Monday, April 23, 2012

Cookbook Nostalgia

LUCY BURDETTE: The other day I realized how much my search for recipes for favorite or new foods has changed. These days I almost always find them online-either I run across recipes on the web that sound yummy, like those from my pals on Mystery Lovers Kitchen, or I search sites like Epicurious. Of course I often look up basic stuff in the JOY OF COOKING. And I know plenty of folks rely on TV cooking shows and celebrity recipes.

And that made me nostalgic for the old days, when my first go-to cooking bible was THE MOOSEWOOD COOKBOOK. My first copy is dog-eared and stained; I remember eating tons of food like mushroom strudel (1/2 pound butter plus cream cheese plus sour cream), Vericheesy Casserole (soybeans and brown rice), and Sour Cream-Orange Cake (soaked in Grand Marnier, which I served to my dissertation committee after they'd accepted my opus--the cake, not the booze). Molly Katzen came out with sequels and the new, improved lower-fat version, but I loved the first one the best.

Do you have an old favorite cookbook that's fallen out of favor? Where do you go when you need guidance these days?

Here are my two favorite cookbooks: "The Joy of Cooking" and "Michael Fields Cooking School." Both belonged to my mother. "Joy" taught me the basics. But the most recipes that I still make regularly for very special company are from Michael Fields. His curried chicken (made with an apple) and his broiled butterflied boneless leg of lamb with egg lemon sauce are sublime.

These days I go to Epicurious for recipes. It's not just the recipes but the reader comments that give you a real sense of whether the recipes work (or don't).

RHYS BOWEN: Oh my goodness, I grew up with Mrs. Beaton--you know, recipe for oxtail soup is "first take your ox."  Everything has at least half a pound of butter and is made in about ten stages. But it was what my mother used. I also had a binder of recipes my mother-in-law sent me. And these were mostly from the war--terribly economical. As I learned to cook I branched out to Julia Child (I even served souffles as a starter once. I was so ambitious in those days). But when I married John I had to learn to cook curries and Asian food as he'd spent so much time in Asia and then became sales manager of Air India.

More recently I buy cook books for the pretty pictures and for nostalgia. One day I'll go through the wad of magazine clippings in my kitchen drawer.

LUCY: I love that Rhys--first take your ox! And I have a drawer stuffed with clippings too...

JAN BROGAN - Lucy, I have the Moosewood Cookbook, too, although I have to confess I haven't used it as much as you did.  I love the Joy of Cooking, the Silver Palette, The New York Time's Sixty Minute Gourmet,  and I still use Giada de Laurentiis's Giada's Family dinners.  

But you a right Roberta, they get a lot less use these days. I love calling up five different recipes for the same thing online and patching them together for my own version.

ROSEMARY HARRIS: I did a serious cookbook purge a few years ago. My husband used to work for Random House (think Clarkson Potter)and then Workman Publishing so I had tons of cookbooks - many of them beautiful but never used. I grew to love SOAR (Searchable Online Access to Recipes), but I think that morphed into something else, so I just google whatever I want and voila, it pops up. Usually it's on the Food Channel or All Recipes site

Some of the books I had to keep, even if I only love one recipe from the book and by rights, should know it by heart by now. Joy of Cooking - eggnog recipe, Cooking from Quilt Country - Onion pie, the charmingly named Desperate Measures, 90 Unintimidating Recipes for the Domestically Inept - Patsy Cline's chili and gorognzola scallion cornbread

The one I still use most often, drum roll... Martha Stewart's Entertaining. I'm on my third copy, but have kept the first. Old, sticky, and has my handwritten notes "like use the dark, brown sugar."

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Lucy, I still have my Moosewood books, but I've kept them for the illustrations.  I don't think I ever actually made a single recipe from either of them!

