Still More Cookbooks for You and Other People

all cookbooksCookbooks are back. Well, they never left, but popularity waned. It has been oft cited this year that cookbook sales are up over 20%. As you can see from the catalog of links below, I would agree that cookbooks are a valuable use of your funds and shelf space. I love food blogs as much as the next food blogger for the instant gratification, the ease of sharing recipes, and the variety you can find (all available for free!). But, a cookbook is a person and a moment in time committed to paper. Cookbooks are recipes, techniques, and stories literally bound together for both cohesive narrative and lessons. They are beautiful inspiration. The link to your favorite recipe never breaks, and you can keep the page to a recipe open and save your phone from getting caked with raw egg and flour.

Cookbooks can also make wonderful gifts. I have an extensive collection, but have limited my suggestions here to cookbooks I truly use all the time and have also gifted myself. I still own and love all of the cookbooks I wrote about previously, so be sure to look at past year’s lists as well (they are all linked to at the bottom).

But, maybe you aren’t into buying people things, or you don’t have the cash to do so right now. I’ve also given homemade cookbooks with a collection of my favorite recipes. Use a binder, some spray paint or cool paper (purchasing is not necessary, you could just use a brown paper bag and draw/stamp on it!), and fill it with dividers. Print out your favorite recipes and load them in! You could do a specific theme too, like one year I made my mom one with all soup recipes because she makes lots of soup during the winter for our family.

good and cheapGood and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/day by Leanne Brown. Brown wrote this cookbook as part of her masters in food studies to help people on SNAP cook healthy, flavorful, and interesting meals. She released the cookbook as a free PDF (which you can download through the link above), but if you buy a paper copy her publisher will donate a book to someone in need. The book is available in English and Spanish. These reasons alone would seem like enough to earn a recommendation, but what is most important is the book is full of solid, easy to follow, and delicious recipes. She is truly a master of taking cheap basics and reworking them in many dishes.

This book is best for: people who may not be comfortable in the kitchen yet, people who are not into long ingredient lists or fancy techniques, students, people who like saving money.

Favorite recipes: poutine, peanut chicken with broccoli and coconut rice, coconut and lime brown rice pudding.

IMG_6535Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman. I approached this book cautiously when it came out last year. Could I possibly love and cook from it as much as I had Deb’s first book? It is still early to tell (I’ve had her first book for six years), but I think the answer is yes. Like her first cookbook this one has a wide range of types of recipes with everything from breakfast to salads to vegetarian mains to dessert (it is not an exclusively vegetarian cookbook, but many recipes are). Her recipes are always well written, and are interesting but feel very achievable on a weeknight. While I am not in the business of recommending cookbooks for a single recipe, the street cart chicken and rice alone makes the book worthwhile to me. I’ve written about my love for this recipe before, and for my husband’s birthday this year I quadrupled the recipe for a party and it was a huge hit.

This cookbook is best for: busy people with a wide palate, people who aren’t afraid to try a new ingredient or technique, your best friend, bakers, part or full time vegetarians.

Favorite recipes: street cart chicken and rice, skirt steak salad, spaghetti pangratto with crispy eggs, pizza beans.

homemade kitchenThe Homemade Kitchen by Alana Chernila. This book is just so lovely. It is Chernila’s second book (I recommended her first, The Homemade Pantry, in my first cookbook post way back in 2014) and the chapters are based around inspirational mantras, like “start where you are,” “eat outside” and “do your best, and then let go.” The recipes range from simple and perfect for a beginner like roast chicken to more complicated projects like making tofu. Many of the recipes have ideas for other variations to adapt to your tastes or the season. Chernila is empowering, reflective, and an excellent teacher.

This cookbook is best for: people who love cooking and talking about why they cook, beginners who need encouragement, parents, people who like to cook for crowds.

Favorite recipes: quick pickled cabbage, chicken pot pie, kimchi breakfast tata, spoon butter.

