Hirsch on Cookbooks as
makes it hard not to be a little jaded about cookbooks. As food
editor for The Associated Press, I get sent virtually every
cookbook published, sometimes several times (when the PR people
aren't all that on the ball). The result is a tidal wave of recipes
clamoring to be consumed.
Some are obvious winners that I immediately assign to my
reviewer. Dorie Greenspan's "Around My French Table," for example,
was a no-brainer.
Some are obviously not. Anything with 750 muffin recipes, for
example. Especially if they are gluten-free. And vegan. Nothing
against any of that, but we really have reached a saturation
The rest of the books fall into a sort of mushy middle from
which my reviewer and I must tease out those which merit
Should we be swayed by good stories? Wooed by increasingly
common, yet still stunning photography? Impressed by celebrity or
intrigued by oddity?
More often than not, it's a simple matter of which books draw me
into the kitchen and make me hungry. Which is to say, it's an
That's for the job. For me it gets even harder. I don't
generally cook from recipes. At least not while I'm standing in the
kitchen. In fact, only rarely do cookbooks even make it into my
To me, a cookbook's place is at my desk in my home office.
That's where I'm most likely to have the time and peace to flip
through a book, get a taste for it.
I like being inspired. I don't like following recipes. I want a
cookbook to present me with an idea or a flavor I can run with.
That's when I start jotting down notes. That's when my recipe - my
dinner - is born, often from just a nugget within somebody else's
For example, I recently was drawn to a recipe for easy steamed
shrimp dumplings. I immediately considered a chicken version spiked
with ginger and hoisin with a soy sauce-rice vinegar-Sriracha
dipping sauce. They were delicious. And I have no idea which
cookbook inspired it.
It's an admittedly odd relationship with cookbooks, especially
for a guy whose job is so intertwined with them. Odder still, I
suppose, for somebody who recently wrote a cookbook.
I considered that before I ever started "High Flavor, Low Labor:
Reinventing Weeknight Cooking." Should a guy who prefers to cook
more by instinct than instruction really be writing something he
In the end, the answer was easy. I'm a bit of a freak. Most
people are not me. Most people want, appreciate - some even need -
that guiding, silent hand in the kitchen.
And so I wrote a book that satisfies them and me. My recipes are
easy. They are weeknight friendly. They are versatile and easily
riffed upon, adapted, substituted and generally messed around
Because while I love to hear people say they enjoyed my recipes,
I love even more to hear how they made those recipes their own. And
that maybe they left my cookbook in their home office when they
went into the kitchen.
Eat Your Books says:
View the indexed recipes for J M Hirsch's book High
Flavor, Low Labor: Reinventing Weeknight Cooking
Find out more about J M Hirsch at his great site - find out why he thinks
it's OK to give a 2 year old a knife!