In the High Peaks

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Bookshelf Travelling Week #11--Great Cookbooks

My favorite cookbooks reside on a shelf on top of one of our kitchen counters. They're there to help me find inspiration and to help me cope with desperation when I'm flummoxed about HOW to cook something.

I started cooking for real when I was nine years old. I was constantly needing to bring baked goods to Girl Scouts, to bake sales, and for visits with friends. So my mother taught me how to make the most incredible butterscotch brownies, a recipe from Woman's Day that I use to this day. Once Mom set me loose in the kitchen, there was no going back. I started cooking dinners for family in high school, baking bread for the family by junior year, and international menus during my vacations from college. I just loved cooking at that time in my life.

In 2007 I purchased Mastering the Art of French Cooking (2 vols.) by Julia Child, et al., not long after I read the incomparable memoir Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously by Julie Powell, first published in 2005. This book was laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it was amazingly inspirational. Julie writes about her exploits with pizzazz, and she is irreverent and flawed and totally loveable. The film was a disaster because the character who played Julie was a perfect little priss with none of the verve of the real Julie Powell.

At the time I purchased the Julia Child cookbooks, we were friends with another Julia Child devotee, who cooked us great French meals. He was a wonderful chef. (Now lives in ski country in Utah). Then I decided I would treat everyone to Coq au Vin a la Julia. I tried it out once on Ken, and it was a mixed success that was excellent preparation to serve it to a dinner party of 6. It was February. While I spent the requisite 3.5 hours making Coq au Vin, the rest of the party went out back into the forest and up the ledges on a long snowshoeing trek.  Note: This is not something I would ever do today. I would not sacrifice a snowshoe trek to be home slaving to make French cuisine.
But the Coq au Vin, to my surprise, turned out better than I could have anticipated, and I think in large part, it had to have been due only to my careful selection of wine for the Vin (Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet--California), and to the Adirondack addition of a scant tablespoon of ADK maple syrup. (Many folks here attest to the magical powers of a wee bit of maple syrup to recipes. Amen!)

Another special cookbook is my copy of Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts. My aunt Ruth gave this to me at my bridal shower (it was on my list), and I have made many incredibly, insanely delicious desserts using this cookbook. It is still in print, but there are many, many used copies available. The most incredible tasting brownies ever, yes. And the best chocolate fudge sauce. And so many more wonderful recipes.

I have the 1974 edition of The Joy of Cooking, purchased when I was just starting out on my own as a singleton. And I own the two BIG revisions since that edition. The latest was published in 2019 bythe originals Irma S Rombauer, her daughter Marion Rombauer Becker, and Marion's sons Ethan Becker and John Becker and Megan Scott, John's wife. It is so incredibly well done. Loads of vegetarian recipes for those interested, loads of international recipes, and a huge section discussing all the ways to cook each variety of vegetable, each cut of meat, etc. I value and highly recommend  these volumes--they are incomparable kitchen resource books and reference books, and each weighs in with pages in the low 1000s.

I also own The Gourmet Cookbook by Ruth Reichl, which is a a huge compendium of recipes from Gourmet Magazine over the years. It is loads of fun for a browse. And I do get ideas from it.



  1. I used to have many more cookbooks but, when we moved about 11 years ago I only kept about 20 or so. I love using my crock pot - even in summer instead of heating the over so have a few fave slow cooker ones as well.

  2. Everyone needs a daughter or wife like you Judith! I'd love it if you could blog your butterscotch brownie recipe. I have quite a lot of recipe books too, but I must admit sometimes I just enjoy looking at the photos!

  3. Margaret @ BooksPleaseJune 1, 2020 at 1:59 AM

    I love cook books too, although these days I don't do as much cooking as I used to do. Those butterscotch brownies sound delicious - please post the recipe!

    Here's my Bookshelf post -

  4. Wonderful post! My own cooking addiction is to cooking shows on the TV. Mainly British cooks like Tom Kerridge, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver, The Hairy Bikers, Jame Martin... I watch them all including Masterchef (three versions we have in the UK). I especially love it when they travel abroad and them I can armchair travel as well as watch them cook. LOL! That said my current addiction is Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond. I have about 30 of her shows on the Humax box at the moment.

    I've cooked coq au vin once. It was quite good but I didn't honestly think it was worth all the time and effort. Several other chicken recipes I make take a lot less time and taste better.

    Any chance of pinching your butterscotch brownie recipe? Always looking for new recipes to cook with my grandson. Really hoping it won't be too long before I can do that again with him as he's a keen cook.

  5. I think we had a discussion before about The Joy of Cooking. I did not learn to cook until I was 22 and just married (first husband). I used The Joy of Cooking a lot and I wish I still had that copy, which would be nearly 50 years old now. I will have to look into getting a copy of the latest revision.

    My cooking abilities and desires have gone up and down in my life, but I am enjoying cooking more lately, nothing complicated but still it is rewarding. We used to have a lot of cookbooks, but we have downsized them in the last few years. My old favorite (not that I could from it a lot currently) is the Dairy Hollow House Cookbook by Crescent Dragonwagon (daughter of Charlotte Zolotow).

  6. I love cookbooks although am not much of a cook. I did start baking about the same time as you and my family also has a butterscotch brownie recipe we are very fond of. We all love dessert! For a high school French class project once I decided to make Napoleons from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Luckily, my mother was committed to this project (maybe it was her idea) because it took several days and every surface in the kitchen. They may not have looked as amazing as Julia's version but they were pretty impressive and tasted good too.

    There are a lot of stories about people running into Julia at the market in Cambridge or calling her (her phone was not unlisted) when they got stuck in recipes, and apparently she was just as vibrant and helpful to strangers as she appeared on TV. People used to go watch the show being taped and help eat the leftovers.

  7. We own a handful of cookbooks, largely picked for the ease of recipes, but I am also a sucker for a beautifully curated book, regardless of subject.

    Despite her weird Goop-ness, we really love Gwyneth Paltrow's cookbooks. They are beautifully put together and some of the recipes in there are among our favorites.

    I also have a couple running-inspired cookbooks for meals that are geared towards fueling and nutrition for runners.

    I bought the Giada Italy cookbook because it is a lovely book. Although we don't eat a lot of Italian food, we do like to find new recipes and try them out once in a while. And the cookbook is very 'Under the Tuscan Sun' to me and I love the film and the book it is very loosely based on.

    I don't watch them as often as I used to, but like Cath I like Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson. I like Giada de Laurentiis. There is a wonderful one-season series on Amazon Prime called The Farm that is a wonderfully shot cooking show and it makes me salivate every time I rewatch an episode.