Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Rent Before Buying Cookbook Pledge

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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25 comments:

  1. What a great idea! My library system is not quite that good, though.

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    1. The one at our municipal library is not bad -- it seems to focus on classics and some celebrity titles. But I'm really hoping that with access to the Big 10 system and some research, I can really cut down on the "dead cookbook" zone I seem to have created! I will let you know if it actually works.

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  2. I love getting cookbooks from the library. It seems like I cook precisely three recipes from every cookbook. For that, I can xerox the three recipes and keep them in a binder.

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    1. You are way ahead of me, Joy. I don't know why I never put two and two together before this, but I'm hoping it saves me some shelf space! And some cash too :)

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  3. Oh gosh, I like the Ellie Krieger books SO EASY and FOOD YOU CRAVE. Do you have any of the Crescent Dragonwagon books?

    I know what you mean about celeb cookbooks; I rarely cook out of them. And really, I rarely cook any recipe as it was written ... yet, I'm addicted to cookbooks.

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    1. I have never read any of those books, so I am putting them on my list!

      I know what you mean about messing with recipes. When I attribute it to my own tastes differing a little from the author, I don't mind. But when a writer consistently writes in a way that's confusing, or the timing is off, or the steps don't add up -- that sends me up a tree!

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  4. Shortly after Weekend Cooking started, my cookbook purchasing increased dramatically. It was too expensive and took up too much space, so now I borrow tons of cookbooks from my library before deciding whether I NEED to own it. I'm lucky to have an excellent library system, too, and it's surprising how many cookbooks I can live without. Love your three recipe rule!

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    1. Weekend Cooking does highlight so many good cookbooks! We are starting to think about a kitchen/dining room remodel, and thinking about the needed cookbook space certainly influenced this pledge -- I see so many fascinating cookbook reviews, and buy too often. I'm hoping to stave off some buyer's remorse. We'll see if it works!

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  5. I love Nigella Express and have cooked lots from it. Before I buy a book I usually check it out of the library and see if its one I just must have. There have been times I was happy I did not part with my money!

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    1. So far, the Mexican Chicken Salad with Black Bean Salsa has been a major success -- one recipe down, two to go!

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  6. I love cookbooks too, but I rarely feel passionate enough about them to purchase - so I do the same thing you do (raid the library). It works!

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    1. I'm hope the strategy works for me too!

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  7. That is a great idea! I really only use about half the cookbooks I own, so I should try the library more too!

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    1. Everyone seems to have the same problem :) I will let you know if this helps!

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  8. Borrowing before buying is smart, but I always feel guilty if I photocopy a recipe from a library book! (Not to say I never do, but I know I really shouldn't.)

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    1. Actually, as long as you're not taking more than 10% of the book -- and one or two recipes probably doesn't amount to that -- I'm pretty sure it's a fair use of the material. Photocopying or writing down one recipe might not be a bad idea :)

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  9. Have you ever used Cooking with Flowers? The pages look beautiful, but I wondered if the recipes were any good. I wanted to buy one for a gift. And I love the library idea on this. For some reason it never occurred to me to check a cookbook out! lol.

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    1. I've never seen Cooking with Flowers, but I'm going to look for it. Sounds beautiful. You know, it never occurred to me either before this summer. But it looks like a lot of the people on this thread were way ahead of me!

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  10. I've never thought about borrowing cookbooks from the library, but that does make such good sense. I have a few cookbooks that I use many recipes from, but I admit to having some that I have barely cracked the spine. I am good about donating my unused ones to my local library sale, hoping someone else will put them to good use.

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    1. You bring up another good point -- recycling would also be a good idea. We have a huge book sale for AAUP that I should be donating less useful cookbooks to -- it would probably also be a good source of used or out of print books!

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  11. We only get cookbooks as gifts but if we want one, we use our library. We've had the same problem as you -- most, once we get past the shiny pictures -- we never use! I've actually found online sites like epicurious and America's Test Kitchen, or even Food Network's recipe database, to be where we get most of our recipes from, rather than print cookbooks.

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    1. I also use All Recipes and Food Network -- in addition to the many fabulous blogs I read. I could probably live without another cookbook -- except the thought makes me so sad! I'm hoping that renting will help by making sure the ones I actually do buy are well used!

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  12. I agree with you-oftentimes I get them from the library. I do not have one cookbook that is my most often used one. I like Petermans Glorious French Food. His recipes are simple and basic-I will often refer to it for apple tart/French onion or a basic crust recipe. I am staring at my books and can't find one book that is truly used over and over again. The Eat=Clean Diet has some good healthy recipes.

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  13. I will look for the Petermans title! Thanks for the suggestion.

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  14. I nearly always borrow cookbooks from the library before I buy them and it has saved me a lot of money over the years. If you are a fan of southern cooking I recommend checking out Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. You might consider donating some of those cookbooks you bought and regretted to the library that you are auditioning from.

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I absolutely love comments. Thanks for taking the time to share! Col