Bon Appetit‘s Christmas edition includes an article recommending eight cookbooks as holiday gifts. It really annoyed me.
One of the recommended books focuses on cooking unusual cuts of meat. Who’s going to do that? Last fall, I needed a bottom round roast for a fabulous Argentinian beef recipe, and it took G. a couple of weeks to find one. He ultimately got lucky with a butcher who took the order and cut the roast off the next cow to come in. But I’m guessing butchers like that are rare these days, and unless you know one, or you butcher your animals yourself, it’s going to be hard to find these odd bits.
The magazine’s list of best cookbooks reminded me of a New York Times review of summer cookbooks. It hit the nail on the head with this comment:
Cookbooks aren’t really about cooking, and haven’t been since the advent of color photography and food stylists. They’re mostly lifestyle catalogs, aspirational instruction manuals for lives we’d like to live.
That article also made me angry because the author didn’t really seem to find anything wrong with this. It made me wonder, am I the only one who wants cookbooks that actually help you cook?
I refuse to believe this, and so, I am offering an alternative list. Actually, it’s not a list, it’s just a quick summary of the two cookbooks I fell in love with this year. I own both, with copies in each house, and I’m giving them for Christmas. And no, the authors didn’t pay me to say that.
My favorite new cookbook is Kathleen Flinn’s Kitchen Counter Cooking School in which she takes nine non-cooks and teaches them basics, like how to make soup, roast a chicken and make use of leftovers. Her instructions and the recipes included in the book are simple, but the results are good. And, she gives a lot of examples of ways to alter recipes by changing a few spices or one or two ingredients so that you can have endless variations.
If you don’t cook and want to, this is the book to buy. If you want to cook better at home, this is the book to buy. And if you want to save money and waste less food, this is the book to buy. There’s a whole chapter on how to use leftovers and those random bits of pepper, onion and other basics that usually linger in the refrigerator until they’ve gone bad.
The book also is a good story. Flinn was inspired to teach the class by a chance encounter in the grocery store with a financially strapped woman who couldn’t cook and didn’t realize how much money it would save her. Flinn’s students got free lessons, but they had to agree to let her look at in their kitchen cabinets and refrigerators before classes started and again when they ended. The transformation was fantastic.
My other go-to cookbook is Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio. I know, you were going to guess this, right? I think I mention it in every other blog post. But, I use it all the time. Learning the basic ratios in vinaigrette, bread and muffins and other foods has allowed me to make better use of the ingredients I have on hand. I’m making fewer trips to the grocery store because I’m substituting in smart ways. And, even more exciting, I’m actually creating some of my own recipes. If you’re a good home cook and you want to take it to the next level, buy this book.
And, if you buy one of these books, or get one as a gift, tell your friends. Spread the word. Let’s boost their sales and let publishers know that there are people who still want cookbooks they can use.