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Cookbook Recommendations


bonaire
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Hi all -- am looking for some great beginner/intermediate level cookbooks as holiday gifts for my sister, who struggles with the difference polish sausage and shoe polish. Thoughts? I've already nailed down The New Making of a Cook: The Art, Techniques and Science of Good Cooking but thought I'd branch out. Are there cookbooks you constantly rely upon? What has the best of basic recipes? I'm looking for anything that will both allow her to eat AND keep her alive in the kitchen.. :lol:

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My go-to is the Fannie Farmer Cookbook but that's a regional thing.

That's my go-to as well. The recipes aren't gangbusters but any time I need to know how long to cook a particular vegetable (asparagus, celeriac, parsnip) or a cut of meat (top round, sirloin, chuck) it's a great reference. And it's small, like the size of a Stephen King paperback.

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I would also recommend The Joy of Cooking, but with this note:

If your sister is more interested in cooking from scratch on the stove get her the older version “The Joy of Cooking” rather than the new edition “The All New, All Purpose Joy of Cooking” which is heavier on things like using the microwave. If she is fond of using the microwave the new version would probably suit her well.

This is what Amazon says on the new verses old edition:

“Five new chapters satisfy today's love of pasta, pizza, noodles, burritos, grains, and beans, including soy. The roughly 3,000 recipes, most revised from earlier editions, give the food processor and microwave their due. Interest in ethnic flavors, grazing, leaner meats, more fish, and less fat are reflected, and old standbys such as Tuna Noodle Casserole and Fried Chicken are updated. Information on canning, jams, pickles, and preserves is replaced by expanded material on grilling, barbecuing, flavored oils, and vinegars. Also gone is the personal voice of the old Joy. The new Joy of Cooking is comprehensive for today's cooks. Time will tell if it remains the long-loved, dog-eared kitchen companion and teacher Joy has been since 1931."

(I have the older edition and it is well used. But then, I get a kick out the section which tells you how to cook things like squirrel..)

Edited by clayrae
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I think the most essential book is Jacques Pepin's "Complete Techniques." It's a publication that combines two of his previous books, "La Technique" and "La Methode." Step-by-step instructions with pictures of every basic classic French recipe. It's the "Bible" IMHO.

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That's my go-to as well. The recipes aren't gangbusters but any time I need to know how long to cook a particular vegetable (asparagus, celeriac, parsnip) or a cut of meat (top round, sirloin, chuck) it's a great reference. And it's small, like the size of a Stephen King paperback.

It's one of my mom's favorites too -- one of the Fannie Farmer roast beef recipes is what she makes for my birthday every year!

Thanks for all of these suggestions -- these are great!

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Mark Bittman's cookbook "How to Cook Everything" could be the only cookbook in my collection. The year I discovered it (I think 2002) I gave it to everybody for the holidays. It has become a staple gift for showers et al.

The most ringing endorsement comes from my sister who rarely cooked or had a desire to step foot in the kitchen, she keeps Bittman's book by the stove and it is in constant use.

I refer everybody to his brownie recipe, especially when told a mix has been used. I guess I should say why I like Bittman's work so much, he provides clear and concise recipes for good food whether simple or fancy.

You can't go wrong with Mark Bittman.

BTW, I discovered him through his cookbook on Fish. Before I found it fish scared me. Seriously....

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I really never noticed alot of microwave stuff in Joy of Cooking, but it does have alot of things you wouldn't of found in the old book. I used it to make Tres Leches cake one Christmas and the recipe was authentic.

Mark Bittmans, How To Cook Everything, I have, but I have cooked nothing from it. I will check it out. Fannie Farmer I have also and I used to use it quite often before I got Joy.

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Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. There's a reason she won james beard & julia child cookbook of the year for this: Her twenty-gazillion recipes, from basic to advanced, _work_, without fail, but she also offers enough information about the ingredients and techniques involved to let you understand why they work and so improvise in the future, if you want. It's replaced joy of cooking as my go-to reference for every dish that doesn't depend on meat.

