Blame Cinnamon: Reading Cookbooks Part Deux

Well, I am calling this one “Blame Cinnamon” because it’s just too much of a title to write “Blame Tom For Being a Lazy Hog Who Spent the Entire Holiday Doing Nothing But Watching Bad Movies on Netflix and Eating Thanksgiving Leftovers.”

But that’s pretty much it.

But thanks to Cinnamon for giving me the idea. Oddly enough for someone who really doesn’t cook that much. I love cooking. I love doing it, I love watching others do it, and I love cookbooks. I kept cable TV for years even though I was only watching the Food Network, and since that kind of devolved from people like Ina Garten and Giada DeLaurentis to the culinary equivalent of “Fear Factor” I cut the cord and never looked back. Luckily, PBS and YouTube supply enough shows and the advent of broadcast networks like DABL and Create have neatly filled in my desire to see Jamie Oliver do things with rocket or Martha Stewart lecture me on the proper way to perfect an orange.

I have, over the years, gotten quite a collection of cookbooks, that is actually pretty eclectic. I have the requisite Fannie Farmer and both volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, several ones by Nigella, Ina, Martha, et al., as well as some real odd-balls: Elvis’s favorites (suggested by Nigella, and worth it), Diner foods, ones from local restaurants famous (72 Market Street) not-so-famous (Madame Wu’s, Hamburger Hamlet) and infamous (Brown Derby, which is as much a memoir as a cookbook and a blast to read) I have in the past even used them- a friend and I used to work together on various projects and did catering for them on the side. We never really made a dime but had many happy hours putting things together and hanging out cooking. Which, if you have partner with whom you click, is a wonderful thing. Our adventures took us places that we can laugh about now: Trying to assemble a plate of fiendishly “simple” Martha Stewart hors d’oeuvres in a tiny room under the stage at the Tiffany Theater in Hollywood, a room that was not tall enough for me to stand up in and had fluorescent lighting that strobed in epilepsy-inducing flashes. Or attempting to make gum paste wedding cake decorations in a Catskills hotel room with credit cards and car keys because we had inadvertently left the bag with the implements in the kitchen we had used in Brooklyn. Or catering a friend’s party for putative investors in their show only to find that the hosts kitchen sink was not only backed up, but filled with dirty dishes. But Martha’s nibbles were a hit, even if pared down from some of her excesses, the cake turned out to be lovely (and the bride and groom thrilled) and there was a sink it the bathroom and the only cooking on-site were made to order mini-quesadillas that I did on two griddles and propane burners I got in Little Tokyo for $10- and still have.

I think of all the cookbooks I have the ones that I find the most useful are put out by the America’s Test Kitchen people. As I commented on Cinnamon’s post, if you don’t know them, they have the magazine “Cook’s Illustrated” and the TV shows “Cook’s Country” and “America’s Test Kitchen.” They will go out and purchase 50 pounds of potatoes or lamb or peaches or whatever to find and perfect the ultimate way to cook that ingredient: potatoes mashed to au gratin, lamb shanks or stew, peach pie or cobbler- they will spend hours making perfect, fool-proof apollonian ideal of a recipes.

And I am here to tell you, at least in the kitchen I can sometimes be the fool.

So I know we all chimed in on Cinnamon and mentioned our favorites but please share more here, and any stories you want to share about recipe triumphs or disasters. I’m going to go reheat the last of the stuffing and mashed potatoes and watch another bad movie..

Photos are mine. You may notice from the photos that I am a devote of thriftbooks, the online used bookstore. I love them- they connect with used bookstores all over the US to sell books. Keeps the used bookstores alive and keeps me in Elvis cookbooks. What’s not to love?

  • ElizaC says:

    We love the vintage restaurant and celebrity cookbooks. We’ve got an old Trader Vic’s cookbook and one from Luchow restaurant, along with others. As far as celebrities…how about one by Vincent Price and then one from the queen of romance, Barbara Cartland. Such fun reads!

