Cookbook Conundrum

I have a problem with cookbooks.

Okay, cancel that – I have problemzzzzz, plural. First, I have way too many, second, I want more, and third, what I have feared most has finally happened: I almost purchased a cookbook I currently own because I forgot I had it.

Friends and fellow foodies, Pete and Hanna Robbins, kindly sent me TWO cookbooks for my birthday last year: Food Trucks and The Sriracha Cookbook. They know I love the whole food truck revolution thing (we used to have a little taco truck in town, but no more) and they know I love Sriracha. I love it so much they shipped me a bottle with the book.

I found a Bloody Mary recipe for Christmas that uses Sriracha. It was delightful, just ask my friends Ron and Bonnie.

I found this cookbook on one of Amazon’s best-sellers for 2011 lists and thought, hey, I should buy this, I love Sriracha! But as I glanced through some of the sample pages it soon dawned on me how familiar the recipes sounded. They were familiar because I’ve dog-eared nearly 75% of the recipes in the book that is sitting on my shelf. So far I’ve cooked two …

And that brings me to the other problem I have with cookbooks: I will never have enough time to make all of the recipes I want to. This is a good problem – hey, what’s a positive word for problem? Maybe I should use challenge which sounds so much more positive instead of problem which sounds negative. Negativity makes food taste bad.

The problem of not having enough time (or energy, or mouths to feed in my singleton case) is compounded by the fact I also troll food blogs, daily, finding more and more recipes I want to try.

So my goal for 2012, I guess, since that’s what we tend to do the first week of January – set goals, is to cook more of the fabulous, freaky, mouth-watering food I find in all these cookbooks I’ve been buying.

Here are my favorites from 2011 in the order I read them. *Note – some of these may have been published before 2011, but I purchased and read them in 2011.

  1. Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc At Home – Thomas Keller is what’s known in the “industry” as a long-timer. He’s been around the block and he just keeps getting better. I long to visit his restaurant The French Laundry or Bouchon in northern California. I hear he has opened a Bouchon in Las Vegas, but I like the scenery of northern CA so much better. What’s great about this book is firstly, it’s huge and is useful to fend off intruders, should anyone break into your home. Secondly, it’s Thomas lovingly instructing you how to master the basics of good cooking. Even his most intimidating recipes seem doable (even to a novice like me) if I just take the time to master some basic techniques. I recommend this book to anyone who is serious about learning how to cook better – not fancier, just being able to produce really good-tasting meals.
  2. David Chang’s Momofuku - Anyone who knows me knows I left my heart in San Francisco – in Chinatown specifically. If it’s my turn to pick dinner, it’ll be some type of Asian 99.999% of the time. Just accept that about me and deal with it. If you look up David Chang on Wikipedia, you’ll note that he “graduated from college with no particular plan.” This endears me to him immediately. David is Korean but his first restaurant (he has several now all over the world), Momofuku, is primarily a noodle-shop which specializes in Japanese ramen. David also introduced me to my first bao, which interestingly is a Chinese dish. Not to worry, David does include some really good kimchi recipes in this book as well. Chang is my kind of guy – he loves food and will stop at nothing to get it. He recently came out with his own food magazine, The Lucky Peach which is unethical, crass, and full of crazy cartoons. I love it. Following his food craziness led me to Joe Beef – more about them in a minute. This is a cookbook I aspire to cook from at some point. His recipes take time and special ingredients. The directions are clear so I’m not quite intimidated – it’s just not easy getting pork neck bones, pork belly and alkaline powder to make my own noodles. But David’s cookbook is a good read – a first for me as far as cookbooks were concerned. The first 30 pages are basically how he got from point A to point B – a history of sorts, and most recipes have a history as well.
  3. Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz’s Mission Street Food: Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant – The more I fell in love with San Francisco (it started last May with my foray into Chinatown to buy a wok) the more I discovered it’s fantastic food culture. I’m 99% sure I first heard about Mission Street Food in the Food Trucks book I got from Pete and Hanna. This restaurant was originally a food truck and the Asian-inspired food was good enough to keep folks from being deterred by little old inconveniences like the police trying to shut the truck down. Eventually Anthony and Karen, a husband and wife team, came up with the unique concept of the charitable restaurant business. They moved into the Lung Shan Chinese restaurant and on Thursdays and Saturday nights began what is now known as Mission Street Food. More than the recipes, which are awesome and Asian-inspired, it was the story and the history and the idea behind this restaurant that determined this cookbook purchase. The concept behind the restaurant is that they make enough money to cover the cost of food and labor and the remaining money is given to charities that give away food to the homeless. They are famous for their Mission Burger. You really need to check that out.
  4. David McMillan, Frederic Morin & Meredith Erickson’s Life According to Joe Beef: A Cookbook of Sorts – This really is a cookbook – sort of, like the title suggests. But just how many of it’s recipes will I attempt? Eh? I’m not sure yet. In all fairness, I’m still reading this cookbook. I just got it from my sister and my future brother-in-law for Christmas. Jen and Greg understand my madness for food. They live in Seattle and I’m jealous daily of their food opportunities but in all fairness, they never rub it in my face. Okay, back to Joe Beef. Joe Beef is a wildly popular restaurant in Montreal, Canada. Montreal, as I hear it, is a foodie hot-spot. Trouble for me is this: I am south and Canada is north. Also, Arizona is west and Montreal is east. Yeesh! It’s like these guys don’t want me to show up! I’ll admit, this is a cookbook I requested simply for it’s back-story, and the fact that every recipe also has a unique story. There are a couple recipes I might try, but pretty much, this book is pure eye candy for me. When Anthony Bourdain’s “The Layover” featured Montreal last Monday, I prayed to the food gods that he would stop by Joe Beef. He not only stopped by, but he, David and Frederic ended up riding around Montreal in the back of a pick-up truck at the end of the evening, hurling slurs and bottles of wine and beer at innocent passers by. These guys cater to anyone but embrace the unlovable, the trashy folks, the gluttons for punishment who never learn from their mistakes. They know their customer and they love him for his debauchery. I would throw back a few with these guys, and eat their stuffed oysters served on top of radios and erotic novels. I don’t know why they do it, and I really don’t care. Their food looks awesome and their book is a kick-ass read.

There are more. I have more cookbooks I could share with you, but these are the ones that stood out for me this past year. These books are more than just good food. They make loving food that much more enjoyable for me.

It’s Monday which means Blue Buddha is closed … but their all-you-can-eat sushi starts tomorrow. Until then, I shall escape in this evening’s “The Layover” on the couch. Tony’s going to Amsterdam tonight and I’m going with him.

2 thoughts

  1. Hey Heidi!

    First time to your blog, which is very cool by the way! Just wanted to post and say that I could totally relate with your cookbook addiction and well pretty much all things food. It’s nuts because I have a whole massive shelf dedicated to cookbooks and magazines and I, like you can’t seem to peel away from new ones on the stand!! Crazy, good crazy ;) At least it’s not gambling or drinking, right?

    So, in terms of resolutions and trying to cook more recipes from these genius chefs, I thought it might be good to slowly cook ONE thing from each cookbook/mag and post it with a colorful stickie to indicate “DONE” and if/when you manage to go through them all, you can start from the top and pick another recipe to try!

    Thanks for your wonderfully passionate blog!
    ~Sharon

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Sharon. As an addict, it’s nice to know I’m not alone! Looking forward to meeting that resolution this year. Good idea!

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