Lunchtime poll – cooking your books
April 4th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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One of the loveliest presents I've ever gotten is a place to put my cookbooks. This may have been, in part, a measure of self-preservation by my husband (he's neat and I'm decidedly not), but I could not have been more touched by the effort to which he went building shelves to accommodate my frankly ridiculous collection.

It's since overflowed the bounds of the four levels, spilling out in messy stacks from the hobnailed shelves. During the week they remain largely untouched. Douglas and I get home late and generally ravenous and on the nights we don't opt for a quick call to Red Hot Szechuan or a taco jaunt, we go with the tried and true. Either one of us could roast a chicken, grill a fish, saute vegetables to toss with pasta or compose an elaborate salad with our eyes closed. It's not terribly ambitious, but it is mostly from scratch and certainly doesn't necessitate a consultation of the manual.

On weekends, though, I dive in. Sometimes I page through, seeking inspiration. Nope, don't have a $55 can of black truffle juice on hand for David Waltuck's Chicken Demi-Deuil from (the dearly departed) Chanterelle restaurant's cookbook and am generally fresh out of xanthan gum for Grant Achatz's Asparagus Coulis from 'Alinea' - but there's a good chance those aspirational recipes will plant the seeds for an achievable, low-key version I can say was inspired by a master.

Others, like 'Staff Meals from Chanterelle,' Marco Canora's 'Salt to Taste,' Ellie Krieger's 'The Food You Crave,' The Hearty Boys' 'Talk with Your Mouth Full,' and countless spiral-bound community cookbooks like 'Charleston Receipts', "Talk About Good' and 'Be Milwaukee's Guest' are oil-spattered, sauce stained, flour-dusted and lovingly adhered to. I'll also select an ingredient and pop over to where I've indexed my collection on Eat Your Books and see if there's a relevant recipe.

As much as I love to riff from what the market presents me - a fiddlehead here and a lamb liver there - I deeply appreciate the inherent community of a cookbook. I'm not alone in the kitchen; these recipes are time-tested, much loved and are borne from the faith that someone's culinary vision is worth preserving.

I welcome those extra sets of hands in my home - at least until Monday rolls around.

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Filed under: Books • Buzz • Cookbooks • Lunchtime Poll • Think

soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Mildred

    I voted other because the following answers apply:

    An emphatic YES!
    Only when I'm really stuck on something like proportions
    For inspiration, but not actual recipes
    I use the internet
    I just wing it
    I learned everything I needed to from a teacher or relative

    I'll usually use a cookbook recipe or a recipe off the internet "as is" once, then start tweaking from there. Sometimes I'll just look at a recipe for inspiration or general proportions on something I'm improvising. I also have some recipes that I've learned from another person (like my recipe for schi, a Russian soup, that I got from my Russian teacher, or my pasta puttanesca that I got from my fiance, who got got it from his mother), and things that I've learned *not* to do from another person (my mother wasn't much of a cook).

    April 5, 2011 at 9:01 am |
  2. AleeD

    I have cookbooks I don't use and would like to find them a good home. Is there a cookbook lovers charity I could donate to?

    April 5, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Mildred

      I'm almost tempted to say "me!" but I have to de-clutter my house and cannot take more cookbooks at the moment. :)

      April 5, 2011 at 9:03 am |
  3. kat

    I collect cookbooks. Love them. Live alone now so its challenging 4 me to cook for just myself. At times I find myself reading them like one does regular books lol. When I come across a pic or recipe that really catches my eye, I'll whip it up.

    April 5, 2011 at 3:25 am |
  4. Lucy@acookandherbooks

    I use the internet too much – it takes away from my quality cookbook time. I like the familiarity of my favorite books, and the surprises from new books. No surprises with internet searches – you get what you type in.

    April 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  5. RichardHead@Our Fearless Leader-Ms Kat Kinsman

    Proud of Ya for collecting the writings of our Mothers and GrandMothers. Question for you though,I have two 1950's Sunbeam mixers,with frosted white bowls and the mixing hooks. They both still work and don't want to send them to the dump. Is there a clearing house for these appliances? Thanks and keep up the good work. SLT needs a BIGGER desk.

    April 4, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  6. Denizen Kate

    I use cookbooks when I'm in the mood to try something new. I'll follow the recipe the first time, then often improvise with variations thereafter.

    April 4, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
  7. MethHead McTwitchy

    I cook all the time. Know all my recipes by heart. Don't need no stinkin' books.

    April 4, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  8. David

    After many years of cooking, now for just myself and my daughter, and always adhering to cookbooks I have finally from time to time go "off book" and just wing it! And..I have actually made up complete entrees from scratch, my own creations. However, I do love Jewish Cooking in America and I inherited Betty Crocker's 40th Anniversary cookbook, both good standbys. I have decided it is time my daughter to learn how to cook as well. I am starting with scrambled eggs. One new dish a month. P.S. I laughed out loud from the comment by Mare@EG, "freestyle baby!

