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What I do NOT want in a Cookbook

Inspired by my visit to the bookstore the other day (and helpful hints for anyone who wants to get me a cookbook for Christmas!)

I do not want a cookbook that's so heavy I have to call over my son to carry it from the shelf to the countertop.

I do not want a cookbook so tall and wide that it can't fit onto the bookshelf.

I do not want a cookbook dedicated to your mind-blowing "discovery" trip through Italy. It was interesting and entertaining the first time it was done (Jamie Oliver?) but by now I really don't need to know about the ancient Nonna in the tiny village who taught you how to make pasta just right. I only want the recipe, thank you very much.

I do not want a cookbook where the photos are so colorful as to be distracting. I don't need to see you looking ever so the hipster on a scooter. And I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking at, the dish or is that just a table centerpiece? I also really don't care about seeing you with your best friends and families and impossibly behaved toddlers sitting around a rustic farmhouse table.

I do not want a cookbook where the list of ingredients are spaced 1 inch apart on a sparse, minimalist page (and the list is always either too brief or too long). My inner toddler will only be tempted to smear tomato sauce all over that precious, beautiful page.

I do not want a cookbook devoted to the cuisine of a country but is divided by regions. So all the desserts are scattered throughout the book instead of bundled together at the end.

I do not want a cookbook that has several recipes crammed on one page, interspersed with anecdotes, while the opposing page is wasted on yet another beautiful photograph of a beautiful countryside or urban square. Again. And again.

And I hate to say this as I love to bake but I do not want yet another baking cookbook featuring identical brownie, cheesecake and macaroon recipes. I'm sure you're a wonderful baker but I'm looking at the shelf and there's a dozen of identikit baking cookbooks, beautifully illustrated with lovely photographs but offering nothing better than the heavyweights already on my shelf (Berenbaum, Carole Walter, Nick Malgieri etc). You may have fabulous hair but that's not enough to persuade me to swap my Berenbaum or Malgieri for you.

I do not want another cookbook on how to artfully stuff lemon up a chicken's bum. Marcella Hazan beat you to it thirty years ago.

You may have a world-famous restaurant. I'm sure it's brilliant. But I do not want your cookbook. Why? Because I know no matter how hard I try or how much time I take or how much money I spend, it'll never be as good as from your kitchen and there's a reason for it. I don't have my own sous-chef nor do I have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of high end kitchen technology to make the perfect green foam with the right amount of bubbles.

What about you all? What don't you want in your cookbooks?

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  1. Good post! You touched on a lot of pet peeves, but here's another one: Make it accessible for me, my kitchen, and my grocery store. (I knew what I was getting into when I bought the Alinea cookbook/coffee table book - I mean come on.)

    But for the rest, I can't get fresh picked heirloom tomatoes in January, never-frozen Alsatian sea scallops, or sometimes even quality meat. I might not have whatever percent Dutch cocoa - I might have a can of Hersheys. Teach me how to work around these issues.

    12 Replies
    1. re: NonnieMuss

      what city do you live in NonnieMuss?

      1. re: NonnieMuss

        I agree!
        Vanilla beans are my big pet peeve in recipes! They are pricey, dont keep as long as extract so I dont stock them at home. Would be nice to have a conversion index for things like that in cook books. Fresh herbs as well. I love them but they are expensive to buy and i do not have the exposure or space to grown my own, info for reasonable substitution of dried herbs.

        1. re: Alurna

          I know you're talking about including this information in the cookbook, but I think it's generally 1/2 tsp of a dried herb for every 1 tsp of fresh. Right? That's what I was taught.

            1. re: herby

              So 1:3 instead of 1:2. Fair enough.

              1. re: Kontxesi

                Ahhhh! That makes alot of sense....and I feel quite the dunce for not thinking to look it up honestly. But I rarely use recipes unless I am baking which I don't care for and have little skill for. Ty Knotxesi and Herby

        2. re: NonnieMuss

          I am actually tired of cookbooks that always try to simplify dishes and "work around issues". I want cookbooks that are written as cookbook authors / chefs were originally planning each dish without any shortcuts. Everybody should be able to develop own shortcuts if necessary

          1. re: honkman

            I agree with you, honkman (though all opinions are valid, of course). I'd never buy Hershey's anything, and if I do buy cocoa, it will be good quality (I don't have children and rarely use it). I adore reading Ottolenghi, though even here in Montréal with sizeable Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern populations, some ingredients would be hard to find. Of course I use substitutions and shortcuts - that is part of knowing how to cook.

            1. re: lagatta

              I am surprised that you have trouble finding ingredients for Ottolenghi dishes in Montreal. I am in Ottawa and have found everything I needed for Plenty and Jerusalem dishes.

              1. re: herby

                I haven't. I'm just saying some of them might be a challenge. I am thinking more of some of the recipes I've seen in the Guardian. We are blessed with large Middle-Eastern communities (and other Mediterranean ones, if he drifts outside the Levantine area in his inspirations).

                We have the Lebanese Adonis supermarket chain, for one thing. They have a new supermarket in the west end of downtown Mtl, near Atwater metro, though it is smaller than the ones a bit farther out. I do we also had a T&T for East and Southeast Asian foods (we do have good supermarkets, but none as large as that one).

                1. re: lagatta

                  We have T&T also but no Adonis. Lots of small ethnic shops sprinkled around the city and I must say that I prefer those to huge supermarkets. A friend and I have been planning a 'food' trip to Montreal - maybe in spring after the snow is gone :)

            2. re: honkman

              I'm not looking for shortcuts, just how to use ingredients I have available to me. I try to buy the best quality I can, but I also live in a land-locked state with fair-to-middlin' grocery stores. My local store stopped selling bulbs of garlic for pete's sake. I have to drive across town when I need it fresh. Organic/free-range chickens that have been sung lullabyes and massaged with aromatherapy oils are going to taste better than the frankenchicken breasts I get at the grocery. I'm not looking to make Beef Wellington with ground chuck - just keep it realistic! Something in between feshly-dug tartufi bianchi and cream-of mushroom soup casseroles.

              Would also like to chime in with agreements on the physical aspects of books - fit on shelf, no dust jacket, stay open on the counter, etc. Those are all great points.

          2. I do not want ingredients that I have to order on line.

            Please have a beginner check your recipes in their own kitchen. A degree of difficulty is some times nice to know.

            I appreciate how the recipes correlate with the populace. I do not need a 500 year history on how chicken is roasted.

            I will probably never eat in your restaurant. So how do I know if the book matches what you served? Have gone through a number of local fails in that regard.

            If you are a diet or philosophical book with recipes, be upfront about it. I was burned for $29.95 on an herb book that turned out to be vegetarian. I wanted a source book for all applications. Last time I bought a book by the cover.

