Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Cookbook Meme(s): Confessions of a Junkie

Ahh...cookbooks. I will start by coming clean about my habit. What started off many years ago as an innocent-enough by-product of my love for cooking - a core collection of beloved essentials and classics - has taken on a life of its own and grown off-shoots of the most esoteric variety, depending on which obsession I'm in the grip of. You know you have gone over the edge when you entertain such ponderous questions at the bookshop as "Is my collection complete without a Georgian cookery book?" and are severely tempted to answer in the negative. You know you need help when you start sneaking new books home despite the fact that you really don't have the space for them just so as to avoid raised eyebrows from loved ones. Pleasure, it seems, is that much more so when it's guilty...

Was tagged by Nibble & Scribble for this cookbook meme and have answered the questions below. And while we're on the subject of cookbooks, have taken the liberty of answering the highly thought-provoking questions by Anthony of Spiceblog in his cookbook meme as well. I don't know if this two-headed post violates some unsaid meme law or not. Anyways...

1. Total number of cook books I've owned
Does two Ikea shelving units worth count as a quantifiable? Discounting wine books, food essay anthologies, food related memoirs, food history books and the ilk, a conservative estimate would be just shy of 300. Is this too few or too many, and is there such a thing as owning too many (incidentally, in The Pedant in the Kitchen, Julian Barnes has written a hysterical essay on the subject)?

2. Last cookbook I bought
Alain Ducasse's Culinary Encyclopedia, Grand Livre de Cuisine, a gargantuan tome brimming with highly involved haute cuisine dishes that more often than not cross-reference at least three others. What valid reason (read: excuse) do I have for parting with a rather obscene amount of money for a book I am likely to use only very occasionally? I present, here, the diary of a bookshop food section indweller:
Day 1: Spy brand new shipment of Grand Livre de Cuisine! Only 5 copies! Ouch! Incredibly exorbitant pricetag. Retreat home to calm down and think about it.
Day 2: Can't stop thinking about book. Return to bookshop. 3 copies remain. Pulse races. I want, I want, I want! I mean, I need, I need, I need! Feel light-headed. Retreat home to lie down.
Day 3: Have decided to return and if there remains a copy, I shall take it as a divine sign. There remains a copy. And what looks to be a hotel restaurant sous chef (Austrian, mid-30s, unshaven, looks like he hasn't slept in years) is headed in the same direction. I swoop in and snatch up the book, almost spraining my wrist in the process (book weighs in at over 1000 pages).

3. Last food book I read
Mes Confitures and Mes Tartes, concurrently, by Christine Ferber, otherwise known as la fee des confitures, "the jam fairy". Handcrafted in the traditional way in the picturesque village of Niedermorschwihr in Alsace, Ferber's jams are made from local seasonal fruit, cooked in small batches using copper pans. Outside of Au Relais des Trois Epis, her boulangerie-patisserie in Alsace, Ferber's exquisite and special confitures, charmingly be-ribboned and clad in polka-dotted packaging, can be found in only the most exclusive of Parisian gourmet establishments. She also supplies culinary world heavyweights such as Alain Ducasse, the Troisgros family, and Pierre Herme, to name a few. Of the flavours I have had the opportunity to try, my favourite is Confiture Ispahan, which Ferber makes for Pierre Herme. It captures in a jar the ethereal taste of Herme's signature macaron, the Ispahan - a celestial creation comprising of two rose water-flavoured macarons sandwiching a delicious lychee cream and whole raspberries. The recipe, unfortunately, is not in her book. Nonetheless, having always wanted to be the sort of domestic goddess with a larder full of home-made preserves, this book makes for compulsive reading. Jams and jellies, here I come!

