Of the thousands of cookbooks out there, which one do you buy? It helps to narrow down the types of cookbooks available and find out from your foodie which type they like or want the most. Major cookbook categories include general knowledge, food magazine, specialty, chef oriented, cultural, regional, diet, coffee table and professional cookbooks.
General knowledge cookbooks are great for beginners. They have a selection of recipes that cover basic cooking skills and information. Great classics include “Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook” (which has a pink addition benefiting breast cancer), the “Betty Crocker Cookbook” and “The Good Housekeeping Cookbook.” “Joy of Cooking” is also a favorite. I especially love the older version (complete with notes in the margin) given to me by a dear friend from Brownwood.
Food magazines have two major types of cookbooks, annual books with all of the recipes from the past year, and best of cookbooks with large selections of recipes from past issues. Bon Appetit and Gourmet both produced large anthologies in the last few years. They are filled with great examples and help the home cook learn about new techniques, cultures and ingredients. Southern Living has a recipe book every year with beautiful covers and delicious Southern recipes. Cook's Illustrated has a variety of cookbooks based on the success of their magazine and television show on PBS.
Specialty cookbooks focus on a particular aspect or type of cooking. These can range from books about chocolate, baking, grilling, cookies, cakes, vegetables, appetizers, ice cream, etc. Your foodie may have a particular weakness for books in this category. I must confess that I can't turn down a great cookie book. I think I own about 20. I just purchased a 1967 first edition of the “Betty Crocker Cook Book” on eBay. It was a favorite book from my childhood.
The latest craze in cookbooks is those generated by the popularity of the chef that produces them. Television chefs such as Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay and Rachael Ray all have books complementing the work from their shows. Bravo's show, “Top Chef,” even has a cookbook with recipes from past seasons. These can make great reading, but some of the recipes can be more complicated and involve unusual ingredients. Rachael Rays' cookbooks, however, are great for beginners, with quick prep times and short lists of ingredients. I also like Sandra Lee's “Semi-Homemade” cookbooks combining pre-made and made-from-scratch recipes for quick meals and desserts.
Cultural and international cookbooks span the globe, literally. You can learn about almost any cuisine in the world if you search out the book. Our home cookbook library has books on Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican and Italian cuisines. Some of our favorite meals have been teaching friends how to make Chinese and Mexican food at home. The one downside to international cooking is finding some of the specialty ingredients here in town. Fortunately, more and more of these ingredients are being added to our grocery stores every day, but take advantage of the ethnic markets the next time you are in Dallas or Houston and stock up.
Cookbooks based on foods of the United States could fill a bookshelf all on their own. There is a wide variety of books from every area of the nation. Two new Southern cookbooks are “Cook's Country” and “Church Suppers.” Both have great Southern recipes such as country fried pork chops and cheese grits.
Cookbooks from Texas are incredible, too. My favorite bakery cookbook is from the Rather Sweet Bakery in Fredericksburg. Owner Rebecca Rather has two wonderful books called “The Pastry Queen” and “The Pastry Queen Christmas.” The best cookbooks are those produced by local groups. Older Junior League cookbooks from San Antonio, Waco, Dallas and Houston are considered collector's items. Our local cookbooks stack up pretty well, also. Have you added the new “Veteran's Memorial Cookbook” to your collection?
I was amazed to see that the diet cookbook section at Barnes and Nobles had become larger than the general cookbook section. Of course, diet cookbooks don't include those just for weight loss. They also include books for dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free and vegetarian diets. In January we'll take a look at this special type of cooking.
When I walk into a book store I always love to stop and admire the cookbooks with the gorgeous pictures of table-settings, scenes in wineries and views of peaceful countrysides and exotic places. Although I usually don't purchase them because the recipes are often few and far between, they make great cookbooks to set on the coffee table as conversation pieces.
Professional cookbooks can be beneficial if the home cook hopes to pursue more complicated recipes and even learn to develop their own. The recipes are often written using metric measurements instead of the American system, so a good scale and liquid measuring cups marked in metric system are required. “The Professional Chef,” from the Culinary Institute of America, is considered the best of the best.
Cooking resource books are not really cookbooks, but they are an important part of a great culinary library. The first book I use at least once a week is “The Food Lover's Companion.” It is a cooking guide by Barron’s with over 4,000 definitions of food, wine and culinary terms. You can discover what it means to "reduce" a sauce or define the Japanese term "umami". It comes in a hard and soft cover version. Two other great resource books are “The New Kitchen Science” and “Baking Boot Camp.” Both teach what happens to food as it is cooked and how understanding these principles can improve recipes.
You don't have to live in Paris or even in New York to learn about great cheeses, olive oils and balsamic vinegars. A favorite book that is very informative and a great read is “Zingermann's Guide to Good Eating.” My husband and I had a fun drive on one of our trips by reading aloud and discussing the stories, history and tips shared in this book.
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