In my last post, I briefly touched on a few of my favourite cookbooks, so it seems appropriate that I devote an entire entry to cookbooks. Once I get the basic feel of a recipe, I tend to cook by ‘feel’ as opposed to preparing a meal step-by-step, with precise measurements and exact ingredients. I own a few cookbooks where the same recipes are used over and over again, the rest ignored. But I like having them as reference, and as inspiration. And it can’t hurt to have cookbooks around the house for those rare occasions when Jason makes dinner. Plus, cookbooks give me a great sense of history (more on that to come).
As stated, I like my cookbooks to be simple and clear. Well-worded, step-by-step instructions are a must. I like easy-to-read instructions that are broken up by additional spacing. ‘Helpful hints’ and suggestions, along with trouble-shooting, substitutions, and variations are always appreciated. Pictures are nice, but not always necessary. Ingredients must be easily located, and preferably there aren’t too many on the list. The book must be able to lay flat on its own, and its pages need to be able to take a little abuse. I am a messy cook.
Onto the cookbooks!
College Cooking: Feed Yourself and Your Friends, by Megan and Jill Carle
It was third year, and I had moved from Edwards House to Carriage House. Edwards was built in the late sixties and its kitchens were decent, but by no means built for preparing anything other than KD or maybe some cookies. I had spent two years on a meal plan and was sick of it. Carriage was a ‘satellite residence’, which meant it boasted renovated kitchen facilities that would let me drop down to the smallest meal plan possible. I only ate at meal hall for lunch or the occasional weekend brunch that year. I had a nice set of ‘tools’ for the kitchen, but I needed a decent cookbook. Tidewater Books had a sweet culinary arts section, and I remember devoting an afternoon to that little corner, tucked under a staircase. I came away with “College Cooking” and almost four years later, I still think it was one of the best twenty bucks I ever spent.
My sisters would mock the title. “You already know how to cook! Those books are for people who don’t know how to scramble an egg!” I didn’t care. This book worked for me. Recipes were simple, but good. Anything with over ten ingredients was a rarity. I liked how the book was organized: sections on cheap eats, comfort foods, foods for large groups, date night menus, and theme party suggestions, among others. I liked the informal, chatty tone presented by the authors-lots of anecdotes and mini-narratives. This book has served me well over the years, and I expect my kids will learn to cook using this book.
Favourite recipes: Salmon Cakes with Potato Wedges, Enchiladas, Mac and Cheese Casserole.
Starting Out: The Essential Guide to Cooking on Your Own, by Julie Van Rosendaal, and illustrated by Tom Bagley
A friend of mine owned this one, and I remember wanting to buy it…or maybe “borrow” it indefinitely. I think it was fourth year when I finally got my hands on a copy, probably on one of those sanity-saving trips to Moncton. Don’t get me wrong, Sackville is an awesome place, but sooner or later everyone needs to escape. This one is similar to College Cooking, only it provides far more information and far more recipes. Chapters are dividing by food groups: breakfast, soups and stews, beef, pork, poultry, rice and grains, potatoes, cakes, pies…you get the picture. Each chapter also starts with a basic “buying guide” and glossary, something I have found very helpful when trying to understand the different cuts of meat. No photos, but plenty of charming illustrations. I also like the “troubleshooting” section on common cooking problems, as well as the stain removal guide. I’ve used my book so many times that the cover has come unglued from the folio pages, which means the whole thing is a little skewed and at the risk of falling to pieces. But never mind, I can do damage control. This book is worth it.
Favourite recipes: Banana Cake with Coconut Icing, Roast Chicken, Bean, Spinach, and Pasta Soup, Chocolate Cake.
Kids Cooking from the Company’s Coming Series, by Jean Paré.
My gran gave this to me for my ninth birthday, and it’s a fairly standard kids cookbook. Plenty of “kid-friendly” recipes, notably things that are easy for a beginner to prepare, as well as appealing to a child. Dirt Cake? Crispy Fruit Pizza? Oh boy! At twenty-five and no longer in need of an adult helper, I don’t use this one as much as I once did. But the recipes are solid, plus there’s a slight nostalgia factor on the occasions when I do crack it open. You can’t go wrong with her baked goods, and while some of the recipes may seem a tad gross (sauced wieners? bologna cups?), it’s a great starting place for the little cook who wants to make something a tad more advanced than scrambled eggs. There’s plenty of colour photos throughout, and it’s coil-bound. The bag-lunch suggestion table was also appreciated when I couldn’t stand the thought of another pb&j sandwich, although today’s kiddos might not have the same reaction given peanut bans at most schools. My mum also approved of many recipes, as her initials as featured on many pages.
Favourite recipes: Pancakes (I still use this about once a week or so), Sugar Cookies, Fiddle Diddles (basically a no-bake macaroon), Cherry Cobbler.
Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual, by Klutz Press, and illustrated by Jim McGuinness
I grew up with this one. Most kids born in the eighties or nineties owned this cookbook. Hell, thanks to newer editions, kids born in the new millennium own this cookbook. This book is the king of kid-tested and approved recipes, cheerful illustrations, “adult helper” warnings, and primary coloured measuring spoons. I no longer own the spoons, which is a shame. My family/daycare copy is so well used, certain recipes need to be pried open, because decades worth of bits and batter have left the pages crusty and sticky. My mum once bought about a dozen of these books to give to her daycare kids for Christmas, and I stole one of the leftovers from the gift drawer a few years later. Kids Cooking is at the heart of my childhood.
That being said…it’s a children’s cookbook. Like the other Kids Cooking, it’s best for folk ages six to twelve, give or take a few years. It features recipes for things like Eggs in a Frame, Hidden Hot Dogs, Tuna Cones, and Personal Pizzas. If I ever host a childhood nostalgia party, I will be sure to include food made from the recipes in this book. Some of the illustrations are a wee bit freaky, too. The ingredient list will often call for an ‘grown-up assistant with knife’…and the accompanying illustration looks like the pedophile from The Lovely Bones. Bald, creeper stache, aviator style glasses, and a knife. That being said, I do like the fact that the ingredient list is illustrated. I would imagine many of the little ones using this book are just learning how to read, and a visual reminder every now and then is always appreciated.
So why keep it if it’s aimed at young children, and I’m an experienced cook of twenty-five? Nostalgia, for sure, and the fact that it comes in handy when babysitting. But the real reason? Disgustingly Rich Brownies and Darrell’s “Forget-the-Cookies-Just-Give-Me-That-Batter” Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe. Both are very well named. The brownie recipe called for two cups of sugar, one cup of butter, and four eggs. OMG. The cookie recipe? Salmonella be damned, I will make a double batch of this stuff, just so I can sit in front of the tv eating raw batter and still be able to enjoy my cookies.
Favourite recipes: See above. As a child I also enjoyed the Frosted Chocolate Conecakes, and A Berry Good Banana Smoothie.
(once again, to be continued. I have more cookbooks to review.)