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My cookbook challenge! (long...)

Hi,

Like many people on this board, I've developed a bit of a cookbook buying addition. Despite my habit, I was always an improvisational cook, preferring to grab a bit of this and that.

One day I found myself reaching for the same set of spices, trying to coax a new creative way to experiment with mace. I felt uninspired, grabbed a cookbook, and decided that I wanted to refine my technique by cooking at least one dish from every book I owned.

I imposed a soft deadline and set out on a many month challenge that concluded with a spectacular lobster bouillabaisse from the Morimoto Cookbook. Along the way, I tortured my wife, as it was all I talked about - strategy, what I was making that weekend, and how she was going to have to suck it up when I finally cooked from the two Rachel Ray cookbooks that were given to me as a gift.

The vast majority of the dishes were solid, a bunch exceptional and a few almost warranted a call to the local pizza place. The real fun was in discovering unexpected gems, such as the Morton's Cookbook black bean soup (an incredible version of my favorite soup,) which I picked up at a restaurant opening function, as well as scratching a bunch of dishes of my bucket list, like the above-mentioned bouillabaisse.

I am not expecting anyone to read the entire list, but I listed all the recipe titles and thoughts on the individual books (but not actual recipes given Chow rules.) I'm happy to share privately if anyone wants info a specific dish!

Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking - Lobster Bouillabaisse (my favorite dish of the bunch, which led me to a new obsession for Gochujang, a fiery Korean chili paste.)

Barbara Lynch: Stir - Ham and cheese puff pastry bites with honey mustard; Slow roasted clams with spicy tomato sauce; Butcher Shop Bolognese; Linguini with spicy clam sauce; Torn pasta fagioli with shrimp polpettini; Rigatoni with spicy shrimp and cannellini beans; Spicy clam stew; Pan fried cod with chorizo and clam ragout; Saffron steamed mussels with crème freche; Pork chops with caramelized apples, celery and spiced walnuts (My favorite cookbook, with the shrimp polpettini, rigatoni and pork chops standing out.)

Jody Adams: In The Hands Of A Chef – Monkish and Clam Bourride (soulful dish and my first homemade tapenade, inspired by my pain-in-the-*** brother-in-law, who upon a suggestion of a meal of rack of lamb, stated by lamb, if I meant local fish and clams, brilliant!)

Patricia Green: Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood – Quinoa Bean salad (I’m all about healthy grains for lunch and love this filling and flavorful protein-packed salad.)

Jacques Pepin: Essential Pepin - Zucchini and tomato gratin (glorious side dish from Jacques.)

Grace Young: Stir Frying To The Sky's Edge – Hong Kong style mango ginger chicken, Cashew chicken (both flavorful dishes.)

Tyler Florence: Tyler’s Ultimate – Hunter Minestrone, Peach barbecue chicken (the soup is a classic in my house, and the peach BBQ sauce is a go to as well.)

Mario Batali: Molto Mario – Mussels in a spicy saffron broth

Donald Link: Real Cajun: Rustic Home Cooking from Donald Link’s Louisiana – Old school chicken and sausage jambalaya; spicy sausage stuffed chicken thighs, Post-K Meatloaf, Lake Charles Dirty Rice (amazing book, with the jambalaya and meatloaf among my new favorite dishes. I need to visit Link's restaurants.)

Thomas Keller: Ad Hoc At Home - Crispy braised chicken thighs with olive, lemon and fennel; Pomegranate glazed quail; Meatballs with pappardelle; Herb crusted rack of lamb with honey mustard glaze; Lentil and sweet potato soup (Love everything save the quail. Chicken thighs are so moist and tender, and the rack of lamb is decadent.)

Marissa Guggiana: Primal Cuts: Cooking with America's Best Butchers -Armenian lamb shish kabob; Braised chicken thighs in rosemary jus (nifty book with a number of interesting dishes from top butchers and chefs. Loved both dishes.)

Clara Silverstein: The Boston Chefs Table (compendium of recipes from Boston chefs) - Coffee marinated rack of lamb with corn salad and espresso vinaigrette (the lamb was ok but the corn salad was a real knockout.)

Ming Tsai: Simply Ming - Scallion crusted cod with mango salsa (now in regular rotation and finally got my wife to embrace cod. The salsa packs a nice punch!)

Jay Harlow: Williams Sonoma Seafood - Salmon in parchment - (Not sure if I'd make this again, but cooking fish en papillote was a new technique for me.)

Stéphane Reynaud: Pork and sons -Grandma Babke's roast pork (didn't love the pork, but looking forward to diving into this book come winter.)

Klaus Fritsch: Morton's The Cookbook - Black bean soup (I'm obsessed with soup, and black bean is one of my favorites. I love the depth and smoky flavors in this version.)

