Worth a Second Look – Cooking Up A Storm

October 16, 2002

I just realized that I have quite a large collection of cookbooks, which dominates the pantry shelves. It’s like owning my own private library or having a staff of chefs at my beck and call. Cookbooks are special. The recipes are a puzzle waiting to be solved and the photos promise that the dish can be created and served at my own dinner table.

Cooking is very trendy right now. Bookstores have expanded cooking sections with offerings by celebrity chefs of every style of cuisine. It’s not easy to find a great cookbook, one that will be useful and inspire creativity. Sometimes, finding the right book is more challenging then cooking the meal!

A great cookbook is a matter of personal preference. Some cooks prefer step-by-step instructions for food preparation; others prefer classic recipes. I look for other elements about a cookbook. Does the food look appetizing? Can the dish be prepared with ingredients that could normally be stocked in the pantry? Will there be enough for leftovers the next day? Can any part of the recipes be prepared ahead? If the book contains answers to some or all of these questions, it will become part of my collection.

Here, in no particular order, are my favourite cookbooks. I hope you will enjoy them.

· Betty Crocker’s New Cookbook – Everything you need to know to cook. This book contains easy to follow recipes that can be made with ingredients found in any kitchen or at the market. The authors include informative tips. My copy is well worn and splattered. Many of the pages are stuck together and it may need to be replaced soon. The book is coil bound so it lays flat on the kitchen counter. Published by MacMillan USA, $19.95 CDN.

· Weight Watchers New Complete Cookbook. This book is based on the Weight Watchers Winning Points Weight Loss Plan. The recipes taste great, and contain less fat and sugar than other versions of the same recipe. Some of the substitutions incorporated in the recipes are ingredients that I would never have thought to use to reduce fat or sugar. A Central American stew called Sancocho (page 136) made with chicken and pumpkin is excellent. Published by Hungry Minds Inc. $29.99 CDN.

· The Complete Canadian Living Cookbook: 350 inspired recipes from Elizabeth Baird and the Kitchen Canadians Trust Most This is a good cookbook and lives up to its claim that the recipes are tested until perfect. Variations for many recipes are suggested. Most recipes are made from ingredients that would generally be kept on hand or can be easily found at the market. Published by Random House Canada, $49.95 CDN.

· The Joy of Cooking. This is a staple book for all cooks of all levels. The book is coil bound so it can be opened flat on the counter. This was the first cookbook I bought and I appreciated the good, solid advice. Published by New American Library. $26.00 CDN.

· Canada’s Best Bread Machine Recipes. The authors have jazzed up machine breads, with an excellent section on sourdough style breads including the starter. Cottage Cheese Dill Bread (page 33) is a favourite in my house. Published by Robert Rose. $19.95 CDN.

· Primo Family Favorites. This book contains many excellent recipes for basic Italian cooking. The book is an advertising vehicle for Primo brand products, but the recipes taste good and the directions are easy to follow. Pasta and Bean soup (page 50) is a staple soup in our house. Published by Brimar.

· The New Basics Cookbook. This book takes classic meals and jazzes them up with modern ingredients. The authors provide excellent how-to sections. Workman Publishing. $32.95 CDN

· Jamie Oliver – The Naked Chef Takes Off. “As seen on the Food Network” proclaims the book. Jamie Oliver loves to cook and his recipes show it. The food is hip, yet simple. Oliver encourages cooking with fresh ingredients. I haven’t actually cooked anything from the book yet, but I bought it because of the fish pie recipe on page 159. It looks as easy to make as it does on television. The photos are fantastic. Published by Hyperion. $49.95 CDN.

· Two Fat Ladies Ride Again and Two Fat Ladies: Obsessions. The authors of these cookbooks are not hip and the recipes are not low fat as they are prepared with whole crème, real butter and other delightful ingredients. Obsessions is full of recipes that showcase the authors’ favourite ingredients like chocolate and raspberries. These books even demonstrate how to cook artichokes and cardoons. The photos of the food are beautiful. Both books are published by Press Elan.

· Company’s Coming: Low-fat pasta. I was intrigued by the promise that each recipe has less than 10 grams of fat per serving and was pleased that the pasta recipes aren’t just in tomato sauce. Step-by-step instructions show how to make stuffed pastas like wontons, tortellini’s etc. I just buy wontons at the Chinese grocery and add them to the Wonton soup recipe on page 127; it is incredibly simple to make and feeds a crowd. Published by The Recipe Factory. $14.99 CDN.

Ultimately, a great cookbook should offer suggestions and a place to start a new culinary adventure. However it is prepared, a meal shared with family and friends with good company and conversation is an experience to be treasured. Bon Appetite!

Teresa Neuman is a member of the Board of Directors of Briarpatch Magazine. She lives in Regina with her family and is a member is CUPE.