Edited by babka
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I also love the Bittman books. Also anything written by James Peterson, especially Sauces, and Vegetables. But the one book I could not cook without is Culinary Artistry by Dornenburg and Page. This is not really a cookbook as much as it is a reference book. The ingredient matching charts contained in this book have become the inspiration for some of the best meals I have ever made.

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These are all awesome suggestions.  Thank you guys so much...last question.  Any recommendations for basic baking books?  Or do some of these incorporate baking?

Joy of Cooking has a great deal of baking information inside.

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Joy of Cooking is an essential in our kitchen, if only because it has something about everything, and I like how it explains the category before the recipes.

My mother has a Betty Crocker cookbook that is the size and format of a three ring binder that she uses all the time.

Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything, which has been discussed is also very good for the beginning cook.

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the cookbook i tend to use the most is tom douglas' "seattle kitchen." i just find alot of his recipes relatively easy to cook (aside from the occasional recipe that uses ingredients you can only find out west).

for a basic, i'll just echo the joy of cooking. . .that gives a great breakdown of foods and has a ton of easy recipes. also, if they are wont to do such a thing, the cake bible is also helpful.

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I find The Professional Chef, the textbook at the Culinary Institute of America, to be invaluable. It reads very much like a how-to book, as opposed to being recipe-driven, and has many helpful photos to go along with its step-by-step instructions. The "Meats" section of the book, in particular, is great for learning the cuts, proper handling, and how to prepare them in various ways. But even better are the "Soups" and "Sauces" portions of the book, where technique can be difficult.

I've read Joy of Cooking, but it didn't have any photos (at least the version I had) and I found the format difficult -- the instructions are in paragraph form, like in an everyday book, so you can easily lose your place. In the CIA textbook, they are formatted in separate vertical columns, so you read one step and then move horizontally to the next one.

I keep it at the bedside table and try to read a little every night, just to keep thinking about technique even if I'm not in the kitchen. (Though I could solve this problem by sleeping in the kitchen. Hmm....)

I also find it very helpful when using recipes from other cookbooks, as a way to cross-reference some of the techniques and ingredients involved. It's not witty or entertaining reading, and sometimes you'll feel like a CIA instructor is sternly looking over your shoulder, but it is an excellent resource and avoids needless diversions like recipes for roadkill. Amazon has it on sale for $44.

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i concur that you can't go wrong with deborah madison. in addition to her more comprehensive book listed above, i have had a lot of success with "local favorites" in which she builds recipes around ingredients purchased at the farmers market, including some meats. i have been looking for a copy of "vegetarian suppers" which was published in the spring, and "vegetable soups" is due out in february.

if you are interested in adapting some basic recipes and techniques that take some of the calories and fat out, you might be interested in "a new way to cook" by sally schneider. it's not a bible around our kitchen, but i was using it quite a bit for a while and it makes interesting reading.

i used to gobble up cookbooks by marcella hazan. i have never had more fun cooking than when following her recipes, but i don't pull them out too often these days because i don't have the time and i'm not sure how long you can survive eating this food. you can come up with some really great things, though, as good or better than what you would find in a top italian restaurant. for a few years i would cook up a storm to see how many dishes i could get on the table in 24 hours for when my rather large family came over on christmas day.

i was tempted to buy mark bittman's latest international cookbook the other day. they had signed copies at olsson's that were 15% off, and i should have bought one but i started wondering about why i would want a signed copy of a book that is going to have pots sitting on top of it and suffer all kinds of abuse in the kitchen. i have never followed his recipes from books, but have occasionally cooked his minimalist recipes that appear on thursdays in the new york times.

a word of caution about recipes you find in the newspaper: there are often mistakes in them that slip by the editor. i am sure a recent bittman recipe, for example, specified way too much liquid. i was able to cook it off okay, but if i had considered the recipe ahead of time a modicum of common sense would have saved me the trouble. i am prone to jumping blindly into recipes, which can lead to some unhappy surprises.