The books I loved, and still use, are Laurel's Kitchen, Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book (second or third copies of both, as they wore out), The Dairy Hollow House Soup and Bread Book by my friend and past JR guest Crescent Dragonwagon, and Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking and More Home Cooking. My mother was a big Adele Davis fan, so many of my basic cooking techniques came from that.

Current faves?  Lots of Jamie Oliver.  I adore Jamie, and have never made a recipe I didn't like.  Some Gordon Ramsay, the simple stuff.  And my very latest, Robin Ellis's Delicious Dishes for Diabetics.  I'm not diabetic, but from the previous list you can see I'm a life-long whole foods nut, and love Mediterranean-style food, so I'm really enjoying this book.  (And besides, Robin is adorable.

And, I use the online recipes, too, but am not giving up my cookbooks.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Yes, I have a lot of cookbooks, too. And I actually used to cook. :-)  You know what was the absolutely pivotal transcendent constantly useful and still-relevant one? The Blue Strawberry Cookbook, by James Haller. I'm telling you--it--taught me how to cook. It doesn't have reciptes. It just has--chemistry. WHY things work. That for a roux, you need an oily thing, and an oniony thing, and a thickener, and a liquid. (It could be water, or wine, or chicken broth.) That for pesto, you need a oily thing, and a cheese, and a nut, and a green thing. (But it could be basil or arugula or spinach.) Because--when you know WHY it works, you can make dinner out of anything.
Oh, life-changing.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Still have, and use, THE JOY OF COOKING. I think my mother gave that and the mid-eighties BETTY CROCKER COOKBOOK to me when I got married. I went through a big foodie period with THE SILVER PALATE COOKBOOK and THE SILVER PALATE GOOD TIMES cookbook. Then I went to law school, and the kids started arriving, and for a few years, my idea of cooking consisted of Kraft Mac n Cheese and take out pizza. Like Ro, I also purged a lot of cookbooks a few years ago: I decided even though there were some great, great recipes, it didn't make sense for me to keep my shelf loaded up with books I didn't use.

My current every night fave is DESPERATION DINNERS by Beverly Mills and Alicia Ross. The best book for cooking fast, without relying on lots of processed foods. For fancier fare, I like RECIPES FROM A VERY SMALL ISLAND by Martha Greenlaw. The recipes rely heavily on Maine foods; it has the most amazing blueberry section. Also? Gingerbread to die for.

LUCY: Oh Julia, we must have a gingerbread bake-off. The recipe in the Moosewood Enchanted Broccoli Forest is killer too--lots of fresh ginger! Now your turn: cookbooks you love? where do your recipes come from?


  1. I don't cook. I heat, occasionally I stir, but it's not really cooking. And yet, I have an entire shelf of cookbooks. Hope springs eternal, I guess.

    The cookbook I use the most right now is "B is for Baking" from the Sesame Street gang (and a real person, of course, but I forget her name...Bert and Ernie are so distracting!). It has lots of good food, not just desserts, and they are ridiculously healthy - wheat germ is a common ingredient which never fails to lead to the discussion, "But this is not the germs that make me sick, right?"

    My kids help (ok, "help") in the kitchen a lot; I'm hoping they end up as better at it than their mother!

  2. Chicken, chops, meatloaf, spaghetti and clams -- most of our standard family meals come from "Cooking for Two," a wonderful collection my wife found the year we married. 1979. Ouch.

  3. So Jack do you do much of the cooking? My hubby is an excellent cook - and thoughtful wife that I am - I let him pursue this talent as often as he likes.

  4. I love to cook and "The Joy Of Cooking" is my "go to" cookbook -- but it has to be my old, tattered and falling apart copy. Sad to say, the updated "Joy" has changed most of the recipes and they are not nearly as good as the ones from my old book. I still use my mom's falling apart Pillsbury Baking book regularly when I make bread, even though I've done that for so long that I really could do it without ever looking at the recipe . . . .

