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Do you have cookbooks you've never used?

Confession time...

I have. I have lots that I've used maybe once or twice, but last night I got Christian Constant's French Home Cooking off the shelf and realised that I haven't cooked from it once! I must remedy that, or take it to the second-hand shop.

Anyone else?

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  1. Many! But some day .... I do cull occasionally.

    1. I have lots of cookbooks I've never used, as I buy them mostly for the food photography (what can I say, I'm a sucker for food porn)...

      I use cookbooks rarely, and when I do it's more of a reference for a 'new' recipe, i.e. something I've never done. I glance at it, and then do my own riff on it.

      1 Reply
      1. Yes! Some I bought as souvenirs from my travels, some I found too ambitious once I got them home, some were gifts that I never did really like but don't have the heart to get rid of, and some I intend to get to someday. I only recently (in the last year or two) starting cooking from my cookbooks in earnest. Unfortunately, I've also started adding to my cookbook collection in earnest, too, having decided that my cookbook collection is missing some of the classics/basics. My husband finds this alarming'--"Where will we put them all?". But, for the most part, I try to buy the books used when I can, so it's more an issue of storage than expense. But, even at full price, a well-used cookbook pays for itself, I think. Thankfully, I'm starting to slow down, I think.

        I have a friend who is a cookbook editor who says that most cookbooks end up on nightstands as reading material. I thought that was weird the first time I heard it, but, I realize I'm one of those people with stacks of cookbooks on my nightstand, under my bed, and under the living room sofa. I especially love cookbooks that are more than just a collection of recipes, but have some story to tell about the person who put the cookbook together or that region of the world or style of cuisine. And, gorgeous, full-color glossy photos don't hurt!


        6 Replies
        1. re: The Dairy Queen

          My boyfriend thinks I'm bonkers because I frequently read cookbooks in bed! He doesn't complain at all the delicious meals though, does he?

          As far as writing goes, the Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater are particularly good, I find. Oh, and Elizabeth David, of course.

          1. re: greedygirl


            Your mention of Elizabeth David made me realize that we've never even considered her for COTM! She's one of the pioneers who introduced GB as well as the US to French, Italian and "Mediterranean" cooking. Her books are marvelous. They're full of wonderful recipes and great stories (hers and others).

            We need to remedy this situation soon.

            1. re: oakjoan

              That's a really interesting point. I've read many of her books, but not once have I cooked from one. I may be wrong, and should go back and look, but my recollection is that the recipes may be somewhat vague. Which ones have you cooked from?

              I think it would be a fun experiment, though.

              1. re: MMRuth

                I keep meaning to make her cassoulet recipe, but I never seem to have two days to spare!

                They are quite vague, but nothing we crack home chefs couldn't handle.

              2. re: oakjoan

                Definitely. She really was instrumental in changing the food culture in this country. I have a compendium of three of her Mediterranean books, and her Italian one. I think I've used them for reference, but not really as cookbooks, ifyswim.

                1. re: greedygirl

                  I have that compendium as well GG and also use it for reference and I've had a few good laughs at some of her quotes. I think, given all the cooking we do, her descriptions can be translated into actual directions.

          2. Me also. Lots.
            I should cull the herd too.


            1 Reply
            1. re: Davwud

              My 'herd' is taking up valuable kitchen real estate...either I need to add some shelves or donate the ones I have rarely/have never used. I wonder if there's somewhere that takes both neglected cookbooks and undervalued/unloved kitchen gadgets? ;)

            2. I have many cookbooks I've never cooked from, but I love them anyway. Frequently, I will look through a cookbook, and while not actually using a recipe, it will inform my cooking in some way. Many cookbooks are inspirational for me rather than just instructional.

              1 Reply
              1. re: roxlet

                This is why I generally like cooking books rather than cook (recipe) books. Tell me what is going on in the dish and give me directions on how to make it. Don't just give me a bunch of ingredients and assembly instructions.


              2. I have many cookbooks but only a few I've never cooked from. As others have said reading them sets the imagination in motion and inspires a dish rather then dictates it.

                Commander's Kitchen by Jamie Shannon is a case in point. Had to buy it after seeing Chef Shannon, the dear boy, on PBS years ago. Have never cooked from it but periodically revisit it just for inspiration.

                1. Most of my books haven't been used for cooking. I have way too many, and do occasionally weed them out for Goodwill, but before I know it the shelves are too full once again. I love to read some of them, browse others. Although I don't actually use the recipes often enough, surely my cooking is inspired by them.