David Chang: Momofuku - Ginger scallion noodles (These noodles are mildly addictive. The first few bites, you wonder what the hype is all about and then you look down and realize that nearly all the noodles are gone.)

Bobby Cooks American - New Mexico style soft tacos with hacked chicken and salsa verde (great easy weeknight dish. Love the heat from the fresh chilis.)

Nigella Lawson: Feast - Pasta primavera (why did I buy this book?)

Anna Sortun: Spice - Beet tzatziki (OK, I cheated by not cooking a main dish, but the tzatziki was remarkable, just like her two restaurants.)

Claudia Roden: Arabesque - Bulgar and chickpea salad (I need to explore this book in greater detail. I eat this for lunch several times a month.)

Jacques Pepin: Complete Techniques - poached egg (Yes, I made a poached egg, but I never had done so before, and it's my challenge.) Are you really still reading?!?

Fergus Henderson: The Whole Beast - Mussels grilled on barbecue. (Nice dish, not loving the cookbook.)

Ferran Adria: The Family Meal: Home cooking with Ferran Adria - Caramelized pears – (thought the book was a bit too simple for my tastes - my one dessert of the bunch.)

Tess Mallos: North African Cooking - Grille Moroccan spiced chicken (remarkable whole chicken with so much flavor! My 2 year old gobbles this up and calls it Daddy Chicken.)

The Essential Cookbook - Cuban black beans and rice (my wife had this book. We are now giving it away.) Next.

Rachel Ray: 2,4,6,8 - Veggie chickpea and couscous salad with yogurt dressing (next.)

Rachel Ray: 30 Minute Meals - ginger soy chicken (yummo, uh, no. Next.)

Cook's Illustrated: The Best New Recipes - Hoisin Ginger shrimp with sticky rice (surprisingly good and simple weeknight meal - includes several possible iterations of each dish.)

Ming Tsai: Blue Ginger - Teriyaki salmon with mirin cucumber salad (Liked the salad, but a bit of a dated dish.)

Teresa Barrenechea: The Basque table - Pureed mixed vegetable soup (simple and light, but surprisingly addictive, just doesn't freeze well.)

Cook's Illustrated: The Best Light Recipes - Soy glazed salmon and rice bake with mushrooms and bok choy (nice, clean weeknight dish.)

Charleston Cooks: Taste Of the Low Country - Shrimp and cheddar grits with homemade shrimp stock (intensely flavorful version from this beautiful kitchen shop owned by the Maverick Restaurant Group in Charleston.)

Biba Caggiano: Biba's Italy - Pan fried sausage and broccoli rabe with orecchiette (free book, largely uninspiring. Solid dish but not likely to repeat.)

Sondra Bernstein: The Girl and The Fig Cookbook - Asparagus and English pea soup with pistachio butter, Carrot Ginger Soup (the asparagus is light and perfect for spring....)

Donald Barickman: Magnolias: Authentic Southern Cuisine - Mac and cheese. (My arteries hated me and I might have grabbed fat kid sweatpants after eating this, but wow this was good.)

Rick Bayless: Mexican Everyday: Chipotle shrimp and meatballs; Mushroom Crema soup, tomatillo enchiladas, classic enchiladas, red chili chicken, luxurious guacamole and multiple salsas. (I have a man crush on Bayless. Everything was great save the soup. The tomatillo enchiladas made me buy another Bayless cookbook and the guacamole is insanely good.)

Rick Bayless: One Plate At A Time – Grilled Salmon Vera Cruz with Lemon and Thyme scented salsa (exceptional dish with a flavor profile that was unlike any other Mexican dish I’ve had to date. The flavors were distinctly Mediterranean but fiery from the pickled jalapenos. Man crush confirmed.)

Keith McNally: The Balthazar Cookbook -Potage St. Germaine; mushroom soup; striped bass with tomato and saffron; glazed pork belly; mustard crusted salmon with lentils and sweet garlic jus. (Wonderful cookbook from the once beloved and now touristy restaurant. Everything is worth cooking again, especially the lentils.)

Adam Perry Lang: Serious BBQ - Asian Pork Meatball Skewers (labor intensive dish with sauce and glaze, but seriously flavorful. I can’t wait to make his paella on the grill!)

Stephanie Izard - Girl & The Goat Cookbook: Truffled white asparagus soup; manila clam and sausage linguini with horseradish crème freche; apple pork ragu with pappardelle (all wonderful, with the ragu exemplifying Izard’s ability to meld numerous delicate flavors.)

Giada: Giada's Family Dinners - Italian wedding soup; broccoli florets with Meyer lemon olive; penne with sausage, artichokes and sun dried tomatoes. (Simple but solid weeknight food.)

Giada: Everyday Italian - Farfalle with turkey sausage, peas and mushrooms (see above.)

