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Cookbooks...beyond the recipes


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My take on it is to take one bunch of spinach, remove the stems, make one packed cup of said leaves, then chiffonade *that.*  :wacko:

That's what I did, and it was excellent. No real need to make the basil cream (1 c. chopped basil, 1/2 c. cream) just for a garnish or condiment, but the soup and aoli were great!

Life is short. Eat the roasted cauliflower first.

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I hate recipes like that.

Minutes before I read this thread I was thinking about this one, it's very common:

1 pound chicken thighs, bones removed.

I never know if that means "take 1 pound and remove the bones" or "take 1 pound boneless thighs".

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I hate recipes like that.

Minutes before I read this thread I was thinking about this one, it's very common:

1 pound chicken thighs, bones removed.

I never know if that means "take 1 pound and remove the bones"  or "take 1 pound boneless thighs".

I'm happy to see that some cookbooks now say, in the introduction or earliest chapters, exactly what they'll mean by something like that. Using the convention I seem to see most in my cookbooks, I'd take that instruction as meaning "take 1 pound thighs and remove the bones". It could be taken the other way, though.

Another ingredient listing that used to drive me crazy, but that I now find useful, is "divided": for instance, "1/4 cup butter, divided". I used to think, "what, they want me to chop it up?" But after a few times of pitching in the entire amount, only to realize later that I was supposed to save some for another part of the recipe, I've learned that it's a flag to people like me who don't mentally process a recipe without doing it once step by step.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
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"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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I've always hated seeing things like chicken breasts/thighs listed by weight. Even when I'm at my Butchers. I never want 1lb of chicken breasts. If you're anything like me, you think "I want say, 2 - 3 breasts (chicken)"

Edited by GTO (log)

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Pet peeve number bazillion. Just how big is a medium carrot, onion, shallot or garlic clove? A handful? Just how big are your hands? Medium dice? Medium to who? I can't remember what recipe I ran across that called for "thinly sliced chives" without any sort of quantify.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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I interpret the unspecified size (medium carrot) or unclear amount (like a cup of chiffonade spinich) as that the amount can be a varied a bit and the recipe will still taste good.

When recipes call for half a cup of butter divided, it would be more clear to me if they said "1/2 cup butter -2 tbs plus 6 tbs" this way I could mentally seperate the butter and not use too much.

Barb C (who confesses, she doesn't always read directions as well as ingredient lists)

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  • 1 year later...

Forgive me for reviving an old thread - this topic seems important.

My plea to cookbook authors....

Please write recipes so ingredients can be scaled - there are so many good gram scales around now, and for reasonable cost, and they make cooking so much easier and faster, and dividing a recip or increasing it is so much more easy and accurate. Gram scale are win win win....

Ingredient lists are easiest for all to use when they look like this:

Chicken, cooked and diced .........X Cups...............OR........Y Grams

Onion, minced.............................X Tbsp +Z Tsp....OR........Y Grams

Chix stock...................................X Pints................OR........Y ccs

Thanks!

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I am a very visual person and love seeing pictures of what a dish can look like and if there are alternative presentation ideas the better it is. Often, looking at a picture of a dish reveals much more about the taste and eating experience than reading a description and a recipe.

Sometimes, the description of a particular technique can also be immensely enhanced by a few pictures.

I also really hate when recipes are unnecessarily split on multiple pages. I love reading about a particular recipe, its history and associated technique but when it is time to present the recipe itself, I think a book should place all the necessary directions, including a proper ingredient list, on a single page or on two opposing pages.

Reading and cooking are two very different activities and books should reflect that.

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In addition to many comments already listed, I will share these thoughts.

I do not like it when ethic cookbooks do not include sample menus or recipe pairings.

Any chef who puts in a dessert or pastry section into their book with obviously no knowledge of baking and pastry.

Listing the prep and cook times, but failing to mention overnight marinades or rests.

Dan

"Salt is born of the purest of parents: the sun and the sea." --Pythagoras.

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  • 3 weeks later...

This is a great topic. Thank you, snowangel!

Here's my list:

CLARITY. All else can be forgiven.

Pictures, excellent quality photography, preferably not too "styled.

Nice art, in addition, is a plus - I'm thinking of Jacques Pepin's beautiful book, Chez Jacques.

Pleasant typeface.

In a functional cookbook, manageable heft. A coffeetable book can weigh as much as necessary.

Page numbers that are large, easy to read and to find.

