Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Since we moved, I've been able to unpack a few more boxes of books, including all my cookbooks. They take up an impressive amount of shelf space in the kitchen, especially because I've realized that I only use a handful of them regularly, and only one or two recipes from another handful. Am I going to purge? Erm... no. Maybe. Probably not. Because, you see, I might use them sometime! Also, I do like to revisit them for inspiration occasionally, and it is so lovely to read about food.

My kitchen Bible is Fannie Farmer. I turn to her for everything, and she rarely lets me down. The dog-eared recipes include pie crust, buttermilk biscuits, banana bread, and cream scones. She's also my reference for canning, measurements, meat cuts, and any little cooking questions that arise. My paperback copy (not a good edition for cooking--I need a sturdy hardback) is torn in half with one loose page, and the covers are threatening to disengage at any moment.

The next most loved on the shelf is the Pillsbury Best Muffins and Quick Breads Cookbook, which I believe my dear sister Meg gave me years ago. I use the basic muffin recipe, with my own variations, at least once a week. We are also fond of the banana snack muffins, pumpkin pecan bread, sour cream coffee cake, buttermilk coffee cake, and popovers.

Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is another well-used reference for things like how long to bake sweet potatoes and if it's necessary to peel eggplants. Her pancake recipe is blue-ribbon, with the striking additions of vanilla and nutmeg. I usually add mashed banana, as we often have overripe or half-eaten ones to be used up, and Sam eats the leftovers as a snack for the next few days. The recipe for tortillas is great, too--I was making them regularly on Saturday nights until Lucy came along and turned dinner prep time into Fussy Time. I've used a lot of recipes in this book, with mostly good results. The mujadarrah is amazing, and Odious likes all of the quinoa dishes. There are some tasty uses for tofu as well, and I like all of the information and starring recipes for vegetables.

The Cheese Board Collective Works saved my family from the whole wheat rocks that resulted from my bread baking experiments. Many thanks to Erin, who sent me this lovely cookbook/tutorial/bakery memoir enhanced with her own notes and advice--a book to treasure. Our everyday toast and sandwich bread, without which Sam could not survive, is from their Plain and Simple recipe. I've also tried the Sesame Sunflower, Anadama (molasses cornmeal oat bread), and Hot Cross Buns (absolutely delicious). Their pizza crust recipe is another staple, made several times a month and topped with whatever's in the fridge.

Those are the books I use most often, along with a three-ring binder that's spilling over with recipe cards and newspaper cutouts. Some of my most-used recipes are in there: No-Knead Bread; Farfalle with Tuna, Tomatoes, and Zucchini; my mom's cheater cinnamon rolls; and my own invention, Perfect Tilapia with Couscous.

As for the rest of the books on the shelf...

A recent addition to my collection is Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions. I don't use the recipes that much, except for the yeasted buttermilk bread (when I plan ahead), which is delicious and amazingly light despite being all whole wheat. There are more recipes that I'd like to try, and I'm interested in the naturally fermented foods, but haven't yet gotten around to them. Instead I use the book more for inspiration and reference on soaking beans and grains, etc. I also like to read Steven Pratt'sSuperFoods every now and then to remind myself of the things I ought to be eating.

Then there are my cheesemaking books. I use Goats Produce Too! for feta, buttermilk, and yoghurt, and Making Great Cheese for the easiest chevre you can imagine. I've tried a number of different hard cheese recipes, and never had much luck owing to my lack of patience and attention. Also I don't have a handy cave for the necessary aging.

I have a couple of Pink Adobe cookbooks for nostalgia's sake, mostly, since I have the recipes for green chile and guacamole memorized. I should make green chile stew again soon, though, and maybe one of these days we'll splurge on some good old Steak Dunigans.

I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks for their beautiful photographs. I have the Family Style one--her Shrimp Scampi with Linguine and Chicken Stew with Biscuits are among my favorite meals.

Mrs Peculiar gave me the Whole Foods Market cookbook for my birthday way back when, and I've experimented with varying success on several of their weirder recipes (millet and yam burger, anyone?). However, the lentil, sausage, and rice soup is fantastic, and I based my amazing chicken tortilla soup on their recipe as well. I should really look through that one again... some fun recipes.

Every now and then, when I'm in the mood for something other than chocolate chip cookies, I use the Great Big Cookie Book, which originated in Britain and is slightly odd. It's got decent recipes for shortbread and snickerdoodles, however.

Hmm, maybe I will purge, now that I look at them again, since I really don't use any of the rest except for my beloved hippie cookbooks. The Sunburst Family Farm cookbook, rescued from my mother, has THE granola recipe, along with some good fish dishes and cooking tips for the less common grains. I refer to the sprouting cookbook for methods on sprouting various seeds (I have wasted more mung beans--they take too long and I forget to rinse them... but alfalfa, rye, and millet sprouts are quicker and more successful), and to Dry It! You'll Like It! for food dehydration times and temps. The Moosewood Cookbook has an unbelievably good ratatouille with polenta, as well as another good lentil soup.

And the rest of the twenty-two cookbooks? Hm, well, a few of them I've used once or twice, but mostly they just sit there. Powell's resale counter, here I come!

UPDATE: I did decide to cull seven or eight cookbooks that I've never used and almost certainly never will. I also must admit to discovering that I own two copies of The Tassajara Bread Book, which I've never used either; one of those is on its way to the Powell's resale counter. However, I also realized that I have at least one more box of cookbooks and books on food (M.F.K. Fisher, etc). I hadn't missed my Vegetarian Epicure before this because my mom owns it too, but I rely on that for my cornbread, quiche, and yet another lentil soup.