IMG_6543Dinner: Changing the Game by Melissa Clark. I got this out of the library last year, and knew immediately it was the perfect book for my mom. The recipes are incredibly varied and vegetable heavy, but each recipe constitutes an entire meal. I bought it for her birthday and she loved cooking from it, and then bought it for me for Christmas last year (how is that for a gift endorsement??).  I’ve been cooking for work more and more, and while I still love planning elaborate meals I’ve found myself with less energy to do that during the week and just needing to figure out something for dinner. This book delivers with straightforward recipes that are never boring. Clark does rely on some more exotic ingredients to get maximum flavor from simple recipes, but just about every one can be found at a well-stocked grocery store.

This cookbook is best for: your mom, people who like flavor-packed ingredients like harissa, anchovies, and vinegar, busy people who like interesting food.

Favorite recipes: olive oil-braised chickpeas, harissa chicken, red curry and coconut tofu.

Are you still not convinced that cookbooks are the right gift for yourself? Or maybe you need to buy a gift for the friend who lives in a shoe box apartment with no room for a cookbook shelf? This year I started subscribing to New York Times Cooking and I will never look back. Sam Sifton has entirely transformed the Cooking section to be an extensive catalog of recipes that is easily searchable and save-able in your “recipe box.” The staff (including the great Melissa Clark and Alison Roman) publish great recipes and long-form pieces regularly. It is $5/month or $40/year.

Past Recommendations:


Books about food

dsc01942My favorite hobbies are in order: eating food, making food, reading about food. While the first two take precedence to sustain me, I wouldn’t be fulfilled without the third. The holidays are an especially great time to share this love of reading. While I don’t force food books onto everyone in my life, if I had to pick a few to share, these would be at the top of the list.

The Third Plate (Dan Barber). If you need a crash course on Dan Barber (and an awesome show to fall into), watch his episode of Chef’s TableThis book presented our food system in an entirely new way to me. Barber’s argument is that the fundamental problem with our food system is we don’t look at it as a whole. Consumers (chef’s included) demand large amounts of specific plants and animals (like tomatoes or beef), which incentivizes farmers to produce those in mass quantities. Though that may allow them to make a living, it takes a toll on the environment and depletes resources in the long run. He says we should instead be asking farmers what they need to grow or how they need to raise animals to preserve the health of the land, and then we should base what we eat off of that. This forces greater variety on the consumer, and necessitates using more of each plant.

Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Michael Pollan). I reread Cooked this year, and I’m so glad I gave it a second chance. While I was lukewarm after the first reading, I was completely enthralled this time around. I love the organization of the book, Pollan explores one food process to match each element: fire (barbecue), water (braising), air (breadmaking), and earth (fermentation). History, science, and technique are interwoven as Pollan shadows experts and attempts processes in his own kitchen (and backyard).

An Everlasting Meal (Tamar Adler). This book really straddles the line of book about food and cookbook. Recipes, techniques, and food philosophies stew together in Adler’s opinionated and often dramatic prose (“The degrading of mayonnaise from a wonderful condiment for cooked vegetables or sandwiches to an indistinguishable layer of fat has been radical and violent.” p31). Some recipes are written out in the standard ingredient list and instructions format, but the majority of them are within the rest of the paragraphs. While they are a delight to read like this, I have found them much harder to find and refer back to. As the title suggest, Adler believes each meal leads into the next, and we can cook in such a way so little is wasted and maximum flavor is extracted from each ingredient. While her tastes may not match everyone’s, I loved her fiery point of view and many suggestions for simple yet delicious food.

And a few other books I’ve loved: Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Consider the Fork, Edible, and Catching Fire.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations - Vegetal MattersNot all of the great cookbooks released last year can make it into Food52’s Piglet competition, so along with each day of the competition they post a Community Pick. They solicit five volunteers per cookbook to test and review it, then post the best. I submitted a review of Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak, which was not chosen, but the editor here at Vegetal Matters is still willing to post it.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations

I’ve always had reservations about one dish and one ingredient cookbooks. Both my wallet and my space are limiting factors – so why would I invest in a cookbook with narrow uses? But I was overlooking the fact that my cooking repertoire were more like “cooking X without a recipe.” In fact a favorite dinner-on-the-fly game at my house is “Will it taco?”, including whatever is in the house in a tortilla topped with a sauce (so far, everything has taco-ed). Tacos: Recipes and Provocations has begun to change my mind on the worthiness of one dish cookbooks. This is more a formula for a dish that involves tortillas, salsa, and filling that can be interpreted infinite ways. Tacos provides the tools to execute that formula in constantly interesting iterations.