An excellent, useful index.

I'm a huge fan of cookbooks which are clearly designed to be read, and have a nice narrative style.

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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I agree with just about all of the above.

But I would add that I have read cookbooks, since I was rather a tender age, more like most people read novels. So while it's important to have recipes that are easy to follow, and good indices, and lovely photos, etc., my very favorite cookbooks are the ones where the author really has something to say, and says it eloquently.

These are cookbooks I read again and again -- for inspiration, for rediscovery, for comfort, for the pure joy of it.

My slightly eccentric list of particular favorites, in no particular order:

- Anything by Julia Child

- Anything by James Beard

- Anything by Marcella Hazan

- The Time Life Series of Cooking Around the World (or whatever it is called)

- The New England Yankee Cookbook

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Kudos to cbread for reviving this thread. It's awful that metric measurements have only been mentioned in passing in this thread! For non USAmericans, the most stunningly frustrating aspect of so many of the world-class cookbooks coming out of the USA is the total, unremitting focus on US customary measurements, compounded by more home-oriented books being in cups'n'spoons.

-- lamington a.k.a. Duncan Markham

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - collaborative book reviews about all things food and wine

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"It's healthy. It's cake. It's chocolate cake."

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I don't think anyone mentioned my favorite pet peeve -- overwrought page design, type design, and poor choice of color.

The winner in this category is Gourmet's giant recipe book. I want that recipe book. But I could never buy it. I've touched it maybe four times, every time recoiling with horror.

IT'S YELLOW. Yellow cover, yellow TYPE.

It's obscene. You can't even read it. I'm a publishing professional and I can't imagine (well, yes I can, it usually boils down to a powerful and vocal and wrong individual) how that got out of the printer and into the warehouse let alone that far.

Lynn Rosetto Kasper's new book is atrocious. I bought it, I love Lynn, I love the book. But everytime I pick it up, I wince. I wonder if the designer tried to pack as many different typefaces onto a page as possible, just to see if she could get the design approved.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is a cookbook that will have an entire page devoted to how to shape and roll and cut a baked item to produce such-and-such result. Let's say a star shape when all is said and done.

AND THERE IS NO PICTURE.

Hell, I could draw anything I baked on a napkin and that would say more than a page long description of what it looks like.

I'm done. I feel better. Thanks for listening.

I like to bake nice things. And then I eat them. Then I can bake some more.

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good stuff mentioned already!

I want a clear and complete index, none of that "roasted potatoes, see potatoes - roasted", just give me the damn page number!

A complete and well organized content section

Page numbers on all pages on the lower outside, no matter if there's a photo or not

Chapter names repeated all through the chapter on top of the page (soups, meats, etc)

volume AND metric measures

None of the "one bunch" "three small" or "one medium" nonsense.

Pictures (photo or drawing) of the most important things

Pictures of the finished dish, preferable in full focus, none of that arty macro stuff. And please, photos that show the dish as written about, not photos of a dish that's clearly missing an ingredient or shows something not mentioned in the recipe

No colored gigantic font gimmicks in different sizes all over, mini quotes from the recipe scattered about, no colored pages. It's not a magazine and it's bad enough that magazines do that.

Good binding and paper

I like if the picture of the slip cover is repeated on the actual book too.

Page marker strings are nice

Short introductions/stories about recipes and nice introductions to the chapters

Rather less good recipes than 1001 "best" recipes

Source lists for the harder to find items are nice too.

Glossary explaining the more exotic things.

No page jumping or at least note it clearly on top with the ingredients that I'll need sauce dingeling (page 129) in the middle of a recipe. I know, I should read it all and I do, but still....

Hard cover option

And don't cover the back or inside flaps with useless quotes by celebs, tell me what the book is about.

Oh, and no Rachel Ray anywhere on or in the book of course ;-p

Edited by OliverB (log)

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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At the end of the day, all I really want is a spiral binding.

But that pretty much never happens, I'm sure for some super-logical reason.

Because you can't read the title of the book when it's sitting on the shelf at the bookstore if there's no binding to write it on. Publishers don't like that. (Yes, I've explored the spiral binding for my next book . . )

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I want explanations of what essential role ingredients play in a recipe. I tend to hack recipes into tiny bits and put them back together. If the milk in a recipe is providing fat that is needed to make the dish work, don't just list whole milk as an ingredient. Let me know WHY - so I don't use skim milk.

Yes. I know that I am unreasonably demanding.

