Lunchtime poll – are cookbooks a cop-out?
April 6th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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I encounter a notion every once in a while - reiterated recently in an anecdote from Joe Yonan's splendid 'Serve Yourself,' wherein a potential love interest condescends to him because he's got a cookbook open on the counter - that depending upon another's recipes is essentially admitting that you can't cook. Well then, in our collective defense:

A#1: If someone is kind enough to cook for you, shut up and say "Thank you!"

B#2: Not all of us grew up at Nonna's knee, stirring the Sunday gravy and rolling the malfatti just so. We are supposed to just pick this stuff up along the street?

C#3: I've said this ad infinitum: if it tastes good, it IS good. Doesn't matter if the dish burst forth from your head fully formed, your Grandmother built the muscle memory into your little toddler hands, you picked it up watching Avec Eric or you spent hours upon hours leafing through your stash of books.

If the dish is made with love, care and the freshest ingredients the cook can find, does the source of inspiration matter?

Previously – Lunchtime poll – cooking your books and The cookbooks that changd my life

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Filed under: Books • Buzz • Cookbooks • Lunchtime Poll

soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. julesmom

    Cookbooks are great reference tools and are especially helpful if you were not raised by a parent who could cook. They also help expand your repertoire, jog your memory for other recipes, etc. Anybody who picks on you for using a cookbook is an insecure little jerk.

    April 7, 2011 at 8:48 am |
    • jules

      thanks mom!

      April 7, 2011 at 8:55 am |
  2. Justin

    Whether you're consulting a cookbook or "Nonna's knee," you're still following a recipe. So if you don't have a book open, give yourself a gold star and a pat on the back for memorizing a set of instructions. It's no reason to give folks grief for learning a new recipe.

    April 6, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  3. Lifelong Vegetarian

    I love cookbooks for initial recipe ideas. I'll modify the heck out of things, but I need to know the basic measurments and such in a recipe.before experimenting. A lot of times I'll find recipes that are fairly bland if I follow the recipe, but they get quite tasty in a hurry if I add a good combination of spices. But without earlier trial and error, I wouldn't know what those were. So yeah, recipes are necessary, and cookbooks are awesome.

    Even more so, I use cookbooks when baking. While spicing and flavor are optional in some things, the correct porportions of the basic ingredients are not negotiable. Those, I just look up.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:43 pm |
  4. Christina

    I love to use recipes and cookbooks. I don't think that it is a matter of whether you can cook or not but maybe you just need a few ideas. I like following the instructions and seeing the end product. I also like to use the idea from the recipe and put my own twist on it.

    April 6, 2011 at 6:37 pm |
  5. Miriam

    I love the cookbooks that are compilations of church women's groups, or the company cookbook my employer put together a few years back. These cookbooks have the time- and family-tested recipes that everyone loves. Instead of just your own grandma's recipes, you have the best of hundreds of grandmas' recipes.

    April 6, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
  6. Dustin Hoffman


    April 6, 2011 at 2:26 pm |
  7. Reallt

    Cookbooks are a cop-out for cooking like scripts are a cop-out for acting.

    April 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Charlie

      Did you fart, Ray? Did you fuc king fart?

      April 6, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
      • Rain Man

        I don't mind it.

        April 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
  8. Evil Grin

    Cookbooks are really no different than a family recipe. In fact many family recipes CAME from a cookbook at one time – or worse, the suggested recipe on a bag of chocolate chips.

    Cook the way you want to cook. Cookbook or no, authentic or not, healthy or not. As long as it's good for you and those you are serving, it's fine. In fact, isn't that why recipes even exist in the first place, so that many can consistently get a delicious dish?

    The only caveat to that is that if you are cooking or baking a dish from a cookbook or recipe you've gotten from somewhere and then you want to enter it into a contest or sell it as if it were your own original recipe, you'll have a problem.

