Thursday, March 19, 2015

My Ten Favorite Cookbooks

My Ten Favorite Cookbooks
© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I'm a foodie. There, I said it. I have over 40 cookbooks marked with Post-its for recipes I want to try. Here they are on my kitchen counter. I don't even want to count the number of recipes I've gotten from magazines, newspapers and the Internet. Choosing just ten cookbooks is very hard. What about Lidia Bastianich, Rick Bayless, Burt Wolf, Julia Child, Martin Yan, Paul Prudhomme, and cookbooks from the New York Times, McCalls and Better Homes and Gardens?

Many of these cookbooks have newer versions or are out of print. This picture shows the books that I bought and use. 

My cookbooks can be divided into two groups, those on the kitchen counter and those in an improvised book shelf in the cabinet below. These are the cookbooks that I use the most and are on my kitchen counter. Enjoy!

"Betty Crocker's Cookbook"

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
Yes, that's duct tape holding my 1975 edition of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook" together. Did you know that Betty Crocker is a character, not a real person? The first edition of this classic cookbook was published in 1950 although the character was created in 1921 by General Mills. According to their Web site, the character was created in order to make responses to customers more personal. Check out the site for the complete story. Who cares if there wasn't an actual person named Betty Crocker? This is the cookbook I use the most.

"Betty Crocker's Cookbook" is the first cookbook I bought after I was married. It's still my go to cookbook for basics like roasting turkey, chicken, pork or beef. I do need to check if the internal temperatures needed for doneness have changed on the USDA Web site. The recipes are tried and true. Stuffing is always perfect. Cake and frosting are as easy as pie recipes.

The book certainly of a different era. A cake recipe for an 8" x 8" pan is called a "dinette cake for small families." Harvest gold, avocado green, and burnt orange form the color palette from the 1970's. I still have Tupperware in those colors! Convenience was a big deal at that time so there are a lot of prepared foods in the recipes, like canned soup.My favorite recipes are the coffee cake, stuffing, roasts, nut breads, and hot German potato salad.

"Crock-Pot Recipe Collection"

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I bought my Crock-Pot in the 1980's and it's still cookin' away. A small pamphlet of recipes came with it. Most of those overcooked the food and spices were cooked out.

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I bought "Crock-Pot Recipe Collection" a few years ago and it is just terrific. There are lots of recipes from other countries like Persian Eggplant Dip, Jamaican Chicken and Cuban Pork Sandwiches. Italian and Mexican style recipes are represented in abundance. Don't worry, there are plenty of American favorites including Yankee Pot Roast, Clam Chowder, and Wisconsin Beer and Cheese Soup.

My favorite chapter is Soups and Stocks. I still need to make Italian Sausage Soup. It looks very much like a soup I've had called Italian Wedding Soup. The Chicken Tortilla Soup would be a perfect after school treat. I'm sure that the Hot and Sour Soup and Greek Lemon and Rice Soup is as good as any restaurant. No soup chapter is complete without a tasty minestrone!

"Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I didn't buy this canning book first but I should have. I call it the "grandmomma" of all canning books. I had put up two bushels of tomatoes before I realized how badly I needed the very best canning book of all time, first published in 1909. I live at an altitude of 5,203 feet in a Denver, Colorado suburb. I found too many different altitude adjustments in canning recipes from the Internet. The adjustments in the "Ball Blue Book" are conservative, like adding 10 minutes to processing instead of 5 minutes. I like that. I also like the detailed explanation of the importance acidity and preventing the growth of microorganisms. Although what I learned in college chemistry and biology is way outdated, pH and bug growth haven't changed (even if the names of the bugs have).

Water bath canning is covered in great detail and is probably the most popular type of canning. I would guess that tomatoes are the most popular food that is canned. I love the step by step directions at the end of chapters that show exactly how to can a particular food, especially tomatoes. There are recipes for tomato sauce, spaghetti sauce, salsa, and all things tomato. The chapter on jams, jellies, and fruit spreads really helped me as I now make low sugar jams and jellies. I am afraid of pressure cookers, but the chapter on canning low acid foods such as meats and vegetables was very informative. I live near a bunch of farm markets and the idea of canning my own vegetables is very appealing. Preserving by freezing and dehydrating are covered. Dehydrating is intriguing but I would get a book on that subject alone because I would like in depth coverage of that topic.