            If it doesn't fit on the shelf, you are an automatic pass.

            1. There are recipes cookbook (more or less useless in these internet days) and there are coffee table cookbooks.

              I have not bought a recipes cookbook in a very long while, and bought only a few coffee table cookbooks in the last 10 years.

              Ok, now to answer the question:

              I want cookbooks to give me inspiration, have them show me different presentation ideas and/or ingredients combinations.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Maximilien

                Great way to classify! I prefer recipe cookbooks...I consider them reference books. Not interested in someone's landscape photography or tales of foreign lands. I go to the book for information on using a list of ingredients to create a dish that impresses. IF, however, historical information is needed to best understand the dish, then I'll read that for a greater appreciation.

              2. Photos should focus on food or technique as much as possible.

                Ingredients that are to be divided should mention that in the list.

                5 Replies
                1. re: melpy

                  "Photos should focus on food or technique as much as possible"

                  And truly I would most of the time prefer line drawings for the technique illustrations. I have some favorite cookbooks with lovely food photos, but the heavy paper those photos are printed on weighs down the books something fierce, and the photos don't help me cook any more effectively.

                  1. re: ratgirlagogo

                    Line drawings are fine. I love the Good Housekeeping Illustrated Cookbook from 1980z great job with a small photo index and line drawings in te recipes.

                  2. re: melpy

                    This is why I love so many of the "bargain" cookbooks I've picked up from Barnes & Noble and elsewhere through the years (a lot of them are I think Parragon Books). They tend to have photos of nearly every recipe that are just that: the food in the recipe! With sometimes handy preparation pictures as well. And they tend to be accurate photos as well. I've bought too many designer/celebrity chef books where the dishes in the pictures don't even match the ingredients listed in the recipe or were clearly plated by a fancy stylist.

                    1. re: sockii

                      I have found many of the bargain books to be "stock" photos that the publishers use and reuse for serveral different books. I find a lot of these from British publishers.

                      I have actually requested that my husband stop buying these for me because I don't trust the recipes. He responded that he just won't buy any more cookbooks.

                      1. re: melpy

                        Yes, I think most of them are DK publishers. I look on the back and if the price is a US price and then a UK price, I usually pass. Lovely books, but yes, repeat of photos and recipes and often times no conversion from metric to imperial.

                        I have taken to checking cookbooks out from the library to give them a really good whirl. With the internet now, a cookbook has to be really special for me to want to spend my bucks on it.

                        I think the OP summed it up very well. Another thing I'd add is that I don't want to have to turn the page for the end of the recipe unless it is absolutely necessary. So irritating to have 3/4 of the recipe on the left page, an illustration on the right, then have to turn the page to get to the end. I love a good illustration, but make the whole kit and kaboodle fit on a two-page spread.

                        By far the best cookbook I've bought in the last few years (and really the only one) is the Smitten Kitchen one. It's pretty near perfect...and the fact that my blogging friend was able to get me a signed copy was quite the bonus.

                  3. This is gonna be one of those different strokes for different folks kinds of posts...

                    I don't want:
                    - Lame descriptions telling me I have to make something because it's 'fast,' 'easy,' 'yummy,' or 'beautiful.'
                    - Cookbooks from people who aren't good cooks, but think their philosophy of food makes up for it.
                    - Cookbooks from people who aren't good cooks, but think their celebrity or notoriety makes up for it.
                    - Cookbooks that lie to you ("caramelize onions for 3 minutes")
                    - Cookbooks that are merely a list of recipes, with a few pictures added.
                    - Cookbooks that assume I'm a wimp ("have your butcher debone the chicken")
                    - Cookbooks that leave out all the actual technique that makes a dish good in order to streamline its recipes and/or not scare away the uninitiated.

                    What I do want:
                    - Insight.
                    - Inspiration

                    That's it. If a book can make me a better cook or make me excited about something new, I'm happy to read it. I can get recipes on the internet or cook without one.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: cowboyardee

                      No cutesy names! Tell me what I am eating unless that is the traditional name for the dish.

                      Ants Climbing a Tree
                      Ants on a Log
                      Rocky Mountain Oysters
                      Angels on Horseback
                      Clams Casino
                      Pigs in a Blanket

                      Yummy, fast and easy don't need to be mentioned in the name at all!

                        1. re: foodieX2

                          Or by anyone who seems not to like to cook and eat. Note, this is NOT a weight-based judgement. Some very good cooks are lithe, and not all people who overeat actually savour their food.

                          1. "I do not want a cookbook so tall and wide that it can't fit onto the bookshelf."

                            I'm looking at you, Thomas Keller!

                            1. I do not want a cookbook written using small, faint or sans-serif font.

                              I do not want a cookbook that assumes I have a butcher available to do my bidding.

                              I do not want a cookbook that refers to other recipes within the book and fails to provide a page number.

                              I do not want a cookbook that lies about the correct temperatures for when meat is done. If I want those lies, I'll consult the USDA.

                              I do not want a cookbook that mentions "Veggies."

                              I do not want a cookbook that uses fake food, such as that obscenity, "non-fat half-and-half," or "lite" anything.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: bitchincook

                                "I do not want a cookbook that assumes I have a butcher available to do my bidding."

                                THIS. I don't even know where I would go around here to have something done special for me.

                                (The only custom butchery I can get done is venison, and I'm crap with a saw, so it's some sloppy butchery.)

                                "I do not want a cookbook written using small, faint or sans-serif font."

                                I don't remember what class it was, but I was always taught that sans serif fonts are only for text that it meant to be read on a screen, and that serif fonts are easiest to read in print.

                                1. re: Kontxesi

                                  Seconding the butcher thing! I wish we had a good butcher around here, but we don't, and wishing won't make that happen. If I want something special done, it'll probably have to be done at Publix...

                                  1. re: Kontxesi

                                    Just a little factoid... although sans serif fonts are preferred for computer screens, sans serif fonts have been around since the 18th century.

                                  2. re: bitchincook

                                    I agree about small and faint, but I LOVE sans serif fonts. Much easier for old eyes to read.

                                  3. I do not want a cookbook where significant text is printed in colors that barely contrast with the color of the paper. I include recipe titles and page numbers as significant text.
                                    I do not want a cookbook printed in white on either a picture or deep color unless, perhaps in a section title page, the font is either bold or sufficiently large enough, or perhaps both, to be read.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: sr44

                                      This and the frankencookbooks [has anyone seen Manresa? How does he even expect anyone to cook from it? It would take up the entire counter] are my pet peeves. It's lovely to be experimental and arty, but not in a cookbook that you expect your audience to use.

                                      1. re: sr44

                                        Yes!!! Who can read that? Especially if the paper is glossy, too. When I'm cooking I'm hurrying and don't want to spend extra time trying to decipher unreadable font.

