a cookbook. if it is something i have never cooked, or uses ingredients or techniques i've never used, i will refer to several of my cookbooks and the internet usually for the ratio of ingredients. there are so many ways of doing things and combinations of ingredients that i tend to pick and choose, borrow or combine recipes for what intuitively sounds the best to me. usually i write the combinations down with the options to include or exclude and then prepare. if it is successful and is what i consider a "classic" recipe to be repeated for a special occasion, i will then write it down and slip the page in my joy of cooking (which is stuffed with bits and pieces of paper and is my recipe file drawer). but i do spend a lot of time on the internet reading recipes which is a good thing because i could never afford all of those books and magazines nor have the space to store them. one other thing, cookbooks have become like record albums used to be (remember those cv?)..you only like one or two selection. nowadays if someone recommends a truly great cookbook, i will buy used. you can find really almost new books for a minimum price.

695013bb 6175 44d4 9967 d3fa0ab27033  stringio
added 9 months ago

The trick to buying record albums is to buy albums by quality musicians, who can generally be depended on to come up with 40 minutes or so of good music- you buy an album based on a song on the radio, you take your chances. Pretty much the same with cookbooks.

88afa98e fd9c 4e61 af72 03658638b6cb  eight ball 600px
cv
added 9 months ago

Yes, I remember record albums. For books, I look at the author first.

I still buy record albums, mostly used. My musical interests are mostly classical (including baroque and opera) and I focus more on the composer and performers. Pianist Andras Schiff playing Bach? No brainer. Herbert von Karajan with the Berlin Philharmonic? Georg Solti with the Vienna Philharmonic? James Levine and the Metropolitan Opera? Same.

Yeah, sure, I like my "best of opera" playlist, but I'm also capable of enjoying a 4+ hour Wagner opera, but it's what you want in each situation.

I have cookbooks that I think are best appreciated reading cover-to-cover. Others are just a reference or mnemonic device.

One thing for sure, I'm going to trust an old cookbook printed on paper far more than any random Internet upload.

88afa98e fd9c 4e61 af72 03658638b6cb  eight ball 600px
cv
added 9 months ago

It's worth pointing out that you can live happily and make great food without cookbooks. That's the way it has been done for thousands of years.

The whole notion of a cookbook for household cooks is largely a 20th century, post WWI concept. It really didn't catch on until after WWII. In the late 19th century most cookbooks were written for professionals, typically institutional cooks. For example the War Department published cookbooks for army cooks. Cookbooks written for housewives (like Fannie Farmer) were an exception to common practice.

Most of history had people passing down culinary knowledge from one generation to another by in-person training, not by books.

I would say 98% of my cooking does not use recipes (I don't bake anymore).

I get the most out of reading cookbooks for their non-recipe content. These books include the aforementioned Bertolli book, maybe some of Judy Rodgers' Zuni Cafe cookbook, some of the Chez Panisse cookbooks (unsurprisingly the ones co-authored by Bertolli were the best), the head notes in various Julia Child cookbooks. For online content: Kenji's Food Lab articles, maybe some of the Russ Parsons things.

I have a handful of cookbooks written by famous French chefs that I consider historical documents from a period when "nouvelle cuisine" was in its infancy. It is interesting to see how those maverick chefs thought.

I never use cookbooks for presentation/plating ideas. Just a tangential rant, I find the current fad of taking photos of food directly above the plate to be ridiculous. You lose almost all of the height perspective; in a way, it's like looking at an aerial photo of the land: no notion of elevation or height. Photos of food should primarily be taken from the same distance, angle, and perspective as a diner. After all, that's what they are going to see and that's how they are going to appreciate it.

There are different motivations for picking up a cookbook. Are you interested in Fifty 30-Minute Weekday Meals or 100 Crockpot Recipes? A detailed treatise on sourdough bread? How to cook using your microwave oven? How to weld your own BBQ grill from an old water tank? How to impress some chick by baking a super pretty berry tart even though you don't care for desserts?

I know what *I* want from cookbooks and it works for me.

