Why Not . . . Read a Cookbook for Pleasure?
Wednesday April 19, 2017

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“Yet every recipe, whether we cook it or not, offers a vision of the good life, and a way of tasting food in your brain.” —Bee Wilson, The New Yorker

The sizzle of the aromatic ingredients having been finely chopped and dropped atop the olive oil or butter into a pre-heated skillet. The steady hum of the bubbles in a pot poised for fresh pasta to be dropped and the splash of red wine greeting the stemmed glass.

Cooking after work has wrapped up and the day is unwinding has always been therapeutic for me. The stoppage of time, the anticipation of the meal being created, the dance in the kitchen if cooking with a loved one as we work together. The seemingly simple, yet soothing sounds created in the kitchen during the build up to the meal’s presentation are a melody I never tire to hear.

But for as much as I love to cook, there are always a hundred multiplied by infinity recipes I have yet to try and want to, as well as numerous approaches and techniques and lessons I am curious to learn but still have yet to. However, this fact does not stop me from halting my purchase of cookbooks.

While my library of cookbooks is in its infant stage compared to that of the Barefoot Contessa (see above, Ina Garten in front of her cookbook library that is regularly in use – see a select list of Ina Garten’s cookbook favorites here), mine is certainly burgeoning.

I was reminded of how much I enjoy reading cookbooks for pleasure when Susan Hermann Loomis‘ cookbook In a French Kitchen was released last year and I didn’t want it to end. Similar to a cozy mystery that transfixes me primarily because of the details, setting and characters rather than the murder plot itself, I just want to roam the community some more, read more about the food and the gardens and dawdle with the secondary characters if possible. Hermann Loomis skillfully sprinkles a few recipes at the end of each chapter which corresponded with each season, and it was the stories, details and images of home cooks in their kitchens which she painted in my mind’s eye that kept me spellbound. (View one of my favorite recipes from the cookbook here.)

At the moment, my cookbook of leisure reading is Elizabeth Bard’s newly released Francophile must-have Dinner Chez Moi: 50 French Secrets to Joyful Eating and Entertaining. Full of personal stories and anecdotes paired with the French approach to eating, as well as of course recipes, upon opening the book I feel temporarily transported to Provence where this New Yorker now calls home with her family.

While the truth may be we never actually make most of the recipes we read about (I had to chuckle when I read the above text in the Cookbook section at my local bookshop), cookbooks are a soothing recipe to slip into no matter what time of day. No tragedy, no news, no unexpected surprises (excepted maybe a renewed appetite). Simply deliciously curated flavors, often exquisite photography and inspiration and motivation that we too can create something beautiful, nourishing and brilliant in our own homes.

So if by chance you are looking for a good book to read at the moment and wish to learn something, but also unwind and relax, why not pick up a cookbook? While the cookbooks included in today’s post are ones I highly recommend or come highly recommended to me (all but two I have on in my kitchen), there are so many more I could share, but this list will certainly get you started.

You’ll find a brief description of each, but if you are looking for more ideas and titles, you can always stop by my TSLL Shop, click on “Cookbooks” in the drop-down menu and discover my entire list of cookbook recommendations that is regularly updated each week.

~The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Recipes and Lessons from a Delicious Revolution by Alice Waters

The west coast food expert who brought to the attention of the country and the modern world of cooking the value of seasonal, local and sustainably produced foods. The key as she reminds is something many different cultures outside of the United States have known for centuries, use quality, seasonal ingredients. Encouraging her readers to grow a garden, cook simply, cook together and be mindful of the food and its origins, her first chapter alone will prompt you to annotate frequently (if you’re like me) and feel confident you have a grasp on the foundations of a kitchen that can create delicious food simply.

~Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom: Essential Techniques and Recipes from a Lifetime of Cooking by Julia Child

After “getting to know” Julia Child in Dearie, As Always, Julia and now My Life in Franceand relying on Mastering the Art of French Cooking for any cooking questions that she might answer, next on my list to read is Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom. Published in 2000, Julia offers answers to the seemingly simple, but pesky questions we would like to know the answers to: the proper proportions for vinaigrette, the quickest way to sauté, tips and tricks for bread making, ideas for soups and much more. I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

~Sauces: Classic and Contemporary Sauce Making by James Peterson

A tome of a cookbook, dive into the first chapter and become acquainted with the history of sauce making through the centuries, then shift to the necessary and proper equipment in chapter two followed by the ingredients and finally, the subsequent chapters each focus on a particular type of sauce, offering a wide variety of different options (brown sauces, crustacean sauces, mayonnaise-based sauces, egg yolk aces, butter sauces, etc.) In other words, if you are curious about how to become a better French gourmand in the kitchen, pick up this resource for sauce making now.

~Tartine All Day: Modern Recipes for the Home Cook by Elisabeth Prueitt

The scrumptious descriptions of each recipe will leave you ready for a meal or a snack no matter how full you may be upon opening the latest cookbook by San Francisco’s Tartine bakery and restaurant co-founder Elisabeth Prueitt. And with simple recipes with magnified, surefire flavor, you will gaze at each image and feel confident you too can make what she describes.

~How to Cook Everything: 2000 Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman

Learn the simple techniques of everyday cooking, discover the power of quality, fresh, natural ingredients and come to understand that you don’t need complicated gadgetry, but instead just basic equipment to be successful in the kitchen.

