One day my wife told me, “I counted your cookbooks ad you have over 100” I thought to myself “that’s not true” and responded “you are exaggerating babe… I may have about 30 books and that’s it” But she said “OK ! I included your magazines too, after all they are like cookbooks, (sic:they have recipes)” In any case, as one author said, if you buy a cookbook and cook at least one thing from it and like it, then you’ve got your moneys worth. So in breaking with tradition, I’m going to list not all my cookbooks, but my favourite ones – the ones that I go back to again and again, trying countless recipes but more importantly, getting tips.
From my observation, when you really get into cooking or baking, it is easy to just get a bit crazy and just start buying tons of books – after all, it’s not for nothing that cookbooks constantly feature in the top 10 book list every month of the year. There’s never been a better time to be a cook and sell your books, but let’s face it, not all cookbooks are good and every cook is different. I for instance like cookbooks that (i) have nice pictures that show the food – after all if I’m going to cook something, then I want to know what it looks like – I need to be encouraged or enticed. (ii) that don’t tell me to be ready made sauces or pastes – again, if you are going to tell me how to cook, then at least tell me how to make it from scratch – I want to know the origin of the taste – why do you use white pepper and not black for instance. However, for me at least, I noticed that after buying a few cookbooks, some begin to read to familiar. I then noticed that I wanted cookbooks that taught me something and gave me tips on adding that extra touch to a dish or dessert and that is where I am at the moment – I look at my cookbooks for tips and I must confess from the onset, I always, always modify the recipe so that it suits my taste buds, after all it’s got to be TASTY pour moi.
As usual, I digress with excitement, but on my last note with tips, I’m going to start with Williams-Sonoma’s Mastering Cakes. I really learned a lot from this book, especially with tips on baking Cheescake. For example did you know that you should always bake the base of a cheesecake before you pour the cheesecake mix inside, because the cheesecake mix is very wet and pouring it onto a non-baked biscuit base will only soak the biscuit base, making it a bit soggy. All in all, the WS Baking is really packed with lots of tips and tells you how to avoid the common mistakes. Worth a buy if you are in the USA but difficult to get if you are in Europe. I got my sister in Atlanta to send me one.
Still with tips, I stumbled across Annie Bell’s Gorgeous Cakes during a trip to London, browsed through it, liked it and ordered it on amazon on my return to Vienna – I was trying to save my baggage allowance for foodstuff. In any case, I liked the pictures and picked up a few tips on cheesecakes, icing and other delicious cakes, but primarily it is a simple book to follow.
On simplicity, I have to give the top prize to Donna Hay. Her recipes on the whole are so simple to follow and delicious too. She has a few books and I only own one, Off the Shelf, which I browsed through in German at the Virgin Store in Cairo (Egypt). That sounds weird doesn’t it, but not knowing German, I was so fascinated by the book that I bought one of the last ones, as the book was last printed in 2001, having being released initially in 1998. To keep up to date and if you live in Australia or can find a major international newsagent that stocks foreign magazines, then you can buy Donna Hay’s magazine, of which I have two. I usually find them at the Selfridges newsagents, which has a very wide and impressive array of magazines from all over the World.
Still with Australia, the lifestyle magazine, Marie Claire has ventured into publishing a series of cookbooks and I decided to go for their opus, simply titled Kitchen. Again, it is packed with tips, covering as many meal combinations as possible from breakfast, teatime, light lunches, simple dinners, impressive dinners and of course desserts. The recipes are arranged across the book and not in the usual starter through to dessert series, so you will have to look through the index a few times to find what you want.
This might sound like a cliche but Nigella Lawson’s “How to be a Domestic Goddess” really is packed with lots of tasty recipes and tips. I must confess nevertheless that I tend to use her books/recipes for guidelines rather than follow them blindly. I have some favourites nevertheless like damp almond and lemon cake, jam doughnut muffins and buttermilk birthday cake. I learnt how to make Banana Bread that I like, New York Cheesecake, Pistachio Macaroons, Strawberry Jam, Cranberry Curd, Courgette and Chick Pea Filo Pie and Coconut Macaroons, so I guess it is a really handy cookbook.
How appropriate to name an Italian dessert cookbook La Dolce Vita – isn’t that a bit original ? In fact that is what the Italian chef, Ursula Ferrigno named her Italian dessert cookbook, which is packed with some classical Italian regional desserts like Italian lemon cheesecake, Postiano chocolate almond cake, Italian ice cream and sweet pie dishes.
Still with Italy, I’ve always found it difficult to find a good Italian cookbook and initially when I stumbled across a book by Giorgio Locatelli called Made In Italy, I thought “just another big expensive Italian cookbook” and walked right pass it. So, we are now almost 2 years since the book was launched and I am cruising www.amazon.co.uk and see that they are doing a very special offer on the new paperback, so I was tempted and ordered it. Well ! of course, as soon as I got it, I couldn’t put it down and was kicking myself for having never bought the hardback version. I kept going back to it the first weekend I got it and tried 2 dishes straight away, risotto and a dessert of course, fruit tarts, which I always run away from, but which I was inspired to try because of the simplicity of the recipe. He goes into so much detail explaining about food, so I felt like I was learning. For example there’s over 100 pages on Pasta alone and another 80 pages on Risotto. For any serious lover of Italian food, I definitely recommend this book.
Another recommended Italian cookbook is Simply Italian by Sophie Braimbridge. It has the usual standard Italian recipes but she makes it so simple and her recipe for Foccacia is really easy to try and it always comes out right, airy and delicious and loved by the family too. The book also tries to highlight recipes from different parts of Italy, so you get a bit of a regional intro into how different parts of Italy cook pasta for example.