                                      2. I do not want a cookbook where the recipe has the ingredients list, then the instructions on separate page that involves me having to turn the page. Facing pages, sure, but no turning. This is especially annoying when all that's on the facing page to the ingredients or instructions is a picture of something stupid.

                                        Also agree with the goofy "activity" pictures (like riding a scooter or sitting around a table laughing with friends). The only time I like those is if the chef is a man and good looking, like my Pete Evans grilling book.;)

                                        1. A few more :)

                                          I do not want a cookbook that features at least six different fonts on a page. And one of those fonts is a mock handwritten font in 20 point size.

                                          I do not want a cookbook where the recipe is printed in white font on a darker image (like an aerial photograph of a tablecloth).

                                          I do not want a cookbook with artsy coarse paper. Because it will stain. And those coarse papers absorb stain too easily.

                                          1. Pictures of baked goods wrapped in rustic paper and twine...........

                                            1. Recipes that contain sub-recipes that are printed in another section of the book: just list it with the recipe itself (or at least printed with the first occurence of this subrecipe)

                                              1. I do not want a cookbook filled with your personal anecdotes and lengthy stories. The focus should be on the recipes.

                                                I do not want to see a rehash of the same tired recipes that have been circulating in cookbooks for ages and that can easily be found on the Internet (e.g., pizza dough, guacamole, etc). Instead offer a new approach to familiar dishes.

                                                Don't want a cookbook with "simple" recipes that require expensive or difficult to find ingredients in order to taste good. I'm sure that the chicken from the organic farm across the street from your will taste great roasted with only salt+pepper and a sprig of rosemary but don't expect the average person to be able to reproduce your results. Or the caprese salad with 45-year aged balsamic. Anyone can make very high quality food taste good. The real challenge is creating the extraordinary out of the ordinary.

                                                1. I agree with everyone else, plus:

                                                  I don't want a cookbook...
                                                  ...that is incapable of lying flat when open
                                                  ...that has no photos of the completed recipes
                                                  ...with recipes that don't use all of the ingredients listed
                                                  ...with recipes that throws in a few ingredients in addition to those listed
                                                  ...from any celebrity or network chef.

                                                  4 Replies
                                                  1. re: BobbieSue

                                                    I've seen recipes that call for ingredients not on the list, but I've never seen one that doesn't use some that ARE on the list. What kind of poor editing is that?!

                                                    1. re: Kontxesi

                                                      I know! I was thinking, is this some kind of joke??? The recipe was not written properly or in order either. I haven't had the courage to try any other recipes in that book, even though that recipe did turn out rather well (without using the unused ingredients)! lol

                                                      1. re: BobbieSue

                                                        Along similar lines, it's infuriating when a photo clearly shows an ingredient which is not mentioned anywhere.

                                                    2. re: BobbieSue

                                                      Chime to not wanting cookbooks that don't lie flat while open. I want a cookbook that can lay flat on the counter as I prepare the dish.

                                                      Chime on having a recipe on one page with ingredients and instructions there. Some of Madhur Jaffrey's books don't do this. I love her recipes, but it is very frustrating.

                                                    3. I do not want a cookbook where the instructions runs as one long paragraph.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that has cute little ornaments printed randomly on each page, it's a distraction.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that has the recipe on page 46 and the photo of the finished dish on page 103.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that has quotes from chef's long dead and magazines no longer in print, that are given a place of honor on the same pages as the recipes. All I need is a good recipe to inspire me.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that tells me 1 LEVEL teaspoon of an ingredient. It makes me think either you are anal, or you suspect I am an idiot. I know the dry ingredients need to be level.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook where the author shares Mom's tips, even when it's crucial advice such as how she kept her fine linens white.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that describes the dish and I need to cross reference with a dictionary to learn what a mélange or a carbonnade is.

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that tells me to cut a potato into 1&1/2 inch pieces. Are you talking about slices or cubes or what?

                                                      I do not want a cookbook that tells me when I start making that beef stew I'll need to cube a boneless beef chuck, or tip or round or...... Why not just say boneless beef roast, instead of listing every cut of beef possibly found in the meat department at the grocery.

                                                      1. I do not want:

                                                        1. "entertaining" stories about celecbrities who ate at your restaurant. I promise I do not care. i love Patsy's Italian cookbook. Don't care that Dinah Shore /Frank Sinatra/Rush Limbaugh can't cook and praised you tot eh heavens.
                                                        2. The utterly impossible. Charlie Trotter was a genius. his home cooking and Cooking Sesions books are great. I know of no one who has cooked from his massive food porn books.
                                                        3. HL Mencken once said that an optimist is someone whoa ssumes that because a rose smells good, it would make a good tea as well. If you are an actor/activist/mystery writer....maybe you are not also a great cook. One exception: Pat Conroy.

                                                        1. With all these very interesting lists of do not, what's left?

                                                          I have given away the vast majority of cookbooks I once owned and I have no interest in buying new ones. I go to the bookstore and browse but I don't buy. I don't buy for most of the reasons you all are giving.

                                                          However, the cookbooks that were compiled by local fireman, church ladies and Chamber of Commerce are still on the shelf. You'd be surprised (or not) how many of those cookbooks are bare bones, straight forward, easy to use. So maybe that's the answer in your search for the DO WANT.

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: HillJ

                                                            Interesting perspective.
                                                            My first cookbooks (aside from Frugal Gourmet cooks 3 Anciant Cuisines - borrowed from mom), were all very high end "Cook Like a Superstar Chef" tomes. Those are (mostly) gone now.

                                                            I reach for a number of really good, lucid recipes with an interesting perspective. my days of haunting the Internet or gourmet shops are over. I am happy using books written by someone who would like to show me how to cook well(River cottage series, Bill Granger, Simon Hopkinson, sometimes Bittman) with a minimum of self-adulation.

                                                            1. re: Westy

                                                              You know Bill Granger is an interesting fellow. When his two shows hit American television I was very interested in what he had to say. I enjoyed his straight forward, easy approach and every recipe I tried worked. I have't seen him on The Cooking Channel recently.

                                                            2. re: HillJ

                                                              I also really, really like books that are made to stay open (Polpi) for instance. no idea what it coasts to make a book that is happy in its little bookstand while I cook, but I like it very much.

                                                              1. re: Westy

                                                                I agree. I've noticed an increase in this design consideration more and more. Smitten Kitchen's new cookbook was designed to lay flat open. More cookbooks have the spiral binder edge. But a cookbook that is massive AND won't lay flat is really a pain to use.

                                                                1. re: Westy

                                                                  I was hoping someone would mention this. If I have to use a large can (or something heavy) to hold the book open and flat on the counter top/bench, then I don't want it.

