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Cookbooks...beyond the recipes


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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).

I second all the above!!! The Cookwise book is a delight to read. I want to try so many of the recipes. Alas, I am in my 'Chinese' mode. My DH wants Chinese food and here we go. The old Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook is much in use. Its recipes are very basic and that's good, although it was written in 'pre-Chinese greens in the supermarket' days.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

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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)

When I come across this sort of thing, it drives me into a real rage. I want to tell them where they can "stick" their $%#@ butter. I know I can look it up on-line, yes, but I hate having to write "translations" all over my recipes. It should work from the get-go, as far as I'm concerned. It would be solved by a simple switch to proper weight measures, as others have noted. We really should organize a letter-writing campaign to publishing houses.

As for the spiral binding, I suppose I could have guessed the publishers were behind that outrage as well. What other industry makes its product with the assumption that purchasers won't ever use the product they've bought? Aside from exercise equipment manufacturers, that is.

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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)

When I come across this sort of thing, it drives me into a real rage. I want to tell them where they can "stick" their $%#@ butter. I know I can look it up on-line, yes, but I hate having to write "translations" all over my recipes. It should work from the get-go, as far as I'm concerned. It would be solved by a simple switch to proper weight measures, as others have noted. We really should organize a letter-writing campaign to publishing houses.

As for the spiral binding, I suppose I could have guessed the publishers were behind that outrage as well. What other industry makes its product with the assumption that purchasers won't ever use the product they've bought? Aside from exercise equipment manufacturers, that is.

Drives me potty too! There are so many wonderful US published books but the measurements are really off putting. The idea that a 'cup' of flour is completely different weight-wise to a 'cup' of sugar just does my head in :wacko:

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I adore baking cookbooks that provide volume measurement for ingredients alongside weight (both in ounces and grams). It's not hard to do: the better baking books (Leader, Reinhart) accomplish it with a chart-style columnar listing of ingredients. Bake for a while out of a book organized as such and you'll begin to hate all others.

On the other hand, if the author is being super-precise about process, please have a good reason for the precision. I'm thinking of RL Berenbaum's scrupulous avoidance of yeast touching salt: yes, in theory, the salt will kill some of the yeast. But not a single solitary other baking book I own requires the salt & yeast to be stirred in separately. No loaf of my thousands of loaves has failed due to salt-yeast contact....so why the big fuss?

For ethnic books, I want context: is this a festival food, or an everyday one? How did the author encounter the food or learn to prepare it? Is it associated with a particular season or event? A little ethnography helps the recipes along.

I also detest lengthy paragraphs of instructions: is it so hard to break things up with numbers or bullets? Worst of all, though, is bad color: light text on a colored background, or body copy in something other than dark colors.

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  • 3 weeks later...
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 couldn't agree more about "How to Eat Supper." It's a fine cookbook, and lately my most frequent source for an answer to the "OMG what's for dinner after work?" dilemma - but the appearance is truly dreadful. "As many typefaces onto a page as possible" is likely the dumbest idea I've EVER seen in publishing of any sort.

Edited by violetfox (log)

"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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  • 6 months later...

I just have that kind of personality, I need a well thought out index that is cross-referenced six ways from Sunday. I don't even mind a little extra weight to the book as long as I can find anything I need at a glance from the index.

"...which usually means underflavored, undersalted modern French cooking hidden under edible flowers and Mexican fruits."

- Jeffrey Steingarten, in reference to "California Cuisine".

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