Tom Colicchio: Think Like a Chef - Clam ragout with pancetta; roasted tomatoes and mustard greens; polenta gratin with mushroom bolognese (the clam dish was way too salty but loved the polenta gratin.)

Daniel Holzman: The Meatball Shop Cookbook – Lamb Meatballs, Mediterranean Style (One of my friends ate 10+ of these in one sitting. OK, that was me. Can’t wait to dig deeper into this book.)

Marcella Kazan: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - The Bolognese (best version I’ve made, courtesy the Julia Child of Italian cooking.)

Jean-Georges: Asian Flavors of Jean-Georges: Roast chicken with chunky miso and grapefruit (remarkable dish with incredible complexity from such diverse ingredients.)

Bobby Flay - Mesa Grill Cookbook : red chili honey glazed salmon with black bean sauce and jalapeño crema (exceptional dish, with the black beans being the real star.)

Bobby Flay: Boy Meets Grill - Red chili citrus marinated chicken breasts with grilled tortillas and avocado tomatillo sauce; Jerked chicken with mango cilantro relish (both a bit flat)

Various: The 150 Best American recipes - Roasted mushroom-leek soup with crispy pancetta (hated it.)

Jonathan Waxman: A Great American Cook: warm sweet onion tart, asparagus with oranges and hazelnuts, corn soup with saffron (tart was very rich and wonderful.)

Penelope Casas - Tapas : Gambas al ajillo, Tortilla de Espanola (great versions of Spanish classics.)

Dean & Deluca - Classic minestrone (phenomenal, chunky version of my favorite soup.)

New Basics Cookbook - Nutty quinoa salad (meh)

Ellie Krieger : The Food You Crave - Lemon chicken soup with orzo; Penne with roasted tomatoes, garlic and white beans; Balsamic chicken with baby spinach and couscous; Sesame teriyaki chicken thighs; Maple mustard chicken thighs; Jerk chicken with cool pineapple salsa; Roasted salmon with shallot grapefruit sauce; Baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta; Scallops with succotash (Wonderful healthy weeknight cookbook. Simple but flavorful dishes, most repeated multiple times.)

Ellie Krieger: So Easy - Chicken mushroom quesadillas; garlic basil shrimp; salmon with chickpea Ragu; roasted tomato and black bean soup with avocado mango salad (simple but clean dishes, all repeated save the salmon.)

Ina Garten: Barefoot Contessa Cookbook - Gazpacho; lentil vegetable soup, Rosemary white bean soup (My go to gazpacho and lentil recipes.)

Ina Garten: Barefoot Contessa Parties - butternut squash and apple soup (love her version.)

This has been a wonderful experience in that I tried and learned how to cook so many new dishes. I'm already pondering new ways to push myself in the kitchen! Thanks for reading.

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  1. What a great posr, and an object lesson for those of us who tend to collect cookbooks we rarely cook from. Sadly, your post made me want to buy a couple of cookbooks I don't have! Stir, by Barbara Lynch, in particular, caught my eye...

    1. Mr. Bigglesworth, what an inspiring report. Thanks very much...!

      Yes, I read the whole thing, and from your list of books I singled out several I'm interested in that I don't have in my cookbook library :

      Tess Mallos: North African Cooking
      Ellie Krieger: The Food You Crave
      Barbara Lynch: Stir
      Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking

      Now I'm on a mission to investigate them further, especially the Krieger.

      1. Should this be "cookbook buying addiction" instead of "cookbook buying addition?"

        I'll go along with this statement in your opening paragraph of your lengthy thesis, "I was always an improvisational cook, preferring to grab a bit of this and that." But I still belong to the "What if...?" school of cooking specializing in "Cuisine Impromptu."

        Yesterday's lunch was soup made with surimi (that fake crab leg stuff made with pollock) and tofu plus onion, celery, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, puree of ghost peppers and sweet red bell peppers, 5 spice seasoning, turmeric, ramen noodles and water. It worked well. I just grabbed what was available. The noodle flavor pack was discarded due the high salt content.

        I fell asleep while reading your opus.

        2 Replies
        1. re: ChiliDude

          Of course my wife immediately noticed the typo in the first sentence.

          1. re: Mr Bigglesworth

            BTW, I have more than 200 cookbooks and pamphlets that I've collected in over 50 years. The only recipe that I followed to the letter was for chopped chicken livers in Joan Nathan's 'Jewish Cooking in America.' I have several chili cookbooks just because I like to read them. My favorite cookbook is the apron which I wear when experimenting in the kitchen. It reads "I don't need a recipe...I'M ITALIAN."

        2. Well this should keep a lot of people here busy and happy and interested for a long time!

          1. Fantastic report! I've been waffling on Ellie Krieger's "The Food You Crave" for quite some time. I think you may have convinced me to buy it. Repeating a recipe is the ultimate compliment.