    April 6, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  9. Brittany

    I agree with Doug, Meg and Melissa. You don't have to follow a recipe to a T. Sometimes cookbooks can be a great starting place, or a great way to learn a type of cuisine with which you aren't familiar. I don't often use cookbooks but when I do, I use them as sources of inspiration rather than precise instructions.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
  10. JBJingles

    About 10 years ago I compiled a cookbook for my daughters, mother, and brother with all our favorite family recipes. My daughters did not really learn to cook growing up (I had home economics, girl scouts and a mother adverse to cooking to thank for my learning). I am so pleased to see that they both use this cookbook on a regular basis and now share their recipes with me! :) I like to follow a new recipe to the letter the first time out to see if I like it, sometimes I wing it, but not often.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Miriam

      My mom did the same thing with her favorite cookie recipes. She used to make dozens of cookies, many different varieties, especially at Christmas. Now that she's gone, her homemade cookbook is a wonderful way to keep that connection alive.

      April 6, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
      • JBJingles@Miriam

        That is a wonderful idea! We used to bake for 2 weeks straight at Christmas when we were kids and mom has many unique cookie recipes from some of our Norweigian family and some from Germany. I think I will borrow this idea from you and make a new cookbook this year! Thanks!!

        April 6, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  11. mdmassimino

    Cookbooks are tools, like a knife or a sauce pan. How else do you learn how to make pasta or pie crust? Granted I only do about a tenth of what I cook out of written recipes to the letter, but I won't eschew something that looks absolutely incredible just because someone else wrote it down and paired it with a pretty picture.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  12. Amayda

    I love cookbooks of all types. And I know plenty of people that can't cook even with the use of a cookbook.
    :) Cookbooks are like textbooks, necessary tools for learning. One should never assume that they know everything already. There is always something to be learned.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:29 pm |
  13. AleeD

    This sounds like something those "foodies" would say. If there is a recipe someone wants to follow, I would imagine they would use whatever they can get their hands on . Not everyone has a PC in their kitchen or an eidetic memory.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
  14. The Witty One

    I agree with Doug. I don't actually own a "cookbook" per se, but I do use recipes to make a lot of my food. Getting the initial concepts of a recipe down is very important before you start adding/taking away things to improve on it. There's no shame in following a recipe to the letter either! Someone probably put a lot of time into that recipe and doing it their way is a nod to their time and love.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Green or red?

      Well said! Although, I would not use the phrase "improve on it". I see it more as adjusting it to better fit your personal preferences/tastes. That recipe was perfect for who wrote and published it.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
      • The Witty One@Green or Red?

        I'm going with Green.

        I was aiming towards the point you are getting at but improve was the wrong word:)

        April 6, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  15. Slippity Slappity@Kat

    Now that was a good read. I love your cookbook posts. Just to let you know, "made made " you know how those nasty Grammar Nazis are. :)

    April 6, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      Thank you! I always appreciate a good-hearted heads up on stuff like that.

      April 7, 2011 at 1:49 am |
  16. Mildred

    I'll usually cook a recipe from a book straight once, then play with it afterwards.

    Unless it's baking. Baking I tend to follow the letter of the recipe a lot more because baking involves more chemistry balance than I have the knowledge to wing it.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Allie


      April 7, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  17. Jason

    Cookbook are a great place to get ideas and learn from some of the best chefs in the world.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • Mildred

      That's true too... it seems like the cookbook sections of various bookstores just keep getting larger and larger (probably an effect of more celebrity chefs and TV shows).

      April 6, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
  18. Melissa LIttle

    I can't know it all. Most often I don't use a cookbook but that is because I spent so many years reading them. I am not Thai but I love to cook Thai food. I couldn't do it at first without one but now maybe so.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  19. meg

    I cook professionally and still use cookbooks from time to time – they're a good way of finding recipes to try out and later modify. people who turn their noses up at such things are wasting a valuable resource.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • AleeD

      Well put.

      April 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm |
  20. Doug

    Cookbooks can be a good learning tool, and source of inspiration. I don't usually follow a recipe to the letter, but if someone does, I'd never fault them.

    April 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
    • Green or red?

      I completely agree! For example: I tweaked V8's recipe for chili (NM green chiles & jalapenos instead of bell peppers, pinto and black beans instead of kidney, etc.) and it has turned out GREAT!

      April 6, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
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