one time following a recipe from the times it seemed like my potatoes were taking an eternity to get done, until our guest, growing impatient, suggested that they would probably never be done if i persisted in cooking them at 150-degrees fahrenheit, and he pointed out that the temperature in the recipe surely was in centigrade.

everyone should have a copy of julia child's mastering the art of french cooking. i remember a charlotte russe in there that was supreme. she does like you to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, however.

alice water's chez panisse vegetables is a good reference even though it is not totally recipe-oriented. our copy disappeared mysteriously. my hunch is that a friend of our son, whose mother owned a restaurant, decided to present it to her on her birthday.

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The books I turn to most often for inspiration and instruction are the two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child et. al., and the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. Because the authors of both books go way beyond presenting a collection of recipes and devote a lot of space to discussions of technique, of philosophy, of ingredients, and so forth, I think these would be excellent reading for anyone, from rank beginner to kitchen wizard. Another excellent book that I think an aspiring beginner would get a lot of support and help from is Julia Child's The Way to Cook.

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I agree with the Baker's Companion recommendation for baking books. They're very American desserts, but that's probably what most beginning cooks want (e.g. cookies, bars, etc.). Baking Illustrated, from the folks at Cooks Illustrated, might also be good.

I also love Deborah madison's VCfE. If your sister isn't turned off by the veggie in the title, it's a good book and meat can be added, easily in many of the recipes (if that's your thing).

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I could not agree more re: Deborah Madison.

Other staples on my cookbook shelf:

--Good Food Book, by Jane Brody. The first 286 pages are nutrition guidelines, guide to good carbs, eating your way to good health and weight control, and hints for wholesome cooking (including how to equip your kitchen, measurements, shopping efficiently, etc). Then there are over 350 really good, pretty simple recipes.

--The Way to Cook, by Julia Child

--Any of the Moosewood Restaurant books.

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Another vote for The Way To Cook - it's unintimidating for novice cooks, and just plain good.

Baking cakes used to be a favorite hobby. As much as I love The Cake Bible, the recipes that have garned the most praise were ones from Desaulniers' original Death By Chocolate.

Edited by perrik
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I grew up in an institutional setting where our food was made in a central kitchen and sent to our house - we even got to send back the dirty pots. We had fresh breakfast baked goods and milk delivered to our door every day! Anyway, upon moving away from home, I only knew how to cook for Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas - the only full meals my mom ever prepared. I taught myself to cook with the Moosewood Cookbook (in my vegetarian days) and then moved on to 60- Minute Gourmet recipes - first cut from the NY Times and later I bought the books. These helped me in that they present a main course, side dish, and then ideas for other sides and dessert. This is not necessarily cooking for guests, but it is perfect for weekday meals for our family. I have also relied on Julia Child's The Way to Cook and Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

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For me "On Cooking" is a can't live without. If I need info on a technique or process I grab "On Cooking". It was my main text in cooking school and I have found that no matter how much I learn or how long I stay in the restaurant biz I always go back to this book to refresh. :lol:

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I don't have it, but have heard good things about How To Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. 

I would like to think that my cooking has progressed beyond the "beginner" stage. Nevertheless, this is a fantastic book that I reference quite a bit.

Several years ago when my culinary skills consisted of Kraft Mac & Cheese and Hungry Man dinners, I ordered a paperback cookbook set I saw in a magazine that included 3 cookbooks and a "handsome display holder" all for $5 (the display holder was made of paper and was torn apart when my books arrived). The cookbooks were from Pillsbury, Better Homes and Garden, and Fannie Farmer. I don't know if I have ever looked at the Pillsbury or BH&G books, but I rely on the Fannie Farmer cookbook quite a bit for both recipes and techniques.