Stupak is non-negotiable on the subject of tortilla making: you make them at home or you don’t bother. He laments that truly great corn tortillas must be made with freshly ground masa, but it is impossible to do at home (and the more readily available masa harina must substitute). Corn tortillas also require a tortilla press, which I was not quite ready to invest in.  Flour tortillas seemed a much easier path to success with readily procured main ingredients (white flour and lard – look near the butter in the grocery store) and involved equipment I already own (a rolling pin). Even without a stand mixer the dough comes together easily and after a short rest is ready to roll out. Making circular tortillas is another story, for a greater perfectionist than I.

It is made clear that Stupak’s background is that of a high end pastry chef, but his influences range widely from his wife’s Mexican background and his own New England upbringing, along with experiences around the world. The recipes have an incredibly wide variety of ingredients, from basic chicken and shrimp, to pastrami, tongue, sea urchin, and suckling pig (and there are vegetarian options, but they are the minority). Just about every dish includes 3 or more recipes: the tortilla, salsa, and filling.

Some can be prepared in advance, but it’s safe to say these are mostly weekend cooking projects and not after work dinners. There are obscure ingredients and long processes that could classify this more as a “chef” cookbook, but it is balanced with enough basic recipes and familiar ingredients to make this book a kitchen workhorse and not a coffee table book (though the photos are gorgeous in their own right).

I went with dishes that contain ingredients most common in my kitchen: potato and chorizo tacos with salsa de árbol and chicken and kale tacos. The chorizo tacos involved toasting all of the spices, chilis, and nuts for both the chorizo and the salsa (not ideal if you have spice sensitive housemates). Stupak describes the salsa de árbol as his end-all-be-all of hot sauces, and I’m wholly on board.  The sauce had the real kick I want, acidic tang from the vinegar and an earthy sweetness. I’ve used it on much more than tacos, and I’ll have to make a plan for more when I finish the last tablespoon on my eggs tomorrow. Perhaps I am not the best judge for chorizo as I would eat it on a piece of bark, but this recipe was robust and worth all of the effort of toasting and grinding that went into it.

The chicken was roasted with lard and then stirred into a fresh tomatillo salsa along with kale, and topped with queso fresco and crema once in tortillas. The combination was surprisingly rich (or maybe not, see: lard) and well foiled by sturdy kale. Both chorizo and chicken took the better part of a Sunday afternoon, but were undeniably the best tacos that have come out of my kitchen. Since it is best to use up the tortillas that night, they make an excellent excuse to entertain (and enlist your gusts in tortilla rolling).

Though Stupak warns leftover tortillas are not worth eating, it has obviously been far too long since he had a premade tortilla. Yes, the texture was compromised, but the flavor was still far superior to their pale, grocery store brethren.

A cookbook with the subtitle Recipes and Provocations seems to be making a big promise for some lofty thoughts. The insightful essays did their full share of provoking. They included the untraditional American placement of beef in tacos, the true meaning of “traditional” dishes, and the ascribed worth of different cuisines. Each problem is something any cook making any cuisine in any part of the country has encountered.

