Cookbooks, my dirty little secret. I love cooking, cooking utensils, gadgets, pots and pans. I love the sights, sounds, and smells which manifest while cooking. But cookbooks, I’m obsessed with them.
Typically when I cook, I have an idea in my head of what I may want to create and look at various recipes. From there, I follow my eyes, ears, nose and taste buds, and of course, my gut, which is ever present! A dance commences with the recipe, at times I lead, and other times the recipe leads. I wait to hear what the ingredients want from me and from there I counter. Two step? Line dance? A jig? Maybe a little grind (of pepper)? Each dance is as unique as is the outcome.
I rarely follow a recipe to the letter, however, I LOVE LOVE LOVE cookbooks. The knowledge they contain, the possibilities they possess. They are like dreams in the palm of my hands. Hope in bound form. An endless love story. If you ever need to buy me a present, a cookbook, ANY cookbook, is perfection.
So I offer to you a few of my favorite cookbooks with my most used recipes, alterations, and recipes I am excited to encounter but haven’t yet. This list is in no particular order, nor is it exhaustive. Just a few of my loves. My cookbook library continues to grow, this will not stop any time soon! I encourage you to buy each of these for precise recipes, beautiful visuals, for your library or coffee table. They all have brought me much joy and flavor; both of which you can never have enough of in life. Enjoy!
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JERUSALEM – Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Let’s just start with the cover of this cookbook. The vibrant colors and the pillow-like feel makes me want to hold it in my hands at all times! It is inviting and hunger inducing without even having to open it. But then you do open it and are seduced by the introduction. What a beautiful and intimate look into a fractured city. Honest and unbiased. A history lesson and culinary adventure in one. Both of which illustrate the unifying power of food. If only Ottolenghi and Tamimi were my history teachers in high school. Undoubtedly my grades would have been much, much better.
Most used recipe: Turkey & zucchini burgers with green onion & cumin, pg. 200
Carolyn’s alteration: add creamy feta
On deck recipe: Maqluba, pg. 127
Why: The name itself drew me in. I said it out loud numerous times to myself. Still not sure I pronounced it correctly. Then I read the intro to the recipe. Read it and you will understand. Food is love.
Di Bruno Bros. House of Cheese, A guide to Wedges, Recipes, and Pairings – Tenaya Darlington
This cookbook such a random find on a trip to Philadelphia for a guidance counselor convention in my previous life. In a breakout session at Saint Joseph’s University, English Professor Tenaya Darlington, aka Madame Fromage, spoke to us about how she encourages her creative writing class through cheese! Brillant. Using the senses to invoke inspiration in her students. She was such a wonderful person to meet at the point in my life when I was about to “retire” from education and explore a new career in culinary. The cookbook itself is a collaboration with her local cheese shop. It is a beautiful guide to cheese, pairings, and delicious creations. Furthermore it is a well deserved tribute to an historic institution of Philadelphia.
Most used recipe: Manchego and Marcona Almond Pesto, pg. 53
Carolyn’s alteration: I roast my marcona almonds with paprika and cayenne before blending for a kick!
On deck recipe: Blue Velvet Pudding, pg. 214
Why: A dessert made out of chocolate and Gorgonzola Dolce? Cheese and chocolate sounds like a heavenly, and not too sweet, union that I would like to witness. And by witness, I mean devour.
CARNE – Chris Behr
I had the absolute privilege of learning under Chris Behr at the Rome Sustainable Food Project in 2018. Four months of absorbing his knowledge in the kitchen, a master of butchery who possesses an astute palate, is and always will be one of the top experiences of my life. Chris sincerely practiced the arts of patience, dedication, and laughter on a daily basis. He is on a short list of people who truly changed my life. He would think I was insane if I ever told him this. It was a distinct honor to work with him. During his tenure at RSFP, Chris wrote the cookbook CARNE.
Most used recipe: Maiale al Latte Di Mona, pg. 63
Carolyn’s alteration: half the lemon, add 1 head of garlic halved, and whole dried pepperoncini
On deck recipe: Porchetta, pg. 41
Why: Under the tutelage of Chef Behr, I made this dish at RSFP. Porchetta is a work of art. Anyone can create it; but the recipe does require patience and dedication. Though they may hide from us at times, we all possess these traits. This recipe is a great way to allow them to them to resurface. Plus it’s just damn delicious.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat – Samin Nosrat
Love, love, love. This cookbook is a must have reference tool that makes cooking approachable for all. Cooking at its core, is science. Nosrat’s ability to break down terminology, instruct practices, and demystify myths in a welcoming nature is poetic. By incorporating sketches and drawings, and utilizing bright colors and fun fonts, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” brings an air of playfulness to cooking, while teaching science. Again, if Nosrat taught me science in high school as she does in this book, my GPA would look a little differently.
Most used recipe: Autumn: Roasted Squash, Sage, and Hazelnut pg. 232
Carolyn’s alteration: Sub almonds for hazelnut, just my preference
On deck recipe: Smooth: Silky Sweet Corn Soup, pg. 276
Why? Makes me think of summer. I need a little summer right now.
Mastering the Art of French Cooking – Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, Simone Beck
Cliché? Absolutely not. I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to Julia Child and Co. This master of menus and mayhem has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to many a cook. Her humility and honest approach to life in the kitchen is timeless. I distinctly remember watching her cooking show on WGBH as a child to the point that I cannot read her recipes without hearing her unmistakable, joy-filled, emphatic breathed voice speaking the words on the page. I still watch her on YouTube. She is Royalty. This cookbook belongs in kitchens around the world.
Most used recipe: Boeuf Bourguignon, pg. 315
Carolyn’s alteration: I have nothing to alter here. It is herself, Ms. Julia Child. I will never mess with her. Ever.
On deck recipe: Homard (lobster) Thermidor, p. 221
Why? Even just the name. I am a typical New Englander. Cracking into a lobster with a cold beer is heavenly. Yet there is something romantic and alluring in the 1970s elegance (oxymoron?) of Lobster Thermidor. Luckily jumpsuits are back in style!
I am looking forward to writing the second installation of this blog. There were quite a few cookbooks purchased while in lockdown. They continue to arrive at my door and are greeted with zealous love and adoration. I have my own little book shelf dedicated to them. Almost shrine like. Our relationship is strong and reciprocal. I take care of them, as they take care of me.
Dreams in the palm of my hands.
Hope in bound form.
An endless love story.