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At the end of the day, all I really want is a spiral binding.

But that pretty much never happens, I'm sure for some super-logical reason.

Because you can't read the title of the book when it's sitting on the shelf at the bookstore if there's no binding to write it on. Publishers don't like that. (Yes, I've explored the spiral binding for my next book . . )

I have a couple art instruction books that are spiral bound but also have a back spine, the whole think it mounted inside the hardcover. Probably won't work for a fat book though.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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...

I have a couple art instruction books that are spiral bound but also have a back spine, the whole think it mounted inside the hardcover. Probably won't work for a fat book though.

Step forward The Harvey Nicols Fifth Floor Cookbook http://www.amazon.co.uk/Harvey-Nichols-Fif.../dp/1857028597/ the copy of which that I have is 'fat', is wire bound and is encased in a hardcover.

Unfortunately, the wire binding is too tight, and not strong enough for the weight of paper. The pages suffer when turned (you can't flick through them fast when looking for something) -- but it does stay open at the right page beautifully, once you've found it!.

Good content too BTW.

Binding aside, there's the editorial content and the presentation. Its only when the same words get republished with different page layouts and different pictures that you really appreciate how the 'tone' of the writing needs to be reflected in the 'tone' of the presentation!

There's a whole lot of things to be got right simultaneously - and that must be terribly difficult.

Common things that I find off-putting in American books include - volume measures for loose solids, and the use of 'customary measures' - like "a stick of butter" (which is meaningless outside the USA), and references to ingredients only by a non-international brand name.

I can handle Fahrenheit, but its not hard to put Centigrade in as well. But if you are going to do conversions - get them right!

Something that seems much rarer in US recipe books (a specific subset of books on cooking) is attention being paid to designing the page layouts (and even ordering) so that recipes do not involve page-turning!

In recipe books, I like to see call-outs not just for the ingredients (in order of use), but also of the timing. And its wonderous to find the occasional author who flags up the 'holds' in the countdown!

I'm not so keen on seeing substitutions routinely, but what I really do like are the suggestions for recipe variation as regularly offered by Nigel Slater, for one.

Where small quantities of real oddities are called for (pomegranate chutney springs to mind), it'd be nice to have a cross reference (somewhere) to other recipes that use it. And if there's only one recipe in the book that uses it, maybe that recipe's inclusion should be reconsidered, its method re-thought or, OK, some ideas given on substitution or working around.

And in this day and age, just how difficult can it be to have a web presence for the title with any errata, clarifications and maybe even 'bonus content' that failed to make the final edit?

That sort of 'customer care' brings loyalty. But its a trick too often missed.

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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Some books have a web presence, which is really nice IMO. Actually, I'd love a website or tool where I can enter all the books I have and the site will then load all the indexes and contents into an interactive application. It's too often that I remember reading a recipe but can't remember where. And often I have something (lamb chops or striped bass etc) and it would be nice to have all my book's contents accessible so I can search for recipes. I'm sure one day this will come, but I'd like to have that today. I often end up using some online recipe because I can't find the one I'm looking for and don't have time to page through all my books.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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Some books have a web presence, which is really nice IMO.  ...

Oh yes, some do. My concern is that the majority of 'serious' cooks' books don't have such a web presence!

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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A typical pet peeve: in a recipe I read today in a 'neo-Pagan' cookbook, a recipe for a quasi-Mexican casserole called for '8 ounces of garbanzo beans, drained' and the next line called for '8 ounces of chickpeas, drained' . Am I missing something here? Aren't they the same thing, first in Spanish or Italian, and second in English? They taste the same to me! :blink:

"Commit random acts of senseless kindness"

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My "favorite" cookbook changes from time to time, according to what my current cooking craze is. Currently I'm exploring different ethnic/national cuisines, and enjoying cookbooks that focus on different regions. But I'm also learning about new ingredients and techniques, and I like cookbooks that have an educational component; Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything and Shirley Corriher's Cookwise are a couple of my favorites.

And as many other posters have mentioned, an easy-to-read ingredient list, a book that lies flat when opened, and an index that can be easily read -- with the main ingredient in bold or larger type, and the permutations of it it in lightface.

Stories and anecdotes are great, too. Make me WANT to try that recipe! And if a specific ingredient is absolutely essential to a recipe, let me know that (I'm fond of tweaking, and appreciate being told if something's just not subject to a tweak).

Don't ask. Eat it.

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