Any budding bachelor cook will soon discover that it is all well and good making macaroni and cheese, but on a daily basis it starts to clog up one’s will to live. Searching around on the internet for random recipes that take your fancy is directionless at best. Sooner or later you’re going to need to get yourself some cookbooks. It’s not hard to go into a bookshop and purchase a cookbook, much like it isn’t hard to go into a supermarket and grab some bread and milk.
But random purchasing of cookbooks is very hit and miss. So here is my definitive cookbook buying guide to make your path that little bit easier.
I like Chinese food! So I will buy Chinese cookbooks! Awesome!
I don’t own any Chinese cookbooks. It’s not because I don’t like Chinese food; I do, although the Fang Fang Chinese restaurant outside of Kampala gave me a few heinous meals that caused great irritation to various parts of my body. It’s that my kitchen is not set up to cook Chinese food. I don’t just lack the ingredients, I don’t have the tools and utensils required to do it properly.
Before you choose a cookbook you need to choose a cuisine because the investment won’t be restricted to just a couple of books. My own cooking is made up of Italian and French, as well as some Dutch and a little bit of Thai. The Italian influence is obvious as I lived there for over 10 years. French cooking has a lot of crossovers with Italian cooking, I cook a bit of Dutch food because I live in Holland, and I like to branch out and cook Thai food on occasion as it is relatively simple, you only really need a wok, and it’s a nice change up for me.
I’m not including BBQing in this assessment. The BBQ is another topic all of its own.
Over the years I have collected various cookbooks based on these cuisines, although I don’t have a Dutch cookbook. Some of these cookbooks have been a great success, others far less so. The first thing you need to understand about cookbooks is that they’re not designed for you to use all the recipes. I always say that if you can get a good solid half dozen recipes out of a cookbook that become regular meals for you then that cookbook has been a success. Cookbooks that give you more than this are genuine stars. Please be aware that a book that is a star for one person can well be a complete dog for someone else. Here are my own cookbooks rated in this manner.
Is this pure Italian cooking of the highest order? Absolutely not. Does Oliver get some stuff wrong? You bet he does. Are there some terrible recipes here? The risotto section is hideous. But this is still a really solid introduction to Italian cooking, and absolutely brilliant for any cook who is just starting out. Pay particular attention to his chapter on side dishes. That is the sort of stuff that can really up your game as a home cook.
Favorite recipe? The insalata di Gennaro is brilliant. I use it all the time, particularly in the warmer months.
Simply Slow Cooking by Joanne Glynn.
I love this book and I have cooked just about every recipe in it. At least a dozen have become regular fixtures on the cooking calendar. This is food that takes a long time to cook but often not very much effort to prepare. Food you can throw in the oven or leave on top of the stove for the afternoon while you spend the day doing other things, only the wonderful smells and aromas a reminder of what delights await you for the evening meal. Just the absolute best autumn/winter cookbook.
A favorite recipe is really hard to narrow down here, but the one that really stands out and one which has been the source of multiple dinners where guests put the first forkful into their mouth and simply stop in wonderment, is the navarin of lamb.
This is the best cookbook that I own. It has never once failed me on any recipe. From Harry’s Bar in Venice, and written by owner Arrigo Cipriani, this takes sometimes complex dishes and distills them in clear, easy to follow, and above all realistic recipes for the home cook. I cannot stress this enough, but the majority of cookbooks that I have purchased which are based on restaurants have been average to extremely poor. This is because the chefs and owners write with what they create in the restaurant in mind, not what is necessarily possible at home.
But Harry’s Bar is primarily a bar, not a fine dining restaurant, so perhaps this is the difference. That and the talent, passion, and communication skills of Cipriani.
Favorite recipe? Not a recipe but a section of the book. I learned to cook risotto correctly from this book. Not just correctly, but sublimely. No small feat.
My first exposure to French cooking was the previously mentioned Simply Slow Cooking which has various French recipes in its pages. But French Roots really took me to another level with French cuisine. It is a beautiful book that I have had for only a couple of years now, but it is a firm star with numerous recipes that I turn to on a regular basis. Simple, unpretentious, and using ingredients which are for the most part readily accessible, this book also reflects my own passion for living. The couple who wrote the book have a true partnership in life and should also be considered a source of quiet inspiration for men struggling with how to proceed in the modern relationship stakes.
Favorite recipe thus far is for their roast chicken. Simple and sublime.
These are books which I use for a few recipes but for whatever reason haven’t really made that much of an impact on me. They are not bad; they just don’t speak to me as much as they would for someone else.
A beautifully presented book, and the most beautiful one that I own, it is based on a London restaurant which was inspired by Venetian cicheti bars, which is the local version of tapas. To be fair, perhaps I haven’t done enough exploring of this book as I should. Cookbooks sometimes take time to grow on you; they can sit on a shelf unused for years until one day you pick it up and suddenly it becomes your go-to book. I have hope that this will be this book’s future in my kitchen. Time will tell.
Favorite recipe is the bigoli in salsa which is just anchovy and onion pasta. A great dish that is one of our staples when the cupboard is almost bare and we’re lacking inspiration.
A very big book with hundreds of recipes. A great resource for Thai cooking but my problem is that here in Holland I have a lot of trouble sourcing even the most basic ingredients, whereas in Melbourne it was much easier. In other words, the only reason to support multiculturalism, (and it’s not enough to make up for all the negatives). If you can source the ingredients then it’s a great book.
I don’t own many cookbooks, under a dozen, and this in of itself is something important to consider. Too many cookbooks translates to too much choice and eventual indecision. I find that people with too many cookbooks seem to always cook just a very few meals. The range of choice has resulted in almost complete inaction. I have always been aware of this and thus have restricted my cookbook purchasing. When I buy a cookbook I know what I’m looking for – I want to fill a gap in my present knowledge or up my game. These two books failed miserably in that regard.
The stories in this book are wonderful. The recipes, not so much. People who defend this book cite the information that Locatelli gives on Italian ingredients in general. Well, Cipriani does the same thing in the Harry’s Bar cookbook but his recipes aren’t a bust. The recipes here are far too complicated and muddled for the average cook at home to be able to recreate them without resorting to a marathon cooking day. Open this book randomly to any page and you’re almost guaranteed to find a long list of hard to source ingredients and difficult to execute dishes.
A great example of things to consider when you’re thinking of buying a cookbook. Open it up at a random page and check out the recipe. If it’s asking you to recreate a 2 star Michelin meal then give it a miss. This one is from a restaurant chef who is a brilliant cook but assumes that everyone else possesses his ability.
Another book based on a restaurant and this one is the worst in my collection. I purchased it on a recommendation by restaurant critic John Lethlean. While I’ve never gone wrong with his recommendations for restaurants, I’ll be ignoring his advice for cookbooks from now on. To start with, there is no index in this cookbook which is simply unforgivable. It makes the book unusable on a daily basis. If I look in the fridge and I see a few ingredients and I have no idea what to do with them, barring going out to eat my first action is to take the main ingredient and look up the indexes of my books to see what I can do with it, (for example a chicken breast.) Good cookbooks have good indexes so they can be used for what they are – reference material.
I don’t know what this is. The recipes range from the pedestrian, (cold candied oranges of all things), to levels of complication and absurdness that would cause Caligula’s chef to top himself, (stewed tripe with gremolata), as well as dishes that are either completely unappealing, (boiled beef dinner), or flat out don’t work, (the sauce of the baked lamb shoulder is inedible).
I should have known when I discovered that it had a pink cover – I have no doubt that the author has pink hair as well as being a feral progressive. This is a cookbook for SJWs and I’m ashamed to have it in my collection.