  • VerbenaLuvvr says:

    I love to go to our public library’s annual book sale, every year they purge lots of cookbooks and they charge by the pound. Also our local Humane Society has an annual rummage sale and people donate tons of cookbooks to that. I’ve picked up so many over the years and have to do a purge myself every so often. I find the recipes that my family appreciates most, though, are hearty fare as found in old church cookbooks.

    • Tom says:

      I have found a lot of recipes like that in old church cookbooks as well. Rotary and other groups too. Even ones that we’re supposed to as “gourmands” sniff at because they use canned corn or something can be really tasty and filling, not to mention light on the wallet. And who doesn’t want that these days?

  • SpringPansy says:

    Perfume and food – it doesn’t get any better! I love to cook and bake and have a big collection of cookbooks that was only slightly pared down by our move a few years ago. My tastes are eclectic; among multiple others, I have:
    I, too, have Mastering the Art Vol I and II
    Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
    The Zuni Cafe Cookbook
    The Moosewood Cookbook
    The Joy of Cooking
    My mom’s old Betty Crocker cookbook from the 50s
    A lovely little paperback called A Culinary Journey in Gascony by Kate Ratliffe which I cook from more than you’d think
    Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka
    Various junior league cookbooks from around the country
    Baking with Mary Berry (!)
    Better Baking by Genevieve Ko
    And online I love Smitten Kitchen and NYT Cooking along with others.
    We have three sons and there was a point where I could barely keep food on the table because they were always hungry. They have all flown the nest and and I’m happy to report that all three are excellent cooks!

    • Tom says:

      My Mom taught us all how to cook, clean, and sew. She said (astute lady that she was) that we weren’t guaranteed anyone in life to do this for us so we’d better learn how. I love to do one, like one, and know how to do the other.

  • Portia says:

    I may have told this story, scroll on if you know it.
    One of my besties is a chef. They’ve been head chef and exec chef at a few multinational places you know and for two of the dictators we’d shy away from. Plus loads of other stuff.
    Every time they come to Sydney I go buy a shitload of KFC and we happily down it till we are unable to talk or move. It’s their favourite meal but they can never be seen eating it.
    It makes us laugh till we choke.
    Portia xx

    • SpringPansy says:

      Ha – love this. A real chef should be interested in all kinds of food and you can’t beat KFC!

      • Tom says:

        I don’t think I would trust a chef who didn’t have a soft spot for something slightly trashy. I certainly wouldn’t want to date someone like that- there’s only so much free-range grass-fed ethically harvested tofu you can choke down before needing a deep fried mars bar.

    • Tom says:

      Hey, I love KFC- Almost bought some today but it was in the other direction from my errands. Tomorrow maybe..

  • cinnamon says:

    Oh, this was lovely. And the wedding cake! Ingenuity 🙂 Some faves. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives — is that Food Network or something else? My son adores Adam Ragusea’s videos. Science, fun and cooking. I am definitely getting me an Ina book. How could I have overlooked her over the years???

    • Tom says:

      Yep. Triple D as they call it was indeed food network.

      Ina’s recipes are reliably good. Pretty simple and really delicious. Her lemon pasta is a winner.

    • alityke says:

      Whoa you watch Triple D too? Yes happy dancing time! I thought I was the only person in the UK who watched.
      I do sometimes hide behind a cushion at the amount of sugar & syrup going into ‘savoury’ foods.
      I’m fond of Ree Drummond too but more for the surroundings & interiors

      • Tom says:

        I kind of hate to admit that I watched it because I don’t care for the host. But I love those kind of restaurants in the US and was glad to see a show that featured them. Wish someone would do the same for the UK- I’d love to see someone like Richard Hammond driving around Merrie Old stopping at the local for food and a pint..

