Thursday, January 25, 2007

what's on your menu?

So, you say you want to get into the weekly menu groove but you either can't cook, don't cook, or are out of ideas. Well, here are some of my favorite (print) resources for you!

First of all, if you're new to cooking or short on time, in general, avoid the ambitious stuff. And in fact, avoid any recipe with a lot of ingredients, especially if they're minor ingredients that you do not have on hand. (A little secret of mine - if I have a recipe that calls for say, a pinch of dried cilantro which I do not have, I just leave it out. And the food is none the worse for it.)

If you have cooked a bit but want some (mostly) quick recipes, do yourself a favor and check out the 1-2-3 cookbooks by Rozanne Gold. There are a ton of these (Desserts, Kids, Entertaining, Healthy, you name it) but a good place to start is with the basic Cooking 1-2-3 volume. Her gimmick is that every recipe uses just 3 ingredients (not including salt, pepper and water, I think) so while not all the recipes are easy, they are all pretty simple.

If you want to work more vegetables into your menus, Jack Bishop's Vegetables Every Day is essential. Nearly any vegetable you can think of, with buying and storage tips, plus recipes. And so far, not a single recipe I've tried from it has been a dud. This book is on my small "essential" shelf of cookbooks I literally could not do without.

Want to start baking? The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion is also on my essentials shelf. It covers everything you can make with flour, pretty much, from pancakes and biscuits to bread and cakes. Explanations throughout explaining "why", which is important to me when it comes to baking, which really is like science. Our family favorite pancakes are on page 3 (and I use malted milk powder, not sugar).

Finally, my number one current essential, Cook's Country magazine (which can be bought in collections by year, check the 2005 bound edition here). This is a sister publication to Cook's Illustrated, and is a more user-friendly version, geared to the beginner or busy cook. I am such a fan I get the magazine AND buy the bound editions at the end of the year, but you might want to just go for the books. Unfortunately a lot of their web content is inaccessible if you don't pay (which does suck, I mean, I buy the magazine AND the book but I still can't use the website without paying even more...) but there's enough free content on there for you to get a good taste (ha ha). This is a publication so user-friendly Evan reads it (and so does Emily, but that's a different story). Recipes, equipment tests, taste test and even menus!

In general I would have to also say, if you can, check cookbooks out from the library before buying. I always try to, and have avoided several purchases that I would have been unhappy with. And don't think people who write cookbooks are all infallible either; I have at least two cookbooks (by well-known chefs!) that have really bad recipes in them, as in they won't even work the way they're supposed to. So don't think it's just you if a recipe doesn't work or you don't like it.

So that's my quick roundup...stay tuned for a couple of tried and true recipes soon!


  1. quote: I just leave it out. And the food is none the worse for it.
    LOL! My mom actually calls me when she doesn't have an ingredient. What I have learned though is that probably half the time she doesn't know what the ingredient is and therefore doesn't want to screw up the recipe completely. That's how you can tell she's an amazing baker but not a great cook. She thinks it's all science but the cooking part to me is more art than science. Hence my baking skills are nonexistent since I constantly add weird things and then wonder why stuff comes out like a brick?? ;)
    Thanks for the resources! I do love the Cooks.

  2. you are so right - in baking you can't do that! But in cooking, usually not that big a deal. Baking is so totally a science, and so totally easy to screw up....there's a reason it's taken me so many years to actually attempt scratch baking on a regular basis!


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