Tacos: Recipes and Provocations was all I could hope for in a cookbook (specific to one dish or otherwise): excellent background on processes and traditional ingredients, scientific precision in recipe testing, varied ingredients and thorough directions.  All of these benefits were delivered in an amusing conversational but knowledgeable tone, along with some truly reflective essays. I still have a cup of lard in the fridge so there is only one thing to do: make more tacos.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People

More Cookbooks for Your and Other People - Vegetal MattersCookbooks are one of my favorite gifts to give and receive. Yes, there is an internet’s worth of recipes at your finger tips. but it will never match the experience of diving into one author’s perspective of a certain cuisine, ingredient, or type of dishes. Sometimes you just want a recommendation from someone you feel like you know and trust. My cookbooks snuggled into a bookcase in my kitchen feel like backup forces of chefs and friends ready to provide inspiration, walk me through a new dish, or reliably guide me through cooking something I love.

All the books below have been in my possession for 6 months or (many) more. I have read them cover to cover and cooked at least 3 recipes from them (but probably more). Last year I wrote about five favorite cookbooks for gifts, all of which are still happily on my bookcase and in the cooking rotation. If this is just not enough books for you, then we should be friends, and you should also check out other cookbooks I’ve mentioned here as well as other books related to food in the Cookbooks and Read categories.

More Cookbooks for Your and Other People - Vegetal MattersEvery Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop. I got this out of the library after reading Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepperand then I got it out of the library again. Then I felt I was being unfair to other library patrons and bought my own copy. It is a beautifully designed book with rice grain art dividing each chapter. The recipes are nothing like the fried chicken in a sweet, goopy sauce you might find at a buffet. I’ve never been to China (please, take me!), but whenever I cook from this book I feel like I’m making dishes that could easily be what Chinese households are making.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersInitially this did require special trips to find more obscure ingredients like light and dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine, Chinkiang vinegar, and chili bean paste, but they were relatively easy to find at Asian grocery stores (and would be great to include along with your book gift!). Many of the recipes repeat these ingredients, so once you have the basics there’s no need to go searching for something new with every dish you cook. Dan dan noodles, vegetarian “Gong Bao Chicken,” fish fragrant eggplant, and Sichuanese “send-the-rice-down” chopped celery with ground beef are all in my eternal repertoire now.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersThug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck by the authors of the Thug Kitchen blog The blog and book aim to destroy the notion that vegan food is pretentious, expensive, girly, and doesn’t taste good (and they succeed). The recipes are easy and call for very common ingredients, with the added bonus of being hilarious. BBQ bean burritos with grilled peach salsa, spring veggie bowl with curry lime sauce, tortilla soup, and the baked tofu I’ve made so many times I have the page memorized (77!) have kept me reaching for this book again and again. They released a new cookbook this year, Thug Kitchen Party Grub: For Social Motherf*ckersbut I haven’t had it long enough or cooked from it enough to provide an official endorsement. There is some pretty funny gear in their shop to go along with your book gift.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersOn Food and Cooking by Harold McGee. This book does not have any recipes in it, but should still be on every cookbook shelf. It is essential to understanding why we use what techniques where and how foods behave when subjected to different processes. After reading it this year I wrote about all the greatness to be gleaned. Buy it for your own shelf too, and turn to Harold first every time you wonder why something occurs when cooking.

More Cookbooks for You and Other People - Vegetal MattersJamie at Home: Cook Your Way to the Good Life by Jamie Oliver. I already gushed about this book and my favorite recipes when I wrote about zucchini carbonara. I won’t repeat myself, but this book is worthwhile for the cherry tomato and sausage bake alone.


Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well

Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well - Vegetal MattersThanksgiving is a holiday with lofty expectations. There is a big meal to prepare for more people than you usually cook for comprised of dishes you more than likely only make once a year. Each year there is an explosion of trendy recipes with new methods, imploring you to cover your turkey with a bacon lattice or a wine soaked t-shirt, soak it in a salty, sugary bath for days beforehand, fry it, grill it, slow cook it, spatchcock it, or squirt it every 15 minutes with a supersoaker of basting liquid (I may have made that up, but watch it catch on). There are so many people to please, traditions to uphold, and diets to account for that all the fun is almost sucked out of planning.