    April 4, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  9. alr

    I'm a sucker for Christmas cookbooks! I love both Southern Living and Gooseberry Patch. I've also used several recipes from the Barefoot Contessa line of cookbooks as well for multiple occasions.

    April 4, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  10. Rafaelpirata

    Ok...I do about all of the above. There are some things I can cook in my sleep, tried and true recipes that just happen, and they are usually always a tad different. On the other hand I love using cookbooks especially for some gourmet type recipes. On the other hand, I like to use them too to just get ideas and innovate. On the other hand I larned to cook from my Dad especially and he did all of the above! Sometimes it helps to have a nice guide, sometimes I just wing it. Cooking is making love with food. Recipes are nice, but can only go so far.

    April 4, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  11. amanda

    i use Mastering the Art of French cooking all winter long. i have been cooking with Julia for over a year.

    April 4, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  12. Kacey

    In my family recipes are nothing more than a suggestion, if they exist at all. Nothing is measured, spices are chosen by scent, and our most traditional meals, all Eastern European in descent, are taught only through mimicry since it has never actually been written down. So my cookbook collection, which has been loving scribbled and stained, has never actually been used directly. I am inspired by ingredient mixtures, encouraged by photographs and sometimes I even set out to follow a recipe if I am baking (yet I always end up adding something or taking something out or changing the amount) but I have not once taken a recipe and executed it exactly as the cookbook intends.

    April 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  13. AleeD

    Recipes for baking; cookbooks for ideas.

    April 4, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Mare@Alee

      As I was taught in school, Baking is more like Chemistry, and cooking, well throw something together that tastes right.

      April 4, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • AleeD@Mare

      That's why I follow most baking recipes to a T. Adding more chocolate chips isn't going to hurt a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Adding more sugar can – if you don't know what you're doing. If I baked more often, I would feel more confident about baking experiments.

      Cooking? Love those experiments!

      April 5, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  14. Yenta Mary

    Sometimes I cook straight from the book, sometimes I peruse for inspiration, sometimes I read the narratives (because, of course, any good cookbook actually tells stories). My cookbooks are beloved friends - always there to be relied upon when needed, for whatever my needs may be ....

    April 4, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  15. The Witty One

    Internet all the way! I don't even own a cookbook. That sort of makes me sad...

    April 4, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  16. Evil Grin

    I use cookbooks sometimes to get a familiar food right, or for things that have very specific ingredient lists and portions that I want to make sure I get right. I do often grab recipes off of the internet, though, because I'm lazy and might not want to go through six cookbooks to find a certain recipe. Every so often I'll use a cookbook for inspiration, but I tend to look for the strangest foods I can when I do this.

    April 4, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Mare@EG

      I'm with you. Comfort foods that I don't make all the time, need a cookbook. Odd foods, internet – everything else... freestyle baby.

      April 4, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  17. Tazer

    I use my cookbooks as a place to start, and then make the recipe the way I want to. Usually turns out pretty good!

    April 4, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
  18. Amayda

    I love cookbooks/food magazines for inspiration and actual recipes. I try to make it first following the recipe and then if I liked it I go back and personalize it. I also use the internet quite a bit when I am in a pinch. When I know I have seen a recipe for something I am craving, but can't remember which book it came out of, I google it. :)

    April 4, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  19. Rachel

    I absolutely use cookbooks! Even though I'm a huge fan of online recipes and food blogs, there's something about opening up a page of a beautiful cookbook, getting it splattered with a little love, earmarking your favorite pages, and leaving handwritten notes on minor/major adjustments made to a recipe. And then you can pass it down to your kids for the next generation to enjoy.

    April 4, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
  20. brhau

    I was humbled when I once visited a friend and saw that she had ~200 post-its in Bittman's HTCE. Now THAT's someone getting max value from a cookbook! Me? I keep ONE row of heavy rotation books in the kitchen. For reference and inspiration. The rest of my ridiculous collection goes in cold storage.

    April 4, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  21. JBJingles

    I have the old Betty Crocker Cook Book, have had one in the house for 30 years. It is that book that you can find just about anything in it...not sure what goes in stroaganoff, it's there. I refer my husband to it often. Then I have a few that I use for special occasions, or entertaining. Like the author said, most days it is simple and no book necessary. Weekends, I search the internets for inspiration when not watching the cooking shows! :)

    April 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • jillmarie

      I used to use my mom's old Betty Crocker cookbooks growing up- I made some fancy stuff for a preteen, lol. seriously, those books combined with Home Ec classes taught me how to cook.
      I, too look to the internet whenever I'm looking for a particular recipe. I love retro cookbooks from the 70's, too. I love kitsch! Plus, you find some hidden gems. Some of the more modern recipes come from Rachael Ray- love her!

      April 4, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  22. Jdizzle McHammerpants

    I find a relatively unknown book The Kama Sutra to be an excellent resource on those slow days you have a little extra time for this kind of stuff. Check it out sometime.

    April 4, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
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