Cookbooks I Like

We have an abundance of cookbooks, but there’s always room for a few more. Last week, I found a couple of neat ones.

I was at Winners, which is possibly my favourite store. For those of you south of the border, Winners is owned by T.J.Maxx so maybe they’re similar. (?) What Winners sells is end lots and remainders of first quality merchandise at a discount. It’s like a thrift shop – another of my fave shopping haunts – in that you never know what you’ll find, and that whatever you find will likely be a deal. Unlike a thrift shop, though, everything at Winners is new.

I went in search of cotton turtlenecks and came home with cookbooks.

How did this happen? Well, Winners has a sister company or a division called Homesense, which sometimes is just part of the Winners’ store or – in particularly lucky locations – is its own big fat discount store. I have to admit that I like the housewares as well as the clothes. Sometimes more.

Of course, the clearance zone in both sections is the best. That’s where I found a cookbook that has just captured my heart. (Yes, it must have been a remainder which means that the author got nada for me buying a copy. So, I’ll talk about it here and give you a link and maybe one of you will buy a genuine royalty-bearing copy to make it up to Jake.) It’s called A TALE OF 12 KITCHENS by Jake Tilson. It’s a collage of postcards and labels and photos, mixed with personal history, stories and recipes.

It’s utterly seductive. You can fall into this book for hours at a time, then go through the same sections again.
But the truly amazing thing about this book is that it makes me want to cook. Most cookbooks – with their luscious photos of Italy or France or wherever – make me want to travel. Or they make me want to eat. But J.T.’s enthusiasm and exuberance, his sense of experiment, his sheer love of cooking, tempts me to get into the kitchen and get busy.

This is a book that no one will be allowed to borrow. If you’re really good and very nice and wash your hands carefully, I might let you sit at my kitchen table and read it. (Might. Don’t count on it.)

The other cookbooks were little Williams-Sonoma cookbooks. They’re focussed little hardcover volumes, with simple titles like PASTA. What’s neat about them is the layout. Each double page spread has a full-bleed photograph of the dish in question on one page and the recipe for that dish opposite. Any nifty details about ingredients or method are in a single sidebar beside the recipe. This layout is effective and useful – it also requires discipline on the part of the author and the person doing the book layout. I’ve already used these books three times.

The subliminal message of this layout is “we know what you need to get cooking” and they do. Looking at each of these W-S books makes me realize how easy it is to forget the purpose of a book and get caught up in some other criteria of appearance. I have lovely cookbooks that I never use, because only every fourth recipe has a picture, or there are too many recipes on the page and I lose my place, or they’re just not organized in a useful manner.

Similarly, I’ve set cookbooks aside because their instructions are fussy or complicated, or it looks as if it will take too much concentration (or time) to get it just right. I don’t need a critic in a cookbook. Jake Tilson’s approach is much more welcoming – you could do this or this or this, and one day, when I had no time, I even tried this YUM! – and his enthusiasm makes you want to check out the fridge just to think about what you could make.

So, the recipe for a good cookbook?

• large luscious photographs, one for each recipe
• tempting recipes, with options and easy instructions, one per page
• intriguing details, conveniently located in sidebars where they can be appreciated or momentarily ignored
• ingredients easily found and used in new ways
• an appendix with mail order suppliers for exotic ingredients
• a cover that is easily wiped or a dust jacket that can be removed
• a spine that allows the book to lie flat when opened at a page and stay that way
• a liberal sense of place
• a dash of experimentation
• generous quantities of enthusiasm

How do you like my recipe? What’s on your list for a good cookbook – or which ones are your favourites?

6 thoughts on “Cookbooks I Like

  1. Your list for the perfect cookbook hits on all my “wants” as well. Though mine would also include plastic covered pages too *g* as I tend to um, well, kinda splatter things when I cook.

    My fave books include those by the Podleski sisters (Looneyspoons, Crazy Plates etc), Five Roses (the copy we have is one Sean nicked from his mum and is practically falling apart), Great Good Food, and Six o’Clock Solutions.

    I also have clippings from Canadian Living, the Ottawa Citizen and other mags that I treasure + family recipes.

    From inter-library loan I just got Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook and must start scouring the UBSs for a copy for myself.


  2. Oooo, Madhur Jaffrey is terriic! I have two cookbooks from her and they’re both in the regular rotation. And I have an ancient Five Roses cookbook too – I wonder whether we have the same one!


  3. Claire, that book sounds so good – I’ll have to look out if I can get it somewhere.
    I don’t know if you know Dr. Oetker. I’m from Germany and nowadays it’s the most famous provider for everything concerning cooking and baking. And I love his cookbooks. As I’m a very visual person and someone who can’t really imagine what a dish will look like when it’ll be prepared, I love the big pictures to every single recipe – mostly, things don’t turn out looking like in the picture, but at least I’ve tried it.
    And I love your recipe!


  4. If it doesn’t have pictures right there with the recipe, it is immediately shelved. I feel the same way about knitting instructions— I have to be able to visualize it.

    Surprisingly, one of my favorite cookbooks is Disney’s Family Cookbook (1996) Lots of pictures, lots of good recipes that appeal to my guys.

    The only exception I have to the above rule is When French Women Cook: A Gastronomic Memoir by Madeline Kamman. It’s fascinating— the French can take a piece of cheese, a mushroom, and water and make a delightful meal.


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