I must admit that I am a cookbook junkie. I love to look through them for new ideas, to salivate over the pictures, and to find some inspiration when I get in a culinary rut. However, of all the cookbooks I have (there must be more than 50), there are relatively few that I go back to again and again. Whether you are just setting up a household and want to know what to look for or you are an experienced cook just looking for something new to cook for your family, I can give you a few tips I go by.
The Joy of Cooking is a great first cookbook that includes the basics of cooking techniques, simple and more complex recipes. It is a cookbook that is appropriate for home cooks at almost any level and can grow as you become more and more experienced and more and more adventurous. The copy I got when my children were young (and there were fewer of them) was from our neighbors (and great friends) Pat and Kathy Micken who had an extra copy. When I got it, it had a light blue cloth cover that has since fallen off, but you can easily tell that there are great recipes inside just by looking at the pages. It violates one of my cardinal rules about not liking any cookbooks without pictures, but as you can see from this picture of my well-used copy, that has not been an obstacle!
The first cookbook I got as a gift was when I was first married was A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price (for you Generation X-ers, you will remember Vincent Price as the narrator of Michael Jackson's Thriller video!) It is a great cookbook and I often use recipes from it since it includes recipes from great restaurants in Vincent and his wife's travels around the world. It also has a lot of sentimental value since it was a gift from my in-laws.
One of the cookbooks that really encouraged me to play with food was a cookbook by a chef at a restaurant in New England that we visited many years ago when my sister-in-law's husband was stationed there. The restaurant was called The Blue Strawberry and the chef, James Haller, did not believe in conventional recipes, and encouraged you to cook by combining and experimenting flavors. We ate in his restaurant once (we were young marrieds with a baby and had to save every penny to pay for our dinner) and it was incredible. I checked on James Haller to prep for this post and while I could not tell if the Blue Strawberry Restaurant was still operating, I see that James Haller is a prostate cancer survivor and has written several more cookbooks including two that are geared toward helping seriously ill patients eat well (What to Eat When You Don't Feel Like Eating and What To Eat ) Looks to me like Chef Haller is still breaking new ground! To tell the truth, my copy of this cookbook was loaned to someone (if only I could remember who?) and I never got it back, but I am including it here because it imparted a fun philosophy of food to me that I have made a part of my everyday culinary life.
As I said, I don't normally use cookbooks without pictures, but the America's Best Recipes cookbooks are an exception, mainly because the recipes have all been tested and are the "best of the best" of the cookbooks from Junior Leagues and church groups around the country. I have never made a recipe from here that wasn't great. It is a great resource fow when you have to make something for a pot-luck. If I took a picture of the inside of these books you could see the spots and stuck pages that tell you they are well-used.
This is by no means my full collection, but I did want to give a picture of some of the cookbooks that I use everyday and that help me whenever I want to play with food. Let me know some of your favorites and I will be sharing more in future posts.