Sam Sifton is here to cure all these ails. A New York Times writer with 25 years of Thanksgiving cooking experience, as well as the one man Thanksgiving help line for the Times. The combination of his own experience and saving so many other meals made him full of opinions and wisdom on the subject which are compiled in Thanksgiving: How To Cook It Well. It may seem silly to have a cookbook you use for one day a year, but the recipes and lessons transcend turkey day. The dry humor alone makes this worth reading cover to cover each year, whether or not you are hosting (it will take you an hour at most, not counting for the times you walk around reading parts aloud to all in earshot).

On some topics Sifton offers no compromises: NO APPETIZERS (oysters don’t count), NO SALAD, NO GARLIC, NO CHOCOLATE.  One bottle of wine per person is not outrageous. Gravy and cranberry sauce are the most important elements because they tie everything together (I agree). If you don’t cook, you clean (which should be law, holiday or not). “Leave the kitchen gleaming so that the morning may dawn on a new day, not a continuation of this one.”

If you are paralyzed by options each year, Thanksgiving is your book. There are enough variations to keep the meal interesting year after year, but all are well tested recipes guaranteed to succeed. Sifton says with his guidance “you are going to cook and serve a meal that will bring praise down upon you like showers of rose petals.” And once we are past Thanksgiving, and you have a picked over carcass and a ton of meat Sifton directs us through making turkey stock (get everything you can out of that giant, expensive bird!) and turkey gumbo, turkey salad, and even Thanksgiving eggs (because “exhaustive research into the business and culture of American breakfast suggests that you can always put an egg on it” – AMEN).

The suggestion I am most excited to put to work in my own kitchen this year is to start the morning of Thanksgiving by using the neck of the turkey to create a stock which will be used throughout the day (genius!). It will take everything I have not to, but there will be no salad (guess what will be for lunch Thanksgiving day though?!). Thanksgiving is a book I will most often reach for in November, but also on days when I need a little extra guidance when hosting a large group, classic recipes, or a reminder of how funny food writing can be.


The Homemade Kitchen

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersThere are different ways to fall in love with a cookbook. Sometimes it happens slowly, as one recipe after another is tasted and proves itself. Sometimes it happens from a distance, as the book is hard to find, or always wrapped in plastic on the shelf at the bookstore (Thailand: The Cookbook, I pine for you). Sometimes the love happens in your arms but before a single recipe has been cooked. The Homemade Kitchen is Alana Chernila’s (of Eating From the Ground Up) second book, and though we’ve only been together a week the feelings are strong.

Alana’s first book, The Homemade Pantry, is about making many common items you would buy packaged from scratch. The book is arranged by aisle in the grocery store, and includes basics like yogurt and ricotta, condiments and spice mixes, and introductions to basic processes like fermenting and canning. Besides the empowerment you achieve by making things you previously bought, the outcomes are truly above and beyond anything from the store. The ricotta cheese recipe is truly life-changing. The end product is creamier and more velvety than I knew was possible, and a completely different food from the stiff and vaguely grainy options  I’ve bought before. Car snack 3 (the nutty granola bar) is a chocolate=y bar full of oats and nuts with a salty top that is everything I’ve ever wanted in a granola bar and never been able to buy. Each recipe has two names: ‘potato chips or the strangest thing in the garden,’ ‘macaroni and cheese or what holds us together,’ ‘chicken nuggets or at least it’s protein.’ These titles lead into honest stories about becoming a young parent, moving home to Western MA to start a family, and defining herself as a cook and writer. This cookbook is just about as good as having a great friend in the kitchen to tell you stories and praise your food.

The Homemade Kitchen is much in the same vein. Alana works with each recipe to instill confidence in the kitchen, but also as one shops and makes choices about food. What we eat is increasingly a political statement, and her push is to know what you’re eating but also have the freedom to choose what is right for you to eat. What we eat is a choice, and one that we make multiple times a day, every day. In the introduction Alana reflects on home cooking and says ‘Not only do I get to eat what I’ve made, I also get to delight in my ability to create it.’ This is exactly what keeps me returning to the kitchen to try new recipes or put together a dinner puzzle from forgotten fridge items. I have to eat every day, and yes I could easily rely on someone else for my subsistence, but I get so much more joy from doing it myself.

