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What percentage of your cookbooks have you actually cooked from?

I know there are people that have lots of cookbooks (read eGullet sometime, there are numbers in the 6 figures). But how many of those have you actually cooked from? Do you try to cook your way through a new book you buy, or just flip through it for inspiration?

I have about 10 recipe books myself, plus a Cook's Illustrated magazine collection. My biggest success has been Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, but I'm sure I've only made 1% of it by recipe count.

I have sort of a latent fantasy to cook every recipe in every one of my books, but I know it's hopeless. That's the kind of thing people make movies about, apparently.

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  1. I like to cook so people give me cookbooks as gifts, but the truth is, I mostly make up my own recipes. I will look through the books to get ideas --ingredient combos, etc., or, if it's a type of cooking I know little about, I will follow a recipe. But I'd say I've probably cooked a recipe from fewer than half of them, and many I've cooked only one or two recipes.

    I nurse no fantasy of cooking every recipe in any book! I mean, the whole Julia Child thing -- who can eat food like that every night? And aspic? Plus, if I ate that much butter I'd double my weight in no time.

    1. But if I did do a whole book of recipes, make it a Marcella Hazan book, per favore!

      1. Interesting question, joel. I'd say I've tried at least one recipe from each of them. As to ones that I've used "heavily" through the years, my go-to cookbooks...a very small number, actually, maybe four or five of them.

        I will use recipes for baking, but other than that, after so many years of cooking, mostly I use the books to either seek inspiration re what to make for dinner on a particular night, or to refresh my memory re the qualities of different ingredients from those cookbooks that give good general information on cooking, rather than recipes only.

        I limit myself to about 30 or 40 cookbooks in the house, to keep the clutter down. I have a small pie-safe I use to house my cookbook collection and that's what about it accommodates. It's been full for a long time now, so when a new cookbook comes in, one has to leave to make room for it. It's been interesting to realize which ones go and which ones get to stay...by now it's filled pretty much with the "classic" general cookbooks...JC, JB, Elizabeth David, an old Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer; some of the masters such as Marcella Hazan, Madeleine Kammon, Bugialli, Elizabeth David, and then some New England regional standards. Trendy cookbooks or the latest "rock-star's" latest release don't do much for me.

        1. Joel, I would say I have made at least one recipe from all the many dozen cookbooks. When we re-modeled our kitchen 10 years ago, I had a 6 shelf buil-in bookcase made to hold all my books. BUT, my books are more than just recipes. I often eat alone and like to peruse various books while I am eating or use them to plan an upcoming meal, etc. I would say I "touch" at least one cookbook for every meal I eat alone.

          1. I have over 500 at this point and would say have cooked at least 1 recipe from maybe 20% of them. There are about 15-20 that see heaviest use. I fall into and out of love with books so it's a sort of evolving situation.

            1 Reply
            1. re: buttertart

              I use my cooking cookbooks for ideas, mostly. But, I use my large collection of baking cookbooks more for the precise proportions. That chemistry thing is tricky! I rely heavily on the books by Marcie Goldman; Jewish Holiday Baking, A Passion for Baking, and Better Baking.com. I also have to confess that Martha Stewart and Ina Garten's recipes are fail safe when in it comes to baking.

            2. Funny you should ask that question. I have two shelves of cookbooks (probably around 20 not including my magazine subscription to BBC Good food), and although I've read through all of them, I can safely say that I have 3 of them that I use very regularly! I mean like using them at least 3/4 times a month.
              My main problem is sourcing the ingredients, not really an excuse with the internet and online shopping though.

              1. I go thru phases- cooking the heck out of some books, and then moving on to another. I will often return later and try things I missed. I did have sort of a "What was I thinking?" moment, recently when I threw out some books. Most of those books featured local recipe collections featuring condensed soup! or 4 ingrediants! or "Grannie Edna Mae's Stir 'N Dump Chop Suey!"- sure to be a hit at the church supper! or 28 different kinds of jello mold!

                The book I have used the most, over the years, is "Saveur Cooks: Authentic American" (1998). There is NOTHING that isn't terrific in this book.

                1. I can't boast a large cookbook collection but my PC recipe file is 100 lifetimes long. The only book I have cooked, baked, roasted, grilled and basted my way through is from my copy of The American Country Inn and Bed & Breakfast Cookbook by Kitty & Lucian Maynard. The worn and stained pages are a testament to the hours I've spent cultivating a breakfast service and rep. That book took me thru some serious paces and I have written to more than half of the B&B owners thanking them and sharing my experiences working thru their tried & trues.

                  Sadly, I lack the time and patience to repeat this kind of commitment but it was an exciting time when I was head over heels in flour & butter and clients to serve.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    I have this book and love it as well. I go back to it for certain recipes over and over.

                    1. re: lucyis

                      lucyis, that cookbook is a keeper. Thank you for sharing your enjoyment of this specific cookbook. I often wondered if it was too obscure by title. For the home cook, I always felt is was an ideal regional primer AND if you love to stay at B&B/Inns a wonderful way to explore them.

                    2. re: HillJ

                      I've got about 100 cookbooks and food magazines. Some of the ones I've received as gifts I haven't cooked from, but I try hard to cook at least a few recipes from each one. If I find one that seems particularly reliable, I do make an effort to try to explore them, but yes, I think like most people cookbooks are like icebergs - 90% 'underwater' (untried).

                      I have been trying to cook my way through a cookbook - the Bread Baker's Apprentice, but I doubt I'll be able to do all of the recipes. Some recipes you just don't want to try!

                      1. re: Andrew_Cookbooker

                        Andrew_C, are there any particular recipes from the Bread Baker's that knocked your socks off? I bake bread every Wed, and have for over 20 years-my therapy. What recommendations from that book do you have?

                        1. re: HillJ

                          I have two that really knocked my socks off. I haven't baked a bad loaf from the book (well, I did have some sourdough problems, but that was me, not the book), but these two stand out in particular:

                          1. Pain a l'Ancienne. This makes the best baguettes I've ever tasted, and it's really simple - all the fermentation is done in the fridge overnight. You do need a baking stone and some fancy action with a spray bottle when baking, but that's it.

                          2. Multigrain Bread Extraordinaire: This makes conventional loaves, in loaf pans - no stone required. It makes fantastic toast and sandwich bread - slightly sweet and chewy, and quite adaptable to any grains you have lying around. I normally use bran, oats and coarse cornmeal, which is all soaked overnight.

                          Mmmm - I'm going to have to bake some this weekend now.

                          1. re: Andrew_Cookbooker


                            This recipe was my last attempt during a bread challenge. Delicious sandwich loaf, lots of experimentation left to do though. I appreciate your recommendations. I'll do a bit more reading over the weekend. I'm low on grains...need to order...

                    3. We tend to cook from the more practical ones and hardly at all from the celebrity chefs/cooks. For instance, we've every one of Nigella Lawson's and never cooked a dish. And then we've every one of Delia Smith's and they are falling apart from overuse (but then we have been using them for 30 years)

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Harters

                        I actually like many of Nigella's recipes, but they're not the same w/o her orgasmic-like moans and sexual references! Where's my male Nigella- I'd be first in line for THAT book!

                        1. re: stuck in Hartford County

                          Similar style of "early Nigella" Brit cooking will be Nigel Slater - although not your moaning type. Rarely does TV so you'll have to rely on the books.

                          You may be lucky and find new kid on the block Valentine Warner has got his programmes sold on the western side of the pond. A man who certainly enjoys his eating ;-)