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Favorite Cookbooks: Let's Get Practical

A-photo-of-Chuck-MalloryThere is one thing almost every cook has in common: he or she has a favorite cookbook. Sometimes it’s the one Mom used. Or a church cookbook featuring the recipes of friends and neighbors. It might be a classic, such as the Joy of Cooking. But strangely, I’ve found I cannot pick one cookbook as a favorite. Maybe it’s because I own so many: my philosophy is that it is never an indulgence to have as many cookbooks as you want, because they can be used many times. I can’t even name a favorite few cookbooks. I have favorites by category! 

Here are my favorite side-dish cookbooks. For those who grow their own garden, have an ample root cellar, or just love to cook vegetables in creative ways, any of these are as good as gold. You won’t find a title like Best American Side Dishes here, the tome from Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, because I like the personality of an author to come through. It’s like the two of you are in the kitchen, cooking together. Ironically, none of these are strictly side-dish cookbooks; they are the standouts because they but have such a good array of recipes for side dishes. 

greensGreens: A Country Garden Cookbook by Sibella Kraus (Collins, 1993). It’s easy to produce a salad. But if you want to include other, super-healthy greens in your diet—kale, collard, mustard greens, turnip greens, sorrel, chards—it is a challenge to cook them in a variety of ways. This is one of those books I like because it showed me ingredient pairings I couldn’t have thought of. Knowing how to cook them is also tricky, without instructions—cooking makes some greens bitter and others sweeter. This was part of a series of books with titles like Lemons, Apples and Potatoes, and though out of print, can be found online. Star recipes:  Sorrel Cream Soup, White Beans & Winter Beans Gratin, Kale & Potato Soup, and Grilled Radicchio with Bagna Cauda. 

rootcellar Recipes from the Root Cellar by Andrea Chesman (2010, Storey Publishing) sports a creative yet simple set of 270 recipes featuring root vegetables. These hardy standby vegetables can be much more than baked or mashed potatoes. Most Americans have sadly missed the delights of our ancestors, who regularly enjoyed not only potatoes and carrots, but also parsnips, rutabagas, celeriac, turnips, and Jerusalem artichokes. Star recipes: Winter Squash with Caramelized Apples, Honey-Balsamic Roasted Parsnips, Potato-Carrot Tart, and Gratin of Turnips and Rutabagas. (Available for purchase here.) 

vegharvest Vegetable Harvest by Patricia Wells (Morrow, 2007). This French cooking expert transforms the best of French techniques for vegetables into a simple, exquisite process. There are recipes for all types of dishes, such as main dishes, breads, and even desserts, but with such a concentration of vegetables there is a great variety of side dishes. Uniquely, she has good recipes for even seldom-seen vegetables. Star recipes: Zucchini Puree, Steamed Creamy Cabbage, Eggplant Daube and Curried Beet Soup. 

artisanArtisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois (St. Martin’s, 2007. Not all side dishes are made of vegetables, of course, and there are so many baking books it’s hard to pick one. But this is the one I recommend for general use because the price of the book is worth one recipe--the “Master Recipe,” the dough to make and refrigerate. You use portions of it to bake fresh bread whenever you like. It’s truly easy and produces incredible bread. The remaining recipes are all extra goodies you can try when you like. With the Master Recipe you can have fresh-baked bread daily. (Available for purchase here.)

These are chosen for practical reasons, but next time I’ll include my favorite cookbooks from an emotional standpoint--like my “Grandma cookbook.” How about you? Can you name your one favorite cookbook, or do you have several? Is it for memories of Grandma, or something you actually use for cooking techniques? I love hearing people’s stories about their cookbooks! 

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6/15/2012 1:55:28 AM

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chuck mallory
11/6/2011 7:19:08 PM

Cindy, that's ironic that you should say, "I'm not sure that was your intent" because my next blog is about sentimental favorites in cookbooks!


cindy murphy
11/2/2011 7:21:15 AM

I love cookbooks! Not that I use them much, (only to get ideas because I rarely follow a recipe), I just like to look at all the pretty pictures! Some of them make for some interesting, and often entertaining reading; I love the ones with stories attached to the recipes. The one cookbook I always fall back on is The Joy of Cooking, the title of which I often joke is an oxymoron. It was given to me by a favorite aunt as a wedding shower gift 25 years ago. Aunt Dorothy is now deceased, and I will never part with this book, though I personally think many of the recipes are outdated (not quite as healthy as I like to cook). There are a few family favorites in there, but I mostly refer to it for things like how long to blanche vegetables for freezing, measurement conversions, and the like. My mom, though, was a cookbook fanatic. When we went through her house after she died last year, we found close to 300 cookbooks of all sorts from different eras! Funny thing is, we used to joke (good-naturedly) with her about her cooking all the time. As my brother sat amid the stacks of books, he asked me, “Do you remember Mom as being a particularly good cook?” Luckily, I have a couple of friends who collect cookbooks, so I divvied them up between the two. The only thing Mom’s best friend asked for of Mom’s was “Her” cookbook, the one in which she wrote all her favorite recipes. Great post, Chuck. I’m not sure it was your intent, but it brought back a lot of good memories.