The book is grouped into chapters under positive phrases. ‘Be a beginner’ is about never being afraid to learn new things and the very basics of the kitchen like cooking an egg and roasting vegetables. ‘Be active’ is about fermentation, ‘use your scraps’ is recipes that make something out of food scraps, ‘be helpful’ are dishes to pass along to someone in their time of need. Each of these chapters starts with a short essay, and my favorite is the beginning of the chapter ‘do your best, and then let go.’ Alana writes about the challenges of the organic label. There is a lot of good that comes from it of course, but also expense and elitism. Wanting to ensure your food is as pure as possible is a goal for many, the reality is for most of us we can’t know the life of every item we eat: ‘In the end, my priorities are as complicated and in flux as the food system that feeds me. I do the best I can, and then I let go.’ As Alana also says, labels are important, but they can be hard to live by for everyone. The reminder that we shouldn’t judge others’ eating habits is an important one, and our system and the choices we can make within it are increasingly complicated. As the rest of the book echoes, eat what feels right to you.

The Homemade Kitchen - Vegetal MattersI haven’t made any recipes from The Homemade Kitchen yet.  I’m most excited to try out some of the bigger projects, like making tofu and feta cheese. The preserved lemon hummus, braised lamb shanks, a muffin formula with many adaptations, and fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic are also jumping off the page to me. (Can you tell I have a jar of preserved lemons in the fridge I bought for one recipe and need helping using the rest of?) The photos in the book are lovely, but my favorite is this one for fettuccine with preserved lemon and roasted garlic. Just a bite left on the plate, but you still get a feel for exactly what the dish is (and how delightful it was to eat). This is the kind of cookbook you turn to when you need to figure out a dinner out of things you already have on hand, or want to host a crowd without lots of stress or money.  The recipes and stories will be a mainstay in my kitchen, and I’m sure of that before the cooking even happens (sometimes you just know).

Persiana and Turkish White Bean Salad

Turkish White Bean Salad - Vegetal Matters
You know what is better than a giant cookbook collection? A free giant cookbook collection. I usually end up with at least one cookbook borrowed during my weekly library trips. I hadn’t requested any new ones last week (the week before it was Paletas), but I took a quick look at the new non-fiction and Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour practically jumped into my arms. I looked through it during navigation breaks on this weekend’s road trip to upstate New York and planned out a summer’s worth of meals from its pages. Middle Eastern food is the theme, and the book is full of fresh vegetable and herb salads, hearty grains and legumes, warmly spiced meats, and varied mezze. A small sampling of recipes on my list are the Hummus, which incorporates chickpea cooking liquid, Smoked Eggplant Salad (ok, every eggplant recipe), and Tomato Salad with Pomegranate Molasses. The salads entice me most, as they are all simple but with lovely herb and spice combinations that excite me way more than my usual repertoire.

Turkish White Bean Salad - Vegetal Matters

Our last stop before home was the grocery store to grab some cans of white beans, an onion, and a lemon to make this salad. Cooking upon returning from a road trip is not usually an activity I jump to, but this was just a quick assembly and made me feel so much better then relying on someone else for a meal again after a weekend of eating out. I also took the basic concept of Ghayour’s fattoush dressing which is just lemon juice, olive oil, and sumac to make a salad with lettuce from the garden that grew like wild while I was gone. I’ve made many a lemon vinaigrette, but the sumac added a more nuanced sourness and lovely red flecks all over the lettuce (and (I’ve already made it again since). I also made the Eastern-Style Focaccia which took 2 hours start to finish and was full of cumin, coriander, sumac, and thyme, and Pistachio and Feta Dip to go along with it, which was as easy as throwing everything in a food processor (and an excellent use of the disappointingly unsalted pistachios I accidentally bought for road snacks). Persiana hasn’t been in my possession for long, but I already feel this book should be added to the my house library.