No one can tell you how to read a cookbook because no one here know what *YOU* want from them.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
ktr
added 9 months ago

I'll add that you may find that a cookbook you love for the stage of life you are at now doesn't work at another stage of life. And that's ok. The cookbooks I loved when I was driving 90min each way to work aren't the ones I reach for now that I don't spend as much time in the car and get home earlier. And the ones from when I didn't have kids and was able to devote more attention to what I was cooking and make much spicier foods, are not the ones I reach for now that I often find myself cooking while keeping an eye on a baby and a toddler. So with that being said, I do have cookbooks that right now collect dust on my shelf but I know that my kids will grow up and they will get used again.

012dfbd1 43d9 417a ae27 f5cd7f65b8fe  img 0736
added 9 months ago

As I read a cookbook, I often bookmark recipes that interest me, which makes it easier to retrieve them -- and cook them. Since I use a Kindle, it's easy to copy recipes to print. I'm more likely to use cookbook recipes I've saved. Of course, recipes aside, cookbooks can be a pleasure to read -- worthwhile in and of itself.

8a5161fb 3215 4036 ad80 9f60a53189da  buddhacat
SKK
added 9 months ago

I read cookbooks like novels, they are so interesting and informative. And I check several of my cookbooks for the same recipe to learn about the different spins that can be put on each recipe. When a recipe is well loved, it is marked for reuse.

8bbce907 3b5e 4c8c be5c c64e6c780d63  birthday 2012
luvcookbooks

Meg is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

I realize I was very concrete in my answer. Sometimes I browse through a cookbook and taste the recipes in my imagination. Sometimes I read for the story and make up a recipe that conjures the story. I like leafing through for the pictures. When I was young and ambitious I spent free evenings looking at Martha Stewart cookbooks and trying unsuccessfully to imagine myself living in her beautiful home in Westport and passing hors douevres on antique china plates. I aspired but it was not me. Leafing through hundreds of cookbooks, I found that I loved family cooking the most. I love all of Jane Grigson because she conjures cooking at home, even though she also has erudition and learned professional cooking skills. Elizabeth David, by contrast, has some chilliness. She cooks at home but when you read her Christmas cookbook, she admits that she would rather spend the day alone, reading in bed, drinking sherry (I think, the book is packed away right now) and eating some small dish. I enjoy reading Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook Cookbook because it shatters some of the "perfect housewife" cookbooks. Sometimes I search for a recipe in my cookbooks, usually comparing a few to get an idea for best practice, and sometimes a recipe finds me while I am browsing.

23b88974 7a89 4ef5 a567 d442bb75da04  avatar
added 9 months ago

Borrow them from the library first. New ones, old classics, special interest. Once I re-borrow a book several times ( or re-new five times in a row!) then it's time to buy or request as a gift. Once you own it be sure to pencil in all your personal changes to the recipes in the margin.

Cfe06c3a 31ba 4cd7 a0b0 2d1e7eb98d8e  18930218514 6fcf35ff43 b
Lindsay-Jean Hard

Lindsay-Jean is a Contributing Writer & Editor at Food52.

added 9 months ago

I've found that Eat Your Books (http://www.eatyourbooks...) helps me put my cookbook collection to much better use. There are various ways to filter through your collection, but I'll most often search by an ingredient I want to use and find recipes based on that ingredient.

609271d6 306e 4b3e 8479 9d404fb84e73  moi 1
QueenSashy

QueenSashy is a trusted home cook.

added 9 months ago

Hey, that is a really good question. Sometimes you do not really have to cook from a cookbook to benefit from it. I think that you can read a cookbook in a million different ways and how you read it will depend on the cookbook, yourself and your state of mind. Case in point, there are cookbooks I like to cook from, they provide interesting and reliable recipes (for example pretty much anything Paul Wolfert has written). Then there are the books I like to cook from, but they also shift my mindset a little, because they make me think about slightly different approaches to cooking, something I do not quite do on a daily basis (for me it is The Millenium Cookbook or Vedge). Then there are technique books, I do not quite get them for the recipes, but to improve my cooking skills (say Ruhlman's books or The Food Lab). Then there are really the lavish book I may never cook from, or do so rarely, but they stretch my culinary imagination (Eleven Madison Park or Manresa). And there are books that are like travel, they take me to wonderful places, different countries or different restaurants or to different families (Yukatan, Nordic Cookbook, Jerusalem). So take your pick, and see what appeals to you the most.