                  It's actually a little bit of an embarrassing issue for me. Some of my books are out on open shelves, many more are in bookcases behind closed doors, some are upstairs on shelves in the bedrooms, wherever they'll fit. If guests happen to see how many I have I'm always a bit ashamed that I'm not a better cook than I am! Feel like they're expecting something over the top but all they get is good, but simple fare. Oh well. Maybe one day I'll devote the time to learning more.

                  1. One I've never used is La Bonne Cuisine by Madame E Saint Ange. It's supposed to be some great classic. It was a Christmas gift from my boyfriend so I've felt guilty about hating it and not using it. It is very prissy and superexacting and the food is not really appealing. It has kind of a "my way or the highway" tone, at least to me. It's been in a stack of books to get rid of.

                    Maybe I should give it one more try. There must be something in this book I'd like to make.

                    1. I too, have some cookbooks I never use. The last big move I made, I culled out some obvious dogs to sell/donate rather than move (again!), but had a hard time getting rid of gifts even if I don't use them. Maybe next move I'll get serious about thinning the herd.

                      1. Not to sound ungrateful, but I have gotten cookbooks from friends--I tend to get more quirky ones from them-- like a "drinks" cookbook, or a Disney one, an artichoke one (even though the only way I eat em is steamed) etc. I think the thing with cookbooks is that I'm kindof particular about recipes. I like pictures, don't own any dessert cookbooks, etc. Heck, I've bought many cookbooks that I use minimally. So now I have 3 or 4 cookbooks that I feel guilty about getting rid of that I have never used and take up precious space in the 1.5 feet of shelf space I have for cookbooks. I wish people would stop giving me random "themed" cookbooks, b/c I don't have room for them. (Like if people know that the only way I like strawberries is fresh, and don't make enough desserts to justify owning a dessert cookbook, why do they give me a random strawberry dessert cookbook?)

                        I'd eventually like to get the Bitman and Joy of Cooking cookbooks, but right now, I have too little room, and given my experience with cookbooks, I'm holding off getting these.

                        My problem is that although I end up mostly not using cookbooks, all of them look fabulous in the store. I have three I use a lot--Deborah Madison's Farmer's Market Cookbook (I don't know if that's the real name, but it's the one that is grouped by veggies/season, and has more sides/mains, than desserts, which is the way I like my cookbooks), a Jamie Oliver one, and Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book. But aside from these three, given my history with them, I really need to control myself and not buy cookbooks so much. Now I have a loose rule of getting rid of one if I get a new one (and after the discussion on Flexitarian Table, I'm really tempted to get that one. . .).

                        These days, though the bulk of the recipes I end up trying or keep coming back to are all from either other people, recipes you guys have posted and shared on this board (actually, Chowhound is now my favorite "cookbook", since it comes replete with personal story, instructions, and then trouble-shooting support if a recipe doesn't quite come out right!!), and ones that I clip from the food sections of newspapers.

                        I think the thing is that I read cookbooks like I read normal books, so if the author sounds really vested in a recipe, I'm more likely to try it, which might explain my like for the aforementioned three cookbooks, and my disinterest in cookbooks that are simply compendiums of recipes and might also explain my preference for trying recipes from the food sections of newspapers.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: anzu

                          The Bittman is my kitchen go-to, because I mostly don't cook from recipes either. It's the perfect (well, almost perfect) refresher/reference... When all you want to know is "What are the proportions in biscuits? How long to stew those ribs?" etc.
                          With "too little room" I'd rather have that one-- which I use frequently-- than many of the ones I keep around but don't particularly like either as useful tools OR fun reading.

                          1. re: missoulagrace

                            I like the Bittman book too (much better than Joy of Cooking - blasphemous, isn't it?) but weirdly enough his other books and his recipe column stuff has often turned out disasterously for me. I can't figure out why this would be at all. Very odd.

                            1. re: LulusMom

                              Even though I love How to Cook Everything-- there are a few recipes in it that I found to be really pretty mediocre at best-- and for some of the most seeming basics! (Brownies and corn bread are the two that come to mind.) Like I said, I like the book as a cooking guide rather than a recipe book-- maybe that's true of all of his books to a certain extent?

                              1. re: missoulagrace

                                Good point ... that may well be. Its definitely a good go-to book when you just want to figure out what to do with something in a general way. I do love his fish steamed in ginger, garlic and maybe soy sauce from the book though; and there is some scallop dish roasted with tomato and onions (although over time I've made significant changes to it).