                                                                  In fact, I'm gradually building my own favorite recipes cookbook in an old 3-ring binder, full of recipes I find online or run through my printer/copier from other sources. When perusing cookbooks at the bookstore (one of my most favorite activities) I have gotten to the point of only looking at the ones with a comb binding or some other stay-open option as possible purchases. I know if I buy a tightly bound, heavy tome, I'll never actually use it in the kitchen.

                                                                  1. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                    Binders are what I use. And I have a clip that hangs to the right of my work surface that I use to hang an individual recipe page from that binder to when I need a reference. Works great.

                                                              2. I don't want a cookbook that

                                                                - weighs more than three pounds.

                                                                - has a picture of the author on the cover, or anywhere in the book other than the dust jacket flap. [Okay if the author's on the front of a removable dust jacket; removal is thereby assured.]

                                                                - is more than nine inches tall (tight shelving here)

                                                                - is a coffee table book.

                                                                - is from the America's Test Kitchen combine.

                                                                - isn't on my wishlist. (Not as restrictive as it sounds -- there are more than a hundred books on it...)

                                                                1. I do not want a cookbook that uses volumetric measurements for dry goods. Enough is enough. People need to learn how to use scales.

                                                                  I do not want a cookbook that explains basic steps. I know how to dice an onion. I know the difference between a sweat and a sautee. I know how to tell when a custard is finished cooking. And so on. Just tell me the order of operations. I'll manage.

                                                                  I do not want a cookbook full of "easy," "simple," or "fast" recipes. If I want easy, simple, or fast, I'll throw something together. If I bother to crack open a cookbook it's because I want a project. I want a challenge.

                                                                  I do not want a cookbook that dumbs anything down. Unlike various others here, I am more than willing to order online or hunt down odd ingredients. The reason I'm using a cookbook is to do something new or different. I want to go outside of my comfort zone and learn something.

                                                                  I don't want a cookbook full of untested recipes. Yes, I do want a challenge and a project, but I also don't want to fail. If a cookbook targets beginners, recipes should be tested by beginners. Same with cookbooks that target an advanced audience: recipes should be tested by advanced testers. Under no circumstances should recipes be published without being tested.

                                                                  I do not want a cookbook full of typos, grammatical errors, odd use of punctuation, or other editing issues. When I see this in a cookbook it makes me question whether anything was validated or tested in any way. I won't waste my time when in doubt.

                                                                  Interesting to note that all of the posts here, taken as a single unit, cover pretty much the entire possible universe of cookbooks -- there seems to be plenty of room in the world for everyone's preferences and use cases.

                                                                  4 Replies
                                                                  1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                    Yes please include weight measurements.

                                                                    1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                      One of the worst offences (not so common nowadays), is books largely written by hand to look like a chef's notebook.

                                                                    2. I don't want a cookbook that...

                                                                      - lists ingredient quantities in metric units, unless I bought it from a foreign country.
                                                                      - has "EVOO" ANYWHERE in its text
                                                                      - doesn't list the instructions in a logical, chronological order, I don't want to read 4 steps into the Rx that I should have browned the meat first, after the first 3 told be to sautee the onions, garlic, etc.
                                                                      -Requires me to look up what an ingredient is, go to an obscure market to get it (unless Asian), or doesn't give me a viable alternative otherwise.
                                                                      -Tells me a dish is ready when it reachs a certain temp., and NOT after a particular time duration. I plan my meals around cooking times.

                                                                      20 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Dinermite

                                                                        +1 on EVOO. A previous employee here used it in the recipes she typed out, and whenever I use one I have to edit those out. Eurgh.

                                                                        1. re: Dinermite

                                                                          How should a cookbook author know which ingredients you happen to be familiar with?

                                                                          Likewise, how should a cookbook author know how long a piece of meat (which can vary in weight, shape, and water content) will take to cook in your particular oven (which can have temperature fluctuations, hot spots, and convection differences as compared with any given test oven)?

                                                                          1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                            If its something you can get in a regular grocery market, rather than only at a specialty food market, for example.

                                                                            1. re: Dinermite

                                                                              Actually that varies considerably by country and region.

                                                                              1. re: lagatta

                                                                                Yes, and can be the reason I re-gift or sell a limited, regionally focused or "centric" cookbook. It is useless to me if I have to go to great lengths to find an ingredient and you offer no alternatives.

                                                                                If I need to go to one particular store on 41st Street in NYC because they are the only source of the ingredient needed to make this dish (Martha Stewart, I'm lookin' at you!) then I'm not interested in the cookbook. Make it mainstream enough for most cooks, or make sure your title tells us it's for people living in a certain area.

                                                                                1. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                                  Well I just have to disagree. It's easy enough to leave out something that is hard to find ( and a good cook knows what will or won't substitute or at least where to find the information), on the other hand I might have it on hand. I have a well stock spice cabinet. I don't want a cookbook that limits the flavor profile of a dish because it's been dumbed down to what's available in a basic grocery store. Which is the main reason I am so picky about the source of my international recipes.

                                                                                  1. re: rasputina

                                                                                    I also agree. It is good to list substitutes, but if it's an ethnic cookbook I want to know what the authentic ingredients are. I live in a Midwestern city and you'd be surprised at the variety of international groceries here.

                                                                                    1. re: rasputina

                                                                                      My response was obviously unclear. I wasn't talking about international or ethnic recipes. I understand those ingredients won't be easily or locally sourced, and don't expect them to be, or to have the recipe "dumbed down" as you so artlessly put it.

                                                                                      When I said "regionally focused or "centric"' I was being US-Centric and that's my error.

                                                                                      The only example I can think of right now is a recipe that called for a sausage that was made in an area of a US state (drawing a blank here, sorry) and there was no substitute listed. Apparently, you needed to fly to that state and buy the sausage and fly it home or order it online and pay for refrigerated shipping. Again, sorry I was unclear. I still toss out those cookbooks. So sue me.

                                                                                      1. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                                        In your example why should the cookbook author write down substitution ? In today's world you can pretty much order everything online or find substitutions (if you really need them) by searching the web. If the author writes down substitutions, how does he know that they are available in your area (most often if they are available everywhere they are "middle-of-the-road" substitution which totally change the original dish).

                                                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                                                          "In today's world you can pretty much order everything online"

                                                                                          In some countries, like the US and Canada, yes. In many other countries, nope and not at all. Many companies do not ship internationally. Some countries have problems receiving shipments from outside the country (like Sri Lanka, for example, where food items regularly disappear from shipments).

                                                                                        2. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                                          You mean andouille? I used to live in Louisiana and I know what good andouille tastes like. That doesn't stop me from substituting keilbasa if that is all I have available locally since I moved. And no I don't want cookbook writers make the substitution for me in their recipe.

