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Anna N

Features that every cookbook should adopt

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 I just bought a Kindle copy of Mary-Ann Boermans’ Great British Bakes. 

 

This is perhaps the most useful feature I have ever seen:

 

“The numbers in the brackets show the total number of recipes that use each ingredient. Simply put: if you have everything on this list, you can make every recipe in this book. Some ingredients are only used once or twice, but I have tried to limit these to items that could be used in other recipes. The ingredients in italics might be less easy to locate, and online sources for them are listed at the end.

 

FLOURS

Plain flour (51)

Strong white flour (16)

Cornflour (10)

Self-raising flour (3)

Rice flour (3)

Stone-ground wholemeal flour (1)

Rye flour (1)

 

GRAINS

Medium oatmeal (1)

Ground rice (3)“

 

 And it goes on to list every ingredient. 

 

Can you imagine how useful this is if you want to use up an ingredient that you have purchased just for one recipe. By consulting this list you can see how many other recipes you might want to make to use up the ingredient.   This would be even more valuable in a general cooking book rather than a baking book.

 

In addition to this one invaluable feature  the book makes it easy to find a recipe. In addition to a general table of contents there is a table of contents at the beginning of each chapter and if that isn’t enough all the recipes are listed alphabetically in yet another table.

 

Has anyone ever seen a food related book where all the ingredients are listed next to all the recipes that require them?   I am more excited than an overstimulated synaptic gap. 

 

 

 

 

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It's interesting seeing this feature.  I have been using Eat Your Books to find recipes to use up ingredients that I don't normally stock but bought for a particular recipe.

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I think it is a super idea. I don't use kindle for various reasons but I do wish this was the norm. D

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I wanted to add that she also includes a list of every size and shape of pan that is used in the book. She also notes that a pan of suitable size can be substituted for most of these so there is nothing rigid about her list. 

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2 hours ago, Doofa said:

I think it is a super idea. I don't use kindle for various reasons but I do wish this was the norm. D

 

I don't understand the Kindle reference in regards to Eat My Books, unless a dead tree version of the cookbook doesn't have this feature.


Edited by Porthos (log)

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1 hour ago, Anna N said:

I wanted to add that she also includes a list of every size and shape of pan that is used in the book.

 

That does sound very useful.

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It's probably an unpopular opinion in some places.  But I'd go for the metric system or at the very least ditch volumetric measurements for dry ingredients 

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A really good and extensive index can be helpful in this respect too. I mean one that references every significant ingredient in the index, helping one to find good uses for them. I have a few that fall into this category, and consult them often. It's also helpful to remember a recipe where I can't remember the author's name for the dish but do remember some ingredients.

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Many cookbooks include what might be called "pantry" recipes, compound recipes or "recipes-within-recipes" for things like sauces, spice mixtures, pickles and the like that are used throughout the book in several other recipes.  Or maybe they're only called for once or twice.

I want to see that information clearly spelled out so I can gauge whether I want to double or triple that spice mixture to have enough for other recipes or cut it down.  Or whether I want to plan ahead to make several dishes that all use a common pantry recipe.

Ideally, I want to see a list of related recipes right on the page with that "pantry" recipe.  They could also be listed clearly in the index. 

 

Rick Bayless or his editors do this very well in More Mexican Everyday where each of the four "secret weapon" sauces is followed by ideas for using them and a list of all the other recipes (with page numbers) in the book that utilize those sauces. 

IMG_7276.thumb.jpg.7cf52f2547a9dc162ee7d1b7478879bb.jpg

I'm sure there are other good examples of this but many of my cookbooks fail in this regard. 

Six Seasons has an extensive section of "Go-To" recipes in the front of the book but no way to see where they are used.  I plan to cook a lot from that book so I took the time to go through and wrote the related recipes under each of the "Go-To" recipes but I shouldn't have to do that. 

Here's the list of Six Seasons that use the Dried Breadcrumbs. 

IMG_6882.thumb.jpg.5683ab51977b75d0415e3465d7083d05.jpg

Would it have been so hard to include that info?

 

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I am a big fan of books that have variations, substitutions, and vegetarian options. I also appreciate weight based measurements over subjective measurements. One onion.... how big? A racket ball or softball size?? 

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Having taken to using exclusively farm eggs, which can vary widely in size within a carton, I'd like weights on eggs. I realize it's probably not always critical, but surely on some recipes it is?

 

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4 hours ago, DanM said:

I am a big fan of books that have variations, substitutions, and vegetarian options. I also appreciate weight based measurements over subjective measurements. One onion.... how big? A racket ball or softball size?? 

