1. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    What do you love about cookbooks?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by The Dapper Hooligan, Mar 21, 2019.

    Whether you're a professional chef or appetizer amateur, chances are if you like cooking (or even just the thought of it) you've got one, two, or maybe a dozen cookbooks sitting on your shelf. Some are indispensable, while others are kinda meh. To the culinary inclined: What makes a cookbook good? What are your favourite features and what are your most hated, and what is it that you think separates the good from the bad and the downright ugly?
     
  2. Reece

    Reece Senior Member

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    I just want clear pictures and concise instructions. I don't like it when there is a life story in between the ingredients and how to prepare them. Blogs are awful for this too.
     
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  3. EFMingo

    EFMingo A Modern Dinosaur Staff Supporter Contributor

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    What I've found is that if certain specific sounds or critical images are included, this can be the difference between an okay meal and a great one. This could be a certain type of browning your looking for in the meat or vegetables, or sounds to listen for in the case making specific sauces and levels of boiling.

    Also the specific types of cooking apparatus and pans used can really help. Different metals have different residual heats and can cook at very different temperatures. This can render timing placed in cookbooks to be incorrect.
     
  4. Laughing Rabbit

    Laughing Rabbit Active Member

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    I don't like to cook, but I very often find myself in that role. So what I like to see in a cook book is clear, concise instructions, decent pictures, and clear measurements. It helps to have a chart outlining measurements, an explanation of the difference between wet and dry measurements, and a conversion chart for C/F. Also a chart that gives alternatives/substitutes to certain ingredients (can butter be used instead of margarine, etc). I want a cook book that doesn't assume the reader knows everything about baking, frying, boiling, etc. and gives simple to understand explanations.
     
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  5. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    If I could get an ideal cookbook, it would put the instructions on the left, then detailed tips on the right.

    If the left says to split a squash, then cut it into thin slices, on the right I would like to see how thin, and what to do with the ends.

    If it says “season with salt and pepper” after every step on the left, on the right I’d like specifics on how much to season it with. Why every step? Why not just at the end?

    Bonus points for recipies that are healthy, despite using the whole package of ingredients. It drives me nuts when they ask for a spoon full of something perishable. Oh, one spoon of sour cream? I guess I’m eating sour cream every day this week.
     
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  6. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    The anthropomorphic illustrations - happy spoons, smiling eggs, mama cake with junior cake slice.

    Seriously though - I like the books that have minimal ingredients. Too many cook books I've run into and thought -- sheesh, do all these people spend every dime they have on fresh tarragon and Chinese cooking wine? I want simple a.k.a cheap and good.
     
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  7. Maggie May

    Maggie May Active Member

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    Love cookbooks that are from churches/schools.... where real people submit their recipes. You know darn well that if you put in something that does not work someone will call you on it. The ingredients tend to be items you can find in the grocery store and are not super expensive. I like recipes that have simple instructions, limited ingredients and steps. Although I will try something with more ingredients if they are "normal", easy to find. Pages have to be easy to read photos are nice but not required. I like an index in the back so I can highlight recipes that I have tried. I'll write next to the recipe: good or bad so I know if I want to try again.
     
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  8. JLT

    JLT Contributor Contributor

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    One of my favorite and most invaluable cookbooks isn't really a cookbook at all. It's How To Repair Food by John and Marina Bear. Its premise is that, no matter how good a cook you are, there are times when you screw up or run out of an ingredient or didn't prepare for more than a certain number of diners. So you look up the situation in the book and it tells you how to recover or substitute another ingredient or improvise another dish at the last minute. And, unlike most cookbooks, it's a joy to read -- wry and funny as well as informative. It should be on every foodie's bookshelf. I understand that their daughter has come out with a revised edition that better reflects the kind of eating we do nowadays, but keeps the information of the older edition intact.
     
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  9. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I have a full height bookcase just for cookbooks. A bad cookbook is one that is padded out with oversized pictures and lots of blank space just to make it thicker with less content.

    My MOST treasured cookbook is a Fannie Farmer cookbook from around 1970. Lots of great, basic recipes and several that I haven't found similar ones anywhere else. I wore out my original copy, but found a used one that DOESN'T have the pages falling out. Earlier and later cookbooks from the same source are not even close to being as good.