This edition may not be available now. I would suggest checking you favorite book seller for the most recent edition. 

Church Cookbooks for Authentic Cooking

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I treasure these two church cookbooks published in the early 1970's. My Volga Deutsch grandmother bought them at her church in Chicago and gave them to my mother who passed them down to me. I've labeled this "Authentic Cooking" because the recipes are mostly from immigrants from Eastern Europe or first generation daughters. I see German, Bohemian, Polish, and Hungarian recipes in abundance. There is a Bohemian egg bread with raisins called houska. I never learned to make it from my Bohemian grandmother. I've been able to adopt the recipe in one of these books to work with my bread machine. It's just like being with Babicka Kuchynka. The Fleisch Berok recipe makes me feel closer to all my Volga Deutsch relatives that live so far away.

I know that I'll never make the pig's knuckles with sauerkraut or the old fashioned liver sausage. However, kuchen and kolacky are on the cooking to do list, as are the sauerbraten and chicken paprika. This is not health food but everything in moderation.


"Betty Crocker's Best Bread Machine Cookbook"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I received a bread machine as a gift over ten years ago. I haven't bought a loaf of bread from the grocery store ever since. My first attempts at yeast breads and rolls were terrific door stops and hockey pucks, so I started making quick breads to compensate for my yeast failure. The bread machine restored my yeast self esteem as did the discovery that there is a flour specifically for bread. I don't remember my grandmother having bread flour and my mom did not make bread, so how was I to know? I set out on a yeast mission and got about half a dozen bread machine cookbooks. Quite frankly, a lot of them had recipes that I would never make like dill bread. I love dill pickles not dill in bread did not appeal to me. Then I realized that what would be better than a Betty Crocker cookbook for a bread machine? Thank goodness that I did, because this is my favorite bread machine cookbook. newer edition is available. 

Even the introduction is tremendously helpful with an explanation of the machine cycles, types of flour, and yeast. The photos of the failed loaves is worth the price of the book alone. The FAQ is a resource for either the newbie or the experienced bread machine user. The recipes range from basic white bread to rustic loaves and beyond. My favorite chapter is about sweet breads and coffee cakes. I just love the Cinnamon Roll recipe, although I use a glaze from my dear old Betty Crocker's Cookbook from the 1970's. I make the rolls as gifts only for very special people in my life.


"The Joy of Cooking"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
I first bought "Joy of Cooking" as a paperback when I was ready to venture beyond basics and into high falutin' recipes. Of course, Joy is a terrific cookbook and fabulous cooking reference. I broke down and bought the hardcover edition so that it would lay flat when I was using it.

There are 18 chapters with recipes for abalone to zucchini and everything in between. There are diagrams on how to eat with chopsticks and submerging the neck end of a goose in boiling water. I doubt that I will ever need to know how to cook emu but I know that "Joy of Cooking" has the directions. The pictures of orange roughy and mahi-mahi show rather unattractive but very delicious fish. Monkfish will never be in my kitchen. I only use a couple kinds of pasta but I can refer to the chart that shows 27 types with their cooking times.

I probably use the stocks and sauces chapter the most, although I'm still trying to master hollandaise and Bearnaise sauces. The marinades and rubs chapter is terrific for preparing meats to barbecue. I never grill meats anymore without marinating for the richer, deeper flavors. There are a lot of international recipes included in the newer editions reflecting the trend towards a world cuisine. I see that there is a 75th anniversary edition available with a predominantly red cover

Just a side note about the movie "Julia and Julie." I just loved the scene with Irma Rombauer where she told Julia Child what it was really like to get "Joy of Cooking" published.

"The New Professional Chef"

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copy
Does the acronym CIA mean spies or cooking to you? The Culinary Institute of America was founded in 1946 and has trained many famous chefs such as Duff Goldman, Anthony Bourdain, Anne Burrell, Cat Cora, and Michael Symon. I was given "The New Professional Chef" by the Culinary Institute of America as a gift. It is one heavy duty cookbook weighing in at eight pounds. If you ever want to know anything about kind of food or technique, this is the cookbook to get! I have the 1996 edition and it's geared to towards future restaurateurs.