 Used to get my shirt In a knot and pull out my hair over this but no more.  The difference in size between one onion and another is unlikely to cause problems unless you are running the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park.  Similarly with most vegetables—their size is rarely critical to the success of the recipes in which they appear.   Furthermore  I almost never have the size of vegetables that are called for. So I’m back to compromising anyway. Should I use two small?  Do two small make one large?   Got too complicated.   Don’t sweat the small/medium/large stuff I say. :)

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I'd like to see metric weights. Yes, @kayb in some recipes the exact amount of egg, including the ratio of yolk to white is important. When I lived in Santa Fe, which has an altitude over 7,000 feet, I figured out how to make popovers which no one else could make. It involved changing the ratio of white to yolk.

 

I'd also like to see a pan index, where all the recipes using one sort of pan would be listed. That and specialty equipment, like ice cream machines, even mixers.

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I also would like that measurements are given in weight not as a volume, even better is in metric. For a non American it's sometimes hard to convert a recipe because for example I don't have/use teaspoons for my spices.

Percentages are a nice addition if you want to scale a recipe easily based on how much of the base ingredient you have. It's also helpful to know which ingredients scale linear and which don't.

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Outside the US, the only countries which do not officially use the metric system are: Myanmar, Liberia, Palau, Marshall Islands of Micronesia, and Samoa.  Most of these countries mainly use the metric system, they just haven't altered some of their laws to reflect modern changes. In cooking, the math involved is so much simpler with the metric system. I have both imperial and metric tools, but mostly use the metric ones. Also, I buy international cookbooks and so far, every one I have gotten has been metric.

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I prefer mass measurements to volume measurements. But if more than one is given, I really need them to be correct and equivalent!

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2 hours ago, MelissaH said:

I prefer mass measurements to volume measurements. But if more than one is given, I really need them to be correct and equivalent!

This is so important. I have quite a few cookbooks that give both volume and weight, and they do not match. It drives me nuts. (One cup of sugar is not 280 grams!) I used to make a particular loaf cake quite a bit because it was simple and very good. I had always followed the volume measurements, but then I started preferring weights so I decided to follow those. Needless to say I did not have the same simple and good loaf cake at the end of that baking session. I've found the same thing in other books, but now I have a better idea of what the weights should be so I know if it's off. 

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2 hours ago, cakewalk said:

I've found the same thing in other books, but now I have a better idea of what the weights should be so I know if it's off. 

I think this is enlightening.  I do find now that my antenna goes up when I see something that seems off and I take the time to double check.  But it took a long time for me to get to this point.

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One of the most difficult things for me when using weights instead of volume is being able to visualize what a particular weight of an item looks like. If a recipe uses one cup of sugar, I can visualize that. If a recipe uses 200 grams of sugar, I now know that that's one cup, so I can visualize that, too. Same with many other ingredients, although certainly not all. But it did take a long time to get there, and I don't like using weights if I cannot visualize how much I'll be using. The weights for flour still drive me up a wall, since there doesn't seem to be one standard. I've seen recipes use as little as 110 grams and as much as 160 grams for a cup of flour. I use 140 grams. If a recipe was originally written with a weight amount, I'll assume it was tested with whatever weight they listed. But if it's a recipe with volume and weight, and the weights seem "off," I'll just skip the recipe.

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52 minutes ago, cakewalk said:

The weights for flour still drive me up a wall, since there doesn't seem to be one standard.

 Agreed. Even when one consults what should be considered reliable sources differences are astounding.   I do not think there is a realistic answer for every body. For me I have pretty much settled on 120g  for one cup of all-purpose flour. It is no more logical than 125 g or 115 g or any other weight. It just makes my life easier when I’m trying to convert recipes. 

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15 hours ago, Anna N said:

 Agreed. Even when one consults what should be considered reliable sources differences are astounding.   I do not think there is a realistic answer for every body. For me I have pretty much settled on 120g  for one cup of all-purpose flour. It is no more logical than 125 g or 115 g or any other weight. It just makes my life easier when I’m trying to convert recipes. 

It depends on the cookbook author. Sometimes they'll include how they measure their flour, usually in the beginning of the book. In that case, I'll weigh a cup of flour the way they do, a few times, and take an average. If not, I generally also go with 120 g but take notes and adjust as needed.

 

What drives me absolutely bonkers is when there are obvious rounding errors. For instance, a recipe calls for 4 tablespoons/55 g extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for shaping and drizzling. Step 2 of the recipe starts, “Add 2 tablespoons/30 g of the olive oil….” Fine. But then Step 6 says, “Use a pastry brush to paint the focaccia with 2 tablespoons/30 g olive oil….” For those of you keeping track, that’s a total of 4 tablespoons and 60 g, but the recipe says 55 g in the ingredients list! Every single one of my four digital scales displays individual grams (or even portions thereof), so there's not real reason to round.

 

For now, I'm not even going to discuss the Ottolenghi Sweet debacle. Whenever possible, I prefer to buy cookbooks printed for the country in which they were initially intended, if I understand the language. But I can't do that with Ottolenghi's books without paying a small fortune, so I'm stuck with the American printings, errors and all.

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