  5. I confess, I guard the kitchen. MY cooking turf. That way I get to eat what I feel like having. Early on, before the lock-down, my husband (since 1969...ACK!) cooked a South African chicken with cinnamon. Now just reading that recipe you knew it was going to be, uh, unusual. A little too unusual. Once, when I wasn't home, he made the kids a bean sprout omelette. Another: what were you thinking? moment.

    He does have redeeming features. Many of them.

  6. Ok... I have to know... did any of the kids even come to the table to touch those bean sprout omlettes? Hallie -- inquiring minds have to know...

  7. River Road Recipes, by the Junior League of Baton Rouge, now in its 70th printing. There's a limited edition 50th anniversary issue too.

    It's considered the Gumbo Standard. Every recipe will pretty much destroy your arteries on the spot, so you know it's good stuff.

  8. Three of the four versions of Joy of Cooking; my original-from-1976 microwave cookbook, the one that came with my 600-pound microwave (exaggerating, but that's how it felt when I hauled it up to my third-floor apartment); Barbara Kafka's Microwave Gourmet; HPBook's Microwave; and an ancient copy of Elizabeth Woody's The Pocket Cook Book, which was a gift from an insurance agent in 1970. I was so excited because that was the very cookbook my dad used when I was a kid and served as his sous cook.

    Several years ago I entered 130 "family favorite" recipes into Word and put them on CDs, created a photo collage cover sheet, bought a huge box of sheet protectors and several binders, and gave one to each of my three daughters, plus have one for myself. Since then we've all added to the collection (and I've added Hallie's recipe for Candied Orange Peel), and it's my go-to source for recipes.

    My youngest daughter is a grad student--3rd year of her doctorate in biology--and she has a cooking blog:

  9. Ramona and Jack--those sound like good old standards! And Paula, yours sounds like FUN:). Funny thing is, I had my mother's old JOY OF COOKING, but a puppy I had in the 70's chewed the cover off and some of the pages. So I do have a new version and like a lot of recipes in it. I think there was an edition in the middle in which the "improvements" were not good.

    And I meant to mention in the blog--on Thursday I'm going to be at an event at SALT AND PEPPER BOOKS in Occoquan, VA. It's all cookbooks, food writing, and culinary mysteries. I can't wait!

  10. My favorite cookbooks are 12-Month Harvest and the two More-With-Less cookbooks--with Fanny Farmer for basics.

    12-Month Harvest is half about gardening and preserving foods, but it has recipes I've used over and over. My youngest son took a copy with him when he left for grad school.

    The More-With-Less are Mennonite and all about living lighter on the earth and using recipes from all over the world.

    Ben collects cookbooks from all over. He's learned to cook in the last decade since my health has been dicey--and become a good cook, at that.

    I actually don't use cookbooks much in my own cooking anymore. I'm to that stage of a pinch of this, a handful of that with whatever I have on hand. (Probably a sign that I've become old!) I've published a Mexican cookbook, THE "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO COOK" BOOK: MEXICAN (Adams Media), and might do another one someday.

  11. My favorite of the Moosewood books was Enchanted Broccoli Forest, although these days it is mostly Moosewood Cooks at Home. I learned to cook from Laurel's Kitchen, although I've largely replaced that with Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. (I still don't know how to cook meat, lo these twenty years later!) I like the King Arthur Baking books and use their website a lot. I can't wait for the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. Maybe I'll pre-order it for my birthday.

  12. Rosemary: I cook a lot of Mexican dishes, but only my children eat it, not the wife. In fact, the spouse has discouraged all my cooking since -- I was trying hard when she worked a long distance from home -- I ran out of bread crumbs for the meatloaf and added (my own genius) two cups of corn meal. Honestly, even the dog wouldn't eat that meatloaf.

  13. Lucy, that's exactly right, one of the Joy of Cooking versions was done by Irma Rombauer's daughter, and it is by far the weakest edition. The last two were completely rewritten, tested, and updated by Ethan Becker, Mrs. Rombauer's grandson, who lives just a few miles from me. The newest one is by far my favorite edition, although I still use some of the old, old recipes, too.