4.Five cookbooks that mean a lot to me
2 are old friends, the other 3 more recent influences. My tatty copies of Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking and Richard Olney's Simple French Food were acquired in my university days, when I spent every waking moment and every penny of spare cash at Books for Cooks, a veritable sanctuary for cookbook addicts in Notting Hill, London, rather than attending lectures and acquiring, say, textbooks. Family Food by Heston Blumenthal and Bouchon by Thomas Keller are on this list because the food they are cooking leads the pack. Short of eating at The Fat Duck, The French Laundry and Bouchon (which I one day will), I want to learn as much as I can about/from these modern masters. In his book, Heston Blumenthal looks at comfort food staples we all want to eat (like mashed potatoes and roast beef), as opposed to cheffy conceits designed to earn stars, through the lens of molecular gastronomy thus making the subject accessible and relevant to all. In Bouchon, Thomas Keller meticulously and methodically re-thinks the techniques and processes behind such bistro gold standards like boeuf bourguignon and creme caramel - there isn't a single recipe in this book I am not inspired to try. And finally, Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme, written by Dorie Greenspan, because I am totally fixated with the Picasso of Pastry's breathtaking sweets, and nothing would give me more personal satisfaction at this point than to cook my way through every single recipe.

5. Which 5 people would you like to see fill this out in their blog?
I can't think of anyone who hasn't already filled out at least one of the 2 cookbook memes. And if I'm wrong, to-whom-it-may-concern, please feel free to correct me by filling it out and/or passing it on!

And now for Spiceblog's questions...

1. Rationale behind what we're seeing?
Organised by subject, author and region/country on flimsy shelves evidently not designed to take the weight of this number of books. A bookcase upgrade is in order, as well as the devising of a new organizational system, both subjects on which merit a new post entirely.

2. Most recommended?
Harold McGee's On Food & Cooking (the new vastly updated and revised edition, not the 1984 one), and Shirley Corriher's Cookwise will answer every question you ever had regarding why a recipe didn't turn out perfectly. Nigel Slater's Appetite and Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion are great all-rounders that will answer the daily question of "What shall I cook today?" in an admirably stylish fashion. For when you're feeling ambitious, there's Tom Colicchio urging you to Think Like A Chef (nobody ever did say it was going to be easy...). And to spur you on to even greater heights (home-ground, mixed, cured, cased and fermented Soppressata, anyone?), there's Cooking By Hand by Paul Bertolli, a paean to the joys of cooking from scratch.

3. Cookbook that made you what you were?
Keep It Simple
by Alastair Little, which was the first book to de-mystify classic cookery for me, and taught me the vital importance of mise en place - thinking and planning ahead - in cooking.

4. Porniest cookbook?
Tie between The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller, which gets my salivary glands going into overdrive every time I open it, and Shunju: New Japanese Cooking by Takashi Sugimoto & Marcia Iwatate, an enigmatic confluence of austere Zen-like beauty and latent sensuality.

5. Sophie's Choice cookbook?
Asking me to choose one to save is akin to asking a mother which of her drowning brood to rescue.

6. If you were a cookbook, which cookbook would you be?
How to be a Domestic Goddess
by Nigella Lawson? The title may have been ironically intended by the author, but sadly enough, yes, it perfectly sums up my chief ambition in life.

7. If your cookbooks were extremely valuable, so valuable you might hide it with other valuables, where would that place be?
This is classified information.

12 Comments:

Blogger Pille said...

J wrote: "You know you have gone over the edge when you entertain such ponderous questions at the bookshop as "Is my collection complete without a Georgian cookery book?" and are severely tempted to answer in the negative."

May I protest, please!!! Georgian cuisine is absolutely delicious and flavoursome, with abundance of dishes that deserve much wider attention outside the region (if you like meat and fresh vegetables that is). Just think of adjika (hot pepper relish), atchma (cheese flan), satsivi (walnut sauce), basturma, dolma, khinkali and chebureki dumplings, hartcho (spicy thick lamb soup), hatchapuri (cheese bread), various thick meat and poultry stews with vegetables, shashliks, tkemali (sour plum sauce) – to name just a few. Thus entertaining a question – whether to buy that Georgian cookery book or not – is definitely not a sign of you going over the edge :) Even Nigella included a chapter on Georgian food in her book Feast - maybe that will mark the beginning of an interest in that far corner of the culinary world.
Very impressive and enviable cookbook collection and beautifully written meme!