~Barefoot in Paris: Easy French Food You Can Make at Home by Ina Garten

Each of Barefoot Contessa’s cookbooks are a treat to read when they arrive, and her latest Cooking for Jeffrey was no exception. What I especially enjoyed about Barefoot in Paris were the photography of Ina’s favorite stops in the city (Poilâne in St. Germaine for example) and the commentary in each chapter about specific French ways of cooking, shopping for cookware, setting the table and other experiences of Ina’s while spending time in France. (did you know she ha pied-à-terre in the city? See it here.)

~On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

Recommended by Ina Garten and currently in her cookbook library, this book is on my wish list. Described as a kitchen classic and highly reviewed by more than 500 readers, since being published in 1984, it is best described as the go-to resource “for an understanding of where our foods come from, what exactly they’re made of, and how cooking transforms them into something new and delicious”. A wonderful and informative read indeed.

“Sometimes, it’s enough to dream how things might be, in a fictitious kitchen where the “spargus” comes straight from the garden and the butter is always fresh.” -Bee Wilson, author of First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

Thesimplyluxuriouslife.com | The Simply Luxurious Life

27 thoughts on “Why Not . . . Read a Cookbook for Pleasure?

  1. I’d also highly recommend “The Sweet Life in Paris,” by David Lebovitz. He has such a gentle, wry sense of humor and a great eye for detail, plus wonderful recipes.

  2. Have you tried reading Nigel Slater’s cookbooks.? He writes a column in a U.K. Sunday paper and I love his language and descriptions. I used to read the columns out loud to my baby son and I love dipping into his books looking for a seasonal recipe.
    I agree with you, reading a cookbook is a relaxing pleasure.

  3. I have a very large cookbook collection, particularly on the subject of French cuisine and lifestyle. My favourite by far is The Bonne Femme Cookbook by Wini Moranville. Highly recommended.

  4. I always read my cookbooks for pleasure and love to peruse each recipe looking at the ingredients and descriptions. I borrowed Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites not long ago and enjoyed his descriptions preceeding each recipe and may just buy that one (I tested quite a few of the recipes and they all came out really nicely).

    I can’t even begin to list all my favourites, but Taste and Technique (Naomi Pomeroy) and Home Cooking (Gordon Ramsey) are two I turn to regularly, along with Julia Child’s two volume set, and when in need of something quick and fresh and easy, Jamie Oliver.

    One you may not have heard of that I also really enjoy is Friday Night Dinners by Bonnie Stern. Ms. Stern is from Toronto and the book is built around menus for Friday night meals which is traditionally the night Jewish families gather. There are lots of tips on prepping ahead of time. She has a wide range of menus on offer. Her grandmother’s Challah recipe is one of those never fail ones I turn to all the time.

  5. Cook’s Science by the Cook’s Illustrated team is currently on the top of my snack. It isn’t a warm, story driven cookbook, but I have learned an immense amount that has improved my go to recipes while giving me some new things to try.

  6. Lovely post Shannon. I also want to urge you to read Nigel Slater. I read his Kitchen Diary cookbooks for his beautiful writing. Can’t recommend him enough!

    1. Funny you mentioned it. 🙂 As soon as it was mentioned in the earlier comment, I went to Amazon and put one of his many (okay, I actually found two :)) and put them on my wish list. Thank you for reiterating their pleasure-reading quotient. 🙂 I cannot wait to begin my first of what sounds like will be many.

  7. Lovely to make mention of them; I enjoy perusing cookbooks, at times for their recipes, as well to enjoy and take delight in them. Thank you for sharing.

  8. What a beautiful post! And I loved how you describe your dance in the kitchen. Your cook book recommendations are thoughtful from Alice Waters to Ina, I enjoy and have a girl crush on Giada de Laurentis. So far I have enjoyed everything she suggests and how she cooks.


  9. Hi Shannon, Love all your suggestions, and have a few in my library already. I will second (or third?) the Nigel Slater recommendations. I also saw a few episodes of his TV show recently (on Gusto here in Canada) and they were quite delightful.
    Do you know Laura Calder’s cookbooks? Her most recent, Paris Express, is my current favorite to read and to cook from. Lots of great recipes interspersed with small essays and photos of al things Parisian. She also had a TV series about 10 years ago (2007-2008) “French Food at Home” that is still on constant repeats here. Happy Cooking! Catherine H

  10. I have always collected cookbooks and read them for pleasure. Whenever my son’s come to visit they always look to see what books are new and usually wind up borrowing one or two. When each went off to college I sent them off with Mark Bittman’s, “How to Cook Everything”. All three boys are the main cooks in each of their households.

  11. My favorite is Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal. It’s not so much a “cookbook” in that it doesn’t have a bunch of “recipes”. It’s more of a different way of thinking about food, and it changed how I plan my meals for the week. One of her habits that I have taken on is to spend one evening a week (after having gone to the farmer’s market) roasting vegetables and sautéing greens. They are ready to use, either heated up or at room temperature. I also use that night to make a batch of chicken broth to use for soup and as a cooking medium for rice, polenta, or whatever else may call for broth that week. I also use leftovers from one meal to build on another. For instance, even a bit of leftover chili or stew can be stretched into another meal if it is served over polenta.

  12. Hi Shannon! I love this post! I also love to “read” cookbooks. Right now I am enjoying Mimi Thorisson’s book “A Kitchen in France”. I really think you would like it. It is a beautiful book with gorgeous pictures. She also just came out with a new book too, but the name escapes me but you can find it on Amazon if you look up her name.

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