    The main theme to my collection is variety of cuisines. I have several bread books, because I enjoy the art of breadmaking that much. But most of my cookbooks represent different cultures all over the planet.
     
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  10. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I like this idea a lot. Earlier I was thinking something similar about the fluff bits that generally accompany a recipe, having them in a separate column from the recipe, so it's there for people who like them, but doesn't actually get between the top of the page and the actual information.

    Would you prefer this all explained in the recipe it pertains to, or would some sort of appendices with references in appropriate places work?

    This is something I'd have a hard time with. Being in the north, I usually assume that if I can get it, then most people can, but I also have a tarragon patch near the house, and even though it's only really available for about one month of the year, it's also not something I have to hunt for.
     
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  11. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    My wife's family sent us a couple weeks of Blue Apron. It was really nice of them. The food boxes come with recipes that use exactly what was packaged. That's all I was thinking about. They give really minimal instructions, but it is pretty easy / obvious how to do everything if you cook a little.

    There were just times here and there where I was confused by a direction and winged it rather than youtubing it. Seasoning with salt and pepper four times during the process was one of them. "Cut thin" was another. It's hard to tell exactly what they were picturing, or if it even matters.
     
  12. Laughing Rabbit

    Laughing Rabbit Active Member

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    I'd prefer it be in a separate page such as an appendix, with a notation on where to look. One problem I've had with a recipe book was wordiness, the page would be so filled with information that it was difficult to read. I like tips and such, but not on the page with the recipe itself, I like them to be orderly with easy to see separations of ingredients and instructions and a clear picture.

    Also, thinking about it, what would benefit me would be having a "beginners" level cookbook, with very simple recipes using everyday ingredients. Possibly a series, working up from beginner to expert level with the more complicated recipes that include hard-to-find ingredients. Too often these beginner and expert levels are in the same book and I can't use half the recipes.
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I love to cook and own lots of cookbooks. So does my husband. We not only do traditional cooking, but lots of ethnic cooking as well. So I guess we're a good market for cookbook authors! We not only cook from scratch at home every day, but also enjoy giving dinner parties as well, so it's a big part of our life.

    I love reading ABOUT food as well, so some of my favourite books (The Joy of Cooking, for example) have a lot of information in them. However, I do appreciate it when the recipes are clearly presented, for when I go to cook with them. Even better if the ingredients for each step are separated. Cake recipe ingredients are separated from frosting ingredients, etc.

    Photos are great as well, as long as they give plenty of space for the actual recipes.

    I like @John Calligan 's suggestion about separating the tips from the actual instructions.

    There are cookbooks I own that are so reliable the recipes never go wrong. Others aren't quite as reliable, but they contain some good ideas that I can adapt. The ones that are neither usually end up in the charity shop bin.

    My one pet peeve at the moment—and I find this in lots of magazine and newspaper 'recipe' sections—is the penchant for being too 'cheffy' and requiring all sorts of ingredients that are practically impossible to get, or are far too expensive for people to afford. The world doesn't need more chefs, in my opinion. The world needs more home cooks.

    My three most basic cookbooks that contain not only reliable recipes, but also excellent instructions, are these (below.) None of these have an easy 'use' setup, because they contain a lot of information. I generally copy the ingredients for a recipe onto a sheet of paper and use that in the kitchen, after I've read and understood the method from the cookbook. However, these are all basically good cookbooks.

    The Joy of Cooking has been revised umpteen times. I don't know what the pictured one is like, as mine is a much older model. This book is excellent for methods and learning about food, but I don't use it all that much for its recipes, I must say. The recipes are okay, but tend toward the bland and predictible, rather than the unique. (At least in the edition I use.)

    The Cookery Year is an 'older' cookbook as well, but it contains wonderful photos, and separate sections about ingredients and kitchen utensils, and ranges from very simple traditional foods to quite elaborate ones. I've never had a recipe from that cookbook go wrong. It really is set up for people in the UK, however, so Americans might struggle with the measurements and also with finding some of the ingredients. But if you live in the UK, this one is a 'must.' It really is. You could live your entire life with this cookbook and no other!

