Cookbook Catch-up

Every year my mother-in-law gives me a big box of interesting cooking and decorating books and it’s always fun to look through them.  The beginning of the year is a time when I’m hurting for new ideas and inspiration in the kitchen anyway, so the timing is perfect!  In case you are looking for new ideas too, here are some short reviews:

I know, I know, you have New Years Resolutions and bathing suit season is just around the corner and whatnot, but I dare you to read this book and not want to eat each and every recipe it contains.  I can’t begin to describe how scrumptious everything sounds.  Desserts to Die For was written by the chef at The Trellis in Williamsburg who invented Death by Chocolate.  I ate Death By Chocolate a few years ago and did not perish, but then again I shared the dessert with three other people.  If you need a new dessert cookbook, or even if you don’t need it per se, I highly recommend this one.  The recipes can be a little involved, but they all look worth it.  Many could be adapted to be gluten-free.

Have you ever made a fruitcake/Christmas pudding?  Not those things with the nasty little cherries, but a real fruitcake that involves leaving baked goods soaked in liquor around in your cabinet for a couple of months?  I’m really fascinated by the concept, and if you are too, Classic Crafts and Recipes for the Holidays might interest you because it has a detailed section on fruitcakes, how they work, and various types to try.  Since it’s such an involved project I wish I could taste them first before giving it a go.  I also liked the section on how to propagate a Christmas cactus since I have one and inexplicably have not yet killed it.  Furthermore, the book contains good ornament ideas including some inventive ways to use pinecones.

Holiday Celebrations is a Williams-Sonoma book with creative twists on traditional holiday dishes.  I’m not one to monkey around too much with traditions when it comes to holiday cookery, but I did find several side dish recipes that I plan to try. The nice thing about a book like this is that if you can forget about the holiday thing, you can easily use the recipes at other times of year in different combinations and not feel as though you’re having an endless round of Thanksgiving or whatnot.

Williams-Sonoma Simple Classics Cookbook: The Best of Simple Italian, French & American Cooking has some great ideas like adding cardamom and orange peel to chocolate mousse and also contains a ton of basic how-to sections with pictures, like for zesting and roasting red peppers, and trussing a chicken and so forth.  If you need the basics, that would be helpful.  However, I felt like some of the recipes I read through sounded a little bland for my tastes.  For example, I would not describe a recipe that seasons two pounds of lamb with a mere 1/2 teaspoon each of coriander and cumin as “strong” like this book does.  But that’s a matter of personal tastes, and you may find that the less spicy route is better for your family.

If you’re interested in the history and trends of cooking, you might really enjoy Celebrating the Pleasures of Cooking: Chuck Williams Commemorates 40 Years of Cooking in America.  The book is a discussion and history of how cooking trends have developed over the past 40 years.  I found it pretty intriguing, especially since the book is from Williams-Sonoma so it also contains information about when different tools began to be imported and how that influenced cooking styles.  The book also contains recipes, primarily of the sort you read in French cooking books.  They are the recipes that apparently defined being a foodie in each decade, which could appeal to you if you are a certain type of person.  I would have been even more interested had the book gone back further, because I love reading really old cookbooks and marveling at what was thought the height of sophistication for dinner parties at different times, like the apparent 1950s craze of gelatinizing everything, like the cookbook I once reviewed that included a recipe for gelatinized tunafish.  The recipes in this book are more palatable, I promise.

Although it’s not a cookbook, Making Crafts from Your Kids’ Art has a lot of great ideas for creative ways to use the artwork that your kids (or your spouse or your coworkers or your dog or whoever) give you.  I think this could be especially helpful for people who need ideas for grandparent gift ideas or are unsure how best to display artwork in a non-refrigerator-front manner.

If you got any great cookbooks or other creative inspiration lately, let us know!  I’m sure I’m not the only one who is in a rut this time of year!


Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

4 thoughts on “Cookbook Catch-up

  1. I get a lot of cookbooks out of the library for inspiration. Right now my favorite is You’ve Got It Made by Diane Phillips. It’s got ideas for meals that you can make ahead and either keep in the fridge for a day or two, or freeze for longer storage.

  2. I couldn’t resist the ‘gelatinized tunafish’ link and was not disappointed. Somewhat appalled at the recipes, but certainly not disappointed! The 40 Years of Cooking book sounds interesting. This summer I acquired a 1943 edition of the “Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book” and it is fascinating to look at the differences in the recipes and entertaining advice. (Do you know where the proper spot is for guests’ ashtrays in the table setting? I do, now!) There are also recipe modifications to deal with shortages of different items. The ‘Wartime Postscript’ at the beginning gives a sense of the time:

    “As this book goes to press our country is at war. Inevitably certain food shortages will develop. We may not be able to buy our usual amount of sugar nor the full line of canned foods to which we have become accustomed. But take it in stride. Out of the more than 2,500 recipes in this book there are hundreds that will meet your needs. if, for example, you haven’t enough sugar to make Fruit Torte, there’s a delicious Cabinet Pudding using only two tablespoons of that precious ingredient; if your budget won’t allow a sirloin steak, there’s an appetite-teasing T-bone Steak, Family Style; if your busy schedule doesn’t allow time to make yeast-raised orange bread, there’s a quick one that uses baking powder.
    Above all study the chapter on nutrition and meal planning: it will show you how to plan meals by a sound easy method that will keep your family in top health. A healthy nation is the best contribution our homes can make to our war effort. Let us make it constantly, consistently, and cheerfully.”

    I also received a copy of “Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber” for Christmas. Ferber is a French patissiere known for her fruit preserves. I tried the gooseberry jam recipe this summer, and it was stellar. The techniques are old-school; the jam process takes a couple of days so the sugars are absorbed slowly to preserve the texture of the fruit. The recipes have interesting combinations that I look forward to making (Pineapple with Vanilla and Rosemary-hm!). I really want to make kumquat preserves, but my attempts to find kumquats have been … fruitless. 😉

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