Turkish White Bean Salad (Piyaz)

Slightly adapted from Persiana

This salad is delicious leftover, but the Aleppo pepper does tint the dressing red after it sits for a while. If you are serving this to entertain, toss just before serving. Serves 4 as a light dinner or lunch, 6 as sides.

  • 3 cups cooked white beans, rinsed (2 14-oz cans)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red onion (mine was from half a large onion weighing ½ a lb)
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper flakes (or 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes)
  • ½ cup flat leaf parsley, chopped (about a large handful)
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (or juice of 1 lemon)
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • fresh ground black pepper

Mix the beans, onion, Aleppo and parlsey in a large bowl. Put the rest of the ingredients in a smaller bowl and whisk until smooth. If it seems stiff, add a teaspoon of water at a time until the dressing is pour-able but still on the thick side. Pour the dressing onto the bean mixture and toss carefully to coat.

Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal MattersI love used book stores. New ones have their draw, but shiny books come at a premium. Though you never know what you will find at a used store, discovering long-sought after books or unknown gems is a high worth seeking. This summer while down the Cape found myself in Hyannis, which is a not my top vacation destination. It’s mostly populated with t-shirt shops and seafood restaurants that cater to the masses. But, it is also home to Tim’s Used Books, a huge store overlooked by everyone else looking for boogie boards and battered fish. I always peruse the cookbook section in such places and could not help but take Venus in the Kitchen or Love’s Cookery Book by Pilaff Bey off the shelf. I opened to the introduction and read the first sentence: “In those last years you would always find him between six and dinner-time in the Café Vittoria, unfashionably tucked away behind the Piazza.” That sounds like a place I want to hang out, and as my full name is uncommon, I’m usually partial to any reference to it (it’s also the reason I picked up Angels and Demons at an airport a decade ago). After flipping through a few recipes it went in the “buy” pile immediately, and Love’s Cookery Book stands as my best used bookstore find yet. It’s a compilation of aphrodisiac recipes written with no ingredient lists. Just short (and a few long) paragraphs describing recipes “collected slowly, one by one, for the private use and benefit of a small group of friends, most of whom, I am sorry to say, are older than they want to be….”

It took longer than it should have for me to become curious about the man behind the recipes. Pilaff Bey is a pseudonym for Norman Douglas, but Douglas is listed as the book’s editor so he just barely separated his real identify from it. Douglas was a serious fiction and travel author, and Love’s Cookery Book was the twenty seventh of his twenty eight books published just before his death in 1952. His death was rumored to have been caused by a purposeful drug overdose to escape an illness, and his last words are supposedly: “Get those fucking nuns away from me.” It seems that Love’s Cookery Book was Douglas’ effort to pass along his lifetime of erotic cooking wisdom before it was claimed by his death.

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal Matters

Bey’s recipes are inconsistent to say the least, with some having absurdly specific instructions, and others so vague they can barely be called recipes.  The range of ingredients is pretty narrow. Besides a chapter on mushrooms, vegetables are barely present except as aromatics and a seven page Vegetables and Salads chapter featuring mostly artichokes, celery, and peppers. There is a lot of seafood (especially eels, mussels, oysters and snails), game meat, offal, cinnamon and other warm spices, and copious quantities of wine and brandy.  This recipe Róto Sans Pareil is a turducken almost six times over, with seventeen different game birds stuffed into one another.

Some recipes are a single sentence, such as Goose Kidneys: “Martial asserts that taking the kidneys of the goose pounded with pine seeds, sugar, pepper, cinnamon, and fresh yolks of eggs, made into croquettes, cooked lightly in the oven, is admirable for warming cold spirits.” Many of the recipes end with delightful short musings on the dish just presented, such as “Could not be better.” (Yellow Sausages), “Another reliable stimulant.” (Veal Sweetbreads á la D’Ayen), “Not everybody cares to treat oysters in this fashion.” (Oysters in Champagne), “Not very invigorating.” (Scalloped Crab), “A noble aphrodiasiac.” (Frogs’ Legs), “A stimulant for sturdy stomachs.” (Pork Chops with Fennel), “Rather banal, I venture to think.” (Purée of Celery), “Much ado about nothing.” (Turkey in the Italian Way), and the especially puzzling “Monselet declares that is the chaste Joseph had been given this dish by Potiphar’s wife she would not have been snubbed on that memorable occasion.” (Langouste a L’Américaine).