    The Vegetarian Epicure
    (1&2) is a book I still use all the time, even though I was only a vegetarian for a couple of years, back in the early 1980s. But those recipes are wonderful, and can easily be adapted for meat eaters.
    cook 1.png cook 2.png cook 3.png
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2019
  14. Earp

    Earp Not Sorry Contributor

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    I don't much like to cook, so I only have one cookbook, the Betty Crocker Cookbook (with the red plaid cover). It was the one my mother used most, and I think her mother before her. These days, I mostly get recipes from the internet, though the blog-type sites which require you to scroll down past several pages of over-sized images and folksy crap about the author's 'hubby' and kids are ruining that for me.
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, gosh, I used to have access to that one, and I do remember it was good. It belonged to my roommate, though, so I never owned it. But it was a classic, wasn't it?
     
  16. Laughing Rabbit

    Laughing Rabbit Active Member

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    Oh, I remember the Betty Crocker (yellow plaid cover) cookbook, it was the only one we used growing up! It was so well-used that it was literally falling apart - pages were actually crumbling from years worth of use.
     
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  17. DPena

    DPena Member

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    I love cookbooks because they've actually been proof-read and edited.

    I swear 99% of the "foodies" that decide to have their own blogs don't even read over the crap they write. I've gotten halfway through a recipe so many times, and run into either contradicting measurements or redundant instructions, that I've started pre-reading a recipe (after skimming through the fourteen paragraphs of how even Little Billy likes it) and following it step by step in my head. A lot of times I end up either doing my own thing with the ingredients they list, or I eliminate steps and extra dishes by just using some common cooking sense. (For example, an Instant Pot recipe that uses the sautee function to cook the entire meal, THEN the actual pressure function to basi

    I'm not a master chef by any means but I've been cooking since I was 13 and I know my way around a kitchen. Most of these blog writers don't deserve half the clicks they get.

    /triggered
     
  18. Malisky

    Malisky Fortune cookie Contributor

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    1) Tasty recipes! :D
    2) Bulleted illustrations upon steps, so you can be certain that you are in the right direction.
    3) Big, final illustration for the outcome. (This is my personal taste, but I like realistic photos. Some cookbooks use over stylised images that come from plastic components in order to make the outcome look prettier).
    4) A thorough breakdown upon the ingredients and the equipment you need to use and as an extra, some patents you can create if you lack said ingredients or equipment, would be useful.
    5) Good book binding and preferably, thick, plastic coated paper (the one that is reflective and is difficult to get creased or stained).

    Cookbooks differ greatly one from the other due to the level of cooking one might be interested in, or its' specialty (vegetarian cuisine, italian cuisine, etc). Are you thinking about making a cookbook?
     
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  19. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    OK, Dap, you asked for it... :) My first career goal was to attend Le Cordon Bleu and become a chef. As as a result, I have a 6-foot by 3-foot bookcase full of cookbooks, most of them vintage, as well as a box of heirloom cookbooks from family members. Due to space limitations, I'm extremely picky about what makes it to the bookcase. For one thing, it has to be hardcover, with a durable binding. Paperback cookbooks aren't durable enough, and both hardcover editions of The Joy of Cooking in my collection are falling apart even though I don't use it often.

    Jean Anderson is well-known in cookbook circles as one of the best cookbook authors of all-time, because she writes clear instructions, knows food chemistry, and thoroughly tests the recipes. Seek out her work. She's won many awards. My favorite basic cookbook in my collection is a 1985 edition of The New Doubleday Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Elaine Hannah (very durable binding on that one, by the way). I've never had a Jean Anderson recipe fail, ever.

    Others I use a lot are the 1956 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, which I mainly use for baked goods and its reliable recipes for white sauce, the 1926 and 1934 editions of The Settlement Cookbook, and Ina Garten's Barefoot Contessa cookbooks (especially the first one). For French recipes I like Jacques Pepin, and I use Larousse Gastronomique for basic reference. Julia Child is great too, but Jacques Pepin was one of her first editors / recipe testers, so I usually default to him first.

    Here are the things most of my favorite cookbooks have in common:

    No pre-fab ingredients or mixes. If I see something like packaged taco seasoning, I'm out, mainly due to food allergies. Also, packaged ingredients tend to be regional. We don't use many of them in Southern California, but go to some parts of the South and you'll find every variety of Lipton soup mix.

