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When you buy a cookbook...

Another thread made me wonder. What do you do when you buy or are given a cookbook? Do you sit down and read it or page through? Is the index the most important part of the book? Do pick out a couple recipes to try or do you set an agenda to cook your way through it? Are you looking for recipes or a point of view about cooking or food? Do you have some quota of recipes or frequency of use in mind that indicate "mastering" the book or make it a worthwhile purchase?

Not looking for all these answers. Just trying to get a sense of what your approach to cookbooks is.

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  1. Do you sit down and read it or page through?
    When I have a new cookbook I sit down and page through. At this point I'm looking to see how the chapters are organized and perhaps some recipes will catch my eye as well.

    Is the index the most important part of the book?
    Eventually the Index does become more important than the Table of Contents because individual ingredients are listed there, not just the broad categories.

    Do {you} pick out a couple recipes to try or do you set an agenda to cook your way through it?
    I list the page number and title of the recipe on a piece of paper which I fold and keep in the book so I can see at a glance which recipes looked interesting at the outset. This list is added to as I look for more recipes to cook.

    Are you looking for recipes or a point of view about cooking or food?
    Mostly I'm looking for new and interesting recipes. As I cook through a book I get a sense of the philosophy of the author.

    Do you have some quota of recipes or frequency of use in mind that indicate "mastering" the book or make it a worthwhile purchase?
    I have no quota. In fact, some books I initially thought I was enthralled with became less absorbing as I cooked the recipes. Sometimes I just want to read the author because I want to learn more about him/her. Sometimes I buy a cookbook on the recommendation of others, but I do my own research as well.

    1. I like to read through it like a good novel, and tag recipes that sound good to me as I go along. I don't have any set number of recipes that I intend to try, although perhaps I should. I just get to the recipes when I can.

      I live in a climate where the seasons have a huge impact on availability of ingredients and on which dishes sound appealing, based on the weather. So, it's clear to me pretty quickly which recipes I can try now versus the ones that will have to wait for a different season.

      Also, I have a pretty restricted diet, so, the recipes that look like they'll fit into my lifestyle tend to rise to the top of my list pretty quickly.


      1. I generally avoid purchasing cookbooks that I haven't paged through beforehand. I review lists of ingredients to see how bizarre some of them might be. If I find a common thread of recipes that require ingredients that are either incredibly exotic or rare I simply don't bother buying the book. If I receive a cookbook as a gift (which usually happens at least once a year) I handle it the same way. If I don't find them to be something I would use, I donate them to the library or a local charity. Keeping a book in my library that I will never use is a waste of space.
        There is one exception to my standard practice. I have a few recipe books that I use simply as references. I read through the recipes in these books to get new ideas and adapt them using ingredients I might have on hand or frequently use.

        1. I'm a sucker for cookbooks of a countries cuisine and hence I've got many and it keeps growing. Like a woman and her shoes. and I'm a guy:)

          Since many obscure ingredients are readily available to me, I page through the book looking at ingredients. If the ingredient list contain substitutes I assume the book addresses availability issues and is directed to a different audience.

          I, generally, will not pay more than $10 dollars. I just purchased a Japanese cookbook with the first 123 pages devoted, to the history, utensils, ingredients and more and the next 124 pages devoted to recipes, and followed by a glossary and index. It's my 3rd Japanese book. A good read. It's written by Japanese with a good translator. Still, I have an expensive edition of 'Kaiseki: Zen tastes in Japanese cooking' by Kaichi Tsuji, less a cookbook, but more about Zen, Japan, food, and tea.

          I like books that have photo illustrations of the cooking process. Pictures,sometimes, contain a thousand words, especially with an unfamiliar cuisine.

          1. My cookbook approach has changed since becoming active in the COTM here. I now bring the book to my office [one floor above the kitchen] and read. Page by page. I mark all interesting recipes with a post it note. I try hard to "memorize" the recipes well enough so that when I see a good looking lamb shoulder at the store, I can remember "oh yes" I could use that for these recipes.

            For the most part, this works well, though sometimes it does require a return visit to the store since my memorization can forget that I also need water chestnuts or some non-pantry item.

            In the past, I was no where near as methodical and often forgot what recipes I was interested in.

            2 Replies
            1. re: smtucker

              You need a recipe app that you can carry with you! For years I had a small (quarter page size) cookbook of my family's favorite recipes that I printed out from my recipe DB so I didn't miss any ingredients when I decided spontaneously that that's what was for dinner. The DB software that I use now has an iPhone app so that I can carry editable shopping lists and ALL (yes, ALL) of my recipes in my purse. LOVE It!

              1. re: rainey

                You haven't been to my local supermarket. If I started scrolling around an iPhone, I would be run over by the numerous multi-generational families. It is a lovely idea, but would only work at much calmer spots.

                I have a great pantry though, so the number of return trips is very small.

            2. It really, really depends on the cookbook. When it comes to books like Gourmet Today (i.e. large, no photos or "personality") I tend to read the intro and check out the menus that are generally found in the back. Some are simply reference (Gastronimique, Julia Child, JOC). The books that are beautifully art directed and have photos tend to get the most attention from me straight away. I will sit down and post-it recipes I am interested in (recently I've done this with Ad Hoc). Some are just totally out of my reach, like The Fat Duck Cookbook, and I generally page through the entire thing and tell myself I will read it in its entirety later :-)

              If I have something in mind, I will hit up the index (I choose JOC for the basics). If I am having a dinner, sometimes I will choose a trusted book that is arranged by menus, like Sunday Suppers. If I feel like Italian I might choose an Italian cookbook and page through until something jumps out at me.

              Interestingly, Gourmet Today has inspired me to try every recipe through the next few years. I guess like a Julie/Julia kind of thing. Perhaps because I am mourning the loss of the magazine, but I'd like to be forced into making things I otherwise would not, and I love that there's a nice variation.

              In that case, I will start with menus, just because it's so overwhelming, and then work from there.

              1 Reply
              1. re: karianne

                I check the table of contents and index and ingredients required before I buy.
                So many books seem to have bizarre ingredients which are difficult to find.

                Always on the lookout for new cooking techniques. I avoid books with long complicated recipes . Who has time nowadays? I also avoid cook books with few color pics. I can't understand why they publish them. Everyone wants to see the finished dish.

                I pick the recipes which interest me and highlight cooking these first.. I will later go back and see what else is interesting.

              2. I tend to approach cookbooks like "functional" literature. Yes, I want wonderful recipes, but even more importantly, I want a vibrant, authentic voice and style, from the author. I want to be swept up in their enthusiasm, see the world from their perspective, ride along on their anecdotes and memories, feel and taste their experiences, appreciate their culinary ideology.

                That said, if the recipes are boring or don't work, forget it! But, I'm definitely a cookbook voyeur.