    When my father-in-law died it fell to me to organize and distribute their household, including the massive collection of recipes my MIL had before she died. Some of them are hilarious, like the many salads in aspic/mayonnaise versions, lots of things using crushed potato chips, and so many crazy dishes made with Jello and CoolWhip. I'm so glad we have a much greater variety of fresh foods to choose from today.

  14. My hand oftean reaches for old favorites when I peruse the cookbook shelf: Joy of Cooking, of course, and Moosewood and Enchanted Broccoli Forest and Jane Brody's Good Food Book and a slim little volume called the Provincetown Artists' Cookbook, which is packed with wonderful, simple, flavorful recipes.

    My newer faves are How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, the New Best Recipes from the America's Test Kitchen people and its amazing sister, Slow Cooker Revolution.

    I like the ATC books because they tell you all the methods they tried in order to achieve the best possible results. Not that I don't like to experiment, I simply enjoy reading about other people's experimenting, too.


  15. Oh, I forgot to mention another on my shelf, Peg Bracken's I Hate To Cook, a gift from a used-bookstore haunting friend who likes to tease me about my foodie inclinations.

  16. Yes, I love Mark Bittman, too!

    My Joy of Cooking opens to Blender Hollandaise..I just tried it out to see what would happen...which is one of the BEST short cuts ever.

    And yes, Brenda, I love the test kitchen, too--the experiments are so thought-provoking!

  17. I think the wives of you guys who cook should be very grateful. Of course, my hubby, who does NOT cook, says I should be very grateful that he can fix my computer...

  18. Deb, don't knock a guy who can fix computers. You can always order out food.

    My husband occasionally cooks, but it is always A Production. Which means, the meal is delicious but the kitchen aftermath looks like Armageddon.

  19. I used to borrow my mom's More With Less cookbook so much that my DNA was probably all over it by the time she died! By then, I had copied out my favorite recipes for my own collection. Still, I would like to buy my own copy one of these days. I have no idea what happened to hers when she died. I do own and like Diet For a Small Planet. I have also used a cookbook that has a name something like "Three Ingredients or Less", not sure of the exact name. (Sitting in the lunchroom at work right now,nowhere near my kitchen!) I am all for cooking as simply as possible!

    I have never bothered to buy the Joy of Cooking cookbook. I've looked through it numerous times but it just doesn't appeal to me. Not being able to stand in the kitchen for more than a few minutes at a time in recent years means that I need the simplest possible recipes. At this stage, I rarely use a cookbook, anyway. I prefer to just improvise on my favorite recipes, and they are mostly stored in my head!

  20. Cookbooks--I love them. My favorite ones are the church or community books. They seem to have the recipes that I cook the most.
    A great comment on cooking from Jan Karon in one of the Mitford series books--someone asked Louella if Miss Sadie cooked (this after Louella had a broken something or nothing and couldn't cook.) Louella's wonderful reply. She don't cook. She sets out. She sets out the bread. She sets the mustard, and she sets out the baloney.
    I think we all probably have days when we "set out."

  21. Of course my kids did not eat the bean sprout omelet, and to this day they trot it out (along with the Kid Sister doll that was a knock-off) to illustrate how they wrere abusd growing up.

  22. So funny Margie. If I had something to set out tonight, I would!

  23. Oh cookbooks! I grew up with cookbooks--my dad was a restauranteur. The funny thing is that I went the other way--no cooking for me. But now I find cooking is a-okay if I keep it simple most of the time. Lots of stir fries, for example.

    I relish my mom's Joy of Cooking and Betty Crocker cookbooks. They've got her notes in them. The Crocker cookbook is a huge falling-apart mess, which means I love it even more.

    My go-to cookbook is the vegetarian cookbook from the Fit-for-Life kitchen. Lately, I've also been visiting, a vegan site. (I'm almost vegan, which is to say that cheese is still my downfall.) I made THE BEST yam and black bean enchiladas last month. I was so proud of myself!