                                                                                      2. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                                        I also disagree and agree with rasputina.
                                                                                        I ,personally ,DO NOT want a mainstreamed recipe.

                                                                                        1. re: juliasqueezer

                                                                                          Yes, I also agree with rasputina. But I live in a major city, and do pick up items when travelling.

                                                                                          That is why there are different cookbooks!

                                                                                  2. re: Dinermite

                                                                                    But temperature is much more accurate as far as doneness, even for baked goods like bread. Same with metric units.

                                                                                    1. re: rasputina

                                                                                      Agreed, but, a recipe should give you a time estimate, in addition to the temperature, so you can plan the timing of your meal.

                                                                                      1. re: MelMM

                                                                                        Well if in doubt you can just use this one:

                                                                                        "Cook until done; it should take between 0 and 1000000 hours" :-)

                                                                                    2. re: Dinermite

                                                                                      I strongly disagree about the metric. Many Canadian books use both metric and Imperial, by the way. But then, I suspect we are a "foreign country", especially Québec where I live.

                                                                                      And many of my cookbooks are from Italy and France, a few from Spain and Latin America, or Germany and Austria. Everywhere is "foreign" to somewhere else, and you too have an accent.

                                                                                      Agree about EVOO. That falls into the dreaded cutesy category.

                                                                                      1. re: lagatta

                                                                                        I agree, but units should match to the market to which you are selling the book. If you are selling the book in Europe, then yes, use metric units. If a author/publisher wants to sell it in America, print copies with imperial units

                                                                                        1. re: Dinermite

                                                                                          It is in the interest of the cookbook author or chef who writes a cookbook that people are able to reproduce their dishes/recipes as closely as possible and there is no doubt that metric units will allow this whereas others, e.g. how much is one cup of flour, aren't really helpful independently of the market of the cookbook. If you read interviews with anybody who wrote a cookbook in the US one topic which very often appears is the wish that everything would be in metric units to have a better chance that the recipes are actually working.

                                                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                                                            I love metric. A lot of my books are international (or at least have both) and I just plop a bowl on my scale.
                                                                                            I made a cake out of joy of cooking which has no metric. I had to sift flour before I measured and I had a bunch of cup measures and spoons dirty when I could have just poured it all in a bowl and weighed it and whisked it.

                                                                                    3. I must have at least two cookbooks that fit every single "I don't want" on this list! And I love them all, because even if what I don't want in a cookbook is all that I learn from one, at least I've learned something...

                                                                                      But what I do wish I COULD have is... cookbook publishers (and it couldn't hurt if others followed suit!) to ONLY publish COMBINED sets so that when I buy a gorgeous cookbook I may want to hold and touch and read SOMETIMES it will ALSO be available to me, at NO added expense, in an electronic version I can access on my tablet PC, or on my Kindle, or whatever, and NOT have to lug around the 23 pound hard copy if I want to use one of the recipes!!!!

                                                                                      Sometimes I do actually buy the hard copy AND the eBook, but I get really tired of the "extra tariff." <sigh>

                                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                        Amazon kindle matchbook allows you to purchase digital copies of books you own in print ( bought from Amazon) for a cost range of free-2.99. Only available in certain books for now but I've seen a handful of my cookbooks on the list.

                                                                                        1. re: rasputina

                                                                                          Thanks! Good to know. Unfortunately I didn't buy any of the super heavy cookbooks I wish I had eBook versions of from amazon.com. In fact they probably didn't even exist! '-)

                                                                                      2. I do not ant a cookbook that is dedicated to:

                                                                                        1. Fast
                                                                                        2. Easy
                                                                                        3. Simple
                                                                                        4. 5,4,3, or 2 ingredient cooking
                                                                                        5. Low fat
                                                                                        6. Non fat
                                                                                        7. Low salt
                                                                                        8. Non-salt
                                                                                        9. Gluten free
                                                                                        10. Sugar free
                                                                                        11. Alcohol free

                                                                                        Just give me recipes that taste as good as you can possibly make them. If I want to create a low-fat recipe, I will figure out how to reduce the fat. The same is true for salt, sugar, etc.

                                                                                        7 Replies
                                                                                        1. re: gfr1111

                                                                                          So you're okay with a one ingredient recipe? :)

                                                                                          1. re: gfr1111

                                                                                            I'm with you on the fat and salt. It's really not that complicated to figure out how to bring those down. I walk past rows of Weight Watchers cookbooks every Wednesday, and I just don't understand why people need them.

                                                                                            Things like fast, easy, simple, and X-ingredient have their place, though. That place probably isn't in a Chowhound's kitchen, but I can at least understand why they exist.

                                                                                            1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                              When you're at your wobbliest about what's for dinner, a good fast/few ingredients cook book can be invaluable.

                                                                                              1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                It can be fairly tricky to reduce fat/sugar in baked goods and still come up with something decent. I think the ATK/Cook's group does a fairly good job with those kinds of things. I don't think most people have time or energy to test a 50 different substitutions to figure out which will work.

                                                                                                1. re: davis_sq_pro

                                                                                                  Oh, baked goods are another beast entirely. I almost put something about that in my response, but it didn't make it to the final draft. That is definitely an exception.

                                                                                                  1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                    Thanks, because for people with coeliac or actual (not trend-driven) gluten intolerance, baking is very complicated and not just a matter of subbing a gluten-free flour. People who don't drink alcohol for religious or health reasons should know subsitutions. Obviously if a cookbook is Halal, it won't involve alcohol.

                                                                                            2. AMEN!
                                                                                              I love cookbooks, and own waaaay to many. But, Immediate turnoffs for me:

                                                                                              -big pics of the author on the cover and on almost every page.
                                                                                              - cutesy words like "girl", "boy" (referring to the adult authors) in the title.
                                                                                              - words like "skinny", "bitch", "fat" etc in the title
                                                                                              - Titles exclaiming Yummy, Yummo, Yum, Delish, Kickass, etc.
                                                                                              - books by celebs proclaiming to be expert cooks when they are not.

                                                                                              These days when I see a well-done, genuine, interesting book of substance I am more likely to buy it than ever! It is sad how much garbage gets printed when there are no doubt many talented authors who don't get published because they are not famous enough.

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: poptart

                                                                                                I second every single item on your list. "Skinny" is probably my least favorite thing ever.

                                                                                                1. re: Kontxesi

                                                                                                  I'm with you. If skinnytaste.com wasn't such a great site, I would hate it.

                                                                                              2. Too many pictures that for me rings coffee table book. I like a few illustrations with many good recipes.

                                                                                                1. As David Letterman just explained tonight..."hey, look at how easily the pages turn."

                                                                                                  Made me think of this thread.