The recipes are set for 10 servings, which is great for large family, party or restaurant. Of course, the recipes can be cut in half. Fully one third of the book is devoted to safety, ingredients, equipment and basic techniques. This is the best cooking reference book that I have. There are diagrams, pictures and descriptions of knives, cookware, and cuts of all kinds of meat, poultry and fish.

My favorite section is The Raw Ingredients that has photos of an amazing amount of fruits, vegetables and spices as well as grains, nuts and beans. My next favorite section is Mise en Place which translates from French to "to put in place." I take it to mean preparation prior to cooking. Knife and cutting skill photographs will teach proper knife techniques. This section finally taught me the difference be between bouquet garni (herbs tied in a bundle) and sachet d'epices (herbs and spices in a cheesecloth bag.)

There are recipes for everything you can imagine in 10 serving sizes. There's just one recipe to each 8 1/2 x 11 page. The ingredients are listed in order and the preparation steps are numbered. I really should use this cookbook more. I have seen a new edition at my local bookstore. This cookbook will take your cooking to the next level!

Ball Blue Book and Kerr Canning Book from 1947

© Donna Cook – All Rights Reserved  
I'm a pack rat and hold onto some things for years because I think I'll need them again. Sometimes I do! Occasionally, I run across stuff that I didn't even know that I had, like these vintage canning books from 1947. I kept the few cookbooks that my mom had and these were inside of one of them. I only discovered them last year. They are a precious reminder of my mother. I never saw her do any canning although now that I think about it she did have a couple of canning utensils. We had a peach tree in the back yard and there are food stains on those recipes.

I didn't know that there were jars with glass lids and separate rubber rings to seal them or jars with bail wires to keep the lids closed. There is enough sugar in the jelly and jam recipes to rot your teeth just from reading them. The recipes call for three to four cups of sugar to one cup of fruit. No pectin is added, just sugar. I was surprised that the jars aren't sealed with paraffin.

When I was a kid, my dad would take me to the butcher in the old neighborhood, Cicero, IL. There was a large Bohemian community in Cicero in addition to the gangsters you may have heard about. Organ meats filled one entire meat case in the butcher shop. There are canning recipes for things I remember seeing like pigs feet, sweetbreads, tongue, and sulc (head cheese-you don't want to know.) I didn't see a recipe for tripe.

These two cookbooks are a wonderful window on the past and just how far canning has come since then.


Jacques Pepin's Cookbooks

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copies
I love to watch cooking shows. Before there was the Food Network and the Cooking channel, most cooking shows were on PBS on Saturday mornings in my home town of Chicago. Jacques Pepin shows were my introduction to French cooking. I love his practical methods that make gourmet cooking as easy as burgers. These are the two cookbooks from the 1990's that I have.

Jacques introduced me to the wonders of Herbes de Provence and ratatouille. I still make the Ragout of Potatoes. I would like to make the apple tart but don't have the patience to make the dough or lay out the apples. "The Short-Cut Cook" is my favorite of the two books with a newer edition available.
  
Charlie Trotter's Cookbooks

Image credit: Donna Cook
My copies
You may remember the late Charlie Trotter from his 1999 PBS show, The Kitchen Sessions. If you didn't see the show, get "Gourmet Cooking for Dummies", which he authored. I never liked the For Dummies series of books until I got this one. Like all the For Dummies books, the subject is taken seriously but with a wry sense of humor. Flavors have many complex layers. My favorite is the Barley Risotto. "The Kitchen Sessions" is a feast both for the eyes and the palette. Most recipes have one whole page with a photo of the dish on the facing page. Right now I'm looking at the Sea Scallops with blended Chicken Liver Sauce and Braised Collard Greens. This is a terrific example of how Chef Trotter blended and layered flavors for unbelievable food.


I was fortunate to have eaten at his Chicago restaurant, Charlie Trotter's, for a couple of special occasions. His mother was at the restaurant and gave guests tours of the kitchen and the area where the TV show was shot. I'm still lusting after the 55 gallon stockpots.