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Baking cakes used to be a favorite hobby. As much as I love The Cake Bible, the recipes that have garned the most praise were ones from Desaulniers' original Death By Chocolate.

It's funny, I've heard others say that about Desaulnier. I checked it out of the library and was sort of underwhelmed. I didn't end up cooking anything from it (full confession). However, i wasn't drawn to cooking anything from it. Everything seemed so fussy to me and overwrought.

In the vein of full confession, I love a traditional American layer cake. I've made biscuit and other, more European, cakes (plus, even a couple of sort of fussy cakes), but I love a (homemade!) moist, fluffy American 9" 2 layer cake with (ok, snobbiness comes in here) an Italian meringue buttercream frosting (I can't go in for the overly-sweet milk/butter/powdered sugar frosting).

And, (slightly more germane to this thread), I think the Desaulnier book is too advanced for a beginning baker. As for RLB, I don't like her tone, and have had mixed success with her recipes. I know some consider her the end all and be all. To each their own.

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I've become a fan of The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cooks Illustrated.

It approaches the basics of a number of common recipes at a very fundamental level and is very engaging. I'm not sure if it's the best book if you really just want a bunch of recipes, but if you want to develop the technique and methodoligies in beginning food preperation it is a nice fit.

I especially enjoy how it focuses on what doesn't work as well as the accepted techniques in comprehensive explanations that precede each recipe.

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We use Joy of Cooking quite a bit for certain recipes and as a general resource guide

We've also been getting quite a lot of mileage out of the new Giada De Laurentis book....have made several tasty dips and a very nice pork tenderloin w/ port wine sauce last night

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For the carnivores I must enthusiastically recommend Bruce Aidells and Denis Kelly's book "The Complete Meat Cookbook." I have been pleased with each recipe I've tried. It includse a discussion of various approaches to cooking meat, and individual chapters about meat varieties that addresses choosing the correct cut for various presentations and also describes the yummy overlooked cuts of each variety.

I don't know, however, quite what to make of the author's inscription (met him at Dupont market) "You can't beat good meat." :lol:

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I especially enjoy how it focuses on what doesn't work as well as the accepted techniques in comprehensive explanations that precede each recipe.

Ditto. I got this as a gift and I read it for fun as well as cooking from it. The French onion soup recipe doesn't just teach you to make French onion soup, it discusses the merits of various onions (they prefer red for this dish) as well as discussing different caramelization techniques and how different blends of cheese taste on the soup.

A good learning tool, if you don't take it 100% to heart. If you never make a recipe in there except with the exact ingredients they specify and with the precise timing and techniques they specify, you'll be too daunted to ever make a recipe!

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I like the Les Halles Cookbook for cozy fall food.

Something about the Les Halles Cookbook made me nervous ... the author. I met Anthony Bourdain at a book signing at Olsson's Books ... he is very tall, and very, very skinny. Does that make me a "size-ist?" I will try to give the LHC a real chance.

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Hi all -- am looking for some great beginner/intermediate level cookbooks as holiday gifts for my sister, who struggles with the difference polish sausage and shoe polish. Thoughts? . . . I'm looking for anything that will both allow her to eat AND keep her alive in the kitchen.. :)

For my debut post here, I'm afraid I have to disagree with pretty much all that has been said already.* :lol: If she is as clueless as you originally said, great though all those books are (and I agree, they ARE, and I love most of them), they will be way beyond her skill level. My suggestion in cases like this is The New Cook by Mary Berry and Marlena Spieler. This is the book I give as a bar/bat mitzvah present, and to people I know who barely know which end of the spoon to stick in the pot. It's got tons of pictures that show what things should look like -- invaluable for the novice. There's even stuff I've learned from it! :(

* Hello to all whom I've known elsewhere! Not surprised, are you, that I'm shooting off my mouth again? :P

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For my debut post here, I'm afraid I have to disagree with pretty much all that has been said already.* :lol: If she is as clueless as you originally said, great though all those books are (and I agree, they ARE, and I love most of them), they will be way beyond her skill level. My suggestion in cases like this is The New Cook by Mary Berry and Marlena Spieler. This is the book I give as a bar/bat mitzvah present, and to people I know who barely know which end of the spoon to stick in the pot. It's got tons of pictures that show what things should look like -- invaluable for the novice. There's even stuff I've learned from it! :)

* Hello to all whom I've known elsewhere! Not surprised, are you, that I'm shooting off my mouth again? :P

I'm going to disagree with your disagreement :(

Welcome to DR.