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal MattersThe drinks chapter is even odder than the rest. Some of them take a week or more to produce (or fifty days), which is not the kind of patience I have when craving a cocktail, and require staggering amounts of alcohol (anyone know where I can buy gin by the gallon?). The recipe for Hydromel is as follows: “When the dog days set in, take some spring water; to three parts of water add one part of clarified honey; put this mixture in earthenware vessels and have it stirred by your slaves for a long time. Leave it out in the open, covered with a cloth, for forty days and forty nights.” As this book was written in Europe  in the 20th century, I can’t imagine where Bey would expect having slaves to be common practice.

Love's Cookery Book - Vegetal Matters

I thought about trying out a few of these recipes for my own Valentine’s day dinner, but decided to go with some more traditional fare (less eel). There will be cornish game hens though, which are the closest thing to game I can get right now, so I think Bey would approve. I will be keeping Bey’s mindset though and not taking my cooking too seriously. This cult classic cookbook will always serve as romantic inspiration and is without a doubt the most amusing entry on my cookbook shelf.

Cookbooks for you and other people

The internet is currently a cacophony of  gift suggestions, and I can’t help but add my own shouts to the mix. I will never tire of receiving cookbooks (though my bookshelves very well could). My collection of cookbooks outweighs me and each have their own special spot on the bookshelf, but I keep turning to a select few repeatedly. These are five of my favorites and I feel so strongly about adding to other people’s collections that I gift them myself.

Flour CoverFlour by Joanne Chang. I’ve written about how great this cookbook is before, and my fuzzy feelings have only grown since then. Chang’s recipes can be complicated, but the instructions are the most thorough that I’ve read in any cookbook. If you follow along, the recipes are foolproof and serious show stoppers. (and for those who already have Flour, there is Flour, too, which includes salads, soups, sandwiches, and dinners along with the amazing desserts)

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Basics CoverHow to Cook Everything: The Basics by Mark Bittman Sometimes, I don’t like looking up recipes on the internet. I just want to be able to open up a book from a trusted source and find exactly what I want (I’m needy, I know). For this exact purpose I have How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Basics. I’m recommending Basics here because it is an excellent beginner book with photos and thorough tutorials, and a far less overwhelming amount of recipes. How to Cook Everything (also in Vegetarian and Fast versions), has recipes that are just as easy, no photos (but some illustrations), and a zillion variations. It is designed for someone who is a little more comfortable in the kitchen.

Basics Open

Jerusalem CoverJerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi. I am in love with this cookbook. If you aren’t comfortable with sensual, vegetal food porn skip this one. The recipes are creative and have gotten me to try many new ingredients and techniques, but never seem outlandish or scary. Ottolenghi’s other accomplishments include Ottolenghi, Plenty, and Plenty More, but none of them have captured me as much as Jerusalem. Please try the roasted butternut, the wheat berries with chard and pomegranate molasses, and every eggplant recipe.

Jerusalem Open

Homemade CoverThe Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila. If you have any interest in trying to make processed food from scratch, this is your book. Alana has a lovely blog, and the book has great stories and charming titles (‘Pancakes and Waffles or the division of labor’). The recipe I adapted to make granola comes from here, I’ve made the ricotta many times over, and the best homemade granola bars.

Homemade Open

Sprouted CoverThe Sprouted Kitchen: A Tastier Take on Whole Foods by Sara Forte. Sara’s blog is another great one, and her book is a wonderful collection of healthful, creative recipes. Her chipotle and apple turkey burgers are my favorite ever, and come to think of it the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers are also my favorite ever. Beyond burgers, the creamy millet with roasted portobellos and tangled carrot salad with tahini dressing are dishes that will always be in my rotation.

Sprouted Open