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Mar 31, 2011 10:39 AM

What makes a good cook book for you?

What is it that makes a cookbook good in your opinion?

Is it photos of recipes?
Simple recipes?
That it inspires you?
Who it's written by?
That it is a challenge?

Let me know what you think guys. I know I have a lot of cookbooks I rarely pick up out of my collection.

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  1. Simple recipes that inspire me, written by the cook I trust (intuitively :-)

    1. Written by someone who can write and cook well, who has a strong point of view and the courage of his/her convictions, and who can make a coherent, compelling narrative out of every recipe. I don't care about pictures, though good illustrations are always welcome; the drawings in the last several James Beard books are outstanding examples. I abhor sloppy writing, listless writing, words used as filler; some books I have start out strong and then run out of steam. Writers who default to Quick'n'Easy, Marian Burros, for instance, annoy the whee out of me.

      I can get really PO'd at some writers for expressing their personal prejudices as though they were laws of nature, such as Nika Hazelton's pronouncement that scrambled eggs with distinct white and yellow streaks "are disgusting" - not "I think they're disgusting." I remember that one because I happen to like eggs done that way …

      Most of all, I want to hear a voice with personality, intelligence, an active curiosity and a delighted interest in the food itself. Beard could get downright salacious when discussing various pork parts, practically leaving drool marks on the page, but there are plenty of writers able to express enthusiasm a little less vividly.

      James Beard, Julia Child, John Thorne, Richard Olney, Jane Grigson, Helen Evans Brown, Evan Jones, Elizabeth David, Paula Wolfert - none of these ever wrote a less than stellar cookbook, though their styles are wildly divergent, and the books and essays some of these have written about food and food history are splendid as well. Tony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook, while as good a bistro-food book as any, is on my keepers list because of the clear explanations of the differences between restaurant cooking and home cooking, followed by some very wise tips for the home cook based on commercial practice.

      1. For me its pictures. I'm a very visual person so I struggle with cookbooks without pictures. Plus, I just feel this need to see what the end result should look like... then I can tweak and change things as I see fit.

        2 Replies
        1. re: mcap

          + 1.

          I rarely follow a recipe even when I'm making something for the first time. But when I see a picture that looks good, I'll hit the net and read half a dozen recipes to get an idea of the ratio of the ingredients, the technique, etc.

          Then I make it my own.

          1. re: mcap

            It's pictures for me too, although I do love the Joy of Cooking and How To Cook Everything because of the vast scope of the recipes.

          2. Ones that put emphasis on technique and ingredients/flavors. That way the reader actually learns how to be a better cook by utilizing the techniques and see/taste how the flavors come together. The good ones make you think about trying things for yourself, based on what you've learned.

            1. Like the OP, we have cookbooks that we never cook from.

              What makes a good one? One that's been proven to work - for example, our Nigel Slater and Delia Smith ones are well thumbed yet our Nigella lawson and Jamie Oliver ones look pristine.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Harters

                Nigel Slater is good not cooked from his books but seen some of his TV shows. I just got Nigel Slater Tender Volume 1 Its all about vegetables then suggest recipes to cook with them. Nigel Slaters style is kind of like throw together a few bits and make it work. Which I like. Cooking does not have set rules. Jamie Oliver I like to watch cooking but his books are just so so. Sometimes too complicated and time consuming.