11:45 pm, June 29, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi pille
thanks! how funny, it was precisely thanks to nigella lawson's feast that i felt compelled to acquire a georgian cookbook, namely, darra goldstein's the georgian feast. thanks to you, pille, i am now convinced that i am indeed not on the edge of reason, thus providing me with the perfect excuse to rush out and buy the book immediately. hatchapuri, here i come...

12:03 am, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

J - hatchapuri is definitely worth a try - it's absolutely delicious! I haven't tried Nigella's version yet, although I do hope to find that Georgian place next time I'm in London. But I have a really nice-sounding hatchapuri recipe in my recipe folder from a Georgian lady living in Estonia that I plan to make soon - I'll report about it on my blog then:)

12:23 am, June 30, 2005  
Blogger J said...

cool :) look forward to reading all about it...

12:38 am, June 30, 2005  
Anonymous Nicky said...

hi j,
just read both of your meme posts - especially the answers regarding your cookbooks made me smile (your excuses to get the Ducasse copy...) ;) Seems like there is no cure for this kind of "illness"! I got tagged by Melissa some days ago, just haven't had the time to put the proper effort in answering it...But I'm working on it - meanwhile peeking in fellow cookbook connoisseurs' answers ;)

3:30 am, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Anthony said...

I DENOUNCE THE ANTI-MEME!

7:07 am, June 30, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi nicky,i have been told in no uncertain terms by anthony of spiceblog that the former meme is a mutant changeling of non-cookbook lineage.ie. the anti-meme. may you thread the fine line that i have errantly crossed ;) anyways, look forward to your post! cheers,j

hi anthony, i feel your pain...if it's any consolation at all, this abhorrent strain shall travel no further from thenceforth, having tapped no one in particular, although i can't vouch for whenceforth the vile changeling was forged... cheers,j

9:36 am, June 30, 2005  
Blogger JellyGirl said...

This is not good. Reading your memes has given me the overwhelming urge to go out to the nearest bookstore and buy lots of cookbooks RIGHT NOW!

10:05 am, June 30, 2005  
Anonymous melissa said...

Hi J - why do I see myself in you? It must be that blind, obsessive, guilt-ridden compulsion to buy more cookbooks than one person could ever use in a lifetime. I had to laugh at your mention of sneaking them home - because that's what I do too! I buy them online and have them sent to me at work, from where they sneak their way home in my bag and seamlessly meld with their uncountable breathren on my shelves - only someday, without warning, I fear we'll wake up and find we can't even get out of bed because the cookbooks have taken over the house...

10:27 pm, June 30, 2005  
Blogger Clement said...

Hi J, I think you have a wonderful blog; your cooking and photos look so professional and delicious! I'm curious how you find Ducasse's Grand Livre so far. Are the recipes doable (say, within a weekend), or does it serve more as a reference?

8:55 pm, July 02, 2005  
Blogger J said...

hi melissa
oh yeah, done that have-amazon-send-them-to-office-address sneaky thing too...earlier this year, there was a tremor in our parts. my first thought (apart from running out of the building with my two dogs)was how on earth i was going to save those tumbling books!

hi clement,
thanks, you are very kind...for me, the grand livre serves more to inspire rather than instruct - the combinations and recipes are very unique. however,honestly speaking,it is not aimed at those new to cooking. recipes are not always difficult, but are often highly involved. perfect for all-weekend projects unless you pull an all-nighter. also, instructions can be vague at times but the experienced cook, such as yourself, would have no problems filling in the blanks. have heard that this is an issue particularly with the english edition, not so much in the original french. there's a fair amount of badly translated and thus hilarious "franglish". all that said, i am very glad i bought the book...curious to know how you find it too...

9:32 pm, July 02, 2005  
Blogger CookinBlonde said...

I just found your blog, and I love your style. I had to leave a comment on this post however, because I am, what my frinds and family call, a self described cookbook whore. I love cookbooks; old ones, new ones, funny ones (White trash cookbook), and the best of all, food porn. I look forward to reading from the beginning.

6:43 am, April 29, 2006  

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