by Betty Lees
Really, what is meant by favorite cookbook? I love so many of mine. Let’s assume favorite means most used. You can tell from my photo, that I give these five a serious workout.
For Christmas 1984 my sister Pauline gave me a copy of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen. She knew that my then boyfriend/now husband and I had been to Jazz Fest and loved the music and food of New Orleans. The book jacket’s long gone and the pages pretty funky. This has got to be the bible of Cajun/Creole cooking. Every recipe I’ve tried tastes great, but be warned -every recipe calls for lots of butter. Sure, the recipes can be adapted to be lower in fat, but isn’t that missing the point? The dirtiest pages remind me of what I’ve cooked the most - Blackened Redfish, Crawfish or Shrimp Etoufée, Andouille Smoked Sausage, Red Beans and Rice with Ham Hocks (using black-eyed peas in place of red beans for good luck for many a New Years Day party!), Shrimp Diane, Chicken and Tasso Jambalaya, Coffee Cookies. There are great photos and several lagniappes (Southern Lousianan for an unexpected gift) of information at the end of recipes.
Years ago my husband Jon gave me a copy of The Greens Cookbook by Deborah Madison, with Edward Espe Brown. Madison developed these recipes for San Francisco Zen Center’s Greens vegetarian restaurant. The influence seems to be southern French and Italian and a little Mexican. I grow sorrel in my garden and a few times a year make a luscious Sorrel and Onion Tart. Jon and I use the Greens recipe for basic mayonnaise - it’s so easy. We often add garlic, basil, or other herbs. A few times every winter I make Mushroom, Leek and Potato Soup. Buckwheat Linguine with French Lentils, Carrots and Chard is my favorite vegetarian recipe. I like to add some goat cheese and a good Romano or Parmesan cheese.
I learned to cook Mexican food years ago from Food from My Heart by Zarela Martinez. Recipes are easy to follow and Zarela sets up each one with a warm and delightful background story, often from a childhood memory. Her Salsa de Tomatillo Verde is the best - fresh tomatillos cooked a bit and blended with onions, garlic, jalapenos, salt and cilantro, then simmered slightly with butter. Red Snapper Hash was a signature dish at Zarela’s NYC restaurant which sadly closed a year ago. Your smoke alarm might go off while roasting ancho chile peppers for Pork Loin with Chile Sauce, but the bother is well worth it for this amazing piece of pork studded with chorizo, Serrano ham, bacon and prunes, slathered and baked with a deep dark chile sauce. Everything I’ve made from this book is delicious.
How To Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food by Mark Bittman is my go-to book for well, everything. Very useful, lots of prep tips. Recipes come with suggestions for several variations. The pork and chicken sections of my copy are the most worn, but I’ve made fantastic gougeres, potato salad, fruit pies and all sorts of things from this book. I’m glad Bittman writes for the Sunday NY Times magazine but I miss his columns and recipes in the Wednesday section. Anyhow, this is a great book for both the beginner and seasoned cook.
In fact I have many cookbooks that I simply like to look at, such as Home Cooking with Jean-Georges (Vongerichten), a recent birthday gift from my friend Amy Chender, COO of ABC Home and Carpet in NYC which houses his restaurant ABC Kitchen. So far I’ve only made Soy Braised Lamb Shanks but soon there will be Glazed Short Ribs in the oven!
Another gift from Amy was The Essential New York Times Cook Book by Amanda Hesser, editor and food columnist at the New York Times. A great book to sit and read, also great to cook from. Many recipes appeared in the NY Times and yellowed copies of many recipes cut from the paper were stuck on my refrigerator under magnets for years- now they appear in this cookbook. It’s a tome at more than 900 pages. Classics for me are Arctic Char with Ancho-Shallot Butter and Madame Mourier’s Cassoulet. I’ve made many, many versions of cassoulet and this is the best!