I’m often asked to recommend a favourite cookbook and I struggle invariably with the answer. What I like, you may not. See, I usually look for cookbooks with a different point of view. I don’t buy a book because it may be full of tasty everyday recipes the way most people do. I buy it because it’s from a famous chef I have worked with or plan on approaching. Maybe it covers a specialized topic or foreign cuisine I know little about, or the author delves into an ingredient I yearn to explore. It can also be the best-seller everybody’s talking about and I’m wondering why the fuss.
As a food writer, I feel the need to stay current. It’s my job. And cookbooks are one of my tools. Needless to say, I allocate a fairly sizeable budget to that effort, in a way no ordinary cordon-bleu would. So when I purchase a book that I end up loathing—and I’ve been there— it’s not as big a deal to me as it may be to you if, say, you buy only 1-2 cookbooks in any given year.
So, for all those who asked “What should I buy?”, the answer is usually “I dunno”. But for what it’s worth, these are the cookbooks I bought in the last 12 months (plus some that were sent by their publisher in the hope that I would blog about them). My accountant freaks out when she sees the tab, go figure…
My latest cookbooks, in no special order
In one fell swoop, I ordered Odd Bits, Fat and Bones, i.e. all of Jennifer McLagan’s latest output, and have started flipping through the pages. I yearn to introduce more vegetarian fare in our everyday menu, so hello contradiction. Monsieur was dancing with joy though, he just loves the parts that freak most people. And kiddo was fascinated. In fact, I had him in the palm of my hand, he-the-5-year-old who likes his gory movies. Until he saw the Chocolate Blood Ice Cream that is. And so I lost him.
Okay, so you know when I said that the books were in no particular order? I lied. I felt the need to follow up the previous books with this one I just received from the author herself. “Je mange avec ma tête/I eat with my head” by Elise Desaulniers is a book about the ethics of eating that is not even in bookstores yet. If it proves as big a watershed as Food Inc. was to our family—that’s when we started buying organic, cost be damned—, I may be in trouble. (In French only)
I have been known to say I wish the Earth would stand still for one year so I may delve into one single cookbook à la Julie-Julia and never surface. I usually mean the Canal House Cooking series by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. I almost start to shake everytime I flip through the pages like the whole universe is whispering into my ear: “Stop. Cook. Take time. Live life.” It’s…unsettling.
The other book published in the last year that made me wish time would stop was Around my French Table by Dorie Greenspan. I have cooked only 3 recipes from it, Gougères, Cheese Crackers and a Tagine, but all 3 were major coups de cœur. In fact, this is the book I recommend the most to people who insist on advice. Just so you know.
He’s the local darling. Chuck Hughes named his book Garde-Manger after his Old Montreal restaurant. It may the closest you’ll come to tasting the menu, since after he beat Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, reservations became almost impossible to come by. Confession time, I haven’t cooked from this book yet, although I plan to. But when my neighbour borrowed several cookbooks from me, this is the one that had her husband calling dibs. Mine too. For the testoterone-fueled foodie in your life?
I have cooked several recipes from Deux folles et un fouet by Jessica Barker and Rafaële Germain; you can even find two here and here. Honestly, I don’t think the book did so well, since it was seriously discounted (as you can tell from the sticker), which is when I overcame the foodie snob in me and bought a “celebrity cookbook.” Think the snorts of disbelief when Gwyneth Paltrow published her own book, and colour me guilty. I stand corrected. This is a fun book and the food’s great. There, I said it.
Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge by Grace Young is a cookbook that compels you to buy a real wok, NOW, and start turning it into a heirloom, one crusty layer at a time. Which I will do, the moment I find time to visit Montreal’s Chinatown and this quaint shop I know where they sell the real deal. Then watch me go, because everything here is too compelling to resist.
Don’t misunderstand me, I have never met Antoine Sicotte although we have been in the same room a few times, whether for a book or TV launch. And by all accounts, he’s a really nice guy. In fact, I ate his food at an event where he was one of the chefs. And it was lovely, truly. Yet I have only flipped through this book once and never came back. It got lost in the tsunami of books I buy? No recipe talked to me? If any of you would care to change my mind, comment away.
This is the other book centered around cookware that I plan to follow religiously in the next year, after I buy that first clay pot when Le Creuset finally opens its first Montreal-area shop in November. I am anxiously waiting to try many of the recipes in Clay Pot Cooking by the great Paula Wolfert. And Monsieur, who is African and whose mother always cooked in earthenware, couldn’t be more thrilled. So now I’m going to get compared to my mother-in-law. That’s not good, right?
If I were to continue, this could become the longest post in WordPress history. So let me conclude, and I’ll be back for further installments, with Les carnivores infidèles (“The unfaithful carnivores”) by Quebec nutritionist Catherine Lefebvre. It has special meaning to me since Catherine crowdsourced many of the recipes in the book, one of which is mine. I even blogged my recipe here. That said, whenever people ask me to recommend a vegetarian cookbook, to anglophones I say Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi or Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. And to francophones, I say this one.