I have to fess up. I’m a cook book wh*re. I have dozens of them at home. And, every other week, I’m back at the library, pawing and poring over more of them, and then bringing home as many as I can carry without breaking my back. (BBQ Man knows that when I ask him to come with me to the library, it’s not his company that I want. It’s just… he’s an awesome pack mule.) The other thing I need to confess is that I have cookbooks that I absolutely adore, but have not cooked a single recipe from. I did a tally and I have some 40-odd cookbooks and I’ve used recipes from a mere 10 or so of them. But the thing is (and I KNOW I’m not alone), that this doesn’t mean the other cookbooks have been sitting around neglected. Cookbooks, apart from being instructive, are also really good for just plain ogling. Am I right, here?

         

Here’s another confession: I have an apalling disrespect for recipes. It’s a defect in me that I’m trying to overcome – I’ve learned the hard way that baking recipes CANNOT be tampered with.  And yet – I still struggle with substitute-alitis. (You know that condition, where if you don’t have the right ingredient, you casually throw something else in as a substitute?) You’d think I’d learned my lesson the time I subbed some soda bicarb for baking powder. I baked this chocolate cake that rose to an alarming height in the oven, and when I opened the oven door, it collapsed like a popped baloon and I had sticky chocolate froth baked to the insides of my oven. This happened years ago… but remember the Valentine’s Day cake I made for BBQ Man only recently? I didn’t have enough dark chocolate, so I subbed with dark choc chips. The recipe then said, melt the chocolate and butter in a pan and stir gently together. Reality: the butter melted into a puddle around the choc chips, which sat in the pan and defiantly refused to melt. And then it dawned on me that choc chips were invented by some clever so-and-so to NOT melt! So then I have to do things that no recipe ever tells you to do, like taking the potato masher to some choc chips to uh, melt them.

So for what it’s worth, here are some of my favourite cookbooks – for both the cook and voyeur in us.

 

The Family Circle Recipe Encyclopedia – the first cook book I bought. A friend had a copy and I bought it the next day. Lots of great recipes from apples to zabaglione. The apricot danish recipe featured in the Danish fo Dummies post came from this treasure trove.

My first foodie magazine, from Aug/Sept 1996. It has wonderful cake recipes and is possibly the only food magazine that I’ve cooked from. The price tag reads $4.90!!

Baking with Passion by Lepard and Whittington – the best baking cook book I’ve ever come across. They go into amazing detail about making sourdough starters, pastries, different types of cakes and other treats. A must for all serious home bakers. (Uh. Confession: Not being a serious baker by any means, this is one of those well-thumbed books that I’ve not cooked from)

Stephanie Alexander is Australia’s cooking doyenne, and she shares her encyclopedic knowledge in this heavy tome. I’ve actually cooked from this one. I’m planning to do a post on one of my favourite recipes from this book: coriander and peanut pesto. Yummm.

The books from Konemann’s Culinaria series are like gold to food geeks. Want to know how, where, what and why say, chorizo sausages came to be? It’s right there in Culinaria Spain. You’ll be transported to the region of its origin, meet the paprika growers, the pig farmers, the sausage maker, etc etc. I LOVE these books. The Southeast Asian Specialties makes me homesick!

I picked up this book in a second-hand store one day. It’s more of a culinary treatise on the history of Chinese food in Australia, than a cook book. A deeply fascinating read – from how the Chinese migrants fed the communities during the Gold Rush, to how the classic Chine-Oz dishes like beef and black bean, lemon chicken etc came to be. You get to meet the Chinese inventor of the Chico Roll-a classic Australian fast/junk food. (BBQ Man and I love them, but we wouldn’t be able to tell you what’s in them other than it’s tasty goo.)

These little Womens Weekly recipe booklets are a great favourite of mine. I have quite a few of them, but these two are used the most. BBQ Man’s choc fruit cake was from the Choc Cake one, and the Little Miss’ triple choc chip cookies were from the other. Great recipes and pics for a reasonable price. Couldn’t ask for more.

This is my newest cook book, a Christmas gift from a friend who quite possibly loves cooking more than I do (that’s you, Melissa!). I’ve not cooked from it but I WILL, because the recipes look fantastic and there are lots of dishes for my vego readers.

It occurred to me as I wrote this piece that these days, whenever I want a recipe I’m more likely to Google it than reach for my cook books. But I still love cook books as much as I ever have. I think it’s probably because cook books are more than just recipe books these days. More often than not, through the fantastic photographs and the stories behind the recipes, cook books are insights into other cooks and their cultures, and their unique takes on cooking and eating. I’ve decided that I’m going to do better justice to my cook books and will aim to feature a recipe from each one, in the coming weeks. Maybe at the end of it I might be cured of substitute-alitis. Maybe.

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