                                                                                                    1. I do not want a cookbook that has a dust jacket, without the cover photo/design being replicated on the hard cover.

                                                                                                      I hate dust jackets. They just get in the way when using the book in the kitchen. The solution would be to take them off, but then, likely as not, you are left with a plain cloth cover.

                                                                                                      I want dust-jacket-free book, with the cover design right on the hard cover, preferable in a smooth wipeable material. I have noticed more of these lately, but they should be universal.

                                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                                      1. re: MelMM

                                                                                                        Call me nutzo -- I buy library-style acetate book covers from Brodart to protect the dust jackets.

                                                                                                      2. I don't want a cookbook that has the ingredient list mixed with the text of the cooking directions. Case in point, Joy of Cooking, altho I have 3 copies, each having a different publication date.

                                                                                                        1. A little late to the game, but I don't want a cookbook that uses a "handwritten" font -- like The Moosewood Cookbook.

                                                                                                          3 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: CindyJ

                                                                                                            Absolutely agree (I said that farther up, being guilty of not scrolling the whole way down). That was a great trend around the 1970s or so. Have they kept that in later editions?

                                                                                                            1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                              I don't think so. The only other Moosewood cookbook I own is "Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant" and that has a more traditional font.

                                                                                                            2. re: CindyJ

                                                                                                              I don't think Moosewood is a font. It was actually hand written, probably with no expectation of its future success. Small local vegetarian restaurant run by a collective? Weird. Fortunately, their later cookbooks are typeset, at least as it's done today.

                                                                                                            3. I don't want a cookbook with the ingredient layout like Rose Levy Beranbaum's Cake Bible and Pie Bible.

                                                                                                              1. I do not want a cookbook that has 400 pages, 375 photos, and 25 recipes.

                                                                                                                I do not want a cookbook entitled "Peasant Cooking," "Cucina Povera," etc. that costs $75.

                                                                                                                1 Reply
                                                                                                                1. re: chefMolnar

                                                                                                                  I don't think I want ANY cookbook that costs $75.

                                                                                                                2. I loved reading Diane Kennedy's book on Oaxaca, but I took it out of our library system, and when it arrived at my branch, I could scarcely cart it home in my (large, Dutch) bicycle bags, due to the size and weight. If I were ever to buy that, it would have to be in a digital format.

                                                                                                                  I don't actually mind books like that, not so much books for actual cooking, but teaching me about food cultures and history (I have a background in social history). But I tend to borrow them from libraries - which is easier in a major city.

                                                                                                                  1. I agree with this, and would also apply some of this to food blogging. I find it tiresome scrolling through a recipe on a food blog that contains really large and unnecessary pictures. Showing pictures of unique or unusual ingredients is fine, and of course, the end product, but please not every single interim step. I don't need to see pictures of celery being chopped, or butter melting in a pan, or a picture of the oven temperature dial setting. This format is ridiculous.

                                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                                    1. re: JDAWG

                                                                                                                      I'm with you on the photos. When they add information, fine. When they don't, edit them out, please! Pics of unusual ingredients or that demonstrate an uncommon technique are fine. As for the final dish, ONE photo will do it, thanks. What I don't want to see is five different angles on the same dish, one with a dirty fork on the plate, and another where there is only a bite of food left. Some of these people are in love with their own photography and don't get it that I am not in love their photography.

                                                                                                                        1. re: eperdu

                                                                                                                          Oh come on now, be fair. How on earth will her readers know what a cup of water looks like (one of the seven thousand images in her latest post) without a helpful giant photo to illustrate?

                                                                                                                          Those fancypants ingredients might be obvious to you, but some of us are simple folk.

                                                                                                                      1. This thread is really reinforcing my feelings about the difficulty of reader's advisory :)

                                                                                                                        1. Thought of another one. I wish they would list weights for meats. Like, instead of "4 chicken breasts", have it say "4 chicken breasts totaling 20oz". With so many frankenchickens out there these days, it would be good to know what the author had in mind for the meat size when giving temps and times.

                                                                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                                                                          1. re: juliejulez

                                                                                                                            Absolutely! And for vegetables and fruits, too. My large onion could be much different than yours. I once made a butternut squash soup that called for one butternut squash. But mine must have been much bigger than the author's, because the soup came out more like a pudding.

                                                                                                                            1. re: AmyH

                                                                                                                              Yes. I hate the "one large XXX" on the ingredient list. Give me a weight, or at very least an approximate volume once diced. Produce size varies tremendously.

                                                                                                                              1. re: AmyH


                                                                                                                                That is the one thing I appreciate about "diet" cookbooks/blogs/websites...they generally are very good about giving weight measurements.

                                                                                                                                1. re: AmyH

                                                                                                                                  Amen to that! I grew squashes this year that ranged from .5 to 5 lbs. - all from the same seed packet!

                                                                                                                              2. I buy cookbooks for the cooking, not for philosophy. I don't want to know why the author thinks that a vegan diet will make me a better person, or some woo nonsense about the evils of cooking one's food: I just want some suggestions for tasty vegetable dishes.

                                                                                                                                1. I don't want a cookbook where I have to look in the "U's" for "Uncle Charlie's Famous Chili" in stead of the "C's" for Chili. How about a decent, useful index.

                                                                                                                                  I don't like ridiculous recipes like "Chop 2 pounds of sirloin steak into 1" pieces" when it's STEW!

                                                                                                                                  And as others have mentioned, don't tell me "dice 3 potatoes." Either "2 pounds" or "3 cups."

                                                                                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                                                                                  1. Great thread! My answer:

                                                                                                                                    Cookbooks that talk down to me. I don't need a cookbook that teaches me the basic principles of making a sauce. That's a tutorial, not a cookbook. It's great that people who have little cooking knowledge want to learn, but cookbooks that try to be all things to all levels of cook turn me off. For example, everybody cites Rick Bayless as being the God of Mexican cuisine, but in principle his recipes reflect what anyone who has done any significant level of Mexican cooking already does. Save the pedantry, and just give me recipes, please.

                                                                                                                                    Interestingly, and in contrast to the OP's preference, I'd rather read a book that's over my head than read one that treats me like a child who's never cooked. At least it's a good read. However, I don't really consider those "cookbooks," since my goal is simply to enjoy a good read rather than follow recipes. Maybe I see a distinction between a recipe book and a cookbook.

                                                                                                                                    1. Just read J Kenji's Food Labs on Serious Eats, memorize and understand the principles and concepts, and you won't ever need a cookbook again. You'll simply be able to execute your own ideas for preparing food...well. :)

                                                                                                                                      4 Replies
                                                                                                                                      1. re: PommeDeGuerre

                                                                                                                                        Ina had a good take on this in an interview. Just figure out what you want it to be and how it should taste and keep trying/cooking it until it does.