  • alityke says:

    Mass catering gives me kitchen fear. Whilst I always over cater, actually cooking for parties etc sends me into list making, timing checking hell. I’m pure Mussolini making the trains run on time! The best party guest I ever had rolled up with her slow cooker, plugged it in & put scrubbed spuds in the oven. Just when the drink needed mopping up with stodge, she got the spuds out & everyone helped themselves to baked potato & chilli.
    A magical guest!

    Is that the Elvia book with the Ham in Cola recipe Nigella pilfered?

    • Tom says:

      The ham in cola isn’t in that book, but it’s online in a lot of places. It really is a good way to cook ham and she’s right, the leftover liquid from cooking the ham makes a killer black bean soup. Lentil too.

  • March says:

    Back in the Stone Age we used to give and attend regular dinner parties and I had many cookbooks (also: no internet). I’m a competent cook but throwing together family meals daily lost some of its charm over time. I have been doing a bit of baking here from online recipes, just because I can. Okay a fun cooking story: I don’t know if you’ve heard of Ming Tsai, this was before he became a big celebrity chef, but he was head chef then at a well-known restaurant here, and I was friends with his wife. ANYWAY. We’d all entertain each other and we’d go to his house and he’d have some astonishing multi-course meal that he’d cooked in a smoker he’d built for fun and all the fabulous details — I mean, a true chef, a genius in the kitchen. I never cooked like that. And even back then, people would ask me, oh lord, don’t you feel the PRESSURE? What do you cook for him?! And the thing is– like a lot of foodies I think, he’d eat almost anything, and he was always happy eating a meal he didn’t have to make. I fed him turkey chili several times that you make with that Wick Fowler mix. I fed him spaghetti, and burgers on the grill. {shrug} He wasn’t expecting me to whip him up a 5-star meal. But we did have quite a few 5-star meals at his house! He was also, for the record, wickedly funny, and both a gracious host and a lovely guest.

    • Musette says:

      I adore him and wish I’d known the 1 (2?) Degree of Separation, when I met him at Chef Izard’s ‘do’ in Chicago. Lovely voice,too.

      • Tom says:

        You both met him? Cool!

        I didn’t meet but saw at a restaurant in my ‘hood Warren Brown, the Lawyer turned baker who hosted the show “Sugar Rush” on the Food Network. Gorgeous. My dear, departed friend Lynn called him “Cupcake Stud” and declared him her dream man since he could bake and litigate.

        • Musette says:

          March is/was actual friends with him – I just know him from the kitchen.
          But he is a lovely person! And easy on the eyes, with that James Shigeta voice (drooool)


          • Tom says:

            He is easy on the eyes. And yes, as nice voice. I even like that he has a bit of a dad bod.

            I met the actor Billy Campbell a couple times (he used to come into a bookstore I worked at.) Gorgeous man, really nice and friendly. He came in once after having gained a few lbs visibly and all of us in the store decided that this was exponentially hotter- showed that the guy liked his food. And he could take it off and be the Rocketeer again whenever he wanted to (and did)

    • Tom says:

      I’ve always kind of had a crush on him and this makes me like him even more.

  • Pam says:

    What a great post, Tom! I have my own collection of cookbooks—Mastering theArt of French Cooking, James Beard, etc—I also love regional books with recipes by local cooks. What a wonderful way to enjoy your post-Thanksgiving!

    • Tom says:

      Thanks! I really love Thriftbooks- they’re a great resource. We used to have a fantastic store called Cooks Library on 3rd street but they closed in ‘09. Still miss them.

  • Musette says:

    Omgosh! I LOVE this post,Tom. I have so many of the same books…but none of those absurdly fabulous experiences. My time in commercial kitchens has made me a bit of a tartar…and I. Haz. A. System.

    But…somehow…I think you had more fun. And better memories.


    • Tom says:

      Thing is, we were never in commercial kitchens. We did everything out of our own. Even the kitchen in Brooklyn was in a house. They were well equipped, but not commercial- we had kids and cats and hangers-on and sometimes a husband around. Which kind of made it more fun.

      We did had fun. I’m sure we will again..