                        2. Like anzu, pretty much the only cookbooks I've never used are ones I've gotten as gifts. I'm pretty particular about the books I will buy for myself, as shelf space is limited, so when I actually spring for a cookbook, it's usually one I know I will cook from (i.e. I've already tried it out from the library).

                          I do have a few cookbooks I've bought as souveniers while travelling that I haven't actually cooked out of, but I've read them, so I don't really consider them "unused," as they are fun to look through and bring back good memories :-)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: DanaB

                            That's a terrific way of looking at it, DanaB, that a cookbook isn't really "unused" just because you haven't cooked any of the recipes. Maybe I should try to look at it that way, too--it might make me feel less guilty.

                            I have a cookbook I've never cooked from and probably never will. It was one I bought myself: the Project Open Hand Celebrations Cookbook. But, I do take it down from the shelf once in awhile and flip through it. It brings back a flood of memories of a specific place and time, almost as much as flipping through a photo album would...

                            A few years ago, I moved to the Midwest. Whenever I see a cookbook at the used bookstore from a famous restaurant or chef from my former home town, I buy it because it reminds me of "home" a little. Just owning these cookbooks makes me feel at least a little connected to the food scene there, even though I'm far away... $7 plus tax is cheaper than a plane ticket!


                          2. for those of you who have cookbooks you don't like, that you got as gifts and feel guilty at the thought of getting rid of them--is the following suggestion a possible solution?

                            take the books to a local independent used bookstore with a great cookbook section and trade them in for store credit. then get a couple new (to you) cookbooks that you may enjoy more. your friend who gave you the original gift wanted you to enjoy a cookbook. if you "trade" the book s/he gave you for one which inspires you more, i think it would be cool. everyone should be able to trade in for an upgrade. then the original gift may bring joy to someone more interested in its content instead of sitting unused & unlearned from on a shelf.

                            of course as an inveterate used-bookstore-cookbook-section-prowler myself, it's tough to pick up a bargain priced tome & crack its binding for the first time ever, only to find a thoughtful note scrawled on the title page, one friend to another, hoping that the recipient will enjoy cooking the recipes inside. hasn't stopped me from buying it for myself though :)

                            13 Replies
                            1. re: soupkitten

                              It's a good idea, sk; my cast-off could be someone else's treasure! I do hate the idea of trading in something that someone put a lot of thought into picking out for me, but if it's something that I think they completely missed the mark on, I don't see why it matters to them if I trade it in for one I might actually use.

                              P.S. I see you like to troll the used-bookstore for cookbooks, too. Are we going to have to divide up the used bookstores in the Twin Cities? I'll take all the stores East of the river...


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                LOL! you *can't* take the half price books right there off of ford parkway, around the corner from the punch pizza. i *haunt* that cookbook section. or did, when i had more discretionary income! :) (i'm the one who smells strongly of eau de mirepoix, or on bad days, just onions!)

                                1. re: soupkitten

                                  They have a great cookbook selection there; I think Half Price books in Roseville has an even bigger selection. But, it's not on the way to Punch Pizza.

                                  Now I realize I must be buying up all of karykat's books. http://www.chowhound.com/topics/52866...


                                  1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    oh yes! roseville isn't on my beaten path but i like that one--less picked over. (may need to start an msp thread on c-b shopping) hmm. i haven't gotten myself a new stack of cookbooks in *weeks*!

                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      Very possibly, DQ! I've been going to the Ford St. store.

                                      Do you think we could get together for a book exchange?

                                2. re: soupkitten

                                  Oh dear. That is sad.

                                  I have cookbooks I never cook from. People give them to me, or I get sucked into buying them and on closer inspection none of the recipes appeals to me or suits my cooking style. Although, I have to say that when someone gives me a cookbook I do at least make an attempt to find a recipe in it to try.

                                  Also, there's a gap between my fantasies of how I'll cook and the reality: I like to think I'll tackle elaborate recipes, but in fact, I rarely do. Since I'm single and just cooking for myself, most of the time I don't cook from recipes at all: I just throw together whatever I have in some combination (that may just be edible or may be delicious).

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Ruth: By the way, I must check the thread to find out if you succeeded in replicating the Genova Deli's torta.

                                    Your point about the gap between the fantasy and reality of your cooking rings a bell. I sometimes start in on a recipe and realize half way through that it's way too elaborate for me, or that I forgot a key ingredient. Never stops me from doing that over and over again, though. Stubborn or delusional? You be the judge.

                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                      I got really close, Oakjoan. Next step is to buy some, do some side-by-side comparisons and see what final tweaking needs to be done. Basically, though, the breakthrough was the person who suggested salting the zucchini to draw out the excess moisture, which resulted in the right degree of firmness (actually, the last batch I salted the zucchini, then got busy with something else and let it drain too long, and it came out too dry).

