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My Cookbook Obsession

People who know me are generally aware that I have a passion for cooking. But what often surprises people is what many consider to be an obsession. I love cookbooks. I enjoy reading them, I think about what went into creating them, and I love holding them in my hands.

My obsession with cookbooks began at an early age. We had a Betty Crocker Cookbook and the "B" cookbook from an "A to Z" series. I poured over recipes and dreamed of making something from the "Blueberry" to "Beef Stew" in that "B" series cookbook. the Betty Crocker Cookbook became splattered as I worked through making "Starlight Cake" pancakes and the "Tuna Casserole".

Both grandmothers were cookbook - or rather - "recipe" hoarders. Grandma Alice signed up for cookbook clubs and as a result had boxes of cookbooks piling up in her basement. Grandma Gertrude clipped recipes out of "Woman's Day", "Redbook" and "Family Circle". I followed suit, cutting and pasting into scrapbooks.

As a young adult I settled for checking cookbooks out of the library. I remember one librarian commenting on how this was the sixth time I had checked out Julee Russo and Sheila Lukins' "Silver Palate" cookbook. I longed to be able to buy my own, but wasn't quite able to as a young mother working two jobs.

The decades marched on and I joined a cookbook club (following in Grandma Alice's footsteps). That opened the floodgates to present day. I own around 3,000 cookbooks. I know it sounds like a lot - but it is after all my "obsession".

My favorites are on bookshelves. The cookbooks in boxes are just as cherished. Having room for them is just a factor I work to deal with. I've often wondered which ones I would save in a fire. While it may seem strange to most people, I actually know what books are in what boxes. Periodically, I go through them and revisit some of my favorites.

You may wonder why a chef needs a cookbook. You might be surprised to know that all chefs look for inspiration in recipes. Many actually have the same classics. When I started my culinary training at the CIA (Greystone in St. Helena), a list was given. Fortunately for me I already had most of them. But it was reassuring for me to know that many chefs read or are at least familiar with the same books.
In the last 20 years, recipes have become quite popular on the internet. If you are looking for a specific recipe, the internet is a great resource. Although the internet can provide recipes galore, I like the idea of something tangible, hefty with pages. For me, pictures are nice but not necessary. Even though I spend hours every day on the internet, and often look up recipes, I spend time relaxing with an actual cookbook in hand.

So here is my top ten cookbooks and why. Some are grouped so the list is a little longer.

1. All "Silver Palate Cookooks" by authors Sheila Lukens & Julee Russo. Great basic and timeless gourmet recipes.
2. Michael Ruhlmann's "Twenty Professional Recipes"; researched by a non-chef, but the recipes are excellent.
3. "Mediterranean Fresh" by Joyce Goldstein; salads and dressings, with endless variations.
4. All of Bobby Flay's Cookbooks. Lots of variety, easy and entertaining.
5. "Momofuku" by David Chang; crazy stories and recipes to match.
6. "On Food and Cooking" by Harold McGee; pre "Alton Brown" science. If you want to know "why" about anything food related - this is THE book.
7. All of Rick Bayless' Cookbooks; authentic Mexican cuisine. Rick is THE chef who made Mexican cuisine a mainstream commodity.
8. "The Flavor Bible" by Karen Page and Andrew Dorenburg; a "cook's" book - no recipes, but flavor combinations that work.
9. "Cooking One on One" by John Ash; well written, basic techniques.
10. "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" by Julia Childs; the recipes work, just read carefully and follow, step by step.

Cookbooks are a way to unwind and inspire me. I may never follow a recipe, but some great ideas have started with a recipe in a book. Cookbooks have gotten better with more tips and information. The Pictures help to aid with plating. For someone who loves to cook you can't go wrong with a cookbook as a gift.

The next time you see a cookbook. Take the time to page through it, and see if you aren't actually inspired to do something creative with food. Even if you never try the recipes in the book, the ideas they may inspire in you can be rewarding in themselves.

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