  24. Love hearing about the old classics -- use many of them myself -- and the new favs. Two I could not do without: Rustic European Breads From Your Bread Machine (by Linda West Eckhardt & Diana Collingwood Butts, 1995), and Lean Italian Cooking (by Anne Casale, 1994). I've made almost everything in both of them and never had a failure -- easy but flawless recipes for fabulous food. (Ooh, great subtitle.)

    And I read and rip -- from Country Living, and almost any other mag or newspaper that enters the house. And print out from NYTimes and Epicurious, and .... :)

  25. I'm hopelessly addicted to clipping recipes from cooking magazines--Bon Appetit, Southern Living, Food & Wine--so I have what I call my "appalling collection" of recipes, divided not so neatly into folders such as entrees tried and entrees not tried. But I still use my mom's Good Housekeeping cookbook and her Joy of Cooking. Got my son the new Joy, but he tried to talk me into switching--said the new one is not as good.

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  27. Cookbook lovers note last paragraph in which Daniel Patterson is revealed as a Jacques Pepin fanboy :-)

  28. Margie, too funny! All authors should have a "set it out" clause in their life contract when a book is due...

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  30. I have hundreds of cookbooks of all stripes from the pretty ones to the community ones in spiral binding to multiple editions of Fannie Farmer to Mastering the Art of French Cooking (which his nibs brought with him lo' some thirty-plus years ago and =yes= he cooks well, and I let him). I have a thin little notebook on my cookbook shelf where I stash info on recipes I really liked that I'll want to cook again, giving the cookbook and page number where I can find the recipe after a time long ago when I spent too much time searching for an elusive chicken w/ ginger cream recipe (Bon Appetit's Too Busy To Cook cookbook, fwiw)

    I like to sit in my comfy chair and thumb through cookbooks. A soothing exercise. But if I need to know how long and at what temperature to roast peanuts, I use the Web. And if I want to create Portuguese Custard Tartlets, I'll go to the Web and rummage up David Leite's version because I haven't got around to buying his cookbook yet.

    I third the Mark Bittman shoutout. There's a great story about Bittman and his daughter in Gabrielle Hamilton's memoir, _Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef_

  31. "Setting out." Love it. In my house, that's picking up a pizza or baking frozen things from Costco (or right now, Trader Joe's, as I made a stop in Spokane -- what fun).

    But I LOVE reading cookbooks. They are signs of the times and windows on the culture. Alas, the current cult of the chef, whose books are ghost-written, diminishes that....

  32. My favorite cookbook is not really a book. It's my Grandmother Harrington's collection of recipes from the Boston Globe (Meat Custard Pie... ), cereal boxes (Grapenut Pudding... ), and family memory (Lamb Stew, Chocolate Fudge - the cooked with a thermometer kind... ). To these I've added recipes from the other half of my inheritance (Pumpkin Spread, Corn Soup, baked beans, Tourtière, Maple Sugar Pie... ). I keep them together in a box and call it the family treasure.

  33. I read and enjoyed the Hamilton book Sal, but I don't remember the bit about Bittman. will have to go back and look. (love his articles in the NY Times.)

    I used to get both BON APPETIT and COOKING LIGHT magazines until my hub pointed out how they were stacking up, still in their plastic sleeves:). writing really does ruin other hobbies...

    did you see the article in the NY Times Wednesday food section about a month or so ago written by a cookbook ghostwriter? I clipped it out for future plot material!

  34. Maple sugar pie? Reine, is it good???

  35. I was about to agree with Judy and mention my two green looseleaf binders filled with recipes I've been tearing out of newspapers and magazines for years - but then I realized that for the third time today I am eating a plain egg matzo and washing it down with a diet Red Bull. So it seems fraudulent to present myself as any kind of cook today.