                                  2. re: soupkitten

                                    Yes, a great idea. That is exactly what I have been doing -- bringing cookbooks I'm not using to the second hand store. I've been taking the money I make that way and using it to splurge at special restaurants. So I am "eating" my excess cookbooks!

                                    1. re: soupkitten

                                      I wish there was a way that hounds could trade/borrow/sell to each other. Rubee had the most amazing collection but now that collection is a long ways away. OK, I miss Rubee more, but if you saw her cookbooks...

                                      1. re: beetlebug


                                        My son discovered a website called "Book Mooch" where folks trade books with each other. I tried it for a bit and got bogged down in the procedure, but you look for a certain book and, if you find it, you can get the person to send it to you in exchange for a book of your own or use credits that you amass on the website.

                                        1. re: oakjoan

                                          Lots of dirt-cheap cookbooks on half.com, too.

                                      2. re: soupkitten

                                        That's a wonderful suggestion. I might do that if I haven't touched the cookbook in a few years. Though they also come to my place, so then I'm afraid they might notice my having regifted/reappropriated it.:) Actually, one time someone did that with a wedding gift I gave them. It was an $80 scrap book/ album, and what did they do but ask me if I want this "beautiful album" that they couldn't use, because the sleeve protectors they had didn't fit the pages, 5 or 6 years later. I guess they forgot that I gave it to them. :)

                                        Also, I'm with Ruth. I often have grand delusions of cooking and trying recipes. In fact, I do this every week, even! I go to the farmer's market, with ambitions of cooking, oh, 4 or 5 dishes a week, and then the reality is that I end up cooking on weekends, the leftovers tide me over for a few days, and then cook one or two more times during the week. I guess I do the same with cookbooks.

                                        I think I now do a lot more borrowing of cookbooks--from friends, libraries, etc. We also do "cookbook" swaps w/ my food co-op friends, so we get inspired to try new recipes.

                                      3. I too love cookbooks. I have lots of them, and lots of space to store them. Definitely some I have never cooked from, but I am a book hoarder. the ones I have never really used are gifts, very regional, or just not very good. and yes, I use them for inspiration as well as instruction--what do I want to eat today?

                                        1. Way, way too many. But I keep buying them! I do go through them occassionally and look and see if maybe I missed something when I looked at them earlier, and often find good things, so it doesn't feel like such a horrible thing. But I would have no problem with taking them to a used book store, if I thought there was one in town that had a good collection of cookbooks.

                                          1. I also have many cookbooks that I've never cooked from. I've been collecting for at least 30 years and have many I haven't looked through in at least 29 years. I only buy cookbooks that have great photography, or are written by somone I really enjoy, or are regional. What I really use most of them for is just the inspiration of new ideas that I haven't tried in a while. Sometimes we get in a rut and fix the same standard meals over and over. When I get bored, I hit the books.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: othervoice

                                              Here's my tale of woe. I have too many cookbooks and a goodly number that I've never or rarely used. I actually broke through a few years ago and took a bunch of the ones I never used to a great used bookstore in Berkeley to exchange for store credit. That's where I found out that the French Laundry Cookbook was not a popular item.

                                              So I got about $100 in credit and had used about $20 of it when my backpack, containing my wallet with the credit slip in it, was stolen at our local Costco.
                                              The store has no record of my credit, as it's just a slip that they make out on the spot and give to you, crossing out the old amount and putting in the new one when you buy books.

                                              Sigh. This really bothered me much more than having to replace my driver's license and credit cards, etc.

                                              I recently found that the Friends of the Oakland Library takes old Gourmet mags as well as other cooking mags. That was a breakthrough and I now have much more shelf space in my studio. Maturity! You gotta love it on those rare occasions when it strikes!

                                            2. Yes! I and I love used book stores, because I always find really good cbs that are different. Most of the cookbooks now are about photography, the wonderfully photographed food looks so good, I always think, oooooo I want to make that!.

                                              But I'm trying not to buy them at impulse anymore, they are too expensive, and most of them only have a few recipes that I would want to make. I admit, I love love looking at the pictures, but most of the food are dishes I wouldn't make.

                                              The other day in my quest to make a simple homemade tomato soup, I stumbled upon an old cookbook that is called American Cooking: The Melting Pot. A pretty blah sounding, spiral bound, cheap looking book. After looking through the book, I couldn't believe the treasure of recipes inside this little book.

