I have to admit it. I have a problem. A cookbook problem, that is. I look at a cookbook, especially one with the delightful pictures and chatty backstories about the recipes, and all I see are endless possibilities. The problem comes in when I actually get the book home, and realize that I’m changing all the recipes anyway, or that it take hours to prepare each one so the book is relegated to weekend cooking or that I just don’t share the taste of the author. And the cookbook, rather than become a source of entertainment and inspiration, becomes a dust collector. Or a paper weight. Or a coaster.
I have found this to be a particular problem with “celebrity chef” cookbooks. I like their shows, and even try some of the recipes. But when I have received their cookbooks, I don’t find I use them very often. Giada’s Family Dinners never excited my family (if you have an herb garden, great. But 3 or four different fresh herbs for every meal really ads up in winter in PA). Mario Batali’s Simple Italian Food was anything but simple, at least in the ingredient department (guanciale is just not as common as you might think outside of Manhattan as Mario thinks). Still, despite the fact that I get three cooking magazines monthly, I love nothing better than to cuddle up with a good cookbook.
What’s a voracious reader to do? Rent!
That’s right. Instead of sneaking a peak at a few of Amazon’s “Look Inside” pages, I am trying a new tactic. Here’s my pledge: I’m not buying a cookbook until I’ve cooked at least three recipes out of it, liked them all without infinite tweaking, and found the types of ingredients used fit my budget, my aesthetics, my area of the country and my time constraints.
Admittedly, I am aided in this challenge by having one of the most amazing library systems in the country at my beck and call. Turns out there is virtually no book I have thought of that at least one university in the increasingly poorly named Big 10 has not purchased already. Nigella Lawson? No problem. Jacques Pepin? Got it. James Beard? Everyone. And it’s not just classics and best sellers. The Hospitality Management (a.k.a. Hotel and Restaurant) programs at the various universities require students to research all kinds of cooking trends. So browsing the catalog I’ve come across The Sriracha Cookbook, The Africa Cookbook: Tastes of a Continent, and The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
This week I’m trying out Nigella Express. And I’m waiting to hear about an interlibrary loan for Chocolate & Zucchini.
The question for Weekend Cooking readers is this: What cookbooks should I rent next? Thanks for any suggestions you can offer!
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