  36. Hallie, maple sugar pie/tarte au sucre, is wonderful! There are lots of recipes out there. My favorite uses evaporated milk. Some recipes, call for cream, but my mémère's was Carnation, straight from the can. I tried doing it with fresh ingredients, pure, organic even... not the same! Here is a recipe from a Québec site, with photo, that is pretty close to hers. There are English versions if this looks good to you. My mum used to put walnut pieces in, but I never do.

  37. Oops-- here we go. Recettes du Québec: Tart au Sucre:

  38. What a wonderful post. I love to cook and love to read cookbooks. Thanks, Reds, I love to discover new sources (even "old" ones) for really good recipes.

    My best-loved, tattered and dogeared cookbook, The Complete Round-the-World Cookbook by Myra Waldo, was replaced when I found a hardback copy in - of all places - a gift shop in Disneyland.

    In it is one of my favorite recipes, from Bolivia, Aji de Carne (Pepper Meat). Pork or beef (I use chicken or tofu) with onions garlic tomatoes olive oil, spices saffron chili peppers clove cinnamon, chunks of potatoes and banana (yes, banana!), finishing sauce of ground peanuts cream and molasses. I know, Hallie, CINNAMON. But it's a small amount and tastes great in peppery food, really it does.

    I'll often browse The New Moosewood Cookbook and then several places online - my all time favorite being Christina Pirello ( who makes really delicious, exceptionally healthy vegetarian meals.

    Karen in Ohio, I looked up your youngest daughter's blog ( and her recipe for Double Layer Bourbon Pumpkin Pie looks sublime. This is NOT going to help my diet, but sounds toooo good. Thanks for the tip!

    Reine, I looked up all the French terms so I could read the Maple Sugar Pie recipe. It's soooo tempting. I just might have to try that too. It is duly copied into my cooking corner.

    And thanks to Sal, I'm off now to prowl the web for Portuguese Custard Tartlets, David Leite's style.

    After that, I'd better do exercises enough to balance my dessert dreams!

  39. Avi, I am going to try making your Aji de Carne. Looks fabulous! Do you use plantains rather than the soft type of banana?

    Here is an English version of the Tart au Sucre recipe:

    Maple Syrup Pie

    Ingredients :

    1 cup medium or amber maple syrup
    ½ cup brown sugar
    ¾ cup Carnation condensed milk
    2 eggs
    1 unbaked pie crust


    Preheat oven to 350° F.
    Whisk the first four ingredients in a bowl until well blended - no lumps.
    Pour ingredients into unbaked pie crust.
    Bake for 45 minutes.
    Remove pie from oven. Center of pie will jiggle. Don't poke. The pie will continue to bake as it sits and will develop a silky texture. It's a lot like pecan pie without the pecans. Some people layer the bottom of the crust with chopped walnuts before pouring the filling over.

  40. Note: I always use Grade B maple syrup, because it has a stronger maple flavor that holds up in cooking

  41. I am a Joy of Cooking devotee as well...but recently deserted to Rombauers for Jaime Oliver on all things to do with roast dinners. His approach is so much simpler! No more reading four columns of "about roast turkey" in 8pt font. And the results are always amazing.

  42. Hello Hallie Ephron,

    Serendipitously, I made Michael Field's chicken curry tonight and ate enough to feed four people -- it was so delicious.

    After 30 years of following this recipe, I have made a couple of changes that are worth the effort.

    I skip the lemon and flouring of the chicken scallops, and add toward the end Indian tamarind chutney for the deeper sour flavor. Wine-marinated currants, scallions and toasted almonds are the remarkable crown of the finished dish.

  43. Belatedly seeing this, Anonymous -- I skip the lemon juice, too. And tamarind chutney! I shall be looking for it. Sounds like the perfect foil.

    I'm so happy to hear that someone else is out there making MF's recipes.

  44. Does anyone know where I can get Michael Field's recipe for Chicken Curry?