                                              Inside are real ethnic traditional recipes;Ukranian, Italian,Puerto Rican,Basque,Japanese, Czech, Jewish,Hungarian,Lithuanian,Greek,Portugese,Polish, German, Romanian, Chinese, Russian,Armenian,Serbian!!!!
                                              I could not believe all this time I had this book and didn't pay any attention to it.
                                              In fact at one point I was going to toss it. Shame on me. Inside are probably some of those tradtitional family recipes that are lost because the Grandma didn't write it down.
                                              I can't wait to try some of these interesting sounding recipes, honestly, I feel like I just recieved the best gift ever!!!

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: chef chicklet

                                                I have a book like that Chef Chicklet. It's called From Vermont Kitchens, or something like that. Recipes from a church group. I've had it for years and just kept is as a sort of referral book. But, Everything I've cooked from it has been wonderful.

                                                1. re: Gio

                                                  I have a cookbook similar to yours from Yankee Magazine. It has many recipes from church groups and individuals. I still reference to the old Joy of Cooking and the old James Beard cookbooks. The trouble is the pages rip off from the index and I have difficulty finding the recipes.

                                                2. re: chef chicklet

                                                  I have a little paperback book which I picked up in a Bargain Books for a pouond which I love but which is a bit embarrassing as it's The Daily Mail Cookbook (it's a right-wing populist newspaper hated by wooly liberals such as myself). All the recipes are from Leith's, which is a renowned cookery school in London.

                                                3. I mostly get cookbooks from the library, as i have been a poor college student (now a drop out) with very little space. I love trying out recipes and reading the books, and occasionally buy copies of books I've borrowed (such as the Cake Bible and the Bread Bible, both bought used on amazon) when there are too many recipes I want to try, or recipes I want to keep using over and over (in the case of the Cake Bible) and I know the recipes turn out well.
                                                  The 4 cookbooks I have that I have never used have been gifts. I also have a Betty Crocker book that I had to buy/use for a class (I'm studying Family and Consumer Sciences Education, formerly known as Home Ec Ed) and haven't used since, although my roommates have all loved it.

                                                  1. I consider cooking to be the ultimate applied art, applied art meaning human creation toward both an aesthetic and functional end, like architecture or furniture design. So to me a cookbook is like an art book. And I have loads of cookbooks that I've never cooked out of, just like I have art books even though I can't paint or draw. I have nine bookcases in my one-bedroom apartment. They are full. (Not all cookbooks, of course.) The books are now piling up on the floor. There are plenty of cookbooks around my bed because I use them as bedtime reading. I love cookbooks that teach me about another culture, another location, another time. I love good photography in a cookbook, but I'm equally happy if it tells a good story or opens up a new world for me. I love the international cookbooks from the publisher Hippocrene (when I saw that "All Along the Rhine" contains an entire chapter on the cuisine of Liechtenstein, I knew I had to have it). I love books that are part travelogues, like "Mangoes and Curry Leaves", by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. I'm fascinated by regional/cultural American cookbooks like "The Best of Amish Cooking", by Phyllis Pellman Good, or "The Foxfire Book of Appalachian Cookery" (which discusses things like cooking three meals a day over a fireplace). And books about the history of cooking are fascinating (currently working on
                                                    "Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery and Booke of Sweetmeats", edited by the brilliant food historian Karen Hess). Yes, I agree with the above posters that Elizabeth David can be a bit vague in her recipes ("well-seasoned"? well-seasoned with what?), but it makes for a lovely read. And "The Art of Eating" by M.F.K. Fisher was one of the most inspirational books I've ever read, even though the only thing I've cooked out of it was her soft-boiled eggs.

                                                    1. I love cookbooks with lots of full-color photos. I find it relaxing, and I sometimes get ideas for work (I decorate cakes). When I moved from Florida to San Diego, I had about 50 cookbooks I no longer used for various reasons. I took them to the restaurant where I worked and gave them away. I know they went to people who can appreciate both the art and science of a cookbook.

                                                      1. I have many cookbooks I've never used.Or I may have used them once, 15 yers ago. But you never know when they may come in handy.
                                                        I had a pot luck dinner last night and my co-worker wanted to bring a sort of chicken tagine dish, so I wanted to make a Morroccan dessert. I found a Vegetarian Cooking of North Africa book on my shelf. I must have got it as a gift several years ago when I was a vegetarian. I can't remember ever using it. But I found a recipe for a milk custard thickened with cornstarch and flavored with cinnamon and orange flower water. So I made it, and it was good.