The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, for example, are general purpose how to start cooking books. Each one has sections about the food item, how to buy, store, and prepare. The recipes are easy in most and are very accessible standards. Some aren't my thing like the casseroles in Fannie Farmer, but they are for better or worse, the history of last century's suburban kitchens.

I agree that some of our recommendations are a bit advanced, but I grew up in my Mom's professional kitchen, so I was cooking by myself by age 6 and didn't really buy starter books as my parents took care of teaching me the basics.

However, I bought How to Cook Everything after a former coworker who couldn't boil water was happily making dinner everynight for his wife. It's a good book and approachable even to my kitchen phobic wife.

Also, I know some people hate him, but Jamie Oliver's books are a good simple approach to cooking too. Many are one pot with few steps in the cooking process. I know many Brits who started cooking since this guy came on the scene.

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Something about the Les Halles Cookbook made me nervous ... the author.  I met Anthony Bourdain at a book signing at Olsson's Books ... he is very tall, and very, very skinny.  Does that make  me a "size-ist?" I will try to give the LHC a real chance.

i think his problem is that he smokes too much, assuming that he really has stopped abusing drugs, which is what he wrote. caught one episode of his new show on the travel channel, and it was not a success. the intimacy of the original series is gone, the format is bloated. he almost kills himself by overturning a recreational vehicle on the beach in new zealand. his characteristic nonchalance is wearing thin.

of course, if you have ever seen what he eats on these shows in foreign lands, i suspect there is a fair amount of dysentery to help keep the weight down as well.

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I'm going to disagree with your disagreement :P

Welcome to DR.

The Joy of Cooking, How to Cook Everything, and The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, for example, are general purpose how to start cooking books. Each one has sections about the food item, how to buy, store, and prepare. The recipes are easy in most and are very accessible standards. Some aren't my thing like the casseroles in Fannie Farmer, but they are for better or worse, the history of last century's suburban kitchens.

I agree that some of our recommendations are a bit advanced, but I grew up in my Mom's professional kitchen, so I was cooking by myself by age 6 and didn't really buy starter books as my parents took care of teaching me the basics.

However, I bought How to Cook Everything after a former coworker who couldn't boil water was happily making dinner everynight for his wife. It's a good book and approachable even to my kitchen phobic wife.

Also, I know some people hate him, but Jamie Oliver's books are a good simple approach to cooking too. Many are one pot with few steps in the cooking process. I know many Brits who started cooking since this guy came on the scene.

Thanks for the welcome. It's nice to see some old and not-so-old friends.

My first was a paperback of Fannie Farmer, circa 1959. And I grew up under my mother's elbow in her not-great-but-not-terrible 1950s NYC kitchen (lots of frozen vegetables, but TV dinners only as a "treat" :lol: ). We had the advantage of having someone show us how to cook. We learned what ingredients look like, and how steps in a recipe should look. Nowadays fewer and fewer people have that. :) Even if they watch tv carefully, they don't get to see all the intermediate stages as food cooks. That's why I like the books Dorling Kindersley puts out: multi multi photos. Very few -- if any -- of the other books have that. Can you imagine what Bittman's book would cost if it had color photos of everything??

Oh, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of those other books. (See here for a review of one of them in this regard.) I just happen to believe that for someone starting out, if they're going to learn from a book, simple text and really good pictures are essential. The recipes have to be clearly written, and they have to work as written. Believe me, that is a huge problem (even in some of the books mentioned :( )*

*For those who do NOT know me: I make my living editing and proofreading cookbooks.

