Cooking the Books

Despite being what would inevitably fit into the classic definition of a “foodie”, I don’t buy a lot of cookbooks. As is obvious from this blog, I don’t post a lot of recipes, and while I do love to cook and try new things in the kitchen, I tend not to be a big cookbook collector. Part of this is due to limited space on my kitchen shelves, and part is due to being one of those obsessive Virgo types who chuck anything they haven’t used in a year.

Since most cookbooks never actually get used, but instead fill in as a kind of porn for many readers who look at the pictures and dream of cooking the recipes but never actually get around to it, I’ve found it beneficial to both my bank account and the part of my brain that stresses about clutter to just not buy many of the darn things. You can find most recipes somewhere on the web these days anyway, and aside from the food porn readers, cookbooks are one of those analog inventions that it would be logical to assume will disappear within the decade.

So I’m completely confused by the fact that I came back from the CNE last weekend with six new cookbooks. Okay, to be fair, they were 3/$10 at one of those discount vendor set-ups with piles of remaindered CDS, DVDs and books. Truthfully I don’t really need any of them, but they each have their charms and uses, and at $3 and change each, I can probably find a spot for them.

There’s often obvious reasons books end up in the remaindered pile, though, and it wasn’t until got them home that I figured out why.

Babe’s Country Cookbook
Dewey Gram
GT Publishing Corporation, 1998, 176 pages
The allure: Babe! Actually, I’ve been looking for a selection of vegetarian country or farmhouse recipes that make the most of local, seasonal food items. This book actually fits the bill exactly, and there’s plenty of really hearty, homey vegetarian dishes. Also, really, really nicely photographed images with pretty props like teapots and pretty dishes, and a selection of cute farm animals.
Probability of use: High.
Reason remaindered: It’s 10 years old, Babe’s title of “cutest movie animal” has been usurped many times in the past decade, and maybe the movie didn’t convert all that many people to vegetarianism after all.

The Best Bake Sale Ever Cookbook
Barbara Grunes
Chronicle Books, 2006, 336 pages
The allure: Bake sale, yo! It’s a nice compendium of bake-saleable treats that have a wide-ranging appeal and travel well. Each recipe comes with a tip on how to display or market that item at the actual bake sale to make the other PTA ladies seethe with jealousy – ie. sell cornbread muffins from a table covered in a red checkered tablecloth, or decorate a table selling pumpkin pie with mini pumpkins and a bouquet of Mums in fall colours.
Probability of use: Medium – I’m a cookie fiend so there are a few recipes that look enticing.
Reason remaindered: Photos are minimal and are arranged in a section in the centre. Very low food porn rating. Possibly potential buyers were put off by the tips because most people don’t have the time/energy to get all Martha Stewart-like about bake sales these days.

The Jewish Mama’s Kitchen
Denise Phillips
Thunder Bay Press, 2005, 160 pages
The allure: I can’t find a Jewish grandmother to adopt me and feed me latkes and gefilte fish, so I need to take matter into my own hands. Includes the full spectrum of traditional Jewish family food, with really nice explanations on the differences between Yiddish, Israeli and Sephardic Jews and their cuisines.
Probability of use: Low – see reason remaindered.
Reason remaindered: WTF ingredients list??? Each recipe is nicely laid out on a single or two-page spread with an explanation of the dish. BUUUTTT… the ingredient list is arranged in a paragraph, in bulleted form, not an actual list, with one ingredient to a line. Bad, bad, bad, bad. This might not have been the author’s decision, but it makes following the recipe – especially for home cooks who don’t always do complete mise en place beforehand – a disaster waiting to happen. I might go through this and copy out the recipes I’m most interested in so they’re in a more logical format.

Picnics: Delicious Recipes for Outdoor Entertaining
Sara Deseran
Chronicle Books, 2004, 96 pages
The allure: We don’t do much eating out of doors, what with that whole living in a highrise thing, but this is just a nice collection of summer recipes that makes the most of fresh seasonal ingredients. The grilling recipes won’t get much action, but the selection of summery soups, salads and sandwiches probably will.
Probability of use: Medium – if I remember it when summer rolls around again next year.
Reason remaindered: Pretty niche-specific, plus real picnics are a lot of work, so people probably passed this over thinking they wouldn’t use it enough. The selection of mains is quite small and the majority require a grill or BBQ.

edited by Alberto Ruy-Sánchez and Margarita de Orellana
Smithsonian Books, 2004, 238 pages
The allure: Not actually a recipe book, but rather a history of tequila. Glossy pages, more of a coffee table book despite its small size.
Probability of use: Read and then shelved with the collection of booze-related books, of which we have a fair number seeing as the husband writes about booze.
Reason remaindered: Unsure. Tequila is just getting trendy here in Canada, previously there weren’t many brands available, and the drink had a poor reputation, so possibly just not enough interest in the subject matter.

The Trout Point Lodge Cookbook by Daniel Abel, Charles Leary and Vaughn Perret
Random House, 2004, 232 pages
The allure: Creole cuisine from New Orleans to Nova Scotia. Supposedly traditional Creole, Cajun and Acadian dishes from a trio who moved from Louisana to Nova Scotia to run an inn.
Probability of use: Medium to low – the authors seem convinced that both Creole and Cajun cuisine come from Acadian cuisine, which generally isn’t true. A very high reliance on fish as a main course (there are actually no meat dishes in the main courses and even the traditional Acadian meat pie called rapure is made with fish in this book) as well as an odd pre-occupation with tarts instead of pies for dessert.
Reason remaindered: A high bullshit factor when it comes to the authenticity of the cuisine, an apparent lack of skill with pastry, and the emphasis on fish and shellfish for mains might be a turn-off to some.

So a few of these might turn out to be duds, but I think I’ve also scored a couple of winners, and for a total of $20, I’m okay with that.