I’d happily live in rooms lined with bookcases. Something about the warmth, look and feel of books has always enhanced my mood. Whether they are piled in stacks, open on tables, neatly arranged on shelves....I like being around books, and they’re the only clutter I encourage in my life.
Oddly enough, I love cookbooks a whole lot, yet I have little interest in cooking. Yes, I enjoy flavorful food, and very much like drinking wine, but playing with food holds no appeal. In fact I’m the guy who doesn’t even eat oranges because peeling them is too much hassle. So why do I like cookbooks so much, and have them on my shelves? None of them have food spatters, they don’t make it into the kitchen, yet they sit proudly on a shelf, next to my prized The Way To Cook by Julia Child. Weird, isn’t it? I won’t bore you with a rundown of my cookbook accumulation, but here’s a few recently published examples I’ve hung onto and admire.
I Know How To Cook, by Ginette Mathiot, translated into English by Clotilde Dusoulier, is a nearly 1000-page monster whose fun cover attracted my attention. The photos in here make me hungry; I most enjoy the illustrations, with their whimsical air and European feel. Turns out I Know How To Cook is French, has been in print since 1932 in France, and this is it’s first turn in English.
Logical categories, such as “meat” and “soups,” and simple yet elegant graphic design help this volume be at ease in the kitchen. This isn’t a book to casually put on your lap and read; use it for inspiration, then lug it into the kitchen, lean it up against something, and get cooking.
In France people routinely give I Know How To Cook to young families setting up their first home; it’s a staple in their society. Happily for us, updates have been consistently made so the secrets of simple, French home cooking can easily take place in your kitchen.
The Phaidon Press website is marvelous and beautiful. Among many features, photo essay and journals, Mathiot has an entertaining essay about what it was like to translate the book and adapt the recipes. Should you like her writing, click through to her Chocolate & Zucchini blog, where you’ll lose yourself in recipes, articles, photographs and links. The book is $49.95.
Suddenly I’m hungry!
Gourmet Today continues the tradition of big, heavy, 1000+ page cookbooks designed to be useful in today’s kitchens. Furthermore, as the venerable magazine’s print edition was put to rest in 2009 to great outcry, the Gourmet website and books such as this are left to carry on. Editor and author Ruth Reichl, writing with personality and wit, creates a gigantic reference volume that’s actually useful. I cannot speak to the true quality of the recipes; remember, I don’t really cook. But many of these recipes read like I could pull them off in the kitchen, and they certainly awaken my taste buds.
Illustrations carry the graphic design; no photos likely helped keep the cost down to $40.00. Reichl does something in this book I find enjoyable and useful; she takes a topic such as Balsamic Vinegar and devotes a half page to history, use in the kitchen, and shopping/buying advice. These types of features set Gourmet Today apart from many other cookbooks. I’ll say this again; Reichl’s writing makes this book.
There is a huge number of recipes in this book; I doubt you would ever become bored with any food topic or run out of interesting dishes to attempt. The more I dip into the book, the more I appreciate it.
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt www.hmhbooks.com