                                                                                                                                        1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                                          Who is Ina? Where can I find the interview?

                                                                                                                                          1. re: williej

                                                                                                                                            Probably Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa.

                                                                                                                                            1. re: williej


                                                                                                                                              I wasn't particularly trying to be obscure. Sorry. Hope this helps.

                                                                                                                                        2. Uses a trendy appliance/pot/pan/utensil that is not an investment or multitasker
                                                                                                                                          Counts the variations of several recipes as separate recipes, if there are 100 recipes in a cookbook I want 100 different recipes.
                                                                                                                                          Too expensive so that even on sale, used or with a gift card I can't afford it.
                                                                                                                                          Is a part of series, but you can't buy it as a boxed set to get a price break or give as a gift.
                                                                                                                                          Doesn't have recipes for bacon or chocolate.

                                                                                                                                          1. Seafood recipes often need to take into account the specific coast of origin. Crabs, oysters and clams should not be treated generically. For example, Atlantic razor clams and Pacific razor clams are so very different that instructions for one will not work for the other.

                                                                                                                                            1 Reply
                                                                                                                                            1. re: Sharuf

                                                                                                                                              Or a recipe that calls for one kind of clam found only on the East coast, and another found only on the West coast, both in the same recipe! I have really seen this. (Perhaps needless to say, it was a recipe from a Las Vegas restaurant chef).

                                                                                                                                              1. I don't want a cookbook at all. I just glance at recipes on the internet and call it a day.

                                                                                                                                                Now I will splurge on a cookbook if I know the person and I want to support them, but even then, I want to just gift the book to someone.

                                                                                                                                                1. Okay. This *IS* a fun topic, and (nearly?) all participants are experienced cooks. However... there seems to be plenty of grumbling about step by step photos, recipes that are too detailed. recipes that don't have enough detail... well, you get the picture. This has piqued my curiosity. How many of you have ever taught a cooking class? I don't mean showing a relative or a friend how to make pie dough or whatever. I mean taught a cooking class where tuition is paid and expert instruction is expected.

                                                                                                                                                  Years ago -- yikes! damned near 45! -- I taught a cooking class through a university extension program (either UCSD or SDSU, I don't remember which because I had to use an off-campus location that had a fully equipped kitchen) that was designed for newly divorced or widowed people who didn't have clue #1 about cooking and suddenly had to feed themselves. It's pretty much a standard joke today, but I really did have to explain such basics as, "when a cake or batter recipe calls for three eggs, it means raw and out of their shells!" But I am certain I learned more from my students than they ever learned from me. That's a certainty, no matter what subject you teach.

                                                                                                                                                  For me, the great wonder and lesson from that experience is/was that there are people who do enjoy great food, who can order with confidence from any three star menu, but who don't have any notion about how the magic of producing it is done. So I can promise all of you, there is a need -- a great need! -- for those step by step, fully illustrated recipes, both in hard cover format and on the web.

                                                                                                                                                  One of the really fun I-learned-from-a-student kind of things that happened involved a complex "salad dressing" recipe published in the San Diego Union Tribune, that called for things like chopped scallions, crushed garlic, fresh ginger, and yogurt. One student didn't know that PLAIN yogurt was assumed. He used strawberry yogurt! As I said, I learned a lot from my students. His salad dressing was FABULOUS! And sometimes ignorance and determination to learn turn out to be a really "good thing," to borrow a line from Martha!

                                                                                                                                                  Anyway, there is a need for all kinds of recipe books, but I'm damned selective about which ones I buy! Mostly because I already know that egg shells in pancakes are really yucky! '-)

                                                                                                                                                  9 Replies
                                                                                                                                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                    I wish you still taught that class, Caroline; Mr P needs it. I still have to explain to him what "beat an egg" means and that one doesn't buy "batter" for everything that involves sugar, butter, and eggs.

                                                                                                                                                    1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                      LOL! Don't bet that you can't buy batter! A few years back I sent a housekeeper to the store for me to get some syrup for pancakes. The pancakes were hot and waiting and I didn't want to mess around making my own with a supermarket THAT close! She came back with a pitcher shaped plastic container of pancake MIX that you just added water to, shook vigorously, and poured the batter onto a skillet!

                                                                                                                                                      As the very old saying goes, "Good help is hard to find." When it comes to help around the house, it's damned near impossible! <sigh> And did I mention that that housekeeper couldn't make a cup of tea without a recipe? Poor soul. I wonder where she is and who is cooking for her now?

                                                                                                                                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                        Funny--I hadn't even thought of those "add water" jugs of Bisquick base. Mr Pine possibly could manage that.

                                                                                                                                                        I've told elsewhere on these boards that I once sent him back a few aisles in the grocery store to pick up a can of tomato paste. A loooong time later, he shows up, saying there's no such thing, and I can use "this" instead. The "this" was a box of corn flakes. This is a brilliant mathematician man. You should also see his Christmas gift wrapping waiting for me under the tree--you'd think a mathematician would understand 90 degree angles of paper folding. I laugh a lot around here.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                          He has CLONES!!! I've met my share and then some! And they aren't all male. :-(

                                                                                                                                                          1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                            They most certainly aren't all male. Matter of fact, the worse ones I know tend to be women, of the overage "princess" type...

                                                                                                                                                            Overage in this particular case is more or less 35.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                              '-) Thank you for the age clarification! '-) '-) '-)

                                                                                                                                                          2. re: pine time

                                                                                                                                                            My wife once caught me wrapping a present neatly and nicely for one of those damn secret santa things at work. Now she expects me to do it for all presents.

                                                                                                                                                            Could be your husband is a little more careful than I am.

                                                                                                                                                      2. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                        I've taught other subject at university and other academic settings, but not cooking. However, I have volunteered at a "cuisine collective", an alternative to a soup kitchen. People pay a small fee (which can be waived if need be) to share ingredients and cook together. I learnt A LOT from many of the participants, in particular women of a certain age (about mine...) from many different cultures, recently arrived here.

                                                                                                                                                        But, and this is not an anti-male stereotype, there is a certain category of middle-aged and older men who never learnt to cook and who suddenly have to: divorced, widowed and/or out of a job, on benefits or an inadequate pension. Fortunately more boys are learning to cook nowadays. These men's cluelessness rather shocked me, as my male friends cook as much and as well as my female friends, and the average age is not young - I'm over 50, have younger friends but others who are at least 75, and great cooks.

                                                                                                                                                        I have a Swiss cookbook in German for vocational education students (teenagers), and it does show all the containers, measures and such. I am glad to have it, as I'd been studying German, and language courses tend to cover either intellectual subjects or those related to office work.