    A section that details the author's preferred equipment and ingredient brands and why. Ina Garten's and The Frugal Gourmet's cookbooks have this section, and I always find it helpful. For certain ingredients, I want to know what brands the author used:

    The flavor and texture of mayonnaise varies tremendously from brand to brand, for example (Best Foods is more lemony, Kraft isn't as thick and is less lemony, Sir Kensington's is a whole different animal from either of them.)
    Hot sauce, chili sauce, and salsa are another thing that vary widely from brand to brand, and choosing the wrong "salsa verde" can ruin a recipe because some are mild and vinegary and tomatillo-based, and some are firey hot and jalapeno-based.

    Butter can be different, too. Are they using Irish butter, European butter, or generic supermarket's own brand butter, and is it salted or unsalted? Is maple syrup real Grade A amber, or are they using Mrs. Butterworth's?

    What size eggs? Using extra-large eggs vs. "eggs" which tend to be smaller, changes the moisture content in baked goods.

    A section that explains the author's terminology (sometimes this is part of the preferred brands and equipment section, which is fine). Are the author and I speaking the same language when we say "bulb of garlic" or "stalk of celery" or "celery hearts" or "cracked pepper"? Maybe, maybe not. One of us may be using chef terminology, and one of us may be using regional terminology. "Chopped" is vague. Does the author mean "quarter-inch dice", "minced", or something else? Chopping things different ways can affect flavor and texture. (Overchopped celery or onions in some recipes can make watery mush. Chop the ingredients for pico de gallo too coarsely, and it's flavorless.)

    If a recipe calls for a can of something, such as tomato sauce or tomato paste, I want to know the exact amount used, in ounces or cups, as opposed to "small can" or "large can". Can sizes change over the years and sometimes sizes differ from brand to brand.

    How do I know when it's done? This is especially important with things like seafood and baked goods. Some cakes shrink away from the pan, some spring back to the touch, some do best with the clean toothpick test. Should the cookies be brown? Should they be slightly soft in the middle and firm up as they cool, or should they be crisp? Should that savory cheesecake have a quarter-size jiggly part in the middle when it's done, or should it be totally firm? Brownies are another thing that can vary from recipe to recipe.

    If it's a classic recipe, I want a short blurb about its history and what changes the author has made to the recipe, so a purest searching for a recipe for a theme night or class project knows whether or not the recipe is made in the "traditional" way. Ina Garten and the Frugal Gourmet cookbooks are great about this.

    Lastly, since anyone can write a recipe blog or put out a cookbook, I'm more likely to choose recipes by someone who shows a basic knowledge of either classic technique or food chemistry. An author who claims margarine can be substituted for butter in any recipe, for example, is immediately suspect to me. No, you can't, because butter performs different functions in some recipes that margarine is unable to do because of its moisture content. Same goes for sugar/Splenda/agave. So if a recipe says "butter or margarine" or "Sugar or Splenda" I expect that author to have thoroughly tested the recipe using both, and I want to know which the author prefers. (I also want to know what brand of margarine, and whether it's tub or stick, because the moisture content varies between them.)

    If you're writing a cookbook and need a recipe tester or Beta, let me know. As long as the book isn't centered around an ingredient I'm allergic to, I'd absolutely be up for that!
     
  20. Earp

    Earp Not Sorry Contributor

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    This probably belongs in the 'things that annoy me' thread, but I've pointed people to a recipe in a cookbook or online and had them come back and say the dish was terrible. Of course, "I replaced the butter with sour cream and left out the brown sugar and green chiles". If someone (or a cookbook) offers you a recipe, I think you have a moral obligation to make the dish exactly as described the first time. You can fiddle with it the next time.
     
  21. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Yes! This exactly.
     
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  22. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    You'll be first on my list. All great advice! Thank you. :)
     
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  23. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    Ina Garten's cookbooks use pics of the real, unaltered dishes at her insistence, but they're gorgeously photographed, so for me, hers set the bar. The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook and Barefoot Contessa Parties are two that come to mind. Pretty sure she has the credits in the resource section, but one of the photographers of some of her books is Miguel Flores-Vianna.

    You're welcome, and thank you. :)
     
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2019
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  24. Cdn Writer

    Cdn Writer Contributor Contributor

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    Just a quick note, if you write a cook book, it would be AWESOME if you could somehow have samples of the finished product available for the reader to taste test. That's what I loathe about cook books and tv shows - "all done! Here's how it looks after it's cooked! Bye-bye!" And you don't even get a taste....lol!
     
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