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Hi to all and many thanks.

New DR poster here. I've been in DC about 5 years now and purchased a home out in Springfield last year while maintaining a commute to the district workdays.

Posting my thanks because I went through this thread and added alot of the books to my amazon wish list. Yesterday the significant other gave me "On Cooking" as a BDay present.

WooooHooooo thanks Rockwellians !

you folks are a great community and resource.

BD

PS I've picked up many many other tidbits of knowledge in many other threads. So many thanks for them also !

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Hi to all and many thanks.

New DR poster here. I've been in DC about 5 years now and purchased a home out in Springfield last year while maintaining a commute to the district workdays.

Posting my thanks because I went through this thread and added alot of the books to my amazon wish list. Yesterday the significant other gave me "On Cooking" as a BDay present.

WooooHooooo thanks Rockwellians !

you folks are a great community and resource.

BD

PS I've picked up many many other tidbits of knowledge in many other threads. So many thanks for them also !

Welcome fellow Springfield-ian! Now that you have made your first post join in on our other rants, uh I mean discussions. :)

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My nephew is in medical school and wants to be able to cook quick and easy dinners - he is tired of frozen meals. He really does not know how to cook anything (but he will be an artist with a knife soon!) I likely will get him Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything or the shortened format, The Basics. Are there any other books out there that would be good for this - basic meals, few ingredients - perhaps one of the 3 ingredient books?

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Are there any other books out there that would be good for this - basic meals, few ingredients - perhaps one of the 3 ingredient books?

During his Smithsonian talk in October, Steven Shaw mentioned that Rocco DiSpirito was coming out with a book on five minute meals using five ingredients for $5 per portion. I see that it was finally released two weeks ago. Haven't had a chance to examine a copy yet, but it sounds right up your nephew's alley.

Rocco's Five Minute Flavor

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Santa's literary contributions this year included:

The Silver Spoon - described as the most popular cookbook in Italy for the past 50 years. Copyright dates and spellings indicate that it was translated for the British market this past year, and then released in an American edition. Some Britishisms persist, but the baking recipes have been redacted to use volumetric measurements. A section in back contains recipes from (currently) celebrated Italian chefs around the world.

True Tuscan: Flavors and Memories From the Countryside of Tuscany - Cesare Casella's (Beppe, Maremma) latest book. Chapters organized by dinner course.

What if I had taken a trip to Ethiopia instead of Tuscany last autumn?! :)

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You'd be making injera on a daily basis. (You may choose your own emoticon)

Too true, although I was amused by the notion of my siblings searching far and wide for a good Ethiopian cookbook. Where does one find tef in the DC area?

(as an aside, I took my +1 to dinner at Etete on Friday and we were thoroughly pleased with the unusually spicy doro wat, as well as the gomen. actually I was a bit surprised that she didn't revive her at-least-once-a-week kitfo habit)

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Has anyone bought the new The Silver Spoon (allegedly Italy's most popular cookbook)?  I'm wondering what people think before buying it.

My husband just came home from a week-long visit with his family in Denver (his dining report will be published), and dragged home a copy of The Silver Spoon for me. He said he'd been in Tattered Cover one day and there was a huge pile of the book, and the next day when he went back to buy it, there were only two copies left, both slightly nicked (I can't see it).

I'm hoping to try something from the book tonight. The layout is simple and easy to follow. The photos are very appealing. Some of the ingredients are listed, described, or measured differently than the US standards (4 cups bottled tomatoes, strained; 2-1/2 cups ground meat) but there's room in the margins to make notes.

My husband said it really appealed to him because of the attention paid to sweetbreads recipes. That's one of his criteria for a good cookbook. Fine with me! It does appear to be a comprehensive volume, at 1150 pages of recipes (not counting introduction and index) and more than 2,000 recipes.

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