Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On Why Using a Cookbook is Important

Maybe it's the fact that's I'm reading a great book or maybe it's the fact I'm moderately fed up with people in general, but I really dislike people who think they are better cooks than you (me?) because they don't use a cookbook. Or recipe. Ever.

Now, I'm not saying I'm Julia Child (but I am so excited about Julie and Julia!) or my heroine Lidia Bastianich or even Mark Bittman, but I can hold my own. I'm a pretty good baker. I can use a knife (thanks Sur la Table and friends/family who gave us visa gift cards for our wedding). I can make a mean tomato sauce. I can even flip an omelet in a pan (well, once I did it!). But I also know the value of a good recipe and cookbook.

I've heard from several people before "Oh, I never look at cookbooks. I looooove coming up with recipes on my own." Well, bully for you. You see, the value of a recipe is fantastic. Now, I seldom measure (my mother-in-law's comment about measuring is only when baking). I can eye ball a teaspoon, 1/4 of a cup, a dash, etc. And I often under salt and over garlic and put in 2 times as much hot pepper than a recipe often calls for. But that's the beauty of a cookbook. The author won't come to your house, wielding a 8 inch perfectly honed chef's knife (although thanks to The Pedant, our knives are perfectly honed as well!) threatening to stab you in the stomach if you don't use exactly 1/8 teaspoon cumin. No. That's preposterous. Cooking is really about feel and senses to when things are done (except rice. I learned this last night. I am terrible at cooking rice. It's because I'm impatient - thanks Mom - and cook everything too high. So our brown basmati rice burned. It did actually give the dish a nice, er, crunch.) but recipes and cookbooks are invaluable. I use them as a jumping off point. In my slow cooker recipes I add in more spices than the author calls for. I substitute regularly. I omit. I add. But I use the cookbooks all the time. Why? Because I'm not a trained chef. Because I can't tell the difference between cayenne, ancho and chipotle chili powder (well, I can because they do in fact have different flavors, but I just don't care - see the difference?).

I think I was thinking about this theory while reading the book and eating lunch of 3 different things that all came from cookbooks or recipes.

1) Roasted Eggplant and Mushroom Soup. My mom found this recipe in a freebie magazine when they were in the Berkshires one summer. It's a very simple and healthy soup. My addition - I use about 1-2 tablespoons of EVOO instead of like 1/2 a cup.

2) Sri Lankain Yellow Curry with Hard Cooked Eggs. This comes from our favorite curry book. It was a simple recipe (but I did burn the rice we made) and really good. Did it matter I didn't have fungeek? No. Did it matter I added in the cinnamon stick after the onions because I forgot? No. Would I have been able to come up with this recipe all by myself? Hell no. That's why Ragahvan Iyer wrote the dammed book. And Thank God he did. So tasty.

3) Minty Kidney Beans with Potatoes. Also from the curry book. Also really good. I used fat free Greek Yogurt and fat free half-and half (does any one else find this an oxymoron?) instead of full fat yogurt and heavy cream (to prevent curdling). Did it matter. Well, actually yes, because the yogurt curdled a bit. But it is still super tasty.

So that's my rant. Also, cookbooks are fun. They have pretty pictures. And tasty recipes. I'd buy more if we had more space for them/wasn't a cheapskate. But, I was thinking about it. Most cookbooks cost between $15 and $30. And produce an endless number of meals (because each time they are slightly different). Eating out all the time costs waaaay more. I know what I may do with my amazon gift card...Hooray for Lidia!


bluesleepy said...

Hear, hear!! Sometimes I feel as though people look down on me because I'm so dependent on cookbooks. But you know, what I cook is delicious -- and it wouldn't turn out that way if I didn't use a cookbook.

I use a rice cooker to cook my rice. I have to. I'd ruin it every time if I didn't.

Sherbs said...

YAY! Another cookbooker!!

I mentioned to TP yesterday we may need a rice cooker. Perhaps when we get a slightly bigger kitchen. I have no room for more electronics. Plus, I personally don't love rice when it comes down to carb of choice (I'm a pasta girl all the way) so I'm not sure if it'll be worth it just yet.