                                                                                                                                                        1. re: Caroline1

                                                                                                                                                          Hi, Caroline-
                                                                                                                                                          I just stumbled on this thread on CHOW, while researching a recipe for pork shank osso bucco, and loved your response to the "cookbook post". I read and collect cookbooks and continue to weed out the collection as the decades pass. So reading some of the discussion has been interesting.
                                                                                                                                                          The cookbooks I have kept, I refer back to somewhat often.

                                                                                                                                                          When I first met my mate of 20 years, we owned some of the same, not run-of-the-mill cookbooks and both used the same, wonderful Farberware portable convection oven. He also had Copper-chef pots that were well-used and not just for show.

                                                                                                                                                          We love to cook oldies and new recipes, as well.

                                                                                                                                                          I agree with you that "there is a need for all kinds "of cookbooks and I, too, have become much more selective as to which ones I choose to collect. I enjoy watching cooking some videos on TV/online, but none shove Julia's, Ina's or (some of) Martha's and early-Jamie's aside.

                                                                                                                                                          TV and the internet aside, engaged cooks still benefit from cookbooks at home. Some, of course, are better to "learn" technique from, while others assume that the reader knows essential and basic cooking tenets, regardless of the cuisine at hand.

                                                                                                                                                          I guess it all comes down to "it takes all kinds to fill a freeway" and publishers are apt to try to snag all of "us" kinds!

                                                                                                                                                          Browse, then buy; or browse, buy and resell; or be really particular, in the first place.

                                                                                                                                                          You must have been a fun instructor!

                                                                                                                                                        2. I do not want a cookbook that doesn't include nutrition information. Have plenty of them. Of course I can figure it out, but why should I have to? It's not that I only cook "diet" recipes, but I'd like to have a really quick idea about what I'm getting myself into.

                                                                                                                                                          2 Replies
                                                                                                                                                          1. re: palomalou

                                                                                                                                                            Any cookbook which includes nutrional information is of no interest. It's hard to take such a cookbook author serious.

                                                                                                                                                            1. re: palomalou

                                                                                                                                                              I don't ever use cookbooks anymore. I never had a lot to begin with, but what I did have is all in storage now. I basically get all of my recipes online now and I very much appreciate when the nutritional information is provided. I'll still make recipes when it's not, but this is a definite plus for me. I like to count my calories and I'm just no good at trying to figure that stuff out on my own. I guess thinking about it it wouldn't be too complicated, but a little time consuming. Meh.

                                                                                                                                                            2. No picture for the recipe
                                                                                                                                                              Processed ingredients (example: can of cream of ___ soup)
                                                                                                                                                              Too many ingredients
                                                                                                                                                              Ingredients that are too expensive or difficult to find

                                                                                                                                                              1. I like to see weights or sizes for ingredients that vary - four chicken breasts could be all kinds of sizes, same with four apples or four potatoes.

                                                                                                                                                                Personally, I nowadays enjoy cookbooks that are at least somewhat epistolary, with some info or background about the recipes. It can be short, but I've read a lot of recipes and I'm now after insight. Otherwise, I'll just cook it on my own, or you know, Joy of Cooking covers a lot of bases. I don't really need cups and measures unless it's a specific dish and I have some reason to want to replicate the flavors. Like the author's interesting thoughts, insight, well-explained historical context, etc. These things make cooking from books much more fun for me.

                                                                                                                                                                And please, dear aunties and family members, stop giving me Easy Four-Ingredient After Work For Dummies cookbooks, they go straight to goodwill with some guilt on my part. I do not need a cookbook to make canned mushroom soup chicken rice. As delightful as it can be (ha! Can) after work.

                                                                                                                                                                1. "15 minute meals"

                                                                                                                                                                  I really don't understand this genre as all the books I own (all received as gifts, which itself is a rant for another day) there is NO WAY most of the recipes will require only "15 minutes" of my time. I guess the assumption is the clock doesn't start until all ingredients have been gathered; all veggies peeled, chopped, sliced and diced; the meat seasoned and prepped, the pans heated; water boiling; and the oven cranked up. All you need to do is throw it all together. I should publish a book of 5 minute meals. Sure it takes 90 minutes to make, but only 5 minutes to eat!

                                                                                                                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                                                                                                                  1. re: JDAWG

                                                                                                                                                                    Grrr, I've had guests like that, who just shovel it in. They say it's a compliment.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                      Did you cook for them again? Or just order out? Fast food.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                                                                        No, I never cooked for them again, but I never order out, and it is extremely rare that I'd eat fast food. Situations like starving somewhere on a long trip...

                                                                                                                                                                        1. re: lagatta

                                                                                                                                                                          I was thinking of ordering out some fast food for those guests who just shovel it in.

                                                                                                                                                                          1. re: yayadave

                                                                                                                                                                            Yes, I know. But it is as expensive to order that stuff in as to make (non-high-end) real food! And I'm terminally cheap about that sort of thing. (No trouble buying saffron).

                                                                                                                                                                  2. I do not want a cookbook that depends on making big batches of "master sauce" or "master spice mix." (Ming, I'm looking at you!) I have so many cookbooks and recipes I want to make, the next time I make a recipe requiring that sauce could be several months later. I don't need it going bad or taking up room in my fridge or freezer. Just tell me what I need to make that one recipe!

                                                                                                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                                                                                                    1. re: AmyH

                                                                                                                                                                      Barbara Tropp's "China Moon" is a primary offender. I was so disappointed in that book - her first was a classic.

                                                                                                                                                                    2. What do I not want? Just a few things..

                                                                                                                                                                      1. Baby blue teensy-weensy typeface.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. Gratuitous swearing (I realize it is supposed to demonstrate that the cook is macho but…).

                                                                                                                                                                      3. A bazillion photos of the celeb author's face and/or kids.

                                                                                                                                                                      4. Anything with foam or licorice-catfish-nettle infusions.

                                                                                                                                                                      1. I do not want pictures of cracked eggshells either, or the author adjusting his/her hair. The one of the octopus drying on the clothes line in one of Tessa Kiros's cookbook is a memorable and worthy exception.

                                                                                                                                                                        I do not want size 9 grey font on a cream background.

                                                                                                                                                                        I dislike books where the ingredients are in some random order, making it easy to forget something.

                                                                                                                                                                        I also am very sick of baking books where half of it is enlightening us about what flour is made of (wheat? really?), the size of egg preferred by the author (inevitably large), the virtues of unsalted butter, and why we must buy a stand mixer. Donna Hay's Modern Classics 2 book is rather masterful, containing about 2 pages total of basic cooking advice. Lovely.

                                                                                                                                                                        And most of all, I refuse to buy any cookbook that calls for "good quality" ingredients in the directions. The obsession seems mostly to be for chocolate, vanilla extract, and olive oil.